If I was asked to give a succinct summary of Shinran’s teaching, I would quote the fifteenth verse of the Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu. This is the second verse on the first Pure Land Master, Nagarjuna Bodhisattva, who lived from the middle of the second century to the early third century of the Common Era.
This is the verse in question:
‘[Nagarjuna] teaches that the moment one thinks on Amida’s Primal Vow,
One is naturally brought to enter the stage of the definitely settled;
Solely saying the Tathagata’s Name constantly,
One should respond with gratitude to the universal Vow of great compassion.’ (CWS, p. 71.)
This, indeed, is Shinran’s rendering of Nagajuna’s original verse in The Commentary on the Ten Bodhisattva Stages (CWS, p. 18.). In his own rendering of this verse in the Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu, Shinran elucidates its actual meaning in the light of his own research and lived experience.
‘The moment one thinks on the Primal Vow.‘
For Shinran, the statement ‘the moment one thinks on Amida’s Primal Vow’ means shinjin or entrusting heart, which is the moment that we enter the ‘stage of the definitely settled’, when we are ‘embraced and not forsaken’ by Amida Buddha’s compassion.
It is also ‘hearing the Name’. Shinjin and hearing the Name are both key themes in the second and third parts of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho.
This short statement alludes to the working of the Vow through the Name, Namo Amida Butsu, and the light of Amida Buddha, to awaken shinjin.
‘Solely saying the Tathagata’s Name constantly.’
In the third section of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, Shinran further develops the meaning of ‘shinjin’ by exploring the threefold mind of the eighteenth Vow in the Larger Sutra. He then returns to the Name but this time not as the active agent in the awakening of shinjin but as the manifestation of settled shinjin – the act of praise that it draws forth.
So to re-phrase the verse I quoted at the beginning of this post:
The person who has ‘heard the Primal Vow’ (the Name) and entrusts himself to it, ‘enters the stage of the definitely settled’, is assured of salvation, and from then on says the Name in joyful thanksgiving.
This, the second verse on Nagarjuna from the Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu, is, in fact, a succinct statement about the second section, and the first part of third section of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho. In these sections, Shinran demonstrates how Other Power works to reach out to and awaken shinjin in us through the working of the light and Name, Namo Amida Butsu.
This active ‘calling’ to us attracts our attention and causes our minds to turn to Amida Buddha – to think of him. As Professor Hisao Inagaki has written:
‘One who trusts in Amida thinks of him, and he who thinks of him says his Name.’