On the Attainment of True Faith

[author unknown - c. 13-14th c.? Japan]

Translated by Eizo TANAKA

Part One

Shin Buddhists should first of all understand how the Original Vow was made. Amida's Great Vow is made up of forty-eight constituent vows of which the Eighteenth is the most fundamental, the other forty-seven having been intended to reinforce our faith in the Eighteenth. Shan-tao sets out this vow in the Ojo Raisan as follows:

"If, when I have become a Buddha, sentient beings throughout the ten directions who say my Name at least ten times are not born in the Pure Land, may I not enter that Perfect Enlightenment of Buddhahood."

This means that if every living being throughout the ten directions is born in the Pure Land, having fulfilled the vow necessary for birth and its attendant practices (gan-gyo), he would become a Buddha but if any fail to be so born then he would not enter that Perfect Enlightenment.

Here the question may arise: "If it is the case that Amida's Perfect Enlightenment depends solely on whether we are born in the Pure Land, how is it that Amida has already entered Perfect Enlightenment, even though not every living being throughout the ten directions has yet been so born? This I cannot understand."

It is to be noted, however, that Amida has already accomplished our Pure Land birth by fulfilling for each of us our vow and its attendant practices. As the requirement of the vow and practices has been fulfilled, thereby securing Pure Land birth for every living being throughout the ten directions, Amida has thus consummated the "Perfect Enlightenment of the Namuamidabutsu" in which those to be saved (ki) and Amida himself (ho) are one.

Therefore, there is no Pure Land birth of any ordinary living being apart from Amida's Perfect Enlightenment. Amida entered Perfect Enlightenment when the Pure Land birth of every living being was accomplished, and thereby Amida's Perfect Enlightenment and our Pure Land birth were achieved simultaneously.

This birth of every living being was accomplished at the hands of Amida but, as each one of us comes to realise it at different times, some attained birth in the Pure Land in the past, some are attaining it now and some will attain it in the future. Although within these three categories of time each of us has to have his own moment for attaining birth, there is nothing for us to add to the absolute consummation Amida achieved on behalf of all living beings at the moment of his Perfect Enlightenment. It can be compared to the sun which, once having risen, dispels the darkness everywhere, and to the moon that rises in the sky and casts its image on the waters everywhere at the same moment. The moon casts its image on the waters whenever it rises, and also the sun never fails to dispel the darkness when it rises. Therefore just ask whether the sun has risen or not. We need not argue whether the darkness has cleared up or not. We might as well ask whether Amida has already attained Enlightenment or not, instead of arguing whether ordinary beings will be born in the Pure Land or not.

Amida, when he was the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, vowed that he would not enter Buddhahood unless all living beings attained Pure Land birth, and he has been a Buddha now for ten kalpas. We have been vainly repeating the round of mortality without realising that Amida has already brought it to an end for us by establishing our birth in the Pure Land.

It says in the Hanju-san:

"Therefore we should feel very ashamed about it for Shakyamuni Buddha is indeed our loving parent'."

The two characters 'zan' and 'gi' are interpreted as 'to feel ashamed before heaven' and 'to feel ashamed before the world'. They are also interpreted as 'to feel ashamed in oneself' and 'to feel ashamed in front of others'. What ought we to feel so very ashamed about? We should feel ashamed at our stupidity in taking no notice of Amida who, for an incalculable number of kalpas, laboured for our sake to fulfill his Vows and Practices, and at our being deaf to Shakyamuni who appeared in the world time and time again, even 8,000 times from 500 dust-mote kalpas' ago, to let us know about Amida's wonderful Vows.

It may well be that, in following Mahayana and Hinayana paths and practices, we discover that, although excellent in their doctrine, they do not work for us and we cannot keep on with them. The completion and fruition of Other-Power Vows and Practices, however, have been achieved by Amida Buddha, and their merits turned over to us who lack goodness. Amida endows those merits even on those who abuse the Dharma or who have no seeds of Buddhahood in them or those who will be born during the 100-year period after the Dharma is in ruins.

(The Hanju-san) tells us also that we should feel thoroughly ashamed of the fact that we have never attended to or believed the Dharma that Shakyamuni Buddha spoke from his heart. There is no place in the entire trichiliocosm, not one even small enough for a poppy seed to enter, in which Shakyamuni Buddha has not offered up his body and his life. In order that we who do not trust in Other-Power might come to have true Faith, the Buddha has performed all kinds of difficult and long-suffering practices to approach us and amass merits and virtues for us. Hence the Hanju-san says we should be very ashamed that we pay no heed to this vast and magnanimous will of the Buddha.

To make this point clear (the Hanju-san) goes on to say: "Shakyamuni uses various expedients to awaken this unsurpassed Faith within us."

Unsurpassed Faith refers to the Threefold Faith of Other-Power. Again, it says:

"There are many teachings, providing a variety of expedients."

This means that there are different scriptures for the benefit of different kinds of people.

It is difficult for any ordinary person to come upon Other Power Faith. Nevertheless, when we have experienced how hard self-power practices are, we come to see how easy are Other Power practices and, when we hear of the strenuous demands of the Holy Path, we begin to trust ourselves to the easy way of the Pure Land.

Despite the fact that our Pure Land birth has already been accomplished by Amida, misled by wayward desires, we have for numberless ages repeated the round of mortality, and thus we have not believingly accepted the wonderful wisdom of Amida. The taking refuge in Amida of each living being in the past, present and future, in fact, means that each one turns to the here-and-now, once-and-for-all consummation of Amida's Perfect Enlightenment (Shogaku no ichinen). The thought of reciting the Name and remembering Amida by each sentient being throughout the ten directions partakes of that same Perfect Enlightenment of Amida. There is not a single living being's remembrance or recitation of Amida's Name that stays with the practitioner.

His Name embodies the whole of Enlightenment because it is Amida's Practice to fulfill the Great Vow and it is not separate from Amida himself (myo-tai funt). Since his Name is the embodiment of Enlightenment, it constitutes the basis for birth in the Pure Land for every being throughout the ten directions and, because it constitutes the basis for our birth in the Pure Land, there is no vow or practice left that has not been perfected for us.

In the Gengi-Bun Shan-tao says therefore:

"Ten repetitions of the Buddha's Name mentioned in the Meditation Sutra contain ten vows and ten practices. How?

"'Namu' means 'rely on'; it also has the meaning of 'aspiring (to birth) and wishing to transfer (the merit of the practices for attaining birth)'. 'Amida Butsu' constitutes the practices (required to accomplish birth). For this reason, whoever repeats the Name will surely be born in the Pure Land."

The fact that repetitions of the Name, made by the lower class of the lower grade of aspirants who are unable to think of Amida (on their death-bed), completely fulfill the vows and practices, demonstrates that vows and practices are not to be undertaken by us human beings. The vows and practices needed to ensure birth in the Pure Land for us ordinary people have already been fulfilled by the Bodhisattva Dharmakara's Vow which took him five kalpas to establish, and his Practices which extended for innumerable kalpas.

Realisation that Amida has completed the Vow and Practices is called 'the Three Minds' or 'the Threefold Faith' or simply 'the Faith'. 'Namuamidabutsu' is the verbal reverberation of Amida Buddha's fulfillment of ordinary beings' vows and practices in the Name. Therefore, the realisation does not stay in our mind and heart: it returns to the original source, Buddha's Vow. The Name doesn't remain in us but goes straight to the Great Vow. This means that putting Pure Land teaching into effect lies solely in understanding the Eighteenth Vow to the full.

Shan-tao, too, says (in the jozen-gi):

"In the Larger Sutra the forty-eight Vows are set out solely to make it clear that those beings who repeat the Name exclusively are assured of birth in the Pure Land." Amida has perfected virtues as innumerable as the sand grains of the Ganges. For such as us - the ignorant and those whose thoughts are uncontrolled - his Pure Land represents supreme delight and so it is called 'The Land of Utmost Bliss'.

It would be a great pity if anyone who believes in Amida's Vow and says his Name should take the name to be the virtuous name of a Buddha who resides outside of himself and should think that by virtue of his earnest repetition of the Name he will be born in the Pure Land. If only the firm belief arises in us that Namuamidabutsu represents the accomplishment of our birth in the Pure Land, our birth there is confirmed at the instant we say it because Amida Buddha himself constitutes the practices required for our birth. When we hear the Name we should take it for our assurance of birth and that it is one with his Enlightenment. Even though we have doubts about Amida's having perfected his Enlightenment, we should have no doubts at all about whether our own birth has been accomplished. If one single being were to remain unsaved, Amida would never have entered Enlightenment. To realise that this is so is truly to understand the Eighteenth Vow.

(The writer wishes to thank the editors for their help in the translation.)


1. The title literally means 'a tract on the firm establishment of peace of mind'. The author is unknown but is presumed to have been someone closely related to the Seizan school of the Jodo sect. The eighth abbot of the Shin sect, Rennyo (1415-99), found this to be a highly inspirational book and compared it to 'a gold mine'.

2. Kalpa: Aeons of time. A very long period of time often described figuratively as, for example: suppose there is a huge castle filled with poppy-seeds; one kalpa is the length of time required to empty the castle of the seeds as an angel removes one seed at a time once every three years.

3. 500 dust-mote kalpas: An analogy given in the Lotus Sutra to describe innumerable kalpas of time. Suppose one grinds to pieces 500 thousand trichiliocosms, multiplied by 10,000 kotis of nayutas of asamkhyas (all of these are high numbers). Then suppose one drops one piece after passing through 500 nayutas of asamkhyas of worlds, and drops another after passing further through the same number of worlds and one continues to do the same until all the pieces are exhausted, then one grinds to pieces all the worlds one has covered. The number of the pieces thus obtained is the number of kalpas here referred to.

4. Trichiliocosm: 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 worlds. This is the largest unit of world-systems. According to Buddhist cosmology, each world has at its centre a high mountain (Mt. Sumeru) which is surrounded by four continents, nine mountain-ranges, and eight seas.

5. Threefold Faith: The three aspects of Faith mentioned in the Eighteenth Vow. They are: sincere mind, serene and joyful faith, and the assurance of being born in the Pure Land.

6. Shogaku no ichinen: Literally, one thought (-moment) of Enlightenment. At the moment of Enlightenment one goes beyond temporal and spatial limitations. The Buddha's Enlightenment is therefore valid at any time and at any place. Our Nembutsu thought and Faith are the outcome of a direct communication with this here-and-now, once-and-for-all consummation of Amida's Enlightenment.

7. Three Minds: The same as the Threefold Faith. See note 5 above.

In order to be born in the Pure Land, people should indeed make the necessary vow and carry out the practice themselves.

However, Bodhisattva Dharmakara has made the Vow and carried out the Practice for us. The effect he has achieved is made available to us. This is beyond the law of cause-and-effect in the worldly as well as the supramundane sense. Shan-tao praised Amida's Vow as an extraordinary Universal Vow.

Amida has fulfilled the Vow and Practice in place of all beings, wishing to save, first of all, those sinking in the ocean of birth-and-death and then to extend salvation to the virtuous. He resolved that if a single sentient being escaped salvation his compassionate Vow would not be fulfilled. When he fulfilled the Vow and Practice for the sake of each and every sentient being, his Enlightenment was accomplished and the birth of ordinary people in the Pure Land was achieved. In the Vow, Amida declared that he would not enter Enlightenment if there was any point in space where his wonderful Name was not heard. We do hear the Name, Amida, and so we should realise that our birth in the Pure Land has already been achieved.

In this case, 'to hear' does not mean listening to the Name inattentively. It means harbouring no doubts as we hear the wonderful working of Other-Power in the Original Vow. In hearing the Name, the power to hear it has been achieved by virtue of the Original Vow. It is entirely due to Other-Power. Even if Amida has accomplished our birth in the Pure Land, how could we realise it without hearing the Name which has been revealed by the fulfillment of the Vow? Suppose someone hears Amida's Name and worships a representation of him but does not realise that the Name signifies his accomplishment of our birth in the Pure Land and does not take the representation to be the embodiment of Enlightenment. This Enlightenment the Bodhisattva Dharmakara attained by fulfilling the Vow that he would not attain Enlightenment unless all living beings were ferried to the Pure Land. Then such a person neither truly hears the Name nor truly worships Amida.

In the Byodogakkyo it says:

"When they hear the Pure Land teaching, their rapture over it makes them dance and jump about and their hair stands on end."

This means that our joy (in faith) is not a usual one. If we were to apply ourselves to the practice necessary for transcending birth-and-death, we should surely find that we lacked both the Bodhi-Mind and the intelligence necessary for the undertaking. As we have neither the 'eye of wisdom' nor the 'feet of practice', we are certainly destined to the pit of fire in the three evil realms. However, how happy we are to know that Amida has accomplished the necessary vow and practice in our stead and thus consummated the Enlightenment in which those to be saved and Amida himself are one. When we think of this, we feel almost like dancing and jumping for joy. This is equivalent to what is said in the Larger Sutra:

"Then one hears (the teaching) and remembers Amida with singleness of heart."

and also,

"We praise the Name in rapture as we hear it."

When we do not take the Name to be something external but regard it as having accomplished our birth in the Pure Land and when we worship Amida's representation as showing ourselves when we are so born, then we may say that we have truly heard the Name and have worshipped Amida. To realise this is to believe in the Original Vow.

Those who have firm faith in the Nembutsu Samadhi (Nembutsu zammai) of necessity find themselves one with Namu amida butsu in both mind and body. Our bodies are said to be composed of the four elements: earth, water, fire and air. In Hinayana Buddhism they are said to be made up of minute particles (gokumi). If we were to break up our bodies into those minute particles, we should not at any time come upon one single tiny fragment of a particle that was not imbued with the merit of the Reward-Body Buddha (hobutsu). Thus, our bodies being one with Amida are in themselves Namu amida butsu.

Our minds are full of wayward desires and the petty impulses accompanying them. They arise and perish from moment to moment. If we were to analyse our minds into a hundred thousand aspects, there would not be one of them that was not permeated with Amida's Vow and Practice. Thus, our minds being one with Amida are in themselves Namu amida butsu. Amida's compassionate breast throngs with us sentient beings who are constantly sinking. Therefore those to be saved and Amida himself are one and are united in Namu amida butsu. Again, the merit of the Dharma-Realm-Body Buddha (hokkaijin) suffuses the depths of our deluded minds. For this reason, too, those to be saved and Amida himself are one and are united in Namu amida butsu. It is the same regarding the principal and subordinate recompensed in the Pure Land. As for the subordinate recompense, there is not a single object, even down to a leaf of a gem tree, which has not been formed for the sake of us, the most depraved. Therefore we find here, too, that those to be saved and that which belongs to Amida are one and are united in Namu amida butsu. As for the principal recompense, there is not a single mark of Amida Buddha's physical distinction, from the white curl of hair between the eyebrows down to the sole bearing the mark of a wheel of a thousand spokes, which does not indicate the consummation of the Vow and Practice for the sake of us sentient beings who are constantly sinking. For this reason, we find here that those to be saved and Amida himself are one and are united in Namu amida butsu.

Our minds and bodies, our three kinds of action: physical, verbal and volitional and our four bodily attitudes: moving, standing, sitting and lying are all interpenetrated by the merit of Amida, the Reward-Body Buddha. Therefore Namu, the one who takes refuge in Amida, is never, even for an instant, separated from Amida Butsu (Amida himself) - every thought is wholly Namu amida butsu. Each breath in and out is never, even for a moment, separated from the Buddha's merit and so its substance is entirely Namu amida butsu.

There was once a man named Vajrabodhi who constantly practised "the water meditation." His body turned into a mass of water pulled by the state of his mind. This illustrates the fact that when one is totally dedicated to a certain method of practice one's mind and body actually become it. When we have come to a true realisation of the Nembutsu Samadhi, our bodies as well as our minds become Namu amida butsu. When this realisation is verbally expressed, we say Namu amida butsu. This is the veritable 'Nembutsu of the Universal Vow'.


1. Byodogakkyo: One of the five extant Chinese translations of the Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra. The translation is traditionally ascribed to Lokakema (Shirukasen) in the 2nd century A.D. The quotation actually comes from the Jozen Gi in which Shan-tao gives the import of a passage from the Byodogakkyo.

2. The three evil realms: Hell, realms of hungry spirits, and animals.

3. The quotations actually come from the Ojo Raisan in which Shantao gives the import of two passages from the Larger Sutra.

4. Nembutsu Samadhi: The practice of allowing the attention to remain on the Buddha, which includes the single-hearted remembrance of the Buddha and the continuous recitation of his Name. This practice leads to becoming one with the Buddha. In Shin Buddhism, oneness with Amida has already been accomplished by him in the form of the Name, Namu amida butsu, and is actualised when our hearts are opened to him through the Nembutsu.

5. The four constituent elements of the material world: (1) the earth element represents solidity and supports things; (2) the water element moistens and contains things; (3) the fire element represents heat and matures things; and (4) the air element represents motion and causes things to grow.

6. Gokumi: Minute particles or atoms; the smallest material unit conceived in some schools of Buddhism.

7. Hobutsu: Lit. 'Reward-body'; Sambhogakaya; here refers to Amida who has come into existence as the 'reward' of his meritorious practices.

8. Mind or consciousness appears to continue without a break while one is awake but, in fact, its continuum is made up of a series of arisings and disappearances from moment to moment.

9. Hokkaijin: Lit. 'Dharma-realm-body'; the body of the Buddha which represents the quintessence of the universe and permeates it.

10. The principal recompense (shoho) refers to the sentient existences in the Pure Land, namely, Amida, Bodhisattvas and other inhabitants. The subordinate or dependent recompense (eho) refers to the inanimate existences, such as gem trees and treasure ponds.

11. Water meditation: Meditation in which one meditates on the water element of one's body and conceives of it as the same as the water of the ocean.

The Nembutsu does not refer merely to the oral act of reciting it but, more properly, it expresses our faith that the Virtue of Amida Buddha is already fulfilled in us in the form of 'Name' and has been ever since his Enlightenment ten long aeons ago. The verbal expression of this realisation is 'Namu amida butsu'.

The quintessence of the heart of this Buddha being Great Compassion, his primary concern is to emancipate, more than anybody else, ignorant and dull beings like us. For this purpose he has declared that the accomplishment of his Enlightenment is such that his Name and he himself are one and the same. He reveals himself in his Name, endowing it with all his merits and virtues. Therefore, even those of little faith and those whose understanding is limited can be born in the Pure Land if they say 'Namu amida butsu'. However, as we are ordinary unenlightened beings of inferior capacity, we are not able to come by even a little faith, yet when we hear the full implication of the Name until we have thoroughly understood it, faith will be awakened in us.

If there is someone who says 'Namu amida butsu' but fails to attain birth in the Pure Land, it is, according to T'an-luan, "because (his saying of the Name) does not conform to the import of the Name." To conform to the import of the Name means to say the Name with a belief that we shall be born in the Pure Land by the Virtue and Power of Amida Buddha. Full understanding of the import of the six-syllable Name, 'Na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu', is called having the 'Threefold Faith'. This is because (the saying of) the Name is the verbal embodiment of Faith. Therefore, the saying of 'Namu amida butsu' while being mindful that Amida's Virtue is thoroughly consummated in me constitutes the Nembutsu recitation with the Threefold Faith. Those who recite the Nembutsu with self-power keep Amida separate from themselves and conceive of him as dwelling in the Western (Pure Land). Being unenlightened ordinary beings, such people only occasionally think of Amida's Other-Power and say the Name, thereby holding themselves aloof from Amida. When a trace of Bodhi-Mind appears in them they imagine Pure Land birth is within easy reach but when they do not feel like reciting the Nembutsu and the Bodhi-Mind fades they feel quite uncertain about their birth in the Pure Land.

The impulse to seek Enlightenment rarely arises in the minds of ordinary people and so it is natural that they should remain in their unsettled plight regarding their birth in the Pure Land. They want their birth there confirmed and wonder if, by chance, it will just happen, but the issue will never be certain until they die. Namu amida butsu is sometimes on their tongues but they can hardly be assured of their birth in the Pure Land. We might say it is like those people who visit somebody only when necessity arises or like those who attend court services. They wonder how they can do what Amida wishes and they seek his favour by flattery in order to be born in his Pure Land. By so doing they separate themselves from Amida, their self-made faith holding Amida's Great Compassion at a distance. In this condition, they are completely uncertain of their birth in the Pure Land.

The Nembutsu meditation (Nembutsu zanmai) is the realisation that the Great Compassionate Enlightenment of 'Namu amida butsu' in which we, the saved, and Amida, the saving power, are united. Since it is Amida himself who has completed all our vows and practices, the putting of hands together in reverence, the saying of the Nembutsu with the mouth, the believing in Amida with the mind - everything is accomplished by Other-Power. Hence, showing that in the Nembutsu meditation the saved and the saving power are united, the Meditation Sutra says in the section on the Eighth Meditation: "All the Buddhas and Tathagatas have a Dharma Realm body, and so (Amida Buddha) enters the minds of all sentient beings." (Shan-tao) explains this passage as follows: "The Dharma Realm is the world which is to be enlightened - in other words, the world of sentient beings." He does not specifically say 'sentient beings who practise meditation' or 'sentient beings who have Bodhi-Mind' but states that 'sentient beings' of the Dharma Realm are to be enlightened (by Amida). Hence, it is said: "The Dharma Realm is the world which is to be enlightened - in other words, the world of sentient beings." He precisely explains: "Since (Amida's) mind reaches there, his body also reaches there." The Virtue of Amida's body and mind fills the minds and bodies of all beings; hence, (the Meditation Sutra says): "(Amida) enters the minds of all sentient beings." He who believes this is called 'one who practises the Nembutsu'.

Again, in explaining the Meditation on the True Body, (Shantao) says that the threefold action of Nembutsu followers and Amida's Action are not separate from each other. Since Amida's Enlightenment is dependent upon the birth of all beings in the Pure Land and the birth of all beings in the Pure Land is realised through Amida's Enlightenment, their threefold action and Amida's are completely one and the same. Those who have learned and understood that there is no birth in the Pure Land for us sentient beings apart from Amida's Enlightenment and that our vow and practice have been accomplished for us by Amida himself are called 'those who practise the Nembutsu', and the verbal expression of this faith of theirs is 'Namu amida butsu'. And so, however hard the true Nembutsu follower may try to get away from Amida he cannot separate himself from Amida by so much as the shadow of a thought.

Because Amida has accomplished the Enlightenment of 'Namu amida butsu' in which he and all beings are united, the ignorant, most inferior beings of the lowest grade who say 'Namu amida butsu', even though they lack mindfulness, can be born in the Pure Land, not by virtue of their saying 'Namu amida butsu', but because their saying it simply reveals their already-achieved birth - the birth made especially attainable for the most wicked.

"Even those who can hardly hear the name 'the Three Treasures', after the destruction of the Three Treasures mentioned in the Larger Sutra," will be born in the Pure Land by just saying 'Namu amida butsu' once. In this case, it is not the saying of it that brings about their birth there but the latent working of the Vow and Practice consummated by Amida that comes to the surface in them with that single saying of 'Namu amida butsu' and, thus, their birth in the Pure Land - the event of culminating importance in life - is assured.

If we understand this we see that our birth in the Pure Land, having been settled here and now, is not attributable to our own good sense in saying 'Namu amida butsu' and having faith in Other-Power: our saying of 'Namu amida butsu' reveals the consummation for and in us of the Virtue which Amida achieved at the moment of Enlightenment ten long aeons ago after having laboured assiduously for an incalculably prolonged period of time.

In our saying of 'Namu amida butsu' we are mindful of this fact and, in our performance of religious practices, we worship and revere Amida to express our joy and gratitude. Thus, Amida's Perfect Enlightenment and our performance of religious practices are one and inseparable. To call this a close relationship is not enough; any proximity is too distant. We should know that within this oneness we make a distinction between the one who thinks and that which is thought.



1. In the Ojo Ron chu by T'an-luan.

2. The Threefold Faith: see The Pure Land, Vol. 2 No. 1, p. 33, Note 5.

3. The Nembutsu Meditation: see ibid., Vol. 3 No. 1, p. 24, Note 4.

4. The Eighth Meditation: the meditation on Amida's image.

5. In the Jozen Gi by Shan-tao.

6. The Meditation on the True Body: the ninth of the 13 meditations presented in the Meditation Sutra.

7. The threefold action: actions done with the body, mouth and mind.

8. The most inferior beings of the lowest grade: the lowest of the nine grades of beings classified in the Meditation Sutra. They are doers of all sorts of evil but, encountering a good friend and saying 'Namu amida butsu' under his guidance, will be born in the Pure Land.

9. The Three Treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma or law and the Buddhist community.

10. In the Larger Sutra it is said that the Buddhist teaching will perish sometime in the future but that this sutra will continue to remain in the world thereafter for another 100 years to guide people.


In Vasubandhu's Discourse on the Pure Land it says:

"The great congregation of sages in the form of pure blossoms surrounding the Buddha
Are born there having been transformed from within the flower of Enlightenment."

Those who have attained the Great Faith of the Other Power are called 'Pure blossom sages', for they will all alike be born from within the flower of Enlightenment. The flower of Enlightenment corresponds to the spiritual lotus flower that grows from Amida's Great Compassion by which he entered that Enlightenment called 'the unity of rescued and rescuer' when all living beings in the universe had their vows and practices fulfilled by him. As Bodhisattva Dharmakara, Amida pledged the Pure Land birth of all of them and vowed he would not enter Enlightenment unless they were all born there.

The same thing is taught in the 'Seventh Meditation' section of the Meditation Sutra as the way to be free of pain and suffering. It is also shown in the 'Lowest Birth of the Lowest Grade' section as lotus flowers that welcome those who have committed the five gravest offenses. The Buddha's mind is likened to a lotus flower because it is never besmirched with the muddy defilements of ordinary beings' earthly desires and passions. How does the lotus flower birth of the Buddha's mind come about? In his explanation of this passage T'an-luan says:

"They are all born by the same Nembutsu, and not by any other path."

He also says:

"Those who inhabit the world, even the remotest place, throughout the whole extent of time are all brothers and sisters."

We differ morally, being separable into nine grades, but we do not differ in respect of relying on Amida's Vow and Practice and so we are all united in Enlightenment. Therefore, T'an-luan says:

"They are all born by the same Nembutsu, and not by any other path."

Those who have reached Pure Land birth before this have gone there by relying on the Vow and Practice of Other Power and those who will be so born after this will go there by taking refuge in the One Thought of Amida's Enlightenment. They all arrive within the lotus flower of Amida's mind-and-heart. For this reason it is said:

"All the sentient beings in the whole world are brothers and sisters."

Those who see the Buddha's body also see with reverence the Buddha's mind-and-heart which is none other than his Compassion. With pity Amida fixes his attention on us so that his mind-and-heart penetrates as deep as the marrow of our bones and stays there. It is like a piece of charcoal that has caught fire. We cannot pluck the fire from the burning charcoal however much we try. The embracing light of his mind-and-heart shines on us right through to the core of our flesh and bones.

Even though it is contaminated with the three poisons of greed, hatred and illusion and with every other defiling passion and anxiety, there is no region of our heart that is not saturated with the Buddha's virtue. Thus the Buddha and sentient beings are constitutionally one body from the very beginning. This state of affairs is called Namu amida butsu. Once this faith is awakened, anyone who says the Nembutsu only once in a while has to be called a person of constant Nembutsu. (Shan-tao) says the same thing (in his Commentary on the Meditation Sutra) in the section on the three relationships (with Amida):

"(When sentient beings) always say (the Buddha's Name) and always (worship him) with the body..."

When we trust in the virtue of Amida's threefold activity (bodily, oral and volitional) our own threefold activity is united with Amida's Wisdom, and the virtues Amida has, amassed over many aeons are exhibited in our bodily, oral and volitional activities.

Furthermore, in China during the T'ang Dynasty, there lived a much respected man called Fu, a great teacher who excelled in Mahayana as well as in non-Buddhist scriptures. He used to say:

"Every morning the Buddha and I rise together and every night I sleep with the Buddha in my arms."

When he said 'the Buddha', he meant Tathata, the noumenal Buddha, which is commonly discussed in the Holy Path teachings. However, from the viewpoint of the attainment of perfection by practices, exactly the same thing can also be said. Aspirants feel the same way once they are protected by the embracing Light of Amida's mind-and-heart-they rise each morning hand-in-hand with Amida's virtues and retire each night embracing his Wisdom.

How can we take advantage of the virtues of those Buddhas (mentioned in other sutras) who are not close to us? The noumenal virtues of Tathata, the Dharma-nature, lie close at hand but we who have no wisdom and intelligence cannot find a way to profit by them. It is a great pity that we vainly go back to our own ground where we have to repeat the round of mortality, bound hand and foot by the unreasoned illusion of self-power, in spite of our having long been rescued by Other Power - Amida's Vow and Practice within us that ensures our Enlightenment and our Pure Land birth without self-power.

How sorry Shakyamuni Buddha would feel that his eight thousand comings and goings were to no avail and how saddened Amida Buddha would be to find no trace of the effects of his long and earnest efforts to enlighten us - we who are so difficult to teach. Even if only one person comes to believe in this marvellous Vow and Practice it is a real repayment of the Buddha's kindness. And so it says in Tao-cho's Anrakushu:

"Since there has already been established the way of Other Power that we can make use of, we should stop thinking of staying in our burning house and clinging foolishly to self-power."

How true this is! In teaching that we should renounce the false claims of boastful self-power and instead trust in Other Power, (Shan-tao) explains:

"We should make sure that we leave this misleading path and return home."

Also he says:

"Now I'll leave. I don't feet like staying in this treacherous, evil place."

Furthermore, in his Hojisan, Shan-tao says,

"The Land of Ultimate Bliss, Nirvana, the Realm of Non-Action, Is difficult to reach for those who rely on miscellaneous good deeds performed according to different circumstances. Therefore the Buddha presents us with the choice of the Essential Way and teaches us to recite Amida's Name single-mindedly."

The meaning of this passage is this: 'the Land of Ultimate Bliss' is the place of non-action (asamskara) and non-defilement (anasrava) and so miscellaneous good deeds performed according to different circumstances would probably not qualify us to be born there. We should take refuge in the Nembutsu Samadhi of nonaction and non-defilement and, thereby, seek to be born in the Recompensed Land of non-action and eternal life.

Firstly, 'miscellaneous good deeds performed according to different circumstances' denotes self-power practices. One who lacks a right understanding of Buddhism or awakens no faith may claim, through one's acquaintance with a monk of the Ritsu sect, that the precepts are the most precious thing in the world or think that the esoteric practices of Shingon performed even for the purpose of praying for some secular benefit will serve to establish close relations with Buddhism and so they are valuable. Practices such as these are good deeds performed according to our own convenience and circumstances. Therefore they are relegated to the position of 'miscellaneous good deeds'. On this level of practice the same might be said about the Nembutsu practice, i.e. reciting the Nembutsu by self-power might be equivalent to miscellaneous deeds performed according to the practitioners' circumstances.

People arbitrarily take the Nembutsu as follows: when one meditates on the principal and subordinate adornments of the Pure Land and recites the Name, the Nembutsu does exist; but it does not exist when one does not meditate on or recite the Name. The Nembutsu on this level of practice can scarcely be regarded as the Nembutsu of non-action and eternal life. If the Nembutsu exists only when we recite the Name and ceases to exist when we don't, then it is, after all, a Nembutsu of evanescence and vicissitude.

The characters for 'non-action' literally mean 'nothing to be done'. Hinayana Buddhism speaks of three kinds of non-action. The non-action of space, which is one of the three, means that space neither passes away nor is originated: it is naturally so. In Mahayana Buddhism non-action is the everlasting, unchanging law, called suchness, Dharma-nature and so on. In the Section Explaining the Title (of the Gengibun) it is said, "The Dharma-body is everlasting just like space." Here the author intends to indicate the everlasting quality of the Pure Land. Therefore the Land of Ultimate Bliss is called "the Land of non-action and eternal life" because it neither comes into being nor disappears by human agency. The Nembutsu Samadhi is the same as this. It does not appear or disappear according to whether or not sentient beings recite the Nembutsu. This should be considered carefully.

Broadly speaking, 'nembutsu' means 'thinking of the Buddha'. Thinking of the Buddha means thinking of the merit consummated by the Buddha's Great Vow-Karma-Power to cut off the bonds which tie sentient beings to the condition of birth-and-death and, thereby, enable them to be born in the Recompensed Land of Non-Retrogression. When we thus think of the Buddha's merit, ride on the Original Vow and take refuge in it, our threefold activity is raised to the level of the Buddha's Enlightenment by 'leaning on the Buddha's body'. Therefore the Nembutsu Samadhi under discussion is not our own practice even though we recite, worship and think. We should take it as performing Amida's practice.

The Original Vow is the one which Amida produced after five kalpas of contemplation. Karma-Power means the Bodhisattva practices he performed for millions of billions of kalpas and also the vast merit and virtue of Buddhahood which has become manifest after his Enlightenment ten kalpas ago. Amida took great pains to cultivate this merit and virtue of Vow and Practice solely for the sake of ignorant people of the future evil ages like us. When he had severed the bonds of each and every one of the sentient beings of the ten directions which tied him to the condition of birth and death and had thus fulfilled the Vow and Practice, thereby producing the Recompensed Land of Non-Retrogression, he consummated the Enlightenment of the unity of the rescued and the rescuer. To think of the essence of Enlightenment is called the Nembutsu Samadhi. Therefore the Nembutsu Samadhi should not reside in our threefold activity.

In the normal course of practice, we are supposed to perform the practice ourselves to cut off the bonds of birth-and-death and carry out the vow and practice for entering the Recompensed Land. However, the special Universal Vow being such that it transcends the law that one attains a specific result by performing a specific causal practice, the Buddha has accomplished ordinary beings' birth in the Pure Land with his Great Vow-Karma-Power. If we take refuge in him with a feeling of gratitude for what he has done for us, our threefold activity works as a positive agent, i.e. of riding (the Vow-Power), and Amida's Vow-Power becomes an object of it, i.e. a vehicle to take us to the Recompensed Land of the Recompensed Buddha. Hence it is said that when one's mind and heart of taking refuge rides on the Original Vow, all one's threefold activity 'leans on the Buddha's body'.

Amida's Vow and Practice form the very substance of the vow and practice required for our own birth in the Pure Land. Therefore, apart from the Enlightenment Amida has attained as the fruition (of his Vow and Practice), we do not speak of any practice required for our own birth. However, though fully aware of this some think that the Buddha's Enlightenment is 'public property) and so, putting aside his Enlightenment, they resolve, "Why not awaken Bodhi-mind and perform practices with pure hearts?" This is a deplorably attached view. Since Amida's Enlightenment is the state in which our Pure Land birth has already been fulfilled, his body represents the vow and practice required for our birth. This practice is not the sort of practice which depends on some mindful act on our side. Therefore, it has been said,

"Apart from the Enlightenment Amida has attained as the fruition (of his Vow and Practice), we do not speak of any practice required for our own birth."

To accept this Enlightenment clearly in the mind is called the 'three minds' or 'shinjin'. In this Enlightenment in which the unity of the rescued and the rescuer is accomplished, the Name and the substance are not separate; to express this realisation through the mouth is called 'Namu amida butsu'. For this reason, through faith we are brought back to Amida's once-and-for-all consummation of Enlightenment; we are brought back to it through the recitation of the Name with the lips. Even if we repeat the Name one thousand times, not a single recitation goes beyond the once-and-for-all consummation of Enlightenment. Even if we spend days and nights without saying the Name or without thinking of Amida because of tiredness and indolence so long as our faith in Other-Power is founded on the Original Vow, we realise in our hearts that since the Buddha's body represents its eternal activity it is the body of enduring and uninterrupted practice, the Name being (the practice of) non-action and eternal presence. This is what (Shan-tao) means by "Amida Butsu is the practice".

Further, when I said above, "Nembutsu Samadhi is not our practice even though we recite, worship and think but we are performing Amida's practices", I mean that if our minds that take refuge in Amida ride on the Original Vow and all our acts of the mind, mouth and body rest on Amida's body, our bodies cease to exist separately from Amida and our minds cease to exist separately from him, too. When we recite (the Nembutsu) with the lips, we express our gratefulness for the Enlightenment of the unity of the rescued and the rescuer. When we worship, we express with our bodies the overwhelming joy over the benevolence of Other Power. Therefore, even though we recite and think on Amida, we do not thereby intend to amass merit but we simply perform the practice which Amida has already accomplished for us ordinary people.

Amida's body is uncreated and undefiled; both the principal and subordinate manifestations of the Pure Land are uncreated and undefiled. Since the Name and Amida's body are not separate, the Name is also uncreated and undefiled. Therefore, we should concentrate on the Nembutsu Samadhi by "reciting Amida's Name exclusively and, again, exclusively", as quoted above. The word 'exclusively' is repeated. The first 'exclusively' means abandoning miscellaneous practices and taking up the right practices,' and the second one means setting aside the auxiliary acts and being absorbed in the act of right assurance. Also, the first 'exclusively' refers to the single practice and the second one, the single faith. Thus, the single practice and single faith are implied by 'exclusively and, again, exclusively'.

The essence of the act of right assurance is not the Nembutsu recitation as it is practised by ordinary people as one of their three kinds of act. The body of the Buddha who embraces and does not forsake (those who recite the Nembutsu incessantly), whether walking, standing, sitting or lying, regardless of how long they have been practising it, is indeed the act of right assurance for ordinary people's birth in the Pure Land. Because Amida's Name and Body are not separate, the Name, too, is the act of right assurance. To be absorbed in the Namu amida butsu in which the unity of the rescued and the rescuer is accomplished is called the Nembutsu Samadhi. The Name is uncreated and undefiled, because the unity of the rescued and the rescuer is accomplished in it through the Buddha's unhindered wisdom, without awaiting the practitioners' recitation. This implication is shown as "the Land of Ultimate Bliss...the Realm of Non-Action".

The Nembutsu Samadhi is not based on the practitioner's concentrating thought. It is to remember that the Buddha's Great Compassion embraces all sentient beings

The Buddha's merit has been accomplished on sentient beings, effecting the unity of the rescued and the rescuer. Therefore, when the thought of taking refuge in Amida arises in heart, it does not, in fact, arise in our hearts for the first time. It is the merit which has been accomplished for both the rescued and the rescuer manifesting in our thought. As regards the recitation of 'Namu amida butsu', too, we do not approach the Buddha by reciting it. The merit of the Enlightenment in which the unity of the rescued and the rescuer has been accomplished manifests itself on our lips. We are brought back into the Buddha's body through faith; we are brought back into the Buddha's body through reciting the Name.

There is a parable of the sun to distinguish Other-Power from self-power: to seek birth in the Pure Land with self-power is like trying to see things in the dark with our own eyes. This is clearly an impossibility. Our eyes catch the sunlight, and see the objects which are reflected in it. This is due to the power of the sun. However, even if there is sunlight, which is the 'cause' of the act of seeing, those who were born blind cannot see objects. Again, even if our eyes, which act as a 'condition' for seeing things, are not blind, we cannot see objects in the dark. Only when the 'cause' which is the sun and the 'condition' which is the eyes are united, does the act of seeing become possible. In the same way, our Pure Land birth, which is a matter of the greatest importance, comes about when we receive the merit of the Original Vow with the thought of taking refuge in Amida. The mind-and-heart of taking refuge in Amida is like the eyes, and the embracing Light (of Amida's compassion) is like the sun. 'Namu' is to take refuge, and is like the eyes; 'Amida Butsu', the Enlightenment-body in which the Universal Vow of Other-Power is accomplished, is like the sun. Therefore, as far as receiving the merit of the Original Vow goes, when those who have a stock of merit from previous lives' take refuge, ('Namu'),' in Amida and say 'Amida Butsu' all the merit of thousands of practices and good acts as numerous as the sand-grains of the River Ganges are fulfilled in them at the first utterance of that six-character Name (na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu). For this reason, we should not seek any other merit of goodness.


1. The Three Minds mentioned in the Meditation Sutra: (1) a sincere mind, (2) a deep mind and (3) a mind that transfers merit and aspires for birth.

2. Other-Power faith presented in the Larger Sutra.

3.From the Gengi-bun by Shan-tao. The quotation is part of the passage explaining Namuamidabutsu in terms of aspiration (namu) and practice (amidabutsu).

4. From Shan-tao's Hojisan; see The Pure Land, Vol. 4, No. 2, p. 34.

5. Shan-tao distinguishes five right practices (---): 1. chanting the sutras 2. meditating on Amida and his land (---), 3. worshipping Amida 4. reciting the Nembutsu (f"), and 5. praising and making offerings to Amida (---). Of the five, the fourth is called 'the act of right assurance' (---), and the rest 'auxiliary acts' (---).

6. From Shan-tao's Hojisan; see The Pure Land, Vol. 4, No. 2, p. 34.

7. Unless we have a good stock of merit, whether produced by our own power or by availing ourselves of various means provided by Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, we are not able to meet and believe in the Dharma in the true sense of the term and, thereby, attain salvation.

There are four modes of birth in the Pure Land.

(1) Birth with right mindfulness: This is what is referred to in the Amida Sutra as "one instantaneously attains birth while dwelling in an unperverted state of mind".

(2) Birth in a frantic state of mind: It is stated in the Meditation Sutra, section on the lower grade of birth: "He who has done ten evil acts or broken precepts or committed five deadly sins will be in a frantic state of mind at the time of death, grasping at the air, perspiring white sweat and seeing the fierce fire of hell manifesting before his eyes. If, however, he meets a good teacher and is led to say even one Nembutsu, think of Amida even once or recite even ten Nembutsu, he will be born in the Pure Land."

(3) Birth with a dim consciousness: This is mentioned in the Gungi-ron. Even though, ordinarily, a person is shone upon by the all-embracing Light and, thereby, the faith of complete trust has been awakened in him, since he still has a body of birth-and-death, his consciousness may become dim (at the time of death) owing to some karmic causes in the past. Even if it does, there is no doubt that his birth in the Pure Land will be brought about by the Other-Power Wisdom of the Buddha. It is just as the moonlight ceaselessly shines upon us even when we are sleeping. Since the all-embracing Light continuously shines upon us even if we lapse into a dim state of consciousness, we shall still attain birth in the Pure Land by the power of the Light.

Those who are ignorant of the law of causality will question: "Why doesn't the Buddha, with his power, keep aspirants from lapsing into a dim state of consciousness?" or "In a dim state of consciousness, one will not attain birth." They have these doubts because they are not well-versed in the holy scriptures and are confused about the law of causality and, thus, entertain doubts about the Buddha's inconceivable wisdom.

(4) Birth with a mere thought of the Buddha: This is mentioned in the Hokku-kyo. It is stated in it that one will attain birth even if one does not say the Nembutsu but only thinks of the Buddha in one's mind.

The four modes of birth were distinguished by the Shonin of Kurodani.

Ordinary people of the world, being unclear about the four modes of birth, think that if one does not say the Nembutsu or lapses into a dim state of consciousness at the time of death, one will not be born but that if one says the Name one's birth is certain. This may sound reasonable but it is a thoughtless view.

It is stated in the Shugo-kokkai-kyo that 500 sons of a rich merchant recited the Buddha's Name at their death but failed to attain birth. Thus, those who recite the Name but lack a trusting faith will be reborn in the human or heavenly realm (not in the Pure Land). All the four kinds of aspirants attain birth if a trusting faith has been awakened in them.

In Vasubandhu's Discourse on the Birth it is said, "I take refuge in the Tathagata of Light unhindered throughout the ten quarters".

A profound teaching may be understood through a simple parable. Let us suppose that the sun is Kannon. Kannon's light is perceived even by a little child. When very young, he does not know it. When he gets some wisdom, he will suppose that he sees things with his own power, that is, with his eye-sight. However, when told by someone who really knows about the sun that if one were able to see things with one's eye-sight alone one could see things at night and then urged to go back to the primary cause, that is, the sun-light, he follows this instruction and becomes convinced of the working of the sun-light. Similarly, (belief in) one's eye-sight will be replaced by (a belief in) Kannon's light. This is also the case when we have a trusting faith in Amida. Our life, is Amida's life even while we are unaware of it. We do not know this while our wisdom is not yet developed. When we get some wisdom and learn to depend on our own power, we think that this is our life. Then, hearing a good teacher's instruction that we should go back to Amida's life, which is the root of our life, we accept it and take refuge in the Buddha of Immeasurable Life with a belief that our life is the Immeasurable Life. Taking refuge in him in this way is explained as 'having right mindfulness'.

One who has submitted oneself to Amida and thus attained right mindfulness will be born even if one afterwards loses consciousness owing to some heavy karmic bonds. It is explained in the Gungi-ron that one will attain birth even in a dim state of consciousness, because, when shone upon by the all-embracing Light, being in a dim state of consciousness will cease and one will attain birth with a heart of great joy. Again, before they submit themselves to Amida, the three lowest classes of person mentioned in the Meditation Sutra see (at the time of death) manifestations of hell and become frantic with fear. However, if led by a good teacher to submit themselves to Amida, they will attain birth.

Further, those who have submitted themselves to Amida at ordinary times receive the benefit of 'being embraced'; hence, when they die, they will attain birth while dwelling in unperverted thought. This is called 'birth with right mindfulness'. Again, according to the Hokku-kyo, when the faith of submitting oneself to Amida is awakened, one will be born even if one dies without expressing one's faith in words [i.e. saying the Nembutsu]. This is called 'birth with a mere thought of the Buddha'. Whatever the case may be, when the inconceivable Other-Power faith is firmly established, there should not be any doubt about birth in the Pure Land.

There is a parable in the Kambutsu-zammai-kyo, which says that once there lived a rich merchant, who had a daughter. When he disposed of his wealth before death, he gave her a lump of gold obtained from Jambu River. She wrapped it in a filthy cloth and hid it in the mud. The king sent his retainers to take it but, unable to find it even though they walked on it, they returned home. Later, the daughter recovered it and engaged in business with it, and then became even richer than her father.

This is what the parable means: the king is one's mind-king. The treasures are various good acts. Retainers are the 'six bandits'. Being robbed of various goods by the six bandits means that one has no chance of attaining emancipation. To recover the gold from the mud and become so rich that there was nothing she could not do with her wealth means that when one attains firm faith through the Nembutsu Samadhi one very quickly attains birth in the Land of Peace and Bliss. To wrap the gold in a filthy cloth and hide it in the mud means that ordinary people, who are defiled and evil, in the period of the five defilements are the primary object of salvation.

Again, when fire is brought to a piece of firewood, the fire does not leave it (until it is burnt out). The firewood is the practitioner's heart. The fire is Amida's Light which 'embraces and does not forsake'. When one is illumined and protected by Amida's spiritual Light, one will see that the Buddha's mind is not separate from one's own and that one's mind is not separate from the Buddha's. This state of unity is called Namuamidabutsu.



1. The Meditation Sutra mentions nine kinds of people who attain birth in the Pure Land. First, three grades are distinguished: higher, middle and lower; and each is further divided into three classes: higher, middle and lower. According to Shan-tao's interpretation, the higher grade of people are Mahayana-oriented aspirants of the Pure Land, the middle grade are Hinayana-oriented and the lower grade are evil-doers who are led to aspire to the Pure Land on their death-bed.

2. 'The Discourse Clearing Many Doubts', 7 fascicles, by a Chinese Pure Land master, Hui-kan (Ekan), of the 7th to 8th century.

3. 'The Dharma Drum Sutra', 2 fascicles, quoted in Tao-cho's Anrakushu ('Collection of Passages of Pure Land Teaching').

4. Refers to Honen Shonin; this name derives from the place on Mt. Hiei where he studied Buddhism under Eiku and later read the Tripitaka five times, until he found inspiration in Shan-tao's work and was converted to Pure Land Buddhism.

5. 'Protection of the State Sutra', 10 fascicles; the full title means 'Protection of the King of the State Dharani Sutra'; this sutra says that even those who express in words their taking sincere refuge in the Three Treasures are subject to rebirth among human beings.

6. More popularly known as 'Discourse on the Pure Land'; the full title means 'A Discourse on the Amitayus Sutra and a Verse of Aspiration for Birth'; the passage quoted here appears at the beginning of the verse.

7. Here kimyo is explained as 'returning to or becoming one with someone's life' in accordance with a popular theory. It is to be noted that Shinran Shonin interprets it as 'obeying (Amida's) call'. The character myo 'indeed has the meanings of both 'life' and 'command, call, etc.'

8. 'The Buddha-Contemplation Samadhi Sutra', 10 fascicles; this sutra expounds the merit of contemplating the Buddha. The parable presented here appears in the 10th fascicle.

9. The purplish gold obtained from the river which runs through the mango (jambu) forest.

10. The over-all discriminating function of mind; opposed to mental elements which distinguish specific aspects of an object.

11. The six objects of perception and sensation corresponding to the six sense organs. They are visual colour and form, sound, odour, taste, objects of touch and objects of thought. They are called 'six bandits' because they give rise to evil desires, cause one to do evil acts and harm the inherent sacred wisdom.

12. The five marks of degeneracy: (1) the defilement of a period characterised by famines, plagues and wars, (2) the defilement of views, (3) intense evil passions, (4) people's moral, mental and physical degeneracy and (5) the shortening of the human life-span.

from THE PURE LAND - Journal of European Shin Buddhism, Series 1, 1982-1983


Last modified: 27 January 2014