Notes on Once-calling and Many-calling
by Shinran Shonin
teaching of once-calling should not be considered false
Every person should desire
continually, up to the time of death, that all the excellent conditions
and surroundings appear before them.
Continually means without
stopping. Thus, you should desire from time to time as occasions arise.
"Continually" here does not mean constancy. "Constancy" means that
there should be no pause. It means always in terms of time, anywhere
and everywhere in terms of place.
Everyone, up to the time of death
means "all sentient beings who aspire for the land of bliss, to the end
of their lives."
Excellent conditions and surroundings
means that you should desire to behold the Buddha, to see the light, to
smell the wondrous fragrance, and to encounter the guidance of a true
All appear before them: you
should wish these wonderful things to appear before your eyes.
In the Larger Sutra of the Buddha of
Immeasurable Life it is taught:
All sentient beings, as they hear the Name, realize even one
thought-moment of shinjin and joy, which is directed to them from
Amida's sincere mind, and aspiring to be born in that land, they then
attain birth and dwell in the stage of nonretrogression.
All sentient beings: all the
sentient beings throughout the ten quarters.
Hear the Name is to hear the
Name that embodies the Primal Vow. "Hear" means to hear the Primal Vow
and be free of doubt. Further, it indicates SHINJIN.
Realize even one thought-moment of
shinjin and joy: SHINJIN is hearing the Vow of the Tathagata and
being free of doubt.
Joy (kangi) means to be
gladdened in body (kan) and gladdened in heart (gi). It means to
rejoice beforehand at being assured of attaining what one shall attain.
Even includes all
possibilities, both many and few, a long time and a short time, first
One thought-moment is time at
its ultimate limit, where the realization of SHINJIN takes place.
Sincere mind is that which is
true, real, and sincere, the heart of Amida Tathagata.
Directed to them is Amida's
giving the Name that embodies the Primal Vow to sentient beings
throughout the ten quarters.
Aspiring to be born in that land:
aspiring to be born means that every sentient being should desire to be
born in the land fulfilled through the Primal Vow. That land is the
Land of Happiness.
They then attain birth: then
(soku) means immediately, without any time elapsing, without a day
Soku also means to ascend to and become established in a certain rank.
Attain means to have attained
what one shall attain.
When one realizes true and real SHINJIN, one is immediately grasped and
held within the heart of the Buddha of unhindered light, never to be
"To grasp" (sesshu) means to
take in (setsu) and to receive and hold (shu). When we are grasped by
Amida, immediately - without a moment or a day elapsing - we ascend to
and become established in the stage of the truly settled; this is the
meaning of attain birth.
Further, Bodhisattva Dharmakara established the Vow of necessary
attainment of nirvana, which is taught in the Larger Sutra:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, the human beings and devas in my land do
not dwell among the settled there also, necessarily attaining nirvana,
may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
[Another translation of] the sutra states:
If, when I become Buddha, the sentient beings in my land do not
decidedly attain the equal of perfect enlightenment, so that they
realize great nirvana, may I not attain enlightenment.
Thus Bodhisattva Dharmakara established this Vow. Shakyamuni Tathagata
explains its fulfillment for the sake of us, who are corrupt with the
The sentient beings born in that land all dwell among the truly
settled, for in that Buddha-land there is not one who is falsely
settled or not settled.
In these words of the two Honored Ones we find stated the significance
of they then attain birth;
that is, to become established in the stage of the truly settled thus
is itself to dwell in the stage of nonretrogression. When a person
becomes established in this stage, he or she becomes one who will
necessarily attain the supreme great nirvana; hence, it is taught that
one realizes the equal of perfect enlightenment, or avaivartika, or
avinivartaniya. It is also said one "immediately enters the stage of
the definitely settled."
The true and real SHINJIN explained above is the diamondlike mind of
the crosswise leap realized through Other Power. Hence the Larger Sutra teaches that the person
of the Nembutsu is of [the stage] next [to enlightenment], like
Maitreya. Maitreya is a bodhisattva of the diamondlike mind of
lengthwise progression. "Lengthwise" applies to people who follow the
Path of Sages, the path of difficult practice performed through
self-power. "Crosswise" means laterally or transcendently; "leap" means
to go beyond. When we have boarded
the ship of the Buddha [Amida]'s karmic power, which has been fulfilled
through the great Vow, we go laterally and transcendently beyond the
vast ocean of birth-and-death and reach the shore of the True Fulfilled
[The stage] next [to enlightenment], like Maitreya: next means near,
next in order. "Near" means that Maitreya is a person who will
definitely attain supreme nirvana. Hence the pronouncement, like
Maitreya. The person who realizes shinjin and says the Nembutsu is
nearing supreme nirvana also. "Next in order" means that when
5,670,000,000 years have passed, Maitreya will definitely attain the
level of perfect enlightenment and will become the next Buddha in this
world after Sakyamuni.
Like: persons of SHINJIN, which is Other Power, are "like Maitreya" in
that they rise to the stage of nonretrogression in their present life
and will unfailingly attain the enlightenment of supreme nirvana.
The Treatise on the Pure Land
The sutra declares, "Those who, simply hearing of the purity and
happiness of that land, earnestly desire to be born there, and those
who attain birth, immediately enter the stage of the truly settled."
This shows that the land's very name performs the Buddha's work [of
saving others]. How can this be conceived?
This passage states, "Hearing of the purity and happiness of that land
with wholeheartedness, the person who realizes SHINJIN and aspires to
be born there and the person who has already attained birth immediately
enter the stage of the truly settled. In other words, the Buddha's work
is assuredly accomplished in hearing the name of that land: how can
this be conceivable? Know, then, that although they neither seek nor
know the indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable virtues of the
Pure Land of happiness, those who entrust themselves to the Primal Vow
are made to acquire them.
Further, Wang Jih-hsiu states:
The being of the
Nembutsu, as such, is the same as Maitreya.
The being of the Nembutsu: the
person who has realized diamondlike SHINJIN.
As such means immediately;
also, by means of. Thus, "since one is immediately brought to dwell in
the stage of the truly settled through the compassionate means of
Same means that the persons of the nembutsu are the same as Maitreya in
that they will attain the supreme Nirvana.
Further, Shakyamuni states in a sutra:
Know that the person who says the Nembutsu
is a white lotus among people.
With these words the Tathagata likens the persons of the Nembutsu to
the white lotus, the flower praised as the best among best flowers, the
excellent flower, the wondrous excellent flower, the rare flower, the
very finest flower. Master Shan-tao of Kuang-ming temple interprets
this to be praise of the person of the Nembutsu as the best among the
best, the excellent person, the wondrous excellent person, the truly
rare person, the very finest person.
Further, in teaching the benefit of being protected in this present
life, it is stated:
There are sentient beings who solely think on Amida Buddha; only these
people are constantly illumined by the light of that Buddha's heart,
grasped and protected, never to be abandoned. It is not at all stated
that any practicers of various other acts are illumined and embraced.
This is being protected in the present life, a manifestation of the
decisive cause of birth in the Pure Land.
There are sentient beings who solely
think on Amida Buddha signifies entrusting oneself with
wholeness of heart to Amida Buddha.
The light of that Buddha's heart
is the heart of the Buddha of Unhindered Light.
These people are constantly illumined:
constantly means ever, without pause. Without pause, the person of true
and real SHINJIN is ever illumined and protected, at all times and
places. Since he or she is constantly protected without pause by the
heart of Amida, this Buddha is called the Buddha of unceasing light.
These people: these is used in
contrast with "non-." People of true and real SHINJIN are called "these
people." Those who are empty and transitory, full of doubt and
vacillation, are "non-persons." "Non-persons" are rejected as not being
persons; they are people of falsity. "These people" are true persons.
Grasped and protected, never to be
abandoned: grasped means to embrace.
Protected means that the
Buddha protects the person of SHINJIN without pause - in all places, at
all times, and without discrimination among people. "Protected" means
that one cannot be deterred by those who have taken up other teachings
and beliefs, nor obstructed by those of different understandings and
practices; one is not threatened by the heavenly demon Papiyas, nor
troubled by evil gods and demons.
Never to be abandoned: these
words teach us that the person of SHINJIN is embraced and protected by
the heart of the Buddha of Wisdom-Light and that he or she is never
abandoned, but always resides within that Heart of Light.
It is not stated at all that any practicers of various other acts are
illumined and embraced: various
other acts signifies all the various kinds of good acts. Thus,
it is not the case that any who perform sundry practices and incline
toward different forms of discipline are illumined and embraced; they
are not protected. This sentence urges us to realize that such people
do not receive the benefit of being grasped by Amida, for they are not
practicers of the Primal Vow. It means that they are not protected in
the present life.
This is being protected in the
present life means that Amida protects us in this world. This
karmic power of the Buddha, fulfilled through the Primal Vow, is the
strong cause of the attainment of birth by the person of SHINJIN; hence
it is called the decisive cause. The person who rejoices in realizing
SHINJIN is taught in a sutra to be the equal of the Buddhas.
Master Genshin of Shuryogon-in states:
Although I too am within Amida's
grasp, blind passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see [the Light];
nevertheless, Great Compassion untiringly and constantly illumines me.
This means, "Even though I am also in Amida's grasp, I cannot see
because of the blind passions that obstruct my eyes. Nevertheless,
great compassion is tireless and always illumines me."
If there are
persons who, having heard the Name of that Buddha, leap and dance with
joy and say it even once, know that they receive the great benefit;
that is, they acquire the unexcelled virtues.
There are persons who, having heard the Name of that Buddha:
Shakyamuni's words exhorting us to entrust ourselves to the Name that
embodies the Primal Vow.
Leap and dance with joy and say it
even once: joy is to rejoice beforehand at being assured of
attaining what one shall attain.
Leap and dance (yuyaku) means
to dance in the air (yu) and to dance on the ground (yaku); it is the
form of boundless joy and manifests the state of gladness and delight.
"Gladness" is to rejoice upon attaining what one shall attain and
"delight" is happiness. Attaining the stage of the truly settled
expresses itself in this form.
Even indicates the
indeterminateness of the number of times one should say the Name.
Say [the Name] once is virtue
at its fullness. The countless virtues are all included and the various
merits all held in a single utterance.
Know that they: people
Receive the great benefit:
they will realize the supreme Nirvana; hence it is further stated, that
is, they acquire the unexcelled virtues. That is means immediately; it
also means dharmicness.
In entrusting ourselves to the Tathagata's Primal Vow and saying the
Name once, necessarily, without seeking it, we are made to receive the
supreme virtues, and without knowing it, we acquire the great and vast
benefit. This is dharmicness, by which one will immediately realize the
various facets of enlightenment naturally. "Dharmicness" means not
brought about in any way by the practicer's calculation; from the very
beginning one shares in the benefit that surpasses conception. It
indicates the nature of jinen. "Dharmicness" expresses the natural
working (jinen) in the life of the person who realizes SHINJIN and says
the Name once.
Concerning the statement from the sutra, There is not one who is falsely settled or
not settled: not one who is falsely settled means, "because in
the fulfilled land there is no one who performs various good acts and
practices in mixed ways."
Not settled: in the True
Fulfilled Land there is no one who says the Nembutsu in self-power or
in doubt, for only the truly settled are born there.
These passages are scriptural evidence for the teaching of once-calling. I have not explained
them as fully as I would like, but using these notes, please explore
their deeper significance.
The teaching of many-calling
should not be considered false
In the Primal Vow are the words:
Saying my Name
perhaps even ten times.
Know from the words ten times that appear from the beginning in the Vow
itself that saying the Name is not limited to one utterance. And the
word perhaps even makes it
clearer still that there is no set number of times one should say the
Name. This Vow shows the way that is easy to traverse and easy to
practice; it reveals the boundlessness of great love and great
In the Smaller Sutra
Shakyamuni Tathagata teaches, "You should say the Name for one to seven
days." This sutra is called "the exposition delivered spontaneously,
not in response to a question." The Tathagata preached it without being
requested to. That is, Sakyamuni decided to set forth in this sutra his
fundamental intent in appearing in the world; this is why it is "the
exposition delivered spontaneously, not in response to a question."
The Primal Vow that expresses Amida's selection of the Name, the
witness of the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters, the basic intent of
all the Buddhas in appearing in the world, and the protection of
Tathagatas countless as the sands of the Ganges all indicate the Vow
that the Buddhas praise the Name.
The Vow that all the Buddhas say the Name in praise is stated in the Larger Sutra:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the
worlds in the ten quarters do not all praise and say my Name, may I not
attain the supreme enlightenment.
This compassionate Vow declares, "If, when I have realized Buddhahood,
the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters do not
all praise and say my Name, then I shall not attain Buddhahood."
Praise means to be praised by
all the Buddhas.
Single-heartedly practicing the saying of the Name
of Amida alone - whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining -
without regard to the length of time, and without abandoning it from
moment to moment: this is called "the act of true settlement," for it
is in accord with the Buddha's Vow.
With single-heartedness solely saying Amida's Name: single-heartedness
is the diamondlike SHINJIN.
Solely saying Amida's Name is wholehearted single practice.
"Wholehearted" means not shifting to other good acts, not turning one's
thoughts to other Buddhas; "single practice" is solely to practice the
Name that embodies the Primal Vow, free of all doubt. "Practice" means
to amend and rectify the unsettledness of the heart and say the
nembutsu. "Single" means sole, one. "Sole" means having no thought of
shifting to other good acts or other Buddhas.
Whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining - without regard to
the length of time, and without abandoning it from moment to moment:
for time (jisetsu), ji is time in terms of the twelve hours of the day;
setsu indicates time as the twelve months and four seasons. That times
are not distinguished means that there is no need to avoid impure
occasions. Because there is no discrimination among various activities,
the word without regard is used.
This is called "the act of true settlement," for it is in accord with
the Buddha's Vow: to entrust oneself to the universal Vow is for the
karmic cause resulting in birth in the Fulfilled Land to become
settled; it is called the act of true settlement, for it is in accord
with the Buddha's Vow.
It is those who argue over
once-calling and many-calling who are termed people of other teachings
and different understandings. Other teachings applies to those
who incline toward the Path of Sages or nonbuddhist ways, endeavor in
other practices, think on other Buddhas, observe lucky days and
auspicious occasions, and depend on fortune-telling and ritual
purification. Such people belong to nonbuddhist ways; they rely wholly
refers to saying the Nembutsu but not entrusting oneself to Other Power.
Different means to divide
something that is integral into two.
Understanding means to
realize, to unravel. It is seeking to understand through self-power
while saying the Nembutsu. Hence the expression, different understandings.
Further, those who take up auxiliary good acts are people endeavoring
in self-power. "Self-power" characterizes those who have full
confidence in themselves, trusting in their own hearts and minds,
striving with their own powers, and relying on their own various roots
When we say the
Nembutsu, whether, at the upper limit,
entire lives in utterance, or down to ten
Or three or five
times, the Buddha will come to welcome us.
accomplishes directly with the universal Vow,
Which is replete
when they become mindful of the Vow, are
brought to the attainment of birth; this is
Made the essential
At the upper limit, spending our
entire lives: at the upper limit means top, to advance, to
ascend. It means "to the end of one's life."
Spending means "until
Lives indicates form; it also
means to manifest. Thus, "saying the nembutsu to the very end of life."
Amida Buddha will come to welcome us...when
we say the nembutsu but ten or three or five times: this means that it
does not depend on the number of times the nembutsu is said.
Accomplishes directly with the
universal Vow: directly means true; it refers to the Tathagatas'
direct teaching. The "direct teaching" is the fundamental intent of all
the Buddhas in appearing in this world.
Accomplish means to do, to
use, to be settled, that, this, to encounter. "To encounter" implies
Replete means accumulated,
momentous, ample. This passage teaches us to realize that Amida's using
and settling on the Name that embodies the Vow is replete with the
Moreover, Shakyamuni states in the Larger
The reason the Tathagatas appear in the world is their desire to save
the multitudes of beings and by blessing them with the true and real
Tathagatas indicates all the
Appear in the world means,
"Buddhas come into the world."
The multitudes of beings
indicates all sentient beings.
The true and real benefit is Amida's Vow. Thus, the reason that the
Buddhas appear in the world age after age is that they desire to bless
and save all sentient beings by teaching the power of Amida's Vow.
Since they take this as their fundamental intent, the Vow is called the true and real benefit. Further,
it is termed "the direct teaching for which all Buddhas appear in the
The eighty-four thousand dharma-gates are all good practices of the
provisional means of the Pure Land teaching; they are known as the
"essential" or provisional gate. This gate consists of the good
practices, meditative and nonmeditative, taught in the Sutra of Contemplation on the Buddha of
Immeasurable Life. Meditative good refers to the thirteen
contemplations; nonmeditative good refers to the good acts of the three
types of meritorious behavior and the nine grades of beings. These all
belong to the "essential" gate, which is the provisional means of the Pure Land
teaching; it is also called the provisional
gate. Encouraging and guiding all sentient beings with various
means through this "essential" or provisional gate, the Buddha teaches
and encourages them to enter "the great treasure ocean of true and real
virtue - the Primal Vow, perfect and unhindered, which is the One
Vehicle." Hence, all good acts of
self-power are called provisional ways.
"One Vehicle" here refers to the Primal Vow. "Perfect" means that the
Primal Vow is full of all merits and roots of good, lacking none, and
further, that it is free and unrestricted. "Unhindered" means that it
cannot be obstructed or destroyed by blind passion and karmic evil.
"True and real virtue" is the Name. Since the wondrous principle of
true reality or suchness has reached its perfection in the Primal Vow,
this Vow is likened to a great treasure ocean. True reality-suchness is
the supreme great Nirvana. Nirvana is Dharma-nature. Dharma-nature is
Tathagata. With the words, "treasure ocean," the Buddha's
nondiscriminating, unobstructed, and nonexclusive guidance of all
sentient beings is likened to the all-embracing waters of the great
From this treasure ocean of oneness form was manifested, taking the
name of Bodhisattva Dharmakara, who, through establishing the
unhindered Vow as the cause, became Amida Buddha. For this reason Amida
is the "Tathagata of fulfilled body." Amida has been called "Buddha of
unhindered light filling the ten quarters." This Tathagata is also
known as Namu-fukashigiko-butsu (Namu-Buddha of Inconceivable Light)
and is the "Dharma-body as compassionate means." "Compassionate means"
refers to manifesting form, revealing a name, and making itself known
to sentient beings. It refers to Amida Buddha. This Tathagata is light.
Light is none other than wisdom; wisdom is the form of light. Wisdom
is, in addition, formless; hence this Tathagata is the Buddha of
Inconceivable Light. This Tathagata fills the countless worlds in the
ten quarters, and so is called "Buddha of Boundless Light." Further,
Bodhisattva Vasubandhu has given the name, "Tathagata of unhindered
light filling the ten quarters."
[Vasubandhu's] Treatise on the Pure
power of the Buddha's Primal Vow,
I see that no one
who encounters it passes by in vain;
It quickly brings
to fullness and perfection
The great treasure
ocean of virtues.
This passage states: "When I behold the power of the Buddha's Primal
Vow, I see that there is no one who encounters it and passes by in
vain. It effectively brings the treasure ocean of virtues quickly to
fullness and perfection."
Contemplating means to bring
to mind the power of the Vow. It also means to know.
Encounter means to entrust
oneself to the power of the Primal Vow.
No one passes by in vain: no
one who has SHINJIN meaninglessly remains in the world of
Bring means to cause; it also
Quickly means rapidly, fast.
Virtues signifies none other
than the Name.
The great treasure ocean: all
roots of good and all virtues being full to the utmost is likened to
By these words we know that these virtues quickly and rapidly become
perfectly full in the hearts of persons who entrust themselves to them.
Thus, though persons of the diamondlike mind neither know nor seek it,
the vast treasure of virtues completely fills them; hence it is likened
to an ocean of great treasure.
when they become mindful [of the Vow], are immediately brought to the
attainment of birth; this is made the essential purport.
Made the essential purport
means to take as central and fundamental. It also means to reach. "To
reach" is to attain the True Fulfilled Land.
Foolish beings: none other
than ourselves. Thus, "You should take entrusting to the power of the
Primal Vow to be essential."
Become mindful means entrusting ourselves to the Tathagata's Vow
without any doubt.
Immediately (soku) means at
once. Immediately [attain] birth
is to become settled in the stage of the truly settled without any time
elapsing, without a day passing. This is expressed, when they become
mindful of the Vow, they are immediately brought to the attainment of
Soku also means to ascend, which describes the status of one who will
necessarily rise to a certain rank. In secular usage, to rise to the
throne of the country is "ascension to rank." The person of the rank of
crown prince necessarily rises to the rank of king. Likewise, ascending
to the stage of the truly settled is similar to holding the rank of
crown prince, with ascension to rank - enthronement in the case of the
prince - corresponding to the attainment of supreme great Nirvana.
Amida has vowed that the person of SHINJIN, having reached the stage of
the truly settled, shall necessarily attain Nirvana. This is called the essential purport, meaning that
the realization of the enlightenment of Nirvana is taken to be
Foolish beings: as expressed
in the parable of the two rivers of water and fire, we are full of
ignorance and blind passion. Our desires are countless, and anger,
wrath, jealousy, and envy are overwhelming, arising without pause; to
the very last moment of life they do not cease, or disappear, or
exhaust themselves. When we, who are so shameful, go a step or two,
little by little, along the White Path of the power of the Vow, we are
taken in and held by the compassionate heart of the Buddha of
Unhindered Light [Amida]. It is fundamental that because of this we
will unfailingly reach the Pure Land of happiness, whereupon we will be
brought to realize the same enlightenment of great Nirvana as Amida
Tathagata, being born in the flower of that perfect enlightenment. This
is expressed, Foolish beings, when they become mindful of the Vow, are
immediately brought to the attainment of birth; this is made the
In the parable of the two rivers, "going a step or two" signifies the
passage of one or two years. The direct teaching for which all Buddhas
have appeared in this world - the Tathagata's fundamental intent in his
attainment of the way - has been to make central the bringing of
sentient beings to think on Amida's Primal Vow so that they immediately
knowing Amida's universal Primal Vow and saying the Name.
This passage speaks of truly knowing the Tathagata's Primal Vow.
Truly refers to the diamondlike mind.
Know means to know that Amida
guides sentient beings who are filled with blind passions and karmic
evil. Further, know is to
behold, which means to call to mind and think on. Know thus means to
call to mind and realize.
And saying the Name: and means extending to, including.
Saying (sho) means to utter
the Name. Sho also means to weigh, to determine the measure of
something. This means that when a person says the Name even ten times
or but once, hearing it and being without even the slightest doubt, he
or she will be born in the True Fulfilled Land.
Further, the Smaller Sutra
teaches that one should say the Name for seven days or a single day.
These passages are scriptural evidence for the teaching of
many-calling. I have not explained them as fully as I would like, but
you should see from these notes that the dispute over once-calling and
many-calling is pointless. The tradition of the true Pure Land teaching
speaks of birth through the Nembutsu. Never has there been mention of
"birth through once-calling" or "birth through many-calling." Please
Namu Amida Butsu
That people of the countryside,
who do not know the meanings of
characters and who are painfully and hopelessly ignorant, may easily
understand, I have repeatedly written the same things again and again.
The educated reader will probably find this writing peculiar and may
ridicule it. But paying no heed to such criticism, I write only that
foolish people may easily grasp the essential meaning.
Kogen 2 , Second month,
Written at age 85