Hopefully, this article will help clear up some misgivings...
Zuiken Inagaki (1885-1981)
Introduction to the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho
The Purpose of the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho
The Outline of the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho
The Seven Patriarchs in the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho
The True Teaching and the Temporary Teaching
Relation between Gyo (Practice) and Shin (Faith)
The True Teaching and the Temporary Teaching
The Seven Patriarchs of the True Pure Land Sect are of the same opinion that the 18th Vow is the principal and most important Vow of the 48 Vows. The 18th Vow represents all of the Vows, that is, the other Vows are included in the 18th Vow. Because in the 18th Vow Amitabha's Infinite Wisdom and Love and the condition of being born in the Pure Land are manifested, and His Will is most clearly seen in this Vow.
It goes without saying that all the Patriarchs of the three countries highly appreciate and fully acknowledge the important role of morality and the teachings of the Noble Eight-fold Path and the Five Precepts taught by the Gautama Buddha. In considering, however, the span of life, and the craving, covetousness, and ignorance of the people, they reflected upon themselves and at last they resorted to the 18th Vow for their salvation. They were prudent and religious, and sincerely wished to attain the supreme Enlightenment-Nirvana.
The scholars of the True Pure Land School examined carefully the Practice or the condition of entering the Pure Land. Accordingly Doshaku-Zenji, the fourth Patriarch, divided all the practices of Buddhism into two kinds:
the Practice of Nembutsu and
the Practice of All Other Precepts (Shogyo).
Zendo-Daishi, the fifth Patriarch and disciple of Doshaku, following after the fashion of his precedented Patriarchs, divided the Condition (or Practice) into
Shogyo or the Right Practice and
Zogyo or the Miscellaneous Practice (Practice of the Precepts of all sorts).
Genshin-Kasho, the sixth Patriarch, declared the theory that
Senju or the Exclusive Practice or Nembutsu is for the True Pure Land and
Zasshu or the Miscellaneous Practices are for the Temporary Pure Land.
And Genku (Honen-Shonin) also followed Zendo's Division of the Right Practice and the Miscellaneous Practice.
Shinran-Shonin also, having studied carefully those theories, discriminated between the Right Practice and the Miscellaneous Practice, taking Amida's Vow into consideration. He took up the Three Vows - the 19th, the 20th and the 18th, and he asserted that in the 19th Vow the Tathagata Amitabha promises (or vows) to save all beings on condition that they fulfill all kinds of moral and religious precepts; in the 20th He promises to save the people provided that they practice the Nembutsu exclusively. In this case the Nembutsu means to recite the Sacred Name through self-effort (Jiriki), being proud of their Recitation. In the 18th Vow He declares to save all the people if they believe in the Merit of the Sacred Name. In this case the Nembutsu (Recitation of the Sacred Name) is identical with True Faith, taking refuge in the Sacred Name. The 19th and 20th are Temporary Vows, and the people who fulfil the conditions of those Vows shall be born in the Temporary Pure Land (Kedo). And those who believe in the 18th, the True Vow, shall enter into the True Pure Land (Shindo). For the above reason, Shinran-Shonin placed entire trust only in the 18th, and he rejected the other two Vows as Temporary (Ke). And he composed the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho for the purpose of making clear the reason of discriminating the True Practice from the Temporary Practice.
At the end of the fifth book, " Book of True Buddha and True Pure Land " (Shinbutsudo-kan), Shinran-Shonin says: " Concerning the Sea of Vows, there are the True Vows and the Temporary Vows, and consequently, concerning the Buddha Country, there are the True Land and the Temporary Land "(1)
He developed the 18th Vow into the " Five True Vows " (Shinjitsu Gogan), that is, the 11th Vow ( Vow of Final Enlightenment), the 12th Vow (Vow of Infinite Light), the 13th Vow (Vow of Eternal Life), the 17th Vow (Vow of His Name's Being Praised by All Buddhas), and 18th Vow (Vow of True Faith, or Vow of Sincerity-and-Faith).
So dividing, Shinran-Shonin put preponderance upon the " Vow of True Faith " (the 18th), and asserted that the True Faith is the only cause of entering into the Pure Land. In this case, the Practice of Nembutsu (Reciting the Sacred Name) is considered to be identical with True Faith, or that Recitation is the natural and spontaneous product of the True Faith.
" The 18th Vow is the profession of the original compassionate Will of Amitabha, and the 19th and the 20th Vows are the Vows that He proclaimed temporarily as a skilful, expedient device for leading the people to the 18th. This is the meaning of " Temporary ". Some people cannot believe directly in the 18th owing to their own Karma in former lives, therefore Buddha Amitabha, out of compassion, declared those temporary Vows for them. For a man who immediately believes in the 18th Vow, the 19th, and the 20th Vows are of no use. "
The 19th Vow is called, " The Vow of Accumulating Miscellaneous Merits ". In this Vow, Buddha Amitabha vowed various kinds of merits to be accumulated. This Vow is for the People who cannot easily discard the idea that moral good and Precepts taught by the Buddha are the necessary factors to Enlightenment. Of course, those Precepts or Practices are good in themselves. In the 20th Vow, Buddha Amitabha vowed the Nembutsu to be recited as the condition of entering into the Pure Land. Therefore those who come to the 19th Vow should abandon it, and turn into the 20th; and those who entered the 20th Vow should forsake it, and turn into the 18th. Indeed Shinran-Shonin experienced such a religious process. But if interpreted spiritually, this " Turning-into "(2) (Tennyu) is but the power of Amitabha.
The 19th Vow corresponds to the Amitayus-dhyana Sutra. Shinran-Shonin thought the Amitayus-dhyana Sutra has a double meaning: the Explicit Meaning and the Implicit Meaning. The " Explicit Meaning " (Ken) is literal, apparent, and temporary, while the " Implicit Meaning " (On) is deep, involved, and true. The " Explicit Meaning " of this Sutra corresponds to the 19th Vow in the Larger Sutra, and the " Implicit Meaning " refers to the 18th Vow. The true intention or message of the Buddha, of course, is to reveal the 18th Vow. In the 'Keshindo-kan', Shinran-Shonin says;
Buddha Sakyamuni, having preached explicitly the " Store of Virtues and Merits " (that is, Amitayus-dhyana Sutra) (the 19th Vow), guided the " Sea of Beings " with many devices. Buddha Amitabha chose, out of compassion, precious Vows, and saves all from the " Sea of Samsara " (Cycle of Birth-and- Death) (the 19th Vow)(3)
In the 19th Vow, Amitabha says; " Whosoever that raises within himself the Bodhi-aspiring Mind (Bodaishin; Aspiration for becoming a Buddha) and practises all the noble Precepts shall be saved. " In this Vow He encourages the people to practise all kinds of Precepts of Self-Enlightenment School (Shodomon).
These Practices described in the 19th Vow are the Practices that are not the Right Practice (Non-Right Practice). On the contrary, in the sixteen Meditations (of the Amitayus-dhyana Sutra both the Non-Right Practice or the Miscellaneous Practices (Zogyo) and the Right Practice (Shogyo) are described.
The first thirteen Practices of Meditation on Amitayus and His Land are the Right Practice, and in the last three Meditations the Right Practice and the Miscellaneous Practices are mixed. The 16th Meditation is the teaching for the wicked and the sinful, and in which the Nembutsu (Recitation of the Sacred Name) is encouraged exclusively, therefore it is the Right Practice. The Practice that concerns Buddha Amitabha and His Land exclusively is the Right Practice.
The thirteen Meditations are the Right Practice, but they do not accord with the purport of His Original 18th Vow. So they are yet the Auxiliary of Temporary Practice (Jogo, or device), which was preached by the Buddha in order to carry the people into Principal Right Practice (Shojogo) - the Nembutsu. Unless a man truly understands the meaning of Nembutsu, he can not appreciate the doctrine of True Pure Land Sect - " Other Power " (Tariki).
Those who follow the Temporary Practice will not be aware that they are practicing temporarily: so they will not be able to discriminate the Right Practice from the Temporary Practice. All kinds of Precepts that were taught by the Buddha for us to observe are accepted as the Right Practice by those students of the School of Self-Enlightenment without discrimination. But it is not so with the True Pure Land Sect, for those Practices that are practiced with Self-Effort (Jiriki) does not accord with Amida's Original Vow.
If the Nembutsu be practiced with self-power (Jiriki) or if one be proud of ones merit of practicing it, that Nembutsu can even be called " Temporary Practice ". In the 19th Vow, the Nembutsu is one of the miscellaneous practices. There are some people who choose the Nembutsu exclusively, abandoning all other Practices. For such people Amitabha raised the 20th Vow. It says:
" Those who, having heard My Name, turn their thought toward My Buddha Country and practise the " Root of Virtues " (the Nembutsu), shall be born in My Land of Bliss and Happiness. "
They, who belong to the 20th Vow, do not take refuge in the Infinite Mercy of Amitabha, but rely upon their own merit of reciting His Sacred Name, that is, they practice the Nembutsu with self-power, and wish to be born in His Buddha Country. The Amitayus Sutra (Amida-Kyo) is indeed the exposition of such Nembutsu.
The Smaller Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra (Amida-kyo) says:
" Whosoever recites the Sacred Name with a single mind even for a day or for seven days shall gain rebirth in the Pure Land. "
The Sutra also says:
" One cannot enter into the Pure Land by virtue of little merit (the miscellaneous Practices that are practised in the School of Self-Enlightenment). "
So describing, the fulfillment of all kinds of Precepts is said to be an inferior merit in comparison with the Practice of Nembutsu, concerning the rebirth in the Pure Land. And the Nembutsu is more highly praised than any other Practice, for the Nembutsu is most virtuous and powerful. But the Nembutsu in the Smaller Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra (Amida-kyo) is recited with self-power; therefore it cannot be called the true Nembutsu, but Provisionary Nembutsu. Through the Provisionary Nembutsu one cannot enter into the True Pure Land, but perhaps they will enter into the Temporary Pure Land. The self-power (Jiriki) in this case, means the pride of his merit from reciting the Name many times. A man of pure faith is never proud of his power or merit, but he is ever thankful for Amitabha's infinite mercy, wisdom and power.
This Sutra also says:
" Those who diligently recite the virtuous Name on ordinary days may, at the brink of death, see the vision of the sacred troop, Buddha Amitabha and Bodhisattvas, coming to guide them into the Pure Land, and consequently they can be born in the Buddha Country without their minds being disturbed. "(4)
Certain kinds of people, aspiring for the vision at their last hour, devote themselves to the Nembutsu exerting self-effort. Such Nembutsu is called the " Nembutsu of Shimmon " (Shimmon; The Gate of Truth). The Nembutsu of the Smaller Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra corresponds to the Nembutsu of the 20th Vow in the explicit sense.
It is different from the Nembutsu of the 18th Vow, i.e. the " Nembutsu of Gugan " (Gugan; The Gate of Great Vow). According to the Three Vows (the 19th, 20th and 18th), the Nembutsu is also divided into three kinds:
the Nembutsu of Yomon (the 19th Vow) (Yomon; The Gate of Importance),
the Nembutsu of Shimmon (The Gate of Truth), and
the Nembutsu of Gugan (Mon) (The Gate of Great Vow).
The " Yomon " is described in The Amitayus-dhyana Sutra, the " Shimmon " in the Shokyo or the Smaller Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra, and the " Gugan mon " in The Larger Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra.
Firstly, a man of " Yomon " recites the Nembutsu, but he is not freed from Miscellaneous Practices. He accounts the Nembutsu as one of the Miscellaneous Practices. Secondly, a man of " Shimmon " recites the Nembutsu exclusively, and he does not rely upon any other good or Good of Meditation, establishing his faith upon his reciting the Name through his own effort. He is nearer to the Nembutsu of the 18th Vow, but his faith is not yet absolutely pure, and his Nembutsu is imbued with self-effort. Thirdly, a man of the 18th Vow relies absolutely upon the infinite mercy, wisdom and power of Amitabha, His Name and His Vow; he puts entire trust in His sincerity and mercy; and he takes refuge in the Three Jewels (or Gems) the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Out of his pure Faith he recites the Sacred Name. The true Nembutsu is nothing but the expression of praise, laud, homage and thankfulness to the Sacred Name. The true Practice is the glorification of the Name filled with all kinds of virtues. Therefore his Practice is but the overflow of his " Faith-with-Joy (true-Faith) ". Such true Practice (Nembutsu) and such true Faith is the true cause of the rebirth in the Pure Land - these two being inseparable.
The Pure Land should not be materially interpreted, but it should be understood spiritually. The Pure Land is indeed the embodiment of Amitabha's Enlightenment; and its substance (Tai) is His infinite mercy, wisdom, power and the Name; it is also the realization of His Vows. In other words, the Buddha Country of Bliss and Happiness consists of Amida's Light (wisdom) and Life (mercy).
In the last part of the Smaller Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra (Amida-kyo), we read a passage as follows: " I (the Buddha) preach the most difficult Law (Teaching) to believe. " This corresponds to the words of the Larger Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra, which says:
This Law is the most difficult to believe, none else is more difficult than this.
" This Law " means the gospel of the 18th Vow. The " one days or seven days' Nembutsu " in the Smaller Sutra is, in the temporary sense, the Nembutsu of the 20th Vow, but the " most difficult Law to believe " implicitly denotes the Nembutsu of the 18th Vow.
The teachings of the Amitayus-dhyana Sutra and the Smaller Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra are preliminaries to the Larger Sutra. At the same time it can be said that the Larger Sutra is the root of the other two Sutras. In the " Keshindo-kan " Shinran-Shonin says:
Buddha Sakyamuni, opening the " Treasury of Virtues " (the 20th Vow), taught the worlds defiled with heinous sins and passions. And Buddha Amitabha, raising the Preliminary Vow (the 20th Vow), intended to save all sentient beings unenlightened.