The Most Wicked Are the True Object of Salvation (悪人正機)
This thought is very meaningful in Jodoshinshu doctrine, meaning 'It is evil people who are the major object of salvation based on the Vow of Amida Nyorai (Primal Vow of Other Power).'
Ordinary people are the objects of Amidanyorai's salvation. Ordinary people are all 'evil' people filled with passions and struggling to live in the latter days of Buddhism, in a world stained by defilement.
This thought shows that the true objects of Amida Buddha's salvation are those who are aware that they are 'evil.'
Evil people and good people
In order to understand the meaning of the dogma of 'the salvation of evil people,' it is extremely important that one knows how to interpret 'good people' and 'bad people.'
The "good and evil" mentioned here doesn't include legal or moral problems. Neither does it mean good and evil in the general or common sense. It means good and evil from Budda's point of view.
Ordinary people live in the latter days of Buddhism, and from Buddha's perspective they are interpreted as fundamentally 'evil' people who are unable to distinguish good from evil.
They are led to realize that they are too 'evil' to be saved when they are lit by the mercy of Amida Buddha; when they are thus awakened by the truth. Only then are they led to recognize that they are 'evil' for the first time.
Good people' are defined as those who think of themselves as 'good.'
Good people' are interpreted as 'evil people' who aren't ready to recognize that they can't complete any good deeds.
The action of doing good deeds (their primal vow) is considered to imply that they doubt 'the Primal Vow of Amida Nyorai,' which is believed 'to save every person without condition.'
(Refer to Presumption upon the Primal Vow)
Cause (In)' is brought about by ordinary people, and 'Relationship (En)' can bring about an unexpected 'Result (Ka).'
Namely, what is done because it is thought to be good (In) may sometimes bring forth good results (Zenka) but sometimes bad results (Akka) according to their relationships (En). Evil people can't foresee what kind of result (Ka) will be brought about.
Object of salvation
In the "Immeasurable Life Buddhist Sutra and Teachings," Bodhisattva Dharmakara (the name of Amitabha during his ascetic period) observed that all people appeared to be visited by adversity and distress and, took a vow that he would try to have all become like Buddha to make people happy.
In the eighteenth vow of the forty-eight vows, the following is written: 'I will let those be born in Buddha-Land and become happy 'Buddha' under my guidance if they believe me and chant my name, wishing to be born in Buddha-Land (gokuraku jodo: the Pure Land).'
(extracted and paraphrased)
Namely, every person is the object of salvation. The good and evil deeds they do are not conditions for salvation.
Our action is nothing but evil in itself, as is shown below.
We try to do something good because we doubt the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.
Whatever we may do, we can't be free from desires (earthly desires); any deed based upon them is nothing but evil (Bonnojoku: defiled passion).
Even when trying to do good deeds, it was not just a matter knowing the criteria for good and bad but, in essence there was no set basis of judgment of good or evil.
Ordinary people are essentially 'evil,' and the object of the salvation of Amida Buddha is 'evil people,' so they will be saved by Amida Buddha's Primal Vow.
Namely, the essential part of 'the thought that the most wicked are the true object of salvation' is as follows:
Anyone who awakens to recognize "I am evil" is truly awakened by the truth.
However, this thought should be interpreted with care, since it's likely to be misunderstood as follows: you can do evil things depending on your desires.
(Refer to Presumption upon the Primal Vow)
Moreover, Shinran (founder of the Jodo Shinshu sect) following a conscious effort at deep introspection elucidated a view that, Amitabha took an oath to build Buddhism as preached in the "Immeasurable Life Buddhist Teachings" which, 'were written as if just for Shinran' and which, for all intents and purposes are read as if applying to each and everyone of us, and are not just Buddhist chants for intoning but a means to express gratitude for Buddha his teachers and dharma.
It shows his distinctiveness as a person of religion.
What is mentioned above is the perspective of Jodo shinshu, and the latter quotation exemplifies it.
Pre-Shinran thought that the most wicked were the true objects of salvation.
It has long been known that this thought did not originate with Shinran. Honen, the originator of Jodoshu, referred to "Yushin Anrakudo (Way of Securing Relaxation and Peace"), which was written in the seventh century by Gangyo, a scholar of Kagen-shu, in Silla.
Thus, it has been pointed out through the ages that the object of Amida Buddha is the salvation of ordinary people and that the teaching of the salvation of the wicked did not originate with Shinran.
However, Honen had a different perspective: he evaluated the efforts people made in order to do good deeds, and believed that those who couldn't become good people should endeavor all the more. His viewpoint is shown in his writing in "Wagotoroku" that 'those who have done ten evil things and five grave offenses should try not to commit any more crimes, hoping they can be reborn." Honen encouraged people to avoid evil and do good.
In one biography of Honen ("The World's Fine Things: Biography of Priest Honen") included in "Showa Shinshu Honen Shonin Zenshu" (complete works of Honen Shonin) appears: 'Word of mouth commentary on the righteous die happier than the evil' which is also found in Kudensho ("What Shinran Taught") and "Tannisho" (Lamentations).
Together these make up Honen's word of mouth commentary and from them, the Buddhist academic Fumihiko SUEKI has commented 'Genku (Honen's posthumous name) followers possibly carried on the oral tradition in a slogan-like way.'
Honganbokori (Presumption upon the Primal Vow)
What emerged was people who undertook deeds to understand the meaning of 'evil persons' claiming 'if you are to rescue evil persons then, evil action must be actively pursued.'
This is called 'Honganbokori (Presumption upon the Primal Vow).'
Shinran worried about it and warned against it, saying, 'You should not indulge yourself in poison, even if you have medicine.'
However, this warning sometimes had an excessive influence; in "Tannisho," Yuien criticized overly strict people who would not allow those who had committed bad deeds to enter Nenbutsu dojo.