Notes on Once-calling and
1 ^The Teaching of once-calling should not be considered false
^Every person should desire continually, up to the time of death, that all the excellent conditions and surroundings appear before them.*
^Continually means without stopping. Thus, you should desire from time to time as occasions arise. “Continually” here does not mean constancy. “Constancy” means that there should be no pause. It means always in terms of time, anywhere and everywhere in terms of place.
^Everyone, up to the time of death means “all sentient beings who aspire for the land of bliss, to the end of their lives”.
^Excellent conditions and surroundings* means that you should desire to behold the Buddha, to see the light, to smell the wondrous fragrance, and to encounter the guidance of a true teacher.
^All appear before them: you should wish these wonderful things to appear before your eyes.
2 ^In the Larger Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life it is taught:
All sentient beings, as they hear the Name, realize even one thought-moment of shinjin and joy, which is directed to them from Amida’s sincere mind, and aspiring to be born in that land, they then attain birth and dwell in the stage of nonretrogression.*
^All sentient beings: all the sentient beings throughout the ten quarters.
^Hear the Name is to hear the Name that embodies the Primal Vow. “Hear” means to hear the Primal Vow and be free of doubt. Further, it indicates shinjin.
^Realize even one thought-moment of shinjin and joy: shinjin is hearing the Vow of the Tathagata and being free of doubt.
^Joy (kangi) means to be gladdened in body (kan) and gladdened in heart (gi). It means to rejoice beforehand at being assured of attaining what one shall attain.
^Even includes all possibilities, both many and few, a long time and a short time, first and later.
^One thought-moment is time at its ultimate limit, where the realization of shinjin takes place.
^Directed to them from Amida’s sincere mind: ^Sincere mind is that which is true, real, and sincere, the heart of Amida Tathagata.
^Directed to them is Amida’s giving the Name that embodies the Primal Vow to sentient beings throughout the ten quarters.
^Aspiring to be born in that land: aspiring to be born means that every sentient being should desire to be born in the land fulfilled through the Primal Vow. That land is the land of happiness.
^They then attain birth: then (soku) means immediately, without any time elapsing, without a day passing.
^Soku also means to ascend to and become established in a certain rank.
^Attain means to have attained what one shall attain.
^When one realizes true and real shinjin, one is immediately grasped and held within the heart of the Buddha of unhindered light, ever to be abandoned.
^“To grasp” (sesshu) means to take in (setsu) and to receive and hold (shu). When we are grasped by Amida, immediately―without a moment or a day elapsing―we ascend to and become established in the stage of the truly settled;* this is the meaning of attain birth.
3 ^Further, Bodhisattva Dharmākara established the Vow of necessary attainment of nirvana, which is taught in the Larger Sutra:
^If, when I attain Buddhahood, the human beings and devas in my land do not dwell among the settled there also, necessarily attaining nirvana, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.*
^[Another translation of] the sutra states:
^If, when I become Buddha, the sentient beings in my land do not decidedly attain the equal of perfect enlightenment, so that they realize great nirvana, may I not attain enlightenment.*
^Thus Bodhisattva Dharmākara established this Vow. Śākyamuni Tathagata explains its fulfillment for the sake of us, who are corrupt with the five defilements:
^The sentient beings born in that land all dwell among the truly settled, for in that Buddha-land there is not one who is falsely settled or not settled.*
^In these words of the two honored ones we find stated the significance of they then attain birth; that is, to become established in the stage of the truly settled thus is itself to dwell in the stage of nonretrogression.* ^When a person becomes established in this stage, he or she becomes one who will necessarily attain the supreme great nirvana; hence, it is taught that one realizes the equal of perfect enlightenment, or avaivartika, or avinivartanīya.* It is also said one “immediately enters the stage of the definitely settled”.
4 ^The true and real shinjin explained above is the diamondlike mind of the crosswise leap realized through Other Power. ^Hence the Larger Sutra teaches that the person of the nembutsu is of [the stage] next [to enlightenment], like Maitreya.* ^Maitreya is a bodhisattva of the diamondlike mind of lengthwise progression. “Lengthwise” applies to people who follow the Path of Sages, the path of difficult practice performed through self-power. “Crosswise” means laterally or transcendently; “leap” means to go beyond. When we have boarded the ship of the Buddha’s karmic power, which has been fulfilled through the great Vow, we go laterally and transcendently beyond the vast ocean of birth-and-death and reach the shore of the true fulfilled land.
^[The stage] next [to enlightenment], like Maitreya: next means near, next in order. “Near” means that Maitreya is a person who will definitely attain supreme nirvana. Hence the pronouncement, like Maitreya. The person who realizes shinjin and says the nembutsu is nearing supreme nirvana also. “Next in order” means that when 5,670,000,000 years have passed, Maitreya will definitely attain the level of perfect enlightenment* and will become the next Buddha in this world after Śākyamuni.
^Like: persons of shinjin, which is Other Power, are “like Maitreya” in that they rise to the stage of nonretrogression in their present life and will unfailingly attain the enlightenment of supreme nirvana.
5 ^The Treatise on the Pure Land states:
The sutra declares, “Those who, simply hearing of the purity and happiness of that land, earnestly desire to be born there, and those who attain birth, immediately enter the stage of the truly settled.” This shows that the land’s very name performs the Buddha’s work [of saving others]. How can this be conceived?*
^This passage states, “Hearing of the purity and happiness of that land with wholeheartedness, the person who realizes shinjin and aspires to be born there and the person who has already attained birth immediately enter the stage of the truly settled. In other words, the Buddha’s work is assuredly accomplished in hearing the name of that land: how can this be conceivable?”* ^Know, then, that although they neither seek nor know the indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable virtues of the Pure Land of happiness, those who entrust themselves to the Primal Vow are made to acquire them.
6 ^Further, Wang Jih-hsiu states:
The being of the nembutsu, as such, is the same as Maitreya.*
^The being of the nembutsu: the person who has realized diamondlike shinjin.
^As such means immediately; also, by means of. Thus, “since one is immediately brought to dwell in the stage of the truly settled through the compassionate means of shinjin.”
^Same means that the persons of the nembutsu are the same as Maitreya in that they will attain the supreme nirvana.
7 ^Further, Śākyamuni states in a sutra:
Know that the person who says the nembutsu is a white lotus among people.*
^The person who says the nembutsu:
^Know that the person who says the nembutsu is a white lotus among people: With these words the Tathagata likens the persons of the nembutsu to the white lotus, ^the flower praised as the best among best flowers, the excellent flower, the wondrous excellent flower, the rare flower, the very finest flower. ^Master Shan-tao of Kuang-ming temple interprets this to be praise of the person of the nembutsu as the best among the best, the excellent person, the wondrous excellent person, the truly rare person, the very finest person.*
8 ^Further in teaching the benefit of being protected in this present life, it is stated:
There are sentient beings who solely think on Amida Buddha; only these people are constantly illumined by the light of that Buddha’s heart, grasped and protected, never to be abandoned. It is not at all stated that any practicers of various other acts are illumined and embraced. This is being protected in the present life, a manifestation of the decisive cause of birth in the Pure Land.*
^There are sentient beings who solely think on Amida Buddha signifies entrusting oneself with wholeness of heart to Amida Buddha.
^The light of that Buddha’s heart is the heart of the Buddha of unhindered light.
^These people are constantly illumined: constantly means ever, without pause. Without pause, the person of true and real shinjin is ever illumined and protected, at all times and places. Since he or she is constantly protected without pause by the heart of Amida, this Buddha is called the Buddha of unceasing light.
^These people: these is used in contrast with “non-”.* People of true and real shinjin are called “these people”. Those who are empty and transitory, full of doubt and vacillation, are “non-persons”. “Non-persons” are rejected as not being persons; they are people of falsity. “These people” are true persons.
^Grasped and protected, never to be abandoned: grasped means to embrace.
^Protected means that the Buddha protects the person of shinjin without pause―in all places, at all times, and without any discrimination among people. “Protected” means that one cannot be deterred by those who have taken up other teachings and beliefs, nor obstructed by those of different understandings and practices;* one is not threatened by the heavenly demon Pāpīyas, nor troubled by evil gods and demons.
^Never to be abandoned: these words teach us that the person of shinjin is embraced and protected by the heart of the Buddha of wisdom-light and that he or she is never abandoned, but always resides within that heart of light.
^It is not stated at all that any practicers of various other acts are illumined and embraced: various other acts signifies all the various kinds of good acts. Thus, it is not the case that any who perform sundry practices and incline toward different forms of discipline are illumined and embraced; they are not protected. This sentence urges us to realize that such people do not receive the benefit of being grasped by Amida, for they are not practicers of the Primal Vow. It means that they are not protected in the present life.
^This is being protected in the present life means that Amida protects us in this world. This karmic power of the Buddha, fulfilled through the Primal Vow, is the strong cause of the attainment of birth by the person of shinjin; hence it is called the decisive cause. ^The person who rejoices in realizing shinjin is taught in a sutra to be the equal of the Buddhas.*
9^Master Genshin of Shuryōgon-in states:
Although I too am within Amida’s grasp, blind passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see [the light]; nevertheless, great compassion untiringly and constantly illumines me.*
^This means, “Even though I am also in Amida’s grasp, I cannot see because of the blind passions that obstruct my eyes. Nevertheless, great compassion is tireless and always illumines me.”
10 ^If there are persons who, having heard the Name of that Buddha, leap and dance with joy and say it even once, know that they receive the great benefit; that is, they acquire the unexcelled virtues.*
^There are persons who, having heard the Name of that Buddha: Śākyamuni’s words exhorting us to entrust ourselves to the Name that embodies the Primal Vow.
^Leap and dance with joy and say it even once: joy is to rejoice beforehand at being assured of attaining what one shall attain.
^Leap and dance (yuyaku) means to dance in the air (yu) and to dance on the ground (yaku); it is the form of boundless joy and manifests the state of gladness and delight. “Gladness” is to rejoice upon attaining what one shall attain and “delight” is happiness. Attaining the stage of the truly settled expresses itself in this form.
^Even indicates the indeterminateness of the number of times one should say the Name.
^Say [the Name] once is virtue at its fullness. The countless virtues are all included and the various merits all held in a single utterance.
^Know that they: people realizing shinjin.
^Receive the great benefit:* they will realize the supreme nirvana; hence it is further stated, that is, they acquire the unexcelled virtues. That is means immediately; it also means dharmicness.
^In entrusting ourselves to the Tathagata’s Primal Vow and saying the Name once, necessarily, without seeking it, we are made to receive the supreme virtues, and without knowing it, we acquire the great and vast benefit. This is dharmicness, by which one will immediately realize the various facets of enlightenment naturally. “Dharmicness”* means not brought about in any way by the practicer’s calculation; from the very beginning one shares in the benefit that surpasses conception. It indicates the nature of jinen. “Dharmicness” expresses the natural working (jinen) in the life of the person who realizes shinjin and says the Name once.
11 ^Concerning the statement from the sutra, There is not one who is falsely settled or not settled: not one who is falsely settled means, “because in the fulfilled land there is no one who performs various good acts and practices in mixed ways.”
^Not settled: in the true fulfilled land there is no one who says the nembutsu in self-power or in doubt, for only the truly settled are born there.
^These passages are scriptural evidence for the teaching of once-calling. I have not explained them as fully as I would like, but using these notes, please explore their deepest significance.
12 ^The Teaching of many-calling should not be considered false
^In the Primal Vow are the words:
Saying my Name perhaps even ten times.*
^Know from the words ten times that appear from the beginning in the Vow itself that saying the Name is not limited to one utterance. And the word perhaps even makes it clearer still that there is no set number of times one should say the Name. This Vow shows the way that is easy to traverse and easy to practice; it reveals the boundlessness of great love and great compassion.
13 ^In the Smaller Sutra Śākyamuni Tathagata teaches, “You should say the Name for one to seven days.”* ^This sutra is called “the exposition delivered spontaneously, not in response to a question”. The Tathagata preached it without being requested to. ^That is, Śākyamuni decided to set forth in this sutra his fundamental intent in appearing in the world; this is why it is “the exposition delivered spontaneously, not in response to a question”.
^The Primal Vow that expresses Amida’s selection of the Name, the witness of the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters, the basic intent of all the Buddhas in appearing in the world, and the protection of Tathagatas countless as the sands of the Ganges all indicate the Vow that the Buddhas praise the Name.*
14 ^The Vow that all the Buddhas say the Name in praise is stated in the Larger Sutra:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters do not all praise and say my Name, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.
^This compassionate Vow declares, “If, when I have realized Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters do not all praise and say my Name, then I shall not attain Buddhahood.”
^Praise means to be praised by all the Buddhas.
15 ^Single-heartedly practicing the saying of the Name of Amida alone―whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining―without regard to the length of time, and without abandoning it from moment to moment: this is called “the act of true settlement,” for it is in accord with the Buddha’s Vow.*
^With single-heartedness solely saying Amida’s Name: single-heartedness is the diamondlike shinjin.
^Solely saying Amida’s Name is wholehearted single practice. “Wholehearted” means not shifting to other good acts, not turning one’s thoughts to other Buddhas; “single practice” is solely to practice the Name that embodies the Primal Vow, free of all doubt. “Practice” means to amend and rectify the unsettledness of the heart and say the nembutsu. “Single” means sole, one. “Sole” means having no thought of shifting to other good acts or other Buddhas.
^Whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining―without regard to the length of time, and without abandoning it from moment to moment: for time (jisetsu), ji is time in terms of the twelve hours of the day; setsu indicates time as the twelve months and four seasons. That times are not distinguished means that there is no need to avoid impure occasions. Because there is no discrimination among various activities, the word without regard is used.
^This is called “the act of true settlement,” for it is in accord with the Buddha’s Vow: to entrust oneself to the universal Vow is for the karmic cause resulting in birth in the fulfilled land to become settled; it is called the act of true settlement, for it is in accord with the Buddha’s Vow.
16 ^It is those who argue over once-calling and many-calling who are termed people of other teachings and different understandings. ^Other teachings applies to those who incline toward the Path of Sages or nonbuddhist ways, endeavor in other practices, think on other Buddhas, observe lucky days and auspicious occasions, and depend on fortune-telling and ritual purification. Such people belong to nonbuddhist ways; they rely wholly on self-power.
^Different understandings refers to saying the nembutsu but not entrusting oneself to Other Power.
^Different means to divide something that is integral into two.
^Understanding means to realize, to unravel. It is seeking to understand through self-power while saying the nembutsu. Hence the expression, different understandings.
^Further, those who take up auxiliary good acts are people endeavoring in self-power. “Self-power” characterizes those who have full confidence in themselves, trusting in their own hearts and minds, striving with their own powers, and relying on their own various roots of good.
17 ^When we say the nembutsu, whether, at the upper limit, spending our entire lives in utterance, or down to ten
Or three or five times, the Buddha will come to welcome us.
This Amida accomplishes directly with the universal Vow, which is replete with compassion.
Foolish beings, when they become mindful of the Vow, are immediately brought to the attainment of birth; this is made the essential purport.*
^At the upper limit, spending our entire lives: at the upper limit means top, to advance, to ascend. It means “to the end of one’s life”.
^Spending means “until exhausted”.
^Lives indicates form; it also means to manifest. Thus, “saying the nembutsu to the very end of life.
^Amida Buddha will come to welcome us . . . when we say the nembutsu but ten or three or five times: this means that it does not depend on the number of times the nembutsu is said.
^Accomplishes directly with the universal Vow: directly means true; it refers to the Tathagatas’ direct teaching. The “direct teaching” is the fundamental intent of all the Buddhas in appearing in this world.
^Accomplish means to do, to use, to be settled, that, this, to encounter. “To encounter” implies form.
^Replete means accumulated, momentous, ample. This passage teaches us to realize that Amida’s using and settling on the Name that embodies the Vow is replete with the Buddha’s compassion.
18 ^Moreover, Śākyamuni states in the Larger Sutra:
The reason the Tathagatas appear in the world is their desire to save the multitudes of beings and by blessing them with the true and real benefit.
^Tathagatas indicates all the Buddhas.
^Appear in the world means, “Buddhas come into the world”.
^Their desire to save the multitudes of beings: ^The multitudes of beings indicates all sentient beings.
^The true and real benefit is Amida’s Vow. ^Thus, the reason that the Buddhas appear in the world age after age is that they desire to bless and save all sentient beings by teaching the power of Amida’s Vow. Since they take this as their fundamental intent, the Vow is called the true and real benefit. Further, it is termed “the direct teaching for which all Buddhas appear in the world”.
^The eighty-four thousand dharma-gates are all good practices of the provisional means of the Pure Land teaching; they are known as the “essential” or provisional gate.* ^This gate consists of the good practices, meditative and nonmeditative, taught in the Sutra of Contemplation on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life. Meditative good refers to the thirteen contemplations; nonmeditative good refers to the good acts of the three types of meritorious behavior and the nine grades of beings. These all belong to the “essential” gate, which is the provisional means of the Pure Land teaching; it is also called the provisional gate. ^Encouraging and guiding all sentient beings with various means through this “essential” or provisional gate, the Buddha teaches and encourages them to enter “the great treasure ocean of true and real virtue―the Primal Vow, perfect and unhindered, which is One Vehicle”. Hence, all good acts of self-power are called provisional ways.
^“One Vehicle” here refers to the Primal Vow. “Perfect” means that the Primal Vow is full of all merits and roots of good, lacking none, and further, that it is free and unrestricted. “Unhindered” means that it cannot be obstructed or destroyed by blind passion and karmic evil. “True and real virtue” is the Name. Since the wondrous principle of true reality or suchness has reached its perfection in the Primal Vow, this Vow is likened to a great treasure ocean. ^True reality-suchness is the supreme great nirvana. Nirvana is dharma-nature. Dharma-nature is Tathagata. With the words, “treasure ocean,” the Buddha’s nondiscriminating, unobstructed, and nonexclusive guidance of all sentient beings is likened to the all-embracing waters of the great ocean.
^From this treasure ocean of oneness form was manifested, taking the name of Bodhisattva Dharmākara, who, through establishing the unhindered Vow as the cause, became Amida Buddha. For this reason Amida is the “Tathagata of fulfilled body”. Amida has been called “Buddha of unhindered light filling the ten quarters”. This Tathagata is also known as Namo-fukashigikō-butsu (Namo-Buddha of inconceivable light) ^and is the “dharma-body as compassionate means”. “Compassionate means” refers to manifesting form, revealing a name, and making itself known to sentient beings. It refers to Amida Buddha. This Tathagata is light. Light is none other than wisdom; wisdom is the form of light. Wisdom is, in addition, formless; hence this Tathagata is the Buddha of inconceivable light. This Tathagata fills the countless worlds in the ten quarters, and so is called “Buddha of boundless light”. Further, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu has given the name, “Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters”.
19 ^The Treatise on the Pure Land states:
^Contemplating the power of the Buddha’s Primal Vow,
I see that no one who encounters it passes by in vain;
It quickly brings to fullness and perfection
The great treasure ocean of virtues.
^This passage states: “When I behold* the power of the Buddha’s Primal Vow, I see that there is no one who encounters it and passes by in vain. It effectively brings the great treasure ocean of virtues quickly to fullness and perfection.”
^Contemplating means to bring to mind the power of the Vow. It also means to know.
Encounter means to entrust oneself to the power of the Primal Vow.
No one passes by in vain: no one who has shinjin meaninglessly remains in the world of birth-and-death.
^Bring means to cause; it also means good.
Quickly means rapidly, fast.
Virtues signifies none other than the Name.
^The Great treasure ocean: all roots of good and all virtues being full to the utmost is likened to the ocean.
^By these words we know that these virtues quickly and rapidly become perfectly full in the hearts of persons who entrust themselves to them. Thus, though persons of the diamondlike mind neither know nor seek it, the vast treasure of virtues completely fills them; hence it is likened to an ocean of great treasure.
20 ^Foolish beings, when they become mindful [of the Vow], are immediately brought to the attainment of birth; this is made the essential purport.*
^Made the essential purport means to take as central or fundamental. It also means to reach. “To reach” is to attain the true fulfilled land.
^Foolish beings: none other than ourselves. Thus, “You should take entrusting to the power of the Primal Vow to be essential.”
^Become mindful means entrusting ourselves to the Tathagata’s Vow without any doubt.
^Immediately (soku) means at once. Immediately [attain] birth is to become settled in the stage of the truly settled without any time elapsing, without a day passing. This is expressed, when they become mindful of the Vow, are immediately brought to the attainment of birth.
^Soku also means to ascend, which describes the status of one who will necessarily rise to a certain rank. In secular usage, to rise to the throne of the country is “ascension to rank”. The person of the rank of crown prince necessarily rises to the rank of king. Likewise, ascending to the stage of the truly settled is similar to holding the rank of crown prince, with ascension to rank―enthronement in the case of the prince―corresponding to the attainment of supreme great nirvana. Amida has vowed that the person of shinjin, having reached the stage of the truly settled, shall necessarily attain nirvana. This is called the essential purport, meaning that the realization of the enlightenment of nirvana is taken to be fundamental.
^Foolish beings: as expressed in the parable of the two rivers of water and fire, we are full of ignorance and blind passion. Our desires are countless, and anger, wrath, jealousy, and envy are overwhelming, arising without pause; to the very last moment of life they do not cease, or disappear, or exhaust themselves. When we, who are so shameful, go a step or two, little by little, along the White Path of the power of the Vow, we are taken in and held by the compassionate heart of the Buddha of unhindered light, It is fundamental that because of this we will unfailingly reach the Pure Land of happiness, whereupon we will be brought to realize the same enlightenment of great nirvana as Amida Tathagata, being born in the flower of that perfect enlightenment. This is expressed, Foolish beings, when they become mindful of the Vow, are immediately brought to the attainment of birth; this is made the essential purport.
^In the parable of the two rivers, “going a step or two” signifies the passage of one or two years. ^The direct teaching for which all Buddhas have appeared in this world―the Tathagata’s fundamental intent in his attainment of the way―has been to make central the bringing of sentient beings to think on Amida’s Primal Vow so that they immediately attain birth.
21 ^Now, truly knowing Amida’s universal Primal Vow and saying the Name.*
This passage speaks of truly knowing the Tathagata’s Primal Vow.
^Truly refers to the diamondlike mind.
^Know means to know that Amida guides sentient beings who are filled with blind passions and karmic evil. Further, know is to behold, which means to call to mind and think on. Know thus means to call to mind and realize.
^And saying the Name: and means extending to, including.
^Saying (shō) means to utter the Name. Shō also means to weigh, to determine the measure of something. This means that when a person says the Name even ten times or but once, hearing it and being without even the slightest doubt, he or she will be born in the true fulfilled land.*
^Further, the Smaller Sutra teaches that one should say the Name for seven days or a single day.*
22 ^These passages are scriptural evidence for the teaching of many-calling. I have not explained them as fully as I would like, but you should see from these notes that the dispute over once-calling and many-calling is pointless. ^The tradition of the true Pure Land teaching speaks of birth through the nembutsu. Never has there been mention of “birth through once-calling” or “birth through many-calling”. Please understand this.
^That people of the countryside, who do not know the meanings of characters and who are painfully and hopelessly ignorant, may easily understand, I have repeatedly written the same things again and again. The educated reader will probably find this writing peculiar and may ridicule it. But paying no heed to such criticism, I wrote only that foolish people may easily grasp the essential meaning.
Kōgen 2 , Second month, 17th day
Written at age 85