Summary of Faith and Practice

by Dharmavidya, inspired by Honen’s Ichimai Kishomon (also found on the first page of the Nien Fo book)

For those having a karmic affinity with Amitabha Buddha wishing to practise a religious life in truly simple faith, freeing themselves of sophistication and attachment to all forms of cleverness, the method of opening oneself to Amitabha’s grace is the practice of Nien Fo with body, speech and mind, particularly verbal recitation of “Namo Amida Bu”. This is not something done as a form of meditation, nor is it based on study, understanding and wisdom, or the revelation of deep meaning. Deep meaning is indeed there for the nembutsu is a window through which the whole universe of Buddha’s teaching can be perceived in all its depth, but none of this is either necessary or even helpful to success in the practice. Rather such study cultivates secondary faculties to be held separate from the mind of practice itself.

The primary practice requires only one essential: realise that you are a totally foolish being who understands nothing, but who can with complete trust recite “Namo Amida Bu”; know that this will generate rebirth in the Pure Land, without even knowing what rebirth in the Pure Land truly is. This is the practice for ignorant beings and ignorance is essential for its accomplishment. This practice automatically encompasses the three minds and the mind of contrition as a fourth. To pursue something more profound or more sophisticated, or to have a theory, or to think that understanding will yield greater enlightenment than this is to be mislead and to fall back into self-power whereby the whole practice is spoilt. However wise, learned or skilled you may be, set it aside and be the foolish being completely in the performance of the practice. Nothing else is required and anything else is too much. Faith and practice cannot be differentiated.

The Buddha-body is delineated by the precepts. How deficient we are by comparison! By our daily difficulty in the preceptual life, we awaken to the presence of the myriad karmic obstacles without which we would already perceive the land of love and bliss, we would be as the vow-body of Buddha. Thus we know in experience that we are foolish beings of wayward passion. This knowledge of our condition is part of the essential basis when it gives rise to contrition. Thus all obstacles become impediments to faith unless we experience contrition and letting go. Saving grace, as was made clear by Shan Tao’s dream and advice to Tao Cho, only comes through the sange-mon.

If you can perform the practice in this simple minded way, Amida will receive you and you may fear for nothing since all is completely assured. Dwelling in this settled faith you may then use your secondary faculties, your knowledge and skills and accumulated experience, as tools for helping all sentient beings. But do not then think that anything of relevance to your own salvation is thereby accomplished, nor that you are making something of yourself. Whatever merit there may be in your actions of this kind, immediately and totally dedicate it to the benefit of others, that they may enter the Pure Land and that you yourself may not be encumbered by consciousness of virtue which will only contaminate the practice. As Honen says, “without pedantic airs, fervently recite the Name.” *

  • Below is the original text of Honen’s Ichimai Kishomon:

Honen’s “One Page Document” – his final testament,
written for his disciple Genchi.

The method of final salvation that I have propounded is neither a sort of meditation, such as has been practised by many scholars in China and Japan, nor is it a repetition of the Buddha’s name by those who have studied and understood the deep meaning of it. It is nothing but the mere repetition of the “Namo Amida Bu” without a doubt of his mercy, whereby one may be born into the Land of Perfect Bliss. The mere repetition with firm faith includes all the practical details, such as the threefold preparation of mind and the four practical rules. If I as an individual have any doctrine more profound than this, I should miss the mercy of the two Honourable Ones, Amida and Shakyamuni, and be left out of the vow of Amida Buddha. Those who believe this, though they clearly understand all the teachings Shakyamuni taught throughout his whole life, should behave themselves like simple minded folk who know not a single letter, or like ignorant nuns or monks whose faith is implicitly simple. Thus, without pedantic airs, they should fervently practise the recitation of the name of Amida and that alone.