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

Shozomatsu Wasan 19

Of the Vows embraced as supreme and all-surpassing,
Selected through five kalpas of profound thought,
The Vows of immeasurable light and life
Were made the foundation of the working of great compassion.

Infinte Light

XII: If, when I attain Buddhahood, my light not be infinite and not illumine even a hundred thousand nayutas of kotis of Buddha-lands, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

XIII: If, when I attain Buddhahood, my life not be infinite and not span even a hundred thousand nayutas of kotis of kalpas, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.1

These two Vows of Amida Buddha - the twelfth and the thirteenth - support his Name. The Sanskrit word amitabha means unlimited light (a, no; mita, limit; bha, light;). Similarly he is also known (as in the full title of the main recension of the Large Sutra) as infinte (length of) life (Sk. amitayus). In this verse, Shinran Shonin reminds us that both terms form a single whole. Amida, as he came to be known in the far east, is infinite light and infinite life. His light is his wisdom; it is compassionate because it is infinite and unhindered.

Shinran considered that five of Amida Buddha's forty-eight Vows were pivotal and seminal. Apart from those I have just quoted,these are the eleventh (the Vow of the unfailing attainment of nirvana), the seventeenth (the Vow that Amida's Name shall be praised by all Buddhas), and the eighteenth (the Vow of serene mind and sincere faith) Vows. The eighteenth Vow is the core because it most clearly articulates the Primal Vow, which sets out the principal intention of Amida to transfer his virtue to those who need it (by trusting and 'hearing' - perceiving the deep significance of - his Name) in order to attain release from the round of birth-and-death.

Like all of Amida Buddha's Vows, the twelfth and thirteenth render all temporal considerations meaningless. We learn of them in the Larger Sutra, when Shakyamuni is relating the story of the Buddha Lokeshavararaja and his disciple Dharmakara. In the person of Dharmakara, Amida's Vows and the infinite of present reality, which transcends time, is made known in the temporal world of illusion.

1. CWS., p. 177

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