Unlocking Tannisho, Part 13

Here comes the final part of part 1 of the Tannisho. I mentioned that the Tannisho is divided into 2 parts at the beginning of this journey. Part 1 are the words of Shinran as recorded by Yui-en, one of the disciples of Shinran Shonin, and Part 2 is about the heresies and the corrected teachings/ controversies of Shinran’s teachings at that time.


The Master Shinran said, “In the nembutsu no selfworking is true-working; it is beyond description, explanation, and conception.”


The Nembutsu (or, Namu Amida Butsu) is a wonder of working in and of itself. In my experience studying Buddhism, there are three types of people you will encounter:

  1. Those who believe that the Nembutsu is one good deed among many
  2. Those who believe that the Nembutsu is the greatest good above all
  3. Those who believe that the Nembutsu is an expression of gratitude to Amida Buddha, having attained true faith.

Before Shinran’s time, no one really thought of classifying the Nembutsu, or distinguishing the manner in which it was said. Sure, it was thought about many times and brought up, but overall, masters just naturally assumed that everyone knew the classifications of the different types of mind you can recite the Nembutsu under. Shinran Shonin was the first to classify the different types of Nembutsu and present it in the doctrine.

What it means is that there are 3 reasons under which you can say the Nembutsu, which correspond to the two different minds you can recite them with: self power and other power. The first two types of Nembutsu are under motivation of self power. Those who believe that the Nembutsu is one good deed among many, for example, might say the Nembutsu when someone dies or under an auspicious pretense. Also, they might recite the Nembutsu when experiencing fear or hard times, or to mourn for the death of another. If you have ever gone to Japan, and talked to average individuals about Buddhism, they might say that the Nembutsu is not something good you can say because it is associated with hard times, financial distress or the passing of a loved one (death). At least, this has been my experience thus far. I remember one time I did in fact ask someone this question, and they promptly told me that the Nembutsu is not a good word to say in Japan, and that I should refrain from using it except in circumstances of death or suffering. This did not make the least bit of sense to me, however, it shows of the ignorance about Buddhism and about Amida Buddha that exists in today’s world.

Actually, there are many misunderstandings and ignorance that exist around the world in terms of Buddhism, but that was just one example. Another example that I can think of comes when you look on the average Japanese calendar. You might see dates marked “Dai-an” or “Butsu-Metsu”. These are considered auspicious days in Japanese culture, and so many refrain from doing business on these particular days or doing anything major that involves travel or big transactions. There are many more days like this, though I can’t recall off the top of my head at the moment.

So that is generally the category of the people with the first type of mind. The second type of classification, those who believe the Nembutsu is the greatest good above all, is a second type of people. These people believe that it is not worthwhile to do other good deeds, because the Nembutsu is far and away the greatest good that anyone can perform, and thus recite it endlessly for days and weeks upon end. I talked a little bit about this in a previous post, and mentioned that there are real life cults that do exist in Kyoto (and perhaps other parts of Japan) that practice this in a closed setting. Normally, these cults will form circles around a bell or religious object (representing Amida Buddha) and do a sort of meditational walk and chant of the Nembutsu. The number of times that the bell is rung will represent a cycle of how many times the Nembutsu has been said on that rotation. I have seen this type of practice being shown on TV in Japan, and it does exist today.

This is not to be confused, however, with Nembutsu meditation, or the “easy practice” as previous masters such as Vasubandhu and Shan-tao advocated. They are completely different types of practices. One has to do with reciting the Nembutsu based on true, core mind and the other has to do with empty recitation of the mouth from which only bad deeds can come anyway.

The third type of mind includes those who believe that the Nembutsu is an expression of gratitude to Amida Buddha. This type of Nembutsu is as you would expect, and includes those who have attained other power faith.

Now, it should also be noted that those who experience other power faith usually go through all 3 stages, and these three types of classifications of the Nembutsu actually also correspond with the three vows, the 19th, 20th and 18th vow.


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