Notes on "Namu-amida-butsu"
THE ULTIMATE goal of the teaching of the Pure Land is to understand the meaning of "Nembutsu," whereby its followers will be admitted into the Pure Land. In the Nembutsu, contradictions dissolve and are reconciled in "the steadfastness of faith."
Nembutsu literally means "to think of Buddha." Nen (nien in Chinese and smṛiti in Sanskrit) is "to keep in memory." In Shin however it is more than a mere remembering of Buddha, it is thinking his Name, 1 holding it in mind. The Name consists of six characters or syllables: na-mu-a-mi-da-buts(u) in Japanese pronunciation and nan-wu-o-mi-to-fo in Chinese. In actuality, the Name contains more than Buddha's name, for Namu is added to it. Namu is namas (or namo) in Sanskrit and means "adoration" or "salutation." The Name therefore is "Adoration for Amida Buddha," and this is made to stand for Amida's "Name."
The interpretation the Shin people give to the "Namu-amida-butsu" is more than literal though not at all mystical or esoteric. It is in fact philosophical. When Amida is regarded as the object of adoration, he is separated from the devotee standing
all by himself. But when Namu is added to the Name the whole thing acquires a new meaning because it now symbolizes the unification of Amida and the devotee, wherein the duality no longer exists. This however does not indicate that the devotee is lost or absorbed in Amida so that his individuality is no longer tenable as such. The unity is there as "Namu" plus "Amidabutsu," but the Namu (ki) has not vanished. It is there as if it were not there. This ambivalence is the mystery of the Nembutsu. In Shin terms it is the oneness of the ki and the hō, and the mystery is called the incomprehensibility of Buddha-wisdom (Buddhajñā). The Shin teachings revolve around this axis of incomprehensibility (fushigi in Japanese, acintya in Sanskrit).
Now we see that the Nembutsu, or the Myōgō, or the "Namu-amida-butsu" is at the center of the Shin faith. When this is experienced, the devotee has the "steadfastness of faith," even before he is in actuality ushered into the Pure Land. For the Pure Land is no more an event after death, it is right in this sahalokadhātu, the world of particulars. According to Saichi, he goes to the Pure Land as if it were the next-door house and comes back at his pleasure to his own.
I am a happy man, indeed!
I visit the Pure Land as often as I like:
I'm there and I'm back,
I'm there and I'm back,
I'm there and I'm back,
When Saichi is in the Pure Land, "there" stands for this world; and when he is in this world, "there" is the Pure Land;
he is back and forth between here and there. The fact is that he sees no distinction between the two. Often he goes further than this:
How happy I am!
I am the Land of Bliss,
I am Oya-sama.
Shining in glory is Buddha's Pure Land,
And this is my Pure Land!
O Saichi, where is your Land of Bliss?
My Land of Bliss is right here.
Where is the line of division
Between this world and the Land of Bliss?
The eye 2 is the line of division.
To Saichi "Oya-sama" or "Oya" not only means Amida himself but frequently personifies the "Namu-amida-butsu." To him, sometimes, these three are the same thing: Amida as Oya-sama, the Myōgō ("Namu-amida-butsu"), and Saichi.
When I worship thee, O Buddha,
This is a Buddha worshiping another Buddha.
And it is thou who makest this fact known to me, O Buddha!
For this favor Saichi is most grateful.
When we go through these lines endlessly flowing out of Saichi's inner experiences of the "Namu-amida-butsu" as the symbol of the oneness of the ki and the hō, we feel something infinitely alluring in the life of this simple-minded geta-maker in the remote parts of the Far Eastern country. Eckhart is tremendous, Zen is almost unapproachable, but Saichi is so homely that one feels like visiting his workshop and watching those shavings drop off the block of wood.
O Saichi, what makes you work?
I work by the "Namu-amida-butsu."
How grateful I feel!
Everything I do in this world--
My daily work for livelihood--
This is all transferred into building up the Pure Land.
I work in this world in company with all Buddhas,
I work in this world in company with all Bodhisattvas;
Protected by Oya-sama I am here;
I know many who have preceded me along this path.
I am sporting in the midst of the Namu-amida-butsu.
How happy I am with the favor!
To see Saichi work in the company of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who fill up the whole universe 8 must be a most wonderfully
inspiring sight. A scene transferred from the Pure Land! Compared with this, Eckhart appears to be still harboring something of this-worldliness. In Saichi all things come out of the mystery of the "Namu-amida-butsu" in which there is no distinction between "rapturous moments" and "love for one's neighbors."
There is another aspect in Saichi's life which makes him come close to that of a Zen-man. For he sometimes rises above the "Namu-amida-butsu," above the oneness of the ki and hō, above the ambivalence of wretchedness and gratefulness, of misery and joy. He is "indifferent," "nonchalant," "detached," or "disinterested" as if he came directly out of his "is-ness" in all nakedness, in the "sono-mama-ness" of things.
Perfectly indifferent I am!
No joy, no gratefulness!
Yet no grief over the absence of gratefulness.
"O Saichi, such as you are,
Are you grateful to Amida?"
"No particular feelings I have,
However much I listen [to the sermons];
And this for no reason."
At all events, Saichi was one of the deepest Shin followers, one who really experienced the mystery of the oneness of the ki and hō as symbolized in the "Namu-amida-butsu." He
lived it every moment of his life, beyond all logical absurdities and semantic impossibilities.
O Saichi, 4 I am the most fortunate person!
I am altogether free from woes of all kind,
Not at all troubled with anything of the world.
Nor do I even recite the "Namu-amida-butsu"!
I'm saved by your mercifulness [O Amida-san!]
How pleased I feel for your favor!
While walking along the mountain path, how I enjoy smoking!
I sit by the roadside for awhile, I take out the pipe in peace and
with no trouble beclouding the mind.
But let us go home now, we have been out long enough, let us go home now.
How light my steps are as they move homeway!
My thoughts are filled with a return trip to Amida's country.
161:1 Myōgō, ming-hao in Chinese, nāmadheya in Sanskrit.
163:2 This reminds us of Eckhart.
164:8 Saichi has this:
What a miracle!
The "Namu-amida-butsu" fills the whole world! p. 165
And this world is given me by Oya-sama!
This is my joy!
166:4 Saichi often begins his utterances with the self-addressing "O Saichi" and after a while forgets the way he started. "You" and "I" thus become confused. Here the grammatical niceties are disregarded.