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 Path taught by Shakyamuni Buddha and transmitted down to him through the Ages by the seven Lineage Masters. With deep reverence and gratitude for the benevolence of these outstanding Teachers, he carefully selected and specifically pin-pointed those teachings that are deeply rooted in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow.

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 the expositions of these great Masters.”

Though truly well versed in the lifetime teachings and practices taught by Shakyamuni Buddha on all the major Theravada and Mahayana traditions, yet, all the seven Lineage Teachers, ultimately took the True Pure Land Path 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, Master Shinran and the seven Lineage Masters strongly encouraged all mundane foolish persons (凡 夫, bombu), like ourselves – miserable human beings who simply lack the spiritual capacity and aptitude 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 urged us, through their wonderful expositions of the sutras and personal realizations, to take this ‘Easy Path’ 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. His family came from the Fujiwara Clan. Having loss both his parents at a tender age of nine, he was guided by his uncle Noritsuna, who later brought him to Mount Hiei, the most famous Centre for Buddhist teachings and practices in Japan at that time. As he himself wished, Master Shinran was quickly ordained into monkhood and diligently practiced Tendai Buddhism under eminent Buddhist Masters.

Yet, after 20 years of studies and 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 on the 95th day, 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 inconceivable 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 tirelessly explained the teaching of Faith and Nembutsu. During almost 20 years of his residence in that area, common illiterate folks and householders who earnestly followed his teachings, must have numbered in tens of thousands.

In around 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 commentaries – 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 passionately 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 magnificent 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 endeavor 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 led 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, both as a monk as well as a householder– one in which he was finally awakened by the Light of the Buddha’s Boundless Compassion – the Venerable Master had displayed to us that, even hopeless ordinary persons filled with blind passions can be saved. He was therefore, profoundly grateful to the Buddhas and the seven Pure Land Masters for their compassion and heart-felt benevolence in transmitting the precious teaching of Faith and Nembutsu 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. Thus, 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, our Venerable Master Shinran returned to the Land of Peace and Bliss, 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 chronological dispensation of this wonderful Pure Land Dharma 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. Having to sieve through the enormous amount of teachings from each and every one of the 7 Pure Land Masters before him, Master Shinran carefully collected only what was essential and leaving out what was not relevant to his own awakening to the marvellous working of Amida’s Vow of Great Compassion. He was unconcerned about the criticisms of others whose minds are not really rooted in Amida Buddha’s Salvation.

Master Shinran’s benevolent aspiration to benefit future generations effectively, now comes to miserable persons like us, in the form of his Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho, poems and other wonderful writings. 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 his single-hearted refuge in this wondrous Compassionate Vow that effectively saves all beings in pain and suffering, he passionately 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 permanently from suffering in this Dharma Ending Age.  This precious human existence has given us an extremely rare opportunity now – 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 realized 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 – 正 信 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 entrust 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 ineffable benevolence of these great teachers!

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

Second – Bodhisattva Vasubandhu – (4th century)

Third – Master Tan Luan – (476-542)

Fourth – Master Tao Cho – (562-645)

Fifth – Master Shan Tao – (613-681)

Sixth – Master Genshin – (942-1017)

Seventh – Master Honen – (1133-1212)

The essential teachings from each one of these Lineage Masters, magnificently brought together by Master Shinran, have formed the wonderful Jodo-Shinshu School. In the articles that will be posted separately, their core expositions that are deeply rooted in the Great Vow, have been skilfully presented as beautiful verses by Master Shinran, in his Gatha of True Faith, which now serve as splendid headings for the individual posts, that would concisely capture the biographies and the True Pure Land teachings of these excellent Dharma Masters.

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Listening Deeply to the incomparable True Pure Land expositions of Master Shinran and the seven Lineage Masters, on the absolute relevance and significance of the marvellous teachings, based exclusively on Faith and Nembutsu, may all foolish mundane persons like us, be brought, to single-heartedly accept, the True Pure Land Path. All suffering persons who wish to be freed from samsara, should mindfully take heed of the benevolent advice from these accomplished teachers and be free of doubt by simply entrusting themselves solely, to power of the Primal Vow. Let those who are brought here through their good karma from the past, seize this precious opportunity and make full use of this extremely rare human birth, before it quickly comes to the inevitable end.

Thus, abandoning all self-power meditative and non-meditative practices and entrusting our karmic destiny entirely to Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow, as we Say the Buddha’s Name in gratitude, we have, without any doubt HEARD:

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.

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

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