Month: December 2019

Tao Cho – 4th True Pure Land Master

Master Tao Cho

道 绰 大 师

Dao Chuo (Final) - artwork

These beautiful verses, from the Gatha of True Faith, were composed by Venerable Master Shinran with deep reverence to Master Tao Cho. They precisely capture the essential teachings on The True Pure Land Way carefully expounded by this great Lineage Teacher…

“Tao Cho asserted that achieving realization by the path of sages is difficult
Clarifying that only the Pure Land Way could deliver us 
He downgraded the diligent practices of myriad good and self-power   
Urging us to solely Say the Name endowed with perfect virtues.

With deep concern he taught the three aspects of entrusting and of doubt
And Compassion in the Dharma Ages of Semblance, Ending and Extinction 
So, with lifelong evil, we should solely depend on The Great Vow,
Realizing the perfect fruit of Nirvana in the Land of Serene Sustenance.”

Thus, this 4th Lineage Master of Jodo-Shinshu (宗), clearly emphasized that, in this Dharma Ending Age, only Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow could save us from samsara – the vicious cycle of birth, suffering and death. He strongly discouraged us from depending on our own self-power and various diligent practices, which simply cannot free us from samsara.

Master Tao-Cho carefully explained that, persons living in this Dharma Ending Age, are constantly overwhelmed by deep-rooted evil passions and do not possess the spiritual aptitude to perform the difficult meditative and non-meditative practices taught for the superior disciples during Shakyamuni lifetime. We should therefore, depend single-heartedly on The Great Vow and take the easy path for our assured birth in Amida’s Pure Land, at the end of our wretched lives.


Master Tao Cho (562-645), was born in China, Shanxi Province, during the Chin Dynasty. At the age of 14, he left home and took up monkhood. Being extremely serious and hardworking in his extensive studies of the Buddhist Sutras and commentaries, he soon became a renown scholar and Dharma teacher. Particularly, his deep knowledge and understanding of the Nirvana Sutra (大 涅 槃 經), led him to deliver complete series of expositions on this voluminous teaching to a wide audience, many times.

However, later in the year 609, Master Tao Cho came across an epitaph inscribed on a temple wall at Hsuan Chung Temple, made in reverence to Master Tan Luan and was so deeply impressed by it, that, he was instantly converted to the Pure Land Dharma. Thereafter, he devoted himself single-heartedly to the study and practice of Pure Land Sutras and commentaries from Pure Land Masters before him. He lectured extensively on the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life (大 無 量 壽 經) and particularly, he focused deeply, on the Contemplation Sutra (觀 無 量 壽 經) which he expounded to his disciples, more than 200 times. It is also recorded that he himself, fervently recited the Buddha’s Name (念 佛 – Nembutsu) as many as 70,000 times a day, gratefully bowing and offering incense to Amida Buddha.

Master Tao Cho, beautifully composed and passed down to us, his wonderful ‘Collection of Teachings on the Land of Peace and Bliss’ (安 樂 集 – Anraku Shu), in which he quoted many teachings of Master Tan Luan, a teacher whom be deeply revered. In this highly important writing, he clearly brings out the true relevance and profound significance of the Nembutsu teaching. Carefully, he expounds the teaching differentiating the Path of Sages taught to superior Dharma practitioners in Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime and the Path of the Pure Land, that is now fully in accord with the poor spiritual capacity of people in this defiled Age of utter confusion.

The vast accomplishments of Master Tao Cho in the study, practice and dispensation of Amida Buddha’s Pure Land Dharma, have made him an extremely important teacher to all the Chinese Pure Land schools that have named him as their lineage Master. In fact, it was Master Tao Cho who first use the term ‘True Pure Land Teaching’, to differentiate it from other sects with mixed and sundry practices that partially include the Amida Dharma.  His compassionate exhortations to foolish persons like ourselves, to abandon all sundry practices and to rely solely on the Nembutsu of Faith for our salvation, have certainly established his position as well, as the 4th lineage Teacher of Jodo Shinshu.

At the age of 84, Master Tao Cho passed away at Hsuan Chung Temple. He has left behind a wonderful legacy, passing down to us, the precious Nembutsu teaching – the sole lamp lighting the Path of Salvation in this Dharma Ending Age of spiritual darkness.


The True Pure Land Dharma specially taught by Master Tao Cho was the sole interest of Master Shinran, as it directly revealed the wonderful working of Amida Buddha’s Universal Vow of Boundless Compassion, made to effectively save ordinary foolish persons, like him (and us too) from the treacherous “ocean of samsara”. In his wonderful ‘Collection of Teachings on the Land of Peace and Bliss’ (安 樂 集 – Anraku Shu), Master Tao Cho clearly tells us that, the moment when we are able take refuge without any doubt in Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow, our births in the Land of Peace and Bliss are instantly assured. He asserts that, Saying the Buddha’s Name with faith and deep gratitude to Amida Buddha, is the only path free from obstacles, due to the natural working of the Primal Vow.

Master Shinran pin-pointed an extremely important aspect of Jodo Shinshu taught by Master Tao Cho – that mundane foolish persons like us, who are overwhelmed by stubborn blind passions and possessed with the lowest spiritual aptitude, should only rely on Amida’s Primal Vow. In all his writings, Master Tao Cho has repeatedly urged us, to abandon any tendency on our part to perform the self- powered, difficult sundry practices, that were actually meant for superior disciples on the Path of Sages, as this extremely difficult path to Enlightenment, is now, completely irrelevant to us, in this sad, Dharma Ending Age.

In his wonderful exposition on The Pure Land Way, Master Shinran, quoting from the writings of Master Tao Cho earnestly wrote….

“Further, The Great Collection Sutra states:
In the Dharma Ending Age
Out of billions of sentient beings practicing to cultivate the Way
Not one will attain Enlightenment.
We are now in The Dharma Ending Age
It is the evil world of the five defilements
The Pure Land Gate is the one and only path that affords passage.”

Thus, Master Tao Cho strongly exhorts us, to follow single-heartedly, the Path of the Pure Land, as he carefully tells us that, this Wonderful Path out of samsara is, the only appropriate means suitable for the badly defiled, ordinary foolish persons of our time. As we are constantly distracted and inundated by greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance and doubt, we would definitely be incapable to save ourselves by our own power. Therefore, he earnestly urges us to choose this easy path of true entrusting (信 心 – Shinjin) in the Primal Vow, specially created by Amida Buddha, for spiritual idiots like us, in this degenerated Age.  

The Primal Vow, is Amida Buddha’s absolute promise to save all miserable persons like ourselves who are incapable to perform any spiritual practice. Thus, abandoning all self-powered practices, and single-heartedly relying on this Vow of Great Compassion, is now, the only option available to us, if getting out of samsara at the end of this life, is indeed our goal. Persons with entrusting faith in the Primal Vow, are truly settled in their minds and hearts, knowing that their attainments of Buddhahood are guaranteed, while they are still living out this precious life in mortal flesh.

Entrusting Faith (Shinjin – 信 心) on our part – the persons to be saved – is the faith-mind consciousness that fully accept the Primal Vow without any doubt. It comes about with the awareness that we are evil beings who have been transmigrating from the beginningless past with absolutely no possibility of escape from this vicious cycle of relentless pain and suffering. Thus, we accept Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow that embraces us and that its Vow power absolutely guarantees our births in the Pure Land. We would then, Say the Buddha’s Name – (南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Butsu) – in deep gratitude, for the rest of our fleeting lives and thus remembering, the inconceivable Compassion of the Buddha, for having saved, pathetic persons like us.

Stage of the Truely Settled (正 定 聚), also called the Stage of Non-retrogression (住 不 退 轉) – is a term originally used in the traditional Mahayana teachings to describe the stage of spiritual development in the Bodhisattvas’ paths to enlightenment, when these Bodhisattvas will never backslide in their attainments. Their arduous practices of vast merit gathering, flawless good deeds, deep meditations and extremely difficult disciplines on the Path of Sages, through countless billions of lives, have brought them up to the eighth stage (Sanskrit: bhumi) on a ten bhumi spiritual climb, before realizing Buddhahood. These Bodhisattvas on the 8th bhumi and above have attained the Stage of Non-retrogression – they belong to the Group of persons absolutely assured of advancing to Nirvana.

This Stage of Non-retrogression, is instantly received by us – foolish sentient beings with the lowest spiritual capacity – the very moment, here and now, when our Shinjin is truly settled. As we are now relying single-heartedly and fully on Amida Buddha’s Vow- power we too will not backslide into samsara ever again and are absolutely assured of advancing to Nirvana, without going through countless billions of lives performing self-power, difficult practices, on the Bodhisattvas’ path.


Seven Hymns on Master Tao Cho – composed by Master Shinran in profound reverence and gratitude to this 4th Lineage Teacher (based on his writings):

(From: Hymns on the Pure Land Masters – 1997 copyright Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha)

Setting aside the myriad practices of the Path of Sages,
Our teacher, Master Tao-ch’o,
Proclaims the single gate of the Pure Land way
As the only path that affords passage.

Tao-ch’o abandoned his study in the Nirvana school and wholly took refuge in the Pure Land path.

Setting aside his extensive work on the Nirvana Sutra,
Our teacher, Master Tao-ch’o,
Entrusted himself to Other Power – the working of the Primal Vow –
And urged the multitudes of the world of the five defilements to do so also.

Sentient beings of the five defilements in the last dharma-age
May perform the practices of the Path of Sages,
But not one will thereby attain realization;
So states the World-honored one, the master of the teaching.

Following the teaching of Master T’an-luan,
Master Tao-ch’o also determined
That to awaken aspiration for enlightenment and perform practices in this world
Is the way of self-power.

Wrongdoing and evil acts in this defiled world
Are like violent winds and torrential rains;
All the Buddhas, sorrowed by this,
Urge us to take refuge in the Pure Land.

Wrongdoing and evil acts: the commission of wrong and evil is rife.

Though we commit evil throughout our lives,
If we say the nembutsu always
With our hearts turned wholly to Amida,
Our obstructions fall away by the [Vow’s] spontaneous working.

In order to guide sentient beings
Even though they commit evil all their lives,
Amida urges them to “say the Name,”
Vowing not to attain Buddhahood “if they are not born.”

Even though they commit evil all their lives: Even though we may commit evil all our lives, we should entrust ourselves to Amida’s Vow and be born in the Pure Land.

Here ends the Hymns on Master Tao-ch’o


Listening Deeply to the True Pure Land expositions of Master Shinran, highlighting the wonderful explanations on the absolute relevance and significance of the marvelous teaching of Nembutsu with faith, strongly emphasized by Master Tao Cho, may all foolish mundane persons like us, follow only, the True Pure Land Path. May all suffering persons be free of doubt and mindfully take heed of the benevolent advice of these truly accomplished teachers. Let us seize this extremely rare opportunity and make full use of this precious human birth, before it 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




True Disciples of Buddha


真 佛 弟 子

lotus pond_edited-1

In this beautiful passage from his magnum opus – the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho – Venerable Master Shinran carefully explains to us, the meaning of ‘True disciple of Buddha’…..

“In the term “True disciple of Buddha”, ‘True’ contrasts with ‘false’ and ‘provisional’. ‘Disciple’ indicates a disciple of Shakyamuni and the other Buddhas. This expression refers to the practicer who has realized the diamond-like heart and mind. Through this Shinjin and practice, one will without fail transcend and realize great Nirvana: hence, that practicer is called ‘True disciple of Buddha’.”


Suffering sentient beings like us have been transmigrating endlessly in samsara – the vicious cycle of countless births, suffering and deaths – unable to extricate ourselves from the unfathomable ocean of pain and suffering. We do not know why we are born here – in this ever-changing environment – so badly defiled and firmly attached to greed, hatred, ignorance, jealousy, and arrogance. Constantly struggling in vain to find happiness and to avoid suffering, we may perhaps live for 100 years but finally we still have to blindly leave this human existence in agony for another unknown realm of suffering. How sorrowful it is that this extremely rare human birth, would be so unwisely squandered by us and would just end in this way, completely beyond our comprehension!

We should know that the Buddha Dharma is the only True Teaching in this world of absolute delusion, that gives us a chance and means of escaping from samsara. Painfully ignorant of this fact, the majority of us are led to become agnostics or to simply follow other widely touted, false spiritual teachings, which definitely and relentlessly keep us mercilessly strapped to the treacherous wheel of samsara.


Amida Buddha’s True and Real Shinjin (真 實 信 心), is His Sincere Mind and Absolute Confidence that all persons who single-heartedly accept His Primal Vow, will definitely be born, as they wish, in His Land of Peace and Bliss, at the end of their present lives. This Great Compassionate Vow had been wonderfully fulfilled ten kalpas ago when the Tathagata attained Supreme Buddhahood, after trillions of years, perfectly performing the extremely difficult practices of a Bodhisattva; thus creating the Pure Land:

“If, When I attain Buddhahood
Sentient Beings of The Ten Quarters
With Sincere Mind, Joyfully entrusting themselves
Aspiring To Be Born in my Land
And Saying My Name perhaps even ten times
Should Not be born there
May I Not Attain The Supreme Enlightenment
Excluded Are Those Who commit the five grave offenses
And Those Who slander The Right Dharma.”

The Primal Vow (阿 彌 陀 佛 本 願) is clearly the Buddha’s Promise to save all beings from the dreadful cycle of samsara. Saying the Buddha’s Name (南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Butsu), fulfilled in the Primal Vow, is thus, the active cause of our births in the Pure Land. It is Amida Buddha’s Great Practice of directing His infinite virtues to us for our going forth. By the power of this Vow of Great Compassion, persons with the lowest spiritual aptitude, like ourselves, who are absolutely incapable to perform difficult meditational and non-meditational practices, are effectively pulled out from jaws of samsara, at the end of this life.

Through Amida Buddha’s innumerable manifestations in this world, The Tathagata, without a moment respite, tirelessly saved countless beings in the past and continues right now, to lead badly defiled persons in the present, out of samsara, this painfully unsatisfactory world of delusion.

By simply entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow, we are assured of birth in the Pure Land. We should know that Amida Buddha has already accomplished our Pure Land births by fulfilling for each of us our aspirations and all the necessary attendant practices. All ignorant sentient beings will realise this fact sooner or later – with the ripening of their good karma from the past – when they would become ready to receive Amida Buddha’s inconceivable gift of Entrusting Faith (信 心 – Shinjin) in the marvellously wonderful Primal Vow.


Shakyamuni Buddha who appeared in this world out of His great compassion for all suffering beings, have effectively taught us, individually or as a group, appropriate methods of ending this fearful samsaric nightmare of birth, old age, sickness and death. The Exalted One persistently exhorts us to listen deeply to His teaching about the truth of our suffering and how we can put a permanent end to this suffering.

However, the sheer weight of negative karma, defilements and stubborn evil passions accumulated by us through billions upon billions of births, are so incredibly immense and varied, that extremely few of us would listen to what the Buddha taught. Every one of us has already built up a solid and intractable ego totally overwhelmed by our blind passions, that firmly hold us in this sphere of perpetual suffering. Thus, as we live through our fleeting lives without any suitable condition for emancipation, we would painfully leave this human life and are again recycled within the treacherous realms of gods, demi-gods, humans, hungry spirits, animals and hell beings.

It is said that Shakyamuni Buddha – the World-honored One, Teacher of gods and humans – skilfully taught 84000 methods and more when He walked on this earth over 2500 years ago, effectively prescribing the appropriate Dharma medicine to each individual or group, in accordance with their natures and spiritual capacities. During the Buddha’s lifetime and 500 years thereafter, superior disciples who strictly perform the extremely difficult practices, fully in accord with the appropriate methods taught by Him on the Path of Sages, were able to attain emancipation then. Many of them could leverage on the Buddha’s physical presence and wonderful energetic-field, to attain freedom from samsara at the end of their lives. Those superior Dharma practitioners were indeed ‘True disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha’.

However, Shakyamuni Buddha revealed that, the true intent for His appearance in this world, was solely to preach Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow which seeks to save the vast majority all persons trapped in samsara, especially the lowest grade of Dharma followers who are absolutely incapable of performing any practices. The Buddha knows that, as His physical presence receded in time and space, extremely few disciples in future generations would be able to attain even the entry stages to Enlightenment, through the strict practices taught to superior disciples on the Path of Sages during His lifetime. Thus, by delivering the true teaching of Salvation – The Large Pure Land Sutra – He urges us to take the easy Path of the Pure Land, effectively out of samsara. All foolish persons, in this Dharma Ending Age, who fully entrust themselves to Amida’s Primal Vow, are therefore, called ‘True Disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha’.


All the Buddhas, in the innumerable universes and galaxies throughout the ten directions, have the same Great Compassion for all suffering samsaric beings, who are continuously and blindly trapped in the realms of gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts and hell-beings. They want us to become fully Enlightened Buddhas and hence be completely free from all pain and suffering. Yet, due our intractable egos, developed over countless lifetimes – our solid intellectual and emotional arrogance – most of us simply do not have the aspiration or the humility to listen deeply to what the Buddhas taught.

These World-honored Buddhas know that, entrusting in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, is the easiest and most effective method of securing the Salvation of all pathetic, suffering beings – particularly during the Dharma Ages that lack the physical presence and the immediate energetic-field of a Buddha. Thus, all the Buddhas throughout the ten directions, praise and fully support Saying Amida’s Name which embodies the Primal Vow. Mundane foolish persons like us, should mindfully take heed of all the Buddhas’ exhortations and become their ‘True Disciples’ by simply entrusting ourselves single-heartedly to Amida’s Compassionate Vow.


Shinran Shonin , a True disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha, was born in Japan and lived from 1173-1263. Deeply understanding the right and true intent of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings and the explanations transmitted by the Venerable Masters before him, he clearly expounded to us, about the true and provisional teachings in relation to The Path of Sages and The Pure Land Way. He also carefully explained about the distinctive characteristics of The Right, Semblance and Dharma-ending Ages which define the spiritual capacities of Dharma practicers.

The teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha on the Path of Sages were intended for the period when He was in this world and through the five hundred years of The Right Dharma Age (正 法 時 代); they are altogether inappropriate for the times and nature of beings in the thousand years of the Semblance Dharma Age (像 法 時 代) and during the materialistic years of the Dharma Ending Age (末 法 時 代) that followed. Out of millions of human beings who seek to cultivate the Way by performing meditative and non-meditative practices during the Dharma-ending Age, not one will gain perfect realization at the end of their extremely rare human lives.

We are now entrenched in The Dharma-ending Age; it is the evil world of the five defilements. This one gate – the Pure Land Way – is the only path that affords passage. Furthermore, even within the Pure Land Way, not one of us is able to come to the end of suffering by performing any self-power meditative or non-meditative practices. These practices are no longer in accord with the times and nature of beings. Yet most followers of the Buddha Dharma today, ignorant of this fact, do not even admit or honestly recognize their own inability and unfavourable circumstances they are now in, letting this life pass by in vain and struggling without any hope of ever coming close to emancipation. In short, they are painfully ignorant of Shakyamuni Buddha’s skilful teachings and true intention for His appearance in this world.

However, in this Dharma-ending Age, followers who truly and deeply listened to the Buddha’s teachings, will realize their own inability, utter foolishness and adverse circumstances they are in, knowing that they are doomed to complete failure by self-power practices. Wishing to be forever freed from the clutches of samsara, they single-heartedly entrust themselves and their karmic destiny entirely to  Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow. Saying the Name (南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Butsu) as they receive the inconceivable gift of Shinjin (Entrusting mind – 信 心), they know without any doubt that they have now joined the assembly of those assured of Nirvana and would be freed from the crazy cycle of pain and suffering at the end of their lives.

The practice of listening deeply to the Buddhas’ teachings and single-hearted reliance on Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow are fully in accord with our true natures, spiritual aptitudes and The Dharma-ending Age. Followers of Shinjin belong to the rightly-established group whose births in Unconditioned Land of Peace and Bliss at the end of their lives, are absolutely guaranteed. They are thus, wonderfully and rightly described by Master Shinran as ‘True Disciples of Buddha’.


True Disciples of Buddha – are therefore, the appropriate term for Buddhist followers – especially in this Dharma Ending Age – who rely completely on Amida Buddha’s absolute Vow-power (Other-power) and are truly settled in diamond-like Shinjin. They know without any doubt that, they will be Buddhas in Amida’s Pure Land at the end of their present lives. Naturally, they would live out the rest of their lives, remaining as foolish persons filled with blind passions, yet carefully watch over and constantly protected by the Compassionate Light of Amida Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha and all the Buddhas in the ten directions.

However, as expounded by Master Shinran in the Chinese text mentioned above, ‘True’ is contrasted with ‘False’ and ‘Provisional’. These latter categories of Buddhists, really do not have the aspiration or the appropriate means that are in accord with their true natures, aptitudes and circumstances, to escape from samsara, at the end of their pitiful existence in this mortal world:

False disciples of Buddha are people who may call themselves Buddhists, yet, they often mix their views and practices with other non-Buddhist, religious teachings. These are unstable, confused, ignorant followers, who always try to compare Buddha with God and Nirvana with Heaven. It is extremely sad that they do not even understand that the Buddhas’ teachings are the only methods that could get them out of samsara, while all other non-Buddhist spiritual paths, would only perpetuate their pain and suffering, relentlessly, in samsara.

Provisional disciples, on the other hand, are actually good Buddhists who are practicers of the difficult, expedient means taught by Shakyamuni Buddha in meditational and non-meditational disciplines meant for the truly superior disciples on the Path of Sages, during His lifetime. These followers of Buddha, depend largely on their own self-power efforts, practices and strict moral conducts to gain Enlightenment, without honestly taking stock of their own aptitudes for such difficult practices. Being followers of doubt and uncertainty, they may also mix their self-power practices with partial reliance on Amida Buddha’s Pure Land way.

Provisional disciples of Buddha are therefore, the good Buddhists who actually do not understand that, as the Buddha’s energetic presence have receded in time, all their self-power struggles are simply not in accord with their extremely poor spiritual aptitude, circumstances and the Dharma Age they are in. It is again extremely sorrowful, that they still harbour doubts and simply cannot entrust themselves single-heartedly to Amida’s Primal Vow, which is now, the only option available, that could assure them of Enlightenment at the end of this samsaric life.


Listening Deeply to the Buddha Dharma in general and to the Amida Dharma in particular, may all wretched foolish persons come to accept Amida’ precious Gift of Shinjin and become ‘True Disciples of Buddha’. May they, for as long as they live, continue to Say the Buddha’s Name – which is fully endowed with the Buddha’s infinite merits and virtues – in deep gratitude to Amida Buddha for His Boundless Compassion.

True Disciples of Buddha have definitely 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.

Namo-Amida-Butsu  南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo-Amida-Butsu  南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo-Amida-Butsu  南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛


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