A Standard of Shinshu Faith
Ryosetsu Fujiwara

Significance of the Nembutsu

1. If Faith is the true cause for Birth and Enlightenment, what is the nature of the Nembutsu?

Nembutsu in Shinshu is the manifestation of inner Faith, i.e. the spontaneous expression of gratitude to Amida for having saved us. Just as Faith is awakened by the Other-Power, the Nembutsu is also awakened by the Other-Power. Accordingly there should not be attachment to our own action of utterance.

2. How can you say that? The expression in the Eighteenth Vow appears to require the Nembutsu as a condition for Birth in His country.

The term 'naishi' (amtashas in Skt.) is added to 'junen' (dasha citta in Skt.). In the tradition of the Pure Land School, 'junen' is understood as 'ten utterances' and 'naishi' as 'even' or 'even unto.' Shinran interpreted 'naishi' in his writings and stated that 'naishi' is the word implying 'many and one.' 'Naishi' does not limit the number of Nembutsu or the length of time. Thus, 'naishi junen' does not necessarily mean exactly ten utterances; it implies any number between the countless utterances and even one utterance. This kind of Nembutsu cannot be the condition or the cause; it is only the spontaneous expression of the innermost Faith, as Shinran said in the Kyogyoshinsho, 'The true Faith is necessarily followed by the Name.'

3. Then should we not regard the Nembutsu as our own merit?

No. The egoless Nembutsu comes from Amida's Benevolence as in the case of Faith. The Tannisho says 'The Nembutsu is non-practice and non-good for those who practice it.' (Chap. 8) This means that we should not get attached to our own utterance of the Name. The Tannisho also states that 'In the Nembutsu, non-discrimination is its essence because it is above praise, inexplicable and inconceivable.' (Chap. 10) 'Non-discrimination,' 'Egolessness' or 'Whole-hearted trust' is the basic attitude of 'Thus have I heard.'

4. Do Faith and Nembutsu appear at the same time? If not, which comes first?

Faith is awakened first, and just then our Birth is determined. There will be no room for the utterance of the Name to break into this moment. Nembutsu will follow the awakening of Faith; it will apear aloud or softly, continuously or intermittently whenever the feeling of joy and gratitude arises in the mind.

5. In the Tannisho, Shinran expressed his Faith, saying that 'Shinran ... entrusted himself to the teaching of the Venerable Master (Honen) ---- that we are saved by Amida merely through the utterance of the Nembutsu.' Does this not contradict the above explanation on Faith and Nembutsu?

The teaching of Honen or Shan-tao was characterised by the emphasis on the Nembutsu in contrast to other sundry practices as required in different schools. However, the Nembutsu in Shan-tao's and Honen's teachings is the utterance of Amida's Name based upon true Faith. It is not the Nembutsu of self-power but it represents Amida's characteristic method of salvation as proclaimed in the Vow. Shinran used this expression, too, especially when he referred to Shan-tao's or Honen's teaching.

6. Is Nembutsu the 'expression of gratitude' or the 'Great Practice?'

We utter the Nembutsu spontaneously as the expression of happiness and gratitude, so we do not find any merit in our own utterance. Essentially speaking, however, the absolute virtue embodied in the Sacred Name itself is the 'Great Practice,' which was accomplished by Amida and is in accord with 'Thusness' as stated in the Volume on Practice, by Shinran Shonin.

7. Is this Nembutsu the utterance of the 'Six-character-Name' or the 'Nine-' or 'Ten-Character-Name?'

The Six-character-Name, 'Na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu,' is the most popular. However, it is historically known that Shinran and his disciples occasionally recited the Nine- or Ten-character-Name. The Nine-character-Name refers to 'Na-mu-fu-ka-shi-gi-ko-nyo-rai' (Homage to the Tathagata of Inconceivable Light) and the Ten-character-Name to 'Ki-myo-jin-ji-po-mu-ge-ko-nyo-rai' (Homage to the Tathagata of Unimpeded Light Pervading the Ten Quarters). Both of these are concerned with the obeisance to and trust in Amida Buddha, and accordingly do not differ from the content of the Six-character-Name.

8. Is the Nembutsu in Japanese or in English?

The Six-character-Name is the transliteration of the Sanskrit word into Chinese characters. Later it came to be spelled in Japanese or European letters. As for the Nine- and Ten-character-Names, these are all Chinese except the term 'Namu' (Namas in Skt.). As Shinran Shonin is believed to have recited these Chinese-translation-Names as well, no doubt we may utter the Nembutsu in Japanese, in English or any other language. The vital Point is that there should be true Faith as the basis of the Nembutsu.

9. Must the Nembutsu have a special form, or can it be recited in more simplified forms?

There have appeared many forms of the Nembutsu in the long history of Buddhist practice, but Shinshu does not require any formal recitation except in the case of Sutra chanting. Some people may recite it regularly, 'Na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu,' and some in irregular form, 'Nan-man-da-butsu.' According to the circumstances, they might not have the time to utter more than a single syllable like 'Nah' or 'Ah.'

Again, certain persons might not be able to give voice to the Nembutsu but would have to speak it silently. These superficial differences, however, are not concerned with the value of the Nembutsu at all, because all the merits are embodied in the Sacred Name itself, and not in the form of its recitation.

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