(6) Total Reliance
Rennyo said, “Namu is kimyo, the mind relying exclusively on Amida Buddha. Hotsugan Eko is ‘transference’ of virtues and merit from Amida Buddha at the moment of total reliance. The expressive form is namuamidabutsu.”
In the Mahayana, we often hear of “merit transference” (Japanese hotsugan eko, sometimes translated as “directing of virtue”). Here, Master Rennyo reminds us of what this essential concept means in our Jodo Shinshu tradition. Amida Buddha, who perceives and knows the thoughts and delusions of all small and foolish sentient beings such as ourselves, freely transfers the illimitable virtue of His Vow-mind to us. This transference occurs right at the instant we come to rely on the Buddha for our liberation from Samsara, and not before.
Master Rennyo is clearly referring here to a passage of Master Shan-tao: “Namu [homage] means ‘to take refuge’ [kimyo]. It further signifies aspiring for birth and directing virtue. Amida-butsu is the practice. Because of this import, one necessarily attains birth” (KGSS II:30). In other words, because of the mind and practice which the Buddha directs to us, we attain birth in the Pure Land.
It seems to me that if Amida were anything other than a Buddha—that is, a fully enlightened being of perfect compassion and wisdom—then our faith in Him would be impossible. One of the fundamental principles of all Buddhist schools is that worship may only be rightly accorded to those who are worthy of it. We sometimes hear people say, “Trust must be earned.” By promising to rescue us from our delusion and pain, and by furthermore laboring tirelessly to fulfill this promise throughout incalculable ages, Amida has assured all beings that He is indeed the Buddha, capable of bringing all their aspirations to fulfillment through the power of His Vow. It is the parent’s virtue that awakens the child’s affection; such love cannot be contrived. So it is with the heart of faith (shinjin). Amida Buddha inspires in us the same trusting response that a beloved parent does in their children.
When such a reverential state of entrusting mind is realized—a faith that is free of doubt and double-mindedness—people of shinjin find that there is only one way to repay such boundless benevolence: Reciting the Name of their Great Benefactor over and over again in gratitude and praise. Hence, "the expressive form is namuamidabutsu."