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Nien-Fo (Buddha-Anusmrti): The Shifting Structure of

by John P. Keenan, Department of Religion, Middlebury College, VT

n the doctrinal development of the practice of power. This evolution in Pure Land doctrine en-
I the remembrance of Buddha (bud-
dMnusl1l[ti; men-fa; nembu/su) a distinct hiatus
tailed a new understanding of memory, for while
the meditative men-fa functions within a context
can be observed in the development from of conventional remembering as an aid to practice,
meditative men-fa to invocational men-fa. a de- the invocational men-fa restructures one's aware-
velopment that began with Shan-laO in China and ness of time in the experience of a primal sacra-
reached its apogee with Shinran in Japan. There is ment. It is the thesis of this paper that with the
evident a movement from 1) the practice of re- development toward single-hearted men-fa, the
membering and visualizing a Buddha while chant- meaning of memory moves from an initial tension
ing his name (nien-fo san-mel) as an aid to between remembrance of the past and prolepsis
meditative concentration to 2) the independent into the future in the meditative men-fa to a
tradition of Shan-tao and Shinran in which collapsing of the conventional framework oflinear
invocational nien-fo alone is sufficient This paper time into the existential instant of shinjin (true
attempts to sketch the shift in the understanding of entrusting) in Shinran's understanding of
rememberance (men; smrtJ) within that develop- invocational nembu/s1L
ment. We will first direct our auention to the
Before the assertion by Chinese Pure meditative njen-fo and sketch the meaning of
Land masters T'an-luan, Tao-ch'o, and Shan-laO remembrance as a dialectic tension between a rec-
that the invocational men-fa alone is sufficient. the ollection of what is past and a prolepsis into the
men-fa was adopted both in India and in China as future along a linear time line accepted as con ven-
meditation aid in several different doctrinal line- tionaUy valid. The focus will then move to China
ages.' But in the later thought of Shan-tao, as rep- to depict briefly the shifting understanding of re-
resented by his last and definitive work, the Kuan- membrace within the development from the
ching-shu, the nien-fo became the single practice meditative nien-fo to the invocational men-fa.
required for salvation. The single-hearted practice Finally, a section will be devoted to Shinran's
of such nicn·fo was all that is needed for salva- understanding of the "sacramental" structure of
tion.' It could be effectively practiced even though time-simultaneity in the very uuerance of the nem-
one's mind is distracted,' for its efficacy does not bu/su: namu-amida-bu/su.
depend upon one's own effort. In this Pure Land
development, which at the time was revolutionary. THE INDIAN PRACTICE OF MEDITATIVE
the men-fa is understood to be much more than an BUDDHANUSMI.m
aid to meditation. It is rather a calling to mind of
the primal sacrament: the vow of Amida Buddha The practice of buddhanusl1l[ti (i.e.,
to save all beings. meditative men-fa) was widespread both in India
As this tradition developed from Shan- and in China. but evidently was prone to misuse,
tao to Shinran, the emphasis shifted away from the for a number of scholarly exegetical endeavors
meditative men-fa that one cultivates with self- were wriuen to guard against misinterpretations of
effort and earnest endeavor to the men-fa of other- the practice. The devotion to Pure Land Buddhas

The Pacific World New Series, No. 5, 1989

was apt to neglect the Mahayana doctrines of emp- is taught that this single practice leads to the
tiness and dependent co-arising by substituting a aUainment of immortality (amrta).·
proleptic, i.e., future oriented, hope for an empiri- A central source text (later regarded as
cal encounter with actual Buddhas in their Pure the locus classicus by Shinran) for the practice of
Lands, either in meditation or after death, in the buddhlinUSIll(ti is the eighteenth vow of the Larger
place of insight into the essence-free reality of Sukhlvauvyiiha:
Buddha. Buddhist doctrinal thinking on the Pure
Land practice of buddhlnusJn{ti (nien-fo) was not H, when I altain Buddhahood,
purely academic; it was clearly direcled toward the sentient beings throughout
maintaining the integrity of the tradition in its the ten quarters, realizing sin-
polymOlphous devotional and monastic forms. cerity, entrusting faith (shinjin),
There was a need to assure thatPure Land practices and aspiration to be born in my
were understood doctrinally within the circle of land and saying my name up to
traditional Mahayana teaching and that practitio- ten times, do not aUain birth,
ners were fully cOlDmiUed to the path (miIrga) of may I not attain unequaUed, su-
practice and effort A broad spectrum of doctri- preme enlightenment.'
nally sophisticated authors present buddhlInusJn{ti
as a remembrance of the Buddha and the Buddha The same promise, to welcOlDe devoled beings
qualities (gU1)a), a remembrance intended as a into the Pure Land at their moment of death, is
support for states of concentration (samldhi). For made in The Smaller SukhlIvauvyiiha,' and in the
many unlettered practitioners, the practice of Ami/Syur-dhylna-siilra.'
buddMnusJn{ti (nien-fo) was no doubt a remem- But the Triple Pure Land scripture does
brance of past promises relating to a future reali- not offer buddhlnusJn{ti as a replacement for more
zation. But the Mahayana pundits interpreled it as arduous practice. The nineteenth vow of theLarger
an aid to present meditation practice, with the Sukhlvauvyiiha says that sentient beings must
obvious intent of deliteralizing the idea of empiri- "bring their stock of merit to maturity" in order to
cally encountering a Pure Land somewhere. The be born in the Pure Land." The Smaller
tension between these two approaches is evidently Sukhlvauvyiiha notes that "beings are born in that
that between the popular practices of Buddhist lay Buddha land of the TathAgata Amitiiyus as a
devotees and the scholarly, monastic practice of reward and result of good works performed in this
the leuered.· present life."" And the Ami/Syur-dhylna-sillra
Engagcmentin buddhlInusJn{ti as a medi- insists that one must practice the threefold good-
tative aid is seen from the earliest layers of the ness, which includes beliefin the causal process of
tradition. The very formation of the canonical texts good karma and commitment to the reading and
of the Amitmlha cult, the first of which was the study of the Mahayana scriptures, for these are "the
Larger SukhlIvatlvyiiha, reveals a developing prac- efficient cause of the pure actions taught by all the
ticeofrecollccting Buddha, not the inception of the Buddhas."" Indeed, samifdhi is judged to be au-
practice. Nishio Kyoo has recently traced the thentic by its agreement with the siitras and is not
practice back to the earliest layers of the Agamas a path that differs from their insistence on engage-
and the Nikgyas, where it formed the central focus meDl and effort 13
of lh e practice of the four rccoJJcctiolls. s The procedure for buddhlnusJn{ti, out-
Buddhanusl7l{ti was understood to be a visual lined in the Pralyulpannabuddha-sarpmukM-
evocation of a Buddha image through a structured vaslhilasamldhi-sillra (The Scripture on the Con-
meditative procedure. In lheEkottar3gama (3.1) it centration wherein One Stands Face to Face wilh

The Pacific World 41 New SeriC$, No.5, J989

Buddhas in the Present), describes how one should manifeslalion of conscious con-
withdraw into a secluded place, call to mind (sm{t1) slrUction only."
the Buddha in accord with the doctrine one has
beard, and enter into medilalive concentration." The process of meditating on images as described
This scripture, however, is clearly concerned that in this Yogllcllra text moves from the hearing (and
the practice be interpreted within the context of holding in mind) of doctrine to the formation of ap-
emptiness as it is presented in !he Prajllm~ill! propriate images, wherein meanings are under-
scriptures, i.e., that it not be misconstrued as stood and caIrn (§amBtha) induced, which in turn
somehow different from the path of Mahayana leads to vision (vipaJyani). The entire process is
practice. BuddhSnusmrti is explained as a concen- based on recollecting doctrine and practicing in ac-
tration on emptiness, for it involves no empirical cordance with the meaning of doctrine.
apprehension of a "real" Buddha and demands no There was a concern that devotees not
supernormal ability (abhijfll) to bring such abouL misconstrue the practice of buddhSnusm,u, taking
Rather, it is a seeing of Buddha as in a dream, it for an actual seeing of a Buddha. In the
because cillJlm6tram id8ITI yad idal!l traidhllukam, PaflCBvil!l~lislhasriklprajlllIplramilhiitra the
i.e., all things appear as sentient beings construct Bodhisauva Sadllprarudita is depicted as having
(vika1payaIJ) them. Thus thePralyulpannasiitrare- achieved a stale of deep concentration in which he
jects any concept that would attribule a real exis- sees many Buddhas in their golden bodies. Afler
lence (bhavasarpjlllJ to the Buddha seen in con- emerging from that stale, he begins to feel dejected
centration. Buddhlnusm,u is here a remembrance because these bodies are no longer present to him
of the Buddha and his teachings and a visualization and he wonders whence they came and where they
elicited from that memory as an aid to meditation have gone. His mentor, Dharmodgata, has to ex-
on emptiness. plain that !hey are "only the results caused by the
The above !heme, that all the three realms formerpl3ctices" of those Buddhas in their former
are mind-only, echoes the basic thesis ofYogllclira Iives}1The MahlprajfllplIramimastra comments
thinking and indeed it is in the context of !his on this case:
tradition of doctrinal interpretation - a tradition
that held undisputed hegemony in India from ca. Although the Bodhisattva
300 to ca. 500" - that most of !he doctrinal think- Sadaprarudita knew that all
ing on Indian PUle Land movements took place. things are empty, neither com-
Although the S8lTldhinirmrxanasii/ra does not ing nor going, he had not yet
explicitly mention PUle Land devotion, it contains been able to understand all of
a passage on the question of whe!her the images !he Dharma leaching, for, hav-
seen in concentration are identical with or different ing a deep reverence for all the
from the mind that reflects upon them: Buddha bodies, he was unable
to understand their emptiness."
The Buddha answered: Good
son, they must be identical with In his commentary on Prajftmparamitli,
!hinking. This is SO because they Tri~liklIyl¢ PrajlllIjWamilAlJ KfriUsaptailJ,
are no!hing but ideas. Good son, Asatlga. the principal Yogllcllra !hinker, explains
I have taught that !he object of in a similar vein !hat:
consciousness is no!hing but a

The PaMe World 42 New Sen... No. S. 1989

[Buddha] lands cannot be Land Buddhas and thatremains unforgetCul in COll-
grasped because they are nolll- centrated meditation upon those images."
ing oilier than conscious eon- One can sense a tension in these inlerpre-
structs flowing from wisdom lations between accepted Yogacllra doctrinal
(jiliinani $yan d s- v ijfJapti- understanding and the widespread practice of
m6lralvlIl). " buddhlnlJS11l{ti with its devotional intensity. Since
the monk scholars were the guardians of doclrine,
Likewise. Mvabhliva in his MahlIylIna- Ibey acted as theoreticians of Pure Land devotion,
sarpgl1lhopsnibandhans discusses AsaJ\ga's rec- and the practice of buddhlnusmrti in India evolved
ommendation of the recollection of Buddha quali- under their oversight and aegis.
ties. He identifies Ihe Enjoyment Bodies IlIat are Yet the Indian Mahayanists did not de-
seen in eoncentration with the Pure Land Buddhas, vote a great deal of attention to examining Ibe
and maintains that, since the Enjoyment Body is structure of memory. The Ch'eng wei-shih Jun,
supported upon the Dharma Body, PureLand Bud- which if not actually composed in India at least
dhas are empty of any essence of lIIeir own.'" reflects Indian Yogllcllra thinking, identifies
The KIUUIJI/JW)tjaiika witnesses to the memory as an activity of Ibe manovijfllna in
fact that practices of buddhilnusmrti were wide- perceiving past experiences or events. In its treat-
spread, for the purpose of this lext was to bolsler ment, itftrstexc!udcs memory from either the con-
weakened devotion of the Buddha §ilkyarnuni in tainer consciousness (maya) or thinking COll-
the face of the burgeoning cults of devotion to sciousness (manas):
various Pure Land Buddhas. lI The factlbat these
Mahayana writers lOOk pains to interpret Memory (sT1J!/1) is the clear
buddhlnusmrti indicales both their own devotion remembrance of things that
to meditation on Buddhas (olllerwise they would have been practiced or experi-
have rejected the practice) and points up the per- enced. The cootainercooscious-
ceived danger that the meaning of such devotional ness is obscure, feeble, and in-
visualization practice might easily be miseon- capable of clear remem-
strued. The Buddhabhiimisiilra interprets Pure brance.'"
Land as the mind of wisdom and sees practice as
a method for the realization of that wisdom. U As Memory is the remembrance or
I have argued elsewhere," Ibis lext was most likely recollection of a thing experi-
composed within a Pure Land trndition with the enced in \he past Thinking
inlent of deliteralizing the notion of Pure Land. (manas) perceives and perpetu-
The BuddhsbhiimisiIlra was soon subsumed into ally takes as its object a thing
the Yogi!c!ra doclrinal circle and a eommcntary, actually felt and experienced at
~e BuddhabhiImivylIkhyfnll, was wriuen by the present moment, which is
§ilabhadra to explicate its meaning from the nota thing to be remembered. It
Yogadra perspective. This commentary treats of has nothing to remember and
"the attainment of great recollection and wisdom thus has no memory. 21
(sn1f!imalyad~jgama) as wisdom perfected by
hearing [doclnnej because it articulates the unfail- Memory is then defined as an associated mental
ing meaning of what has been heard ..... Itis mirror state of the perceptive consciousness
wisdom that elicits the wisdom images of Pure (manovijnlna):

43 New Sori<f. No.5. 1969
What is memory? It is liIe state Pivotal to liIe Chinese understanding of
which makes liIe mind remem- nien-fo are two texts which are attributed to Indian
ber clearly and not forget a masters but which apparently had liUle impact in
thing, an event, or a situation India. In his DaJabhiImivibhlf$8§5s/ra N~garjuna
that has been experienced. Its is importuned to teaCh an "easy way" to awakening
special activity consists in serv- and, allilough scolding those who make the re-
ing as the supporting basis for ques~ he acquiesces and recommends the practice

meditation, because it inces- of buddhiInuslll{li :

santly recalls and retains the
thing experienced in such a way IT a man thinks of me and utters
that there is no failure of recol- my name, submitting himself to
lection, and thereby it induces me, he will enter the Certainly
concentration.'" Assured Rank and attain unex-
celled, supreme awakening.l l
These definitions aU regard memory as directed to
the past and tacitly assume the conventional valid- Vasubandhu's SukhlIvativyiihopade§a, a text
ity of a temporal continuum from past through which presents "instructions to enable aU sentient
present to future, for "time is a conventionaUy beings to be born in the Pure Land of Buddha
established conditioned reality."" As a condi- Amitlyus,")2 recommends that such birth be real-
tioned state of mind, memory itself serves only as ized through faith. This faith comprises five as-
an aid to concentration and, discriminating be- pects ofrecollection (SfTI!11): worship, praise, vow,
tween past and presen~ falls away upon the attain- meditation, and transferral of merits. The first four
ment of non-discriminative wisdom - to reappear aspects describe the process whereby one attains
after the conversion of support as one of the birth. Worship signifies mindfulness of the power
functions of discernment wisdom." of Amitllyus. Praise consists in the chanting of his
name: nien-fo. Vow is liIe firm commitment to be
TIIE CHINESE SHIFf IN UNDERSTANDING born there. Meditation is the visualization of liIe
NIEN-FO merits of Buddha Land. The ftfth aspect is the final
practice of compassion that flows from attainment
In China a drastic change in liIe under- the leading of all beings to the Buddha Land. Bu;
standing and practice of nien-fo (i.e.,bud- for Vasubandhu practice does not refer to the
dhiInusfTl!11) took place. The introduction of Bud- graded mlIrga system of the Indian scholars,
dhist doctrine and practice from India into China Abhidharma or Yogocara. Rather, faith itself
at first proceeded without benefit of an established encompasses all practices."
scholarly sangha. Even when the sangha so devel- These two texts direct auention away
oped and liIe Indian practice of buddhiInusmrti as from liIe arduous path practices of the Indian
an aid to meditation was adopted, the sen~ of masters, to focus on liIe practice of faith. They
living at the end of times of liIe doctrine (mapp{i) constitute a "swing" away from the "difficult" path
- of being somehow beyond normal time - oC the holy sages, Celt inappropriate in the actual
tended to relegate scholastic niceties to the periph- conditions of China, to the "easy" path of faith in
ery. Instead, auention was focused upon the effi- Buddha. They also denote a shift in the under-
cacy of practice to find deliverance (mok$JI). standing of nien-fo from a remembrance of the

The Pacific World

44 New Scriu, No.5, 1989
Buddha to an anticipation of salvation by the Pure eould be realized, Ihen such a re-
Land Buddhas. This is not to say that these two alization would be wilhout
texts reject the lcannic path of effort. They do not, cause. Why? If [Dharma body
as witnessed by Nliglirjuna's insistence that Ihat alone] were the cause [forawak-
path is the best But, in their focus on the value of ening], then there would never
men-fa, they do point the way toward Ihe later de- have been any waddings at all,
velopment of "single-practice nien-fo," Ihe eom- since in virtue of another's [ef-
plete reliance on the practice of caUing on the name fort], all would have been deliv-
of the Buddha Amitl!yus (Amitabha) as the single ered. Indeed [effort as causa-
way to salvation. tive] would not have any mean-
As long as the practice of nien-fo was ing. Therefore, there would be
understood as an aid to medilation, it occasioned realization without any personal
titt1e concern among the more monastic schools, cause."
for meditative nien-fo had long been so practiced.
But when nien-fo began to be preached as an The criticism implicit in this passage seems to have
exclusive palh, as the best palh in the days of the often been leveled against Ihe exclusive reliance
degenerate doctrine (mappd), Ihen it ran directly on nicn-fo as an independent practice. Huai-kan, a
eountec to the path system as expressed in the disciple of Shan-tao, in his Shih ching-I'u ch 'un-
Mstra texts. Indeed, the Pure Land masters Tao- i /un [Treatise Clarifying Doubts about Pure Land]
ch'o, Chai-ts'ai, and Shan-tao all felt Ihe need 10 decries Ihe impact of his criticism:
refute criticisms made by the adherents of the She-
lun sect, the initial version ofYogl!cllra Ihought in It is more than one hundred
China, which took as its basic authority years since Ihe Mahly6na-
Pararnl!rlha's translation of Asa!\ga's MaM- SIUfIgraha was introduced into
y6nasarpgraha (She-/un) and Vasubandhu's this counlly. Many teachers,
MaMy6nasarpgrahabhlIsya. Asa!\ga's text does upon reading this IJeatise, have
warn against the neglect of effort and insists that discontinued the practice of the
in ordec to attain awakening one must exert effort Western Pure Land."
and engage in practice. The very last section of his
JlIstra lJeats rhe effort required to altain It seems probable that Huai-kan is alluding to
Buddhahood. Paraml!rlha, as is often his custom, Pararnl!rlha's She-lun version of Ihe MaM-
interpolateS his own idcas into Vasubandhu's ylnasarpgraha and its stricture against reliance on
eommentary, ideas that directly relate to Pure Land other-power.'"
practices. These were probably added in direct Shan-tao in his Kuan-ching-shu defends
reference to Ihe Chinese argumentation over the men-fo practice against the She-lun critics. In the
import of men-fo. Paraml!rlha's text says: last section of that work, he recommends faith in
the Amil5yur-dhy6na-siilra which was taught by
The line [in Asatlga' s basic text] Buddha ovec that in the Mahlylnasarpgraha which
states "[if sentient beings dis- was taught by bodhisattvas, i.e., Asa!\ga and Vasu-
card crfonl, realization would bandhu." His defence is precisely that it is incor-
be forever without cause." All rect to accuse men-fo practitioners of lacking
Buddhas realize Dharma body practice, because practice is embodied in Ihe name
and it exists everyWhere. Bul, if itself, i.e., the merits engendered by the practice of
without one's own effort it Amit.a:bha himself.

1M Pacific World 45 New Sait$, No. S, 1989

This dispute is significant beyond the JAPAN: NEMBUTSU AS THE PRIMAL
confines of the issue being argued, for it signals SACRAMENT
both the emergence of Pure Land as an increas-
ingly independent fonn of doctrinal thinking and ShiDIllD's interpretation, although fre-
also marlcs a shift from nien-fo as an auxiliary to quently quoting both Indian scriptures and Chi-
meditation to nien-fo as an exclusive and effective nese treatises, is innovative in the extreme. In
path in itseU. Here nien, i.e., anusmrti, takes on a effect, he reclaims the entirety of the Mahayana
proleptic meaning as an anticipatory, future-ori- tradition around the cenb'al practice of nembutsu
ented practice which, by placing total reliance on (nien-fo). But for him nembutsu is not a memory
the primal vow of Buddha Amitmlha, directs aid to meditation, nor simply a propletic hope for
attention away from this degeneilite world to a fulUre Buddha encounter. Rather, nembutsu
future salvation after death. The function of mem- becomes a sacIllment which embodies an immedi-
ory in nien-fo is held in doctrinal tension between ately present experience of salvation effected by
a remembering of the past vow of Amitmlha and a Amitlbha and elicits a profound movement of
prolepsis of future birth in Pure Land. gratitude and commitment to the tasks of compas-
The import of the shift in meaning is that sion.
Pure Land thinkers, dissatified with the classical The tenn saciliment is of course not
path interpretation of the She-lun thinkers, have usually employed in Pure Land thought It is here
now to develop their own Mahayana understand- borrowed from the Christian tIlIdition, because its
ing of nien-fo in contrast to that holy path of fmely original meaning can perlJaps serve as an appropri-
graded and seemingly endless stages. It is only ate vehicle for an enunciation of nembutsu. The
with these Chinese Pure Land masters, T'an-luan, etymological meaning of the Latin tenn sacramen-
Tao-ch' 0, and Shan-tao especially, that Pure Land tum is a vow, such as that made by a soldier (from
takes on a recognizable identity as a discrete which its Christian usage as baptismal commit-
doctrinal option. ment derives)." By attending to this basic mean-
Yet, as the simple recitation of nien-fo ing of the tenn, one can perhaps understand
came increasingly to the fore as a total negation of Shinran's notion of nembutsu as a recollection of
self-reliance, the danger increased that Pure Land the primal vow or sacIllffienl. The pilictice of
pilictice and thought would diverge from the nembutsu can then be understood as a ritual sign,
oveIllll Mahayana doctrine of emptiness. In the i.e., a sacIllffient in its more ordinary sense, signi-
absence of the previous Yogllcar& doctrinal guid- fying the remembrance of the present here-and-
ance,PureLand thinkers had to evolve an alternate now efficacy of Amida' s vow, realized through
Mahayana understanding within the context of shinjin (faith and entrusting) and expressed by the
singie-pilictice nien-fo. Not ready to take this step, recitation of nembutsu in gratitude for being so en-
Chinese doctrinal thinkers after Shan-tao, who had compassed. The nembutsu is a sacilimental sign
focused on the validity of an exclusive recitation indicating the already accomplished, i.e., primal,
of the name, tried to soften the impact of nien-fo salvation brought about by Amida in the present
and to regard it once more as one valid pilictice instant, eliciting from the mind of the pilictitioner
among many for inculcating samldhi.l8 The fur- the deepest sense of entrusting (shinjin) and gIllti-
ther development of a doctrinal understanding of tude for having been saved by virtue of his com-
singie-pilictice nien-fo took place not in China but passionate vow.
in Japan, in the thought of ShiDilin.

Tho Pacific World 46 Nowsm... No. S. 1989

In this understanding the prior signifi- effort, Shinran empties the notion of time and
cance of slll[ti as memory of things pas~ i.e., of the employs the nembutsu as !he bearer of the deepest
career ofDhannakara, is superseded by a recollec- Mahayana doctrine. This collapsing of time de-
tion focused on the instant of shinjin and its enun- rives from Shinnm's auending to the present
ciation in nembu/su. Indeed, as outside of history, efficacy of Amida's primal vow of other-power,
the account of Dharrnnara-Amitabha becomes a not from his philosophical ruminations on the
paradigmatic myth relating not something merely nature of time itself. He is not giving an account of
remembered in the past. It is rather an account of somelhingpastnor depicting something future, but
what took/lakes place apart from time-history. To auempting to enunciate a present experience of
par.iphrase Mircea Eliade, we might suggest: shinjin. He is grasped in the present moment by the
power of thal vow and graced by receiving the
The myth ofDhannmwa relates merits of Amida Shinnm' s understanding of nem-
a sacred history, that is, a pri- bu/su is aremembrance of what is present this very
mordial event that took place at instant in the realization of entrusting oneself to
the beginning of time, ab initio. Amitllbha's primal vow. That vow is not a past
But to relate a sacred history is occurrence that has continuing efficacy in the
equivalent to revealing a mys- repeatable present The Buddha's vow power is
tery. For the person of that myth not an event which occurred in history. Shinran in
is not an ordinary sentient his K~gy{jshinsM quotes Chih-chileh (904-975)
being; he is an awakened to this effect:
bodhisallva, and for this reason
his gesta constitute a mystery; How wOnderful is !he power of
man could not know his acts if Buddha! It is altogether beyond
they were not revealed to him. comprehensibility. Nothing lilce
The myth then is the "history" of it has ever taken place in his-
what took place in illo tempore, tory."
the recital of what Amit!bha did
at the beginning of historical Amida's vow is primal because it is the primal
time. To tell a myth is to pro- source before any past time in virtue of which one
claim what happened ab orig- experiences shinjin and enters the state of the
inc. Once told, that is, revealed, definitely assured. Shinran has collapsed the con-
the myth becomes apodictic ventional notion of time as a continuum from !he
truth; it establishes a truth that is past through present to future into the existential
absolute ... The myth proclaims present instant. As N'lSbitani Keiji understands it
the appearance of ... a primor-
dial event" It is the characteristic of shinjin
that within the timeof"now." in
Shinnm does not simply negate the notion of !he true instant, the past which is
memory. Rather he collapses !he temporal frame- further back in the past than any
work in which conventional time is experienced point in !he past - that is, the
and telescopes it all into !he present moment when pas! before any past whatsoever
one utters nembu/su in true entrusting and fai!h - becomes simullaneous with
(shinjin). In a context of a total negation of self- the present and is transformed

The Pocific World 47 New &no.. No. 5, 1989

into lite present .... In lhe turning inSlant of the utmOst present. apart from any past
over of lhe power of the Primal memory or fuwre prolepsis. The nembutsu then is
Vow. lite pas~ without ceasing a sacrament of the existential here-and-now simul-
to be pas~ becomes present taneity of present participation in that primal
within the present shinjin of source. Shinjin arrests conventional lime and es-
Shinran; and in his shinjin. tablishes a simullaneity between the actual present
Shinran·spresent. withoutceas- and both the primal vow and its fullillment in birth
ing to be presen~ becomes pres- in Pure Land Pure Land then is the emergence of
ent in the pasL The power of the a future beyond any point in lhe future.
Primal Vow is this power to
make simultaneous." CONCLUSION

Just as the primal vow is not an event of the pas~ Rememherance within the Indian prac-
so birth into Pure Land does not occur in the future. tice of buddhllnusmrti and for the most part
Shinran quotes the Larger SukhllvatlvyiIha Sutra: Chinese nien-fo. functioned as an aid to concentra-
tion willtin a conventional time continuum
As all beings hear his name. wherein the tension in recollecting Buddha was
faith (shinjin) is awakened in between a recollection of the past deeds of Buddha
them and they are gladdened and a prolepsis of the future. Remembrance here
down to one thought. This functions as aremem bering of past doctrine and its
comes to them from having content with the expeclancy of future birth in Pure
been turned over from Amida' s Land.
pure mind. When they desire to But in Shinran's understanding of
be born in the Pure Land. they invocational nembutsu as a sacrament operative in
are born there at that moment an existential simultaneity of time. both remem-
and abide in the stage of non- brance and prolepsis collapse in the realization of
retrogression ...." shinjin. Nembutsu becomes much more than a
simple aid to meditative practice. It is the primal
In his YuishinsM-mon'i Shinran com- sacrament, the performance of which acknowl-
ments that the phrase: edges in gratitude Amida's efficacious vow as
source and enables one to entrust oneself to the
"attains birth immediately" merits of Amida in total abandonment of all self-
(i.e.• at that moment) means !hat power. For Shinran. then. the nembutsu is a re-
when a person realizes shinjin. membrance of the primal vow-time before time
he is born immediately." and a prolepsis beyond any future anticipation. for
in the realization of shinjin one' s mind is focused
The reception of shinjin and birth in Pure Land are upon the existential present acceplanCe of the mind
not a fuwre event to lake place in some subsequent of Amida. Memory here is telescoped into sacra-
time. The time oflhe primal vow is a mylltic primal mentally present instant and bears little resem-
source of time itself. not a point. however dislan~ blance to conventional assumptions about recall-
within !hat continuum. The fulfillment of that vow ing past events.
in the reception of shinjin occurs in an existential

The Pacific World New Sen.... No. S, 1989

F001NOTES panna- buddha- salJlm ukh«vasthi ta-sam!d hi-
siltra," in The Jouma1 of Indian Philosophy, 6
1. In India Asailga and ~i1abhadra [reate<! (1978), p. 35-39.
Pure Land themes, while in China Hui-yilan, Chih- 7. Fujiwara, The Way 10 Nirvana, p. 27;
i, Chi-tsang, and Shan-tao wrote commentaries on see Leiters of Shinran, IranS. Yoshifumi Ueda
Amit.fyur-dhy5na-sulTa (Kuan-ching). For the par- (KyolO: Hongwanji International Center, 1978), p.
allel tradition of visualizing Mailreya, see Alan 87.
Sponberg, "Wonhyo On Visualization: Mailreya 8. Buddhist Mahayana Texis, ed. E. B.
Cult Practice in Early China and Korea," forth- Cowell, vol. 49 of "The Sacred Books of the East."
coming in Mai/reya, the Future Buddha, Alan reprinted New York: Dover, 1969. "The Smaller
Sponberg and Helen Hardacre, eds. (Cam bridge SukMvauvyUha," lrans., F. Max Muller, p.99.
UnivClllity Press); and "Meditation in Fa-hsiang 9. Buddhist Mahayana Texts.
Buddhism; in Traditions ofMedilJJlion in Chinese "Amitllyurdhyllnasiitra," lrans. J. Takakusu, p.
Buddhism, Peter N. Gregory (Honolulu: Univer- 1Ol.
sity of Hawaii Press, 1985). 10. Buddhist Mahayana Texis. p. 15 and
2. On the chronology of Shan-tao's p.45.
works, see Ryosetsu Fujiwara, The Way to 11. Buddhist Mahayana Texis. p. 98.
Nirvana: Concept of the Nembulsu in Shan-lJJo's 12. Buddhist Mahayana Texis. p. 168.
Pure Land Buddhism (Tokyo: Kyoiku Shincho 13. Buddhist Mahayana Texis. p. 179.
Sha, 1974), pp. 79-122. For the notion of men-fo 14. Harrison, "Buddhllnusmrti," p. 43.
as an adequate practice, see p. 37 and p. 62. The 15. Christian Lindtner," A Treatise on
lranslation "single-hearted nembutsu" (senju- Buddhist Idealism: Kambala's Alokamm, "In-
nembu/su) is from Taitetsu UMO, The Tanmsho: diske Studier 5: Miscellanea Buddhica (Copen-
A Shin Buddhist Classic (Honolulu: The Buddhist hagen: AkademiskForiagm, 1985), pp.1l1-1l2.
Study Center Press, 1984), p. 11 et passim. speaks of: ..... IIie achievements of the great sys-
3. Fujiwara, The Way to Nirvana, p. 100 ICmatic and creative thinkers of Yogi!c§ra, the
and p. 104. Sponberg shows a parallel s!rUcture in most flourishing branch of Mahayana - almost.
Wonhyo's undCllltanding of Maitreya visualiza- indeed, synonymous with Mahayana - in this
tion, for there also the effectiveness of the practice period (i.e., the time of the AloJcamala, identified
occurs in the absence of that serenity (pra§rabdhl) as the fltSt half of the sixth century)." The notion
required for entry inlO advanced sarn~dhi; see of MMhyamika and Yogi!c§ra as the two major
"Wonhyo on Visualization." competing schools of Mahayana is in need of
4. Such a tension appears to lie behind the revision, for IIiat evaluation reflects more the pic-
concerns of the KlIlIII)ifplllJr;larika, a text intended ture derived from the Chinese pilgrims who trav-
10 counter IIie popularity of devotion 10 a host of eled to India in the sixth century than the develop-
Pure Land Buddhas and a neglect of ~~yamuni. ment of earlier Indian doctrinal hislOry. The first
See Yamada, Isshi, Karu(lffPIllJr;larika, Edited with doctrinal divergence between Madhyamika and
Introduction and Nores(London: University of Yog~cara appears to be DharmapirIa's
London, 1968). faWlislTavaipuiyalika (T. 30, pp. 246a-249c),
5. Nishio, Ky(jo, Genshi jiJdo kylJtcn where he responds 10 a criticism of the Yogi!c§ra
(Tokyo: Shishin Gakusha, 1982), pp. 1-24. notion of ultimate meaning by counterposing IIie
6. Nishio, GenshijiJdokylJlen, pp. 50-55; YOg~cMa interpretation of emptiness 10 the
Paul M. Harrison, "BuddMnusmrti in !he Pratyut- ~dhyamika undell>tanding. II is, so it appears,

The P.dIic World 49 New Series, No. 5, 1989

- - .. - -- - - - - - - - -

this passage of Dhannaplila that elicited 25. Keenan, A Study of the

Bhavivaveka's attack on the Yoglicma position in BuddhabhiimyupadeAa , p. 668 and p. 672.
his Tarksjv!Ia. In point of fact, until this diver- 26. Vijllaptimillrat5siddhi: La Siddhi de
gence, the task of interpreting the philosophy of Huien-Tsang, trans. Louis de ]a VallU Poussin
emptiness was evidently performed by the (Paris: Librarie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1928),
Yogilcma thinkers. p. 151; Ch'eng Wei-Shih Lun: Doctrine of Mere
16. Scripture on /he Explication of Un- Consciousness, trans. Wei Tat (Hong Kong: 1be
derlying Mysteries, trans. John Keenan, forthcom- Ch'eng Wei-Shih Lun Publishing Committee,
ing from the BukkyO DendO KyOkai Series. Confer 1973), p. 163.
Etienne Lamotte, Sarpdhinirmocanasiitra, 27. de la Vallte Poussin, pp.257-258;
L 'Explication des Mysteres (Louvain and Paris, Wei Tat, p. 293.
1935), VIII, 7, pp. 90-91 and p. 211. 28. de la VaIIU Poussin, pp. 311-312;
17. T. 8, p. 421b. Also reported in Wei Tat, p. 377.
~{aS5hasrik5iJrajn5¢ramit5siilra. See The Per- 29. Keenan, A Study of /he Buddha-
fection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Linesand its bhiimyupadda, p. 411.
Verse Summary, !£ans. Edward Conze (San Fran- 30. Keenan, A Study of the Buddha-
cisco: Four Seasons, 1973), pp.291-294. bhiimyupade1a, p. 547, pp. 559-562 (where dis-
18. T. 25, p. 746b. cernment wisdom, i.e., intellectual mastery wis-
19. Tucci, Guiseppe, Minor Buddhist dom, is the conversion of manovijnaoa; see also
Texts, Part I (Roma: Serie Orientale Roma IX, Part Ch 'eng Wei-shih LUll, Poussin, p. 684 and
I, Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Avabhliva's Maha:yfna-ssrpgrahopanibandhana,
Oriente, 1956; Kyoto: Rinsen I, 1978 Reprint), p. T. 31, p. 438a.
63. 31. Shinshii shlJgylJ zensho, p. 258; in
20. Paul Griffiths; Noriaki Hakamaya; Fujiwara, The Way to Nirvana. p. 30.
John Keenan; and Paul Swanson, The Realm of 32. Minoru Kiyota, "Buddhist Devo-
Awakening: Chapter Ten of AsatJga's tional Meditation: A Study of the Sukha-
Mahl/ytinJlsaIpgraha (New Yark and London: vatIvyiihopede§a, "in Mahayana Buddhist Medita-
Oxford University Press, 1989), Introduction, pp. tion: Theory and Practice (Honolulu: University of
26-33, and Section 0, pp. 235-239. Hawaii Press, 1978), pp. 249-250.
21. KIUU(I5iJUIJ{lariJca, ed. Yamada, p.3. 33. Kiyota, "Buddhist Devotional Medi-
22. The same intent is evident in its tation," p. 257.
commentary, see John P. Keenan, A Study of the 34. T. 31, p. 269c; Griffiths, The Realm
BuddhabhiimyupadeAa: The Doctrinal Develop- of Awakening: Chapter Ten of Asanga's Maha-
ment of the Notion of Wisdom in YogI/dill yilrJasaJpgraba, p. 257. TheadditionofParamlirtha
Thought, Ph.D. disser., University of Wisconsin, stands out clearly when compared to the other
Madison, (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms In- translations. Hsilan-tsang's Chinese has:
ternational, 1980), pp.445-446. If sentient beings discard their
23. Keenan, "Pure Land Systematics in effort, then such a realization [of
India: The Buddhabhiimisiilra and the Trikl/ya Buddha/lOod] would be without
Doctrine," Pacific World, New Series 3 (Fall cause [and would not occur]. To
1987) pp. 29-35. discard the cause is not correct
24. Keenan, A Study of the ... (1'. 379c; Griffiths, op. cit,p.
BuddhabhiimyupadeAa, p. 462. 256)

The PacifIC World 50 New Seria, No. 5, /989

Dhannagupta's Chinese has: military and civil. A military sacrament was the
The error consists in the absence vow whereby soldiers called upon the gods and
of a cause [for Buddhahoodl, as bound themselves in faith and obedience. He who
if one realized [it] always. To vows in truth, prays for the favor and aid of the
discard the cause [for B uddhah- gods. He who knowingly dissimulates, brings
ood] is unreasonable ... (T. 31, down the wrath of the gods on himself and his
p.32Oc) family. Here sacrament retains the notion of an
The Tibetan translation of DIP3J!Ikara- initiation or a religious devotion. In civil proce-
mjflllna has: dures, a sacrament was a sum of money which was
This [mistaken view that no deposited in a sacred place by a litigant The victor
effort is needed] results from the in the lawsuit retrieved his monies. The loser
faulty conclusion that all [Bud- however relinquished his monies for sacred use.
dhas] arise without cause and Even this usage of sacrament seems to have had a
therefore says that the cause [for religious origin: calling upon the gods in giving
B uddhahoodl is not interrupted testimony of the truth of what is said in litigation
... (D. 190a; P. 232a) and from the devotion or consecration of the oath
Since none of these translations mention realizing itself." Without entering into the Christian usage
Buddhahood "through another," it seems that of the term after its adoption by Tertullian, the clas-
Paramlirtha has added the passage when he trans- sical Latin usage offers analogues for translating
lated the basic text of Asailga in China to reflect the nembutsu thought of Shinran into Western
the doctrinal context then present, namely, the ar- idioms. To wit: 1) its basic meaning refers to a
gumentation over Pure Land practice. vow, just as nembutsu is an entrusting of oneself
35. T. 47, p. 39. Passage translated in to the vow of Amida, 2) a sacramental vow must
Fujiwara, The Way to Nirvana, p. 127. Fujiwara be done in faith, just as nembutsu must be enunci-
gives the date of Huai-kan's death as between 695 ated in shinjin, 3) properly performed, the military
and 701 c.e. (p. 123). vow or sacrament brings about the aid of the gods;
36. Huai-kan himself belonged to the Fa- while the utterance of nembutsu brings about the
hsiang school and both accepted Hsuan-tsang's transference of merits (eklJ) from Amida, and 4) in
new translations and remained devoted to the Pure its civil use the vow was a calling upon the divine,
Land practice. His work is an attempt to interpret parallel to calling upon Amida in nembutsu. One
Pure Land within a Fa-hsiang framework. has, of course, to be careful in adopting terms
37. Fujiwara, The Way to Nirvana, p. across traditions, lest meanings from one be read
105. into the other. But, it would appear, the use of the
38. Fujiwara, The Way to Nirvana, pp. term "sacrament" has the distinct advantage of
123-176. stressing in a particularly obvious manner the
39. Van Roo, Gulielmo, De Sacramentis deepening of nembutsu in Shinran and its central-
in Genere (Roma: Apud aedes Universitatis Gre- ity as the primal act that elicits shinjin by other-
goriannae, 1960), pp. 19-20. Van Roo writes: "In power and points to the source the faith so elicited
regard to the etymology, sacramentum comes from in the primal vow of Amida. Also see The Macmil-
sacrare, 'to constitute (either a person or a thing) lan Encyclopedia ofReligion, vol. 12 "Sacrament:
by divine right,' which can only be done through An Overview," by Theodore W. Jennings Jr., p.
a public authority ... There are two classical uses: 501.

The PlCific World 51 New SeriC1, No.5, 1989

40. Micrea Eliade, The Sacred BJld the 41. Gutoku Shaku Shinran, The
Prof8Jle: The NalJJre ofReligion (Harcourt Brace, KylJgyiJshinsM, The Collection of Passages Ex-
1959; 1961 HmperTorchbookreprint), p. 95. The pounding the TII/C Teaching, Living, Faith, BJld
Eliade text reads: 'The myth relates a sacred Realizing of the Pure Land, trans. D. T. Suzuki
history, that is, a primordial event that lOOk place (Kyoto: Shinshil Otaniha, 1973), p. 139.
at the beginning of time, ab initio. But to relate a 42. Nishitani, Keiji, ''The Problem of
sacred history is equivalent to revealing a mystery. Time in Shinran," in The Eastem Buddhist 11/1
For the persons of the myth are not human beings; (May 1978), 2()'21. The basic insight for the
they are gods or culture heroes, and for this reason above section on Shinran' s understanding of
their gesm constilllte mysteries; man could not memory as simultaneity comes from this article.
know their acts if they were not revealed to him. 43. KyiJgylJshinshlJ, trans. Suzuki, p.89.
The myth, then, is the history of what lOOk place 44. Letters ofShinran, trans. Ueda, p. 11.
in illo tempore, the recital of what the gods or the
semidivine beings did at the beginning of time. To
tell a myth is to proclaim what happened ab initio.
Once told, that is, revealed, the myth becomes
apodictic truth ... The myth proclaims the appear-
ance of a new cosmic situation or of a primordial

The Pacific World 52 New Scriu , No. S, 1989