He of the Nembutsu Is on the Path of No Hindrance
This is the famous line from the opening of Section VII of Tannisho.
First of all, what kind of person is “he of the nembutsu,” as taught by Master Shinran? This needs to be made clear.
The expression “he of the nembutsu” might appear to include any and all who recite “Namu Amida Butsu,” but this is not so.
Just as tears, though scientifically the same, may represent sadness or frustration or joy, the state of mind with which the nembutsu is recited cannot be the same for every person.
For example, the words could be uttered as a lucky charm when passing a graveyard at night or as an expression of overwhelming grief on the passing of a loved one. Some voice actors may find themselves saying the nembutsu simply because it is written in a script they have to read.
Some recite the nembutsu thinking that the virtue of the nembutsu is greater than any other good deed. To others it represents far and away the greatest good and so they devote themselves to reciting the nembutsu exclusively.
What Master Shinran placed the greatest importance on was the heart of the one who is saying the nembutsu. He lumped together the people who recite the nembutsu with the mindsets above as “people of self-power nembutsu.”
He distinguished them from those who are so full of happiness at their salvation by the wonder of the Vow-power of Amida that they cannot help saying the nembutsu in an outpouring of joy. These he called “people of other-power nembutsu”.
Master Shinran's “he of the nembutsu” always refers to people of other-power nembutsu, who have been saved by Amida――not the people of self-power nembutsu.
This is made clear in the following sentence in Section VII, where he rephrases “he of the nembutsu” as “the one who has true faith.”
Therefore, when Master Shinran said, “He of the nembutsu is on the path of no hindrance,” he was talking not about those of self-power nembutsu, but those of other-power nembutsu.
So what kind of world is this “path of no hindrance,” where nothing at all can be an obstruction?
Commentaries on Tannisho give varying explanations.
The “path of no hindrance” is variously interpreted as the “absolute path where no impediment exists” or the “one and only passageway where nothing forms a barrier,” but few people really get what it is all about.
Two sentences later in Tannisho, we read, “Such a one is unaffected by any recompense for evil.” Some readers actually take this to mean that those who say the nembutsu are free of feelings of guilt, or will escape any negative outcomes of their wrongdoing.
This is an utter misinterpretation of the “path of no hindrance.”
To grasp the concept of the “path of no hindrance” in Tannisho correctly, we must begin by affirming that the ultimate goal of Buddhism is birth in the Pure Land.
Therefore, the hindrance spoken of here means anything that will prevent, or interfere with, birth in the Pure Land.
For example, no matter what evil those who are saved by Amida may commit, it cannot possibly affect the diamond faith of absolute certainty of birth in the Pure Land. This is why Tannisho asserts that “such a one is unaffected by any recompense for evil” and avows that “He of the nembutsu is on the path of no hindrance.”
Why is it that even if those of the nembutsu commit sins, their birth in the Pure Land is unhindered?
In Section I of Tannisho, Master Shinran’s voice resounds:
“Nor is there any need to fear evil, since no evil can block the working of Amida's Primal Vow.”
Once we have encountered Amida’s salvation, which occurs in an ichinen in the present life, whatever sin we may commit, we will no longer have even the tiniest ripple of fear that our birth in the Pure Land is endangered.
No evil karmic power can be a match for the limitless Vow-power.
Even if a mountain were to crumble, it would not shake this world――a world beyond description, beyond explanation, and beyond understanding. That is why Master Shinran proclaims it the “path of no hindrance.”
At the same time, no practice, however diligently we carry it out, can yield any outcome comparable to the wonder of the “path of no hindrance,” where we dance in the heavens and on earth. This is why Tannisho declares this world to be “beyond the reach of every possible good” (Section VII) and proclaims that “there can be no greater good than the nembutsu” (Section I).
Indeed, “he of the nembutsu is on the path of no hindrance.”
Let us read the words of Master Shinran, imbued with his unchanging, heartfelt compassion, hear Amida’s Vow, be saved, and make this a year of eternal brilliance.
Because the power of Amida’s Vow is without limits,
Even our evil karma, so deep and heavy, is not an obstruction,
Because the Buddha's wisdom is without bounds,
Even those of distracted minds and self-indulgence are not abandoned.
―Hymns on the Three Ages
No matter how heavy our sins are
And no matter how distracted our minds are,
The infinite Vow-power of Amida
Does not abandon us, and saves us without fail.
Amida Buddha’s Vow is a torch in the long night of darkness;
Sorrow not that your eyes to wisdom are blind.
It is a ship on the vast sea of birth-and-death;
Grieve not that your hindrances of sin weigh heavy.
―Hymns on the Three Ages
Do not cry over the depth of the darkness.
Do not lament the heaviness of sin.
Amida Buddha’s vast wondrous power
Is a ship that carries us across life’s sea of suffering.