The Way of Jodo Shinshu
Reflections on the Hymns of Shinran Shonin

Jodo Wasan 16

When Amida, on becoming a Buddha, first taught
      the dharma,
The sages present were numerous beyond reckoning;
All who aspire to be born in the Pure Land,
Take refuge in Amida of the vast assembly.

The Great Teacher

The Buddha said to Ananda, 'The number of sravakas in the first assembly of the Buddha is beyond reckoning. So is it with the number of bodhisattvas.'1

After this brief quote from the the Larger Sutra, the Buddha and Ananda move into a wonderful repartee about mathematical maxima, deciding finally that the number of people at Amida's first sermon was fairly close to infinite. It is a delightful passage, one of several in the Larger Sutra that exhibits a sense of humour. One can almost hear the Buddha and Ananda giggling to themselves as they try to outdo each other in finding formulæ for hyperbole.

Shakyamuni concludes that, even though the number of people at Amida Buddha's first sermon was almost incalculable, the number of sages 'yet to be counted' is incalculably greater still. However, the hyperbole has a purpose and is not mere rhetoric or hubris. It implies that Amida Buddha is the teacher (zenchishiki) of the infinite beings who have lived and are yet to live in the universe.

In this verse, Shinran Shonin exhorts us to 'take refuge in Amida of the vast assembly'. He calls upon us all to listen to Amida's sermon. In doing so, we join the massive throng of the disciples of Amida Buddha.

The Pure Land school is a universal brotherhood, supported by the power and insight of Amida Buddha alone.

Although it takes some understanding initially, it is to Amida's assembly that we should go and in him alone that we should take our refuge.

1: TPLS, II, p. 38.

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