Unlocking Tannisho, Part 3

Yesterday we got through the first paragraph of the first chapter of Tannisho. The first chapter is undoubtedly the most important, and so we will be taking a look at this first chapter probably more in detail than the rest of the chapters that follow it. Sure, all the chapters are important, but the first is probably the one of utmost significance.


When the thought of saying the nembutsu erupts from deep within, having entrusted ourselves to the inconceivable power of Amida’s vow which saves us, enabling us to be born in the Pure Land, we receive at that very moment the ultimate benefit of being grasped never to be abandoned.

Amida’s Primal Vow does not discriminate between the young and old, good and evil – true entrusting alone is essential. The reason is that the Vow is directed to the person burdened with the weight of karmic evil and burning with the flames of blind passion.

Thus, in entrusting ourselves to the Primal Vow, no other form of good is necessary, for there is no good that surpasses the nembutsu. And evil need not be feared, for there is no evil which can obstruct the working of Amida’s Primal Vow.


“Amida’s Primal Vow does not discriminate between the young and old, good and evil – true entrusting alone is essential. The reason is that the Vow is directed to the person burdened with the weight of karmic evil and burning with the flames of blind passion.”

This is probably the section that trips most people up when interpreting the Tannisho, and is the very reason why the Tannisho is so controversial. Amida’s Primal Vow, or the 18th vow as it is also known, does not discriminate between young, old, good or evil. The only requirement is true faith. Amida’s vow is directed towards those who are only but filled with blind passions and evil karma.

Ok, so let’s start at the top. We, as humans, generally classify other humans based on our own laws and moral codes and ethics. Unfortunately, these laws and ethics do not apply in Buddhism. If you are talking about the measure of whether someone is good or bad, you generally are talking about what they have done in society, their status, and perhaps if they have given to charitable causes, etc. However, this logic is backwards in itself, and of many religions out there which encourage superstitions and ‘purifying’ oneself through good deeds. The difference between Buddhism and other logic is that other religions, societies and their laws and ethical codes assume that human beings are generally good at the start, before turning evil. However, in Buddhism, it is the opposite. People are evil and then, once having received the vow of Amida Buddha and other power faith, turn good.

Therefore, by that logic, everyone in Buddhism starts out as evil. Evil is a harsh word though, so I prefer to use ‘ignorant’. Then in a split instant, upon receiving the vow of Amida Buddha and realizing other power faith, all evil is transformed into goodness. This is one of the ten benefits we have discussed yesterday.

I will give you an example. I recall in my Buddhist studies that there was a man who was found to be guilty of many war crimes during World War II in Japan. Because of his role in the war, he was sent to prison and to be given the death penalty soon after. Although he has killed many people as one of the top ranked officers of the army, he encountered the Vow of Amida Buddha and was subsequently saved by the Vow of Amida Buddha while in prison and before receiving the death penalty.

How can this be? How can a man that was so evil by our worldly standards receive the benefit of unlimited happiness that never fades away? The answer comes from this section of Tannisho, and is very controversial. Anyone who is ‘good’ or ‘evil’ can be saved by the vow of Amida Buddha, as long as they have true faith. The reason is because everyone, deep down, is evil at the core. You, me, everyone. That is the nature of human beings. Shinran Shonin once said “under the correct circumstances, I, Shinran, would do anything”. The same is true of each and every one of us. We are defiled, and from the beginning-less past up until now, we have never done a single good deed, ever – so says Sakyamuni Buddha.

Even if you are considered ‘good’ by our current world standards – meaning you have a job, mabe donate to charity, help out the homeless, etc. you are still committing bad deeds via the mind and the mouth. The mind always thinks evil, and even though you do not act on what you think, this is still considered evil in Buddhism. Even though you are good, you still participate in killing animals and other smaller creatures by stepping on them, or swatting them when they become annoying, or even by eating them! Mabe you are vegan – well, in that case what about the farming tools used to gather the crops? Do they not kill thousands of tiny creatures? Either way, you are participating in evil and do not realize it. All life is connected, and when you do attain other power faith, this is becomes one of the key realizations.

Also, when Dharmakara originally made his 48 vows, he did so because he had a strong compassion towards defiled beings, and wanted to grant them salvation in his pure land. We talked a little bit about this during our Shoshinge analysis. That is why his vow does not discriminate between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. What is evil? Evil simply is the presence of ignorance; and what then is ‘good’? Good is absence of ignorance and the presence of true faith.

So that is the meaning of the second paragraph. These concepts seem pretty easy at first, but when you really contemplate them, they are very deep concepts and thoughts we should contemplate on in our daily life.

Next time, we will close out this first section and move on to the next chapter in the Tannisho. These are extremely important core Buddhism concepts discussed above, and so I suggest further contemplation internally. It will really take you a long way in your Buddhist studies, as they have for me.


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