A Standard of Shinshu Faith
Ryosetsu Fujiwara

Relation Between Name and Vow

1. Amida's Compassion and His practical method of salvation are often explained through His Vow. What is Amida's Vow?

The 'Vow' or more exactly the 'Original Vow' is the translation of the Sanskrit word 'Purva-pranidhana' and the Japanese word 'Hongan.' Generally, Bodhisattvas arouse some vows and bring them to consummation through their sincere difficult practice, to save suffering beings, thus enabling themselves to attain Buddhahood as well.

2. Are all vows the same?

There are two kinds; the common and the special vows.

3. What are common vows?

The common vows are so named because these are basic and common to all Bodhisattvas, and are concretely known by the name of 'Shiguzeigan' or the 'Four Universal Vows.'

4. What are Amida's Special Vows?

According to the Larger Sutra, Amida, in His causal rank, made the forty-eight vows in order to deliver all suffering beings. As these vows particularly represent Amida's Compassion, they are called His special vows. However, of these forty-eight vows, the Eighteenth Vow is the most essential and representative vow. Accordingly, in most cases in Shinshu, the term 'Hongan' or the 'Original Vow' is used to designate this main vow.

5. If so, may we understand Amida's special vows to have two meanings?

Exactly. The first meaning of 'Hongan' is the 'Causal Vow.' In this case, it refers to all of the forty-eight vows; these vows were all effectuated by His practice of myriad periods. In contrast to this 'Effect' each of the forty-eight vows can be called the 'Causal Vow.' The second meaning of 'Hongan' is the 'Main Vow' and it refers only to the Eighteenth Vow. The latter meaning is more prevalent in Shinshu.

6. What is the Eighteenth Vow?

As mentioned before, the Eighteenth Vow is the most important vow of Amida's forty-eight vows; it is in this vow that Amida proclaimed the actual way of Birth in His country for the sake of sentient beings. The passage reads as follows:

Upon my attainment of Buddhahood, if the beings of the ten quarters who have Sincere Mind, Serene Faith, and Wish to be born in my country, with even ten utterances, would not be born therein, may I not attain the Highest Enlightenment; only those are excepted who have committed the Five Grave Offences and who have abused the Right Dharma.

7. What is the main point of this vow?

Shinran called this vow 'The Vow of Sincere, Serene Faith.' This means that Faith is the core of the Eighteenth Vow. Besides, according to Shinran, this Faith, sincere and serene, comes from Amida's Wisdom and Compassion, and because of this, this true Faith can be the cause for Birth in the Pure Land. From this true Faith, the Utterance of the Name spontaneously comes out whenever one feels happy and grateful to Buddha. This Utterance of the Name, however, is not the condition for Birth nor Nirvana but is solely the expression of innermost Faith and gratitude. Such a pure, egoless and easy practice is the Nembutsu vowed in the Eighteenth Vow.

8. What is the difference between Name and Vow?

The Vow is Amida's desire and resolution to save all beings. In this Vow He selected the Name so that sentient beings can whole-heartedly believe in and easily recite it. After His sincere and hard discipline, He brought this Vow to perfection, and thus the Name became the only and best medium, for common mortals to communicate with the Buddha. In other words, the Name is the fruition of the Vow. After all, the Vow refers to the 'cause,' while the Name is the 'effect' of the Vow.

9. How do we understand the oneness of the Name and Vow?

Because of the reliability of the Buddha, His Name and His Vow cannot be separated from each other. The Vow refers to Amida's Compassionate Mind, through which the Name was accomplished as the practical and expedient method to save all sentient beings. The Name, on the other hand, can be meaningful only when it is recited on the basis of True Faith in this Vow. Therefore, in Shinshu, to accept His Name is at once to accept His Vow; to listen to the significance of the Name is at once to listen to the true intent of His merciful Vow. After all, either the Name or the Vow may be mentioned as the object of our 'Listening' and 'Faith.'

10. Are both the Vow and the Name necessary for Amida Buddha to save us?

Certainly. Without the Vow, the Name would be empty; and without the Name, the Vow would be fruitless. For the Accomplishment of salvation, the Vow and Name are of vital necessity on the part of the Buddha, and the Faith and the Nembutsu are their reflections on the side of the devotee.

11. It is usually said that Amida's Compassion is unlimited and immeasurable. It seems to be so as far as we refer to the first sentence of the Eighteenth Vow. However, the remaining part of the passage impresses us that He will not save those beings who have committed such evils as the Five Grave Offences or the Abuse of Right Dharma. Why is it so?

Apparently it seems to exclude those grave offences. However, according to Shan-tao this is not eternal exclusion but is only the warning which He has given for those who have the potentiality of committing such grave offences; therefore when those offences have been actually committed, Amida, for from forsaking them, will save those people without any hesitation. The warning comes from His Wisdom, and the universal salvation is due to His Compassion.

12. Did Shinran have the same idea too?

Yes, he expanded Shan-tao's theory. He paid special attention to the fact that the 'exclusion' appears only in the Eighteenth Vow and that this Vow was primarily for those persons who might easily commit such grave offences. Thus he stated in His writing, Songo-Shinzo-Meimon, that this 'exclusion' only shows for what kind of beings the Eighteenth Vow was made, and that it paradoxically tells us that even such evil persons, being the very object of Amida's concern, will be saved without fail. After all, this warning shows Amida's unlimited concern for all beings instead of His real and eternal exclusion of such evil persons.

13. Are there any other important vows besides the Eighteenth Vow?

The Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, Seventeenth, and Twenty-second Vows are also important ones. The Eleventh Vow is the vow in which those who have Faith are assured of unfailing attainment of Nirvana. The Twelfth and Thirteenth Vows respectively promise the unlimitedness of His Light and Life. This means that the light and life of anyone who has attained Buddhahood are also unlimited. The Seventeenth Vow promises that Amida's Name shall be praised and widely proclaimed by all Buddhas. The Name is, indeed, the object of our Faith and recitation as taught in the Eighteenth Vow. These five vows constitute the whole process - from the first listening to the ultimate goal of Nirvana; Shinran called them 'Five True Vows.' Lastly, the Twenty-second Vow assures us that we will possess, upon attainment of Buddhahood, powers to benefit all beings. Actually, all these vows are implied in the Eighteenth Vow already. Therefore, we can say that the Eighteenth Vow alone is the main Vow.

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