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This blog is devoted to the propagation of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, a 750-year-old Buddhist tradition.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pure Land Quote of the Week: Truth Dispels Our Evil Karma

"The evildoer in question has committed evils in a false and perverted frame of mind, whereas the ten repetitions of the Name arise when he hears the teaching of Truth from a good friend who consoles him by various skilful means. One is truthful and the other false. How can they be compared with each other? Suppose there is a room which has been dark for a thousand years. If light is cast into the room even for a short while, the room will instantly become bright. How could the darkness refuse to leave because it has been there for a thousand years?"

The above quote is from the Ojoronchu, or T'an-luan's Commentary on Vasubandhu's Discourse on the Pure Land. Vasubandhu and T'an-luan are two Masters of the Jodo Shinshu Pure Land lineage. The "teaching of Truth" is the teaching of the Nembutsu. When we are settled in Faith, or shinjin, we thoroughly understand Amida Buddha's salvific power, and regardless of our past karma, can be brought to Birth in the Pure Land and thus liberation. Different Pure Land Schools have debated on the number of repetitions one should make of the Nembutsu: ten times or just one time, or any combination. This was quite a vigorous and contentious debate back in the day! However, in Jodo Shinshu teaching, how many times we repeat Nembutsu is not important, as compared to the importance of awakening Faith (shinjin). Saying the Name without shinjin is just our own voice; saying the Nembutsu with shinjin is Amida's Voice and our voice as one.

The metaphor of the darkened room is ourselves as beings of evil karma who are "dark" because of the three poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance/stupidity. All human beings are like a darkened room! T'an-luan explains that the Name of Amida can be for us a way to bring light into the room. Once we embrace the Name, our inherent darkness has no choice but to dissipate. No matter our past negative karma, Amida Buddha is the light that can transform us - thus a meaning of the name of Amida (or Amitabha) is "Limitless Light." I truly appreciate this passage as it clearly and simply helps us to understand the working of Amida's Name, and provides hope for beings like ourselves who otherwise have no abilities, in these times, to comprehend the profundity of Buddha-Dharma.

The Ojoronchu exists in two English translations. One is the 1998 Inagaki translation, published by Nagata Bunshodo. The other is an unpublished dissertation by the late Buddhist scholar Roger Corless. I met Dr. Corless as a graduate student, and have a copy of this dissertation (I am not sure if it is available through dissertation Web sites or through interlibrary loan). The Corless translation differs slightly from Inagaki's as Dr. Inagaki is a Shinshu scholar, and Dr. Corless approached the text from a different perspective. Once I return from deployment, if anyone would like a copy, you can contact me.


  1. I think the ten recitations is like the 84,000 different methods, just a number to get a point across. I don't see it as being a literal instruction. I agree that without shinjin, it is just sound, not true Nembutsu.

    In Oneness,

  2. Certainly going back to at least China, the recitation of nembutsu, or nien-fo, was a repetitive practice. Probably the monks really did recite in tens of thousands of times! I remember, on a visit to Mt. Hiei, our tour group heard a Tendai monk, who was doing the jogyo-zanmai practice, repeating Nembutsu every 10 minutes or so. So I imagine, even in the Japanese Pure Land schools, that they probably had debates on how often one should recite the Nembutsu. Fortunately for us, our recitation of Nembutsu should be spontaneous, with the thought of Amida.


  3. "Saying the Name without shinjin is just our own voice; saying the Nembutsu with shinjin is Amida's Voice and our voice as one."

    Splendid! and the most important: TRUE! : )

    I hope you will continue this very good blog for a long time...

    vincent from french guiana

  4. Hi Jeanette!
    José Tirado here...we took Tokudo together in 2003. I just came across your very informative site here and saw that you have a copy of Dr. Corless´s dissertation and wondered if I could get a copy. Perhaps you can email me on this? I am at jm (dot) tirado at yahoo (dot) com


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