Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Harold Stewart

Amida as Buddha Nature

During this last period of the Dharma, "no one" by his own efforts can attain Liberation. That is how the Buddha attained it: by becoming "no one". But how does one become no one? By dying to oneself even while still alive. For so long as you remain anyone at all, that obstructs the realization that you already are the Buddha. So not only after death but during this lifetime everyone's epitaph should read: 'Hic jacet nemo'. That is the true significance of anatma, or non-self. Amida Buddha is a supreme master of upaya (Japanese: hoben), or skill in sacred stratagems and expedient means for enlightening and liberating all sentient beings. To fulfil this purpose, he has distilled all the merit that he accumulated during his five kalpas of ascesis into his Name. So by using the Nembutsu as a channel for his supernal influence, he can transfer to me, as to all other beings, his boundless Wisdom and Compassion, which shine forth from our innate Buddha-nature. For this free gift of Amida's grace depends upon his most intimate personal relationship with the Heart, or centre of being, in each of his devotees. He vowed therefore that he would save all beings one by one and each alone, as their past karma, varying with every being, would allow. Although he promised to save all, he did not vow to do so en masse, in social groups or institutions, either familial, racial, or national. For those are in truth but collective egos and so even more tenaciously selfish than their individual members.


Thus Amida is not only the 'internal' power of one's own indwelling Buddha-nature, but also the 'external' power of the Buddha-nature inherent in all other beings; so that Amida's Will, expressed in his Vow and voiced through his Name, can awaken in the depths of every being its latent Heart of Pure Faith. Amida's Body of Light and Life shines in all beings to destroy their ignorance and dispel its darkness throughout the universe. His single unique Consciousness, of which there can be no plural, looks out through all the eyes, listens through all the ears, and perceives through all the minds. Hence the Jodo doctrine of the Oneness of the One who saves and the one to be saved. Amida cannot help but rescue all beings, no matter how defiled, because he is all beings, ever-present in them as their innate but obscured Buddha-Heart, or inmost essence, if not as their outward acts and accidents.

In no wise should Amida be equated with the monotheistic Creator, separated by a well-nigh unbridgeable gulf from his creatures; for in Buddhism the cosmos is not the creation of the Buddha, but the result of the endless actions and reactions of karma. There can be no real division between Amida and all other beings, for they are so many aspects of his own Omni-consciousness; nor any finally irreducible duality of the 'I-Thou' type, for the relation of Amida to devotee is one of nonduality. Nor is Amida in any way the Omnipotent Judge of beings, for he cannot condemn some facets of his own Being to everlasting torment and other facets to eternal bliss.

Not to save all beings as he has vowed would amount to leaving some aspect of his own Perfect Enlightenment in perpetual darkness. What could be more unlovable than a God of Love who must command his creatures to love him and who threatens them with endless punishment if they disobey? As if anyone ever loved on command or by intimidation ! But Amida's devotees find his call so irresistible that they no more need to be ordered to adore him than to love their parents. This explains why in Japanese Amida is often addressed by the epithet Oya, as a tenderly solicitous parent of either sex.

Because of his nondual relationship with all beings, Amida can effectively cut off their illusory asrava, or outflows of energy, (karma), and can sever the latent bonds of habit-addiction (samskara), loosening psycho-physical knots and tensions tied by countless past thoughts, words, and deeds, inaccessible to the knife of rational discrimination. Amida can redirect our demonic desires and aversions to spiritual or creative ends, thereby turning passion into compassion. So everything is left to Amida and nothing to the individual will in the Shin attitude, which stands aside and allows the Other Power to work without interference from the ego.

The Other Power of Amida's Vows, above all the Eighteenth, can accomplish all this unprompted and without repression, but with what Shinran termed jinen honi: natural ease and spontaneity. Clearly this idea owes something to Dogen and his Soto Zen and through them ultimately to Taoist metaphysics. But when we read of Dogen saying: 'Forgetting body and mind by placing them together in the Buddha's hands and letting him lead you on, you will without design or effort gain freedom and attain Buddhahood', then he just as clearly shows the influence of Shinran's conception of the Other Power.

Again when Dogen tells busy farmers who have no time to enter a monastery and practise zazen that repetition of the Name is enough to bring them to Enlightenment, he has obviously been influenced by the Pure Land teachings of Honen and Shinran. There is an old tradition that Dogen and Shinran once met for a discussion and understood each other so well that at the end of their interview Shinran gave Dogen his nenju, or invocatory beads, while Dogen in exchange presented Shinran with his hossu, the horsetail fly-whisk of a Zen master.

Instantly upon my submission to his Divine Will, from Amida's halo golden shafts of Light and Life radiate in the ten directions, darting a single ray directly into the Heart of every being in the universe to illuminate it with Faith and bestow fearlessness and forbearance. At once, through the Power of his Grand Vow, the ignorant iron Wheel of Karma is transformed into the enlightened golden Wheel of Dharma. All of its spokes lead back to the Solar Centre, delivering sentient beings from their endless rebirths in the Six Destinies of the Round of Samsara.

We all live standing in our own light, gazing at our shadows with our backs to the Supernal Sun of Amida. All we need do is to turn around in response to his summons, when at once we shall be embraced by his Boundless Light. As mentioned before, this change of Heart, or conversion in the deepest seat of our conscious being, is what enables us to behold Amida and is the only miracle recognized by the Buddha. So as a free gift from Amida I now receive a brief Vision of his Light, which transforms the existential Fire, the antagonistic heat of the summer sun and my bodily lusts and passions, into the enlightening Wisdom and salvatory Compassion of his solar halo. I am brought to realize that originally and ultimately they are one and the same Power.

Reflections on the Dharma - Harold Stewart

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