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The Nembutsu: Answering the Two Challenges  (continued)

To help us understand the meaning of the Nembutsu or Namo Amida Butsu, Shinran Shonin first quotes from Zendo who divides Namo Amida Butsu into Namo (Namu) and Amida Butsu.

"Namu means ‘to take refuge.’ It further signifies aspiring for birth and directing virtue. Amida-butsu is the practice. Because of this import, one necessarily attains birth."

From this foundation, Shinran Shonin defines the Buddha’ name in the following way:

"From these passages we see that the word Namu means to take refuge (kimyo), ki means to arrive at. Further, it is used in compounds to mean to yield joyfully to (kietsu) and to take shelter in (kisai). Myo means to act, to invite, to command, to teach, path, message, to devise, to summon. Thus, kimyo is the command of the Primal Vow calling to and summoning us.

Aspiring for birth and directing virtue indicates the mind of the Tathagata who, having already established the Vow, gives sentient beings the practice necessary for their birth.

The practice is the selected Primal Vow."

To repeat the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu, is to take refuge in Amida Buddha.

Namo is the activity of the Buddha that commands a response from us. It is an activity that causes us to feel both joy and security and overcomes all the sorrow and insecurity we create in our lives. It is the call of the Buddha to let us know that we do not have to live a life of suffering and sorrow.

Namo is the Buddha giving rise to vows and transferring or sharing the virtues of a Buddha. In particular it is the sharing of the Primal Vow. The Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, the Buddha’s fundamental vow, can be described as the promise of the Buddha to renounce Enlightenment itself unless all sentient beings are born into his land and achieve the same great awakening. In order to achieve this, Amida Buddha has selected the Nembutsu from among the 84,000 paths available. However, the Nembutsu is not the parroted repetition of the Name Namo Amida Butsu. It is hearing the command of the Primal Vow calling to and summoning us.

This point is emphasized in the passage where Shinran Shonin tells us practice, or Amida-butsu, is the selected Primal Vow. Practice, in other words, is the transformation of Dharmakara, the Bodhisattva who is the Dharma Storehouse, into Amida Buddha. Practice is the fulfillment of sharing the Dharma completely with others. Amida Buddha, through the Primal Vow, has promised that this sharing will be accomplished. It is a vow that reveals the Buddha’s confidence in all of us to hear and receive the heart of a Buddha.

To repeat the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu, is to take refuge in Amida Buddha. We able to take refuge because we have encountered the Vow. Through the Vow we are able to encounter Sakyamuni Buddha and all those who have helped to preserve and propagate the Nembutsu teaching, including Shinran Shonin. This teaching was only able to reach Shinran Shonin because of the Seven Masters from India, China, and Japan who transmitted the Dharma. With this approach, we can realize that the Truth we have encountered has transcended both time and space, just for us. For the assurance that Shinran Shonin felt in his life, the joy he felt in having encountered the Vow of the Buddha, he concluded that even though there is no "substantial" proof for his claims, how could all he had received be empty? In joy, without any hesitation, Shinran Shonin was able to repeat Namo Amdia Butsu as the path that the Buddha selected just for him. It is the path that opened up the entire Dharma Storehouse, and the path that revealed to him why the Buddha appeared in our world. It was the path that became his path. It is a path that can become our path. It is a path that reveals to us that none of us have been born too late; we have all been born at the right place, and at the right time.