The Temple of the Original Vow
The Original or Primal Vow is the basis of all Shin Buddhist teachings. That Vow is found in one of the earliest Mahayana sutras, The Mahasukhavativyuha (known in Japanese as the Daimuryojukyo, or by its popular, simplified name Daikyo). Western scholarship misunderstood the teachings of this sutra until very recently, interpreting it literally instead of comprehending how it expresses the heart of Mahayana teachings of spiritual understanding as the art of compassionate living. This seminal sutra forms the undercurrent shaping the Buddhisms of India, Tibet, China, and Japan. Unlike Japanese Zen, the Zen traditions of Korea, China and Vietnam are fused with the teachings of this sutra. The Dalai Lama of Tibet and his Potala ultimately derive from this sutra. Shinran and the lineage of Ancestral Masters preceding him clarify the practical application of this sutra to spiritual awakening in ordinary life through the sutra's Nembutsu Way. As the West comprehends this sutra, its comprehension of Buddhism will grow by a quantum leap.
The Daikyo is a prototype myth of the awakening journey from being a common, foolish person (balaprthagjana in Sanskrit, bombu in Japanese) by becoming spiritually reborn as a bodhisattva (person of awakening) wholeheartedly dedicated to attaining Buddhahood or Unexcelled, Complete Awakening (anuttarasamyaksambodhi). For modern readers, this text's significance can be lost in its mythological complexity as it unveils the life, mind and heart of the bodhisattva. Composed of forty-eight distinct vows, those vows simply reveal the full and complete human being the bodhisattva promises to become. The vows express what an Awakened or Enlightened human being is in potential. By becoming Buddha or Fully Awake, one fulfills the human spiritual potential. In that respect, the vows are not a supernatural statement but instead a revelation of our dormant yet potential nature. The sutra tells of the journey of Dharmakara (Japanese, Hozo) bodhisattva, of the fulfilled vows and promisses which transformed an ordinary person into the Buddha Amida (Boundless Awake).
The heart truth of Mahayana Buddhism is the bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas are persons dedicated to spiritually waking up the world through the freeing power of unconditional compassion and love. As supreme, unexcelled unconditional compassion overtakes and eliminates utterly all traces of conceit, arrogance and self-centeredness, a Buddha is born. Buddhas are, thus, persons free of self-obsession, forces of pure compassion. The way of the bodhisattva is that of becoming truly compassionate. When one becomes a bodhisattva, they vow to become awake and free by helping all beings to become awake and free.
The sutra's story is revealed by the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni. In an almost infinite time back in the past, an ordinary person became the bodhisattva named Dharmakara (Treasury or Richness of Dharma) under the orientation of a Buddha of past times. Like all bodhisattvas Dharmakara became concerned not only about how he himself could reach enlightenment, but also how he could help all sentient beings in the Universe also be enlightened. After much contemplation, he committed himself to 48 basic vows that would bring enlightenment to all beings. By accomplishing all of them, he would be able to help all sentient beings in the Universe to reach the path of Enlightenment independent of that sentient being's moral, spiritual or intellectual capacities. Of his 48 vows, the 18th vow is considered the "Original Vow" since it express the Originality of the non-discriminatory essence of this path to Enlightenment. The 18th vow says: "If a sentient being is sincere in heart, no matter if just once or ten times, and becoming mindful of my Name and does not reach enlightenment, may I not become a Buddha". After an inconceivably long time of Buddhist practices, Dharmakara accumulated merits and fulfilled his Vows. Doing so, he became Buddha Amida. The name Amida means the "Buddha of boundless mercy and infinite Wisdom" and He is represented by the symbols of Light and Life.)