Reflections on the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho: A Guide
by Hisao Inagaki, Professor Emeritus Ryukoku University, Kyoto, Japan

The True Practice

At the basis of the True Practice is the Seventeenth Vow the ‘Vow that the Name shall be Praised by all the Buddhas’ - which reads:

If, when I attain Buddhahood, innumerable Buddhas in the lands of the ten directions should not all praise and glorify my Name, may I not attain perfect attainment. (BDK, 12-II, IV, p. 16)

In Jodo Shinshu, there is no prescribed practice for one to perform in the ordinary sense of the term. In the long history of Pure Land Buddhism from India through China and Japan, the Nembutsu has been the cardinal practice. Nagarjuna presented recitation of Buddhas’ names, especially Amida’s, as the easy way of attaining the stage of non-retrogression, in contrast to ordinary bodhisattva practices which are difficult to perform and require a long time to complete. Shan-tao's system of five right practices which was very popular in China centered on the Nembutsu recitation. In Japan, Honen promulgated the exclusive recitation of the Nembutsu.

While following this tradition, Shinran went straight back to Amida's Name glorified by all Buddhas, which contains the merit and virtue of the ultimate truth and reality – True Suchness. Shinran brought our recitative nembutsu back to the original source from which it arises. In other words, the Nembutsu which we recite after awakening joyful Faith in accordance with the Eighteenth Vow comes back to the Name glorified in the Seventeenth Vow. So, irrespective of the number of times we recite the Nembutsu, the merit of recitation does not stay with us but returns to Amida to whom it belongs.

Shinran especially focuses our attention to the ‘single thought of Nembutsu’, which indicates one Nembutsu utterance. The moment Amida’s merit and virtue is endowed to us through the Name, we receive it with a joyful mind. In other words, all the merit and virtue of Amida is transferred to us as if a gigantic tsunami were to engulf us. Here is to be found the difference between the self-power Nembutsu and the Other-Power Nembutsu. In the former, which is ordinarily practiced in Pure Land schools, the number of Nembutsu recitations is important. Practitioners are encouraged to recite many Nembutsu. In Shinran’s Nembutsu, the number of recitations is not important. Even one Nembutsu is enough if it accords with the Other-Power. Conversely, thousands of Nembutsu recitations add nothing to the merit and virtue required for the attainment of birth in the Pure Land. The Other-Power Nembutsu is ‘no practice’ on our side. We can say the Nembutsu whenever we feel like saying it, irrespective of the merit which may accrue.

It may also be noted that the Nembutsu Samadhi is mentioned in this chapter. Shakyamuni is said to have recommended it to his father because it is easy to practice and most effective. Of all the samadhis, it is the most distinguished because it is capable of removing all evil passions of the past, present and future. Side by side with the recitative Nembutsu, the Nembutsu Samadhi has been extensively practiced in India, China and Japan. This is a meditative Nembutsu with which Shinran was familiar on Mount Hiei when he was a Tendai monk. Later, Shinran reflected on this and included it in his system of Great Practice. The idea behind this seems to be that whatever merit accrues from the Nembutsu Samadhi belongs to Amida. Also, it can be seen that this samadhi practice is part of the Great Practice which centers round Amida’s Name.

The scope of the True or Great Practice embraces all aspects of Amida’s working. It follows then that the Other-Power is fully elucidated here and the idea of ‘the One-Vehicle teaching (ekayana) based on the Primal Vow’ is proclaimed as the ultimate One-Vehicle teaching, namely the ultimate Mahayana teaching, which brings all beings to enlightenment.

Current image

Previous | HOME | Next