Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism


Chapter 3

The Light of Deliverance

The Light-Wheel of Deliverance shines boundlessly;
Those illumined by the Light, says the Buddha,
Are freed of 'existence' and 'non-existence'.
Let us take refuge in the Equal Enlightenment.(Jodo Wasan 3)

The Buddha is usually described in physical terms as having a glorious body with thirty-two marks of excellence. This shows that he is a superhuman being possessing transcendent powers. We also read in the scriptures that the Buddha is distinguished from other beings in that he has eighteen special qualities. From the Mahayana standpoint, the Buddha's essential characteristics are described in various terms. According to the Nirvana Sutra, the Buddha has three virtues: Dharma-Body (dharmakaya), Transcendent Wisdom (prajna) and Deliverance (vimukti).

The Dharma-Body is the Buddha's essential body, which is everlastingly and universally present, immutable and resplendent with pure light. Ontologically, the Dharma-Body is the ultimate essence of all that exists. It transcends all phenomena and, at the same time, embraces them without leaving anything or any being outside. The Dharma-Body is, in other words, the totality of all existences, indivisible and complete in itself.

The second virtue - prajna - is the wisdom of knowing ultimate reality. Since ultimate reality is beyond the scope of knowledge based on subject-object differentiations, the true, intuitive wisdom in knowing ultimate reality is an objectless wisdom or insight penetrating to the root of existence in which there is no subject--object confrontation. 'True wisdom,' says T'an-luan, 'is no-knowing; because it is no-knowing, it is omniscient.' The first and second virtues are inseparable. The Dharma-Body is ultimate reality perceived intuitively only by prajna, and anyone who attains prajna realizes the Dharma-Body.

The third virtue describes the state of complete freedom. It is the deliverance from all karmic bondage and the resultant painful states of existence in Samsara. It is the natural consequence of the attainment of prajna.

The first three hymns of the Jodo Wasan are relevant to these three virtues of Amida Buddha. After praising his Dharma-Body and Transcendent Wisdom in the first and second hymns, Shinran now glorifies Amida's virtue of Deliverance. It is worthy of special note that all the three virtues are presented in the symbol of Light, which has the power of destroying our illusions and awakening us to reality.

The Light of Deliverance is first perceived as revealing our deep-rooted attachment to 'existence'. We are unconsciously clinging to our own selves as if they really existed. From this attachment arise all sorts of wrong notions concerning self and things in general, which lead to deeper emotional involvement in them and to various karmic offences. Nihilistic views, too, run counter to ultimate reality. They are as fallacious as 'views of existence,' because they are based on attachment to the negative form of existence.

'Equality is the essential nature of existing things,' says T'an--luan. By dissolving the dichotomous view of existence and non-existence, Amida's Light brings us to the realization of ultimate reality and leads us to a truly significant way of life.

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