Primal Vow and Nembutsu
The main object of all sentient beings is “Ten mei kai go” which means to turn from illusion and attain Enlightenment. All Buddhist schools of thought embrace this same goal of Enlightenment but differ in their method of attainment. In the schools that emphasize meditation, a human must meditate and purify their mind until it becomes pure as the Mind of the Buddha. In the school that considers practice and good works to be the primary task, a human must accumulate merits through good deeds and bring them to perfection. In both of these methods a human must increase their stock of merits by their own power until they reach Buddhahood.
The Primal Vow of Amida, on the other hand, is primarily concerned not with those who have the capacity to meditate and practice but with those whose abilities are so finite and weak that they can never hope to attain Buddhahood. It was just for such beings that Amida, realizing the sad plight of humans, made the forty-eight vows and especially the all compassionate eighteenth or Primal Vow. However, his meditation and practice would have been indeed futile if the goodness, resulting from his compassionate work, did not somehow reach the hearts of all sentient beings. Amida, therefore, put the entire results of his labor of Love into the sacred Name — Namu Amida Butsu. Thus, this Nembutsu is the embodiment of purity, truth, goodness, beauty, wisdom and peace; in other words it embodies all the highest values and qualities both conceivable and inconceivable, which Amida was able to perfect in his infinitely long period of meditation and practice.
To communicate with all sentient beings he grants this Name as a gift to all sentient beings, freely and equally. Sentient beings in every corner of the universe hear his Name and accept it with a simple, trusting heart — the heart of Entrusting. Amida’s heart and the hearts of all beings become one and identical. This fact is the true assurance of our liberation and rebirth into the Pure Land or Ojodo.
Why is it that a human who entrusts does not become enlightened in this life? The answer lies in the nature of man. He is still in his earthly body, subject to physical and mental limitations. So long as he is a relative and imperfect being, he can never become an absolute Buddha, perfect in every respect. It is, therefore, that the assurance of Buddhahood is given in this life and the actual attainment of Buddhahood is realized in the Pure Land. In the Creed we read, “We rely upon Amida Buddha with our whole heart for the Enlightenment in the life to come”.
The recitation of the Nembutsu — Namu Amida Butsu ( Entrust in Amida Buddha) is an outward verbal expression of thanksgiving and gratitude for assured liberation. This thanksgiving and gratitude for Amida’s Compassion becomes a vital spiritual force in the lives of all who follow the Nembutsu.