Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Koso Wasan 87

Casting off long kalpas of painful existence in this world of Saha,
We live in expectation of the Pure Land, the uncreated;
That is the power of our teacher, Shakyamuni;
Let us respond always in gratitude for his compassion
      and benevolence.

Shakyamuni's Intent

Shakyamuni (563-483 BCE) is often referred to as 'the Buddha'. His family name was Gautama and his given name was Siddhartha. After his enlightenment, he rejected the use of both of these names, so it seems disrespectful for us to use them. A tradition has developed over many centuries of describing him as Shakyamuni (sage of the Shakya Tribe), since all Buddhist traditions acknowledge many Buddhas.

The traditional and most popular account of Shakyamuni's life is the Buddhacarita, which was composed by Ashvagosa, a monk of Gandhara. Ashvagosa was a prominent figure in the court of King Kanishka, and lived some four hundred years after Shakyamuni. We can assume that the sources of his account of Shakyamuni's life were drawn from an oral tradition that had been handed down through many generations.

The Buddhacarita has two objectives. The first is to praise Shakyamuni for his extraordinary accomplishments and the second is to explore the aims, experiences and intentions that lay behind his decision to seek enlightenment. The Buddhacarita lays down the universally received view of Shakyamuni's most profound intentions, when it recounts the events surrounding his birth in Lumbini Grove. We are told that he proclaimed his intent in this way:

I am born for supreme knowledge; for the welfare of the world.

Shakyamuni's supreme knowledge and his mission was, above all, to spread the knowledge of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.

Shakyamuni Tathagata ... speaks not of his own capacities, but purposely reveals Amida's excellence; this is from his desire that every single sentient being be equally brought to take refuge in Amida. Hence, in various sutras Shakyamuni praises and leads beings to take refuge in Amida; we must recognize this to be the Buddha's intent.1

Thus it is that the Pure Land way completely fulfils Shakyamuni's original intent. Shakyamuni's intent is one with Amida Buddha's Primal Vow, the dharma.


1: CWS, p. 156.

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