In his great work, True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way, Shinran quotes many, many teachers to make one critical point:
True Entrusting is simple faith - free of all doubt - in the person and work of Amida Buddha who has vowed to save us.
What does “save us” mean in the context of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching? Shinran explains (in part) by quoting The Master of Kuang-ming temple, who says this:
Question: What virtues and benefits in the present life accrue from saying Amida’s Name and worshiping and contemplating the Buddha?
Answer: If one utters a single voicing of “Amida Buddha,” one immediately eradicates the grave karmic evil that will bind one to eighty billion kalpas of birth-and-death. (1 kalpa = 336,000,000 years)
This is Shakyamuni Buddha’s ultimate teaching - found in the Larger Pure Land Sutra. It is the only teaching, for plain people, that can end at last our endless cycles of birth and death - because of the karmic burden we each and all carry from one life, to the next, and the next one after that.
Amida’s Primal Vow is this: if we simply call on him, and say his name, having heard of his work to bring us all to Buddhahood in his Pure Land - we will each and all be saved.
It’s that simple - that easy - and that profound.
The simplest expression of that true entrusting is saying The Nembutsu: “NamuAmidaButsu” - which means “I take refuge in Amida Buddha”
This is TRUE Nembutsu - based on clear understanding of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching about Amida Buddha. We become able to say TRUE Nembutsu after we have HEARD Shakyamuni and Shinran’s teaching, and decided to entrust ourselves to what it says.
TRUE Nembutsu is not a mantra - there are no mantras to be done as practice in Shin Buddism.
TRUE Nembutsu is not chant - there are no chants to be done to purify the mindstream in Shin Buddhism.
TRUE Nembutsu isn’t something we do to deposit karmic merit into our karmic “bank accounts”. For someone who’s really listening to Shin Ugly, the idea of trying to acquire karmic merit is absurd - like me walking down to the Jersey shore with my teaspoon in order to bail out the ocean.
Said another way, on the Path of the Pure Land - also known as the Path of the Foolish Ones, there are no karmic brownie points to be earned, by ANYONE, for ANY act. We’re DONE with all that scorekeeping - it turns out it was just something else for us to get egocentric about - to be proud of - or to be ashamed of - after all.
TRUE Nembutsu is simply an expression of GRATITUDE - the expression of our settled faith in Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching about Amida’s commitment to save us - each and all.
Let’s listen together to Shinran as he quotes his teacher Honen:
As the act that leads to birth in the Pure Land, the nembutsu (Namu-Amida-Butsu) is taken to be fundamental.
If you desire to free yourself quickly from birth-and-death, of the two excellent teachings leave aside the Path of Sages and choosing, enter the Pure Land way.
If you desire to enter the Pure Land way, of the two methods of practice, right and sundry, cast aside all sundry practices and choosing, take the right practice.
If you desire to perform the right practice, of the two kinds of acts, true and auxiliary, further put aside the auxiliary and choosing, solely perform the act of true settlement.
The act of true settlement is to say the Name of the Buddha (Namu-Amida-Butsu).
Saying the Name unfailingly brings about birth, for this is based on Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow.
When we accept, in simple faith, the TRUE Teaching about Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow, “I take refuge in Amida Buddha” - “Namu-Amida-Butsu” comes spontaneously out of our mouths as a simple statement of our TRUE ENTRUSTING.
That’s why Shinran says that TRUE ENTRUSTING and TRUE NEMBUTSU are the same.
How do we come to TRUE ENTRUSTING - to the place where we utter TRUE NEMBUTSU - in that one moment of thought that changes destiny FOREVER?
There is no practice - other than listening deeply to the True Teaching.
All it takes is listening - listening deeply - with all of our intellect and and all our heart - our left-brain and our right-brain. With all of our being, we listen deeply to the simple teaching of Shakyamuni and Shinran for plain people like us. Knowing we simply cannot save ourselves from our blind passion, our endless cravings and aversions, our ineradicable egotism - we entrust Amida to do it ALL.
And so he does.
That’s exactly what Shan-Tao, one of Shinran’s seven key teachers said, in his parable about Two Rivers and a White Path.
The two rivers are a river of fire, and a river of water. The river of fire is our anger, and the river of water our lust.
Our lust is manifest as our endless cravings for THIS and our aversions for THAT. And when life does not cooperate we become filled with ANGER - sometimes projected outward towards others, sometimes introjected inwards towards ourselves - and sometimes BOTH!
Depression, jealously, contempt. Fear, anxiety, guilt. Lying, cheating, stealing. Dirty dealings in politics and in business and in love. Self-exaltation, self-righteousness and self-hatred.
On and on it goes - ad nauseum - and ad infinitum.
Do you REALLY disagree? Then pick up the morning paper, today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.
And then listen deeply - and you will recognize that the troubles in that morning paper are your troubles - and mine - writ large.
Can ANY of us, speaking honestly, say we are not bound by such terrible rivers of primal craving and aversion - of primal lust and anger - in one way or another - each and all in our own lives?
Is there even ONE person alive in this Age of Dharma Decline who is totally free from such pushes and pulls - such blind passion - such ineradicable egotism?
But then, Shan-Tao says, there is this way out of our common karmic predicament:
Dividing the two rivers and joining the eastern and western banks is a white path four or five inches wide, incessantly swept by the waves and scorched by the flames.
Behind the traveler are brigands and beasts, and to the north and south also there are wild animals and poisonous insects.
Seeing death everywhere - whether he turns back, remains on the bank, or plunges ahead - he decides to venture on the path.
At that moment, he hears a voice from the eastern bank exhorting him to advance fearlessly, and another from the western side commanding him: “O traveler, with the mind that is single, with right-mindedness, come at once! I will protect you.”
He therefore resolutely sets out over the path, and though the brigands attempt to lure him back, he proceeds until he reaches the western shore, where he is greeted by the friend who encouraged him.
The white path (Shan-Tao explains) is the pure aspiration for birth in Amida’s land, the exhortation from the eastern bank is Shakyamuni’s teaching, and the encouragement from the west is Amida’s call.
To hear Shakyamuni’s teaching in the Larger Pure Land Sutra, and to answer Amida’s call to entrust yourself entirely to him, in simple faith - is TRUE ENTRUSTING - SHINJIN.
And when you are ready to entrust yourself, and your karmic burden, and the completion of your journey to Amida - doing nothing else - you are ready at last to say with a single mind and heart:
I entrust myself - I take refuge - in Amida Buddha.
This is true entrusting - this is true Nembutsu - this is the one thought-moment of faith that has placed me in “the rightly established group” of those who have been embraced, never to be abandoned.
There is nothing else left.
Gratitude arises. Simple gratitude. Say Namu-Amida-Butsu once, or say it 1000 times - it is the same Nembutsu - the Nembutsu of simple faith - of simple gratitude - as I make my way as best as I can through the rest of this, my final life as a non-Buddha.
At the end of this life, I too will join countless others, including my mother and my daughter - in Amida Buddha’s Pure Land - a land beyond all suffering, beyond all sorrow - full of light and life - as a True Buddha at last - ready finally to join Shakyamuni, Amida and countless other Buddhas in the great salvic work that only a Buddha can do on behalf of all beings everywhere.