"Just say the Nembutsu and be saved by Amida"

On his deathbed, the Buddha denied teaching any esoteric or secret doctrine:

Thus spoke the Venerable Ananda, but the Blessed One answered him, saying: “What more does the community of bhikkhus expect from me, Ananda? I have set forth the Dhamma without making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; there is nothing, Ananda, with regard to the teachings that the Tathagata holds to the last with the closed fist of a teacher who keeps some things back."
Maha-parinibbana Sutta: Last Days of the Buddha

This reminds me of a passage from the Tannisho:

Each of you has come to see me, crossing the borders of more than ten provinces at the risk of your life, solely with the intent of asking about the path to birth in the land of bliss. But if you imagine in me some special knowledge of a path to birth other than the Nembutsu or of scriptural writings that teach it, you are greatly mistaken. If that is the case, since there are many eminent scholars in the southern capital of Nara or on Mount Hiei to the north, you would do better to meet with them and inquire fully about the essentials for birth.
As for me, I simply accept and entrust myself to what my revered teacher told me, “Just say the Nembutsu and be saved by Amida”; nothing else is involved.
A Record in Lament of Divergences - The Collected Works of Shinran

We seek teachers because they can help us see through our own delusions. All the suttas I have read say really the same thing but individual suttas detect and point out my own delusions, which can get quite esoteric. This help is exactly what I was not getting sitting on a zabuton counting my breaths. My Roshi was too far away. The suttas are right here.

And to stay on topic, I would also add that just saying the Nembutsu would also not work for me for the same reason.


I was just pointing out the common denial of an esoteric doctrine between the Buddha and Shinran.

In the quote above, Shinran denies having “some special knowledge of a path to birth other than the Nembutsu or of scriptural writings that teach it.”

Shinran even disowned his own son for claiming to teach a secret understanding of the Nembutsu:

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Rather than one Buddha among many, Amida is the Buddha-nature in all things:

Shinran’s spirituality is grounded in his sense of the non-discriminating and universal embrace of Amida Buddha’s compassion and wisdom.

In his view, reality itself is Amida Buddha whose name means Infinite; the inconceivable, boundless reality that is the basis of life in nature and the goal of ultimate spiritual realization.

He is not just one Buddha among many, but rather Amida Buddha is Buddha-nature in all things; we are already Buddhas, though we are not aware of it. True Entrusting is the activity of Buddha nature; “Great Shinjin is itself Buddha-nature” [3]

Such an understanding gives rise to a sense of awe, mystery, wonder and gratefulness, which are marks of deep spirituality.

In his writings Shinran wrote of the Eternal Amida [4] beyond the limited expression of the mythic story which describes how the Bodhisattva Dharmakara became Amida Buddha in five eons.

Amida Buddha is the Buddha from which all Buddhas are manifest. “To praise the one Buddha, Amida, with the mind that is single/ is to praise all the unhindered ones.” [5]

Shinran broke through the boundaries of mythic belief to see Amida, in faith, as wondrous reality shining through our lives and world.

Amida Buddha is the unconditioned true nature of all things, the unfathomable Reality of enlightenment that takes us just as we are. In gratitude for this boundless compassion, we say Namu-Amida-Butsu.

Practically speaking, chanting “Standard Model” would not make me a physicist of any use to myself or others. Likewise, if all I do is chant “Namu-Amida-Butsu”, I would be no better than Alexa doing the same.

What would you recommend for study and/or practice?

According to the Christian theologian Paul Tillich, the word “God” is only a symbol for Ultimate Reality, not the Ultimate Reality itself, since anything that’s ultimate will surpass what human language can describe:

Since God is infinite and ultimate and faith in God is the ultimate concern, Tillich asserts that only symbolic language is sufficient to express faith and God. Thus, he outlines the definition of the term “symbol.”

Like signs, symbols refer to that which is beyond themselves. For instance, a stop sign points to the command to stop the movement of a vehicle. Similarly letters refer to sounds and meanings. However, unlike signs, symbols play a part in that which they represent and cannot be easily replaced.

For instance, a country’s flag not only represents the nation that it stands for but also is an active participant in portraying the country’s “power and dignity.” Thus, it cannot simply be replaced unless the character of the nation itself is also changed.

Tillich also asserts that symbols allow us to experience other levels of reality that are normally off limits to us. For instance art creates a symbol for a plane that we cannot move toward by science alone.

Additionally, symbols open aspects of our souls which allow us to experience awareness of ourselves that we were not conscious of prior to experiencing the symbol (such as the depths that we can reach by listening to the “melodies and rhythms in music”).

Another characteristic of a symbol is that it cannot be manufactured. Symbols arise from the unconscious and must be accepted on that level before conscious acceptance.
The Definition of Religion

From a Buddhist perspective, Amida is a symbolic expression of the Ultimate Reality described as Nirvana, Buddha-nature, Dharma-body, etc. Amida is thus more than a literal flesh and blood Buddha from eons before the Big Bang.

Furthermore, in reciting his name, Namu-Amida-Butsu, depths of our own being are realized which we wouldn’t be aware of otherwise, our own Buddha-nature which connects us with the Buddha-nature in all things and beings.

Rather than a fictional story manufactured to deceive the gullible, the narratives of Amida which we read in the Pure Land sutras developed from the unconscious mind of meditators who encountered Amida while in samadhi:

As a religious symbol, Amida’s Pure Land is the realm of Nirvana, rather than a geographic place galaxies away. Entrusting in the name, Namu-Amida-Butsu, we gratefully await our future rebirth into the Pure Land, the land of Nirvana.

Rather than clever deceptions, Buddhist teachings are a finger pointing to the moon of enlightenment:

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Thank you. Your post does a wonderful job of explaining signs. I have been wondering about the signless release of the heart.

Very interesting about Paul Tillich,thanks for sharing.

@karl_lew I think sign/symbol here is quite different connotation than nimitta or “sign” (and “signless”, as well as “counter sign”) spoken of in suttas and commentaries. But I can’t do those three explanatory justice.


Given that you are “sgns” I hope that you might be able to direct me to some additional short readings that inspired you?

I will PM you later this afternoon :grinning:

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The Buddha described his teaching as a raft or vehicle to the other shore of Nirvana. According to the Lotus Sutra, the word Mahayana means “the larger vehicle,” because it’s the raft intended for taking the greatest amount of people to enlightenment, rather than just monks and nuns.

You know, lay people as well as clergy attain nirvāṇa in śrāvaka scriptures.

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There’s a saying: the easier it is to get into Sukhāvatī, the later and more Chinese is the scripture.

According to whom? The three canonical Pure Land sutras are Indian in origin:

In the Pali suttas, laypeople who attain Nirvana become monks shortly afterward, if I’m not mistaken.

Of course they do. The Buddha is supposed to be actually alive in the flesh and blood at these times. Why not want to stay in his company? It’s probably a groovy place to be.

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I was looking at vow/promise 18 in the Vistaramātṛkā Sukhāvatīvyūhasūtra, along with a few others.

It’s interesting that vow 18, along with some of the more spectacular promises Dharmākaronāmabhikṣu makes of his future Buddhahood as Amitābha, are present in the prose but absent in the verse immediately following.

These are very “important” vows/promises, particularly 18. Why would the authors remove them from the verse if the verse was later? If the verse was earlier than the prose, I wonder when vow/promise 18 was added?

What seems even more likely than a completely earlier or completely later verse or prose is that the verse likely reflects an older and more authentic (and complete) account of what used to be in the prose before an expansion of the prose that was not accompanied by an expansion of the verses.

Nice theory. If only it worked!
It’s easy to make a theory which claims to be ‘better’ than the Buddha’s teachings, or give a higher goal than arahantship. However I would say that extreme sectarianism in any teaching should be a warning sign!

We could make a new Sutra right now, with a result better than Buddhahood, and a practice that takes 5 minutes that anyone can do. Will we all then believe that and convert to the teachings of this new sutra? Shall we do it?

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It’s called the Arm-chair sutra. :laughing:

Give it a Sanskrit name and wait a few centuries and you may find a whole school devoted to it.

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