According to Shin Buddhism, there are two kinds of people who seek birth in the Pure Land: those of Other Power and those of self-power. This has been taught by the Indian masters and Pure Land teachers.
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 mending the confusion in your acts, words, and thoughts, confident of your own powers and guided by your own calculation.
Other Power is the entrusting of yourself to the Eighteenth among Amida Tathagata’s Vows, the Primal Vow of birth through the nembutsu, which Amida selected and adopted from among all other practices. Since this is the Vow of Tathagata, Honen said: “In Other Power, no working is true working.” “Working” [that is negated] is a term connoting calculation. Since the calculation of the person seeking birth is self-power, it is “working.” Other Power is entrusting ourselves to the Primal Vow and our birth becoming firmly settled; hence it is altogether without one’s own working. Thus, on the one hand, you should not be anxious that Tathagata will not receive you because you do wrong. A foolish being is by nature possessed of blind passions, so you must recognize yourself as a being of karmic evil. On the other hand, you should not think that you deserve to attain birth because you are good. You cannot be born into the true and real fulfilled land through such self-power calculation. I have been taught that with shinjin of self-power a person can attain birth only in the realm of indolence, the borderland, the womb-palace, or the city of doubt.
Through the fulfillment of the Eighteenth Primal Vow, Bodhisattva Dharmakara has become Amida Tathagata, and the benefit that surpasses conceptual understanding has come to transcend all bounds; to express this, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu uses the words, “Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters.” Truly know, therefore, that without any differentiation between people good and bad, and regardless of one’s having a heart of blind passions, all beings are certain to attain birth. Describing the manner of entrusting in the nembutsu of the Primal Vow, Genshin, Master of Eshin-in, states in his Essentials for Attaining Birth: “It makes no difference whether you are walking, standing still, sitting, or reclining, nor is there a choice to be made among times, places, or other circumstances.” He affirms beyond question that the person who has attained true shinjin has been grasped by the compassionate light. And so, Sakyamuni has taught, at the very moment that we, possessed of ignorance and blind passions, are born into the Pure Land of peace, we attain the supreme fruit of Buddhahood.
Yet, it is very rare that people of this corrupt world of the five defilements embrace the teaching of the one Buddha, Sakyamuni, alone, and for this reason al the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters, countless as the sands of the Ganges, have become witnesses to the attainment of birth through the nembutsu that embodies Amida’s Primal Vow; this Master Shan-tao has written in his commentary. He explains that Sakyamuni, Amida, and the Buddhas of the ten quarters, all with the same mind, are no more apart from sentient beings of the nembutsu than shadows from things. Hence it is that Sakyamuni rejoices in persons of shinjin, saying, “They are my true companions.” Persons of shinjin are the true disciples of the Buddha; they are the ones who abide in right-mindedness. Since they have been grasped never to be abandoned, they are said to have attained the diamondlike mind. They are called “the best among the best,” “excellent persons” “wondrous, excellent persons,” “the very finest persons,” “rare persons.” Such people have become established in the stage of the truly settled and are declared, therefore, to be the equal of Maitreya Buddha. This means that since they have realized true shinjin, they will necessarily be born in the true and real fulfilled land. You should know that this shinjin is bestowed through the compassionate means of Sakyamuni, Amida, and all the Buddhas in the quarters. Therefore you should not disparage the teachings of other Buddhas or the people who perform good acts other than nembutsu. Neither should you despise those who scorn and slander people of nembutsu; rather, you should have compassion and care for them. This was Honen’s teaching.
The depth of the Buddha’s benevolence is such that even with birth in the realm of indolence and pride, the borderland, the city of doubt or the womb-palace, which is brought about only through the compassion revealed in Amida’s Nineteenth and Twentieth Vows, we meet with a happiness that surpasses understanding. Thus the depth of the Buddha’s benevolence is without bound. But how much more should we realize the benevolence of the Buddha with birth into the true and real fulfilled land and attainment of the enlightenment of the supreme nirvana. This is not a matter that Shoshin-bo or I have decided ourselves. Not in any way at all.
Kencho 7 , Tenth month, 3rd day
Written at age 83
[It is said that this letter was copied from Shinran Shonin’s own draft, found among the remains of the venerable Shoshin-bo and circulated among the followers.]