Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’

In the title, Essentials of Faith Alone, alone means “this one thing only,” expressing a rejection of two things standing together. It also means “by itself.”

Faith is the heart and mind without doubt; it is shinjin, which is true and real. It is the heart and mind free of that which is empty and transitory. “Empty” means vain; “transitory” means provisional. “Empty” means not real, not sincere; “transitory” means not true. To be free of self-power, having entrusted oneself to the Other Power of the Primal Vow – this is faith alone.

Essentials indicates the selecting and gathering together of significant passages from the scriptures. Thus the title, Essentials of Faith Alone.

Faith alone also means that nothing is placed equal with this shinjin of Other Power, for it is the working of the universal Primal Vow.


The Sacred Name of the Tathagata is exceedingly distinct and clear;
Throughout the worlds in the ten quarters it prevails.
Solely those who say the Name all attain birth;
Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta come of themselves to welcome them.

The sacred Name of the Tathagata is exceedingly distinct and clear

The Tathagata is the Tathagata of unhindered light. The sacred Name is Namu-amida-butsu.

Sacred means holy, excellent.

Name (go) indicates the name of a Buddha after the attainment of Buddhahood; another term (myo) indicates the name before this attainment. The sacred Name of the Tathagata surpasses measure, description, and conceptual understanding; it is the Name of the Vow embodying great love and great compassion, which brings all sentient beings into the supreme nirvana. The Name of this Buddha surpasses the names of all the other Tathagatas, for it is based on the Vow to save all beings.

Exceedingly distinct and clear

Exceedingly here means utterly, unsurpassed.

Distinct implies “to distinguish”; here it means to distinguish each sentient being.

Clear means evident. It is evident that Amida, distinguishing every sentient being in the ten quarters, guides each to salvation; thus the Buddha’s compassionate concern for us is unsurpassed.

Throughout the world in the ten quarters it prevails

Throughout means universally, extensively, boundlessly.

Prevails means that the Name spreads universally throughout the worlds in the ten quarters, countless as minute particles, and guides all to the practice of the Buddha’s teaching. This means that, since there is no one – whether among the wise of the Mahayana or the Hinayana, or the ignorant, good or evil – who can attain supreme nirvana through his or her own self-cultivated wisdom, we are encouraged to enter the ocean of the wisdom-Vow of the Buddha of unhindered light, for the Buddha’s form is the light of wisdom. This form comprehends the wisdom of all the Buddhas. It should be understood that light is none other than wisdom.

Solely those who say the Name all attain birth

Solely those who means that only those who say the Name single-heartedly attain birth in the Pure Land of bliss; this is the meaning of “Those who say the Name all attain birth.”

Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta come of themselves to welcome them

Namu-amida-butsu is the Name embodying wisdom; hence, when persons accept and entrust themselves to this Name of the Buddha of inconceivable wisdom-light, holding it in mindfulness, Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta accompany them constantly, as shadows do things. The Buddha of unhindered light appears as Avalokitesvara, and becomes manifest as Mahasthamaprapta. A sutra states that Avalokitesvara, with the name Bodhisattva Treasure-response, reveals himself as the god of the sun and dispels the pitch darkness of ignorance in all beings; and Mahasthamaprapta, with the name Bodhisattva Treasure-happiness, reveals himself as the god of the moon and illuminates the long night of birth-and-death. Together they bring forth wisdom in all beings.

Come of themselves to welcome: of themselves (ji) means “in person.” Amida and a vast and numberless saintly host, consisting of innumerable manifestation-bodies of Buddhas, of Avalokitesvara, and of Mahasthamaprapta, appear in person to be alongside and always protect those who have realized true and real shinjin, at all times and in all places; hence the word “themselves.”

Ji also means of itself. “Of itself” is a synonym for jinen, which means to be made to become so. “To be made to become so” means that without the practicer’s calculating in any way whatsoever, all that practicer’s past, present, and future evil karma is transformed into the highest good, just as all waters, upon entering the great ocean, immediately become ocean water. We are made to acquire the Tathagata’s virtues through entrusting ourselves to the Vow-power; hence the expression, “made to become so.” Since there is no contriving in any way to gain such virtues, it is called jinen. Those persons who have attained true and real shinjin are taken into and protected by this Vow that grasps never to abandon; therefore, they realize the diamondlike mind without any calculation on their own part, and thus dwell in the stage of the truly settled. Because of this, constant mindfulness of the Primal Vow arises in them naturally (by jinen). Even with the arising of this shinjin, it is written that supreme shinjin is made to awaken in us through the compassionate guidance of Sakyamuni, the kind father, and Amida, the mother of loving care. Know that this is the benefit of the working ofjinen.

Come to welcome: come means to cause to come to the Pure Land; it is a word which expresses the actualizing of Amida’s Vow, “If any should not be born in my land, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.” It indicates that a person is made to reject the defiled world and come to the true and real fulfilled land. In short, the word indicates the working of Other Power.

Come also means to return. To return is to attain the supreme nirvana without fail because one has already entered the ocean of the Vow; this is called “returning to the city of dharma-nature.” The city of dharma-nature is none other than the enlightenment of Tathagata, called dharma-body, unfolded naturally. When person become enlightened, we say they “return to the city of dharma-nature.” It is also called realizing true reality or suchness, realizing the uncreated or dharma-body, attaining emancipation, realizing the eternal bliss of dharma-nature, and attaining the supreme enlightenment. When persons attain this enlightenment, with great love and great compassion immediately reaching their fullness in them, they return to the ocean of birth-and-death to save all sentient beings; this is known as attaining the virtue of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra. To attain this benefit is come; that is, “to return to the city of dharma-nature.”

To welcome means that Amida receives us, awaits us. Hearing the inconceivable selected Primal Vow and the holy Name of supreme wisdom without a single doubt is called true and real shinjin; it is also called the diamondlike mind. When sentient beings realize this shinjin, they attain the equal of perfect enlightenment and will ultimately attain the supreme enlightenment, being of the same stage as Maitreya, the future Buddha. That is, they become established in the stage of the truly settled. Hence shinjin is like a diamond, never breaking, or degenerating, or becoming fragmented; thus, we speak of “diamondlike shinjin.” This is the meaning of to welcome.

The Larger Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life states:

All sentient beings aspire to be born in that land; they then attain birth and dwell in the stage of nonretrogression.

Aspire to be born in that land is a command: All beings should aspire to be born in that land!

They then attain birth means that when a person realizes shinjin, he or she is born immediately. “To be born immediately” is to dwell in the stage of nonretrogression. To dwell in the stage of nonretrogression is to become established in the stage of the truly settled. This is also called the attainment of the equal of perfect enlightenment. Such is the meaning of they then attain birth.

Then means immediately; “immediately” means without any passage of time and without any passage of days.

That the Name spreads universally throughout the worlds in the ten quarters is due to the fulfillment of the Vow embodying the ocean of the One-Vehicle wisdom, the Seventeenth Vow of Bodhisattva Dharmakara’s Forty-eight great Vows, which states, “My Name shall be praised and pronounced by the countless Buddhas in the ten quarters.” This is evident from the description of the Buddhas’ witness and protection in the Smaller Sutra. The Buddhas’ intention in their witness and protection is also expressed in the Larger Sutra. Thus, this Vow of compassion already shows that the Primal Vow, which encourages the saying of the Name, is the true cause of birth selected by Amida.

I have not gone into the significance of this passage as fully as I would like, but using these notes, please explore it carefully. It is the exposition of a master named Fa-chao, “the second Shan-tao.” Tz’u-chio called him Master Fa-tao (Dharma Way), and in a biography he is called the Amida of Mount Lu-shan. He is also called Master Ching-yeh (Pure Karma). He was the reincarnation of the T’ang dynasty master Shan-tao of Kuang-ming temple, and hence is known as “the second Shan-tao.”

That Buddha, in the causal stage, made the universal Vow:
When beings hear my Name and think on me, I will come to welcome each of them,
Not discriminating at all between the poor and the rich and
Not discriminating between inferior and the highly gifted,
Not choosing the learned and those upholding pure precepts,
Nor rejecting those who break precepts and whose evail karma is
Solely making beings turn about and abundantly say the nembutsu,
I can make bits of rubble change into gold.

That Buddha, in the causal stage, made the universal Vow

That Buddha refers to Amida Buddha.
 In the causal stage indicates the time when Amida Buddha was Bodhisattva Dharmakara.
Universal means wide, to spread. Bhiksu Dharmakara established the supreme, unexcelled Vow and spread it widely. “Supreme” means that it goes beyond the vows of other Buddhas. It connotes transcendent, unequalled. The Tathagata’s establishing of the universal Vow is explained in detail in Essentials of Faith Alone.

When beings hear my Name and think on me

is a word indicating shinjin.
Name refers to the Name embodying the Tathagata’s Vow.
Think on me instructs us, Hold this Name in mindfulness! This is implied in the compassionate Vow that all the Buddhas pronounce the Name. “Hold in mindfulness” means that people of true shinjin constantly recall the Primal Vow without interruption.

I will come to welcome each of them.

Each of them means all inclusive, everyone. Welcome means to receive, to await, expressing Other Power. Come means to return, to be made to come. This, we are made to come and return to the city of dharma-nature. Since there is coming from the city of dharma-nature into this Saha world to benefit sentient beings, come has the sense of “to arrive from”; since there is attainment of the enlightenment of dharma-nature; it means “to return.”

Not discriminating at all between the poor and the rich and wellborn

Not discriminating means not choosing, not rejecting.
 Poor means impoverished and in need. At all is for emphasis, meaning “not at all”; it also means “with” and to lead. Rich and wellborn indicates the wealthy and the people of rank. This, without in the least differentiating among such people, Amida leads each and every person to the Pure Land.

Not discriminating between inferior and the highly gifted

Inferior refers to those whose knowledge is shallow, limited, and slight.
 Highly gifted indicates those with great ability for learning. Amida does not choose between the two.

Not choosing the learned and those who uphold pure precepts

Learned means to hear and believe in numerous and diverse sacred teachings.

Upholding means to maintain. “To maintain” means not to lose or dissipate what we learn.

Pure precepts indicates all the various Hinayana and Mahayana precepts – the five precepts, the eight precepts, the ten precepts of morality, all the Hinayana codes of precepts, the three-thousand regulations of deportment, the sixty-thousand regulatory practices, the diamondlike one-mind precepts of the Mahayana, the threefold pure precept, the fifty-eight precepts expounded in the Brahma-net Sutra, and so on – all the precepts for monks and for laypeople. To maintain these is “to uphold” and to violate them is “to break.” Even saintly people who observe these various Mahayana and Hinayana precepts can attain birth in the true fulfilled land only after they realize the true and real shinjin of Other Power. Know that it is impossible to be born in the true, fulfilled Pure Land by simply observing precepts, or by self-willed conviction, or by self-cultivated good.

Nor rejecting those who break precepts and whose evil karma is profound

Break precepts applies to people who, having received the precepts for monks or laymen mentioned earlier, break and abandon them; such people are not rejected.

Evil karma is profound: evil people who have committed the ten transgressions or the five grave offenses, people of evil karma who have reviled the teaching or who lack seeds for Buddhahood, those of scant roots of good, those of massive karmic evil, those of shallow inclination to good, those of profound attachment to evil – such wretched men as these, profound in various kinds of evil karma, are described by the word profound. Profound means bottomless. Good people, bad people, noble and low, are not differentiated in the Vow of the Buddha of unhindered light, in which the guiding of each person is primary and fundamental. Know that the true essence of the Pure Land teaching (Jodo shinshu) is that when we realize true and real shinjin, we are born in the true fulfilled land.

Come and welcome each of them means making all beings of true and real shinjin return to the Pure Land by welcoming and leading them there.

Solely making beings turn about and abundantly say the nembutsu

Solely making beings turn about instructs us, Single-heartedly make your heart turn about!

Turn about means to overturn and discard the mind of self-power. Since those people who are to be born in the true fulfilled land are without fail taken into the heart of the Buddha of unhindered light, they realize diamondlike shinjin. Thus, they “abundantly say the Name.”

Abundant means “great” in the sense of great in number, “exceeding” and “supreme” in the sense of excelling and surpassing all good acts. This is because nothing excels the Primal Vow embodying Other Power.

“To abandon the mind of self-power” admonishes the various and diverse kinds of people – master of Hinayana or Mahayana, ignorant beings good or evil – to abandon the conviction that one is good, to cease relying on the self; to stop reflecting knowingly on one’s evil heart, and further to abandon the judging of people as good and bad. When such shackled foolish beings – the lowly who are hunters and peddlers – thus wholly entrust themselves to the Name embodying great wisdom, the inconceivable Vow of the Buddha of unhindered light, then while burdened as they are with blind passion, they all attain supreme nirvana. “Shackled” describes us, who are bound by all our various blind passions. Blind passions refers to pains which torment the body and afflictions which distress the heart and mind. The hunter is one who slaughters many kinds of living things; this is the huntsman. The peddler is one who buys and sells things; this is the trader. They are called “low.” Such peddlers, hunters, and others are none other than we, who are like stones and tiles and pebbles.

I can make bits of rubble change into gold

This is a metaphor. When we entrust ourselves to the Tathagata’s Primal Vow, we, who are like bits of tile and pebbles, are turned into gold. Peddlers and hunters, who are like stones and tiles and pebbles, are grasped and never abandoned by the Tathagata’s light. Know that this comes about solely through true shinjin. We speak of the light that grasps because we are taken into the heart of the Buddha of unhindered light; thus, shinjin is said to be diamondlike.

Although I have not set forth the meaning of this passage as fully as I would like, I have presented a rough explanation. I hope the reader will ask good teachers about its profound implications.

The passage is the exposition of Tz’u-min, master of the Tripitaka, who studied in India. In China he is known as Hui-jih.

The land of bliss is the realm of nirvana, the uncreated;
I fear it is hard to be born there by doing sundry good acts according to our diverse conditions.
Hence, the Tathagata selected the essential dharma,
Instructing beings to say Amida’s Name with singleness, again singleness.

The land of bliss is the realm of nirvana, the uncreated

The land of bliss is that Pure Land of happiness, where there are always countless joys and never any suffering mingled with them. It is known as the land of peace. It was Master T’an-luan who praised it and called it “Land of Peace.” Also, the Treatise on the Pure Land describes it as “the lotus repository world” and as the uncreated.

The realm of nirvana refers to the place where one overturns the delusion of ignorance and realizes the supreme enlightenment.

Realm means “place”; know it as the place of attaining enlightenment.

Nirvana has innumerable names. It is impossible to give them in detail; I will list only a few. Nirvana is called extinction of passions, the uncreated, peaceful happiness, eternal bliss, true reality, dharma-body, dharma-nature, suchness, oneness, and Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature is none other than Tathagata. This Tathagata pervades the countless worlds; it fills the hearts and minds of the ocean of all beings. Thus, plants, trees, and land all attain Buddhahood.

Since it is with this heart and mind of all sentient beings that they entrust themselves to the Vow of the dharma-body as compassionate means, this shinjin is none other than Buddha-nature. This Buddha-nature is dharma-nature. Dharma-nature is dharma-body. For this reason there are two kinds of dharma-body with regard to the Buddha. The first is called dharma-body as suchness and the second, dharma-body as compassionate means. Dharma-body as suchness has neither color nor form; thus, the mind cannot grasp it nor words describe it. From this oneness was manifested form, called dharma-body as compassionate means.

Taking this form, the Buddha announced the name Bhiksu Dharmakara and established the Forty-eight great Vows that surpass conceptual understanding. Among these Vows are the Primal Vow of immeasurable light and the universal Vow of immeasurable life, and to the form manifesting these two Vows Bodhisattva Vasubandhu gave the title, “Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters.” This Tathagata has fulfilled the Vows, which are the cause of that Buddhahood, and thus is called “Tathagata of the fulfilled body.” This is none other than Amida Tathagata.

“Fulfilled” means that the cause for enlightenment has been fulfilled. From the fulfilled body innumerable personified and accommodated bodies are manifested, radiating the unhindered light of wisdom throughout the countless worlds. Thus appearing in the form of light called “Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters,” it is without color and without form; that is, it is identical with the dharma-body as suchness, dispelling the darkness of ignorance and unobstructed by karmic evil. For this reason it is called “unhindered light.” “Unhindered” means that it is not obstructed by the karmic evil and blind passions of beings. Know, therefore, that Amida Buddha is light, and that light is the form taken by wisdom.

I fear it is hard to be born there by doing sundry good acts according to our diverse conditions

According to our diverse conditions refers to directing the merit of practicing various good acts, which one performs according one’s own particular circumstances and opportunities, toward birth in the land of bliss. There are 84,000 gates of dharma. Since they are all good practices done in self-power, they are rejected as not leading to birth in the true fulfilled land. Thus, I fear it is hard to be born.

Fear means to be apprehensive; that is, apprehensive about whether a person can be born in the true fulfilled land through the adulterated good practices, the good practices characterized by self-power.

Hard to be born means that it is difficult to attain birth in the Pure Land.

Hence, the Tathagata selected the essential dharma

Know that Sakyamuni Buddha selected the Name of Amida from among all the various goods and gave it to the evil beings, possessing wrong views and lacking faith, and living in this evil world of the five defilements. This is called selected, meaning “to pick out from among many.”

Essential means wholly, to seek, to promise.

Dharma indicates the Name.

Instructing beings to say Amida’s Name with singleness, again singleness

Instructing means to preach, the teaching. Here it refers to the instruction of Sakyamuni.

To say Amida’s Name means to make a decision and not calculate in any way. Thus, these words instruct us, Be wholehearted in the single practice of saying the Name embodying the selected Primal Vow!

With singleness, again singleness: the first singleness means that we should perform the single practice.

Again means furthermore; it means to repeat. Hence with singleness furthermore means “Be of one-mind!” That is, Be wholly of single practice and of one mind! Moreover, singleness means “one.” Wholly implies, Do not be of two minds! Thus, not wavering in any way is one mind. Amida grasps, never to abandon, such a person of this single practice and one mind, and therefore is called Amida. This is stated by Shan-tao, the Master of Kuang-ming temple.

This one mind is the shinjin of leaping crosswise.

Crosswise means across; leaping means “going beyond.” This way surpasses all other teachings, and through it one quickly goes beyond the great ocean of birth-and-death and attains supreme enlightenment; therefore the term leaping is used. It is made possible by the power of the Vow that embodies the Tathagata’s great compassion.

The shinjin becomes the diamondlike mind because Amida’s grasp. This is the threefold shinjin of the Primal Vow of birth through the nembutsu and not the three minds of the Contemplation Sutra. Bodhisattva Vasubandhu declares that this true and real shinjin is none other than the aspiration to become a Buddha. This is the great thought of enlightenment of the Pure Land. This aspiration for Buddhahood is none other than the wish to save all beings. The wish to save all beings is the wish to carry all beings across the great ocean of birth-and-death. This shinjin is the aspiration to bring all beings to the attainment of supreme nirvana; it is the heart of great love and great compassion. This shinjin is Buddha-nature and Buddha-nature is Tathagata. To realize this shinjin is to rejoice and be glad. People who rejoice and are glad are called “people equal to the Buddhas.”

To rejoice means to be joyous after being assured of attaining what one shall attain; it is rejoicing after realizing shinjin.

To be glad means to always have joy uninterruptedly in one’s heart and constantly keep it in mind. It means to leap and jump, expressing boundless joy:

To leap is to dance to the heavens, to jump is to dance on the earth. The person who has realized shinjin is also likened to the white lotus flower.

The difficulty of realizing this shinjin is taught in the Larger Sutra: “The most difficult of all difficulties is to hear this sutra and accept it in shinjin; nothing surpasses this difficulty”; and in the Smaller Sutra we find, “It is the dharma that is most difficult to accept.” But Sakyamuni Tathagata, appearing in this evil world of five defilements, put this dharma that is difficult to accept into practice and attained the supreme nirvana. He then gave this Name embodying wisdom to the sentient beings living in defilement. The witness of the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters and the protection of the Tathagatas as numberless as the sands of the Ganges are solely for the sake of people of true and real shinjin. Know that Sakyamuni, our loving father, and Amida, our compassionate mother, guide us to shinjin as our own parents.

For vast ages in the past, under Buddhas who appeared in this world three times the sands of the Ganges in number, we awakened the great thought of enlightenment of self-power. Having performed good practices numerous as the sands of the Ganges, we are now able to encounter the karmic power of the great Vow. Those who have realized the threefold shinjin of Other Power must never disparage the other good practices or malign the other Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

The person with the three minds will be born without fail in that land

This means that because a person has the three minds he or she will be born without fail in that land. Thus Shan-tao states:

If one possesses these three minds, one will necessarily attain birth. If the one mind is lacking, then birth is not attained.

If one possesses these three minds means that we must have the threefold mind.

If the one mind is lacking means that no one can be born when this one mind is lacking. To lack the one mind is to lack shinjin. To lack shinjin is to lack the true and real threefold shinjin of the Primal Vow. To realize the three minds of the Contemplation Sutra and then the threefold shinjin of the Larger Sutra is to realize the one mind. When this one mind is lacking, one is not born in the real fulfilled land. The three minds of the Contemplation Sutra are parts of the mind of self-power of a person who pursues meditative and nonmeditative practice. Know that the deep mind and sincere mind, which are means, are intended to bring the two goods – meditative and nonmeditative – into the aspiration for the threefold shinjin of the Larger Sutra. When one has not attained the true and real threefold shinjin, one is not born in the true fulfilled land. Since one is not born, it is said then birth is not attained.

Then means immediately.

Birth is not attained means that the person is not born. Those of meditative and nonmeditative good acts – performing sundry practices, undergoing disciplines, and lacking threefold shinjin – will be born in the true and real fulfilled land, after countless lives in vast ages, after they have realized the threefold shinjin of the Larger Sutra. Thus, the person is not born. The sutras state that even if such a person attains birth in the palace of womb or the borderland, he or she must pass five hundred years there; furthermore, out of millions upon millions of beings, scarcely a single one will advance to the true fulfilled land. Thus, we must carefully understand the importance of threefold shinjin and aspire for its realization.


We should not express outwardly signs of wisdom, goodness, or diligence

People who aspire for the Pure Land must not behave outwardly as though wise or good, nor should they act as though diligent. The reason is stated, for inwardly we are possessed of falsity (literally, that which is empty and transitory).

Inwardly means “within”; since the mind is filled with blind passions, it is empty and transitory.

Empty means vain, not real, not sincere.

Transitory means provisional, not true.

For this reason, in the Tathagata’s teaching this world is called the defiled world of the corrupt dharma. All beings lack a true and sincere heart, mock teachers and elders, disrespect their parents, distrust their companions, and favor only evil; hence, it is taught that everyone, both in the secular and religious worlds, is possessed of “Heart and tongue at odds,” and “Words and thoughts both insincere.” The former means that what is in the heart and what is said are at variance, and the latter means that what is spoken and what is thought are not real. Real means “sincere.” People of this world have only thoughts that are not real, and those who wish to be born in the Pure Land have only thoughts of deceiving and flattering. Even those who renounce this world have nothing but thoughts of fame and profit. Hence, know that we are not good persons, nor persons of wisdom; that we have no diligence, but only indolence, and within, the heart is ever empty, deceptive, vainglorious, and flattering. We do not have a heart that is true and real.

Reflect on this means that a person must understand this in accordance with the way things truly are.


Nor rejecting those who break precepts and whose evil karma is profound

This means that men who break the various precepts and whose evil karma is deep are not rejected. This was explained fully above. Please read the explanation carefully.


If sentient beings, saying my Name perhaps even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

This is from the text of the selected Primal Vow. It means that if the people who say the Name as stated in the Vow, “up to ten times,” are not born in my land, may I not become a Buddha.

Perhaps even contains all the meanings of upper and lower limit, more or less, near or far, long continued. This is the Vow that Bodhisattva Dharmakara made in advance out of compassion for beings of later ages, seeking to end attachment to either many-calling or once-calling. We should be truly happy about this, and take delight and rejoice.


Neither accommodated nor real

This is a teaching of the Tendai school. It has nothing to do with Shin Buddhism, and expresses the thought of the Path of Sages. It is not the way of easy practice, so please ask people of the Tendai school about it.


If you cannot think on Amida

This is the teaching which urges the person guilty of the five grave offenses and ten transgressions and of engaging in defiled expositions of the dharma, “If you are tormented by suffering due to illness and cannot think on Amida, then simply say Namu-amida-butsu with your lips.” This demonstrates that Amida made verbal utterance the essence of the Primal Vow. The expression say the Name of the Buddha of immeasurable life refers to this fact, and say instructs us to utter the Name.


When you say Namu-muryoju-butsu [Namu-amida-butsu] ten times, because you say the Buddha’s Name, with each utterance the evil karma of eight billion kalpas of birth-and-death is eliminated.

Those who commit the five grave offenses are burdened with evil karma, in fact, tenfold eight billion kalpas of evil karma; hence, they are urged to say Namu-amida-butsu ten times. It is not that the evil karma of tenfold eight billion kalpas cannot be extinguished in a single utterance; but in this way, we are made to realize the seriousness of the evil karma of the five grave offenses.

Ten times means that we should simply say the Name ten times with the lips.

Thus, Shan-tao rephrases the selected Primal Vow,

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters say my Name even ten times but do not attain birth, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

Here, in Amida’s Primal Vow, even includes “few” in contrast to “many,” teaching us that sentient beings who say the Name as few as ten times will without fail attain birth. Know that “thinking” and “voicing” have the same meaning; no voicing exists separate from thinking, and no thinking separate from voicing.


I have not explained the meaning of these passages as fully as I would like. Please ask good teachers about them, and with these notes explore their deep significance.


That people of the countryside, who do not know the meanings of written characters and who are painfully and hopelessly ignorant, may easily understand, I have repeated the same things over and over. The educated will probably find this writing peculiar and may ridicule it. But paying no heed to such criticisms, I write only that ignorant people may easily grasp the meaning.

Shoka 1 [1257], eighth month, 19th day

Gutoku Shinran
Age 85