Unlocking Tannisho, Part 15


Some people say that those who do not read and study the sutras and commentaries cannot be ascertained of birth in the Pure Land. This view is hardly worthy of serious consideration.

All the sutras which reveal the essentials of the truth of Other Power simply state: By saying the nembutsu, entrusting oneself to the Primal Vow, one attains buddhahood. What further knowledge is required for birth in the Pure Land? Truly, those who are still confused about this should by all means study hard to realize the purpose of the Primal Vow. If the true meaning of the sacred texts is not clearly understood, even though one reads and studies, it is to be pitied.

Since the Name is devised to be easily said by the unlettered who cannot even grasp the basic meaning of the sutras and commentaries, such utterance is called easy practice. Learning is required in the Path of Sages; therefore, it is called difficult practice. Some people mistakenly pursue knowledge for the sake of fame and profit – their birth in the next life is doubtful, so states an attesting passage.

Today, the people of single-hearted nembutsu and those of the Path of Sages engage in argument, claiming that one school is superior and the other inferior. Thus, enemies of dharma appear and slandering of dharma becomes rampant. But does this not slander and destroy one’s own teaching?

Even if all the other schools together proclaim, “The nembutsu is for foolish beings; its teaching is shallow and vulgar,” you should not object. And instead simply reply, “We are taught that foolish beings of inferior capacity like ourselves, unlettered and ignorant, will be saved by entrusting ourselves to Amida. As we accept this and entrust ourselves, it is the supreme dharma for us, regardless of how vulgar it may seem to people of superior capacity. No matter how superb other teachings may be, if they are beyond our grasp and mastery, we cannot uphold them. Since it is the basic intention of the Buddhas that we shall all together go beyond birth-and-death, you should not hinder us.” In this way, if we have no rancor, who would want to hurt us? An attesting passage also states, “Where there are arguments, various kinds of blind passion are awakened; the wise should avoid them.”

The late master also said, “The Buddha predicted that there will be people who shall entrust themselves to this dharma, as well as those who shall slander it. I have already been made to entrust myself to the dharma, while there are those who slander it – by this we know that the Buddha’s words are true. In fact, we should realize that our birth is even more firmly settled. If, contrary to this, no one denounced the nembutsu, we might wonder why even though there are believers, there are no slanderers. But this, of course, does not mean that the teaching should become the object of slander. The Buddha taught this because he knew that both believers and slanderers would exist. It was to dispel any doubts that might arise among us.

Is the only purpose of knowledge to defend against criticism and to engage in arguments and debates? If a person studies properly, he or she will come to see more clearly the intention of the Buddha and realize the boundlessness of true compassion. Such a student will teach those who are unsure of birth in the Pure Land because of their defiled nature that the Primal vow does not discriminate between the good and evil, the pure and impure. Only then will knowledge be meaningful.

People who insist that knowledge is essential for the religious life frighten those who live the nembutsu according to the Primal Vow. Such pedagogues are demons who obstruct the dharma, and they are despised enemies of the Buddha. They not only lack the true entrusting to Other Power but wrongly mislead other people. They should stand in fear lest they go against the teaching of our late master. And they should be filled with remorse for going against the Primal Vow.


This chapter of Tannisho examines a very crucial point: the connection between the doctrine of Buddhism and the Nembutsu. The doctrine of Buddhism being the sutras of the Pure Land, commentaries by previous masters of Buddhism, and the Nembutsu being the Name of Amida Buddha, or Namu Amida Butsu.

“Some people say that those who do not read and study the sutras and commentaries cannot be ascertained of birth in the Pure Land.” Of course, those who believe that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

The way to go to the pure land is by the Nembutsu. We have examined this in previous passages about Tannisho and Buddhism in general. To achieve the mind of true faith, ever trusting means to achieve the 51st level of enlightenment otherwise known as the stage of non-retrogression. Once that is achieved, then the Nembutsu is said out of gratitude towards Amida Buddha for having saved us from the wheel of suffering. But even if you take all that out of the picture, what you are left with is the source of the 18th vow, otherwise known as the primal vow. In it, Dharmakara made a vow that if ‘foolish beings’ are able to recite his name in true faith, they shall be born in his pure land, or else he will not realize Buddhahood. So the primary condition for going to the pure land is the Nembutsu, and being able to recite it in true faith. But actually, what really matters is the mind behind the recitation; this is the key to everything.

“Learning is required in the Path of Sages; therefore, it is called difficult practice.” The two types of paths, the path of the sages and the path of the pure land are different in that the path of the sages is a more strict path requiring intensive study and religious devotion. The path of the pure land is the “easy path” in which one concentrates on achieving enlightenment through Amida Buddha. Even if you do study the texts, sutras and commentaries, it is very easy to misunderstand them, and so the true value is therefore lost. Likewise, there are those who “mistakenly pursue knowledge for the sake of fame and profit”, as indicated by the passage. Dharmakara predicted there would be people like this though, when he did his 5 kalpas of contemplation. He predicted that there would be those who would slander the dharma and those who entrust themselves to it.

In the end, what really matters is the primal vow, and considering that, the Nembutsu is of utmost importance. The main point of Buddhism is to reflect within oneself to see down to the core. And, at the core, everyone is evil and defiled in nature. It is only through the Nembutsu, through the vow, that we can achieve salvation and stop these delusions we have been struggling with ourselves on since eons past. By that logic, the primal vow of Amida does not distinguish between ‘good’ or ‘evil’. Those are simply relative terms with the same meaning. All beings are able to be saved by the primal vow should they attain true faith. This is also called receiving other power faith from Amida Buddha.


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