The Way of Jodo Shinshu
Reflections on the Hymns of Shinran Shonin

Jodo Wasan 5

The liberating wheel of light is without bound;
Each person it touches, it is taught,
Is freed from attachments to being and nonbeing,
So take refuge in Amida, the enlightenment of


Sukhavati vyuha: The realm of nirvana

According to The Larger Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra all Buddhas glorify the Name of Amida Buddha.1 According to the Amida Sutra this Buddha is so called because his light 'shines boundlessly and without hindrance' throughout the worlds of the ten quarters.2

Namo Amida Butsu

The Name, Namo Amida Butsu is always with us as the sound, the form - the way we touch and taste the inconceivable light. We are not required to believe anything, do anything, hold anything - we can think, breathe, and live Namo Amida Butsu. However, our nembutsu is no mantra. It is not a magic formula. It is true mindfulness. As Shinran says in the first wasan, for people of true shinjin, saying the Name is

'Uttering the Buddha's Name with thought of Buddha ever mindful.'3

To be mindful of the Name is to be mindful of the Buddha of Inconceivable Light. It is to take refuge in Amida.

'Suffering, and the release from suffering,' is the core message of the Buddha Dharma. We are bound to the realm of suffering by our attachments, especially to the beliefs which govern our inner reality. From them we construct a picture of ourselves and the way the world works - a 'world-view'.

It follows then that if beings are freed from their attachments, the objectives of the Buddha Dharma will be realised as they enter the realm that is free from suffering. Because the Name is the working of the Buddha Dharma it will free beings from the world-view that forms their attachments and holds them in its thrall.

When Shinran describes the fundamental attachments of 'being' and 'non-being' he is touching upon ancient erroneous views of Buddhist teaching. These characterised the elements of existence (dharmas) as being either real or illusory - existence or non-existence, being or non-being. In fact neither of these fundamental ideas are in accord with the Buddha Dharma, which is the middle path. Neither existence nor non-existence represents the truth of things.

Attachment to existence or non-existence is hard to shake off by using our innate resources - intellect, reason, contemplation and self-discipline. The middle way is the Name, the fragrance of the light of Amida Buddha. It easily transcends the views to which beings are attached. Once that happens, and beings accept the Name in complete trust, they are on the way to the Pure Land, to nirvana, as the dying embers of their attachments play out in what remains of this current life, however long or short that may be.

1: The Larger Sukhavati-vyuha, Description of Sukhavati tr. by F. Max Müller, Sacred Books of the East Vol. XLIX, p. 45.

2: The Three Pure Land Sutras, A Study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki, Nagata Bunshodo, Kyoto, 2000 [TPLS], p. 355.

3: Jodo Wasan, Ryukoku Translation Series II, p. 26.

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