Nembutsu means to recite the Name of Amida Buddha. When we call the Name, we recite “Namo Amida Butsu,” in Japanese. This is written as “南無阿弥陀仏” in kanji or Chinese characters. However, the literal meaning of the kanji/Chinese characters “南無” used to write “Namo” in “Namo Amida Butsu” is “South” and “Nothing” which makes no sense at all! This is because the kanji used to write “Namo Amida Butsu” are just transliterations of the Sanskrit words “Namo” which means “to take refuge in” and “Amida Butsu” which refers to Amida Buddha. The actual meaning of the phrase “Namo Amida Butsu” is “I take refuge in Amida Buddha.”
This is the common way of calling the Name of Amida Buddha, but Shinran Shonin also used other two ways of calling the Name of Amida Buddha --- he would use “Ki-Myo-Jin-Jippo-Mu-Ge-Ko-Nyo-Rai” (帰命尽十方無碍光如来) or he also used “Na-Mu-Fu-Ka-Shi-Gi-Ko-Nyo-Rai” (南無不可思議光如来).
In the phrase “Ki-Myo-Jin- Ji-Po-Mu-Ge-Ko-Nyo-Rai,” the “Ki-Myo” (帰命) is the Japanese translation of the Sanskrit word “namo,” and the “Jin-Ji-Po-Mu-Ge-Ko-Nyo-Rai”（尽十方無碍光如来 ） is another name for the Amida Buddha and means “Buddha (Tathāgata) of No Hindrance Light of the Ten Directions.” This can therefore be translated as “I take refuge in the Buddha (Tathāgata) of No Hindrance of the Ten Directions” and is called the “Eleven Characters Name.”
The other way in which Shinran Shonin called Amida Buddha was to use the term “Fu-Ka-Shi-Gi-Ko-Nyo-Rai” (不可思議光如来) which means “Buddha (Tathāgata) of Inconceivable Light.” “Na-Mu-Fu-Ka-Shi-Gi-Ko-Nyo-Rai” is known as the “Seven Characters Name.”
As you can see, the key word in both of Amida’s alternative names is the word “Light.” Amida Buddha is working as the Light that illuminates our blind selfishness or calculating minds. Our goal is to realize this Truth and transform such negative desires into selfless desires. This is the reason for reciting the Name of Amida Buddha for those of us living the Shin Buddhist way of life. Namo Amida Butsu.
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浄土真宗本願寺派 大見山 超勝寺 衆徒。翻訳家。ハーバード大学 神学部研究員を修了し、帰国。現在は、執筆活動や通訳・翻訳を通して、日本仏教を世界に弘める活動をしています。