Shakyamuni and Amida’s Skilful Means

“Śākyamuni and Amida are like our father and mother, Full of love and compassion; Guiding us with various skilful means, Supreme faith is made to arise in our hearts.” (Master Shinran)

Śākyamuni and Amida are our deeply compassionate father and mother. They are striving hard in many ways in order to save all people into absolute happiness. Thanks to these skilful provisional means of Śākyamuni and Amida, we are able to attain supreme faith (absolute happiness). To gain “supreme faith” is to be saved by Amida’s “Embracing Light” (sesshu no kōmyō). In Buddhism, the invisible power of a Buddha is called “light”, and it is taught that Amida Buddha has two kinds of light: the “Embracing Light” (sesshu no kōmyō) and the “All-Illuminating Light” (henjō no kōmyō).

The Embracing Light is the power that saves and embraces us into absolute happiness that will never change for all eternity. In the split-second when we encounter the Embracing Light, we are reborn into a state of great peace of mind at being certain to go to the Pure Land. In Ryōgemon (Paradigm Passage on the Universal Experience of True Salvation by Amida Buddha), Master Rennyo described this as the “split-second of completely believing in [Amida]” and said that as of that moment his “birth in the Pure Land [had] been fixed.”

The working that nurtures all sentient beings up until that point is the “All-Illuminating Light”. The All-Illuminating Light is a power that shines upon each and every living being; there is not a single person upon whom this Light does not shine. Even those who are not listening to Buddhism or who believe in Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism are being nurtured by this Light indiscriminately.

If we were not illuminated and nurtured by this All-Illuminating Light, we would then be unable to encounter the Embracing Light. Without Amida’s skilful provisional means, there would be absolutely no way that we could attain supreme faith. Supreme faith is not something that we can have happen through self-power; we are made to attain this faith through Amida’s skilful means. This is why, in the original Japanese of the aforementioned hymn, Master Shinran used the most highly respectful language when saying that Śākyamuni and Amida “make supreme faith arise in our hearts.”

“We don’t need the provisional. All we need is the truth.” Deluded words such as these destroy True Pure Land teaching. Knowing full well that all sentient beings of the universe are exceedingly evil and have no chance of being saved, Amida Buddha pledged to save such beings without fail. However, we are conceited and we think, “I’m sure there is someone who is much worse than me right nearby. Compared to him, I am far better.” We do not think even the tiniest bit that we could be the vilest and most evil of all beings.

It is because of this that we are not in accordance with Amida’s Primal Vow. Śākyamuni therefore expounded the Sūtra of Contemplation on the Buddha of Infinite Life (or the “Contemplation Sūtra”) and the Amida Sūtra as skilful means. In the Contemplation Sūtra, Śākyamuni put all people into nine categories from best of the best to lowest of the lowest. Upon hearing this, a person might think at first that they might not be at the top, but that they are probably not at the bottom either. However, as they are being taught that “the middle-top people are those who can do this kind of good deed, the middle-middle people are those who practice these good deeds, etc.” they will be made aware of the truth that they cannot put a single one of these deeds into practice and will become surprised to know that they are, in fact, the lowest of the lowest.

However, Amida Buddha perceived that all sentient beings in this universe are “corpses that commit the five grave offences and slander Buddhism,” which actually cannot even count amongst the lowest of the lowest. Unless the Embracing Light illuminates us through and through, we cannot know that we are in truth the vilest and most evil of all beings.

At the same time as having the truth of our selves revealed to be that of “exceedingly evil people,” we will also be made to know that “Amida’s Vow in which he pledged to save such an exceedingly evil person as I is true!” These two things occur simultaneously, in the same split-second. The working of Amida that nurtures us to that point is the “All-Illuminating Light”. To be nurtured by the All-Illuminating Light is to proceed along the one and only path of listening to Buddhism, which is why Master Shinran implored us to “listen and believe without hesitation or delay.” Let us reflect upon the profundity of a single lecture and throw ourselves into listening intently to Buddhism.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #50 | 2015, Shakyamuni and Amida’s Skilful Means

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