Unlocking Tannisho, Part 4


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.


“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.”

In reading the Tannisho, I have mentioned before that there are indeed many traps and the ability to go past these traps will determine whether or not you are successful in not only your understanding about Buddhism, but your grounding as well. This part is indeed one of those traps. Let us take this piece by piece.

First of all, “no other form of good is necessary, for there is no good which surpasses the Nembutsu”. A lot of scholars (surprisingly) mistakenly interpret this to mean that Shinran Shonin was somehow suggesting that one should stop doing good deeds upon receiving other power faith. Nothing could be further from the truth! And furthermore, this was probably one of the reasons that Shinran was exiled.

People back then thought that if you believed in Shinran’s teaching, you were essentially a depraved sinner and criminal. Many thought that those who followed Shinran believed that they would be saved by the vow of Amida Buddha anyway (since it is stated that the primal vow does not discriminate between good and evil), so they considered it free enterprise to commit wicked acts and deeds. Again, it is ridiculous to assume that Shinran taught such kinds of things even in this day and age!

The best way I can think of putting this is comparing it to weight loss drugs in the United States, and this also goes for surgeries too associated with them. Obesity is a big epidemic, with many people seeking fast “cures”. In this industry, there are many solutions, but just because there are solutions it doesn’t mean that you can expect to eat yourself into a hole and take the miracle drug to pull yourself out!

What Shinran Shonin really meant was that, the Nembutsu is the act which leads one to be born in the pure land ultimately. Upon being granted other power faith, there are no other good deeds which you have to perform in order to be born in the pure land and be granted salvation. So in other words, you have already accomplished the purpose of life and achieved Amida Buddha’s Vow; there is nothing more to do in terms of achieving enlightenment of the 51st level, otherwise called the stage of non-retrogression. You can’t somehow be de-enlightened to a lower level if you reach this stage!

So, i repeat, this doesn’t mean to stop doing good deeds, but rather, there is nothing more to do for your own salvation. However, if you do indeed achieve this stage of enlightenment, you cannot help but perform good deeds, that much i can say.

“Evil need not be feared, for there is no evil which can obstruct amida’s primal vow”

Again, many scholars of the past mistakenly interpreted this to mean that all one has to do is say the Nembutsu (or, Namu Amida Butsu) and be saved from evil. This cannot be more further from the truth, and those who do think so ignore (and perhaps do not understand) both the law of cause and effect, and Buddhism in general. In real Buddhism, there are no superstitions, so saying the Nembutsu out of self power faith does nothing to protect you from evil (except mabe make you feel good), but is nevertheless a good daily practice otherwise according to previous masters of Buddhism such as Nagarjuna and Shan-tao.

What Shinran Shonin means here is that once one is saved by the Vow of Amida Buddha and granted other power faith, then there is no need to fear evil because evil is transformed into good by way of one of the benefits received upon being granted other power faith. If you remember a couple of posts ago, we discussed the ten benefits granted upon receiving other power faith, and one of them is the benefit of having evil transformed into goodness. I also mentioned in the last post that in Buddhism, we are not considered pure in the least, we are at first evil, and then turn good once the Vow of Amida Buddha is realized.

To fear evil would be… to fear oneself because at the very core, human beings are evil, and when Dharmakara spent 5 kalpas watching and observing the nature of beings, he came to the very same conclusion. We are all filled with nothing but blind passions and only seek salvation in temporary goals and beliefs. The only thing that remains true in this universe is the Vow of Amida Buddha, and to achieve salvation through it would be the culmination of many lifetimes of suffering.

So that concludes the explanation of chapter 1. It is indeed a long explanation, but it is pretty short compared to the amount of virtue and weight it carries. Entire books have been written about contemplating chapter 1!

Next time, we will visit chapter 2 and discuss what that is about.


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