Shoshinge, Part 3

In continuing on with our discussion on the Shoshinge, today we are going to talk about the next few lines. Now, I mentioned in my other post about self power vs other power about something called the Primal Vow or, as it is mainly called, the Vow of Amida Buddha. I wanted to hold off explaining that in detail because it also ties in the with the next few lines of the Shoshinge which we are studying, and so this is a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

Lets take a look at the next few lines:

17. 本(ほん) 願(がん) 名(みょう) 號(ごう) 正(しょう) 定(じょう) 業(ごーう)

The Name promised in the Primal Vow is the Act of Right Assurance;

18. 至(しー) 心(しん) 信(しん) 樂(ぎょう) 願(がん) 爲(にー) 因(いーん)

The Vow of Sincere Mind and Joyful Faith provides the cause of our Birth;

19. 成(じょう) 等(とう) 覺(がく) 證(しょう) 大(だい) 涅(ねー) 槃(はーん)

To attain the state next to the Buddha and realize Great Nirvana

20. 必(ひーつ) 至(しー) 滅(めつ) 度(どー) 願(がん) 成(じょう) 就(じゅー)

Is due to the fulfillment of the Vow which assures our unfailing attainment of Nirvana.


So basically, in these 4 lines, Shinran Shonin is talking about the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, which we mentioned above. He mentions also that if we are able to achieve this vow, then we enter into the stage next to Buddha. I have mentioned this before as being the 51st stage of enlightenment (there are 52) or otherwise called the state of non-retrogression. Furthermore, if we do fulfill the vow, we subsequently are able to obtain, unfailingly, Nirvana which is equivalent to attaining the same level of enlightenment as Amida Buddha, or the 52nd stage of enlightenment.

What is this vow? What does it mean? How do we fulfill it?

These are all very valid questions in terms of Buddhist doctrine, and the subject of much debate. Actually, there are 48 vows which Dharmakara initially made and fulfilled to enter into Buddhahood and become Amida Buddha. Of these 48 vows, there are only 3 that are of main importance. These important vows are the 18th, 19th and 20th vows. These 3 vows, are what is called the gate of the three vows, or three vows turning in. This is an extremely advanced and important topic in Buddhism that not very many people tend to talk about. Lets examine the three vows first in their English translation, and then I will discuss what the three vows turning in means.

First of all, here is the primal vow, or the 18th:

(18 ) If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment. Excluded, however, are those who commit the five gravest offenses and abuse the right Dharma.

Now, here is the 19th:

(19) If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters, who awaken aspiration for Enlightenment, do various meritorious deeds and sincerely desire to be born in my land, should not, at their death, see me appear before them surrounded by a multitude of sages, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.

Finally, the 20th:

(20) If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who, having heard my Name, concentrate their thoughts on my land, plant roots of virtue, and sincerely transfer their merits towards my land with a desire to be born there, should not eventually fulfill their aspiration, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.

Now that you see the three essential vows of Buddhism, it is time to talk about them a little bit more in detail. First of all, on the path to enlightenment there are 3 gates (hence the three vows). To start, people generally go through the 19th vow. This is called the Essential Gate. What the vow means is that people must concentrate on doing various acts of kindness for the sole purpose of being born in the pure land of Amida Buddha. For example, you become kind, do lots of things to help out your friends and neighbors, always give a smile, and so on. Pretty much just being nice and kind and performing lots of honest and good deeds. However, soon after you embark on this new found path of kindness and goodness, you begin to realize that you are not perfect, and can never perform deeds 100% in kindness. You may be thinking, for example, that it is troublesome to help someone while you are taking a nap, yet you must get up and help someone or else you will not achieve enlightenment and be born in the pure land. These thought processes kick in, and soon enough you realize that for every real good deed you perform, you also perform 3 or 4 bad deeds. Of course, by this logic thoughts count and so does intention (seeing as how the mind is the most important in Buddhism). At this point, you realize that you will never be able to fulfill this vow, no matter how hard you try to perform good deeds, you always perform bad ones.

That is where the 20th Vow comes into play. Ok, so you struck out on performing good deeds, no problem, you still have the 20th Vow which basically says that in order to be born in the pure land, you must recite the name of Amida Buddha, or in other words, Namu Amida Butsu endlessly. This is actually a big thing, and I have seen many cults and radical religious establishments concentrate wholeheartedly for entire days, weeks, months or even years on performing this practice. They wake up in the morning and go to the temple or establishment, and then move around in a tight circle chanting “Namu Amida Butsu” thousands, if not, tens of thousands of times in a single day and don’t quit until sleeping time. This vow is called the True Gate in Buddhism. It should be noted that this vow also concentrates on self power means in order to achieve enlightenment (which, as we know by now, is impossible).

So you joined a radical movement, kept up your chanting and after months (or years) you still haven’t attained true enlightenment. You give up all hope that enlightenment can be achieved by man-made effort and abandon the idea of self power. Well, what happens now? That is where the 18th Vow comes in, and that is why they call this the three vows turning in. Eventually, you arrive at the gate of the 18th vow, and that is called the Gate of the Universal Vow. You essentially cast aside everything self power related and begin to enter into Amida Buddhas Primal Vow, which basically means that if you entrust yourself to Amida Buddha with true heart, singleness of mind, then you shall be born in the pure land. As soon as you enter into this gate, Amida Buddha grants other power faith to you, and you cannot help but call his name in great thanks for having saved you from the endless sea of suffering. From then on, you are granted eternal happiness (whilst still alive, naturally) and upon death will be reborn, unfailingly, into Amida Buddha’s pure land where you will subsequently attain Nirvana and resolve to become a Buddha. If you can arrive at this point, you can honestly say you have accomplished the true purpose of life and will no longer be trapped in the endless cycle of birth and death.

It feels good! Knowing you can finally go through life with peace of mind that you have accomplished the purpose of life. Whatever you do, no matter where you go, you will always be happy. Forget the temporal pleasures of owning a new home, buying a fancy car, staying at the Mandarin Oriental….. the kind of pleasure that you get from having been saved by the Vow of Amida Buddha is unlimited, and will never go away. It will never fade or disappear in an instant. Chasing temporary things such as money, wealth, fame or fortune are as meaningless as running around an Olympic racetrack for no particular reason. At the moment of death, everything disappears, your family, friends, loved ones, relatives, money, wealth and possessions. The only thing that you have is yourself, you and you alone will have to face death eventually, it is a 100% inevitability. The best thing to do is take refuge in the Vow of Amida Buddha and be granted everlasting happiness. In this way, you will be sure to be born in paradise.

So this section of the Shoshinge talks mainly about the power of Amida Buddha’s Vow. There were some other related topics discussed, however, the most important thing to remember are the three vows turning in, as well as what happens when you are saved (in this lifetime) by the vow of Amida Buddha. When you are saved, you will be born in the pure land upon death and subsequently attain Nirvana and resolve to achieve Buddhahood.


2 Responses

  1. […] More:  Shoshinge, Part 3 « Notes on Jodo Shinshu Pure Land Buddhism […]

  2. […] View original here:  Shoshinge, Part 3 « Notes on Jodo Shinshu Pure Land Buddhism […]

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