Shinran and His Work, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
"Amida," "says the Shinshuist, saves us by the exercise of His two great attributes of Mercy and Wisdom" (hi-chi no ni-toku wo motte warera wo sukuu § 52). * He saves the world by Wisdom, when He allows a part of himself to become incarnate in one of the Nirmanakaya or Keshin forms, to become the spiritual teachers of suffering humanity. In this way many of the Buddhas and Saints in the past have laboured with Him, or rather He has laboured in them, and in none more conspicuously than in Sakyamuni, who is the Teacher par excellence of the Buddhist world. He saves by Mercy by virtue of His Incarnation as Hōzō Biku, His sufferings, His exaltation, His enthronement in Paradise after He had reconquered, as man, all that He had voluntarily surrendered, as the Supreme Buddha.
Whichever way he chooses, His object is still the same,—to save from sin and its attendant miseries His poor children who are fast "bound in misery and iron," so fast that they cannot get out of their prison-house without some one to help them.
[paragraph continues] Buddhism believes in birth-sin, the guilt of which it does not become less awful to contemplate when it is accepted as the inevitable consequence of previous sins, a guilt contracted from many sources, in the course of a long series of previous lives. It is from this guilt, this Karma, that Amida would save us. If we listen to His voice, and trust in His mercies, we pass from death to life, death loses its hold on us, there is no returning to this vale of sin and misery. If we refuse, there is no vengeance, no unending misery of hell awaiting us. There is rebirth, there may be rebirths, and some of these rebirths may be in Hell. But Hell is not a place of endless sojourn. There is death in Hell, as there is on Earth, as there is in every place but the Heaven where the invisible Dharmakaya sits enthroned. And everywhere may be heard the voice of Amida: and they that hear shall live.
And what is the Voice?
To the Shinshuist it is summed up in the six Chinese characters Namu Amida Butsu (#). This Myōgō, or Sacred Name, as it is called, is to the Shinshuist all that the Crucifix is to the Catholic, or the Sacred Monogram I.H.S. It is the Symbolical Embodiment of all that Amida, in fulfilment of His Great Vow, has done for man. Indeed, it is more. It is what the Passover was to the Jews, what the Holy Sacrifice is to the Christian. It is itself the answer to the question, "What mean ye by this Sacrifice?" (§§ 52, 53). Wherever the Myōgō is seen written or carved, or wherever (for the Myōgō has this advantage
over the Christian monograph that it appeals to the ear as well as to the eye, and can be heard as well as seen)—wherever the Nembutsu is recited, it bears witness to that which Amida has done. They who hear it for the first time enquire about the reason, and they to whom the sound is a familiar one pause to remember its meaning with gladdened hearts. There is said to be in the Myōgō all the Strength of the Great Vow.
When a man thus hears the recital of the Myōgō, he places himself by faith in a position of entire and absolute trust in the Mercies of Him whom he believes to have done such great things for him. By this act, a vital union (if I may so call it) is effected between the believer, who is sinful, and Amida, who is sinless, a union which cannot be effected without the cutting of sin and evil. From the moment that the believer puts his whole trust and confidence in Amida, the roots of his sins are cut, the past Karma destroyed, and if he does not enter Paradise at once, yet he is placed in safe keeping in the Sacred Heart of Amida. (Dai-jihi, dai-chie no Busshin ni ireru koto ni narimasu.) †
It is after this initial step has been taken, after the believer, by an act (Ketsujō) of Faith, has taken advantage of that which the Mercy of Heaven has provided for Him that the Wisdom of Buddha comes into play. For the Faith which has been placed as a seedling in our hearts must be watered and refreshed by teaching and doctrine, and that teaching the Shinshu Buddhist finds, or thinks he finds, in the Scriptures which contain the undoubted teachings of Sakyamuni, the man that came, according to Shinran, to testify in India to Amida and Hōzō Biku.
89:* We may perhaps see traces of the same thought in the juxtaposition in our Creed of the Holy Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints. The Church is the Body through which is declared unto angels and men the "manifold wisdom of God": the Saints are the special recipients of his love.
91:† Shinshu Hyakuwa § 54 quotes the authority of the Chinese Patriarch Zendō, (who is also mentioned in the Shōshinge). It is also remarkable that Zendō speaks of the Myōgō, or the Call of Amida to the Soul, as a "sharp sword," a term which becomes more significant when taken in conjunction with the phrase "cutting between flesh and bone," which I have found elsewhere (in Anshinketsugoshokōwa) seen applied to the effects of the Myōgō. These quasi-echoes of Scriptural phrases are constantly surprising the student in his study of Shinshu books. In the chapter on Buddha no mi-na in Shinshu Seikun p. 362–373 it is said the Name is more highly to be valued than either p. 92 pictures or idols, for it is indeed the Foundation of Salvation, the hearing of it constituting Ojō (#) i e. "birth into Paradise while still living," or the new Birth of Buddhism. The Myōgō summarizes all wisdom, is the fulfilment of all virtues, the crown of all religious rites. It renders unnecessary all other worship, for the Name of the One Buddha is the pleroma of all that is worshipped as God. (Ichibutsu no na sunawachi shobutsu no Na). I have often thought that the Cult of the Sacred Heart may prove to be one of the instruments in God's hand of the turning of Buddhism to Christ.