Q: Some people say that when we acquire faith, we gain clarity; others say that clarity is impossible for human beings. Who is right?
A: Although clarity is achieved as a matter of course, this question is surprisingly common. Acquiring faith means encountering Amida’s salvation. This means that through Amida’s Vow-power one’s birth is settled and one attains salvation in this life without regression, entering into absolute happiness. This world is continual suffering, and looming in our future is the crucial matter of incessant suffering in hell, where we are sure to fall as, abandoned by all the buddhas of the Ten Directions, we transmigrate from suffering to suffering. Taking pity on us, Amida Buddha vowed, “Trust in me, and I will surely save you into absolute happiness.”
Naturally, this promise does not refer to salvation after death. That is why Amida’s Primal Vow is referred to as heizei gojo, “salvation now, in this life.” It is a promise to save us while we are alive, out of a life of swirling pain and suffering into a life of shining light.
Nothing in the world can compare to this wonderful Vow, which is why Master Shinran wrote these words in the Hymn of True Faith:
He established the peerless, incomparable Vow;
He made the great Vow rare and all-encompassing.
“Amida Buddha established the rare and matchless Vow.”
Salvation in accordance with Amida’s Vow, by which birth (in the Pure Land) is settled and one is saved in this life without regression, entering into absolute happiness, is what is known as the acquisition or determining of faith. Since it is clear to the one saved that this takes place entirely by Amida’s power (other-power), it is called myoshin butchi, literally “clear faith through Buddha’s wisdom,” that is, clear knowledge of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. This is also known as “other-power faith.”
Moreover, Amida’s salvation is completed in an irreducibly small fraction of time called an ichinen, written with characters meaning “single thought.” This is because Amida has promised to save even those with but a moment remaining to live in literally a “single thought.” Master Shinran calls this “ichinen salvation” or “ichinen faith.” In this exceedingly small fraction of time Amida removes our suffering and grants us supreme happiness. This is also known as bakku yoraku, “removing suffering and granting ease,” or haan mangan, “destroying darkness and fulfilling the Vow.” Since Amida Buddha’s salvation is this clear, there is no need to wonder, “Am I really saved? Have I truly attained faith?” or to inquire of others about it.
Master Shinran’s Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment and other works are simply expressions of amazement and vast rejoicing at the wonder of Amida’s salvation. Master Kakunyo wrote in Notes on Steadfast Holding, “I rejoice that I am saved.” Master Rennyo, too, wrote in The Letters, “Now I have gained other-power faith; now I know clearly the great faith I have received from Amida.” Without this clarity, one cannot be at ease about the crucial matter of ojo (birth).
In the True Pure Land Hymn sung by True Pure Land Buddhists every morning and evening, we find the following lines: “Saved from eternal darkness, to what shall I compare my great happiness?” “To what can I compare my great happiness in having encountered the deep truth of Buddhism?” These lines express joy at having been granted clear salvation. Let us keep listening until we clearly achieve Amida’s unconditional, perfect, and free salvation.
“One’s birth is settled” means it becomes clear that one can go to the Pure Land.
Haan mangan: The state when darkness of mind (doubt), the source of all suffering, is eradicated and Amida’s Vow to “save you into absolute happiness” is fulfilled in the devotee.