Primal Vow

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In Chinese and Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, the Primal Vow or Fundamental Vow (本願, hongan) is the 18th vow that is part of a series of 48 vows that Amitābha made in the Infinite Life Sutra.


The text of the 18th vow of Amitabha Buddha, according to Infinite Life Sutra, reads:[1]

If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment. Excluded, however, are those who commit the five gravest offences and abuse the right Dharma.[2]

In the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra, Buddha taught Ajātasattu's mother, Queen Videhi, that those who attain birth on the lowest level of the lowest grade are the sentient beings who commit such evils as the five gravest offenses, the ten evil acts and all kinds of immorality, when he is about to die, he may meet a good teacher, who consoles him in various ways, teaching him the wonderful Dharma and urging him to be mindful of the Buddha; but he is too tormented by pain to do so, so the good teacher then advises him to repeat nianfo ten times. Because he calls the Buddha's name, with each repetition, the evil karma which he has committed during eighty kotis of kalpas of Samsara is extinguished.[citation needed]

Use of the term Primal Vow[edit]

The Japanese term hongan (本願) is derived originally from the Sanskrit term pūrvapraṇidhāna, meaning "original vow" or "original pronouncement." However, the use of pūrvapraṇidhāna for the 18th vow of Amitābha is not known in Indian Buddhism, in which the 18th vow was not treated in any special way. The term pūrvapraṇidhāna typically refers to all the original vows made by a bodhisattva in order to develop bodhicitta and begin the striving toward Buddhahood. Regarding Pure Land practice in Indian Buddhism, Hajime Nakamura writes that as described in the Pure Land sūtras from India, buddhānusmṛti or "mindfulness of the Buddha" is the essential practice.[3] Buddhānusmṛti is called nianfo in Chinese and nembutsu in Japanese.

Role in Japanese Buddhism[edit]

In Japanese Buddhism, Amitabha Buddha is often associated with devotional practices, and he is regarded as striving to save those beings who are incapable of reaching Enlightenment through their negative karma, by leading them to Enlightenment. The founder of Jōdo-shū, Hōnen, emphasized the importance of the Primal Vow over the efficacy of practices espoused by his contemporaries in Tendai. These same teachings became central to the later Jōdo Shinshū sect as well.[4]

This vow forms the basis of Pure Land Buddhism as well as nianfo/nembutsu. As in the vow, it applied not only to a dying person, but also to an animal,[5] or a ghost wandering or in hell,[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] if he has accumulated enough merits in present or past lives,[18][19][20][21] and willing to go there.


  1. ^ "The Immeasurable Life Sutra". Retrieved 2011-10-17.
  2. ^ Illustrated Pure Land Scriptures
  3. ^ Nakamura, Hajime. Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes. 1999. p. 205
  4. ^ "Shin Buddhism". Retrieved 2011-10-17.
  5. ^ 念佛感應與往生奇觀(下)
  6. ^ 黃燕平居士往生記實 - 大通永利
  7. ^ 引導中陰 往生極樂
  8. ^ 楊玉田中陰身往生西方極樂世界記實:中陰身也能往生
  9. ^ 中陰身念佛往生見聞記
  10. ^ 侄儿中阴身往生,迅即现身度父母--学佛网
  11. ^ 現金身帶小孩遊地獄極樂世界
  12. ^ 至誠念佛能破地獄
  13. ^ 先墮地獄後生天堂
  14. ^ 念佛一声 地狱火灭
  15. ^ 慧淨法師/ 人生之目的
  16. ^ 信愿法师:某法师毁犯戒律堕地狱急念佛,阿弥陀佛带着莲台现前,阎罗王惊呆了
  17. ^ 念佛感应与往生奇观(上)
  18. ^ 動物往生佛國記
  19. ^ 生死书动物念佛往生净土
  20. ^ 动物念佛、往生案例
  21. ^ 動物往生實例