Month: June 2019

Shinran Shonin and the 7 Pure Land Masters

 Jodo Shinshu Lineage Masters
净 土 真 宗 七 宗 师

Jodo Shinshu Teachers revised artwork

These wonderful verses from the Gatha of True Faith, beautifully composed by Venerable Master Shinran, perfectly introduced the essential teachings on The True Pure Land Way taught by Shakyamuni Buddha and transmitted down to him through the seven Lineage Masters. With deep reverence and gratitude for the benevolence of these outstanding Teachers, he carefully selected and pin-pointed those teachings, specifically relevant to the True Pure Land Way.

Thus, in his vast treasury of  expositions, the Venerable Master strongly urges all of us to single-mindedly place our trust on these collected, pristine Pure Land teachings, painstakingly and earnestly explained by each one of these truly accomplished Masters…

“The treatise Masters from India to the west
And the Eminent Monks from China and Japan   
Clarified the true intent of The Great Sage’s appearance in this world 
Revealing that Amida’s Primal Vow accords with the capacities of beings

The Mahasattvas and Teachers of the tradition who propagated the sutras
Save boundless beings of grave evil and defilements
Both monks and lay people of this present Age, should, with one mind 
Solely trust in these great Masters’ expositions.”

Though truly well versed in the lifetime teachings and practices taught by Shakymuni Buddha on all the major Theravada and Mahayana traditions, yet, all the seven Lineage Teachers, ultimately took the True Pure Land Way and were born in Amida Buddha’s Land of Peace and Bliss. It was through their wisdom and direct experience, that made them finally chose the Pure Land gate for freeing themselves and escaping from samsara – the vicious cycle of birth, suffering and death.

Thus, the seven Lineage Masters strongly encouraged all mundane foolish persons (凡 夫, bombu), like ourselves – miserable human beings who simply lack the spiritual capacity for difficult, self-powered, Buddhist practices – to entrust ourselves single-heartedly, in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, the Other Power that guarantees our complete freedom from all pain and suffering. They repeatedly encourage us, through their wonderful expositions of the sutras and personal realizations, to take this ‘Easy Way’ especially made for foolish spiritual idiots, that absolutely assures our attainment of Buddhahood at the end of our present lives.

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Shinran Shonin (1173 – 1263) – the Venerable Founder of Shin Buddhism –  was born in Kyoto, Japan. Having loss both his parents at a tender age of nine, he was ordained into monkhood and practiced Tendai Buddhism under eminent Masters on Mount Hiei, the most famous centre for Buddhist teachings and practices in Japan during that time.

Yet, after 20 years of rigorous practices, excelling himself in both meditational and non-meditational disciplines, he was completely disillusioned. With deep introspection, he found that being an extremely foolish person of deep evil, his serious studies and arduous practices were useless and would not bring him any closer to enlightenment in his life. Therefore, taking an extremely bold step forward, he painfully left Mount Hiei, seeking to find another path to Enlightenment.

In a mental state of utter anguish, he decided to take a 100 day retreat at Rokkaku-do, a temple in Kyoto dedicated to Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and built by Shotoku Taishi – the Japanese Prince who introduced Buddhism to Japan. Sincerely praying to Shotoku Taishi (considered to be a manifestation of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara) to show him an appropriate Path to Enlightenment, Master Shinran received a revelation in a dream, to visit Master Honen, who was then actively propagating the Pure Land teaching based exclusively on Saying the Buddha’s Name ( Nembutsu – 念 佛).

Listening deeply for 100 consecutive days to the Dharma teachings of Master Honen – who was truly learned in all aspects of the Buddha Dharma – Master Shinran was fully convinced that he had found for himself, a good teacher – a knowledgeable Dharma friend. Thus, under the mentorship of Master Honen, he cleared all his doubts and entrusted himself single-heartedly in Amida’s Primal Vow. Receiving the Buddha’s inconceiveable Gift of Salvation at the age of 29, he knew, there and then, that, he would become a Buddha in Amida’s Pure Land, the moment his physical life ended.

However, in the year 1207, when the Japanese authorities began persecution of the Nembutsu teaching, Master Shinran, stripped off his monkhood, was exiled to Echigo Province – a remote old province in north-central Japan. Yet, he continued to spread the precious Nembutsu teaching to the simple folks in the countryside, while living an extremely harsh life as a, simple, normal lay person, married with children. After about 4 years in exile, he was pardoned in 1211 but he did not return to Kyoto, as he chose to continue propagating the precious Amida Dharma to the people who needed it most. In the year 1214, he moved to live in the Hitachi Province and in the Kanto region (present day Tokyo area), he actively taught the Nembutsu teaching of faith. During his 20 year residence in that area, common illiterate folks and householders who earnestly followed his teachings, must have numbered in tens of thousands.

In the year 1232, when he was about 60 years old, the Venerable Master decided to move back to Kyoto. The probable reason for that move back to Kyoto – where there was abundance of reference Buddhist texts, sutras and sastras – was perhaps to allow him to concentrate on writing down what he had been taught, his realizations and intimate experiences on the True Pure Land Way. Since he knew, without any doubt, that this wonderful Amida Dharma offers the only assured path of Salvation, he passionatedly wanted to record it for all evil, foolish persons like himself and others, who ardently wish to be permanently freed from all pain and suffering.

That magnificient and extremely difficult task of accurately collecting and establishing the essential teachings relevant to this ‘easy path’ out of samsara, took Master Shinran over 30 years to accomplish. Arising from this compassionate endeavour to benefit himself  and others, for his and future generations, he systematically composed his magnum opus, the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho (Teaching, Practice, Faith and Realization on the Pure Land Way – 淨 土 教 行 信 證). Together with his other large treasury of wonderful writings, poems and letters, he had formed and developed a complete, consistent approach that had lead to his own profound realization on the path of Faith and Nembutsu, which he eagerly wished to share with others.

Although he had devoted his whole life to the dispensation of the pristine Amida Dharma of Salvation for all suffering beings through Faith and Nembutsu, Master Shinran never intended to form a separate sect. He considered himself to be just a follower of his teacher Honen. However, the compelling appeal of his wonderful and beautiful writings, soon solidified his profound thoughts and realization of Salvation, into the Jodo-Shinshu Buddhist tradition.

Having lived through a life of tortuous trials and tribulations – one in which he was finally awakened by the Light of the Buddha’s Boundless Compassion – the Venerable Master was profoundly grateful to the Buddhas and the seven Pure Land Masters for their compassion and heart-felt benevolence in dispensing the precious Nembutsu teaching of faith to him. His fervent wish was that others would also listen deeply to this precious Pure Land Dharma, pristinely passed down from Shakyamuni Buddha through the ages and quickly receive Amida Buddha’s gift of Salvation.

Truly settled in mind and heart, immersed in the Nembutsu of gratitude and clear knowledge that he would become a Buddha at the end of his life of delusion, he passed away on January 16, 1263 at the age of ninety.

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The Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho ( 淨 土 教 行 信 證 – Teaching, Practice, Faith and Realization) – Master Shinran’s masterpiece written in classical Chinese in six volumes – captures the complete teaching that allows ordinary foolish people to gain Enlightenment through simple Entrusting Faith (Shinjin – 信 心) in Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow. It is an amazing spiritual pilgrimage and journey of discovery through the ages, from the Enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha, to the dispensation of this wonderful Pure Land Dharma, chronologically, by the seven Lineage Teachers, to Master Shinran and now, to wretched sentient beings like ourselves.

The Venerable Master’s basis for quoting only the specially selected passages from the Sutras and the expositions of the Lineage Masters, was to testify the Absolute Truth of Salvation for all suffering beings, that freely flowed entirely from Amida Buddha’s Vow-mind. Carefully selecting only what was essential and leaving out what was not relevant to his thought on the True Pure Land Way, he was unconcerned about the criticisms of others whose minds were not really rooted in Amida Buddha’s Salvation.

Those who have listened deeply to Master Shinran’s expositions would definitely see the profound systemization on his True Pure Land thoughts and spiritual awakening that solely focus on the inconceivable gift of Salvation bestowed by Amida Buddha through His Primal Vow. Aptly expressing this single-minded emphasis, he passionatedly wrote:

“My heart and mind stand rooted in the Buddha-ground of the Universal Vow and my thoughts and feelings flow within the Dharma realm…”

Master Shinran earnestly urged us to leave all non-Buddhist paths, which are FALSE teachings that definitely and firmly keep us in samsara and to put aside all other Buddhist paths which are just provisional teachings which cannot free us from suffering in this Dharma Ending Age.  This precious human existence has given us an extremely rare opportunity – after countless billions of dreadful transmigrations in samsara – to extricate ourselves from the endless cycle of pain and suffering.

He sincerely exhorts us, the multitudes of foolish beings drowning in the ocean of suffering – those who have good karma from the past and have realize that they are incapable of saving themselves by their own self-power – to seize this rare opportunity of coming into Amida’s presence by Listening Deeply (深 聞) to Amida Buddha’s  Dharma of Salvation. Hear, receive and accept The Inconceivable Gift of Shinjin from Amida Buddha and Say the virtuous Name – which surpass our conceptual understanding – for as long as we live in this unsatisfactory world.

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The seven Lineage Masters, deeply revered and cited by Master Shinran, had all strongly exhorted ordinary foolish persons like us, to consider and single-mindedly take the Pure Land path – their only viable option to escape from samsara. It is for this reason that, in the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho, he had beautifully expressed his joy and gratitude for encountering this extremely rare, True Pure Land Dharma:

How joyous I am, Gutoku Shinran, disciple of Sakyamuni! Rare is it to come upon the sacred scriptures from the westward land of India and the commentaries of the masters of China and Japan, but now I have been able to encounter them. Rare is it to hear them, but already I have been able to hear. Reverently entrusting myself to the teaching, practice and realization that are the true essence of the Pure Land way, I am especially aware of the profundity of the Tathagata’s benevolence. Here I rejoice in what I have heard and extol what I have attained.

Summarizing the selected passages from the sutras and commentaries from the seven Pure Land teachers who had transmitted this precious Dharma to him, the Venerable Master also composed the Gatha of True Faith (Shoshin Nembutsu Ge –   念 佛 偈). These beautiful verses, which formed part of the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho, condensed the essential expositions from each of these Lineage Masters who were part of the Buddhas’ golden chain that naturally created this marvellous link to Master Shinran, through whom the mind of Great Compassion flowed and then, firmly embracing those of us who entrusted ourselves to the Primal Vow, today.

How wonderful and fortunate it is that we are able to hear, this true and real Dharma of Salvation, skilfully explained and carefully preserved through the ages, by the deep benevolence of these great teachers!

First – Bodhisattva Nagarjuna – (2nd to 3rd century A.D)

Second – Bodhisattva Vasubandhu – (4th century A.D.)

Third – Master Tan Luan – (476-542 A.D.)

Fourth – Master Dao Chuo – (562-645 A.D.)

Fifth – Master Shan Tao – (613-681 A.D.)

Sixth – Master Genshin – (942-1017 A.D.)

Seventh – Master Honen – (1133-1212 A.D.)

Let us listen deeply to the core teachings from the above Lineage Masters in the articles that will be posted separately. Concisely presented by Master Shinran in his Gatha of True Faith, the verses attributed to each one of these great teachers, have accurately brought out the true essence of their expositions.

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May all foolish mundane persons take heed of the consistent advice from Master Shinran and the 7 Pure Land Masters, abandon all self-power meditative / non-meditative practices and single-heartedly entrust themselves to Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow.

Listen deeply and ‘Hear’, the Call of Boundless Compassion:

The Buddha’s infinite merits and virtues
Are bestowed equally on all beings.
May all accept Amida’s Gift of Shinjin
And obtain birth in His Land of Peace and Bliss.

Namo Amida Butsu   南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo Amida Butsu   南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo Amida Butsu   南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛

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