“Excluded” Shows the Tough Compassion of Amida Buddha – Part 1

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In June, my family and I went back to Japan for the first time in three years.  Because we lost my mom in May 2021 and because of the pandemic, we were unable to participate last year in her funeral at my family temple, Renko-ji.  My dad postponed her first-year memorial until our return this June.  Because of his decision, we were able to attend her memorial service with our relatives whom we hadn’t been able to see for three years.

Good Memories of My Mom

To be honest, I didn’t feel like I had actually lost my mom in the past year.  But during the service when I saw her photo in the onaijin of the family temple, I was finally able to accept her death as a reality.  I still feel really sad at not being able to hear my mom saying, “Welcome home!” anymore.  However, throughout our visit this summer, I was able to have pleasant conversations with my relatives full of many good memories of my mom.  I was really grateful for this opportunity because lots of fond memories of her filled the big void in my heart.  And that is why I wish to express my sincere appreciation to all of the Sangha members of the Mountain View Buddhist Temple for allowing me to stay with my dad for more than one month.  I cannot say thank you enough for your thoughtfulness.

 Rev. Mukojima and family with Sensei’s Father
in front of Renko-ji Onaijin for Sensei’s Mother’s Memorial Service

Primal Vow

As most of you might know, in the 18th Vow of the 48 vows which Bodhisattva Dharmakara (later known as Amida Buddha) established, Dharmakara made this promise:

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters with sincere mind entrusting themselves, aspiring to be born in my land and saying my Name (Namo Amida Butsu) perhaps even ten times should not be born there, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

This 18th Vow is called the selected Primal Vow.  Shinran teaches that it is the vow which clearly shows the real intention of Amida Buddha.  Therefore, the 18th Vow is the perfect expression of Amida Buddha’s great compassion: “I will assure all those saying the Nembutsu and entrusting themselves to the Primal Vow, birth in the Pure Land without exception.”

There is no one who will ever be excluded from the Primal Vow.  Irrespective of your age or gender or whether you are well-meaning or ignorant, the vast vow of Amida Buddha will surely embrace and accept all beings, abandoning none.  No matter what kind of people we are, Amida Buddha will never say, “You are an exception.”

However, those of you who are ardent students of Buddhism may question my words.  If you object to my claim, saying, “No, Sensei!  There is a proviso in the Primal (18th) Vow where Amida Buddha declares that those who commit the Five Grave Offenses and slander the Buddha Dharma will be rejected.”  If this is your objection, then it shows that you have listened to Dharma talks very well.

Five Grave Offenses

Certainly, according to the Large Sutra, which describes the 48 vows, Amida Buddha clearly says at the end of 18th Vow, “Excluded are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right Dharma.”  Yet Amida Buddha had also declared no matter what kind of person one might be, by entrusting oneself to the Primal Vow and reciting the Nembutsu, one will attain Buddhahood. So why are only the five grave offenders and slanderers of the Buddha Dharma excluded?  According to these conditions, might there in fact be some excluded from the Primal Vow?

If so, what are the five grave offenses?  They are:

(1) Killing your father,

(2) Killing your mother,

(3) Killing one who seeks the Buddha Dharma,

(4) Physically injuring the Buddha, and

(5) Disturbing the peace and harmony of the Sangha community.

Any one of these is considered a serious offense.  So these five are the gravest offenses in all of Buddhism.

Because the five grave offenses are caused by the mind that makes light of the Buddha Dharma, those who slander the Buddha’s teaching are regarded as ones committing the gravest offense as well.  This means that no matter how vast the compassion of Amida Buddha is, those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the Buddha Dharma, are excluded from the benefit of the Primal Vow.

This is the way the 18th Vow had been interpreted in the long history of Buddhism, so it is quite understandable that you might conclude some will be denied the Primal Vow, which might make you challenge the words, “Amida Buddha saves all beings equally without discrimination.”

However, a point to notice here is one made by our founder Shinran in his writing, Shoshinge.  In it, he says:

When ignorant and wise, even grave offenders and slanderers of the Dharma, all alike turn and enter Shinjin, they are like waters that, on entering the ocean, become one in taste with it.

To be more specific, irrespective of how ignorant or wise these grave offenders or slanderers of the Dharma are, if they set aside their mind of calculation and entrust themselves completely to the Primal Vow, the ocean of Amida Buddha’s boundless compassion will accept all beings in oneness equally and enable them to become established in the stage of the truly settled in this present life and be born in the Pure Land after their death.

Doesn’t this strike you as odd?  The 18th Vow has the proviso that states clearly that the five grave offenders and slanderers of the Dharma will be excluded from the Primal Vow, yet Shinran says that Amida Buddha accepts all beings without exception.  It is quite a contradiction.

Passage of Deterrence

Actually, in Jodo Shinshu tradition, the phrase, “Excluded are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right Dharma,” is called Okushi-mon, which means the passage of deterrence.  It is very important for all Jodo Shinshu followers to regard the passage of deterrence as another side of Amida Buddha’s great compassion or his tough compassion that will save all beings without exception.  Like those who commit the five grave offenses, we might hurt others when faced by certain circumstances, or even mentally kill many people depending on the situation.  And, like those who actively slander the Dharma, even we sincere followers do not always live constantly embracing the Buddha Dharma as our spiritual support.  So we should understand that the passage of deterrence is the teaching that makes us become aware of our true selves.

When we consider this deeply, the Buddha’s use of the word “excluded” is much like a parent who scolds her child by saying,
If you do such a bad thing, I won’t care about you anymore!”

Let me share the rest of my message next month.

In Gassho,
Rev. Yushi Mukojima

Rev. Yushi Mukojima and family with a photo of Sensei’s Mother
in front of the scroll written by Rennyo Shonin


Click Here for Part 2