Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": SHINRAN

'THE NEMBUTSU ALONE IS TRUE'


('Tannisho,' selections)

Shinran (1173-1262), who claimed to be Honen's true disciple, is regarded as the founder of the most important of all 'Pure Land' sects. Shinran's utter reliance on the power of Amida is emphasized by his reinterpretation of the Nembutsu. A single, sincere invocation is enough, said Shinran, and any additional recitation of the Name should merely be an expression of thanksgiving to Amida.

The collection of Shinran's sayings is said to have been made by his disciple Yuiembo, who was concerned over heresies and schisms developing among Shinran's followers and wished to compile a definitive statement of his master's beliefs.


Your aim in coming here, travelling at the risk of your lives through more than ten provinces, was simply to learn the way of rebirth in the Pure Land. Yet you would be mistaken if you thought I knew of some way to obtain rebirth other than by saying the Nembutsu, or if you thought I had some special knowledge of religious texts not open to others. Should this be your belief, it is better for you to go to Nara or Mt. Hiei, for there you will find many scholars learned in Buddhism and from them you can get detailed instruction in the essential means of obtaining rebirth in the Pure Land. As far as I, Shinran, am concerned, it is only because the worthy Honen taught me so that I believe salvation comes from Amida by saying the Nembutsu. Whether the Nembutsu brings rebirth in the Pure Land or leads one to Hell, I myself have no way of knowing. But even if I had been misled by Honen and went to Hell for saying the Nembutsu, I would have no regrets. If I were capable of attaining Buddhahood on my own through the practice of some other discipline, and yet went down to Hell for saying the Nembutsu, then I might regret having been misled. But since I am incapable of practicing such disciplines, there can be no doubt that I would be doomed to Hell anyway.

If the Original Vow of Amida is true, the teaching of Shakyamuni cannot be false. If the teaching of the Buddha is true, Zendo's commentary on the Meditation Sutra cannot be wrong. And if Zendo is right, what Honen says cannot be wrong. So if Honen is right, what 1, Shinran, have to say may not be empty talk.

Such, in short, is my humble faith. Beyond this I can only say that, whether you are to accept this faith in the Nembutsu or reject it, the choice is for each of you to make. . . .


'If even a good man can be. reborn in the Pure Land, how much more so a wicked man.'

People generally think, however, that if even a wicked man can be reborn in the Pure Land, how much more so a good man! This latter view may at first sight seem reasonable, but it is not in accord with the purpose of the Original Vow, with faith in the Power of Another. The reason for this is that he who, relying on his own power, undertakes to perform meritorious deeds, has no intention of relying on the Power of Another and is not the object of the Original Vow of Amida. Should he, however, abandon his reliance on his own power and put his trust in the Power of Another, he can be born in the True Land of Recompense. We who are caught in the net of our own passions cannot free ourselves from bondage to birth and death, no matter what kind of austerities or good deeds we try to perform. Seeing this and pitying our condition, Amida made his Vow with the intention of bringing wicked men to Buddhahood. Therefore the wicked man who depends on the Power of Another is the prime object of salvation. This is the reason why Shinran said, 'If even a good man can be reborn in the Pure Land, how much more so a wicked man!' . . .

It is regrettable that among the followers of the Nembutsu there are some who quarrel, saying 'These are my disciples, those are not.' There is no one whom I, Shinran, can call my own disciple. The reason is that, if a man by his own efforts persuaded others to say the Nembutsu, he might call them his disciples, but it is most presumptuous to call those 'my disciples' who say the Nembutsu because they have been moved by the grace of Amida. If it is his karma to follow a teacher, a man will follow him; if it is his karma to forsake a teacher, a man will forsake him. It is quite wrong to say that the man who leaves one teacher to join another will not be saved by saying the Nembutsu. To claim as one's own and attempt to take back that faith which is truly the gift of Amida-such a view is wholly mistaken. In the normal course of things a person will spontaneously recognize both what he owes to the grace of Amida and what he owes to his teacher [without the teacher having to assert any claims]. . . .

The Master was wont to say, 'When I ponder over the Vow which Amida made after meditating for five kalpas, it seems as if the Vow were made for my salvation alone. How grateful I am to Amida, who thought to provide for the salvation of one so helplessly lost in sin!' When I now reflect upon this saying of the Master, I find that it is fully in accordance with the golden words of Zendo. 'We must realize that each of us is an ordinary mortal, immersed in sin and crime, subject to birth and death, ceaselessly migrating from all eternity and ever sinking deeper into Hell, without any means of delivering ourselves from it.'

It was on this account that Shinran most graciously used himself as an example, in order to make us realize how lost every single one of us is and how we fail to appreciate our personal indebtedness to the grace of Amida. In truth, none of us mentions the great love of Amida, but we continually talk about what is good and what is bad. Shinran said, however, 'Of good and evil I am totally ignorant. If I understood good as Buddha understands it, then I could say I knew what was good. If I understood evil as Buddha understands it, then I could say I knew what was bad. But I am an ordinary mortal, full of passion and desire, living in this transient world like the dweller in a house on fire. Every judgment of mine, whatever I say, is nonsense and gibberish. The Nembutsu alone is true.'


Translation in Wm. Theodore de Bary (ed.), Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 216-18. Introductory note based on De Bary

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