‘Other Power is none other than the power of the Tathagata’s Primal Vow.’ So said Shinran Shonin in the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho (CWS, p. 57)
‘Power’ (riki) in the phrase ‘Other Power’ can be misleading if ‘power’ is associated with force. In the case of Amida Buddha’s Vows, the power is the power of attraction; the power of persuasion.
To reach into our hearts and make Amida’s compassion known and felt, the main vehicles which work upon us are the ‘light and Name’.
As far as I know, it was the fifth master of Shin Buddhism, the Chinese teacher Shan-tao (613-681), who brought this fact to light from the preceding tradition of the nembutsu way that we follow:
‘Amida takes in and saves all beings throughout the ten quarters with light and Name; Amida brings sentient beings to realize shinjin and aspire for birth.’ (CWS, p. 54)
‘The power of the Tathagata’s Primal Vow’ encompasses all of Amida Buddha’s forty-eight Vows, as they are recounted in the Larger Sutra. However, the main focus in this case are the twelfth, seventeenth, and eighteenth Vows – especially the eighteenth.
The relevant common titles for these Vows are:-
- 12th Vow: ‘The Vow of Immeasurable Light';
- 17th Vow: ‘The Vow that all Buddhas praise the Name';
- 18th Vow: ‘The Vow of birth through the nembutsu’, and ‘the Vow of the sincere and entrusting heart’.
Shinran has a general formula as a recapitulation that he uses to conclude his explanations of aspects of the working of the Vow. For example, it appears at the conclusion of the first half of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, which covers the Aspect of Going Forth (i.e., birth in the Pure Land), where it is proclaimed in this way:
‘As I contemplate the teaching, practice, shinjin, and realization of the true essence of the Pure Land way, I see that they are the benefit that the Tathagata directs to us in his great compassion.
‘Therefore, whether with regard to the cause or to the fruition, there is nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through Amida Tathagata’s directing of virtue to beings out of his pure Vow-mind. Because the cause is pure, the fruit is also pure. Reflect on this.’ (CWS, p. 158)
This recapitulation, in slightly modified form, also appears twice in Shinran’s small masterpiece entitled Passages on the Pure Land Way. (CWS, pp. 295 – 317) The first of these says,
‘Hence, whether with regard to practice or to shinjin there is nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through Amida Tathagata’s directing of virtue to beings out of the pure Vow-mind. It is not that there is no cause or that there is some other cause. Let this be known.’ (CWS, p. 300)
Of particular note are the words ‘there is nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through Amida Tathagata’s directing of virtue to beings out of his pure Vow-mind‘.
In other words, the practice, which is the saying of the Name of the Tathagata of unhindered light, and shinjin, have both been completed in the Primal Vow. There is literally nothing, including the practice and entrusting heart, that Amida Buddha has not already taken care of, and will graciously give us, if we accept it.
Hence, when analysing the declaration by Shan-tao that I quoted above, Shinran points to the working of Other Power, in the specific form of the twelfth, seventeenth, and eighteenth Vows, in this way:
‘Truly we know that without the virtuous Name, our compassionate father, we would lack the direct cause for birth. Without the light, our compassionate mother, we would stand apart from the indirect cause of birth. Although direct and indirect causes may come together, if the karmic-consciousness of shinjin is lacking, one will not reach the land of light. The karmic-consciousness of true and real shinjin is the inner cause. The Name and light – our father and mother – are the outer cause. When the inner and outer causes merge, one realizes the true body in the fulfilled land. Therefore master [Shan-tao] states:
‘[Amida] takes in and saves all beings throughout the ten quarters with light and Name; [Amida] brings sentient beings to realize shinjin and aspire for birth.’ (CWS, p. 54)
The Name, Namo Amida Butsu, the inconceivable light, which is Amida Buddha, and shinjin – the entrusting heart – have all been fulfilled through Amida Buddha’s ‘directing of virtue to beings out of Amida’s pure Vow-mind’.
The Name reaches us through the praise of Shakyamuni Buddha, and all the other Buddhas, including, by proxy, people of shinjin. The light, which is inconceivable, inspires the way we respond to the Call of the Vow. It also comes to us in the form of enlightened teachers, like Shakyamuni, the seven dharma masters, and Shinran.
By adding the two temporal forms of the working of Other Power to the three immediate conditions that Shan-tao and Shinran reveal – light, Name and shinjin – Rennyo Shonin (1415-1499) presented the ‘five conditional steps’ by which birth is attained:
- the culmination of related past conditions and circumstances leading one to the Dharma
- a ‘Good Teacher of the Dharma’
- The light of Amida Buddha
- Faith – ‘Shinjin’
- Amida’s Name. (SS, p. 310)
This is the working of Other Power, the power of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow.
My writing in this blog, and other places, is an attempt to celebrate these five factors of the working of ‘Other Power’. Essentially, this working is intensely personal for each of us. But I think it so important for our own ultimate individual well-being, and that of all sentient beings, that I want to make it known as widely as I can.
There is more to say about Other Power, of course. What happens when we surrender to the ‘Call of the Vow’ and accept nembutsu as the way to liberation and Buddhahood?