Commentaries

Notes on Once-calling and Many Calling (2)

The teaching of many-calling should not be considered false

In the Primal Vow are the words:

Saying my Name perhaps even ten times.

Know from the words ten times that appear from the beginning in the Vow itself that saying the Name is not limited to one utterance. And the word perhaps even makes it clearer still that there is no set number of times one should say the Name. This Vow shows the way that is easy to traverse and easy to practice; it reveals the boundlessness of great love and great compassion.

In the Smaller Sutra Sakyamuni Tathagata teaches, "You should say the Name for one to seven days." This sutra is called "the exposition delivered spontaneously, not in response to a question." The Tathagata preached it without being requested to. That is, Sakyamuni decided to set forth in this sutra his fundamental intent in appearing in the world; this is why it is "the exposition delivered spontaneously, not in response to a question."

The Primal Vow that expresses Amida's selection of the Name, the witness of the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters, the basic intent of all the Buddhas in appearing in the world, and the protection of Tathagatas countless as the sands of the Ganges all indicate the Vow that the Buddhas praise the Name.

The Vow that all the Buddhas say the Name in praise is stated in the Larger Sutra:

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters do not all praise and say my Name, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

This compassionate Vow declares, "If, when I have realized Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters do not all praise and say my Name, then I shall not attain Buddhahood."

Praise means to be praised by all the Buddhas.

~

Single-heartedly practicing the saying of the Name of Amida alone - whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining - without regard to the length of time, and without abandoning it from moment to moment: this is called "the act of true settlement," for it is in accord with the Buddha's Vow.

With single-heartedness solely saying Amida's Name: single-heartedness is the diamondlike shinjin.

Solely saying Amida's Name is wholehearted single practice. "Wholehearted" means not shifting to other good acts, not turning one's thoughts to other Buddhas; "single practice" is solely to practice the Name that embodies the Primal Vow, free of all doubt. "Practice" means to amend and rectify the unsettledness of the heart and say the nembutsu. "Single" means sole, one. "Sole" means having no thought of shifting to other good acts or other Buddhas.

Whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining - without regard to the length of time, and without abandoning it from moment to moment: for time (jisetsu), ji is time in terms of the twelve hours of the day; setsu indicates time as the twelve months and four seasons. That times are not distinguished means that there is no need to avoid impure occasions. Because there is no discrimination among various activities, the word without regard is used.

This is called "the act of true settlement," for it is in accord with the Buddha's Vow: to entrust oneself to the universal Vow is for the karmic cause resulting in birth in the fulfilled land to become settled; it is called the act of true settlement, for it is in accord with the Buddha's Vow.

~

It is those who argue over once-calling and many-calling who are termed people of other teachings and different understandings. Other teachings applies to those who incline toward the Path of Sages or nonbuddhist ways, endeavor in other practices, think on other Buddhas, observe lucky days and auspicious occasions, and depend on fortune-telling and ritual purification. Such people belong to nonbuddhist ways; they rely wholly on self-power.

Different understandings refers to saying the nembutsu but not entrusting oneself to Other Power.

Different means to divide something that is integral into two.

Understanding means to realize, to unravel. It is seeking to understand through self-power while saying the nembutsu. Hence the expression, different understandings.

Further, those who take up auxiliary good acts are people endeavoring in self-power. "Self-power" characterizes those who have full confidence in themselves, trusting in their own hearts and minds, striving with their own powers, and relying on their own various roots of good.

~

When we say the nembutsu, whether, at the upper limit,
Spending our entire lives in utterance, or down to ten
Or three or five times, the Buddha will come to welcome us.
This Amida accomplishes directly with the universal Vow,
Which is replete with compassion.
Foolish beings, when they become mindful of the Vow, are
Immediately brought to the attainment of birth; this is
Made the essential purport.

At the upper limit, spending our entire lives: at the upper limit means top, to advance, to ascend. It means "to the end of one's life."

Spending means "until exhausted."

Lives indicates form; it also means to manifest. Thus, "saying the nembutsu to the very end of life."

Amida Buddha will come to welcome us...when we say the nembutsu but ten or three or five times: this means that it does not depend on the number of times the nembutsu is said.

Accomplishes directly with the universal Vow: directly means true; it refers to the Tathagatas' direct teaching. The "direct teaching" is the fundamental intent of all the Buddhas in appearing in this world.

Accomplish means to do, to use, to be settled, that, this, to encounter. "To encounter" implies form.

Replete means accumulated, momentous, ample. This passage teaches us to realize that Amida's using and settling on the Name that embodies the Vow is replete with the Buddha's compassion.

Moreover, Sakyamuni states in the Larger Sutra:

The reason the Tathagatas appear in the world is their desire to save the multitudes of beings and by blessing them with the true and real benefit.

Tathagatas indicates all the Buddhas.

Appear in the world means, "Buddhas come into the world."

The multitudes of beings indicates all sentient beings.

The true and real benefit is Amida's Vow. Thus, the reason that the Buddhas appear in the world age after age is that they desire to bless and save all sentient beings by teaching the power of Amida's Vow. Since they take this as their fundamental intent, the Vow is called the true and real benefit. Further, it is termed "the direct teaching for which all Buddhas appear in the world."

The eighty-four thousand dharma-gates are all good practices of the provisional means of the Pure Land teaching; they are known as the "essential" or provisional gate. This gate consists of the good practices, meditative and nonmeditative, taught in the Sutra of Contemplation on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life. Meditative good refers to the thirteen contemplations; nonmeditative good refers to the good acts of the three types of meritorious behavior and the nine grades of beings. These all belong to the "essential" gate, which is the provisional means of the Pure Land teaching; it is also called the provisional gate. Encouraging and guiding all sentient beings with various means through this "essential" or provisional gate, the Buddha teaches and encourages them to enter "the great treasure ocean of true and real virtue - the Primal Vow, perfect and unhindered, which is the One Vehicle." Hence, all good acts of self-power are called provisional ways.

"One Vehicle" here refers to the Primal Vow. "Perfect" means that the Primal Vow is full of all merits and roots of good, lacking none, and further, that it is free and unrestricted. "Unhindered" means that it cannot be obstructed or destroyed by blind passion and karmic evil. "True and real virtue" is the Name. 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. True reality-suchness is the supreme great nirvana. Nirvana is dharma-nature. Dharma-nature is Tathagata. With the words, "treasure ocean," the Buddha's nondiscriminating, unobstructed, and nonexclusive guidance of all sentient beings is likened to the all-embracing waters of the great ocean.

From this treasure ocean of oneness form was manifested, taking the name of Bodhisattva Dharmakara, who, through establishing the unhindered Vow as the cause, became Amida Buddha. For this reason Amida is the "Tathagata of fulfilled body." Amida has been called "Buddha of unhindered light filling the ten quarters." This Tathagata is also known as Namu-fukashigiko-butsu (Namu-Buddha of inconceivable light) and is the "dharma-body as compassionate means." "Compassionate means" refers to manifesting form, revealing a name, and making itself known to sentient beings. It refers to Amida Buddha. This Tathagata is light. Light is none other than wisdom; wisdom is the form of light. Wisdom is, in addition, formless; hence this Tathagata is the Buddha of inconceivable light. This Tathagata fills the countless worlds in the ten quarters, and so is called "Buddha of boundless light." Further, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu has given the name, "Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters."

The Treatise on the Pure Land states:

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.

This passage states: "When I behold the power of the Buddha's Primal Vow, I see that there is no one who encounters it and passes by in vain. It effectively brings the treasure ocean of virtues quickly to fullness and perfection."

Contemplating means to bring to mind the power of the Vow. It also means to know.

Encounter means to entrust oneself to the power of the Primal Vow.

No one passes by in vain: no one who has shinjin meaninglessly remains in the world of birth-and-death.

Bring means to cause; it also means good.

Quickly means rapidly, fast.

Virtues signifies none other than the Name.

The great treasure ocean: all roots of good and all virtues being full to the utmost is likened to the ocean.

By these words we know that these virtues quickly and rapidly become perfectly full in the hearts of persons who entrust themselves to them. Thus, though persons of the diamondlike mind neither know nor seek it, the vast treasure of virtues completely fills them; hence it is likened to an ocean of great treasure.

Foolish beings, when they become mindful [of the Vow], are immediately brought to the attainment of birth; this is made the essential purport.

Made the essential purport means to take as central and fundamental. It also means to reach. "To reach" is to attain the true fulfilled land.

Foolish beings: none other than ourselves. Thus, "You should take entrusting to the power of the Primal Vow to be essential."

Become mindful means entrusting ourselves to the Tathagata's Vow without any doubt.

Immediately (soku) means at once. Immediately [attain] birth is to become settled in the stage of the truly settled without any time elapsing, without a day passing. This is expressed, when they become mindful of the Vow, they are immediately brought to the attainment of birth.

Soku also means to ascend, which describes the status of one who will necessarily rise to a certain rank. In secular usage, to rise to the throne of the country is "ascension to rank." The person of the rank of crown prince necessarily rises to the rank of king. Likewise, ascending to the stage of the truly settled is similar to holding the rank of crown prince, with ascension to rank - enthronement in the case of the prince - corresponding to the attainment of supreme great nirvana. Amida has vowed that the person of shinjin, having reached the stage of the truly settled, shall necessarily attain nirvana. This is called the essential purport, meaning that the realization of the enlightenment of nirvana is taken to be fundamental.

Foolish beings: as expressed in the parable of the two rivers of water and fire, we are full of ignorance and blind passion. Our desires are countless, and anger, wrath, jealousy, and envy are overwhelming, arising without pause; to the very last moment of life they do not cease, or disappear, or exhaust themselves. When we, who are so shameful, go a step or two, little by little, along the White Path of the power of the Vow, we are taken in and held by the compassionate heart of the Buddha of unhindered light. It is fundamental that because of this 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. This is expressed, Foolish beings, when they become mindful of the Vow, are immediately brought to the attainment of birth; this is made the essential purport.

In the parable of the two rivers, "going a step or two" signifies the passage of one or two years. The direct teaching for which all Buddhas have appeared in this world - the Tathagata's fundamental intent in his attainment of the way - has been to make central the bringing of sentient beings to think on Amida's Primal Vow so that they immediately attain birth.

~

Now, truly knowing Amida's universal Primal Vow and saying the Name.

This passage speaks of truly knowing the Tathagata's Primal Vow.

Truly refers to the diamondlike mind.

Know means to know that Amida guides sentient beings who are filled with blind passions and karmic evil. Further, know is to behold, which means to call to mind and think on. Know thus means to call to mind and realize.

And saying the Name: and means extending to, including.

Saying (sho) means to utter the Name. Sho also means to weigh, to determine the measure of something. This means that when a person says the Name even ten times or but once, hearing it and being without even the slightest doubt, he or she will be born in the true fulfilled land.

Further, the Smaller Sutra teaches that one should say the Name for seven days or a single day.

These passages are scriptural evidence for the teaching of many-calling. I have not explained them as fully as I would like, but you should see from these notes that the dispute over once-calling and many-calling is pointless. The tradition of the true Pure Land teaching speaks of birth through the nembutsu. Never has there been mention of "birth through once-calling" or "birth through many-calling." Please understand this.

Namu-amida-butsu

That people of the countryside, who do not know the meanings of characters and who are painfully and hopelessly ignorant, may easily understand, I have repeatedly written the same things again and again. The educated reader will probably find this writing peculiar and may ridicule it. But paying no heed to such criticism, I write only that foolish people may easily grasp the essential meaning.

Kogen 2 [1257], Second month, 17th day

Gutoku Shinran
Written at age 85

 


© 1997 copyright Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha