(1) NEMBUTSU RECITATION
Dotoku, from the village of Kanjuji, visited Rennyo on New Year's Day in the second year of Meio. “How many years have you reached, Dotoku?” Rennyo asked. “I urge you to recite the nembutsu. When it is recited in self-power, it is meant that the number of times it is repeated so much merit is accumulated toward deliverance by the Buddha. When it is recited in other-power, it is meant that at the instant moment of total reliance one is received by the Buddha. The nembutsu following this recitation is always, namuamidabutsu, namuamidabutsu, expressing heartfelt joy in gratitude for release by the Buddha's strength, the other-power. The one moment by which we rely totally on Amida continues unbroken throughout our lives and certain birth in the Pure Land is assured.
In Jodo Shinshu, reciting the Name (Jpn. nembutsu) alone does not automatically ensure birth in the Pure Land; shinjin is essential. One of Master Rennyo’s favorite phrases, which he inherited from the Founder Shinran, is the “one thought-moment of entrusting.” This moment is the defining event in the spiritual life of a Shinshu follower, at which all attempts to “earn” deliverance fall away, and one is brought to rely solely on the Buddha’s power alone. Any nembutsu recited after this crucial point, therefore, comes naturally as an expression of gratitude for the Buddha’s salvation. It is for this reason that those who recite nembutsu while being carried by the power of Amida's great Vows recognize their indebtedness to the Buddha, while those who recite the nembutsu while relying on their own power fail to grasp the true import of the Primal Vow. Master Rennyo clearly understood this distinction, and faithfully transmitted it to his followers.
Asking ourselves the question, “Why do we say the nembutsu?” may reveal our own state of mind, and help us to determine whether our shinjin is genuine or not. Do we recite the nembutsu merely because we learned it from our parents? Out of habit? To try and calm our minds? Or do we recite it out of a genuine sense of gratitude? Does our recitation arise from the joy of the Dharma that saves us, because we “wish to respond to the great benevolence” of the Buddha? Of course, not every utterance can or need be joyful; but nembutsu that is truly great practice can only arise from the “sincere and joyful mind” of the Primal Vow. It is never forced or contrived.
If our nembutsu recitation is conditioned by worldly aims (wealth, health, pleasure), bound by dependency on our own mind of self-power, or restrained by an artificial religiosity, we might do well to listen deeply to the compassionate intent of the Primal Vow. If the pure mind of Other Power is found to be lacking, we should seek first to resolve our doubts and settle our own shinjin. Then, once the Name is firmly fixed in our hearts, and its “marvelously mysterious” working accomplished in us, the nembutsu will come spontaneously from our lips—strong, full of confidence and gratitude, and in tune with the “nirvanic sounds of bliss” that pervade the land of happiness.
“The meaning of the nenbutsu lies in its freedom from contrivance, because it is imponderable, indescribable, and inconceivable,” the Master said.
Tannisho, Chapter X