A Standard of Shinshu Faith
Ryosetsu Fujiwara

Function of the Name

1. What is the doctrinal position of the Name (Myogo) in Shinshu?

The position of the Name, 'Namu-Amida-Butsu' is vitally important in Shinshu teaching. Without this Name, Shinshu could not be established, for it is the core of Amida's Vow.

2. How and where does Amida mention His Name?

Amida vows in the Seventeenth Vow that His Name shall be praised and recited by all Buddhas, and thereby it shall be known and recited by all sentient beings. He also vows is the Eighteenth Vow that all sentient beings who accept and recite His Name will unfailingly be born in His Pure Land. These vows were brought to consummation through a long period of discipline.

3. Why did Amida select the Name as the most expedient means of saving all beings?

There are two reasons at least:

  1. The Name is very easy for ordinary people to hear, accept and recite, while other practices such as the Six Paramitas or meditative Nembutsu are limited to persons of high intelligence.
  2. The Name is excellent in value, for it was accomplished by Amida's sincere Vow and Practice; therefore, it embodies within itself His absolute good and virtue.

4. Easiness of the Nembutsu can be understood, but it is rather hard to understand why Amida's Vow and Practice have produced the excellence of the Name.

In this world, a name does not necessarily represent reality. A name is a symbol. It would seem that Amida's is just a name and nothing more. From the spiritual and religious standpoint, His Name is not just an empty name; nor is His Vow like an unreliable human promise. Buddha's Enlightenment is indeed the perfection of Wisdom and Compassion. By the realisation of spiritual, intuitive Wisdom He comprehended the ultimate truth of Thusness and by the activities of His absolute Compassion He manifested His Enlightenment in this Name, as the medium of communication with all common mortals. As Shinran emphasised, this Name embodies Amida's total virtue; again it represents the ultimate Dharma just as it is. Thus there can be no separation between the Sacred Name and the reality of Dharma-nature.

5. Then may we consider the Name as a stage of Buddhahood?

The Name is the only way in which Amida comes into contact with ordinary people in this world, i.e. for us, the Name, 'Namu-Amida-Butsu' is the only aspect of Buddha which we can feel within the limits of our human experience.

6. 'Thusness' (Law Body of Dharma-nature) becomes 'Tathagata' (Law Body of Expediency) to come closer to human life; and again 'Tathagata' manifests himself in the 'Name' to become the direct focus of our Faith and recitation. These three steps of Amida's approach to sentient beings, however, seem to be considerably different from the 'Three Bodies.' Why did Shinran adopt the former and put special emphasis on it?

The first two steps of His approach were first introduced by T'an-luan. But Shinran emphasised the significance of the Name as well. In fact, he thought that where there is the Name, there is Buddha; and whenever he recited the Nembutsu he felt as if he could meet his spiritual parent.

7. Then, is the idea of 'Three Bodies' not so meaningful in Shinshu? Did Shinran not respect Shakyamuni Buddha as the Nirmanakaya?

Shinran also adopted the idea of 'Three Bodies,' and needless to say, he showed reverence to Shakyamuni as the founder of Buddhism. Apparently Amida and Shakyamuni are two different Buddhas. Amida is an infinite Buddha, while Shakyamuni is a historical Buddha with a physical body; Amida proclaimed the Eighteenth Vow as the best way for all sentient beings to attain Buddhahood, but Shakyamuni taught innumerable ways to lead all kinds of people; Amida calls from His Pure Land, while Shakyamuni encourages us, from this world, to go to the realm of Nirvana. In spite of such differences, these two Buddhas are essentially one, because the Enlightenment of all Buddhas is the same. Besides, in Shinshu Shakyamuni is believed to be the Nirmanakaya of Amida Buddha. Thus, according to Shinran's view, Shakyamuni appeared in this world solely to teach Amida's Compassionate Vow. Therefore, to emphasise the significance of Amida's Name is to follow Shakyamuni's teaching faithfully.

8. Are these three stages of Buddha essentially different from one another?

No. Essentially these three are one and the same. The substance of each is Thusness - the water in the lake can be whipped into waves but in essence, the waves are still water.

9. It has been understood that the Name reveals Dharma itself. What are the other functions of the Name?

Since the Name is the manifestation of Dharma-nature, in a religious and spiritual sense the Name represents Amida's Compassionate Vow to save all sentient beings. Thus, Rennyo Shonin, the eighth Monshu (Abbott) of the Hongwanji, states in his Letters, 'Amida Tathagata made a Vow called Namu-Amida-Butsu.' In this case, he meant by 'Namu-Amida-Butsu' that those who accept Faith will be unfailingly saved by Amida's saving power.'

10. What is the relationship of the Name to the awakening of Faith?

Our Faith is established when Amida's Compassion is received by our mind through the Name. Thus, the Name is vitally necessary for the Awakening of Faith; our minds are always changeable, but the Name can be trusted. For this reason Shinran Shonin said in the Kyogyoshinsho that 'The essence of our Faith is indeed the Honoured Name of the supreme virtue.' Rennyo Shonin also said, 'It should be known that even Obtaining Faith is assured in the Name of Six Characters'; Faith does not exist separately outside the Six Characters.'

11. The Name might be of great value for those who comprehend it: Why are there so many people who are unaware of its significance?

It is due to their immature conditioning for the Awakening of Faith. The past conditions differ with each person. However, Buddhas are always trying to influence each person by every possible means including the preaching through the sutras and even invisible and inaudible cultivation. This is the purpose of the Seventeenth Vow of Amida. And because of the working of all Buddhas, even such people who are unaware of Amida Buddha yet will come, sooner or later, to believe in His Benevolence and recite the Nembutsu. This is the religious life proclaimed in the Eighteenth Vow.

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