Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Beings who entrust in Amida dwell in the definitely assured state and immediately attain Nirvana after birth in the Pure Land (explanation on the 11th Vow of Amida Buddha)


 “If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not dwell in the Definitely Assured State and unfailingly reach Nirvana, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”

                                                the 11th Vow

According to  Shinran Shonin, the 11th Vow has many names, “the great Vow of necessary attainment of Nirvana”, “the Vow of the realization of great Nirvana.", "the Vow of realization, which is Amida's directing of virtue for our going forth.", etc.

Also “the Definitely Assured State”  appears under many names like the “stage of the truly settled”, “the truly settled of the Mahayana”, “the stage of non-retrogression”, “the stage equal to perfect Enlightenment”, “assured of Nirvana”, “assured of birth in the Pure Land”, etc.

This vow offers two chronologically distinct benefits:
  1. attainment of the definitely assured state and
  2. attainment of Nirvana or Buddhahood.
 According to Shinran Shonin the first benefit is received in this life, at the very moment faith (shinjin) arises in the heart of the follower, while the second happens upon birth in the Pure Land[1]. The next two passages from Shinran’s work explain the first benefit of the 11th Vow:  


 To respond to your question concerning the cause of Birth, at the moment we realize true and real shinjin, we receive [the benefit of] Amida's grasping, never to abandon us; hence, we unfailingly come to dwell in the Tathagata's Vow. We find this in the compassionate Vow[2], which states: "If, when I attain Buddhahood, the human beings and devas in my land do not dwell among the settled and necessarily attain Nirvana, may I not attain the supreme Enlightenment."[3]

 “Establishing the great Vow of necessary attainment of Nirvana, Amida Buddha has vowed that the person who has realized this true and real shinjin immediately comes to dwell in the stage of the truly settled.”[4]

Immediately” is very clear – it means here and now, in this present life. When we entrust in Amida Buddha we enter immediately in the stage of the truly settled or those assured of birth in the Pure Land and of subsequent attainment of Nirvana.

In the following passage we see that the first benefit of the 11th Vow, namely the stage equal to perfect Enlightenment or the definitely assured state, is the same as the stage in which Maitreya Bodhisattva is now dwelling.

“The Buddha has vowed that persons who realize this true and real saying of the Name[5] and true and real entrusting shall immediately be brought to dwell in the stage of the truly settled. Dwelling among the truly settled is also taught to be attainment of the stage equal to perfect Enlightenment. Attainment of the stage equal to perfect Enlightenment is taught to be attainment of the same stage as Maitreya Bodhisattva, who is in the rank of succession to Buddhahood. Thus, the Larger Sutra states [that such a person] is "next [to Enlightenment], like Maitreya."[6]

As far as we know from the sutras, Maitreya Bodhisattva does not dwell in the Pure Land, but in the Tusita heaven and will surely attain Buddhahood in his next life.  So we, who received shinjin in this life, are like him in the sense that we’ll also attain Buddhahood when the life of our present bodies is over and we are born in the Pure Land of Amida.

Shinran Shonin explained this in letter 3 of Mattosho:

“Although they differ, the terms ‘truly settled’ and ‘equal to Enlightenment’ have the same meaning and indicate the same stage. Equal to the perfect Enlightenment is the same stage as that of Maitreya, who is in the rank of succession to Buddhahood. Since persons of shinjin will definitely attain the supreme Enlightenment, they are said to be the same as Maitreya.”[7]

It is clear from the above passages that the definitely assured state or the stage of the truly settled is a state prior to perfect Enlightenment or Buddhahood. It is “the rank of succession to Buddhahood” in which Maitreya dwells. Such a state is equal to Enlightenment in the sense that Enlightenment is surely to be attained, so the person of shinjin is  "next to Enlightenment, like Maitreya.”
The interpretation of Shinran is very clear that this stage is attained in the present life.

We cannot see anywhere in the sutras a passage where it is said that Maitreya is now in the Pure Land. I repeat it, because I think it to be of utmost importance, Maitreya is not in the Pure Land, but in the Tusita heaven, waiting for his next birth when he will finally become a Buddha like Shakyamuni. If he is not in the Pure Land now and we are not in the Pure Land now, it logically follow that the stage in which Maitreya and the people who entrust in Amida now dwells is a stage to be found before birth in the Pure Land. So, for the people of shinjin the first part of the 11th Vow, is a promise for this present life when the first moment of faith (shinjin) appears in their heart.

And as Shakyamuni himself explains in the Larger Sutra, when the expression “humans and devas” in the Pure Land appears in this sacred text is only in relation with the states of existence prior to their birth in the Pure Land:

“They are all of one form, without any differences, but are called 'heavenly beings'(devas) and 'humans' simply by analogy with the states of existence in other worlds. They are of noble and majestic countenance, unequaled in all the worlds, and their appearance is superb, unmatched by any being, heavenly or human. They are all endowed with bodies of Naturalness, Emptiness, and Infinity."[8]

To have the body of Naturalness, Emptiness and Infinity, is surely a proof that these people born in the Pure Land of Amida through the gate of the Primal Vow[9] actually attained Buddhahood or supreme Enlightenment (Nirvana), which constitutes the second promise of the 11th Vow.

If we enter the definitely assured state in the very moment we entrust in Amida Buddha, it means that when we die we are born into the Pure Land “carrying” with us this definitely assured state. This is explained in the passage from the section 22 of the Larger Sutra, named by Shinran “the passage teaching the fulfillment of the 11th Vow”[10]:

“in that land there are neither beings who are destined to adverse conditions nor those whose destinies are uncertain.”

We enter the Pure Land as beings that already dwell in the definitely assured state, who are certain of attaining Nirvana and who attain it not after a long time of further practice in the Pure Land, but immediately after we are born there[11]. This is the correct view of our Jodo Shinshu school and of Shinran Shonin. For a person of true faith who dwells in the definitely assured state, there is no further need of practice because he has no “adverse conditions” to overcome. Thus, for someone whose destiny is fixed, the moment of birth in the Pure Land is immediately followed by the attainment of Nirvana.

The image which comes to my mind is that of a seed and the tree. When we become open to the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, he plants in us the seed of shinjin (true faith). Any seed will certainly become a tree; it has the fixed destiny to become a tree. In our case, the seed of shinjin will naturally rise and become a Buddha. So, we are born in the Pure Land carrying this seed in us which immediately transforms itself into the Tree of Enlightenment or Nirvana. 


- my articles in the category Vows of Amida Buddha, are under constant revision -


[1]“According to the true essence of the Pure Land way, one entrusts oneself to the Primal Vow of Amida  in this life and realizes Enlightenment in the Pure Land; this is the teaching I received.” (Tannisho, chapter 15th).
[2] Shinran quotes the 11th Vow.
[3] [Shinran's Response to Senshin] letter 7 from A Collection of Letters (Zensho Text)
[4] Passages on the Two Aspects of The Tathagata's Directing of Virtue.

[5] The true and real saying of the Name is to say Amida’s Name in faith. This is the nembutsu shinjin.
[6] A Collection of Passages on the Types of Birth in the Three Pure Land Sutras [Realization], by Shinran Shonin.
[7] Please read more about this in the article  „Equal to Maitreya Buddha”.
[8] Shinran himself made refference to that passage in the Larger Sutra, in his work Passages on the Pure Land Way [REALIZATION]:
“Further the sutra states:
The words "human beings" and "devas" are used simply in accordance with the usage elsewhere. Their countenances are dignified and wonderful, surpassing things of this world. Their features, subtle and delicate, are not those of human beings or devas; all receive the body of naturalness  or of emptiness, the body of boundlessness.”
[9] See my commentary on the Primal Vow in the article „The Three Vows of Salvation”.
[10] Passages on the Pure Land Way [REALIZATION] by Shinran Shonin: “Concerning the supreme Nirvana, the passage teaching the fulfillment of this Vow in the Larger Sutra states:
‘The sentient beings born in that land all dwell among the truly settled, for in that Buddha Land there is not one who is falsely settled or not settled.’”
[11] If we enter the Pure Land with faith mixed with doubt and attachments to our own power, we do not immediately attain Nirvana, but stay for a while in the border land of the Pure Land until we overcome our doubts. Please read the commentary on the 19th and 20th Vows and the article „Birth in the border land of the Pure Land".

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