Passages on the Pure Land Way
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
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
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
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
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.
[DIRECTING VIRTUE FOR OUR
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
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
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
Accordingly, I note in reading Bodhisattva T'an-luan's commentary
the following passage [explaining the words, "O World-honored
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: