Month: January 2020

Gatha of True Faith

SHOSHIN NEMBUTSU GE

正  信  念  佛  偈

 gatha-of-true-faith

Introducing this excellent composition of the Gatha of True Faith in the Nembutsu – Saying the Buddha’s Name (南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Butsu), Master Shinran sincerely expresses his profound gratitude to Shakyamuni Buddha for His True Dharma teaching on Amida Buddha and His fulfilled Land of Peace and Bliss…

“Thus, taking refuge in the true words of the Great Sage and carefully examining the commentaries of the great Patriarchs, I realize the depth and vastness of the Buddha’s benevolence. So, I compose the following Gatha of True Faith in the Nembutsu.”

These wonderful verses of true Faith (Shinjin – 信 心), were beautifully composed by Venerable Master Shinran, perfectly introducing 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 pin-pointed those teachings, specifically relevant to the True Pure Land Path. Listening deeply to their commentaries and clear explanations on the three Pure Land Sutras, particularly ‘The Sutra of Infinite Life’ (壽 經), Master Shinran meticulously highlighted only those expositions that are deeply rooted in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, that he himself would single-heartedly follow:

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

Poetically written in Classical Chinese, these verses captured the vast kindness and intimate exhortations from Master Shinran as well as from every one of the seven Pure Land Masters. They fervently urged all mundane foolish persons (凡 夫 , bombu), like ourselves, to single-heartedly entrust themselves entirely to Amida Buddha’s Vow of Great Compassion which promises to liberate everyone from samsara – the vicious cycle of birth, suffering and death – especially during this Dharma Ending Age.

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This Dharma Ending Age in which we now live, is the Age, when human beings – badly overwhelmed by greed, hatred, ignorance, jealousy and arrogance  – are absolutely incapable of practicing strictly in accordance with Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime teachings to obtain enlightenment by their own self-power, strict discipline, difficult practices. The Buddha, out of great compassion for all suffering beings, exhorts all His disciples who truly do not have the aptitude for these practices, to sincerely entrust themselves completely to Amida Buddha’s fulfilled Primal Vow which is a sure and easy way for them to break free from the torture of samsara.

The Primal Vow, is Amida Buddha’s absolute promise to save all miserable persons like ourselves who are truly 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 filled with blind passions, who have been transmigrating endlessly for trillions of past lives, 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, entrusting ourselves whole-heartedly to the Vow power that 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.

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The seven True Pure Land Masters cited by Master Shinran in the Gatha of True Faith were all truly well versed in the teachings and practices taught in most of the Theravada and Mahayana traditions which they had actively propagated earlier during their lifetimes. Yet, all the seven Lineage Teachers, ultimately took the True Pure Land Path themselves 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.

Master Shinran and the seven Lineage Masters of Jodo-Shinshu (宗), had strongly encouraged all mundane foolish persons (凡 夫, bombu), spiritual idiots like ourselves – miserable human beings who simply lack the spiritual capacity and aptitude for difficult, self-powered, Buddhist practices – to entrust ourselves single-heartedly, to 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’ that absolutely assures our attainment of Buddhahood at the end of our present lives.

Thus, Master Shinran together with our Lineage Teachers, have left behind a wonderful legacy, passing down to us, the precious teaching of Faith and Nembutsu – the sole lamp lighting the Path of Salvation in this Dharma Ending Age of spiritual darkness.

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With profound gratitude to the World-honored Buddhas and deep reverence to the seven True Pure Land Lineage Masters before him, Master Shinran meticulously wrote the Shoshin Ge…

GATHA OF TRUE FAITH IN THE NEMBUTSU 

正 信  念  佛  偈

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(1). 歸 命 無 量 壽 如 來 , 南 無 不 可 思  議 光.
Entrusting myself to The Tathagata of Infinite Life 
I take refuge in The Inconceivable Light. 
(2). 法 藏 菩 薩 因 立 時 , 在 世 自 在 王 佛 所,
      覩 見 諸 佛 淨 土 因 , 國 土 人 天 之 善 惡 .
      建 立 無 上 殊 勝 願 , 超 發 希 有 大 弘 誓.
Boddhisattva Dharmakara in His practising stage
Under the guidance of Buddha Lokesvararaja,
Examined the causes that create the various Buddhas’ Pure Lands 
And the good and evil of humans and devas in those Lands.
He established the unsurpassed, incomparable Vow                   
And boldly declared this extremely rare, Universal Vow.
(3). 五 劫 思 惟 之 攝 受, 重 誓 名 聲 聞 十方.
      普 放 無 量 無 邊 光, 無 㝵 無 對 光 炎 王
And after five kalpas of deep contemplations and reflections               
He strongly pledged that His Name shall be heard in the ten directions       
Everywhere, He sends forth Immeasurable, Boundless Light                            
Unhindered, Incomparable, Majestically Brilliant Light
(4). 清 淨 歡 喜 智 慧 光, 不 斷 難 思 無 稱 光,
       超 日 月光 照 塵 剎, 一 切 群 生 蒙 光 照,
Pure Light, Joyful Light, The Light of Wisdom 
Continuous, Inconceivable, Ineffable Light      
The Light that Outshines the sun and moon, illuminating countless worlds 
The multitudes of beings are all embraced by His Light.
(5). 本 願 名 号 正 定 業, 至 心 信 樂 願 為 因,
      成  等 覺 證 大 涅 槃, 必 至 滅 度 願 成 就.
The Name embodying The Primal Vow, is the act of true settlement 
This Vow of Joyful Entrusting with a Sincere Mind is the cause of birth           
We will realize the stage equal to enlightenment and supreme Nirvana           
And through the fulfillment of the Vow, we will surely attain Nirvana
(6). 如 來 所 以 興 出 世, 唯 說 彌 陀 本 願 海,
      五 濁 惡 時 群 生 海, 應 信 如 來 如 實 言.
The reason for the Tathagata’s appearance in this world 
Is solely to teach the ocean-like Primal Vow of Amida 
The multitudes of beings in this evil Age of the Five Defilements 
Should entrust themselves to the absolute true words of the Tathagata 
(7). 能 發 一 念 喜 愛 心 , 不 斷 煩 惱 得 涅 槃 ,
       凡 聖 逆 謗 齊 回 入 , 如 眾 水 入 海 一 味.
When the One-thought moment of entrusting joy is awakened in one’s mind 
Nirvana will be attained without severing blind passions 
Commoners, sages, dharma offenders and slanderers alike are thus converted    
Like water from all sources acquiring the same taste on entering the ocean.
(8). 攝 取 心 光 常 照 護, 已  能 雖 破 無 明 暗,
      貪 愛  瞋 憎 之 雲 霧, 常 覆 真 實 信 心 天.
The embracing light of compassion illumines and protects us always
Having already broken through the darkness of our ignorance             
Still the clouds and mists of greed, desire, anger and hatred 
Constantly obscure the sky of true and real Shinjin.
(9). 譬 如 日 光 覆 雲 霧, 雲 霧 之 下 明 無 暗.
       獲 信 見 敬 大 慶 喜, 即 橫 超 截 五 惡 趣.
But just like the light of the sun being blocked by clouds and mists 
Beneath those clouds and mists, there is brightness, not darkness    
So on receiving Shinjin we experience gratitude and great joy           
And instantly transcend cross-wise the five evil courses.
(10). 一  切 善 惡 凡 夫 人, 聞 信 如 來 弘 誓 願,
         佛 言 廣 大 勝 解 者, 是 人 名 分 陀 利 華.
All ordinary foolish persons whether good or evil              
When they have heard and entrust in the Universal Vow of the Tathagata 
The Buddha called them persons of vast excellent understanding    
Who are also named by people as ‘Pundarikas’
(11). 彌 陀 佛 本 願 念 佛, 邪 見 憍 慢 惡 眾 生,
         信 樂 受 持 甚 以 難, 難 中 之 難 無 過 斯.
Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow that embodies saying His Name
For arrogant sentient beings with perverted views
To accept and be blessed with Shinjin is difficult indeed
It is the most difficult of all difficulties that anyone could meet
(12). 印 度 西 方 之 論 家, 中 夏 日 域 之 高 僧,
         顯 大 聖 與 世 正 意, 明 如 來 本 誓 應 機.
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
(13). 釋 迦 如 來 楞 迦 山, 為 眾 告 命 南 天 竺,
         龍 樹 大 士 出 於 世, 悉 能 推 破 有 無 見.
Shakyamuni Tathagata on Mount Lanka 
Prophesied to the masses that in South India
Mahasattva Nagarjuna would appear in this world
To dispel the views of being and non-being
(14). 宣 說 大 乘 無 上 法, 證 歡 喜 地 生 安 樂,
         顯 示 難 行 陸 路 苦, 信 樂 易 行 水 道 樂.
Proclaiming the unexcelled Mahayana Teachings          
He realized the Stage of Joy and was born in the Land Of Peace and Bliss 
Revealing that difficult practices are like hardships on the overland way  
He urged us to take the easy path of Shinjin sailing joyfully by waterway
(15). 億 念 彌 陀 佛 本 願, 自 然 即 時 入 必 定,
         唯 能 常 稱 如 來 号, 應 報 大 悲 弘 誓 恩.
When one deeply remembers Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow          
Naturally in that instant, one enters the Stage Of Definitely Settled           
And solely Saying the Tathagata’s Name always  
Gratefully respond to Great Compassion’s Universal Pledge and grace
(16). 天 親 菩 薩 造 論 說, 歸 命 無 㝵 光 如 來,
         依 修 陀 羅 顯 真 實, 光 闡 橫 超 大 誓 願.
Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, composing a treatise declared                
That he himself took refuge in The Tathagata Of Unhindered Light.
In accordance with the sutras, he revealed the true and real  
And elucidated the Great Vow of Cross-wise Transcendence
(17). 廣 由 本 願 力 回 向, 為 度 群 生 彰 一 心,
         歸 入 功 德 大 寶 海, 必 獲 入 大 會 眾 數.
Through the power of His Primal Vow, Amida directs His merits 
Manifesting the one-mind in order to save the multitudes of beings    
So when one takes refuge and enters the great treasure ocean of virtues 
Definitely, one obtains entry into Amida’s Great Assembly
(18). 得 至 蓮 華 藏 世 界, 即 證 真 如 法 性 身,
         游 煩 惱 林 現 神 通, 入 生 死 園 示 應 化.
When one reaches that lotus-store world 
One instantly realizes the body of suchness or dharma nature           
Playing in the forest of blind passions, one uses transcendental powers  
Entering the garden of birth and death one uses skillful means to guide others
(19). 本 師 曇 鸞 梁 天 子, 常 向 鸞 處 菩 薩 禮,
         三 藏 流 支 受 淨 教, 焚 燒 仙 經 歸 樂 邦.
Facing toward the dwelling of our Teacher Tan Luan          
The emperor of Liang paid tribute to him as a Bodhisattva          
When he received the Pure Land teachings from tripitaka Master Bodhiruci 
Tan Luan burnt his Taoist scriptures and took refuge in The Land Of Bliss
(20). 天 親 菩 薩 論 註 解, 報 土 因 果 顯 誓 願,
         往 還 回 向 由 他 力, 正 定 之 因 唯 信 心.
Bodhisattva Vasubandhu explains in his treatise                   
That the fruition of the Fulfilled Land is itself manifestation of The Vow.
Going to the Pure Land and returning are merit transference of Other Power 
And the cause of true settlement is solely due to Shinjin.
(21). 惑 染 凡 夫 信 心 發, 證 知 生 死 即 涅 槃,
         必 至 無 量 光 明 土, 諸 有 眾 生 皆 普 化.
When a deluded and defiled, mundane foolish person awakens Shinjin 
That person realizes, knowing that birth and death is Nirvana 
Without fail, that person will reach the Land of Immeasurable Light      
And then, universally guides all sentient beings to enlightenment 
(22). 道 綽 決 聖 道 難 證, 唯 明 淨 土 可 通 入,
        萬 善 自 力 貶 勤 修, 圓 滿 德 号 勸 專 稱.
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
(23). 三 不 三 信 誨 慇 懃, 像 末 法 滅 同 悲 引,
        一 生 造 惡 值 弘 誓, 至 安 養 界 證 妙 果.
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, those with lifelong evil, should solely depend on The Great Vow,
Realizing the perfect fruit of nirvana in the Land of Serene Sustenance 
(24). 善 導 獨 明 佛 正 意, 矜 哀 定 散 與 逆 惡,
        光 明 名 号 顯 因 緣, 開 入 本 願 大 智 海.
Shan Tao alone understood the Buddha’s true intent        
Pitying meditative and non-meditative practicers and people of grave evil 
He revealed that Amida’s Light and Name are the cause and condition of birth
When they enter the wisdom ocean of The Primal Vow.
(25). 行 者 正 受 金 鋼 心, 慶 喜 一 念 相 應 後,
        與 韋 提 等 獲 三 忍, 即 證 法 性 之 常 樂.
Followers would certainly receive the diamond-like mind        
When the one-thought moment of joy and gratitude arises     
Like Vaidehi they would similarly acquire the three insights  
And instantly realize the eternal bliss of Dharma Nature 
(26). 源 信 廣 開 一 代 教, 偏 歸 安 養 勸 一 切,
        專 雜 執 心 判 淺 深, 報 化 二 土 正 辦 立.
Genshin widely expounded the Buddha’s lifetime teachings     
Yet, he took refuge in the Land of Peace, urging others to do the same  
Discerning that single-minded practice is profound; sundry practices shallow 
He differentiated the respective births in The Fulfilled or Transformed Lands
(27). 極 重 惡 人 唯 稱 佛, 我 亦 在 被 攝 取 中,
         煩 惱 障 眼 雖 不 見, 大 悲 無 倦 常 照 我.
Extremely evil persons should just Say the Buddha’s Name  
Who has already grasped and embraced me 
Though blind passions have obscured my eyes and I cannot see   
Great Compassion is untiring and constantly illumines me.
(28). 本 師 源 空 明 佛 教, 憐 愍 善 惡 凡 夫 人,
         真 宗 教 證 興 片 州, 選 擇 本 願 弘 惡 世.
Our teacher Genku was well-versed with Buddhism              
And he showed pity on ordinary foolish people, whether good or evil 
By spreading the True Teaching and Realisation in this scattered land         
He propagated widely the selected Primal Vow to this evil world.
(29). 還 來 生 死 輪 轉 家, 決 以 疑 情 為 所 止,
         速 入 寂 靜 無 為 樂, 必 以 信 心 為 能 入.
Our continued return to this cyclic home of birth and death      
Is certainly due to the hindrance of doubt 
Swift entrance into the peaceful, uncreated Realm of Bliss 
Is necessarily brought about by Shinjin 
(30). 弘 經 大 士 宗 師 等, 拯 濟 無 邊 極 濁 惡,
         道 俗 時 眾 共 同 心, 唯 可 信 斯 高 僧 說.
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.

 

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These wonderful verses convey a clear message from Master Shinran and the seven great Teachers of The True Pure Land Tradition. They exhort us to take refuge single-heartedly in Amida Buddha, abandoning all self-power efforts and sundry practices for attaining emancipation and entrust ourselves entirely to The Primal Vow. Knowing with certainty that we are assured of salvation here and now, we naturally Say the Excellent Name endowed with perfect virtues, in deep gratitude for the Great Compassion of Amida Buddha.

Let us Listen Deeply to this beautiful Gatha and HEAR The Call of Boundless Compassion, accepting the inconceivable gift of Shinjin (信 心), The Entrusting faith freely bestowed by Amida Buddha on all hopeless persons and be forever freed from the firm clutches of pain and suffering in the relentless cycle of samsara at the end of our wretched lives.

Thus, we have clearly 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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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 urge 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 rigorous studies and 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 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 marvellous 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 dissemination 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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Dharma Ending Age

 TEXT IN KYO-GYO-SHIN-SHO

末 法 時 代

dharma-ending-age-fa

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

This is indeed an extremely bold statement regarding The Dharma Ending Age in which we now live. Yet, it is absolutely true, when we would honestly look into ourselves and see the pitiful states we are painfully trapped in – our real natures, puny spiritual aptitudes and the extremely adverse living environments we have to face everyday.

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Dharma Ages in general, are broad time periods starting from Shakyamuni Buddha’s Parinirvana (when He left His flesh body on this earth). They define the distinctive characteristics of sentient beings and their spiritual capacities in practicing the lifetime teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. It should be pointed out that The Buddha Dharma, which naturally manifests of itself, is absolute, everlasting and imperishable; it does NOT change at all through the Ages. Rather, it is the nature, understanding and abilities of Buddha Dharma followers born into this world that have changed. Thus, the classification of the Dharma Ages is just a chronological progression describing the moral and spiritual degeneration of human beings engage in the various practices of The Buddha Dharma.

The sole purpose of The Buddha’s appearance in this world as a human being in mortal flesh more than 2500 years ago, is to teach us about this dreadful, cyclical existence of pain and suffering, called samsara and how we can put a permanent end to this unsatisfactory, relentless torture we have been experiencing, at long last.

Suffering beings like us do not know why we are born here – in a fleeting environment firmly attached to greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance and doubt – living perhaps for only a short period of a 100 years and then blindly leaving this world in agony for another unknown existence of continued pain and suffering. How painfully foolish and blind we are, not making use of this extremely rare human birth which has brought us the right conditions to free ourselves from samsara.

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. Yet, 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 firmly keep us, mercilessly strapped to the treacherous wheel of samsara.

With Boundless Compassion for the suffering multitudes, Shakyamuni Buddha tirelessly taught the Dharma for 45 years, showing individual persons or groups – in accordance with their natures and spiritual capacities – appropriate means on how to escape from samsara. Through His countless discourses, He is said to have taught 84,000 paths leading to enlightenment and always dispensing the appropriate Dharma medicines for those with high spiritual capacities, as well as for the lowly endowed, foolish persons, during His lifetime and for future generations.

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In the Right Dharma Age (正 法 時 代) which lasted 500 years from the Buddha’s Parinirvana, the Tathagata’s wonderful presence and powerful Buddha-field, enabled persons of different capacities to use the self-power methods (both meditative and non-meditative), to leverage themselves and obtain emancipation. Even despicable murderers like Angulimala (the crazy terrorist who had already killed 100 people passing through his forest) and Sunita (the illiterate, lowest caste, untouchable night-soil carrier), were able to attain enlightenment by solely taking refuge in the Buddha, as they both practised strictly in accordance with His direct instructions.

Shakyamuni Buddha tells us in The Great Collection Sutra that, during the Right Dharma Age, His disciples will be resolute in acquiring wisdom. Disciples of The Buddha born during this Age were morally resolute with excellent spiritual faculties and due to their good karma from the past, they had appeared in the immediate, powerful energetic influence of a True Living Buddha, A World-honored One, Teacher of gods and humans.

Thus, the self- power practices of the difficult moral disciplines and meditations taught by The Buddha were fully in accord with the strong spiritual capacities and natures of these followers on this Path of Sages – mainly for monks and those who are spiritually well-endowed. Therefore, countless persons gained various levels of emancipation, practicing strictly and truthfully in accordance with the methods He taught and many were permanently freed from the firm clutches of samsara.

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The Semblance Dharma Age (像 法 時 代), that followed after the Right Dharma Age, lasted another 1000 years. During this period many practitioners of the Buddha Dharma were resolute in self-power meditations and performance of difficult Buddhist practices. However, most of them, not understanding their own defiled natures and the adverse influence of the Dharma Age they were in – being further away from the Buddha’s direct energetic field – failed to gain permanent freedom from samsara, having been unable to practice strictly in accordance with the teachings and difficult disciplines.

It is called Semblance Dharma Age, simply because most of the followers of The Buddha Dharma at that time, still thought they had the same spiritual capabilities as their counterparts on the Path of Sages in The Right Dharma Age, though they could only practice a semblance of The Right Dharma. Their emancipation was denied by their own egoistic clinging to self-power practices which were simply beyond their actual abilities.

On the other hand, those who counted themselves as foolish persons, truthfully admitting their low spiritual capabilities and relying on the other-power teachings of Amida Buddha and His Pure Land, flourished. Thus, many followers during the Semblance Dharma Age, taking refuge in Amida Buddha and the power of His Vows, were freed from samsara at the end of their lives.

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The Dharma Ending Age (末 法 時 代 – ‘Mappo’ in Japanese), quickly followed after the end of the Semblance Dharma Age, 1500 years after The Buddha’s Parinirvana. This Dharma Ending Age will continue until all forms of practices of The Buddha Dharma taught by Shakyamuni Buddha become extinct in this world. This is the Dharma Age in which followers of The Buddha Dharma are resolute in building towers and temples, practicing meritorious conduct, repentance and other self-power Buddhist practices – both meditative and non-meditative – without any regard for their own innate natures and minuscule spiritual capabilities.

Conflicts and strife amongst followers of the Buddha Dharma, become widespread with the proper practice of the good Dharma that gives practicers a method of permanently ending pain and suffering, becoming practically impossible. The time for achieving the enlightenment that extricates us out of samsara through self-centered practices in this life, has already passed in this Dharma Ending Age.

All the Dharma practitioners who engage in self-power practices, aspiring to achieve release from samsara at the end of their lives, are really not aware that these good practices are no longer in accord with the actual nature of beings in this Age. They should know that, no matter how hard they try or for how long, their egoistic struggles are ineffective and would surely be in vain.

On the other hand, another extremely obvious behaviour we would observe in almost ALL the suffering human beings in this Dharma Ending Age today, is that, they are resolutely attached to this life and to future existences in samsara. All of us would naturally struggle in vain to find happiness and to avoid suffering in this life, although many understand about the temporary nature of our lives. Those who are spiritually inclined, would pray for a better future life in another realm in samsara. It is therefore, abundantly clear that the majority of people in this last Dharma Age, have really no aspiration at all to leave this vicious cycle of birth and death.

The persistence of doubt overwhelmed our minds and hearts in this defiled world. Yet, doubt itself, is just a natural mechanism and manifestation of the ego. It is our arrogant, self-centered tendency, to dismiss anything we cannot see or perceive with our eyes and to construe as false, transcendental existences that are absolutely true but beyond the limited sphere of knowledge of us humans. Unaware that our strong attachment to samsaric life, has been solidly hardened through countless trillions of previous experiences in our past lives, we automatically accept as real, the relative knowledge of science, technology and the huge overload of materialistic information. These are the illusive fetters that further strengthen, the sense of our own intelligence and arrogance, that certainly cause us to be spiritually blind to the presence of the Great Compassion of the Buddhas.

Master Shinran has confirmed in his Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho, that we are now deep in The Dharma Ending Age, in a world consumed by the five defilements of greed, hatred, illusion, jealousy and arrogance. His intention in specifically highlighting this Dharma Ending Age (末 法 時 代 – ‘Mappo’ in Japanese) or Last Dharma Age, is clearly to differentiate it from the earlier Dharma Ages which had been in steady decline since Shakyamuni Buddha’s Parinirvana. However, many followers today, not understanding the true significance and connotation of the term ‘Mappo’, have incorrectly translated it into English as ‘Age of Dharma Decline’ – an obvious case in which the actual meaning of this important term, is truly lost in translation.

He further wrote:

Truly we know that the teachings of the Path of Sages were intended for the periods when the Buddha was in this world and for the Right Dharma Age; they are altogether inappropriate for the times and beings of the Semblance and Dharma Ending Ages and the Age when the Dharma has become extinct. Already their time has passed; they are no longer in accord with beings.

The true essence of the Pure Land Way compassionately draws all the innumerable evil, defiled beings to enlightenment without discrimination, whether they be of the periods when the Buddha was in the world, of the Right, Semblance or Dharma Ending Ages, or of the time when the Dharma has become extinct.

This is the Dharma Age in which no sentient being is able to escape from samsara by  relying on their own self-centered efforts. Those who think they could are, simply put, too egoistic and unrealistic about their own nature and spiritual capabilities as they continue to struggle in vain to achieve emancipation, till the end of their fleeting lives.

Shakyamuni Buddha has firmly revealed to us that the main purpose for which He came to this world was to preach Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow which promises to save all mundane foolish persons (凡 夫, bombu), good or evil, irrespective of their gender, social status, and intelligence or living environments and the Dharma Ages they are in. This was especially so in The Semblance Dharma Age and particularly effective in this latter Dharma Ending Age when The Pure Land Gate is the one and only viable escape route out of samsara.

In this Dharma Ending Age, human beings are absolutely incapable to practice strictly according to Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime teachings to obtain enlightenment by their own self-power, strict discipline, difficult practices. The Buddha, out of great compassion for all suffering beings,  exhorts all His disciples like ourselves who truly do not have the capacity for these practices, to sincerely entrust themselves and single-heartedly take refuge only in Amida Buddha and His fulfilled Primal Vow. This is a sure way of breaking free from the vicious cycle of samsara at the end of our lives in mortal flesh.

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Listening Deeply to what the Buddhas have taught and understanding the enormous impact of The Dharma Ending Age, let us not struggle in vain with self-power practices which are totally useless to us in our plight to get out of samsara at the end of this terrible existence. May we become True Disciples of Buddha by truthfully acknowledging our persistent shortcomings and accordingly rely solely, on Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow for our permanent freedom from samsara.

Knowing that our karmic destiny is now fully settled, we would be deeply grateful to Amida Buddha for having saved us through the power of His Primal Vow, and for our assured births in The Land of Absolute Happiness at the end of our suffering lives. Single-heartedly, we would Say The Buddha’s Name (Namo Amida Butsu 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛) which is endowed with His infinite merits and virtues, for as long as our breaths last.

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.

Thus, we have Truly Heard:

The Call of Boundless Compassion

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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