The teaching of once-calling should not be considered false
Every person should desire continually, up to the time of death, that all the excellent conditions and surroundings appear before them.
Continually means without stopping. Thus, you should desire from time to time as occasions arise. “Continually” here does not mean constancy. “Constancy” means that there should be no pause. It means always in terms of time, anywhere and everywhere in terms of place.
Everyone, up to the time of death means “all sentient beings who aspire for the land of bliss, to the end of their lives.”
Excellent conditions and surroundings means that you should desire to behold the Buddha, to see the light, to smell the wondrous fragrance, and to encounter the guidance of a true teacher.
All appear before them: you should wish these wonderful things to appear before your eyes.
In the Larger Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life it is taught:
All sentient beings, as they hear the Name, realize even one thought-moment of shinjin and joy, which is directed to them from Amida’s sincere mind, and aspiring to be born in that land, they then attain birth and dwell in the stage of nonretrogression.
All sentient beings: all the sentient beings throughout the ten quarters.
Hear the Name is to hear the Name that embodies the Primal Vow. “Hear” means to hear the Primal Vow and be free of doubt. Further, it indicates shinjin.
Realize even one thought-moment of shinjin and joy: shinjin is hearing the Vow of the Tathagata and being free of doubt.
Joy (kangi) means to be gladdened in body (kan) and gladdened in heart (gi). It means to rejoice beforehand at being assured of attaining what one shall attain.
Even includes all possibilities, both many and few, a long time and a short time, first and later.
One thought-moment is time at its ultimate limit, where the realization of shinjin takes place.
Sincere mind is that which is true, real, and sincere, the heart of Amida Tathagata.
Directed to them is Amida’s giving the Name that embodies the Primal Vow to sentient beings throughout the ten quarters.
Aspiring to be born in that land: aspiring to be born means that every sentient being should desire to be born in the land fulfilled through the Primal Vow. That land is the land of happiness.
They then attain birth: then (soku) means immediately, without any time elapsing, without a day passing.
Soku also means to ascend to and become established in a certain rank.
Attain means to have attained what one shall attain.
When one realizes true and real shinjin, one is immediately grasped and held within the heart of the Buddha of unhindered light, never to be abandoned.
“To grasp” (sesshu) means to take in (setsu) and to receive and hold (shu). When we are grasped by Amida, immediately – without a moment or a day elapsing – we ascend to and become established in the stage of the truly settled; this is the meaning of attain birth.
Further, Bodhisattva Dharmakara established the Vow of necessary attainment of nirvana, which is taught in the Larger Sutra:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, the human beings and devas in my land do not dwell among the settled there also, necessarily attaining nirvana, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
[Another translation of] the sutra states:
If, when I become Buddha, the sentient beings in my land do not decidedly attain the equal of perfect enlightenment, so that they realize great nirvana, may I not attain enlightenment.
Thus Bodhisattva Dharmakara established this Vow. Sakyamuni Tathagata explains its fulfillment for the sake of us, who are corrupt with the five defilements:
The sentient beings born in that land all dwell among the truly settled, for in that Buddha-land there is not one who is falsely settled or not settled.
In these words of the two honored ones we find stated the significance of they then attain birth; that is, to become established in the stage of the truly settled thus is itself to dwell in the stage of nonretrogression. When a person becomes established in this stage, he or she becomes one who will necessarily attain the supreme great nirvana; hence, it is taught that one realizes the equal of perfect enlightenment, or avaivartika, or avinivartaniya. It is also said one “immediately enters the stage of the definitely settled.”
The true and real shinjin explained above is the diamondlike mind of the crosswise leap realized through Other Power. Hence the Larger Sutra teaches that the person of the nembutsu is of [the stage] next [to enlightenment], like Maitreya. Maitreya is a bodhisattva of the diamondlike mind of lengthwise progression. “Lengthwise” applies to people who follow the Path of Sages, the path of difficult practice performed through self-power. “Crosswise” means laterally or transcendently; “leap” means to go beyond. When we have boarded the ship of the Buddha’s karmic power, which has been fulfilled through the great Vow, we go laterally and transcendently beyond the vast ocean of birth-and-death and reach the shore of the true fulfilled land.
[The stage] next [to enlightenment], like Maitreya: next means near, next in order. “Near” means that Maitreya is a person who will definitely attain supreme nirvana. Hence the pronouncement, like Maitreya. The person who realizes shinjin and says the nembutsu is nearing supreme nirvana also. “Next in order” means that when 5,670,000,000 years have passed, Maitreya will definitely attain the level of perfect enlightenment and will become the next Buddha in this world after Sakyamuni.
Like: persons of shinjin, which is Other Power, are “like Maitreya” in that they rise to the stage of nonretrogression in their present life and will unfailingly attain the enlightenment of supreme nirvana.
The Treatise on the Pure Land states:
The sutra declares, “Those who, simply hearing of the purity and happiness of that land, earnestly desire to be born there, and those who attain birth, immediately enter the stage of the truly settled.” This shows that the land’s very name performs the Buddha’s work [of saving others]. How can this be conceived?
This passage states, “Hearing of the purity and happiness of that land with wholeheartedness, the person who realizes shinjin and aspires to be born there and the person who has already attained birth immediately enter the stage of the truly settled. In other words, the Buddha’s work is assuredly accomplished in hearing the name of that land: how can this be conceivable? Know, then, that although they neither seek nor know the indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable virtues of the Pure Land of happiness, those who entrust themselves to the Primal Vow are made to acquire them.
Further, Wang Jih-hsiu states:
The being of the nembutsu, as such, is the same as Maitreya.
The being of the nembutsu: the person who has realized diamondlike shinjin.
As such means immediately; also, by means of. Thus, “since one is immediately brought to dwell in the stage of the truly settled through the compassionate means of shinjin.”
Same means that the persons of the nembutsu are the same as Maitreya in that they will attain the supreme nirvana.
Further, Sakyamuni states in a sutra:
Know that the person who says the nembutsu is a white lotus among people.
With these words the Tathagata likens the persons of the nembutsu to the white lotus, the flower praised as the best among best flowers, the excellent flower, the wondrous excellent flower, the rare flower, the very finest flower. Master Shan-tao of Kuang-ming temple interprets this to be praise of the person of the nembutsu as the best among the best, the excellent person, the wondrous excellent person, the truly rare person, the very finest person.
Further, in teaching the benefit of being protected in this present life, it is stated:
There are sentient beings who solely think on Amida Buddha; only these people are constantly illumined by the light of that Buddha’s heart, grasped and protected, never to be abandoned. It is not at all stated that any practicers of various other acts are illumined and embraced. This is being protected in the present life, a manifestation of the decisive cause of birth in the Pure Land.
There are sentient beings who solely think on Amida Buddha signifies entrusting oneself with wholeness of heart to Amida Buddha.
The light of that Buddha’s heart is the heart of the Buddha of unhindered light.
These people are constantly illumined: constantly means ever, without pause. Without pause, the person of true and real shinjin is ever illumined and protected, at all times and places. Since he or she is constantly protected without pause by the heart of Amida, this Buddha is called the Buddha of unceasing light.
These people: these is used in contrast with “non-.” People of true and real shinjin are called “these people.” Those who are empty and transitory, full of doubt and vacillation, are “non-persons.” “Non-persons” are rejected as not being persons; they are people of falsity. “These people” are true persons.
Grasped and protected, never to be abandoned: grasped means to embrace.
Protected means that the Buddha protects the person of shinjin without pause – in all places, at all times, and without discrimination among people. “Protected” means that one cannot be deterred by those who have taken up other teachings and beliefs, nor obstructed by those of different understandings and practices; one is not threatened by the heavenly demon Papiyas, nor troubled by evil gods and demons.
Never to be abandoned: these words teach us that the person of shinjin is embraced and protected by the heart of the Buddha of wisdom-light and that he or she is never abandoned, but always resides within that heart of light.
It is not stated at all that any practicers of various other acts are illumined and embraced: various other acts signifies all the various kinds of good acts. Thus, it is not the case that any who perform sundry practices and incline toward different forms of discipline are illumined and embraced; they are not protected. This sentence urges us to realize that such people do not receive the benefit of being grasped by Amida, for they are not practicers of the Primal Vow. It means that they are not protected in the present life.
This is being protected in the present life means that Amida protects us in this world. This karmic power of the Buddha, fulfilled through the Primal Vow, is the strong cause of the attainment of birth by the person of shinjin; hence it is called the decisive cause. The person who rejoices in realizing shinjin is taught in a sutra to be the equal of the Buddhas.
Master Genshin of Shuryogon-in states:
Although I too am within Amida’s grasp, blind passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see [the light]; nevertheless, great compassion untiringly and constantly illumines me.
This means, “Even though I am also in Amida’s grasp, I cannot see because of the blind passions that obstruct my eyes. Nevertheless, great compassion is tireless and always illumines me.”
If there are persons who, having heard the Name of that Buddha, leap and dance with joy and say it even once, know that they receive the great benefit; that is, they acquire the unexcelled virtues.
There are persons who, having heard the Name of that Buddha: Sakyamuni’s words exhorting us to entrust ourselves to the Name that embodies the Primal Vow.
Leap and dance with joy and say it even once: joy is to rejoice beforehand at being assured of attaining what one shall attain.
Leap and dance (yuyaku) means to dance in the air (yu) and to dance on the ground (yaku); it is the form of boundless joy and manifests the state of gladness and delight. “Gladness” is to rejoice upon attaining what one shall attain and “delight” is happiness. Attaining the stage of the truly settled expresses itself in this form.
Even indicates the indeterminateness of the number of times one should say the Name.
Say [the Name] once is virtue at its fullness. The countless virtues are all included and the various merits all held in a single utterance.
Know that they: people realizing shinjin.
Receive the great benefit: they will realize the supreme nirvana; hence it is further stated, that is, they acquire the unexcelled virtues. That is means immediately; it also means dharmicness.
In entrusting ourselves to the Tathagata’s Primal Vow and saying the Name once, necessarily, without seeking it, we are made to receive the supreme virtues, and without knowing it, we acquire the great and vast benefit. This is dharmicness, by which one will immediately realize the various facets of enlightenment naturally. “Dharmicness” means not brought about in any way by the practicer’s calculation; from the very beginning on shares in the benefit that surpasses conception. It indicates the nature of jinen. “Dharmicness” expresses the natural working (jinen) in the life of the person who realizes shinjin and says the Name once.
Concerning the statement from the sutra, There is not one who is falsely settled or not settled: not one who is falsely settled means, “because in the fulfilled land there is no one who performs various good acts and practices in mixed ways.”
Not settled: in the true fulfilled land there is no one who says the nembutsu in self-power or in doubt, for only the truly settled are born there.
These passages are scriptural evidence for the teaching of once-calling. I have not explained them as fully as I would like, but using these notes, please explore their deeper significance.