The radiant light, unhindered and inconceivable, eradicates suffering and brings realization of joy; the excellent Name, perfectly embodying all practices, eliminates obstacles and dispels doubt. This is the teaching and practice for our latter age; devote yourself solely to it. It is eye and limb in this defiled world; do not fail to endeavor in it. Accepting and living the supreme, universal Vow, then, abandon the defiled and aspire for the pure. Reverently embracing the Tathagata’s teaching, respond in gratitude to his benevolence and be thankful for his compassion.
Here I, Gutoku, of outlying islands, relying on the treatises from India and the western regions and looking to the explanations of the teachers of China and Japan, reverently entrust myself to the teaching, practice, and realization that are the true essence of the Pure Land way. And knowing keenly that the Buddha’s benevolence is difficult to fathom, I seek to clarify it through this collection of passages on the Pure Land way.
To begin, the teaching of the Pure Land way is found in the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life. The central purport of this sutra is that Amida, by establishing the incomparable Vows, has opened wide the dharma-storehouse, and full of compassion for small, foolish beings, selects and bestows the treasure of virtues. It reveals that Sakyamuni appeared in this world and expounded the teachings of the way to enlightenment, seeking to save the multitudes of living beings by blessing them with the benefit that is true and real. Assuredly this sutra is the true teaching for which the Tathagata appeared in the world. It is the wondrous scripture, rare and most excellent. It is the conclusive and ultimate exposition of the One Vehicle. It is the right teaching, praised by all the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters. To teach Tathagata’s Primal Vow is the true intent of this sutra; the Name of the Buddha is essence.
The practice of the Pure Land way is the great practice that embodies Amida’s perfect benefiting of others. It is revealed in the Vow that all the Buddhas praise the Name, also known as “the Vow that all the Buddhas say the Name.” It may further be called “the Vow of the right act, which is Amida’s directing of virtue for our going forth.”
Amida’s directing of virtue to beings through the power of the Primal Vow has two aspects: the aspect for our going forth to the Pure Land and the aspect for our return to this world. Regarding the aspect for going forth, there is 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 them to fullness. For this reason, it is called “great practice.” Saying the Name, then, breaks through all the ignorance of sentient beings and readily brings all their aspirations to fulfillment. Saying the Name is in itself mindfulness; mindfulness is nembutsu; nembutsu is Namu-amida-butsu.
The passage declaring the fulfillment of the Vows in the Larger Sutra states:
The Buddha-tathagatas throughout the ten quarters, countless as the sands of the Ganges, are one in praising the majestic power and the virtues, inconceivably profound, of the Buddha of immeasurable life. All sentient beings, as they hear the Name, realize even one thought-moment of shinjin and joy, which is directed to them from Amida’s sincere mind, and aspiring to be born in that land, they then attain birth and dwell in the stage of non-retrogression.
Further the sutra states:
The Buddha said to Maitreya, “If there is a person who, having heard the Name of that Buddha, leap and dance with joy, and say it even once, know that they receive the great benefit; that is, they acquire the unexcelled virtues.”
Bodhisattva Nagarjuna states in the Commentary on the Ten Bodhisattva Stages:
If a person desires quickly to attain
The stage of non-retrogression,
He or she should, with a reverent heart,
Say the Name, holding steadfast to it.
When persons doubt as they plant roots of good,
The lotus [in which they gain birth] will not open;
But for those whose shinjin is pure,
The flower opens, and immediately they see the Buddha.
Bodhisattva Vasubandhu states in the Treatise on the Pure Land:
O World-honored one, with the mind that is single
I take refuge in the Tathagata of unhindered light
Filling the ten quarters
And aspire to be born in the land of happiness.
Relying on the sutras
In which the manifestation of true and real virtues is taught,
I compose a gatha of aspiration, a condensation,
That accords with the Buddha’s teaching.
Contemplating the power of the Buddha’s Primal Vow,
I see that no one who encounters it passes by in vain.
It quickly brings to fullness and perfection
The great treasure ocean of virtues.
With these passages from the sacred words of the Buddha and from the treatises, we know in particular that the great practice is not a foolish being’s practice of directing his or her own merit toward attainment of birth. It is the fulfilled practice that Amida directs to beings out of great compassion, and therefore is called “not-directing virtue [on the part of beings].” This practice indeed embodies the Primal Vow, in which the nembutsu is selected and adopted. It is the supreme, all-surpassing universal Vow. It is the true and wondrous right dharma that is the One Vehicle. It is the unexcelled practice that perfectly embodies all good acts.
The word naishi (even) in the passages from the Larger Sutra is used to indicate an upper or lower limit while omitting what is between. [In the second passage,] ichinen (saying of the Name once) indicates single-heartedly practicing the nembutsu. Single-heartedly practicing the nembutsu is a single voicing. A single voicing is saying the Name. Saying the Name is constant mindfulness. Constant mindfulness is right-mindedness. Right-mindedness is the true act [that brings about birth in the Pure Land].
Further, naishi ichinen in no way refers to one thought in contemplation on the Buddha’s virtue or to one utterance in repeated recitation of the Name. [As the first passage shows,] naishi ichinen (even one thought-moment) refers to the ultimate brevity and expansion of the length of time in which one attains the mind and practice [i.e., shinjin and nembutsu] that result in birth in the Pure Land. Let this be known.
Pure shinjin is shinjin that actualizes Amida’s profound and vast benefiting of others. It arises from the Vow of birth through the nembutsu, also known as “the Vow of sincere mind and entrusting.” It may further be called “the Vow of shinjin, which is Amida’s directing of virtue for our going forth.” However, for the shallowest of foolish beings – we multitudes of the basest level – it is impossible to realize pure shinjin, impossible to attain the highest end. This is because we do not depend on Amida’s directing of virtue for our going forth and because we are entangled in a net of doubt. 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. Therefore, that mind will not be inverted; that mind will not be vain or false. Truly we know that the supreme, perfect fruit of enlightenment is not difficult to attain; it is pure shinjin, true and real, that is indeed difficult to realize.
When persons realize pure shinjin that is true and real, they realize the mind of great joy. Concerning the attainment of the mind of great joy, the Larger Sutra states:
The person who aspires with a sincere mind to be born in the land of happiness shall reach the full illumination of wisdom and acquire virtues unexcelled.
Further, the sutra states: Such a person is “one of great, majestic virtue”; moreover, he or she is “a person of vast and unexcelled understanding.”
This shinjin is indeed the superlative means of sweeping away doubt and attaining virtues. It is what is truly manifested in the sutra, all virtues being fulfilled instantly in it. It is the wondrous way of attaining longevity and deathlessness. It is the pure shinjin of vast, majestic virtue.
Hence, whether with regard to practice or to shinjin there is nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through Amida Tathagata’s directing of virtue to beings out of the pure Vow-mind. It is not that there is no cause or that there is some other cause. Let this be known.
The realization attained in the Pure Land way is the wondrous fruition attained through Amida’s perfect benefiting of others. It arises from the Vow of necessary attainment of nirvana, also known as the “Vow of the realization of great nirvana.” It may further be called “the Vow of realization, which is Amida’s directing of virtue for our going forth.” This realization is purity, reality, and no-birth (nirvana), ultimate and consummate.
Concerning the supreme nirvana, the passage teaching the fulfillment of this Vow in the Larger Sutra states:
The sentient beings born in that land all dwell among the truly settled, for in that Buddha Land there is not one who is falsely settled or not settled.
Further the sutra states:
The words “human beings” and “devas” are used simply in accordance with the usage elsewhere. Their countenances are dignified and wonderful, surpassing things of this world. Their features, subtle and delicate, are not those of human beings or devas; all receive the body of naturalness (jinen) or of emptiness, the body of boundlessness.
Further it states:
Necessarily one achieves the abandoning of his world, transcending and parting from it, and attains birth in the land of peace. One cuts off crosswise the five evil courses and the evil courses close naturally (jinen). Ascending the way is without limit; to go is easy and yet no one is born there. Never at variance with that land, one is drawn there by its spontaneous working.
With these sacred words of the Buddha we know clearly that when foolish beings possessed of all blind passions – the multitudes of beings caught in birth-and-death and defiled by evil karma – realize the mind and practice that Amida directs to them for their going forth, they come to dwell among the truly settled of the Mahayana teaching. Those who dwell among the truly settled necessarily attain nirvana. When one necessarily attains nirvana, [one attains] eternal bliss. Eternal bliss is great nirvana. Great nirvana is the fruit that manifests itself in the field of benefiting and converting others. This body is the uncreated dharma-body. The uncreated dharma-body is the body of ultimate equality. The body of ultimate equality is tranquillity. Tranquillity is true reality. True reality is dharma-nature. Dharma-nature is suchness. Suchness is oneness.
Hence, whether with regard to the cause or to its 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. Reflect on this.
Second is Amida’s directing of virtue for our return to this world. This is the benefit we receive, the state of benefiting and guiding others. It arises from the Vow of necessary attainment of the rank next to Buddhahood, also known as “the Vow for the attainment of Buddhahood after one lifetime.” It may further be called “the Vow of directing virtue for our return to this world.” The passage declaring the fulfillment of this Vow in the Larger Sutra states:
The bodhisattvas of that land all fulfill the attainment of Buddhahood after one lifetime, except those who, for the sake of sentient beings, have established their own original vows and, thus adorning themselves with the virtues of universal vows, seek to bring all to emancipation.
With these sacred words we know clearly that this is the working of the universal Vow of great love and great compassion; it is the vast and inconceivable benefit. Through it one enters the thick forests of blind passion to guide beings, compassionately leading them in accord with the virtue of Samantabhadra.
Hence, whether with regard to the aspect for going forth to the Pure Land or to the aspect for return to this world, there is nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through the Tathagata’s directing of virtue to beings out of the pure Vow-mind. Reflect on this.
This being so, when conditions were mature for the teaching of birth in the Pure Land, Devadatta provoked Ajatasatru to commit grave crimes, and out of pity for beings of this defiled world, Sakyamuni led Vaidehi to select the land of peace. As we turn this over in our minds and quietly reflect, we realize that Devadatta and Ajatasatru bestowed their generous care on us, and that Amida and Sakyamuni thus manifested their profound intention to save all beings.
Accordingly Vasubandhu, the author of the Treatise on the Pure Land, proclaims pure shinjin, vast and unhindered, and universally awakens the multitudes of this passion-defiled world of suffering. Master T’an-luan clarifies Amida’s directing of virtue, which is the working great compassion for our going forth to the Pure Land and our return to this world; and he thoroughly expounds for all, with care and concern, the profound significance of Other’s benefiting and benefiting others. The teaching and saving activity of the Buddha and the incarnated ones was solely to bring benefits universally to all foolish beings; the vast, great mind and practice arise solely out of the desire to guide evil people who have committed grave offenses and those who wholly lack the seed of Buddhahood.
My fervent wish is this: Whether monk or layperson, when on board the ship of the great compassionate Vow, let pure shinjin be the favorable wind, and in the dark night of ignorance, let the jewel of virtue be a great torch. Those whose minds are dark and whose understanding deficient, endeavor in this way with reverence! Those whose evils are heavy and whose karmic obstructions manifold, deeply revere this shinjin! Ah, hard to encounter, even in many lifetimes, is the decisive cause of birth, Amida’s universal Vow; and hard to realize, even in myriads of kalpas, is pure shinjin that is true and real. If you should come to realize shinjin, rejoice at the conditions from the distant past that have brought it about. But if in this lifetime still you are entangled in a net of doubt, then unavoidably you must pass once more in the stream of birth-and-death through myriads of kalpas and countless lives. Hear and reflect on the truth that one is grasped, never to be abandoned – the teaching of attaining birth in the Pure Land with transcendent quickness and ease; and let there be no wavering or apprehension.
How joyous I am, realizing as I humbly reflect that my heart and mind stand rooted in the Buddha-ground of the universal Vow, and that my thoughts and feelings flow within the dharma-ocean, which is beyond comprehension. Filled with praise for what I have heard and joy in what I have attained, I gather words expressing the truth and select passages from the commentaries of the masters. In this, I am mindful solely of the unexcelled honored ones, and in particular seek thus to respond to the immense benevolence they have shown me.
Accordingly, I note in reading Bodhisattva T’an-luan’s commentary the following passage [explaining the words, “O World-honored one”];
The bodhisattva takes refuge in the Buddha, just as filial children obey their parents and loyal retainers follow their rulers, with their behavior not self-centered and their acts always according with reason. Since the bodhisattva is aware of the Buddha’s benevolence and responds in gratitude to his virtue, he naturally addresses the Buddha first.
Having realized the depth and vastness of the Buddha’s benevolence, I compose the following hymn:
[Hymn on the Nembutsu and True Shinjin]
Honored One in the West, who surpasses all thought!
Bodhisattva Dharmakara, in his causal stage,
Made the Primal Vow, incomparable and all-embracing;
He established his supreme Vow of great compassion.
Five kalpas of profound thought passed in his selection; then,
With the perfect fruit of enlightenment, this Vow was fulfilled;
Ten kalpas have passed since its consummation.
The life of Amida is infinite, no measure can be taken;
The compassion deep and far-reaching, like space;
The wisdom replete, a vast ocean.
Pure, wondrous, without bound is Amida’s land,
And possessed of great adornments;
The different virtues all reach fulfillment there –
It excels all Buddha-lands of the ten quarters.
Everywhere the Buddha sends light inconceivable and unhindered,
Breaking the immense night-dark of ignorance.
Wisdom-light in its brilliance wakens wisdom-eyes,
And the Name is heard throughout the ten quarters.
Only Buddhas can fathom the virtue of Amida Tathagata;
Sakyamuni gathers Amida’s dharma-treasure to bestow on the foolish.
Amida Buddha is the sun, illuminating all,
And has already broken through the darkness of our ignorance.
Still the clouds and mists of greed and desire, anger and hatred,
Cover as always the sky of pure shinjin.
But even when the sun, moon, and stars in their constellations
Are veiled by smoke, mist, clouds, or fog,
Beneath mist and cloud there is brightness, not dark.
I realize now that Amida’s beneficent light surpasses even sun and moon.
Necessarily, then: We will reach the dawn of supreme, pure shinjin,
Whereupon the clouds of birth-and-death in the three realms of existence will clear;
Then the pure, unhindered radiance will be luminous,
And the true body of dharma-realm of oneness will become manifest.
When persons awaken shinjin and utter the Name, Amida’s light embraces and protects them,
And in this life they acquire immeasurable virtue.
This light, boundless and inconceivable, never ceases a moment,
Nor does it differentiate by time, or place, or any circumstance.
That the Buddhas protect persons of shinjin is truly beyond doubt:
In all ten quarters alike they joyfully praise them.
The deluded and defiled and those of grave evil all equally attain birth;
Those who slander the dharma or who lack seeds of Buddhahood, when they turn about at heart, all go to the Pure Land.
In the future, the sutras will all disappear;
The Larger Sutra alone is designed to remain a hundred years thereafter.
How can one vacillate in doubt over the great Vow [expounded in this sutra]?
Simply entrust yourself to Sakyamuni’s true words!
The masters of India in the west, who clarified the teaching in treatises,
And the eminent monks of China and Japan
Set forth the true intent of the Great Sage, the World-hero,
And revealed that the Tathagata’s Primal Vow accords with the nature of beings.
Sakyamuni Tathagata, on Mount Lanka,
Prophesied to the multitudes that in south India
Bodhisattva Nagarjuna would appear in this world
To crush the views of being and of non-being;
Proclaiming the unexcelled Mahayana teaching,
He would attain the stage of joy and be born in the land of happiness
Nagarjuna wrote the Commentary on the Ten Bodhisattva Stages,
And particularly sorrowing for those on the steep trails of difficult practice,
Therein reveals for all the great way of easy attainment:
With the mind of reverence, one should keep
And say the Name and quickly attain the stage of non-retrogression.
When shinjin is pure, one immediately sees the Buddha.
Bodhisattva Vasubandhu declares in a treatise that,
Relying on the sutras, he will reveal the true and real virtues.
Casting light on the universal Primal Vow, by which we leap crosswise beyond birth-and-death,
He expounds this Vow that surpasses conception;
He discloses the mind that is single so that we, fettered by blind passions,
Be saved by Amida’s directing of virtue through the power of the Primal Vow.
When persons turn and enter the great treasure-ocean of virtue,
Necessarily they join the Tathagata’s great assemblage,
And when they have reached that lotus-held world,
They immediately realize the body of tranquillity and equality.
Then sporting in the forests of blind passion, they manifest transcendent powers;
Entering the garden of birth-and-death, they assume various forms to guide others.
Turning toward the dwelling of the great teacher T’an-luan, the ruler Hsiao of Liang
Always paid homage to him as a bodhisattva.
Bodhiruci, master of the Tripitaka, gave T’an-luan the Pure Land teaching,
And T’an-luan, burning his scriptures on immortality, took refuge in the land of bliss.
In his commentary on the treatise of Bodhisattva Vasubandhu
He reveals the Tathagata’s Vow at work in our saying of the Name;
Our going and returning, directed to us by Amida, is based on the Primal Vow.
When shinjin unfolds in foolish beings possessed of all blind passions,
They immediately attain insight into the non-origination of all existence
And come to realize that birth-and-death is itself nirvana.
Without fail they reach the land of immeasurable light
And universally guides sentient beings to enlightenment.
Tao-ch’o determined how difficult it is to fulfill the Path of Sages
And reveals that only passage through the Pure Land gate is possible for us.
He criticizes endeavor in the myriad good practices,
And encourages us solely to say the fulfilled Name embodying true virtue.
With kind concern he teaches the three characteristics of entrusting and non-entrusting,
Compassionately guiding all identically, whether they live when the dharma survives as but form, when in its last stage, or when it has become extinct.
Though persons have committed evil all their lives, when they encounter the Primal Vow,
They will reach the world of peace and realize the perfect fruit of enlightenment.
Shan-tao alone in his time clarified the Buddha’s true intent,
And deeply drawing on the Primal Vow, he established the true teaching.
Sorrowing at the plight of meditative and non-meditative practicers, and people of grave evil,
He reveals that Amida’s light and Name are the cause of birth.
When one enters this gate leading to nirvana and encounters true mind,
Without fail one acquires the insights of confidence, joy, and awakening;
And attaining the birth that surpasses comprehension,
One immediately realizes the eternal bliss of suchness.
Genshin, having broadly elucidated the teachings of Sakyamuni’s lifetime,
Wholeheartedly took refuge in the land of peace and urges all to do so;
In accord with the sutras and treatises, he chooses the teaching and practice of birth in the Pure Land:
Truly they are eye and limb for us of this defiled world.
Ascertaining the virtue of the single practice and the inadequacy of diversified practice,
He leads us to turn and enter the nembutsu-gate, which is true and real.
Solely by distinguishing profound and shallow minds of devotion,
He sets forth truly the difference between the fulfilled land and the transformed land.
Genku, clearly understanding the sacred scriptures,
Turned compassionately to foolish people, both good and evil;
Establishing in this isolated land the teaching and realization that are the true essence of the Pure Land way,
He transmits ‘the selected Primal Vow” to us of the defiled world:
Return to this house of transmigration, of birth-and-death,
Is decidedly caused by doubt.
Swift entrance into the city of tranquillity, the non-created,
Is necessarily brought about by shinjin.
Through their treatises and commentaries, these masters, all with the same mind,
Save the countless beings of utter defilement and evil.
All people of the present, both monk and lay,
Should rely wholly on the teachings of these venerable masters.
Here ends the hymn, 120 lines in sixty verses.