What Does It Mean To Hear The Name?
The Jodo Shinshu Buddhist way of developing a genuine understanding of the teaching is through “hearing the Dharma” (monpo). To hear the Name is to Hear the voice of the Buddha resounding ever so thoroughly through our entire being. We must “hear” the cause and result of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. In order to “hear,” we should study Jodo Shinshu scriptures and listen to Jodo Shinshu teachers. We may listen for deep meaning yet we must not become attached only to words, for Jodo Shinshu is not a dogmatic religion nor an ancient curiosity. It is a living and vibrant religion relative to the here and now. Although language is an important vehicle in conveying the teachings, it can be ambiguous and misleading when dealing with subtle and profound reality. Jodo Shinshu insists that we not accept the teachings at face value but instead reflect on their meaning within our own lives.
Introduction to Jodo Shinshu
The Marysville Buddhist Church is a temple within the Jodoshinshu-Hongwanji-ha (‘True Pure Land School, Denomination of the Temple of the Primal Vow ‘), popularly known as Nishi Hongwanji, headquartered in Kyoto, Japan.
Jodo Shinshu represents the largest Buddhist sect in Japan with over ten thousand temples. Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is found under the Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) tradition of Buddhism and founded by Shinran Shonin (1173-1263). The Hongwanji (Temple of the Primal Vow) originated from a temple built at the site of Shinran Shonin’s mausoleum.
For followers of the Jodo Shinshu teachings, one takes refuge in immeasurable wisdom and eternal life that embraces and enters the lives of all people without regard to socioeconomic status or distinction between moral good or evil. This wisdom and compassion take form as Amida Buddha.
What is “Namu Amida Butsu”?
Namu Amida Butsu is written in six Chinese characters and represent the written form of the principle image in Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temples and home shrines. Statues and pictures can and are used as graphic representations of the Name.
Through the immeasurable Light (Wisdom) of Amida Buddha and the subsequent awareness of our own profound ignorance, we may feel a sense of profound despair and feel unable to overcome our fundamental condition. Although we may practice meditation or engage in other self-power practices to seek to control our desires in order to free ourselves, we begin to become aware of the basis of our condition in the present as due to the unchangeable effects of our past karma (a condition that is produced as a result of the actions of our mind, body or mouth) felt in the present moment.
Even if we do good deeds in the belief that we are in accord with our spiritual or social beliefs, that good can become a source of spiritual pride and arrogance that may frustrate any progress we make. Jodo Shinshu Buddhism urges us to follow the direction expounded by Sakyamuni Buddha in the Larger Sutra, and to relinquish all of our spiritual needs including our self-power religious acts to Amida Buddha, by accepting the Buddha’s Mind that leads us to Buddhahood. As this happens, our life is transformed as there is a turning of the mind resulting in great joy, characterized by a sense of gratitude.
The difficulty many of us have is accepting the fact that we are really taken in by the wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha, just as we are. All of us have a painful dark side, i.e. , deep and terrible greed and anger. Further, being profoundly ignorant of our own true nature, we are constantly shocked at our own insensitivity. Within ourselves, we discover the existential pain that afflicts us all in this “Last Dharma Age,” the age of mappo.
Yet the Nembutsu (Namu-Amida-Butsu) can be with us in all situations, joyful or painful, without exception. This is why Amida has given us his Name. This is why his Primal Vow is also called “The Universal Vow”. Shinran refers to the Primal Vow as the “Great Ocean” because it takes in and accepts all people just as rivers flowing into the sea, without discrimination. Shinran Shonin demonstrated from the writings of Mahayana sages, down through the ages, that Nembutsu is “the call of the Vow that commands us to trust it.”
Shinran’s teacher, Honen Shonin, said in his major work, Senjakushu, that the Nembutsu is the supreme teaching of the Mahayana because it is easy to keep in mind and easy to say. The person whom Amida accepts in his Great Vow is not the good person we show to the outside world but the person we truly are.
The person who awakens to Amida’s Mind – in other words, accept the Primal Vow – is born in the Pure Land. However, since the time of the great Shin Buddhist master Zendo Daishi, who lived in seventh-century China, it has been understood that the Pure Land is, in fact, Nirvana or Buddhahood.
Because Amida’s Vow “embraces all, forsaking none” Jodo Shinshu Buddhism has always adopted a non-discriminatory view of human relationships and seeks to serve society and attend to the needs of all persons.
Who is Amida Buddha?
‘Amida’ has two aspects based upon the Sanskrit words: Amitabha (Immeasurable Light) and Amitayus (Eternal Life). Sanskrit is the classical language of India where Buddhism first arose. ‘Amida Buddha,’ means, therefore, ‘Immeasurable Light Buddha’ and ‘Eternal Life Buddha’.
Amida Buddha originates many kalpas ago, a kalpa referring to many aeons. We know of Amida Buddha through Sakyamuni Buddha (566 BCE-486 BCE), the founder of Buddhism. Amida Buddha was once a wealthy and powerful King who meets a Buddha named Seijizaio-Butsu. Inspired by Seijizaio-Butsu, Amida resolves to attain complete and perfect enlightenment. This King becomes a monk and takes on the name Hozo-Bosatsu (Dharma Storehouse). Yet, Hozo-Butsu is not satisfied with his own enlightenment but instead, in the true spirit of a Bodhisattva, makes his own enlightenment contingent upon the salvation of all sentient beings and the fulfillment of forty-eight Vows. Sakyamuni Buddha explained that Hozo Bosatsu did fulfill all of his Vows, attained enlightenment in the distant past, and has achieved his purpose for we sentient beings stranded in the secular world, a realm of ignorance and suffering.
A description of these events are found within the Daimuryojukyo (Larger Sutra) which Sakyamuni Buddha revealed at Vulture Peak. As a result of his enlightenment, Sakyamuni Buddha was able to address the needs of each person who came to him to listen to his teachings according to their intellectual and spiritual capabilities. To ordinary people, especially those who were unable to follow him in his monastic way of life, he explained how Amida Buddha could bring everyone, without exception, to enlightenment (which can be described as “awakening”).
The final objective for Buddhists is to become a Buddha, that is, one who is “awakened”. To be “awakened” is to be aware of being embraced by reality or truth represented within Amida Buddha’s infinite wisdom and compassion. However, to become a Buddha does not end with one’s own enlightenment but instead one works for the benefit of all sentient beings as in the spirit of the Bodhisattva (Bosatsu).
In the Larger Sutra on Immeasurable Life, Sakyamuni Buddha explained that the Pure Land is a realm in which there exists no dichotomies, a realm of infinite light (infinite wisdom) and eternal life and how he would enable us all to be born there. Furthermore, Amida Buddha’s understanding is so complete that he knows our true self and knowing this, unconditionally accepts us just as we are.