Teachings “accommodated” or adapted to individual needs and levels of understanding, in contrast to the “real” teaching, which is the direct expression of truth.


All religious, moral, and ethical teachings other than the nembutsu. Shinran rejects all the various good acts and practices taught in Buddhism as self-generated and ineffective for attainment of Buddhahood; only the nembutsu as the working of Amida Buddha leads to enlightenment. More precisely, “all the various good acts and practices” refer to the content of the Nineteenth Vow and the meditative and nonmeditative practices outlined in the Contemplation Sutra.

Honen differentiated between “small roots of good” (all kinds of good acts and practices) and “large roots of good” (nembutsu), the latter alone leading to birth in the Pure Land. Shinran elaborates on this, stating that “small roots of good” are unproductive, coming from limited self-power, whereas “large roots of good” lead to birth in the Pure Land, being the working of Other Power. But if the nembutsu performed as a self-generated act would be counted among the good acts and practices and is therefore rejected.

Although thus rejected, “all the various good acts and practices” are affirmed in the sense that they may also perform a liberative function. When persons of self-power ultimately entrust themselves completely to Other Power, all such good acts and practices, in retrospect, take on a new significance as preliminaries which led them to Other Power. In the light of the working of Other Power, everything is regarded as the manifestation of true compassion guiding persons to the world of Amida. This, of course, does not mean that such good acts and practices are to be encouraged or that they are required for true appreciation of Other Power.

AMIDA BUDDHA (Amida butsu)

Amida (a-mita), lit., “immeasurable [life and light],” is the Buddha whose essence is dharma-body as compassionated means, characterized by form. The formless dharma-body, to awaken beings of blind foolishness to itself, manifested form and announced a Name, appearing as Dharmakara Bodhisattva. This bodhisattva established and fulfilled the special vow to save foolish and evil beings and became Amida Buddha. Hence, Amida is called the Tathagata of fulfilled body. While the other Buddhas help people who accumulate meritorious deeds, practice meditative activities, and perfect wisdom, Amida Buddha liberates the being of blind foolishness and karmic evil through “form” (Primal Vow) and “name” (Namu-amida-butsu). That is, through the virtue of Amida, who is light that is wisdom-compassion, persons of the nembutsu realize themselves to be human (ignorant and evil), becoming their foolish selves, and attain Buddhahood. See Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters.

It may be noted that in general the Chinese and Japanese languages do not employ gender-specific reference, and that while Dharmakara, as a former king, is a male figure, Shinran also speaks of Amida as “mother of compassion.” Gender specific reference to Amida has been avoided as far as possible to reflect Shinran’s texts.

Amida’s coming at the time of death [rinju raiko]

In traditional forms of Buddhism, contemplation on various aspects of the Buddhas is an important spiritual exercise, and the appearance of a Buddha before one is a sign of entrance into profound meditation and contact with the realm of enlightenment. In Pure Land Buddhism, auspicious signs of the presence of Amida and a host of bodhisattvas at the time of death held a similar significance, for it was believed that at death Amida would come to take the nembutsu practicer into the Pure Land. Up until Shinran’s time, Amida’s coming formed the central focus of religious aspiration for Pure Land Buddhists and the circumstances and frame of mind of a person’s final moments were considered to be of crucial importance. Shinran, however, rejects this concept as reflecting an attitude of self-power: “There is no need to wait in anticipation for the moment of death, no need to rely on Amida’s coming” (Lamp for the Latter Ages, Letter 1)


Benefit [riyaku]

In the Buddhist tradition the consequences of the religious life are benefits to both oneself and others. The bodhisattva ideal, for example, is succinctly expressed in the statement, “Self-enlightenment and enlightenment of others, the ultimate fulfilling of the activity of enlightenment.” One of the characteristics of an enlightened being reads: “The perfect fulfillment of bringing benefits to self and others equally.” Shin Buddhism inherits this position, but establishes two stages in the gaining of benefits: the immediate benefits received by a person of shinjin in this life, and the ultimate benefit realized as going beyond the bounds of birth-and-death. The latter has two aspects: going to be born in the Pure Land (which is benefiting the self), at which point one immediately returns to this samsaric world to liberate all beings (which is benefiting others); both aspects are made possible by the empowerment of the Primal Vow. The former are benefits gained by the person of shinjin here and now, in the midst of ordinary life; see, for example, “Chapter on Shinjin,” 65.

Birth [ojo]

The literal meaning of the original term ojo is “to go to be born.” Traditionally it meant attaining birth in the Pure Land after death, so that in an ideal religious environment, one could receive the aid of the Buddha, attain the nonretrogressive stage, and ultimately realize perfect enlightenment. People living in the last dharma-age (mappo), separated from the Buddha and facing a period of chaos and corruption, felt that enlightenment was impossible unless they were reborn in a better world. Moreover, from Shan-tao on, the utterance of Amida’s Name was considered the most effective way to birth in the Pure Land; hence the term “birth through the nembutsu” (nembutsu ojo).

For Shinran however, “birth in the Pure Land” does not mean going to some ideal place for prolonged spiritual training; the term means that at the moment of death one immediately attains the supreme enlightenment, being liberated from the karmic bonds of birth-and-death and attaining nirvana. Further, by delving into the nature of “birth through the nembutsu,” Shinran came to stress the centrality of shinjin as the awakening to Amida’s compassion and the source from which the true utterance of the Name emerges, free of all contrivance. Thus, his teaching might be characterized as “birth through the realization of shinjin,” where nembutsu and shinjin are considered inseparable. From this position, Shinran was able to make radical developments in the concept of birth. Thus, the idea of going to be born in the Pure Land, which had a single futuristic meaning in traditional thought, has for Shinran a dual connotation: (1) the awakening in the immediate present called shinjin, in which one is grasped by great compassion, never to be abandoned, and (2) the attainment of supreme enlightenment at the end of life, brought about without any effort or contrivance on the part of the practicer through the natural working (jinen) of Amida’s compassion.

Birth-and-death [shoji]

The Sino-Japanese translation of samsara, which means “the stream of time from birth to death and death to birth,” referring to the unenlightened state. All unenlightened beings repeat the empty, meaningless cycle in countless lives, driven only by the agitations of greed, anger, and folly. The purpose of Buddhism is to attain liberation from such a hollow existence by becoming a being of wisdom and compassion, filled with that which is true, real, and sincere. Further, in Mahayana thought, nirvana is not a transcendent state apart from birth-and-death, but the very foundation of all existence, so that to attain enlightenment is to return to the world of birth-and-death.

Blind passions [bonno]

A comprehensive term descriptive of all the forces, conscious and unconscious, that propel unenlightened persons to think, feel, act, and speak – whether in happiness or in sorrow – in such a way as to cause uneasiness, frustration, torment, pain, and sorrow mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically for themselves and others. While Buddhism makes a detailed and subtle analysis of blind passions, employing such terms as craving, anger, delusion, arrogance, doubt, and wrong views, fundamentally it is rooted in the fierce, stubborn clinging to the foolish and evil self that constitutes the basis of our existence. When we realize the full implications of this truth about ourselves, we see that the human condition is itself nothing but blind passions. Thus, just to live, or wanting to live, as an unenlightened being is to manifest blind passions at all times, regardless of what we may appear to be. One comes to know this, however, only through the illumination of great compassion. Hence, awakening to one’s own nature is called the wisdom of shinjin, and the person who realizes it has already been grasped by Amida’s Primal Vow.

Body of naturalness or of nonexistence [jinen komu no shin]

The body realized in the Pure Land by the person who attains birth there. This term indicates that those born in the Pure Land realize the same Buddha-body as Amida. It occurs in a passage from the Larger Sutra describing the beings who dwell in the Pure Land:

Their countenances are dignified and wonderful, surpassing things of this world. Their features, subtle and delicate, are not those of humans or devas; all receive the body of naturalness or of nonexistence, the body of boundlessness.

The term “body” here does not imply the usual concept of a physical body, for both “naturalness” and “nonexistence” refer to suchness or to the uncreated and thus indicate that which is formless. “Body of naturalness or of nonexistence” is therefore synonymous with “dharma-body of the uncreated” (mui hosshin), “supreme Buddha” (mujo butsu), and “dharma-body as suchness” (hossho hosshin); it has neither color nor form, but is the true reality which, without losing its fundamental nature of formlessness, manifests itself in form. Concerning this, T’an-luan states:

The dharma-body of the uncreated is the body of the true nature of all things. Because the true nature of all things is nirvana, the dharma-body is formless. Because it is formless, never does it fail to manifest any kind of form. Hence the excellent adornments are none other than the dharma-body.

In this way, formlessness is none other than form, form is none other than formlessness. From this we know that the body of naturalness and nonexistence, while being formless, is also never apart from form.

From the term, “body of naturalness or of nonexistence,” we see the appropriateness of Shinran’s assertion that “naturalness” (jinen) signifies the supreme Buddha (Lamp for the Latter Ages 5). In addition, Shinran breaks the term jinen into its two component characters, ji, which he understands to mean “of itself” (onozukara), and nen, “being made to become so” (shikarashimu). He explains,

Jinen means that from the very beginning one is made to become so. Amida’s Vow is, from the very beginning, designed to have each person entrust himself in Namu-amida-butsu and be received in the Pure Land; none of this is through the practicer’s calculation.

Thus we see that jinen expresses the working of Other Power, an understanding unique to Shinran.

Moreover, “nonexistence” means that there is nothing that we can grasp with our words or concepts. In Shin Buddhism, there is only one word that can express this “nonexistence,” Namu-amida-butsu. Only Namu-amida-butsu can become the means enabling human beings to know this “nonexistence.”

Borderland [henji]

This is synonymous with land of indolence and pride, womb-palace, and city of doubt, all describing the realms into which Pure Land Buddhists are born, but which lie outside the Pure Land. They are for those who still cling to self-power and who have yet to realize fully the shinjin of Other Power. Thus, they are born in the borderland, next to the Pure Land, or in the land of indolence and pride where they continue to indulge themselves in self-gratifications, or in the womb of the Pure Land where they are enclosed within a limited vision as if contained within a womb, or in the city of doubt where they are imprisoned in their own self-centered uncertainties.

Buddha’s Benevolence [button]

This term is composed of two words, butsu (Buddha) and on. The Chinese word on corresponds to the Sanskrit krta, meaning “benevolence” or “act of kindness.” As a Buddhist term, however, on was used to translate krtajña, which denotes the gratitude that comes upon the realization of what has been done for one, and in button refers specifically to the deep feeling of thankfulness for Amida’s Primal Vow, which has been established through countless aeons of time for one’s own sake. However enormous man’s blindness, ignorance and self-centeredness, even greater is the power of the Primal Vow, which will transform them into their very opposites. When we realize this, we experience it as the benevolence of the Tathagata; this feeling is called Buddha’s on.

Buddhas’ witness and protection [shojo-gonen]

The Smaller Sutra teaches that the countless Buddhas and enlightened beings praise Amida as witnesses to the efficacy of the Primal Vow, attesting to the working of Amida Buddha as the decisive cause of enlightenment for all beings. Not only are they witnesses, but the sutra states that they actively protect persons of shinjin so that no worldly difficulties or demonic intervention can obstruct them. Shinran understood this idea of the Buddhas’ witness to be expressed in the Seventeenth Vow also.


Calculation [hakarai]

Hakarai is the noun form of a verb meaning to deliberate, analyze, and determine a course of action. It further means to arrange or manage, to work out a problem, to bring a plan to conclusion. In Shinran’s more common usage, as a synonym for self-power, it refers to all acts of intellect and will aimed at achieving liberation. Specifically, it is the Shin practicer’s efforts to make himself worthy of Amida’s compassion in his own eyes and his clinging to his judgments and designs, predicated on his own goodness, for attaining religious awakening.

For Shinran, salvation lies rather in the complete entrusting of oneself to the Primal Vow, which works to bring about “the attainment of Buddhahood by the person of evil” (A Record in Lament of Divergences 3). This working is Amida’s hakarai. Hakarai, then, possesses two opposed meanings, as a synonym for both self-power and Other Power, and its usage reflects the core of Shinran’s religious thought, where one’s calculative thinking and Amida’s working are experienced as mutually exclusive. Great compassion illumines everyone at all times, but any contrivance to attain enlightenment by cultivating one’s own virtues or capabilities – whether through moral action or religious practice – will blind one to it, making sincere trust (shinjin) impossible. Only when a person realizes his or her true nature as a foolish being (bombu), all of whose acts and thoughts arise from blind passions, does he awaken to the great compassion that grasps him just as he is. To know oneself and to know Amida’s compassion are, in fact, inseparable aspects of the same realization, and one awakens to them simultaneously. In this awakening, one’s own hakarai disappears and entrusting oneself to Amida’s Vow actually comes about for the first time. Thus Shinran states, “No working (practicer’s hakarai) is true working (Amida’s hakarai).”

As true entrusting arises wholly from Other Power, the practicer is completely passive. Even seeking to know oneself as evil or to rid oneself of hakarai in order to accord with the Primal Vow is itself hakarai, and all such effort is futile and self-defeating. This is the paradox the Shin practicer faces. The admonition against hakarai does not mean, however, that one must renounce the aspiration for enlightenment and do nothing at all. It may be said that the desire for birth arises truly only with shinjin and that prior to realization of shinjin it is overshadowed by attachment to this world. Nevertheless, aspiration even prior to realization of shinjin leads one to listen to the teaching in earnest confrontation of the problem of emancipation. Such listening will at some point be transformed into hearing (mon), which Shinran explains:

“To hear” means to hear the Primal Vow and be free of doubt (i.e., hakarai). Further, it indicates shinjin. (Notes on Once-calling and Many-calling)

This hearing, which is the realization of shinjin, is not simply to receive the verbal teaching, but to experience with one’s entire being the very reality of the Primal Vow. When great compassion wakens one to its working, one is freed from the bonds of one’s own hakarai. Conversely, when one’s calculative thinking is made to fall away, all is seen to have been Amida’s working.

Compassionate means [hoben]

The Sanskrit original, upaya, means “coming near,” “approaching,” and in extension, “means,” “expedience.” Generally speaking, it has two usages in Buddhism: the method or practice by which a person can attain Buddhahood, and the skillful means which Buddhas use to teach and to guide sentient beings to enlightenment. In Shin Buddhism, compassionate means refers to the manifestation of ultimate reality, which is beyond time and form, in the world of relativities – that is, of the dharma-body as suchness in the realm of birth-and-death – so that it comes into the range of human comprehension and description. Thus, Amida, with Primal Vow, Name, and Land, is dharma-body as compassionate means that, while being one with dharma-body as suchness, makes possible the liberation and enlightenment of all beings.

Hoben is also used to refer to provisional means, such as the practices described in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Vows, in contrast to the true mind (shinjin) and practice (nembutsu) of the Eighteenth Vow.

Conditions from the distant past [shukuen]

Deeds, whether good or bad, done in the past that bring about their rewards or retributions in the present life. An apparently casual encounter with the Buddha, a Buddhist teacher, or, through him or her, the Buddhist teaching, is seen as the result of a stock of merit accumulated in past lives. The meritorious deeds, however, may indeed be done under the influence of Buddhist sages who approach us in the guise of our friends and relatives and teach us to do good. In Shin, our encounter with the teaching of liberation by Amida is seen as the result of the long relationships established with us from the distant past.


Decisive cause [zojoen]

The power of Amida’s Primal Vow as the single cause bringing about the attainment of enlightenment. The term zojoen is commonly used in Buddhism and occurs prominently in the works of Shan-tao, but Shinran’s understanding of it is unique. In Buddhism generally, zojoen is one of the four kinds of causal conditions that contribute to the emergence of a thing. In this analysis, which appears in early Buddhism and remains important in both Mahayana and Hinayana thought, zojoen denotes the secondary causes which assist the principal or direct cause (innen). This meaning is carried over in Shan-tao, who uses zojoen to mean supplementary aid in the attainment of birth. Shinran, however, in his thoroughgoing emphasis on Other Power as the sole cause of birth, understands zojoen as standing alone, not in relation to any other possible cause. The attainment of Buddhahood by sentient beings comes about entirely through the power of Amida’s Vow; one does not depend on other Buddhas, and one’s own powers to attain enlightenment are wholly inadequate. Thus Shinran uses zojoen – “decisive cause” – for the all-powerful, incomparable working of Amida.

Deep mind [jinshin]

The second of the three minds in the Contemplation Sutra, which includes sincere mind, deep mind, and mind of aspiration for birth. Shan-tao regarded these three as essential for birth in the Pure Land. Deep mind is none other than profound entrusting which has two aspects: the awareness of ki, the finite and limited self steeped in blind passions (object of Amida’s Vow), and the awareness of ho, the working of Amida’s Vow directed to the foolish self (dharma that functions solely for the sake of such a being). Honen focused on deep mind as central, treating sincere mind and aspiration for birth as one with deep mind. Deep mind, then, is none other than shinjin, and the nembutsu which spontaneously arises from it becomes the cause for birth in the Pure Land. Shinran explored the relationship between these three minds and the threefold mind of the Larger Sutra (sincere mind, entrusting, and aspiration for birth), and he gave two interpretations of the Contemplation Sutra teaching, explicit and implicit. The former regards the three minds of the Contemplation Sutra as an expression of self-power, and the latter identifies them with the threefold mind of the Larger Sutra. Thus, according to Shinran, deep mind properly understood is ultimately the one mind of Other Power, the true and real mind bestowed on a person by Amida, and hence completely free of doubt.

Defiled world [edo]

This world of unenlightened beings, characterized by inverted thinking and feeling, is in direct contrast to the Pure Land. The defiled world is traditionally described either as the three realms of desire, form, and formlessness, or the six courses of transmigration, namely, hellish existence, “hungry” ghosts, beasts, fighting demons, human beings, and heavenly beings. Since the unenlightened must endure the sufferings in the six courses as the consequences of their karmic past, this world is also called shaba in Japanese (from Sanskrit saha, meaning “endurance”). The motto of Heian period Pure Land Buddhism, made famous by Genshin, was “Reject the defiled world and seek the Pure Land.” This suggested an irrevocable dualism between this world of suffering and the Pure Land, with the crucial juncture coming at the moment of death, when the faithful were received by the Buddha into the Pure Land. Shinran, however, understood this phrase existentially and nondualistically, emphasizing both the transcendence of samsaric existence in shinjin here and now, in the midst of conventional life, and the attainment of supreme enlightenment at death, which is the dying to the karmic self for the person of shinjin.

Devadatta [Chodatsu, also Daibadatta]

Sakyamuni’s cousin and once his disciple. Later he formed a faction and tried to overtake the leadership of the Buddhist Order. He provoked Ajatasatru, son of King Bimbisara, to usurp the throne. He also sent an elephant to kill the Buddha. Owing to these grave offenses, he is said to have fallen into hell while still alive.

Dharma-body [hosshin, dharmakaya]

D.T. Suzuki explains this term:

Kaya meaning “the body” is an important conception in the Buddhist doctrine of reality. Dharmakaya [dharma-body] is usually rendered “Law-body” where Dharma is understood in the sense of “law,” “organization,” “systematization,” or “regulative principle.” But really in Buddhism, Dharma has a very much more comprehensive meaning. Especially when Dharma is coupled with Kaya – dharmakaya – it implies the notion of personality. The highest reality is not a mere abstraction, it is very much alive with sense and intelligence, and, above all, with love purged of human infirmities and defilements.

The dharmakaya is not the owner of wisdom and compassion, he is the Wisdom or the Compassion, as either phase of his being is emphasized for some special reason. We shall miss the point entirely if we take him as somewhat resembling or reflecting the human conception of man. He has no body in the sense we have a human body. He is Spirit, he is the field of action, if we can use this form of expression, where Wisdom and Compassion are fused together, are transformed into each other, and become the principle of vitality in the world of sense-intellect. (The Essence of Buddhism, Kyoto: Hozokan, 1948, p.47)

According to Shin Buddhism, dharma-body has two aspects: “dharma-body as suchness or dharma-nature” and “dharma-body as compassionate means.” Dharma-body as suchness is formless and nameless, transcending the capacity of the ordinary mind to apprehend or speak about it; therefore, it manifests itself in the realm of form and name as dharma-body as compassionate means to liberate all sentient beings. Since this realm of form and name is the realm of cause and effect, dharma-body as compassionate means involves itself in a cause-and-effect process, Dharmakara Bodhisattva’s establishment of the forty-eight vows and attainment of Buddhahood as Amida through their fulfillment. Hence, Amida is described variously as the fulfilled body, reward body, recompensed body, etc., all pointing to the fulfillment of the countless requirements necessary for the enlightenment of all beings. In Teaching, Practice, and Realization, Shinran quotes the following passage from T’an-luan’s Commentary on Vasubandhu’s Treatise on the Pure Land in order to illuminate the relation between these two aspects of dharma-body:

All Buddhas and bodhisattvas have dharma-bodies of two dimensions; dharma-body as suchness and dharma-body as compassionate means. Dharma-body as compassionate means arises from the dharma-body as suchness, and dharma-body as suchness emerges out of dharma-body as compassionate means. These two dimensions of dharma-body differ but are not separable; they are one but cannot be regarded as identical. Dharmakara Bodhisattva [Hozo Bosatsu]

The bodhisattva who established the vow to liberate all sentient beings in the universe through the utterance of his name and who became Amida Buddha through its fulfillment. The Primal Vow and the aeons of religious practice that was necessary for its fulfillment are, strictly speaking, those of Bodhisattva Dharmakara. Through the story of Dharmakara we see that Amida is not a static symbol of absolute truth, but the expression of the ever-active working of compassion that lies at the core of Mahayana Buddhism. This working of compassion, rooted in the ultimate reality, the dharma-body as suchness, is one of the phases of jinen.

Dharma most difficult to accept [gokunanshin ho]

An expression of reverence and praise commonly found in Buddhist sutras asserting that the teaching is most difficult to accept if one applies commonsense thinking based on the conventional values of ordinary life. Shinran adds another dimension on the difficulty of acceptance. In the concluding portion of Passages on the Pure Land Way he quotes the following statements:

The most difficult of all difficulties is to hear this sutra and accept it in shinjin; nothing surpasses this difficulty.

It is the dharma that, for all people in the world, is most difficult to accept.

Shinran sees that what is most difficult to accept is “to hear this sutra and accept it in shinjin,” because of the deep-rooted attachment of self-power. Since shinjin is the manifestation in a person of the working of the Other Power of the Primal Vow; it is beyond calculation or will. Thus, no matter how pristine a person’s religiosity may appear, as long as there is even the slightest ego design, it is not shinjin. Basically, shinjin is the state realized in the absolute negation of all human calculation; it is not a mere matter of believing or simple trusting. This difficulty of negating calculation is one with the difficulty of accepting or realizing shinjin. Thus, that which is “most difficult to accept” involves both the difficulty of awakening shinjin and of negating human calculation.

Diamondlike mind [kongo-shin]

A synonym for shinjin. The diamond (vajra) is a favorite metaphor in Mahayana Buddhism for the bodhisattva’s indestructible wisdom, which sunders all forms of evil, both within and without.

In the Path of Sages, this metaphor is used to express the great power of prajña, which acts at the last stage of the bodhisattva’s practice to cut the deepest root of attachment to birth-and-death. Shinran states:

When sentient beings realize 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. Hence shinjin is like a diamond, never breaking, or degenerating, or becoming fragmented. (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’)

In Shinran’s teaching, it is used to indicate that shinjin itself is indestructible, not because of our strong conviction or firm belief, but because it is Other Power. Difficult practice, easy practice [nangyo, igyo]

The distinction between difficult and easy practice was first made by Nagarjuna, who likened the latter to traveling in a boat, which is pleasurable, and the former to walking on land, which is full of hardship. T’an-luan gave the following reasons for the difficulty: one lives in an age of five defilements when the Buddha no longer exists; one is obstructed by expedient and moralistic teachings outside of Buddhism, and also by the self-conceit and self-concern of individuals within Buddhism. He related difficult practice to self-power and easy practice to Other Power. Tao-ch’o refined the distinction by stating that “to cultivate the cause and thus progress toward the fruit of enlightenment is difficult practice; to attain birth in the Pure Land and realize supreme enlightenment is easy practice.” This became the basis for identifying the Path of Sages with difficult practice and the Pure Land path with easy practice. Honen and Shinran were influenced by all of these views, but saw them within the context of twelfth-century Japan, when a sense of historical doom prevailed. They felt that in such an age, the practice of Buddhism was immensely difficult, if not impossible, and the only recourse they had was to say the nembutsu, the sole practice in accord with Amida’s Primal Vow selected for beings living in such a corrupt age. The saying of the nembutsu, manifesting the working of Amida Buddha in a person, leads necessarily to supreme enlightenment. Since it is Amida Buddha’s power that brings a person to Buddhahood and neither any good nor evil that one does can add to or detract from it, it is called easy practice.

Directing virtue [eko]

Lit., “turning toward another” or “redirecting”; often rendered “merit-transference.” Eko, a central concept of Mahayana thought, was born in the bodhisattva tradition, in which religious practices are undertaken for the benefit not only of oneself but of others also. It is the working of great compassion, which transcends the principle of bondage to one’s own karma. The deep wish or vow of the bodhisattva is for the spiritual and moral elevation of all beings, traditionally expressed as “going out from birth-and-death.” Therefore, it is only natural that he or she share his accomplishments with others. This sharing or turning over, however, does not involve any form of sacrifice, for it is an act of compassion performed in nondichotomous thinking and feeling.

In other schools of Buddhism, eko signifies one’s directing of merit toward one’s own and others’ attainment of enlightenment, and in traditional Pure Land Buddhism, which confronted practically the tremendous difficulties of the bodhisattva path, eko came to mean the directing of one’s merits not toward others but toward the attainment of birth in the Pure Land, where one could realize enlightenment and then return to this world to work for the liberation of all beings.

Shinran, however, viewed eko from the opposite perspective and used the term to signify the Enlightened One’s (Amida Buddha’s) directing and giving virtues to practicers. Shinran speaks of two modes of giving: One is outgoing or oso eko (i.e., outward from birth-and-death), which effects man’s birth in the Pure Land. Thus, the Name working in the nembutsu – and shinjin as its realization by us – are said to be given by Other Power. The second is returning or genso eko (into birth-and-death), by which the person of shinjin comes back into the defiled world in order to work for the enlightenment of all beings. Both activities are manifestations of the working of Amida, that is, of Amida’s directing virtue to us. Doubt, double-mindedness [utagai, futagokoro]

The direct opposite of complete entrusting to Amida’s Primal Vow, which is “to hear the Vow of Tathagata and be without doubt.” Doubt, the self-assertion of unenlightened beings, manifests itself as double-mindedness, in opposition to single-mindedness and wholeheartedness; as ignorance regarding the self and the working of Amida; as self-power that attempts birth in the Pure Land through ego-design (calculation or hakarai). These terms are also antonyms of hearing: “To hear is to hear the origin and end of the establishment of the Primal Vow and be without doubt” (Teaching, Practice, and Realization). Doubt does not disappear by human attempts to abandon or destroy it; it vanishes by itself when one truly hears the call of Amida and is grasped by the Primal Vow.


Eighteenth Vow Central among the Forty-eighth Vows of Amida Buddha taught in the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life is the Eighteenth Vow, the Vow of birth through the nembutsu, for it reveals the way to enlightenment through the working of great compassion committed to the liberation of every being, it reads: If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters, with sincere mind entrusting themselves, aspiring to be born in my land, and saying my Name perhaps even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment. Excluded are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right dharma. Honen called it the King of the Vows, emphasizing the words, “saying the Name even ten times.” This is the nembutsu, which Honen viewed, through Shan-tao’s teaching, as the essence of the Primal Vow and the practice that assures birth in the Pure Land. Based on the sutra passage that testifies to the fulfillment of this Vow, Shinran interpreted “sincere mind, entrusting, and aspiration for birth” – termed the “three minds” – not as necessary requirements to be prepared by the practicer, but rather as the compassion of the Primal Vow working in one. Sincere mind is the mind of Buddha, not that of human beings, which is filled with ignorance, vanity, and untruth; this sincere mind enters the mind and heart of human beings, causing them to entrust themselves to the Vow and experience great joy and prompting them to aspire for birth in the Pure Land. Shinran treats “entrusting” (shingyo) as a synonym of shinjin. It is to entrust oneself to the Primal Vow and rejoice in Amida’s working without any doubt or calculation. In this sense, shingyo is interpreted to include the other two aspects of shinjin expressed in the Vow. Since all three arise from true compassion, Shinran summarized them as the mind that is single, which is synonymous with Other Power. The last part of the Eighteenth Vow has a special significance in Shinran’s teaching. It is the only one among Amida’s Forty-eight Vows to possess such a clause of exclusion. In other words, the Vow that proclaims the universal enlightenment of all beings also includes the most stringent restriction. Shinran understands this clause as an expression of compassion so boundless and profound that it directs itself to the very person whom it censures – the being who has committed the five grave offenses and slandered the dharma. Eleventh Vow The eleventh of Amida’s Forty-eight Vows states: “If, when I attain Buddhahood, the human beings and devas in my land do not dwell among the settled and necessarily attain nirvana, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.” Shinran calls this the Vow of certain attainment of nirvana (hisshi metsudo no gan) and interprets it to mean that persons of shinjin (1) attain the stage of the truly settled while in their present life, and (2) realize enlightenment immediately on birth in the Pure Land. T’an-luan, in his commentary on Vasubandhu’s Treatise on the Pure Land, takes the Eleventh Vow along with the Eighteenth and the Twenty-second as forming the crux of Amida’s compassionate activity. Shinran follows T’an-luan in emphasizing these three Vows as central expressions of Other Power, for through their working a person is made to realize shinjin (eighteenth), attains the stage of the truly settled in this life and the realization of enlightenment upon birth in the Pure Land (eleventh), and returns from the Pure Land to fulfill the working of the Primal Vow for the liberation of all beings (twenty-second).

Enlightenment [satori, shogaku]

The root of suffering is ignorance (avidya) that blinds a person’s perception of life as it is. The goal of Buddhism is to transform this ignorance into wisdom that sees things, including the self, as they truly are. The realization of wisdom is enlightenment, the attainment of Buddhahood. Unlike the relation of sin and salvation in other religions, ignorance and enlightenment are asserted to be nondifferentiated in Mahayana Buddhism. In Shin Buddhism, human existence is seen as permeated by ignorance; hence, the source of the transformation from ignorance to wisdom is not within a person but without, the Primal Vow of Amida. The Primal vow effects the enlightenment of all beings in two stages: in the realization of shinjin here and now in this life, persons attain the equal of enlightenment (but not full enlightenment, because of their karmic limitations); and at the end of life, they attain birth in the Pure Land and realize complete and supreme enlightenment (having become freed of all karmic bonds – intellectual, emotional, and physical). Moreover, since enlightenment is not a static state but a dynamic becoming, the enlightened being comes back to the defiled world of karmic limitations to work for the emancipation of suffering beings.

Entrust, rely on [tanomu]

Used in two ways by Shinran, depending on the object. When the object is Amida Buddha or Primal Vow, the term is identical with shinjin, as an act of complete entrusting where all trace of ego-design has vanished. The other usage has self as the object, describing a self-dependency in which one relies solely on one’s own thoughts and accomplishments in walking the path of enlightenment. Entrusting one’s life to self-power describes “those who have full confidence in themselves, trusting their own hearts and minds, striving with their own powers, and relying on their own various roots of good” (Notes on Once-calling and Many-calling).

Entrusting, Shinjin [shingyo]

Shingyo is a synonym for shinjin derived from the Eighteenth Vow: “With sincere mind entrusting (shingyo) themselves and aspiring to be born in my land…” Shin means to entrust oneself (shinjin) and gyo means to aspire for birth in the Pure Land and also to rejoice in the realization of shinjin. When shingyo is considered in the light of the passage on the fulfillment of the Eighteenth Vow – “Sentient beings, as they hear the Name, realize even one thought-moment of shinjin and joy, which is Amida’s sincere mind giving itself to them…” – it refers to having entrusted oneself and experiencing the accompanying joy unalloyed with doubt. Doubt, of course, is the manifestation of self-centered calculation. Since shingyo is none other than the true and real mind of Amida Buddha and has nothing to do with human intentions, it is revered as “the shingyo which benefits all beings profoundly and extensively,” and “the true mind which is diamondlike and indestructible” (Teaching, Practice, and Realization). Shingyo is the substance of the aspiration for birth in the Pure Land; thus entrusting to Amida’s Vow, free of all doubt, is itself aspiration for birth. Shinran writes, “Shingyo is the mind that brings all beings to supreme nirvana” (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’). Here, the distinctive character of Mahayana Buddhism, in which one works to emancipate all beings before crossing to nirvana oneself, is clearly expressed.

Equal of perfect enlightenment [toshogaku]

Shinran calls the person of shinjin the finest flower among people and a myokonin (wonderfully excellent person), and the equal of Tathagatas and the same as Maitreya, the next Buddha. Such appellations are possible only because shinjin is not a human creation or decision, but the working of the Primal Vow being manifested in a person. Thus, Shinran states, 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. (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’) Although such persons have attained the equal of perfect enlightenment, they remain karmically bound beings; hence, they are the object of the Primal Vow as long as they live this human life. Nevertheless the crucial thing is that persons of karmic evil have now entered the ocean of the Vow, that they have been grasped never to be abandoned by true compassion, and their enlightenment by virtue of the Primal Vow is now a matter of time. At the termination of samsaric life, when all effects of past karmic are spent, they become completely free in the Pure Land and attain supreme enlightenment. Thus, from the standpoint of Amida Buddha, they have already attained the equal of perfect enlightenment. Equal to all the Buddhas [shobutsu to hitoshi] Even though one is a being of karmic evil, when one entrusts oneself completely to the Primal Vow, devoid of any form of self-willed calculation, one’s heart and mind is equal to that of Tathagatas. This is possible because this entrusting (shinjin) is none other than the heart and mind of Amida Buddha working in a person. To express this, Shinran speaks of the heart and mind of persons of shinjin always being in the Pure Land, even though their body remains in this relative world of defilement. This should not be understood as implying any duality of body and mind, or that the mind, separating itself from the body, goes to a remote Pure Land. Equal to Tathagatas [shobutsu to hitoshi] see Equal to all the Buddhas.

“Essential” gate and provisional gate [yomon, kemon]

Shan-tao identified two paths leading to birth in the Pure Land: the “essential” gate taught by Sakyamuni Buddha and the gate of the universal Vow opened by Amida Buddha. The latter is the path of recitative nembutsu found in the Eighteenth Vow and the former is the practice of meditative and nonmeditative good acts. Honen rejects the “essential” gate, selecting the gate of universal Vow as the only valid way to enter the Pure Land. Shinran further clarifies the meanings of these terms by stating that the “essential” gate is the way of self-power found in the Nineteenth Vow; thus, it is not the true practice leading to birth in the Pure Land. The gate of universal Vow is the complete entrusting of self to Amida, permitting the full working of Other Power, which necessarily and effortlessly leads to birth in the Pure Land. Shinran, however, also recognizes the validity of the provisional gate as a place for people entangled in ego-design who wish to enter the Gate of Universal Vow but are unable to become free of self-assertion.

Evil, karmic evil [aku, akugo]

Buddhism teaches that human beings possess blind passions, but that through practice they can become rid of those passions. When they are completely free of passions, they attain Buddhahood. Shinran, however, takes the position of a person incapable of ridding himself of passions, and the blind passions one cannot rid oneself of he terms “evil.” These passions form the core of one’s very existence as a human being; one has possessed them from the beginningless past and will continue to have them for however long one lives. Shinran uses a number of interrelated terms to refer to evil: aku (bad, evil), tsumi (also zai-, evil, transgression), zaiaku, zaigo (evil karma), akugo (evil karma). Although they differ in perspective and emphasis, these terms all express the nature of the self that one becomes aware of within the light of the Buddha’s wisdom. The basic meaning of evil may be seen in the following words of Shinran recorded in A Record in Lament of Divergences 3: It is impossible for us, filled as we are with blind passions, to free ourselves from birth-and-death through any practice whatever. Sorrowing at this, Amida made the Vow, the essential intent of which is the attainment of Buddhahood by the evil person. A person is “evil” because he or she is filled with blind passions; this is also clear from Shinran’s statement, “A foolish being is by nature possessed of blind passions, so you must recognize yourself as a being of evil” (Lamp for the Latter Ages 6). It should be noted that while the term “evil” has moral and ethical implications in Shin Buddhism, its chief significance is religious. The essential meaning of the term evil is a person’s inability to perform any religious practice whatever – any act to bring him or herself to the attainment of Buddhahood – because of the deeply harbored blind passions that motivate all his acts. In other words, whatever moral or ethical “good” persons may do, and however pure and spiritually disciplined they may make themselves, every thought that they have, word that they utter, and deed that they do can result only in sending them to hell, and not one can bring them closer to enlightenment. Nevertheless, the essential intent of the Primal Vow is “the attainment of Buddhahood by the evil person.” In order to understand Shinran’s concept of the evil person as the one in accord with the Vow, it is necessary to consider Shinran’s use of “good and evil.” Know that the Primal Vow of Amida makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil. (A Record in Lament of Divergences 1) By acting on the impulses of such blind passions as anger or greed, one may inflict harm and suffering on others; this is part of the Shin concept of “evil.” But, as stated here, human judgments of good and evil hold no meaning from the standpoint of the Primal Vow. However evil one may be, one will be saved, and however virtuous one may be, or diligent in religious practice, such good is of no aid or significance whatever. In the realm of the Primal Vow, there is only the Buddha and evil beings. “Good” people in the ordinary sense – people who believe their actions to be good and who strive to make them so – cannot enter there, for they believe instead in their own judgments, will, and capacity to do good: People who rely on doing good through their self-power fail to entrust themselves wholeheartedly to Other Power and therefore are not in accord with Amida’s Vow. (ibid., 3) Because of their calculation, such persons cannot entrust themselves to the Primal Vow. They stand within the realm of intellect and morality – the realm of ordinary human life – and cannot encounter that which transcends such life. “But,” Shinran continues, When they overturn the mind of self-power and entrust themselves to Other Power, they will attain birth in the true and real fulfilled land. (ibid.) In abandoning attachment to their own good and “becoming their foolish self” (Lamp for the Latter Ages 6), persons come to encounter the Vow. That is, abandoning the thought that one is good, and even the belief in the ultimate significance of human good, one realizes one’s evil and becomes evil in Shinran’s sense; it is precisely such an evil person who is liberated by the Vow. The self-realization implied in the concept of evil is strongly expressed in the characterization of evil as karmic (akugo, zaigo). Karma signifies the history of the human existence of a single person flowing in a line of cause and effect from past to present and present to future. Karmic evil, frequently used together with ignorance (mumyo akugo) and blind passions (bonno akugo), implies the infiniteness of one’s evil, stretching back into the beginningless past and harboring unknowable evil in the depths of the existence of the self. Because of eons of repetition and habit, this evil thoroughly pervades one’s life; hence, to become aware of the deep roots of existence of one’s self is at the same time to become aware of its basic nature as evil, being pervaded by blind passions. Karma further implies that one’s evil is of one’s own commission. Thus there is a basic difference between Shinran’s concept of evil and the idea of original sin in Christianity, in which one shares with all humankind the sin committed by the first man. Moreover, Amida’s great compassion is absolute; there is no place at all for the judgment of sins. Hence, neither is there any redemption of sins; persons are grasped by great compassion just as they are, possessed of evil. Their sins are worked out not by Amida Buddha, but by the law of karma. In a sense, persons must deal with their own evil through the karma at work in their lives and redeem it themselves. Amida has no part in this. Evil thus describes persons who have been taken into Other Power just as they are, living out the consequences of their acts. Nevertheless, when persons have been grasped by Other Power, “without their calculating in any way, all their past, present, and future karmic evil is transformed into good.” This is not to say that their karmic evil is deprived of its own inherent action. It at once follows the law of karma and is transformed by Other Power. Evil, then, must not be understood merely as a label for the human condition; it refers specifically to persons who entrust themselves to Other Power and live in its working. This entrusting is at the same time a realization of one’s self as evil that cannot be attained through the self-reflection carried on by human intellect; it only occurs within the realm of the Primal Vow (the Buddha’s mind), which transcends the dimensions of intellect and consciousness and therefore transcends morality and social life. Through the light shed for them by the Buddha’s wisdom, persons become aware of the evil at the roots of their lives, and while they are grieved by it and repent, they are also filled with gratitude for Amida’s compassion. In referring to evil, Shinran uses both aku (waroshi) and zai (tsumi). Tsumi refers to human defilement in contrast to the purity of the Buddha. It is, therefore, fundamentally a religious concept. Aku (evil) is originally an ethical and moral concept used in relation to good and confined in its meaning to the realm of human relationships. Shinran uses this term in the religious sense outlined above, however, and this usage expresses the close relationship between religion and morality. Precisely by transcending morality, the realm of the Primal Vow lends support to morality from a more profound level, and morality itself performs a function of leading us, through self-reflection, toward the world of the Vow.


Fellow-practicer [dogyo, dobo]

A term for the people who share the aspiration for enlightenment and who together walk the path of the dharma. It has come to be especially associated with Shin Buddhists, among whom it suggests a strong sense of community bound by Amida’s compassion which excludes no one. In particular it reflects the overturning of all those barriers erected by traditional Buddhism which set certain people apart from others. Shin Buddhism recognizes no distinctions in clergy and lay, sexes, social standing, learning, intelligence, or moral goodness in matters regarding emancipation or enlightenment realized by virtue of the Primal Vow. Shinran himself said he had no disciples; instead he called everyone his fellow-practicers.

Five defilements [gojoku]

Defilements or impurities that make this world of ours a difficult place in which to pursue Buddhist practices effectively for the sake of enlightenment. The five types of defilements, which prevail in the age of mappo, are: defiled age (kalpa) when war, pestilence, famine, natural calamities, and pollution abound; defiled view (drsti), characterized by confrontation of ideologies, confusion of values, and prevalence of nihilistic attitudes; defiled passion (klesa), the flourishing of greed, anger, ignorance, and evil ways; defiled beings (sattva), an increase in human life of inferior quality, dull minds, weak bodies, and egotism; and defiled life (ayus), the wasting and shortening of human life. The five are ultimately interrelated with each other: defilement of the age is caused by defiled views, which arise from the defiled passion that controls the lives of defiled beings, who manifest defiled life.

Five evil courses [goakushu]

A fivefold division of all samsaric life into the realms of hell, beasts, hungry ghosts, human beings, and heavenly beings; often the realm of fighting demons is separately enumerated as a sixth. The first three realms are characterized respectively by hate, greed, and ignorance; thus all are “evil,” not only by standards of morality or physical suffering, but also to the religious awareness, for all are realms of ignorance and blind passions in contrast to wisdom and enlightenment.

Five grave offenses [go-gyaku]

In Teaching, Practice, and Realization, Shinran sets forth two traditions, Hinayana and Mahayana, concerning the five grave offenses – acts deemed so evil as to condemn one irrevocably to hell. The Hinayana tradition lists them as: (1) killing one’s mother, (2) killing one’s father, (3) killing an arhat, (4) causing blood to flow from the body of a Buddha, (5) disrupting the harmony of the assembly of monks. The Mahayana traditions gives them as: (1) destroying stupas and temples, burning sutras and Buddhist images, or plundering the three treasures, causing others to do these acts, or being pleased at seeing them done, (2) slandering the disciples, solitary Buddhas, or the Mahayana teaching, (3) harassing the practice of a monk or causing his death, (4) committing any of the five grave offenses of the early tradition, (5) committing the ten transgressions with the conviction that there will be no karmic recompense and without fear for the next life, or teaching others such an attitude.

Foolish being [bombu]

A person possessed of blind passions and ignorance. One of the Sanskrit equivalents of foolish being is bala, which has various connotations: immature, silly, stupid, foolish, ignorant. This term, however, is not to be understood in the conventional sense of these words, for it points to a profound religious awakening in which even the so-called intelligent person, when illumined by the Unhindered Light and brought to awareness by the wisdom of shinjin, comes to realize himself as a foolish being who is forever motivated by blindly self-centered desires, attached to the fascinations of this evanescent world, and unable to resolve the contradictions of human existence thoroughly. In fact, Shinran says that true wisdom is brought forth only from the heart and mind of the person who has awakened to Amida’s great compassion, and in the light of that compassion realizes himself to be a foolish being.

Fulfilled land, true and real land [shinjitsu-hodo]

A synonym for the Pure Land, the realm established by Amida Buddha through fulfilling every necessary requirement for the enlightenment of all beings. Thus, it is the land that becomes manifest as the fulfillment of Amida’s Vow, but at the same time it is the realm of great compassion, working for the sake of man’s ultimate fulfillment. Thus, in Shinran’s thought the Pure Land is none other than truth, reality, and sincerity, which alone can fulfill man’s deepest needs.

Fulfillment of the Vow [ganjoju]

The concept that Dharmakara Bodhisattva’s vow to bring all beings to enlightenment is an accomplished fact and that he has already attained Buddhahood as Amida. This means that Amida has prepared the means and the place for the enlightenment of all beings, and therefore the liberation of all, regardless of their condition, has been fulfilled. Amida is thus known as the fulfilled or recompensed Buddha and the Pure Land is known as the fulfilled land. The first half of the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life expounds Dharmakara’s Vow, practice and realization, and the latter half the fulfillment of the Vow and its implications for history. The Larger Sutra teaches the fulfillment of all the Forty-eight Vows, but Shinran regarded the following as especially significant for the aspect of going to the Pure Land: the Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Vows, calling them the vows true and real. And for the aspect of returning to this world to help all beings, he focused upon the Twenty-second Vow. They together constitute the requirement of the Mahayana bodhisattva: going to the Pure Land is for self-benefit, and returning to this world is for the benefit of others.


Grasp and never abandon [sesshu-fusha]

Expression for the working of great compassion and for all the benefits given by Amida to a person of shinjin. It is derived from the Contemplation Sutra, which states that the light of Amida “illumines all the worlds in the ten quarters, grasping and never abandoning sentient beings of the nembutsu.” To grasp and never abandon is a dynamic term having several connotations: the active, unremitting pursuit of all beings, especially those who turn away from Amida; the grasping of all beings without discrimination; and the inevitable act of taking each being completely into the heart of great compassion. At the moment a person realizes shinjin, he or she is grasped by Amida and never abandoned; thus he resides in the stage of nonretrogression and will unfailingly attain birth in the Pure Land.

Great compassion [daihi]

According to Webster’s International Dictionary, compassion means to bear with or suffer with another being: It is a “deep feeling for and understanding of misery of suffering and the concomitant desire to promote its alleviation; spiritual consciousness of the personal tragedy of another or others and selfless tenderness directed toward it.” While this definition seems to convey the idea of Buddhist compassion, it is inadequate because it maintains the distinction between self and other, for in Buddhism compassion goes beyond any division or dichotomy between self and other into the world of complete identity. The basic meaning of “sorrow” in daihi or “lament” in the Sanskrit equivalent, mahakaruna, attempts to show this selfsame identity wherein the misery, suffering, of personal tragedy of another is none other than one’s very own. Such a nondichotomous compassion is guided by prajna, a wisdom that surpasses conventional thinking and feeling and moves in nondichotomous perception (nirvikalpajñana). This is the essence of the Buddha of immeasurable life and light.

Great practice [daigyo]

In common with other schools of Mahayana Buddhism in East Asia, Shinran teaches the progression through teaching, practice, and realization on the path to supreme enlightenment. Although Shin Buddhism may be described as a religion of salvation, at the same time it adheres to this basic structure of the three pillars. The concept of practice is central to Shinran’s thought. This practice includes two components: the act of saying the Name, and the Sacred Name that is vocalized. Both are mentioned in the discussion of great practice in “Chapter on Practice” and Passages on the Pure Land Way: The great practice is to say the name of the Tathagata of unhindered light. And later: Saying the Name is in itself mindfulness; mindfulness is the nembutsu; the nembutsu is Namu-amida-butsu. In the first passage, “great” practice indicates that saying the Name has its source in the working of the Buddha and not in human beings, and “practice” means that it enables a person to realize supreme enlightenment. Moreover, in the second passage, saying the Name is identified with shinjin, which is mindfulness. Taking these two passages together, great practice is the Name itself as the consummation of the Primal Vow, and at the same time it is the working of the Name to awaken shinjin, expressed in the saying of the Name. The absolute nature of the Name is attested to by all the Buddhas who praise its working, as stated in the Seventeenth Vow and in the passage on its fulfillment; the latter is quoted as revealing the nature of great practice.

Great treasure ocean [of virtues] [daihokai]

A metaphor for the “boundlessness, expansiveness, and all-inclusiveness of the Tathagata’s virtues” (see Notes on the Inscriptions on Sacred Scrolls), the virtues of supreme enlightenment embodied in Amida’s Vow and Name. In Shin Buddhism, “virtue” (kudoku) expresses the qualities of truth or reality – in Buddhist terms, nirvana, dharma-nature, or Tathagata – manifesting itself as wisdom-compassion and working for the liberation of all beings. “Ocean” connotes the fullness of these virtues. Expressed in philosophical terms, “Since the wondrous principle of true reality or suchness has reached its perfection in the Primal Vow, this Vow is likened to a great treasure ocean” (Notes on Once-calling and Many-calling). Expressed in religious terms, since Amida’s virtues take in and fill all things without discrimination and transform them into the single taste of supreme enlightenment, “all roots of good and all virtues being full to the utmost is likened to the ocean” (ibid.). These virtues – “indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable” – are bestowed on persons who entrust themselves to them; such persons “receive the supreme virtues…the great and vast benefit,” and all their karmic evil is immediately turned into the highest good, the Buddha’s virtues. Shinran states that this comes about (1) quickly and rapidly, (2) without a person seeking or knowing it, and (3) necessarily. That is, the treasure ocean of virtues fills practicers in the one thought-moment of their realization of shinjin, when the timeless reality of great compassion emerges into his life. This realization, being Other Power giving itself to them, lies beyond their will and designs to bring it about; it is the working of the Buddha where a person has become free of all calculation, and hence is said to come about of itself, naturally and spontaneously, through the working of jinen. See also Dharmakara Bodhisattva.


Hearing [mon]

Hearing or listening to the teaching has been central to the Buddhist path; for example, in the cultivation of prajna the earlier stages are to be pursued by hearing (sruta), reflecting (cinta), and practicing (bhavana) what one has heard. The act of hearing is also said to implant seeds which will ultimately bear rich fruit. In Shin Buddhism, however, hearing is not just the beginning; it is the alpha and omega of religious life, for it is the experience of shinjin. This is to say, “hearing” is “awakening” to (1) Amida’s Primal Vow as the highest expression of compassion in relation to (2) the deep crisis of one’s existential plight. Thus, in “hearing”/ “awakening,” these are experienced simultaneously; hearing is to hear the call of true and real life to return to the home of homes, and to respond with one’s whole being to that call, following it until one has arrived home. This call is Namu-amida-butsu.

Holding steadfast [shuji]

To hold to the Name in one’s heart and not to turn to other practices. The Smaller Sutra of Immeasurable Life gives “holding steadfast to the Name” as the cause for birth in the Pure Land, and Nagarjuna states, “If persons aspire to attain the stage of nonretrogression quickly, they should, with a reverent heart, hold steadfast to the Name and say it.” There are two aspects regarding “holding to the Name”: one is mental, holding in thought the Name, Namu-amida-butsu, and the other is verbal, saying “Namu-amida-butsu.” Holding steadfast thus means the single-hearted saying of the Name, but it is not a mechanical repetition, nor is it mantra practices to secure spiritual uplift. This is made clear by Shinran when he identifies the saying of the Name with the awakening to shinjin:

“Steadfast” means that the mind is firm and unchanging. “Holding” means not being distracted and not letting go. Hence the sense of “never becoming confused.” “Holding steadfast” is thus the mind that is single. The mind that is single is shinjin. (Passages on the Pure Land Way)


Ignorance [mumyo]

The Sanskrit avidya means the absence of wisdom by which to see reality as it is. Ignorance is deeply entrenched in human existence itself. It is the root of all forms of delusion and suffering, being one of the three poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance, and the basic factor in the twelve-stage cycle of causation. The goal of Buddhism is to transform ignorance into enlightenment. In Shin Buddhism, the true realization of oneself as ignorant – as a person of avidya – comes about only through the working of the nembutsu or shinjin, and so is called the “wisdom of shinjin” or the “nembutsu of wisdom.” This wisdom is knowledge of oneself as ignorant; hence, it is wisdom that takes ignorance as its basis. When ignorant persons attain this wisdom, their ignorance, rather than being done away with, is transformed into wisdom.

Implicit and explicit meanings [on-ken]

Terms employed by Shinran in his twofold interpretation of the three Pure Land sutras, by which he harmonizes their apparently contradictory teachings. On the explicit level, the three sutras express divergent teachings. The Larger Sutra teaches the Primal Vow and the shinjin and nembutsu of Other Power; the Contemplation Sutra teaches the nembutsu as one among many practices, both meditative and nonmeditative; and the Smaller Sutra teaches nembutsu recitation as a self-power practice. According to Shinran, the true intention in all of these sutras is to lead beings to the truth directly taught in the Larger Sutra. Thus, in addition to their explicit teachings, the Contemplation and Smaller Sutras also have implicit meanings, which are fundamentally identical to the Larger Sutra.

Insight into the nonorigination of all existence [musho [bo]nin] (anutpattika-dharma-ksanti)

A Mahayana Buddhist term for the insight into emptiness (sunyata), the nonorigination or birthlessness of things or beings (dharma), realized by bodhisattvas who have attained the eighth stage of the path to Buddhahood. When bodhisattvas realize insight into the nonorigination and nonextinction of all existence, they “see” suchness for the first time, beyond the duality of subject and object, so that they become one with dharma-body and never revert to their former state. They are therefore said to have attained the stage of nonretrogression. In Pure Land Buddhism, the Larger Sutra teaches that one attains this insight when one is born in the Pure Land. For Shinran, however, a person achieves “insight into the nonorigination of all existence” at the moment that, entering the ocean of the Vow of dharma-body as compassionate means, he or she realizes shinjin and attains the stage of nonretrogression.


Jinen, jinen-honi

A term for the ultimate reality of Buddhism, expressing suchness, or things-as-they-are, free from the bondage of birth-and-death. Jinen thus signifies that which is beyond form and time and beyond the domain of human intellect and will. It is the dharma-body as suchness, which “fills the hearts and minds of the ocean of all beings” (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’). To awaken to dharma-body as suchness is to become Buddha. Although other forms of Buddhism speak of “attaining the Buddhahood of dharma-body as suchness with the present body,” Shin Buddhism, recognizing the nature of man’s condition as a living being, places complete attainment with birth in the Pure Land of the dharma-body as compassionate means at death. Persons cannot realize dharma-body as suchness through human calculation, but it works in them as dharma-body as compassionate means to make itself known. Shinran calls this working “jinen,” which literally means, “It is not through the practicer’s calculation; one is made to become so.” Jinen works in persons constantly, and to experience this working (i.e., to realize shinjin) is also a kind of awakening. Shinran calls it “the dawning of the long night of ignorance.” Thus, when Shinran says that “from the very beginning one is made to become so,” “becoming so” can be viewed in terms of several aspects of a process. Jinen, as Amida’s Vow, works “to have each person entrust himself [to the Vow] in Namu-amida-butsu and be received in the Pure Land” (Lamp for the Latter Ages). That is, it brings us to the realization of shinjin, in which we attain nonretrogression. In other words, “To be made to become so” means that without the practicer’s calculating in any way whatever, all that practicer’s past, present, and future evil karma is transformed into the highest good…We are made to acquire the Tathagata’s virtues through entrusting ourselves to the Vow-power. (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone‘) Jinen has therefore in passages been translated the “spontaneous working of the Vow.” Further, the person of shinjin is necessarily brought to birth in the Pure Land through the working of jinen. To attain birth is to “return to the city of dharma-nature,” to realize nirvana and become the supreme Buddha. Moreover, “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” (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’). Shinran characterizes all this as jinen. From the standpoint of the practicer, jinen – through which one is liberated without ridding oneself of blind passions – means becoming completely free of calculation and design.

Joy [kangi]

In Mahayana Buddhism, the first of the ten stages of bodhisattvahood is called the stage of joy. When, having performed practices, bodhisattvas have attained this first stage, they touch for the first time that which is timeless (dharma-body), and therefore experience a joy that they have not known in the world of samsaric transmigration. This stage of joy is also the stage of nonretrogression. For Shinran as well, joy is experienced by practicers who have attained the stage of nonretrogression. He understands the passage on the fulfillment of the Eighteenth Vow to read: Sentient beings, as they hear the Name, realize even one thought-moment (naishi-ichinen) of shinjin and joy.


That is, when beings hear the Name, they realize shinjin, and joy wells up in them. When shinjin becomes settled in a person, he or she comes to dwell in the stage of nonretrogression; hence it is said that joy always accompanies shinjin that is Other Power. Karmic evil [akugo]

All human acts of daily life, which, being defiled by blind passions and ignorance harbored in the depths of one’s being, create suffering. The term is frequently used in compound with ignorance (mumyo-akugo) and blind passions (bonno-akugo), pointing to the deep roots of karmic evil in samsaric existence itself. In fact, because of aeons of repetition and habit, karmic evil is so entrenched in human life that it is virtually impossible to become free of its adverse consequences by moral effort or religious practices. Yet, it is the major concern of Amida’s salvific power contained in the Primal Vow, which will not rest until such karmic evil is transformed into the contents of enlightenment.

Karmic power of the great Vow [daigan goriki]

The power fulfilled through and possessed by the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. “Great” and “karmic” both characterize the power of the Vow. The usage of “great” is the same as in the expressions “great wisdom-compassion” and “great practice”; its meaning is absolute and qualitative (rather than relative and quantitative), and it signifies that the power of the Vow is that of the Buddha and not that of human beings. “Karmic” refers to the law of cause and effect, just as it does when characterizing the “karmic” evil of sentient beings. The aeons of religious practice and discipline as Bodhisattva Dharmakara is the cause by which the realization of enlightenment as Amida Buddha was brought about. Amida’s power to save all beings and to bring the evil person to Buddhahood – a power not possessed by any other Buddha – is rooted in this practice.

The basis for the attainment of Buddhahood by the person of karmic evil through the power of Amida’s Vow lies in the law of cause and effect operating in Amida. Here we see an important feature of Buddhism that distinguishes it from traditions in which persons are saved through the will of God. While it may be said that the working of the Primal Vow is the working of the Buddha’s mind, the working of the Buddha’s mind itself is not beyond the causation of karma. Although Amida is a Buddha, without a cause – the aeons of practice as Dharmakara – it would be impossible to possess the power to bring beings of evil to enlightenment. Thus, the law of karma is more basic than the concept of Buddha. Sakyamuni states, “To see dependent origination (pratityasamutpada) is to see Buddha.” Pratityasamutpada (causation, cause-and-effect) is the foundation of Buddhism, and the personification of the law of pratityasamutpada (i.e., truth) is Buddha.


Land of Bliss [gokuraku]

The designation of Amida Buddha’s land, originally derived from the Sanskrit sukhavati and first used by Kumarajiva in his translation of the Smaller Sutra (early fifth century). It is, however, not found in the translation of the Larger Sutra ascribed to Samghavarman, the most widely used Chinese version. Neither does it appear in Shinran’s writings, except in quotations from other sources; Shinran seems to have preferred instead such terms as land of happiness (anraku-koku), Pure Land, land of peace (annyo), and land of Immeasurable Light. It occurs frequently in compound form in popular literature as the Pure Land of bliss. See “Pure Land.” Land of Happiness [anraku-koku]

Lit., “Land of peace and bliss,” it is derived from the Sanskrit sukhavati and used synonymously with land of bliss, Pure Land, land of peace, etc. Descriptions of this land are found in the Larger Sutra and the Smaller Sutra. See “Pure Land.”

Leaping crosswise [ocho]

A synonym for Other Power, used by Shinran to describe the instantaneous attainment of enlightenment by virtue of the Primal Vow, in contrast to the progressive stages of evolution over long periods of time required for attaining enlightenment in paths other than the nembutsu. Shinran writes, “In the interval of one moment, quickly and immediately, one leaps and attains the supreme true enlightenment. Thus, it is called leaping “crosswise” (Teaching, Practice, and Realization).

Light [komyo]

Light is said to be the manifestation of wisdom. In the opening lines of the “Chapter on True Shinjin” in Teaching, Practice, and Realization, Shinran states that the essence of the Buddha is Inconceivable Light and that of the Pure Land is Immeasurable Light. Thus, Shinran does not teach an objective being called Buddha who emits rays of light or an objective realm called Pure Land that shines forth with light; Light (or wisdom and, in extension, compassion) is the very reality of Buddha and Pure Land. Thus, Shinran praises the wondrous working of Light and calls Amida Buddha by such names as Immeasurable Light, Illimitable Light, Unhindered Light, Incomparable Light, Majestic Light, Immaculate Light, Joyful Light, Wisdom Light, Incessant Light, Indescribable Light, and Light More Luminous than the Sun and Moon.

In the actual life of persons of shinjin, this means that a power conceived as light penetrates and melts the hard crust of their blind passions hardened through aeons of aimless wandering, and nourishes a new being and a new life. Lotus-held world [renge-zo kai]

Lit., “the world which takes the lotus as its womb.” Vasubandhu uses this term as a synonym of Amida Buddha’s Pure Land of bliss, signifying that the Pure Land is the world held within the pure lotus of the Buddha’s virtue.


Meditative good, nonmeditative good [jozen, sanzen]

Referring to the two types of religious practices outlined in the Sutra of Contemplation on Amida Buddha, meditative good, which includes thirteen types of contemplation and nonmeditative good, is enumerated as the three kinds of meritorious behavior performed in ordinary life. In Shan-tao’s words, “Meditative good is to settle the thought and concentrate the mind; nonmeditative good is to abolish evil and practice good.” Both are considered elements of the “essential” gate leading to the Pure Land. Shinran, following Honen, regards both as self-power practices that fail to accord with the Primal Vow or result in birth in the Pure Land. Shinran uses such expressions as “the self-power mind of meditative and nonmeditative good” and “the recitative nembutsu of self-power of meditative and nonmeditative good acts.”

Mind aspiring for enlightenment [bodaishin]

A basic requirement of the Mahayana bodhisattva is the awakening of the mind or thought of aspiration for enlightenment (bodhicitta) which is not mere resolution of will or a decisive commitment to the Buddhist path, but a radical change of life direction, originating from a new center of energy, in fact, from the heart of enlightenment itself. When the dormant religious aspiration has been awakened, nothing can stop the person from reaching final and supreme enlightenment. In Shin Buddhism, however, the ordinary person is considered incapable of arousing such an aspiration; therefore, the term is used as a synonym of true compassion and true love, that is, the heart and the mind of a person to become shinjin, for the first time a person realizes the mind of enlightenment in shinjin.

Mindfulness [okunen]

The original Sanskrit, anusmrti, means to hold or keep in mind, recollect, remember, etc., but in Shin Buddhism it is used in two ways: first, as an equivalent of shinjin itself; and second, as always remembering, consciously or unconsciously, the working of Amida as the natural consequence of the Primal Vow directed to the foolish being.

Mind that is single [isshin]

A synonym of shinjin, the manifestation of the working of Other Power. The locus classicus is Vasubandhu’s statement, “O Bhagavat, with single-heartedness I take refuge in the Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters.” “Single-heartedness” (adverb) may also be translated as “mind that is single” (noun), the original being isshin for both. Attaining the mind that is single means that a person is single-minded, free of doubt, and not wavering between choices; it is none other than Other Power. When the mind that is single is analyzed, it becomes the threefold shinjin of the Eighteenth Vow. Shinran also states that the mind that is single is the aspiration for Buddhahood which is none other than the quest for the enlightenment of all beings, thus showing that shinjin results in the dual benefit which comes to self and others.


Name [myogo, nembutsu]

The Sanskrit original, namadheya, simply means the “name” of a Buddha or bodhisattva, but it has a special significance in Shin Buddhism; hence the capital letter. It might be said that “Amida Buddha” is a name, but Namu-amida-butsu is the Name. The difference between the two is that the Name includes “Namu” as a necessary and essential component. “Namu” (namas in Sanskrit) originally means to take refuge. For Shinran, however, it is Amida’s calling one to the Pure Land. It means that one is called to entrust oneself completely to the Primal Vow of Amida that was brought to fulfillment for one’s own sake. “Namu,” therefore, is a crucial part of the enlightenment realized by Bodhisattva Dharmakara, and its inclusion in the Name reveals the nature of Amida’s compassion. Thus, when the Name is said, it is neither a petitionary prayer nor a magical formula, but the call of Amida and man’s hearing that call. In other words, when the Name, which is filled with Amida’s profound wish for human beings, works on one and becomes a reality in shinjin, it flows forth as Namu-amida-butsu. Here there is no room for any form of doubt, hesitation, or self-willed calculation.


This term has several meanings in the history of Buddhism, based on the various connotations of nen (meditating, thinking, pronouncing): meditating on the special features of the Buddha image, holding to the thought of the Buddha, and pronouncing the name of a Buddha. In Pure Land Buddhism from Shan-tao on, nembutsu has been considered to mean the saying of the Name. Honen emphasizes nembutsu as utterance of the Name to be the core of the Pure Land way. Thus nembutsu signifies the Name (myogo) as the manifestation of great compassion and the saying of this Name, Namu-amida-butsu. Shinran further teaches that the saying of the Name is none other than the Name (the call of Amida) working in persons and awakening shinjin in them. When they realize shinjin, it is expressed spontaneously as the nembutsu. Thus,

The practice of the nembutsu is to say it perhaps once, perhaps ten times, on hearing and realizing that birth into the Pure Land is attained by saying the Name fulfilled in the Primal Vow…There is no shinjin separate from nembutsu…There can be no nembutsu separate from shinjin. (Lamp for the Latter Ages)

“Saying the nembutsu” (shomyo) has in the past been rendered reciting, pronouncing, or uttering the nembutsu. “Saying the nembutsu,” however, sounds most natural and ordinary, and thus is suited to the religious life of a Shin Buddhist. While there is nothing extraordinary about saying the nembutsu, the realization attached to it, involving one’s whole being, evokes an entirely new universe of meaning. Nirvana [metsudo]

Nirvana is the goal of Buddhist life – the blowing out of blind passions and the extinction of the ignorant self that leads to the birth of an awakened being of wisdom and compassion. Shinran states:

Nirvana is called extinction of passions, the uncreated, peaceful happiness, eternal bliss, true reality, dharma-body, dharma-nature, suchness, oneness, and Buddha-nature. (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone‘)

Shinran teaches that one attains the stage of nonretrogression the moment one realizes shinjin, and thus is unfailingly brought to the attainment of nirvana. This is set forth in Amida’s Eleventh Vow. Through Amida’s working, then,

We will unfailingly reach the Pure Land of happiness, whereupon we will be brought to realize the same enlightenment of great nirvana as Amida Tathagata, being born in the flower of that perfect enlightenment. (Notes on Once-calling and Many-calling)

No-birth [musho]

A term used to describe the nature of nirvana. In Mahayana Buddhism generally, “no-birth” signifies the extinction of the discursive thinking by which we conceive of things as arising and perishing, forming attachments to them. In Shin Buddhism, one realizes “no-birth” upon birth into the Pure Land.

Nonretrogression [futaiten]

The stage of bodhisattvas from which they will never backslide in their advance to enlightenment because they have realized suchness nondichotomously – that is, have already reached the other shore of nirvana – even though they continue to live in a dichotomous world. The person of shinjin has attained the stage of nonretrogression because, having been “grasped by Amida, never to be abandoned,” he or she has entered the ocean of Amida’s Primal Vow, so that “the long night of birth-and-death has already dawned.” Thus, birth in the Pure Land will unfailingly be brought about through the working of jinen.


Once-calling, Many-calling [ichinen-tanen]

A debate that originally began over the question of the sufficiency of a single calling of the Name, which embodies the saving power of Amida, or the necessity of frequent saying of the nembutsu, since the practice of the Pure Land path was recitative nembutsu. Later it became a debate between stress on the experience of shinjin, which manifests itself in a single utterance, or emphasis on constant mindfulness, which means multiple recitation of nembutsu. For Shinran, however, both are valid, having their origins in the Primal Vow, and selecting one over the other is to make it a product of calculation which no longer accords with the Primal Vow. In fact, they are not in opposition but mutually inclusive, because whether mental (shinjin) or physical (recitation), they are Amida’s not the practicer’s, working. In the terms “once-calling” and “many-calling,” “calling” connotes not only recitation but also, in Shinran’s understanding, the source and contents of nembutsu, which is a call from Amida and our response to it. When the “calling” involves our whole being, we experience shinjin, in which time and timelessness converge.

One moment [ichinen]

One moment is a central term in the Shin vocabulary, used in the phrases “one thought-moment of shinjin” and “one moment of nembutsu” (saying the Name once). This moment is not just another moment in the conventional sense; it is the shortest possible instant of time, and thus is both time at its threshold and beyond time. It is in such a point of time that the heart-water of sentient beings, whether good or bad, returns to and enters the ocean of the Vow (Buddha’s heart and mind) and becomes one in taste with it. Here, in other words, occurs the oneness of the mind of the foolish being and the mind of Buddha. The oneness or single taste of time and the timeless that takes place here constitutes the essence of shinjin, and its arising is called “the one thought-moment of the awakening of shinjin” (ichinen-hokki). Thus, the moment of awakening shinjin and saying the nembutsu is a moment both in and out of time. It is time that has become full and rich, having been permeated by timelessness.

Oneness [ichinyo (tathata)]

Lit., “nondual suchness”; that is, things perceived as they truly are as absolute reality (see Suchness). Ichinyo, which appears widely in Japanese Buddhism beginning with the Tendai and Shingon schools, may be understood as an abbreviation of the phrase ichijitsu shinnyo, literally “the One-reality of suchness,” or suchness as the all-inclusive true reality. Ichi (“one”) here signifies the totality of all things; it refers, that is, to all things grasped nondiscriminatively, in their nondifferentiation or equality, and expresses a denial of relativistic concepts superimposed on things through objectifying thought. This “oneness,” then, points not to a single, homogeneous reality underlying all existence, or to the loss of the particularity of things, but rather to the emergence of all things as they are in themselves through the elimination of discriminative thinking.

One Vehicle [ichijo]

Vehicle (yana) refers to the teaching, which is not an object of contemplation or philosophical study, but is to be actually utilized to go beyond birth-and-death. In Mahayana Buddhism, reference is made to the Three Vehicles, which include the ways of disciples (sravaka), solitary Buddhas (pratyekabuddha), and bodhisattvas, and to the One Vehicle, which is nonexclusive and makes no such distinctions. Shinran, however, goes beyond these to speak of the One Buddha-Vehicle of the Primal Vow or the Ocean of the One Vehicle of the Primal Vow:

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 own self-cultivated wisdom, we are encouraged to enter the ocean of the wisdom-Vow of the Buddha of unhindered light. (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone‘)

Thus, according to Shinran, only through the power of the Primal Vow – or synonymously, by entering the ocean of the Primal Vow – can one attain the supreme enlightenment.

Other Power [tariki]

The power of the Buddha’s wisdom-compassion bringing all beings to enlightenment through the Primal Vow. “Other Power” is a Pure Land Buddhist term first used by T’an-luan to characterize the Primal Vow of Amida, by which a person is brought to birth in the Pure Land through the myriad practices performed by Bodhisattva Dharmakara rather than through his own endeavor in study, discipline, and religious practice. Other Power, then, distinguishes Pure Land Buddhism from all other forms of Buddhism, which are based on self-power.

“Other,” however, should not be understood as a relative term used in simple contrast with “self” to denote a different origin of practice, for Other Power refers to great compassion that transcends the duality of self and other. This is particularly clear in the writings of Shinran, for he focuses on Other Power not only as the working that brings about birth for the person who says the Name in accordance with the Primal Vow, but also as our very utterance of the Name, that is, as our realization of shinjin out of which true utterance emerges.

Other Power works constantly to bring every sentient being to the realization of shinjin, but those who cling to their own efforts and virtues – possessed of the self-attachment termed “the mind of self-power” (jiriki shin) – block its working. Where the mind of self-power is made to disappear, however, the realization of true entrusting that is Other Power (tariki no shinjin) comes about. The disappearance of the mind of self-power and the realization of shinjin that is Other Power, or the mind of the Buddha, are aspects of a single religious awakening.

In the realization of shinjin the practicer becomes free of the mind of self-power, and this very freedom from self-attachment and calculation is Other Power. In Shinran’s words, “Other Power means to be free of any form of calculation,” it “means that no working is true (i.e., Amida’s) working.” Other Power, then, is the power of the Vow that becomes the power of the practicer in his or her realization of shinjin. Such practicers are brought to attainment of birth in the Pure Land and realization of Buddhahood without any designing or self-endeavor, for they live by Other Power; this is also called jinen honi.

Other teachings and views; different understandings and practices [igaku-iken, betsuge-betsugyo]

Terms first used by Shan-tao to indicate teachings and practices other than those of Pure Land Buddhism. Honen considered them to be ways in the Path of Sages, specifying those who differ in understanding to be the scholars of the eight Mahayana schools, such as Tendai and Hosso, and those who differ in practice to be the monks of Shingon, Tendai, etc.

Shinran gives finer distinctions, referring to people of “other teachings and beliefs” as those following the varied Mahayana traditions, secular philosophies, magico-religious practices, and divination, all of which inflate ego-design; and he speaks of people of “different understandings and practices” to be those who, while saying the nembutsu, do not entrust themselves completely to Amida, relying on their own contrivance. According to Shinran’s scheme, then, nonbuddhist teachings and the Path of Sages are considered as one (other teachings and beliefs), and Pure Land practices with the vestiges of self-power to be another category (different understandings and practices). Both are based upon self-power and hence ultimately are unsatisfactory; only those who entrust themselves to Other Power will be truly fulfilled, they being people of true understanding and practice.


Path of Sages [shodo-mon]

This term indicates such schools of Buddhism as Tendai, Shingon, and Zen, which teach the attainment of enlightenment through effort exerted in the observance of precepts (including celibacy, dietary restrictions, rules of conduct, etc.) and the pursuit of formalized methods of religious practice. In contrast, the Pure Land path teaches the way to becoming the supreme Buddha through being born in the Pure Land. The Chinese master Tao-ch’o divides all of Buddhism into these two paths, emphasizing that only the latter can effectively lead to enlightenment in the age of mappo.

Practice [gyo]

In contrast to Western religions, in which acceptance of creed or dogma is fundamental, the Buddhist Path encourages the cultivation of true understanding that is dependent on true becoming. The gap between understanding and becoming is bridged by the spiritual discipline, training, and development termed “practice.” Thus a common formula in Mahayana Buddhism has four stages: pure faith in the validity of a teaching, intellectual understanding of its contents, religious practice that incorporates the teaching into one’s being, and ultimate attainment of enlightenment. Well-know forms of Buddhist practice include the eightfold noble path, the six paramitas, cessation and insight (samatha-vipasyana), and seated meditation (zazen).

Shin Buddhism is no different from other forms of Buddhism in stressing the centrality of practice: only by practice can the bonds of blind passions and attachment to the ignorant self be broken and one’s karmic evil transformed into the virtues of enlightenment. In Shin Buddhism, however, one’s own practice is seen to be inevitably tainted by the passions at the root of one’s own existence, so that it can never lead to Buddhahood. Rather, Buddhahood can be attained only through the wisdom-compassion of the Primal Vow, in which Dharmakara resolved to bring all beings to enlightenment and which he fulfilled through aeons of pure and strenuous practice. In Shin Buddhism, then, practice is essentially that of Bodhisattva Dharmakara embodied in the Vow that works to bring all beings to Buddhahood.

As to how a person is liberated by Amida, that is, how Amida’s practice becomes one’s own, in the long history of Pure Land Buddhism, a variety of traditional forms of practice and worship were understood to lead to birth in Amida’s Pure Land. Shan-tao, however, established vocal recitation of the Name as the act specified in Amida’s Eighteenth Vow, for it is taught in the Contemplation Sutra that the person incapable of any religious practice or good deed can attain birth if he or she utters the Name. Honen developed Shan-tao’s teaching with his concept of senjaku – Amida’s “selection,” out of great compassion, of recitation of the nembutsu as the practice by which every person can be saved. Thus Honen stressed the single practice of the nembutsu with wholehearted trust in the Primal Vow (senju nembutsu) as the way of attaining birth for all beings.

To clarify the nature of the nembutsu further, Shinran terms it “great practice” – that is, the practice fulfilled by Dharmakara:

Regarding Amida’s aspect for going forth, there is the great practice, there is pure shinjin. The great practice is to say the Name of the Tathagata of unhindered light. This practice, comprehensively encompassing all practices, is perfect and most rapid in bringing about birth; hence it is called “great practice.” (Passages on the Pure Land Way)

For Shinran, a person’s saying the nembutsu is itself Amida’s giving virtues to him or her. Thus, to say the Name in true entrusting is nothing less than to manifest the working of the Primal Vow fulfilled through and embodying the practice of Dharmakara.

Practicer [gyoja]

In contrast to those who undertake various forms of religious practice and self-discipline to achieve liberation, Shin practicers are those who, having awakened to the great compassion embodied in Amida’s Name and entrusted themselves to it, live in the working of the Primal Vow, which unfolds the supreme enlightenment in them just as they are. They are, therefore, persons who have become free of all calculation and effort to attain enlightenment through their own goodness and wisdom:

“The nembutsu of Amida’s Primal Vow is not our practice, it is not our good; it is simply keeping the Name of the Buddha.” It is the Name that is good, the Name that is the practice. (Lamp for the Latter Ages)

Thus Shinran refers to Shin Buddhists as “practicer of the Primal Vow,” “practicer of shinjin,” and “practicer of the nembutsu” – that is, one who lives not by one’s own designs and calculation but by the Other Power of the Primal Vow giving itself to them.

Practices empty, transitory, and false [koke no gyo]

Practices which are not true, real, and sincere, being characterized by blind passions and ignorance. According to Shinran, “empty” means vain, not real, and not sincere, and “transitory” means provisional and not true (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’), both connoting “false.” An example is the person who appears wise, good, and diligent, but inwardly cherishes thoughts of fame or gain. In his self-reflection, Shinran penetrated through the veneer of external appearances and saw that “within, the heart ever empty, deceptive, vainglorious, and flattering” (ibid.). The unenlightened mind is empty, transitory, and false because it is nothing but blind passions (bonno). Any deed undertaken by such a person full of blind passions cannot but be impure, tainted, and defiled; hence, it is also referred to as acts “poisoned” by blind passions. In Shin Buddhism all practices, moral or religious, which arise from self-power and calculation, are regarded as empty, transitory, and false.

Practicing in accord with reality, being in correspondence [with the Name] [nyojitsu shugyo soo]

Nyojitsu means in accord with (nyo) reality (jitsu), and shugyo means practicing. As a general Buddhist term, nyojitsu shugyo means to practice in accord with thusness or the way things are, that is, to practice truly. Soo means “to correspond with.” The whole phrase originally appeared in Vasubandhu’s Treatise on the Pure Land:

One says the Name of the Tathagata, wishing to be in correspondence by practicing in accord with reality, that is, with the Tathagata’s light, which is the embodiment of wisdom, and with the significance of the Name.

In explaining this passage, T’an-luan stresses that the Name of Amida Buddha is capable of dispelling the ignorance of sentient beings and fulfilling all their aspirations. Further, if one’s ignorance persists and one’s aspirations are not fulfilled even though one says the Name, it is because one does not “practice in accord with reality” (nyojitsu shugyo) and is “not in correspondence with the significance of the Name” (myogi fu-soo). From this statement it is clear that in T’an-luan’s interpretation of Vasubandhu, the utterance of the Name may be viewed in terms of these two aspects, and further that the term soo (correspondence) refers specifically to accepting and entrusting oneself to liberation through the Name (myogi).

Further, for T’an-luan the two aspects are essentially one, for he uses the entire phrase, “practicing in accord with reality, being in correspondence [with the Name],” to explain true entrusting in contrast to the “three characteristics of non-entrusting” – nongenuine, nonsingle, and nonenduring trust – which comprise his analysis of failure to say the Name truly.

Shinran follows T’an-luan in interpreting Vasubandhu’s term “correspondence” as “correspondence with the significance of the Name,” and also in taking this term together with “practice in accord with reality” as a single expression for the true entrusting that is the essence of saying the Name truly.

Primal Vow [hongan]

The working of Amida Buddha (dharma-body as compassionate means) issuing forth as the profound desire, wish, or prayer from the deepest source of life itself, dharma-body as suchness, to free all beings from the weight of karmic evil in the ocean of birth-and-death. It is taught in the Larger Sutra, the Chinese translation ascribed to Samghavarman (Kosogai) of the Wu Dynasty (A.D.252), as the Forty-eight Vows of Amida, the most important being the Eighteenth Vow. The Sanskrit original, purva-pranidhana, implies that the Primal Vow, as the manifestation in time, from ten kalpas ago, of that which is timeless, existed prior to (purva) the earliest being, and that it is the basis and foundation of each being, leading it to its self-awareness from the bottomless depths of life. See “Eighteenth Vow.”

Pure Land [jodo]

A term expressing the idea that the realm of enlightened beings has been purified of blind passions and human defilements (buddhaksetraparisuddhi). It indicates in particular the land of Amida Buddha, expressed in Sanskrit as sukhavati, realm of ultimate bliss, peaceful bliss, peaceful rest, and so forth. Sukha, bliss, is contrasted to duhkha, pain and suffering.

T’an-luan states that Amida’s land is called the Pure Land, in contrast to our world of pain and defilement, because it is not tainted by human ignorance or passion. Shinran describes it as the land of Immeasurable Light, presided over by the Buddha of Inconceivable Light. It expresses formless reality through form. The Pure Land is also called the “fulfilled land,” because it was established as the consequence of fulfilling Amida’s Forty-eight Vows for the enlightenment of all beings.

Pure Land teaching [jodokyo]

The Jodo, or Pure Land, Buddhist tradition has its beginning in three Mahayana sutras, the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life, the Smaller Sutra of Immeasurable Life, and the Contemplation Sutra, and Pure Land practices such as invoking the Name of Amida or contemplating the features of the Buddha Land have been commonly employed in various schools of East Asian Buddhism. More specifically, however, Pure Land Buddhism refers to the independent Jodo school established by Honen in 1175 on the principle that the nembutsu is the practice prepared for human beings by Amida, excluding all other practices as invalid.

Q, R

Right-mindedness [shonen]

For Shinran, right-mindedness is nothing other than shinjin, the entrusting of oneself to the Vow, in which the mind of Amida becomes one with the mind of practicers. Thus, right-mindedness is also the saying of the nembutsu as the manifestation of shinjin.

This term originally derives from contemplative practice, in which it refers to the attainment of undistracted concentration. In traditional Pure Land Buddhism before Shinran, right-mindedness is that state of practice in which one establishes a relationship with Amida by pronouncing the Name and thus occasions the Buddha’s coming to receive one at the end of life. There are two major interpretations of right-mindedness in traditional nembutsu practice. One is nembutsu samadhi – the entrance into deep concentration on Amida through repeated utterance of the Name, although utterance itself is regarded as sufficient practice to bring about Amida’s coming. The other interpretation views most men as incapable of meditative practices of any kind; nevertheless, the purifying merit of the Name itself repeated at the moment of death will neutralize all one’s evil karma, so that Amida will receive one into the Pure Land. Through this encounter with Amida, one attains a state of right-mindedness and remains in it as life ends.

Right practice [shogyo]

The religious practices that lead to the attainment of birth in the Pure Land. Right practice for birth, forming the main body of Pure Land religiosity, includes (1) reading, chanting, and understanding the Pure Land sutras, (2) contemplating the adornments of Pure Land, Amida Buddha, and the host of holy beings, (3) undertaking acts of worship, (4) reciting the Name of Amida, and (5) praising and honoring Amida Buddha. Among the five, he [Shan-tao] stipulated utterance of the nembutsu as the supreme form of practice, “the act of true settlement” that leads to birth in the Pure Land, and the remaining practices as auxiliary or secondary. Honen adopted this classification but focused on the working of the Primal Vow as essential for the effectiveness of the nembutsu. Shinran also considers the nembutsu to be the act of true settlement, but his interpretation of the five practices is unique. On the one hand, all five may be called right practice when accompanied by single-heartedness, but without single-heartedness they are sundry practices. Without the shinjin of Other Power, all practices, including recitative nembutsu, are nothing but expressions of self-power. Right practice, then, arises from the working of Other Power where all forms of self-willed and self-generated practice have disappeared. It is the nembutsu that flows from the person who has completely entrusted himself to the Primal Vow. This nembutsu is “great practice,” the act of true settlement.

Roots of good [zengon]

A reference to good acts, both ethical and religious, but, since good acts produce good results, they are specified as “roots of good.” Shinran uses the term to indicate the cause leading to birth in the Pure Land and the supreme enlightenment, but he distinguishes between “roots of good” cultivated by self-power and “roots of good” as the manifestation of Other Power. The latter, roots of good as Other Power, is the Name embodying the Primal Vow which is given to one, making possible one’s birth in the Pure Land; the former refers to self-generated good acts as the highest good, but it leads only to birth in the temporary Pure Land. Such self-power roots of good are also called “small roots of good” or “self-serving roots of good,” and those of Other Power are called “great roots of good,” suggesting an entirely different source of good, or “supramundane roots of good,” implying complete freedom from blind passions and the perfection of great wisdom-compassion. If the Name, the roots of good as the manifestation of Other Power, is misperceived and misconstrued, it is simply another form of self-power “roots of good.” Thus, Shinran states:

Since the sages of the Mahayana and Hinayana and all good people make the Name embodying the Primal Vow their own good act, shinjin cannot arise. They fail to comprehend the wisdom of the Buddhas, and they do not appreciate the securing of the cause of their birth in the Pure Land. Therefore, such people cannot enter the Land of Fulfillment. (Teaching, Practice, and Realization)


Saha world [shaba sekai]

The Sanskrit saha, “endurance,” describes our world, in which human beings must endure defilements and calamities, suffering all the evils of samsaric existence. Persons experience suffering as long as they remain in an unenlightened state; hence the world is termed saha to awaken them to their undesirable predicament and to encourage them to walk the path of enlightenment. Same as Maitreya [Miroku ni onaji]

The enlightenment of the person of shinjin has already become necessary and inevitable, having been settled by the working of Amida. This is comparable to the status of Maitreya Bodhisattva, who now resides in Tusita heaven awaiting his appearance in this world as the Buddha who will succeed Sakyamuni. Both the person of shinjin and Maitreya are just one step from Buddhahood; in this sense, they are the same.

Saying the nembutsu [shomyo]

Various English expressions, such as reciting, pronouncing, or uttering the nembutsu, are in common use. “Saying the nembutsu,” however, sounds most natural and ordinary, suited to the religious life of a Shin Buddhist. While there is nothing extraordinary about saying the nembutsu, the realization attached to it, involving one’s whole being, evokes an entirely new universe of meaning. Shinran states:

The practice of the nembutsu is to say it perhaps once, perhaps ten times, on hearing and realizing that birth into the Pure Land is attained by saying the Name fulfilled in the Primal Vow…There can be no nembutsu separate from shinjin. (Lamp for the Latter Ages)

Selected Primal Vow [senjaku hongan]

According to the Larger Sutra, Bodhisattva Dharmakara established Vows with the purpose of creating a land that included the best qualities of all the Buddha Lands. In essence, each of the Forty-eight Vows represents the selection of a particular feature of the land over all others, so that taken together they map out the topography of the Pure Land. This selection is expressed by the word senjaku, which Honen established as the principle underlying the formulation of the Primal Vow. In the third chapter of his Senjakushu, Honen states, “The word ‘select’ (senjaku), which occurs in [a translation of the Larger Sutra], means to take up and to reject,” and goes on to demonstrate its applicability to the individual Vows.

The importance of senjaku for sentient beings lies in the interpretation of the Eighteenth Vow as the rejection of all other practices and the selection of the nembutsu as the single cause of birth in Amida’s Pure Land because it is the practice available to all. Since this is the crucial point in Honen’s teaching, senjaku hongan has come to indicate the Eighteenth Vow in particular, in which the saying of the Name as the selected practice is given.

Self-benefit, benefiting others [jiri, rita]

The goal of bodhisattva practice is the enlightenment of oneself, called self-benefit, as well as the enlightenment of all other beings, called benefiting others. That persons seek enlightenment for themselves is taken for granted; thus what is crucial is that all others are included in their enlightenment process.

In Pure Land Buddhism the bodhisattva practice par excellence is ascribed to Dharmakara Bodhisattva, who accomplished the dual goal of benefiting self and others. The Primal Vow, five kalpas of meditative discipline and practice, and attainment of supreme enlightenment were all for his self-benefit. But this supreme enlightenment is contingent upon the birth of all beings in the Pure Land. This means that if sentient beings are unable to attain enlightenment, then Dharmakara’s enlightenment remains incomplete. Here lies the absolute necessity of benefiting others in the enlightenment process.

This dual goal, however, involves not only Dharmakara Bodhisattva but persons who live the nembutsu, for in shinjin they have received completely Amida’s virtues of self-benefit and benefiting others, which means that automatically they combine the wish to attain enlightenment and the wish to benefit sentient beings. Shinran expresses this concisely when he says, “True and real shinjin is the aspiration for Buddhahood. The aspiration for Buddhahood is the aspiration to save all beings” (Passages on the Pure Land Way).

Shinran also uses “self-benefit” to refer to self-power, and “benefiting others” to Other Power. The following quotations underscore the working of Other Power as the benefiting of others: “Pure shinjin is the profound and vast shinjin, which is Amida’s benefiting others” and “The realization I speak of is the wondrous fruit that is perfect in benefiting others” (see Passages on the Pure Land Way).

Self-power [jiriki]

Trying to attain enlightenment by accumulating merits through one’s own efforts, in contrast to Other Power, the power of Amida’s Primal Vow. Honen taught that the practice of recitative nembutsu leads to birth in the Pure Land because it accords with the intent of the Primal Vow, and he rejected all other practices as mixed, secondary, or ineffectual, being based upon finite self-power. Shinran inherited Honen’s stand against self-power, and defined it:

Self-power is the effort to attain birth, whether by invoking the names of Buddhas other than Amida and practicing good acts other than the nembutsu, in accordance with your particular circumstances and opportunities; or by endeavoring to make yourself worthy through amending the confusion in your acts, words, and thoughts, confident of your own powers and guided by your own calculation. (Lamp for the Latter Ages)

While self-power generally refers to acts other than the nembutsu, Shinran includes it among self-power acts if it is done with calculative intentions of attaining birth in the Pure Land. Without the complete entrusting to Other Power, the person of self-power or calculative mind invites only endless turmoil in trying to follow the Pure Land path. Examples of self-power practices include the meditative and nonmeditative practices (josan no zen) of the Contemplation Sutra, sundry practices and disciplines (zogyo zasshu), sundry good acts (zozen), and others.

Seventeenth Vow

Called by Shinran “the Vow that all Buddhas praise the Name” and “the Vow that all Buddhas say the Name,” the Seventeenth Vow is one of the most important of the Forty-eight Vows of Bodhisattva Dharmakara: “If, when I attain Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters do not all say my Name in praise, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.” While the Eighteenth Vow is at the center of the Primal Vow, setting forth the way by which all beings can attain birth in the Pure Land through saying the Name in shinjin, the Seventeenth Vow might be said to be the Vow that expresses the working of the Name itself, as manifested in the praise of all the Buddhas. Shinran states:

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 (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’).

The Name holds the entire working of the Tathagata on behalf of sentient beings. Bringing them to entrust themselves to the Vow, it becomes shinjin and manifests itself as the utterance of the nembutsu. It is, then, the foundation of both shinjin and nembutsu. The Name that works in a person thus is called the “great practice” (daigyo), indicating that the true saying of the Name is not undertaken by a person through his or her own designs or performed in self-power; it can bring about birth because it is none other than the Buddha’s activity in him.

Shin Buddhism [Jodo-shinshu]

Shinran uses the term Jodo-shinshu to mean the true essence (shinshu) of the Pure Land (jodo) teaching of his master, Honen. His successors, however, came to use it for the name of their school, with Shinran as the founder, thus distinguishing it from other Pure Land schools that also claimed to succeed Honen’s teaching.


One’s entrusting to Amida’s Primal Vow, which is at the same time the negation of one’s calculative thinking, brought about by Amida’s working.

It denotes the central religious experience of Shin Buddhism, and literally means man’s “true, real, and sincere heart and mind” (makoto no kokoro), which is given by Amida Buddha. This heart-mind has basically two aspects: a nondichotomous identity wherein the heart and mind of Amida and the heart and mind of the practicer are one, and a dichotomous relationship wherein the two are mutually exclusive and in dynamic interaction. Used as an adjective, shin (which is different from the term Shin Buddhism) has the meaning of “true, real, and sincere.” As a verb, it means “to entrust oneself to the Buddha,” an act which is made possible by the working of the true, real, and sincere heart and mind of Amida Buddha. These two meanings are always inseparable. Thus, while shinjin is experienced by human beings, its source, contents, and consummation are to be found not in one but in Buddha.

There are two points to be noted concerning the oneness that shinjin signifies. First, it is not a simple identity. According to Shinran, the mind of Amida Buddha is true, real, and sincere, while the minds of foolish beings are empty and transitory. Since “empty means not real and not sincere, transitory means not true” (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’), shinjin is a oneness of that which is true and real with its exact opposite: They are one and yet two, they are two and yet one. To express the structure of this oneness philosophically, the mind of the foolish being and the mind of Amida are identical and, at the same time, they stand in an opposition of mutual exclusion and negation, of truth and reality versus emptiness and transience. In religious terms, the oneness of shinjin expresses the working of great compassion (Buddha’s wisdom) taking persons of evil (foolish being possessed of blind passions) into itself, never to abandon them.

The second point concerning the oneness of shinjin is that it lies at the heart of Shinran’s Buddhism, for it signifies the attainment of Buddhahood. Shinran’s teaching, then, is not one of salvation through “faith,” for shinjin is not a means to salvation but salvation itself. Its centrality can be seen in Shinran’s emphasis on Other Power, which “means to be free of any form of calculation” (Lamp for the Latter Ages). When one is free of self-power (the self-centered working of one’s intellect and will to achieve enlightenment), this freedom of one’s own heart and mind from self-power is itself Other Power. In other words, Other Power is the Buddha’s power that has become one’s own as shinjin. It is the power of the heart and mind of the person in whom self-power falls away and disappears as oneness with the Buddha’s mind is realized.

In the realization of shinjin one becomes a foolish being (bombu) for the first time in that one awakens to one’s own true nature, but simultaneously one attains Buddhahood that will be fully realized through the working of jinen honi. This complex structure of shinjin is expressed in a number of important concepts. For example, since the oneness in shinjin means that persons of shinjin have attained the Buddha’s mind, which is itself Buddhahood that is to be fully realized at the moment karmic bonds are severed at the end of life, Shinran states that they are the equal of Tathagatas. “Equal” does not mean identical, but points also to remaining differences. A Tathagata is completely free of blind passions, but persons of shinjin are not. Nevertheless, the structure of shinjin is such that while they are human beings they are also Tathagata (Buddha), for they live by the Buddha’s mind (Other Power).

Sincere mind [shishin] The term appears in the Eighteenth Vow of the Larger Sutra,

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters, with sincere mind entrusting themselves, aspiring to be born in my land, and saying my Name perhaps even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

It is identical with the first of the three minds enumerated in the Contemplation Sutra: sincere or genuine mind, deep mind, and desire for birth. In the Pure Land tradition, sincere mind meant the uncontrived, open sincerity of the believer, but Shinran realized that in the depth of each person such a mind is impossible and that true sincerity is Amida’s sincere mind actively working in the mind and heart of defiled persons and enabling them to entrust themselves to Amida. This mind that has entrusted itself to Amida – in other words, the mind grasped by Amida – is sincere mind. Hence sincere mind is a synonym for entrusting (shingyo). In Shinran’s interpretation, sincere mind refers to the mind of Buddha and not that of practicers, but since the Buddha-mind is great compassion, it fully realizes itself only in becoming one with the foolish mind of human beings. The direct meaning of entrusting is the mind of a person that realizes shinjin and is joyful in that realization, but since this entrusting is Other Power giving itself to one, it also has the mind of Buddha as its fundamental nature. Single-hearted [See “Mind that is single.”]

Succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime [as a bodhisattva] [issho fusho]

Derived from the Sanskrit ekajati-pratibaddha, which literally means “bound to one more birth or life (before becoming a Buddha),” this phrase refers to attainment of the highest bodhisattva stage, the next stage being that of Buddhahood. It is used to characterize those born in the Pure Land because, though all attain enlightenment, they manifest themselves as bodhisattvas of the highest rank in order to perform compassionate activities through the working of the Twenty-second Vow, “The Vow of succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime.”

Suchness [shinnyo (tathata)]

Lit., “thusness”; hossho, dharmata, “things as they are.” Suchness is a term for true reality, not as an abstract substance underlying existence, but as all things just as they are in themselves. Things being “as they are” means that they are perceived not with discriminative thinking (vikalpa) or the self-centered imposition of distinctions and values, but from the perspective of the wisdom of the enlightened one (bodhisattva or Tathagata), who, while recognizing each thing or being in all its distinctiveness and particularity, grasps it nondiscriminatively, in its nondifference with all other things, including the enlightened one himself. This wisdom is called prajnaparamita by Nagarjuna and nirvikalpajñana by Asanga and Vasubandhu. It is also great compassion, in which all beings are grasped equally, for even the nonduality of sentient beings and Buddha is established in it; that is, while possessing differences, they are equal.

We have used “suchness” to translate two synonymous terms, shinnyo and hossho. The Chinese term shinnyo is a translation of the Sanskrit tathata, a noun form (-ta) of the adverb tatha meaning “thus” or “as it is.” A literal translation would be “as-it-is-ness.” In shinnyo, the basic meaning of tathata is translated by nyo (“just like,” “as”) with the word shin (“true”) added to form a noun distinct from the adverb form. From the original Sanskrit, the basic adverbial meaning of “suchness” is clear; it refers not to an ultimate reality apart from things, but to things themselves as they really are in their particularity, but nonobjectified and nondifferentiated.

We have also used suchness to translate hossho, notably in the term hossho hosshin, “dharma-body as suchness.” Hossho is a translation of dharmata, which is an abstract noun form (-ta) of dharma; hence literally “thing-ness,” meaning “thing as it is.” In the Chinese hossho, ho (hos-) is dharma and sho usually means “essence” or “nature,” but as a technical term in the Chinese canon, rather than “essence” it means “being such” (de aru koto). Thus it indicates each individual thing being itself, just “as it is.” Hossho, then, should be understood to point not to an abstract “essential nature” of the dharma, but to the thing as it truly is. When seen not from the perspective of the dichotomized subject-object thought of foolish beings but as they truly are, things are said to be formless or empty, for they are not objects upon which concepts and judgments can be superimposed; further, they are perceived truly only as the real object of supreme wisdom that knows without discriminating subject and object, or the self-revelatory wisdom itself. Thus D.T. Suzuki states:

The highest reality is not a mere abstraction, it is very much alive with sense and intelligence, and, above all, with love purged of human infirmities and defilements. (The Essence of Buddhism, p.47)

In Shin Buddhism, suchness is conceived as that from which arise the manifestations of the Pure Land, the virtuous Name, and Amida himself. In the Pure Land we will also be enlightened to suchness and participate in the compassionate activity in accordance with Amida’s Vow-Power, which has been produced from suchness. Sudden attainment, teaching of [tongyo]

Sudden attainment is the realization of enlightenment at a certain point in time made possible by timeless reality abruptly or noncontinuously breaking into time, in contrast to gradual and partial realization of timeless reality which involves a progression through many stages of awakening. Honen considered the Tendai and Shingon teachings to be within the realm of sudden attainment, but, since they affirm the capacity of human beings to attain awakening through self-power, he classified the as belonging to the gradual within sudden attainment. In contrast, he called the Pure Land path, which teaches the realization of Buddhahood through attainment of birth in the Pure Land without having rid oneself of blind passions, the sudden within sudden attainment. Shinran follows Honen in referring to the nembutsu path as “the sudden within the sudden.” That this points to awakening through Other Power and not through self-power rather than simply a question of time is clear in his description of the awakening of shinjin as being “neither sudden nor gradual, neither meditative nor nonmeditative” (Teaching, Practice, and Realization).

Sundry practices and disciplines [zogyo zasshu]

Shan-tao distinguishes between right practices (shogyo) and sundry practices (zogyo), including among the former chanting, contemplation, worship, recitation, and praise, all of which center on Amida and lead to birth in the Pure Land, and including among the latter all other practices directed to obtaining birth in the Pure Land. Shan-tao does not necessarily reject sundry practices as a cause of birth; nevertheless, he considers them to be unfocused and indirect practices. Among the right practices, Shan-tao singled out recitation of Amida’s Name as the “act of true settlement” (shojogo) and labeled the remaining four “auxiliary acts” (jogo).

Following Shan-tao, Honen emphasized saying the Name (nembutsu) as the act that leads to birth and taught the wholehearted single practice of saying the Name (senju nembutsu). From this perspective, sundry practices can be taken to mean all practices other than the nembutsu. Shin Buddhism teaches that sundry practices cannot lead to birth because they are motivated by self-power; one must cast them aside and take refuge solely in the Primal Vow.

“Sundry disciplines” – an antonym of “wholehearted single practice” – means to seek to attain birth through performing sundry practices. “Sundry” here means mixed, unconcentrated, impure; it denotes the attitude of practicers of self-power who, in their calculation, turn their attention to a variety of practices. For Shinran, even the right practice, if performed with a mind of self-power, is “sundry discipline” and fails to achieve birth in the true Pure Land, leading instead to the borderlands. To practice auxiliary acts and the act of true settlement together is also sundry discipline, and fails to accord with the Primal Vow.

Sundry practices and sundry disciplines differ in that the latter involves an attitude and the former a specific act. Together, “sundry practices and disciplines” expresses self-power or ego-design in direct contrast to the act of true settlement, the utterance of the nembutsu that is the manifestation of true compassion in a person.

Supportive power [kairiki]

In Buddhism generally, the supportive and protective powers of Buddhas which aid the practicer in overcoming obstacles and difficulties on the path to enlightenment. For Shinran, this majestic power is none other than the working of the Primal Vow, which leads a person to realize shinjin:

It is through the Tathagata’s supportive power, and through the vast power of great compassion and all-embracing wisdom that a person realizes pure, true, and real shinjin. (Passages on the Pure Land Way)

Supreme nirvana [mujo-nehan]

Nirvana is the goal of the Buddhist life, where the false life is annihilated, never to emerge again, and a new being of true compassion and true wisdom, concerned with the welfare of all beings, is born. Supreme nirvana is contrasted to nirvana limited to personal emancipation.

Surpassing conceptual understanding [fukashigi]

“Inconceivable” has been the common translation for fukashigi and is accurate if properly understood. Fukashigi indicates the working of that which surpasses human thought and comprehension and is used to characterize the Vow, the Name, the power of the Vow, and Buddha-wisdom. Fukashigi thus expresses a negation of man’s calculations and designs; nevertheless, that which is termed fukashigi lies within the awareness of human beings, although such awareness cannot exhaust its fathomless depths. Thus, fukashigi means that while something can be known, this knowledge is not the result of intellectual analysis.


Tathagata [nyorai]

A synonym of Buddha. The term is derived from combining tatha-agata, which means to come from suchness, or tatha-gata, to go to or arrive at suchness. In East Asian Buddhism the term Tathagata is often used as a synonym for Buddha because of its dynamic connotations, expressed in particular in the sense that Tathagata “comes from suchness.”

Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters [jinjippo mugeko-nyorai]

A name for Amida Buddha used by Vasubandhu in his Treatise on the Pure Land: “O World-honored one, single-heartedly I take refuge in the Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters.” According to Shinran, light is the “form” or manifestation of transcendent wisdom-compassion. Since nothing can obstruct the working of this wisdom-compassion, not even the ignorance, blind passions, and karmic evil of sentient beings, its light is said to be “unhindered,” and to fill the entire universe.

Ten quarters [jippo]

Referring to the entire universe, “ten quarters” is used in such common expressions as “worlds in the ten quarters,” “sentient beings in the ten quarters,” “countless Buddhas in the ten quarters,” and “Buddha of unhindered light filling the ten quarters.” The ten quarters refers to the eight points of the compass, the zenith, and the nadir.

Ten transgressions [ju-aku]

The Buddhist precepts against (1) destroying life, (2) theft, (3) adultery, (4) lying, (5) harsh words, (6) speaking ill of others, (7) idle talk, (8) greed, (9) anger, (10) wrong views.

Three characteristics of entrusting and non-entrusting [sanpu sanshin]

The three characteristics of entrusting are genuine mind (junshin), single mind (isshin), and enduring mind (sozokushin), and those of non-entrusting are their opposites: nongenuine, nonsingle, and nonenduring minds. These characteristics were first enumerated by T’an-luan in his Commentary on Vasubandhu’s Treatise on the Pure Land. There he states that entrusting is not genuine when it appears and disappears, not single-minded when it lacks decisiveness, and not enduring when disrupted by other thoughts.

For Shinran, shinjin, because it is the working of Other Power, has the characteristics of genuine, single, and enduring mind. Attitudes of self-power are characterized as nongenuine, nonsingle, and nonenduring.

Threefold shinjin [sanshin]

The threefold shinjin contained in the Eighteenth Vow are (1) sincere mind, (2) trust and (3) aspiration for birth in the Pure Land, each of which, according to Shinran, is completely free of doubt, including self-will, calculation, and self-power. Honen identified them with the three minds of the Contemplation Sutra as necessary mental attitudes of the nembutsu practicer. Shinran, however, regarded them as the manifestations of the working of Other Power, stating that the sincere mind of the Buddha enters the ignorant and deluded mind of persons, causing in them the experience of joyful faith and prompting them to aspire for the Pure Land. He also summarized the threefold shinjin into the mind that is single, which is none other than Other Power. Thus, the threefold shinjin can be seen as the true and real mind of the Buddhas’ manifestation in the heart and mind of the person of shinjin.

Three minds [sanshin]

The three minds, which appear in the Contemplation Sutra, are (1) sincere mind, (2) deep mind, and (3) desire for birth by accumulating merit. According to Shan-tao, these are necessary mental attitudes of the Pure Land practicer who seeks to be born in the Pure Land. Such persons, thus, must manifest a sincere mind, a profound realization of their own karmic evil and of Amida’s boundless compassion, and an aspiration to attain birth through merits accumulated for oneself and others. In Shinran’s understanding, such an interpretation of the three minds is a self-power approach and should be distinguished from the threefold shinjin of the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life. He also states, however, that the implicit meaning of the three minds is identical with the threefold shinjin, for both reveal the working of Other Power. This conflicting interpretation is resolved by Shinran’s theory of “explicit and implicit meanings.”

Three realms [sangai]

Refers to the three forms of life within unenlightened samsaric existence, consisting of the realm of desire (kama), form (rupa), and formless (arupya), each with its upper, middle and lower regions. The realm of desire consists of sentient beings driven by insatiable appetites and greed, and contains the five or six evil courses. The realm of form is beyond that of desire, a world of pure form inhabited by beings free of all blind passions. The realm of the formless is the highest realm of the spirit, transcending all material existence and attachments to them. But even though the eight meditative states are experienced within the realms of form and formless, these realms still lie within samsaric life. This is the reason why the Lotus Sutra states, “There is no peace within the three realms, which are a burning house,” and the Larger Sutra proclaims, “The Tathagata, with unbounded compassion, takes pity on the three realms.”

Transform [tenzu]

The term “transform” provides an important key to Shinran’s thought, for it expresses the structure of the moment of realizing shinjin, when the mind of the foolish being takes refuge in or is grasped by the Buddha’s mind.

When the waters – the minds, good and evil, of foolish beings – Have entered the vast ocean Of Amida’s Vow of wisdom, they are immediately Transformed into the mind of great compassion. (Hymns of the Dharma-Ages 40)

Shinran’s annotation to this wasan states, “‘transformed’ means that the evil mind becomes good.” Since “good” refers to the “mind of great compassion” in the hymn, “evil” and “good” must not be taken in a merely moral or ethical sense, but as expressing the relationship between practicer and Buddha. Thus, “evil mind” here includes all the good and evil of foolish beings. When one has entered the ocean of the Primal Vow, both the good and the evil of one’s mind become the Buddhas’ mind of great compassion.

Shinran describes this transformation:

“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. “To be transformed” means that evil karma, without being nullified or eradicated, is made 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.” (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone‘)

“Transform” means that evil karma, without being nullified or eradicated, is turned into the highest good. In terms of the hymn quoted above, the foolish being’s mind itself is transformed into the Buddha’s mind of great compassion. But if evil remains evil without being eliminated, it cannot ordinarily be said to have been transformed into good, and if it has been transformed into good, then it should no longer be called evil. Here we see that at the moment the mind of the foolish being takes refuge in the Buddha, they become one, but this oneness is not simple identity; at the same time that they are one, there is a duality – a mutual opposition – of the Buddha’s mind (mind of good) and the mind of the foolish being (mind of evil).

In the following two hymns, Shinran explains the structure of this transformation.

Through the benefit of the unhindered light, We realize shinjin of vast, majestic virtues, And the ice of our blind passions necessarily melts, Immediately becoming the water of enlightenment.

Obstructions of karmic evil turn into virtues; It is like the relation of ice and water: The more ice, the more water; The more obstructions, the more virtues. (Hymns of the Pure Land Masters)

Just as ice melts and becomes water, blind passions (the mind of evil) disappear and become enlightenment (the mind of good). Thus, karmic obstructions (evil) and virtues (good) become one, so that if there is much of one then there is much of the other.

The structure of this transformation reflects the structure of the attainment of Buddhahood by the evil person. The transformation of evil into good makes it possible for the evil person (foolish being) to become a Buddha. Nevertheless, this good is not simple good, but good that is one with karmic evil; it is not moral good but the Buddha’s virtue. The Buddha’s mind, whose fundamental nature is wisdom-compassion, becomes one with the karmic evil and blind passions of beings in order to bring them to Buddhahood. This oneness of Buddha and sentient being, or of virtue and karmic evil, is the fundamental nature of Amida Buddha, expressed in Amida’s “grasping, never to abandon” the evil person. Since Amida’s virtue is not simple goodness but holds evil within itself, not only does a person’s karmic evil not disappear, but it is illuminated and protected by the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion, and thus it comes to perform the function of virtue. It is through the working of wisdom-compassion to take in the evil person that one is brought to be of the same good mind as that of Amida Buddha. Hence, “Through realizing shinjin, one is made to receive the Tathagata’s virtues.”

Persons of shinjin, the essence of whose existence is none other than karmic evil, are nevertheless filled with the Buddha’s virtues, for the substance of those virtues is none other than their karmic evil. Transformation occurs at the moment one is grasped by Amida, the moment one realizes shinjin, but the Buddha’s working (jinen) to turn all one’s evil acts of the past, present, and future into good is not fully completed at this moment. If it were, one would then attain Buddhahood. Rather, the ice of one’s blind passions and karmic obstructions melting and becoming enlightenment (Buddha’s wisdom and compassion) continues to the point of death. This means that practicers who entrust themselves to the Primal Vow, even though they are emancipated, must walk a path of karmic evil until they die. Their karmic evil is so deep they cannot know what evil acts lurk in the depths, or what they may be brought to do by the karmic conditions they possess. But the more they know their own karmic evil (i.e., “the greater the hindrances”), the more deeply they feel for Amida’s benevolence. That is, acts one did not realize to be evil before are, in the light of Amida’s wisdom, revealed to be rooted in one’s blind passions. Thus, in this realization karmic evil and Amida’s virtues become greater and deeper together. And at the same time, the ice of one’s blind passions melts and becomes enlightenment (bodhi, virtue).

When one allows oneself to be carried by the Vow-ship of great compassion and comes to sail on the vast ocean of light, with the winds of perfect virtue blowing softly, the waves of affliction are transformed. (Teaching, Practice, and Realization)

“Transformed” (tenzu) here has the same meaning as in the previous quotations. When a person has completely entered the world of the Primal Vow, which has great compassion and light (wisdom) as its intrinsic nature, the waves of calamity and misfortune, which up to then had raged furiously, turn calm, becoming one with the winds of perfect virtue.

True teacher [zenjishiki]

The original Sanskrit kalyanamitra is literally “good friend” and the Sino-Japanese rendition means “One of virtue and knowledge.” Shin Buddhists use it to refer to any person who, through the manifestation of shinjin in daily life, opens up the possibility of coming in touch with true compassion. Although it is not a title or an indication of rank, it expresses a strong sense of gratitude to the person through whom one was able to encounter and awaken to the teaching.

Truly settled ones [shojoju]

A term descriptive of those who will attain enlightenment without fail. This word was originally used to describe the bodhisattva who had reached a stage where enlightenment would be attained without question. In the Pure Land tradition prior to Shinran, it referred to beings born in the Pure Land, who attain enlightenment without fail because of the ideal environment there conducive to religious life. Shinran, however, uses “the truly settled” to refer to persons of shinjin, awakened here and now, for they will necessarily attain enlightenment by virtue of the Primal Vow. Such a person is of the stage equal to enlightenment and his or her attainment of supreme enlightenment is only a matter of time.

Turnabout [eshin]

The radical conversion experience brought about by the working of Other Power, whereby the center of one’s being, the mind of self-power, is overturned and abandoned. Through it, one gives oneself up completely to the working of Amida’s Primal Vow. Twenty-second Vow

The Vow of Amida by which beings born in the Pure Land are enabled, through Amida’s Other Power, to return to this world as the highest type of bodhisattva to work for the liberation of other beings; hence, Shinran entitles it “the Vow of directing virtue for our return to this world” (genso eko no gan). The Vow states:

When I attain Buddhahood, the bodhisattvas of other Buddha-lands who come and are born in my land will ultimately and unfailingly attain [the rank of] “succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime” – except for those who, in accordance with their own original vows freely to guide others to enlightenment, don the armor of universal vows for the sake of sentient beings, accumulate roots of virtue, emancipate all beings, travel to Buddha-lands to perform bodhisattva practices, make offerings to all the Buddhas and Tathagatas throughout the ten quarters, awaken sentient beings countless as the sands of the Ganges, and bring them to abide firmly in the unexcelled, right, true way. Such bodhisattvas surpass ordinary ones, manifest the practices of all the bodhisattva stages, and discipline themselves in the virtue of Samantabhadra. Should it not be so, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

Taken literally, this Vow promises attainment of Buddhahood for those born in the Pure Land after only one lifetime there, except for those who willingly undertake the compassionate work of saving sentient beings and thus deny themselves the bliss and repose of perfect enlightenment in the Pure Land. For Shinran, however, the person born in the Pure Land immediately realizes the supreme enlightenment and attains the “body of naturalness or of nonexistence,” the same Buddha-body as Amida; moreover, “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” (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’). Thus for Shinran, the state of “unfailing attainment of the rank next to Buddhahood” (or more literally, “succession to the position” of Buddhahood), also called attainment of “Buddhahood after one lifetime,” is oriented not toward Buddhahood but back toward this world. Hence these terms, which Shinran adopts from the Vow as titles for it, in themselves indicate the highest level of bodhisattva activity, in which the person who has already attained enlightenment in the Pure Land abides through the continuing working of Amida’s Primal Vow. Two rivers and white path [niga byakudo]

Shan-tao’s parable of the path of birth into the Pure Land. It is set forth in his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra as part of his exposition of the sutra passage:

When sentient beings who aspire to be born in the [Pure] Land awaken the three minds, then they will be born there. What are these three? They are sincere mind, deep mind, and the mind of directing merit, aspiring to be born.

This passage is crucial for the Pure Land tradition, because the attitude of the practicer described here, termed the “three minds,” has been considered an analysis of the faith necessary to nembutsu practice. Shan-tao expounds the three minds in detail and then sets forth his parable as an aid in “guarding one’s faith against attacks” from the outside and from the viewpoints of differing beliefs. To summarize:

A solitary traveler is journeying westward through a plain when he finds himself pursued by brigands and wild beasts. He rushes toward the west, when suddenly he comes upon a river channel coursed by two currents. On his right, flowing to the north, is a torrent of raging water; on his left, flowing to the south, is a river of flames. Both extend endlessly at immeasurable depth, one hundred steps across. Dividing the two rivers and joining the eastern and western banks is a white path four or five inches wide, incessantly swept by the waves and scorched by the flames.

Behind the traveler are brigands and beasts, and to the north and south also there are wild animals and poisonous insects. Seeing death everywhere – whether he turns back, remains on the bank, or plunges ahead – he decides to venture on the path. At that moment, he hears a voice from the eastern bank exhorting him to advance fearlessly, and another from the western side commanding him: “O traveler, with the mind that is single, with right-mindedness, come at once! I will protect you.” He therefore resolutely sets out over the path, and though the brigands attempt to lure him back, he proceeds until he reaches the western shore, where he is greeted by the friend who encouraged him.

According to Shan-tao, the two rivers represent greed and anger, and the white path is the pure aspiration for birth in Amida’s land. Moreover, the exhortation from the eastern bank is Sakyamuni’s teaching, and the encouragement from the west is Amida’s call. Shinran states that the white path represents the power of the Primal Vow (Teaching, Practice, and Realization, Chapter on Shinjin), interpreting the parable as showing that the practicer’s pure shinjin, which expresses itself as true aspiration for the Pure Land, is one with Amida’s aspiration to bring all beings to enlightenment.

U, V

Vaidehi [Idai; also Idaike]

The queen of King Bimbisara of Magadha. When the king was imprisoned by his son Ajatasatru through the instigation of Devadatta, she secretly carried food to him. Discovering this, Ajatasatru imprisoned her. In her great sorrow, she prayed to the Buddha to show her the way to emancipation. Knowing her wishes, the Buddha appeared in the prison and showed her many Buddha lands. As she particularly wished to be born in Amida’s Pure Land, the Buddha expounded the method of visualizing it and attaining birth there. This is how the Sutra of Contemplation on Amida Buddha, one of the triple Pure Land sutras, came to be preached.

Virtue, merit [kudoku]

The original term is translated by two words, virtue and merit, in order to differentiate its dual meaning. “Virtue” is used in its old sense of inherent power realizing itself fully, but having the added quality of bringing with it immeasurable benefits to oneself and others, being the undefiled wisdom and compassion of the Buddha. Shinran explains:

Without the practicer’s calculating in any way whatever, all that practicer’s past, present, and future evil karma is transformed into the highest good (i.e., Buddha’s virtues). To be transformed means that evil karma, without being nullified or eradicated, is made 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. (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’)

When kudoku is translated as “merit,” it refers to something that is brought about by human effort and therefore demands cultivation and constant attention. Self-power Pure Land practice requires repetition of the nembutsu in order to accumulate merit for birth.

Virtue of Samantabhadra [Fugen no toku]

The virtue or working of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra broadly indicates the compassionate activity of all bodhisattvas. Samantabhadra is a preeminent bodhisattva, depicted in Mahayana sutras as sitting at the right of Sakyamuni Buddha when the Buddha preached. His name is derived from the Sanskrit meaning “universal” (samanta), indicating that the bodhisattva’s vows and accomplishments reach all beings equally, and “excellent” or “wise” (bhadra), indicating that his practice is superior. When considered together with Mañjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom at Sakyamuni’s left, he is not only one among a myriad bodhisattvas, but also symbolic of compassion.

In Shinran, the virtue of Samantabhadra refers specifically to the compassionate activity of those who, having been born in the Pure Land, return to this world through the working of Amida’s Twenty-second Vow:

When person 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 known as attaining the virtue of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra. (Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’)

Vow-mind [ganshin]

The great compassion for all beings that lies at the heart of the Primal Vow made by Bodhisattva Dharmakara. It is, therefore, the source of Amida’s realization of the Pure Land and saving activity. Concerning this, T’an-luan states:

The realization of these three kinds of adornments (i.e., the virtues of the Pure Land, the Buddha, and the bodhisattvas) is fundamentally brought about by the adorning activity of the pure Vow-mind manifested in the Forty-eight Vows; thus, since the cause is pure, the results are also pure. (Commentary on Vasubandhu’s Treatise, SSZ I:336)

In a passage patterned on this quotation, Shinran recasts its implications from the perspective of the practicer and makes it clear that the attainment of birth has its source in Amida’s Vow-mind:

Whether with regard to the cause for birth in the Pure Land or to the fruition, there is nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through Amida Tathagata’s directing of virtue to beings out of the pure Vow-mind. Because the cause is pure, the fruit is also pure. Let this be known. (Passages on the Pure Land Way)

W, X, Y, Z

Working [gi]

The original term gi has several connotations: reason, meaning, justification, principle, etc. Shinran uses gi to denote two opposing realities: (1) the mental, emotional and volitional working of unenlightened persons (self-power) to fathom Amida’s Primal Vow which surpasses conceptual understanding; and (2) the boundless activity of Amida’s Primal Vow (Other Power) which fills the person of blind passions with true wisdom and compassion, translated as “true working.” Thus, the paradoxical phrase, mu-gi o motte gi to su, is rendered “no working is true working” (lit., “no working is working”), implying that where the activities of the ego are no more, the true working of Amida’s compassion manifests itself.