Grasped, Never to be Abandoned

Once we imagine our recitation of the Nembutsu to constitute some necessary, virtuous karmic act that we perform in order to be reborn in Bliss, we stray from the path of sincere trust in the power of the Vow. Any demand for a continual repetition shifts the burden of salvation back on to our own shoulders and we know that in this last Dharma age we are unable to bear it — if we have ever been able to bear it. Indeed, assurance is lost. For though any claim that we must recite always is couched in terms of absolute certainty of rebirth in Sukhavati, certainty becomes anything but absolute. One can never be certain that they have recited sufficiently; or if, at the moment of death they cannot say the Name, be certain that Samsara will not again suck them back into its cycle. The Nembutsu becomes then a chore and the joy that it truly embodies is lost to a nagging fear of ultimate loss. Our broken world is threatened too much with pain of loss, and requires more promises of Bliss, and in the Primal Vow we find this need met. Thus, to rob it of its efficacy is to wrong both the world and Amida, who has declared that all who trust are assured of liberation.

The claim is made, “Oh, but though we insist on an individual effort, the power is all Amida’s.” But, no, it is not; for the condition of our effort is made for the application of Amida’s power, and so, again, the ball is dropped back into our court by such teaching.

I am convinced more of the claim of the Tannisho than of the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow: that ‘when the mind set upon saying the nembutsu arises within you, you are immediately brought to share in the benefit of being grasped by Amida, never to be abandoned.’ The salvific power of the Primal Vow lies not in any effort of ours, but solely in the intent, action and merit of Amida Buddha. He alone is the source of the Nembutsu, which precedes its clothing in syntax, in its arising within the mind gifted with Shinjin faith. It is like the flower which blooms, bringing fragrance and colour to a drab room, but the promise of this blossom was made in the planting of a seed in good faith. The seed of the Nembutsu is Shinjin, but this is not self-cultivated. Amida is the one who plants, and in the planting alone our liberation is assured. And then, drawn out by Amida’s infinite light, the seed bursts into a riot of colour and Dharma fragrance, as the disciple cries out ‘Namu Amida Butsu’ in joyful gratitude.

And when we reach Ultimate Bliss, this cry will only continue, and ever more insistently, for Sukhavati is built of the praises of all beings brought safely to its shores on the vessel of the Primal Vow. Grasped, never to be abandoned. This is the truth of it, and realising this, we give homage to Amida by whose actions alone we are, and can only ever be, Pure Land bound. Namu, Namu, Namu Amida Butsu!

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