The following misconceptions go hand in hand.
Misconception of Honen wrote:* One must constantly recite many nembutsu in order to be helped/saved by Amida. If the recitations are few, sporadic, or forgotten, then one's practice has been in vain and one will be abandoned by Amida.
An example of these ideas is found in the following passage by Harold Scott.
Some followers of Jodo Shu held that in order to ensure Rebirth it was necessary for the Nembutsu to be recited continually throughout one's lifetime and especially during one's last moments. ...
If one were cut short by sudden death or died unexpectedly in one's sleep, thus being prevented from reciting the Name, had all the Nembutsus previously recited gone for nothing, and was one therefore reborn in some inferior state? Besides, if we spend our time counting the number of repetitions of the Name, then we are really putting our faith not in the Name at all, but in the number of repetitions. In consequence, our Mind of Faith would be divided and distracted. On the contrary, if the repetition of the Nembutsu becomes automatic and continues even in our sleep, then we have merely established a samskara-skandha, or mental habit, which will stand as an obstacle between us and the reception of Pure Faith; for if our minds are occupied with such repetitions, how can we hear Amida's call? All these are examples of the Nembutsu of self-effort.
It should be made clear that indeed, Honen did recommend constant nembutsu:
Surely don’t imagine that it would be all right to put off the practice of the nembutsu on the grounds that it can be done at any time. On the contrary, don’t let a single moment pass in which you are not practicing it.
source: http://jsri.jp/English/Honen/TEACHINGS/ ... iving.html
In several places, he recommends we set a goal at 10,000 recitations daily, as this amounts approximately to a slow but steady recitation, and to aim higher still for 20, 30, even to 60,000 daily if possible. His simple explanation for having a goal:
Q: Even if we don’t fix the number of times for repeating the nembutsu as our daily practice, isn’t it OK to do it as often as one can?
H: It’s better to fix the number, otherwise you might get lazy.
source: http://jsri.jp/English/Honen/TEACHINGS/ ... iving.html
With such a high recommended number of nembutsu, we should then clearly understood the attitude of the practitioner in Honen's teaching:
Honen wrote:Even one repetition or two of the sacred name can be said to be the nembutsu of salvation by one's own power, if one does it with that thought in one’s mind. But a hundred or a thousand repetitions day and night for a hundred or a thousand days can be the nembutsu of salvation by Amida's power alone (tariki), as long as one does it with an entire trust in the merits of the great Vow, looking up in confidence to Amida with every repetition. And so the nembutsu of those who possess the Three Minds (sanjin) can by no means be called the nembutsu of salvation by one's own power - no matter how many times they call upon the sacred name and as long as they are really looking up to Amida and trusting to his saving power alone.
To further illustrate Honen's view towards Amida:
Honen wrote:We have been firmly fettered by the enemy of worldly passions such as greed and anger and have transmigrated in the cage of the delusive three realms. Upon seeing this, Amida Buddha, with deep sympathy like a compassionate mother, cuts our ties of transmigration with the sharp sword of his name, sets the cherished boat of the essential vow afloat on the waves of the ocean of anguish and leads us to the shore of the Pure Land. Upon reflection of this, our joy becomes too much for words; we can wring the tears of joy out of our sleeves, and our heart is overwhelmed in adoration of Amida Buddha.
source: Promise of Amida Buddha, p. 397
There is also the parable of the practitioner being like a boulder heavy with negative karma which is set on the swift boat of Amida's vow and carried effortlessly across the ocean of suffering. Again, as Honen states:
Honen wrote:This is is possible not by the mobility of the stone, but by the ability of the ship.
source: ibid, p. 120
Still another parable compares Amida to a strong man who carries an invalid with two lame legs up a mountain.
In light of this, to claim nembutsu in the Jodo-shu is a self-power practice relying on the merit or constancy of the practitioner is simply wrong.
Then we might ask why so many nembutsu are recommended. Honen quotes a parable by Shantao:
Shantao wrote:For instance, there may be a person who loses his wealth to a trickster, descends into vulgarity, and lives a life of hardship. One day his thoughts suddenly turn toward his parents and he wishes to race home. Nonetheless, he has no escape plan from his present state and continues to live in a land far from home. He thinks of his parents day and night and can hardly bear the pain of longing for his home. In time he formulates a plan and is able to return to his homeland, care for his parents, and enjoy a carefree and happy life.
This analogy holds true for nembutsu practitioners. Their good hearts have been distracted and injured by worldly passions, leading to a loss of the precious jewels of merit and wisdom. For many eons they have descended into the transmigration of the six delusive worlds and suffered physically and spiritually. Now, they have a favorable encounter that shows them there exists a compassionate father in Amida Buddha. They should pray in thanks for his benevolence and continue to desire birth in the Pure Land until the end of their lives.
For this reason, keep birth in the Pure Land in your heart and never include practices other than nembutsu.
source: ibid, p. 208
This is the reason from the standpoint of faith: one thinks constantly on Amida simply out of gratitude and therefore an enduring desire for birth in the Pure Land.
From the standpoint of reasoning, Honen again quotes Shantao in a letter:
Shantao wrote:The exclusive practitioners possess the rightly settled state of mind for birth in the Pure Lanbd without being disturbed by other miscellaneous karmic conditions. It is also because nembutsu is in accordance with both the essential vow of Amida Buddha and the teachings of Buddha Sakyamuni.
[If one engages in other practices or only intermittently recites nembutsu], their devotion to Amida Buddha is not continuous and their concentration on the Pure Land is interrupted.
source: ibid, p. 223
Further explanation of constant nembutsu can be found amply explained in Honen's Senchakushu.
What then is the interplay between faith and practice?
Honen wrote:If a person says he or she can be Born in the Pure Land by ten repetitions of the nembutsu, or even one, and then begins to get careless about practice, their faith will hinder their practice. On the other hand, if a person says, as Shan-tao did, that he or she unceasingly repeats the nembutsu, but in their heart has doubts about the certainty of ojo, then their practice will hinder his faith. So then, believe that you can attain ojo by one repetition, and yet go on practicing it your whole life long. If you think there is uncertainty as to the power of calling upon the nembutsu once, then it means that there is doubt about it every time you call upon the sacred name. Amida Buddha's Vow was to give Birth in the Pure Land to those who call upon his name even once, and so there is power in every repetition of the sacred name.
Finally then, is it the case then that if one's nembutsu are few in number or forgotten while dying that one's whole life of practice will have been in vain?
Honen wrote:Q. (5): Remembering to repeat nembutsu continually seems to be difficult. Although I hold a string of prayer beads in my hand, my thoughts wander. Under these circumstances, would my nembutsu not be the true practice for birth in the Pure Land? If it is not, would my attainment of this birth become uncertain?
Answer: The teaching of the continual recitation of nembutsu without cessation 334 means to do your best given your capacity. Reflect upon yourself and evaluate yourself mentally and physically as to what extent you can devote yourself to nembutsu. To think undesirable thoughts during nembutsu is a matter of habit for all common mortals. However, the wandering of your mind does not become a hindrance for birth in the Pure Land if you recite nembutsu with the aspiration for birth in the Pure Land. For example, there may be misunderstandings at times between parent and child, but as long as they do not think of disowning each other, these misunderstandings do not sever the relationship. One who wishes to attain birth in the Pure Land through nembutsu may, during recitation, stray toward the worldly passions of greed and anger. But if one maintains faith in the promise of Amida Buddha for birth in the Pure Land through nembutsu, one will certainly achieve birth in the Pure Land.
This can also be explained from the standpoint of "intimate karmic relations". That is, just like if a parent and child separated by great distance yet yearn to be reunited nothing will stop them, so too the practitioner who returns Amida's yearning is sure to hasten to the Pure Land.
When sentient beings constantly and reverently prostrate themselves before Amida Buddha with their body, Amida Buddha will see them. When they arouse themselves to practice and to always recite with their lips the name of Amida Buddha, Amida Buddha will hear them. When they constantly think of Amida Buddha in their hearts, Amida Buddha will think them. In these three kinds of karmic acts, Amida Buddha and sentient beings are not separate from each other. Hence, they are called intimate karmic relations.
Therefore, if you hold a rosary, Amida Buddha will see it. If you think in your mind to recite the nembutsu, Amida Buddha will, in his mind, think of you.
Finally, as Harold Scott was a Shin Buddhist, it is important to mention in passing that both Shinran and Rennyo advocated constant nembutsu, with the same spirit of gratitude as explained by Honen above:
Rennyo, Letter 10, fascicle 2 wrote:How, then, do we respond to the gracious, inestimable benevolence of
Amida’s great compassion? [The answer is that] by simply repeating the
nenbutsu, saying the Name of the Buddha—day and night, morning and
evening—we express our gratitude for Amida Tathāgata’s benevolence.