The Venerable Master Shinran’s and Master Rennyo’s Explanations of “Reciting (the Name) in Gratitude”
Letter 6 in Fascicle 3 of the Gobunsho, written by Master Rennyo contains the following: “Taking joy in shinjin” (shinjin kangi 信心歡喜) means that we rejoice when our shinjin is determined. This is because we have absolutely no doubts regarding our birth in the Pure Land.”
When we reflect on Amida Tathagata’s painstaking endeavors for five kalpas, and when we think of the graciousness and wonder of his saving us so readily, it is hard to express our feelings.
Further, in the Shoshin-gé, there is (the following passage): Always reciting Tathagata’s Name,
We should express our gratitude
For the Great Compassionate Vow.
Hence (we realize) all the more that–walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, irrespective of time, place, or other circumstances–we should simply recite the Name of the Buddha in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence.
Again, in Letter 8 of Fascicle 3, Master Rennyo wrote:
In other words, know that this refers to “doers of the Nembutsu” who have received the shinjin of “Buddha-centered power” through the single-thought of taking refuge (in the Primal Vow) in their ordinary life. Accordingly, they should “recite the Name of the Buddha” (say Namo Amida Butsu) whether walking, standing, sitting or lying, in acknowledging their in-debtedness to Amida Tathagata’s deep and boundless benevolence.
(The Venerable Master Shinran) expressed the above in the following way:
“We enter the “rightly-established group”
The moment faith
In Amida Primal Vow is awakened
(How can we not) express our gratitude
For that Vow of Great Compassion
The Tathagata’s name?
These are the ways in which Master Rennyo expressed the thought of “reciting (the Name) in gratitude.” But as can be determined from these quotations, he does so by quoting the Venerable Master’s Shoshin-gé. From this we see that Master Rennyo is not asserting something that is not found in the Venerable Master’s writings, but rather, is what he inherited from the Venerable Master. Further, and this is the important point, both the Venerable Master and Master Rennyo refer to the Nembutsu that is recited after receiving shinjin and entering the “rightly-established group (of those assured of birth in the Pure Land)” (shojoju正定聚) as the Nembutsu of “repayment for our indebtedness.”
Essentially, both the Venerable Master and Master Rennyo who inherited his teaching, wished us to enter the “rightly-established group” in our present life, which is the world of true salvation, and is the Venerable Master’s unique insight. They both urge that the most important point is receiving shinjin and reciting the Nembutsu in gratitude from then on.
The Passage in the Chapter on Shinjin of the Kyogyoshinsho: “The Great Practice is Reciting the Name of the Tathagata of Unhindered Light”
Let me now comment on the first of the items in the section, “Criticism of ‘Shinjin is the True Cause’ and ‘Reciting (the Name) in Gratitude.’”
A critic of the “reciting (the Name) in gratitude” position uses the opening passage of the Chapter on Practice of the Kyogyoshinsho to justify his position that the Nembutsu is the “great practice,” and that even a Nembutsu recited without shinjin has the power to awaken shinjin.
Clearly, the opening passage of the Chapter on Practice, “The ‘great practice’ is reciting the name of the Tathagata of Unhindered Light,” does not say anything about having or not having shinjin. This does not mean, however, that the Venerable Master said that the Nembutsu recited without shinjin is the “great practice.” The fact that he wrote, “recite the Name of the Tathagata of Unhindered Light,” rather than “recite Namo Amida Butsu,” clearly indicates that he is following the commentary given in the second volume of Donran Daishi’s Ojo Ronchu 往生論註 (Commentary on Birth in the Pure Land) where Donran Daishi refers to “recitation of the Name” with the shinjin that is endowed with dharma and reality.
Further, in the Chapter on Practice, the Venerable Master quotes Master Honen as follows: Know clearly that (reciting the Nembutsu) is not a practice that anyone, whether ordinary person or sage, must perform to gain merit. That is why it is referred to as the “practice of no ‘merit transference’” (fueko no gyo不回向行).
The practice that is clarified in the Chapter on Practice is not the “self-centered effort” practice that depends on personal striving, but rather, is the practice based on the “merit transference of ‘Buddha-centered power’” that is received from the Buddha and also the “practice of no ‘merit transference.’”
Further, in the explanation of practice in the Jodo Monrui Jusho淨土文類聚鈔 (A Collection of Passages on the Pure Land), it states: “Know that in the words of the sutras and commentaries on them, that (the Nembutsu) is not a ‘practice for “the ignorant filled with base passions” to offer their merit to the Buddha (bombu eko no gyo) 非凡夫回向行. Rather, it is the ‘practice of “merit transference” of Great Compassion (by the Buddha towards sentient beings)’ (daihi eko no gyo) 大悲回向行, and also “no ‘merit transference’” (fu-eko) 大悲回向行 by sentient beings.”
Here too, it states that the “great practice” is not something done with “self-centered effort” that is based on the strength of “ignorant beings filled with base passions,” but rather, is the “‘merit transference’ of from Great Compassion” that is given to us by the Buddha. That is why we are unable to “transfer merit,” and why, for us, it is the “practice of no ‘merit transference.’”
In the Shozomatsu Wasan (39), the Venerable Master states:
Reciting the Name with shinjin
Is the “merit transferred” (to us) by Amida.
That is why it is called
“No ‘merit transference’ (by us),”
And why reciting the Name with “self-centered effort”
Is looked down on.
As is clear from this wasan, from the Chapter on Practice, and from the passage in the Jodo Monrui Jusho, what is referred to as our “practice of no ‘merit transference,’” is really the “practice of ‘merit transference’ through ‘Buddha-centered power.’” That is what the practice of true shinjin is. It is absolutely not recitation of the Name through “self-centered effort.”
As related in the first section of this chapter, “Shinjin,” the “name of the Buddha” (myogo名號) that fulfills the Primal Vow reaches our minds and hearts, becomes shinjin, and is expressed through our mouths in the form of “Namo Amida Butsu.” Accordingly, in order to be the practice based on the “‘merit transference’ of ‘Buddha-centered power’” (tariki eko)他力回向, it must be “Namo Amida Butsu” with shinjin. If it is “Namo Amida Butsu” without shinjin, then it is not the “Namo Amida Butsu” based on “‘merit transference’ of ‘Buddha-centered power.’”
From the above, you should now see that the “great practice” mentioned in the opening passage of the Chapter on Faith, “The “great practice” is reciting the name of the Tathagata of Unhindered Light,” is the Nembutsu with shinjin based on “‘merit transference’ of ‘Buddha-centered power,’” and not a Nembutsu recited without shinjin. It is only because the Name (Namo Amida Butsu) is given to us by Amida Buddha that the Venerable Master could write, “The ‘great practice’ is reciting the name of the Tathagata of Unhindered Light,” and then continue,
This practice embodies all good and contains all virtues. It enables sentient beings to quickly attain the all-complete merits. It is the ocean treasure of the virtues of “true thusness真如,” or “one truth一真.” That is why it is called the “great practice.”
Again, in the Shozomatsu Wasan (97) previously quoted:
And unrepentant I am!
But because the virtue of Amida’s Name
Pervades the ten directions,
It reaches even
My false and insincere heart.
As also expressed here, only because it is the Name (Namo Amida Butsu) that is the result of Amida Buddha’s “merit transference” based on completion of the Primal Vow, can it be said that its virtues pervades the ten directions. It is not reference to a Nembutsu not based on shinjin.
Accordingly, it is clear that using the opening passage of the Chapter on Practice as the basis for stating that even a Nembutsu without shinjin is the “great practice,” and asserting that it has the power to bring about shinjin—the view that denies “reciting (the Name) in gratitude (for our indebtedness)” (shomyo ho-on稱名報恩)—must be considered incorrect.