Buddhist Beliefs, Practices and Experiences
The Primal Vow: Power of Love

The Power of Universal Love

The Primal Vow is the one of the most important terms in Shin Buddhism. It refers to the already fulfilled 48 Vows of Amida Buddha in timeless time, revealed in the Sacred Story from the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life. The Primal Vow is a metaphor expressing the primordial promise of Life itself to care for and liberate the weak, fragile and suffering, regardless of moral or economic status, race, gender, belief, intellectual capacity or species. It manifests the fulfillment of its ancient promise in the minds of human beings through the process of conditional co-arising, the experience of shinjin and its resulting verbal salvific response of the nembutsu-Namu-Amida-Butsu.

Great Activity

The Primal Vow is a metaphor expressing the Great Activity of the universe, the living reality of unconditional love and compassion, which completely identifies itself with the joys and sufferings of each sentient being and ceaselessly works to spiritually liberate all from their delusions and distress. This inconceivable and conscious flow of life and light is an active karmic agent in our lives, operating through the multitude of interconnections we encounter in our life experience.

As a symbol of the nameless and living caring truth (dharma) that lies both within and outside of us, the Primal Vow is equated with our true nature or Buddha-nature. Ultimately, it is the Great Activity of pure love, the life of Amida Buddha, giving herself up to all sentient beings and channeling their suffering burdens to the ocean of immeasurable life.

Co-arising and Shunyata

Buddhism refers to the boundless web of interconnections as conditional co-arising, in which every thing simultaneously co-arises or co-manifests due to a countless number of other conditions in space and time. Furthermore, every thing is in constant flux and interpenetrated with everything else and has its ultimate reality in everything. This dynamic reality is often referred to as shunyata (emptiness), in which there is no individual self or absolute identity but all things are full of the totality, the Oneness of reality. Many consider shunyata as static or inert abstraction but in Shin Buddhism it is considered the living web of existence and dynamic reality. Ok. How does conditional co-arising and shunyata relate to the Primal Vow? Please read on.

Buddha's Karma

It must be stated that this Primal Vow is not a supernatural power but is the natural activity of enlightenment itself, seeking to transform falsity and suffering into truth and liberation. It is the result of cosmic evolution in timeless time, in which Amida's karmic power, symbolized as the Primal Vow, absorbs the burdens of all sentient beings. It is akin to a vast ocean that absorbs and cleanses the dirty waters from all rivers and streams. Since it is part of the natural backdrop of the universe like gravity, the Primal Vow seamlessly functions throughout the countless galaxies, time, the Earth, its eco-system, our family, work, friends, pets, difficult people we meet, our minds, etc.

Other Power

Its integral working in our mundane everyday life is often referred to as tariki, which is a Japanese word, often translated as Other Power or Natural Power. However, let's be careful about the meaning of "Other Power." It does not mean that another force or Higher Power is in control of our lives but instead refers to that which is other than the self-centered ego. That is to say, tariki is the negation of our self-centered ego designs as the major player in manipulating the natural way (tao) of existence and the religious quest.

Let's clarify tariki even further and say that Other Power is another way to describe the dynamic reality of shunyata, in which everything is intimately part of everything else and all things arise simultaneously with everything else. If this is the case, the Primal Vow, as Amida's karmic power, is intimately part of our personal reality whether we believe it or not. Immanence (namu) and transcendence (Amida or tariki) unfold together and are united at the juncture of the very here and now. Through the nembutsu, we awaken (shinjin) to the working of Other Power and thus come face to face with fact that we have no control in the endless flow of life or events. We can only humble ourselves to the compassionate and boundless web of life and light, symbolized as Amida Buddha, who makes our existence possible and spiritually nourishes us through her Primal Vow.

Primal Vow and Nembutsu

The Primal Vow is the elemental prayer or wish of the one Life for the liberation from suffering of all sentient beings in time and space. Not a single being anywhere in the multiple universes is left out of this basic cosmic scheme. This formless aspiration manifests itself in form as the nembutsu-Namu-Amida-Butsu as a simple way to give each human being the ultimate gift of peace and love, and the assurance of eternal life. This is made possible due to the fact that the nembutsu is the living embodiment of Amida. Shinran Shonin wrote,

"Though we speak of Primal Vow and Nembutsu, these are not two different things. There is no Nembutsu separate from the Vow; there is no Vow separate from the Nembutsu."

The Primal Vow is the already accomplished divine plan to ever expand the circle of love and salvation for all without exception. Likewise, the nembutsu is the vehicle that effectively carries out this mission, ferrying the weak, suffering and deluded across the ocean of light into the embrace of boundless life.

Our Beliefs, Practices and Experiences

Copyright 2006. G.R. Lewis, All Rights Reserved
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