Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Koso Wasan 82

Since shinjin arises from the Vow,
We attain Buddhahood through the nembutsu by the
      [Vow's] spontaneous working.
The spontaneous working is itself the fulfilled land;
Our realisation of supreme nirvana is beyond doubt.

No Need to Worry

In some quarters shinjin has become reified. Instead of being a source of salvation and joy, it has become a goal, an object, a cause for anxiety and concern, and a status symbol.

I think that each of us knows whether or not we are people of Other Power shinjin. We know whether we have absolute trust in Amida Buddha and say his Name in token of that; or, we know that we do not. There is nothing mysterious, mystical or inscrutable about such a state of mind.

There is a primary purpose in the statement that 'we attain Buddhahood through the nembutsu by the [Vow's] spontaneous working', for it calls into question many tacit assumptions about the meaning and purpose of religion itself. It asks us to reconsider just what function religion plays within the context of human life.

As nembutsu followers we are daily reminded of ideas about the purpose of religion. In the modern world, with its strong emphasis on material well-being, there is an implicit imperative to evaluate every phenomenon on the basis of its usefulness. One of the obstacles in the transmission of Shinran's teaching in our time is that it offers no palpable material or social benefit at all. Instead, it has a program for the salvation of all beings; nothing less!

In the nembutsu way, we are obliged - in regard to our behaviour - to take personal responsibility for our actions. In keeping with this, Shinran reminds us that our debt to the Buddha and the dharma ought to bring with it a certain ethical adroitness and prudence.1

But our spiritual liberation itself is not dependent on these things. The nembutsu is 'the great natural way' because its working is entirely independent of who we are, or how we are inclined to behave. We cannot 'win the favour' of Amida Buddha by becoming a particular kind of person or following prescribed rules or rituals.

We have only to claim our inheritance in Namu-amida-butsu, and rejoice in it.


1: For example, CWS, p. 551-2

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