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

Koso Wasan 53

Having turned from the little road,
Of a myriad practices and good acts
And entered the great path of the Primal Vow,
      which is true reality,
We will quickly attain the enlightenment of nirvana.

Turning from the 'Little Road'

Master Tanluan

This verse is probably the most forceful assertion, in all of Shinran Shonin's writing, about his deepest conviction: that the sole and absolute reality is the Primal Vow (hongan, Sk. purva pranidhana) of Amida Buddha. The power in this verse comes from its succinctness and elegance. 'The great path of the Primal Vow' refers, in one line, to everything that is important. The great path is the one vehicle, which embraces everyone, no matter who they are.

The 'great path' is given its verbal expression in concrete form in the Three Pure Land Sutras; mainly, of course, the Larger Sutra. Here the Primal Vow is delineated into a string of forty-eight Vows, of which Shinran identified five key statements in the eleventh, twelfth, seventeenth, eighteenth and twenty-second vows. This list can be further refined to the eighteenth Vow, then to the nembutsu. The whole process gives us an insight into the meaning and significance of the Name that we say.

In one way or another each of us becomes aware of the call of the Vow through some kind of agency that originally derives from the sutras, which in turn manifest the Primal Vow.

From the beginning, however, the dharma of Amida Buddha has called us out of samsara and into the way to nirvana. When beings respond without the slightest equivocation to the call of the Vow of Amida Buddha, the attainment of nirvana lies ahead of them as they enter the stage of the truly settled.

But, time and again, the original message that is at the heart of the eighteenth Vow, the Primal Vow -- that entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha we say the Name -- is hindered by complexity and doubt, which is the 'little road' of religious practices.

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Jodo Wasan

Koso Wasan

Shozomatsu Wasan


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