Category: Shin Buddhism

Nagarjuna – True Pure Land Lineage Master

Mahasattva Nagarjuna

龙 树 大 士

Nagarjuna - artwork

In these beautiful verses from the Gatha of True Faith, Venerable Master Shinran deeply expresses his gratitude to Mahasattva Nagarjuna, quoting the essential teachings on The True Pure Land Way, personally selected and expounded by this great teacher, who was cited as the 1st Lineage Master of Jodo Shinshu…

“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.

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.

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.

Thus, the first teacher of the True Pure Land lineage, had 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, to Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, the Other Power that guarantees our complete freedom from all pain and suffering. Bodhisattva Nagarjuna exhorted us, through his wonderful expositions of the sutras and personal realization, 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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Bodhisattva Nagarjuna was a great Buddhist teacher, Philosopher and Alchemist who lived an extremely long life (said to be over 150 years) in Southern India, around the 2nd – 3rd century A.D.. Being exceedingly intelligent by nature, he was well-versed with various sciences in his youth. His first exposure to the Buddha Dharma was in the Theravada teachings but became a strong proponent of Mahayana Buddhism after receiving excellent sutras from an old monk in the Himalayas. He was a teacher of Aryadeva – the well-accomplished Buddhist Master and author of the famous Madhyamika texts. Therefore, Nagajuna is considered the founder of the Madhyamika School.

According to many legendary accounts, Bodhisattva Nagarjuna had recovered from the palace of the Nagas (dragon deities), at the bottom of the ocean, a huge number of important Buddhist Sutras that were meant for future generations. These obscure teachings had been entrusted to the Naga king by Shakyamuni Buddha earlier for safekeeping.

Nagarjuna’s best-known writing is on emptiness (sunyata), which is summarized in his “Fundamental verses on the Middleway”. In his “Middleway” teachings he clearly expounded, debated and defeated non-Buddhist philosophys on the extremes of, self and no-self, existence and non-existence, permanence and annihilation; self-indulgence and self-mortification. He also wrote a wide range of expositions and commentaries on other Mahayana Buddhist texts, including the well-known Prajnaparamita Sutra (Perfection of Wisdom). Thus, he had been regarded by at least seven other major Mahayana sects, as their founder or lineage master.

In the Tantric (Vajrayana) tradition, Nagarjuna is widely known as a Mahasiddha –  an accomplished yogi – who, through the practice of sadhanas (secret tantric meditational instructions), possessed psychic spiritual abilities and powers. He is therefore considered as an important teacher and Master by all the Vajrayana schools.

However, the most interesting aspect of Nagarjuna’s own spiritual journey, was specifically highlighted by Master Shinran. Despite his deep knowledge and active propagation of other Buddhist paths contained in Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime teachings, this wonderful Dharma Master, often considered the greatest, accomplished Teacher after Shakyamuni Buddha, actually took the True Pure Land path himself and attained the Stage of Joy – the Stage of the Definitely Settled. This Path of “Easy Practice” is strictly based on the entrusting faith (Shinjin – 信 心) in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, which embodies Saying the Buddha’s Name.

Bodhisattva Nagarjuna states in the Commentary on the Ten Bodhisattva Stages:

“If a person desires quickly to attain
The stage of non-retrogression,
He or she should, with a reverent heart,
Say the Name, holding steadfast to it.

When persons doubt as they plant roots of good,
The lotus [in which they gain birth] will not open;
But for those whose shinjin is pure,
The flower opens, and immediately they see the Buddha.”

Further, in his gathas in praise of Amida Buddha, Nagarjuna clearly professed:

“The person who thinks on Amida Buddha’s
Virtues of immeasurable power
Immediately enters the stage of the definitely settled;
For this reason I constantly think on Amida.

If a person aspires to attain Buddhahood
And thinks in his heart on Amida,
At that moment the Buddha will appear before him;
For this reason I take refuge in Amida.”

Thus, setting an excellent example for deluded, foolish suffering beings like ourselves, Boddhisattva Nagarjuna took the Path of Faith and Nembutsu (念 佛) and was finally born in the Land of Peace and Ultimate Happiness.

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The True Pure Land Dharma specially taught by Bodhisattva Nagarjuna was the sole interest of Master Shinran, as it directly revealed Amida Buddha’s Universal Vow of Boundless Compassion, made to effectively save ordinary foolish persons, like ourselves. In the chapter on ‘Easy Practice’ (品), Nagarjuna clearly tells us that there are two ways to obtain enlightenment – one is through the “Difficult Path” of self-power by performing deep meditational practices, strict precepts, perfect moral conduct and other non-meditational disciplines; the other is by the “Easy Path” of simply entrusting in Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow.

Knowing that this “Easy Path” is the only appropriate path especially meant for badly defiled, ordinary foolish persons, overwhelmed by greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance and doubt, Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, without any reservation, urged us to choose this wonderful path which he himself finally took.

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 (Shinjin – 信 心) in the Primal Vow, are truly settled in their minds and hearts, knowing that their attainment of Buddhahood is absolutely assured.

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) – for the rest of our fleeting lives, in deep gratitude to the Buddha for having saved us.

Stage of the Definitely 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, good deeds and flawless 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 is the same stage, which Nagarjuna ascertained, 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 have now single-heartedly taken the Path of Easy Practice, by simply relying fully on the Other-power of Amida’s Primal Vow, we too are absolutely assured of advancing to Nirvana, without going through countless billions of lives, performing self-power, difficult practices, on the Bodhisattvas’ path.

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Bodhisattva Nagarjuna
Ten Hymns by Master Shinran written in profound reverence and gratitude to Bodhisattva Nagarjuna
(From: Hyms of The Pure Land Masters by Shinran Shonin)

1…
Our teacher, Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, abundantly praises the Pure Land in the west
In such works as his commentaries on the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra
And the Ten Bodhisattva Stages,
And urges us to practice the nembutsu.

Nagarjuna (Ryuju, literally “naga [dragon]-tree”): Nagarjuna was born beneath    a tree and taken and raised by a naga-king. Later, he became the son of a king in southern India. Hence his name, Nagarjuna.

2…
The World-honored one foretold
That a monk named Bodhisattva Nagarjuna
Would appear in south India and would crush
The wrong views of being and nonbeing.

South India: Further south, there was a great spirit king who was master of Mount Lanka, which rises from the sea. Because this king loved the Mahayana teaching, Sakyamuni Tathagata crossed the sea to his kingdom and taught the dharma to him. On that occasion, Sakyamuni foretold that some time after his entrance into nirvana, Nagarjuna would appear in the world and vanquish the nonbuddhist teachings.

3…
Our teacher, Bodhisattva Nagarjuna,
Clarified the unexcelled dharma of the Great Vehicle;
Having attained the stage of joy,
He wholeheartedly recommended the nembutsu to all.

Stage of joy: the stage of the truly settled. In the term “joy” (kangi), kan means to be gladdened in body and -gi means to be gladdened in mind. To rejoice, realizing that one is assured of attaining what one shall attain, is called “joy.”

4…
Mahasattva Nagarjuna appeared in the world
And distinguished the paths of difficult and easy practice;
Thus he leads us, who are wandering in transmigration,
To board the ship of the universal Vow.

Difficult: the Path of Sages.
Easy: the Pure Land path.

5…
People who hear and accept the words
Of our teacher Bodhisattva Nagarjuna
Should be mindful of the Primal Vow
And say the Name of Amida always.

6…
Those who desire quickly to attain
The stage of nonretrogression
Should, with a heart of reverence,
Hold steadfast to and say Amida’s Name.

Reverence: to worship with humility. Hinayana speaks of making offerings; Mahayana speaks of reverence.
Hold steadfast to: to take and hold in one’s mind; not to scatter or lose; never abandoning once one has taken hold.

7…
The ocean of birth-and-death, of painful existence, has no bound;
Only by the ship of Amida’s universal Vow
Can we, who have long been drowning,
Unfailingly be brought across it.

8…
The Commentary on the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra states:
The Tathagata is the supreme dharma-king;
With bodhisattvas as dharma-vassals,
The person to be deeply revered is the World-honored one.

9…
All the bodhisattvas state:
“When we were in the causal stage,
We passed through countless kalpas
Performing the myriad good acts and practices,

10…
But the attachments of affection were extremely hard to sever,
And birth-and-death was extremely difficult to exhaust.
Only by practicing the nembutsu-samadhi
Could we eliminate the obstructions of karmic evil and gain liberation.”

Here ends the Hymns on Bodhisattva Nagarjuna.

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Listening Deeply to the True Pure Land expositions of Master Shinran and the core teaching strongly emphasized by Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, may all foolish mundane persons, take heed of the benevolent advice of these 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, we have definitely taken the Easy Path out of samsara. Without any doubt we have 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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Karmic-consciousness of Shinjin

Text in The KyoGyoShinSho

信 心 業 識

karmic-consciousness-of-shinjin-fa-1

This wonderful passage, beautifully written by Venerable Master Shinran, vividly tells us that our Karmic-consciousness of Shinjin – the Entrusting faith in Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow – is the essential cause for our birth in the Land of Peace and Bliss. Nurtured by listening deeply to the Dharma on Amida Buddha, this Karmic-consciousness of Shinjin naturally arises in us with the ripening of our good karma from the past…

“Truly we know, that without the virtuous Name, our compassionate father, we would lack the direct cause of birth. Without the Light, our compassionate mother, we would stand apart from the indirect cause of birth. Although direct and indirect causes may come together, if the karmic-consciousness of Shinjin is lacking, one will not reach the Land of Light.

The karmic-consciousness of True and Real Shinjin is the inner cause. The Name and Light – our father and mother are the outer cause. When the inner and outer causes are united, one realizes the True Body in The Fulfilled Land.”

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Suffering beings like ourselves 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 condition to free ourselves from samsara – this vicious cycle of repeating birth, suffering and death.

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Master Shinran’s deep self-reflection and personal experience of the Inconceivable gift of True Entrusting, Shinjin ( 信 心) in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow are wonderfully expressed through his large treasury of beautiful and direct expositions written in profound gratitude to Amida Buddha for His Boundless Compassion and grace that have saved him from samsara, “the ocean of suffering”. Knowing that the karmic-consciousness of Shinjin (信 心 業 識) is the inner cause required for our birth in Amida’s Pure Land, he tells us that it arises through our repeated exposure – in our past lives as well as in this life – to the Buddha Dharma in general and particularly to the true Dharma on Amida Buddha taught in The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life.

Comparing what Shakyamuni Buddha had spoken about on our precious human birth, the necessary causes for birth – fertile father, fertile mother and the appropriate karmic-consciousness of the being to be born – must be present and united for birth to take place in this human realm. However, the incomparable and immense difference between the two types of karmic-consciousness is this:

The karmic-consciousness of a sentient being, would certainly lead that being to be born in another unenlightened, defiled realm of perpetual suffering within samsara – as a god, demi-god, human, hungry ghost, animal or hell-being.

While,

The karmic-consciousness of Shinjin, would definitely lead us to be born in Amida Buddha’s Enlightened Pure Land of Nirvana and complete freedom from samsara.

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The above classical writing clearly reveals to us, that the good karmic connections with the Buddha Dharma from our past must be present, accumulated, nurtured and ripened to that instant – that one-thought-moment (一 念)  – when they would spontaneously trigger off this extremely rare karmic-consciousness of True Entrusting (Shinjin, 信 心) and naturally allows us to know at that moment, without any doubt, the presence of Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow which embodies His Name.

The Shinjin (信 心) of Amida Buddha – His Absolute Confidence in saving all sentient beings – is the ever-present Light of Great Compassion bestowed on all suffering beings a long, long time ago. It is received and accepted by those of us, who, having abandoned all sundry practices and disciplines, are able to single-heartedly entrust our karmic destiny entirely to Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow. Thus, we are instantly embraced and not forsaken by the Buddha’s Light.

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Saying The Buddha’s Name (Namo Amida Butsu   南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛), we take refuge in Amida Buddha, deeply grateful to Him for having saved us. We immediately belong to the Group of the Truly Settled (正 定 聚) whose birth in Amida’s Pure Land is absolutely guaranteed at the end of this painful existence in mortal flesh.

Thus, together with the active outer cause of Amida’s virtuous Name and Compassionate Light, this karmic–consciousness of Shinjin (信 心), the inner cause, when spontaneously activated in our ordinary lives, completes the required causes for  our birth in The Pure Land. True and Real Shinjin is necessarily accompanied by Saying the Name. However, Saying the Name is not always accompanied by Shinjin which comes from the power of the Primal Vow. Shinjin is the essence of the True Pure Land Way and all that is required for us to be born in the Land of Happiness at the end of our lives.

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Good karma from the past, accumulated through our repeated exposure to The Buddha Dharma in countless lives – which hitherto, stayed unrealized – suddenly ripens in us through “Listening Deeply” again, to the Buddha Dharma in this life. Instantly, we become aware of Amida Buddha’s compassionate activities. Thus, we are able to entrust ourselves fully in Amida Buddha and the power of the Primal Vow.

This wonderful fact has also been strongly emphasized in the following verses found in The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life:

“Without a stock of goodness from the past
One cannot HEAR this Sutra,
But those who had observed the precepts
Can HEAR the Right Dharma.

One who had met a World-honored One in the past
Can accept this teaching
Such a person respectfully worships, HEARS
And upholds it, and rejoices so greatly as to dance

Arrogant, corrupt and indolent people
Find it hard to accept this teaching
But those who had met Buddhas in their past lives
Rejoice to HEAR it.”

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Truly settled Shinjin is unwavering, single-hearted, not mixed with any self-powered practices, entirely free from doubt and naturally rely on the inconceivable working of The Primal Vow which embodies Saying the Buddha’s Name (Namo-Amida-Butsu  南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛) endowed with infinite virtues. Mundane foolish persons (凡 夫 – bombu) in this Dharma Ending Age who aspire to be forever freed from pain and suffering at the end of this life, have no other choice but to fully rely on Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow.

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, realizing that we are incapable of saving ourselves by our 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.

May all who are brought here due the ripening of good karma from the past, listen deeply to the wonderful teachings of Master Shinran and not to squander away their precious human births. Single-mindedly take the easy Path of True and Real Shinjin in The Primal Vow of Amida Buddha without any distraction whatsoever from self-power practices. Put your karmic destiny entirely in the hands of Amida Buddha, clearly and definitely 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 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 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 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 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 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 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. 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 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

Album of Shin Buddhist Songs

净 土 真 宗 佛 歌 集

This album of Shin Buddhist songs (with lyrics based on the poems posted on this blog),  is a collection from the wonderful musical compositions of Richard St. Clair.

These beautiful songs have given the authors a medium to express their profound gratitude to Amida Buddha for bestowing on them, the Tathagata’s inconceivable gift of Salvation. They are intended also to provide mundane foolish persons like ourselves, a channel to Listen Deeply to the Buddha Dharma in general and in particular to the Dharma on Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow.

May all persons quickly ‘HEAR’ The Call of Boundless Compassion:

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SONG ON THE TEXTURE OF LIFE
(with lyrics by Heng Ng)

A fleeting life saved by Amida Tathagata

歸 命 無 量 壽 如 來

THE TEXTURE OF LIFE

The texture of life
Appears rough or fine,
Fashioned by strong karmic threads
Accumulated from countless time.
Fleeting and impermanent

Closely examining the fabric
We will definitely see,
The ugly stained threads of blind passions
Weaving the net of suffering without cease.
Interdependent, interdependent

Our own wretched existence
Despite the persistent hue and cry,
Are just like dust specks
Against the vast sky.
Insignificant

Yet, we have already been proffered
The Unconditioned Land of Enlightenment,
More than fifty billion years ago
By Amida’s grace and compassion.
Inconceivable

The Buddha’s Primal Vow
Call of Boundless Compassion,
Was made to save an evil person like me
In my wretched condition.
Namo Amida Butsu

His wonderful Gift of Salvation
Received by me in this precious human life,
Is the fabric of Infinite Compassion
Assuring my freedom from pain and strife.
Namo Amida Butsu

Recognizing that my useless self-power
Cannot free me from the pain of samsara,
I take refuge and gratefully rely
On the Vow-power of Amida Buddha.
Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu

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, Namo Amida Butsu,
Namo Amida Butsu

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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

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

NEMBUTSU OF GRATITUDE
by Richard St.Clair

This short vocal piece is an expression of the composer’s faith in and gratitude to the Buddha Amida for the assurance of salvation in the Pure Land at his life’s end. The composer wrote his own lyrics for this piece, which was written in one inspired evening in July 2016 in a burst of thankfulness. The lyrics are as follows:

Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu.
Amida is True and Real;
His Pure Land is True and Real.
I take refuge in the Primal Vow,
Amida’s Gift to all suffering beings,
embracing all and forsaking none.

Amida is my loving parent, my Oya-sama,
my Mother and my Father.
Thank You, Amida Buddha,
thank You Amida Buddha:
Namu Amida Butsu; Namu Amida Butsu.

You are my Refuge and my Salvation,
my joy at the certainty of Birth
as a True and real Buddha
in Your Land of Peace and Bliss.
What a Wondrous Gift, this Shinjin!

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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

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

AMIDA’S GIFT OF SALVATION
(with lyrics by Heng Ng)

Namo Amida Butsu 南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛

AMIDA’S GIFT OF SALVATION

I take refuge in Amida Buddha
Saying His Glorious Name
In deep gratitude for bestowing on me
His Inconceivable Gift of Salvation.

Endless suffering in the cycle of birth and death
Firmly grips this ignorant, wretched person.
And for billions of lives, I blindly endured
With no condition for emancipation.

But Amida Buddha patiently awaited
While my good karma slowly ripens,
Nurtured for more than fifty billion years
By His association and untiring presence.

Master Shinran’s wonderful message
Expounding Amida’s Gift of Salvation,
Revealed to me the work of Great Compassion
And my assured Salvation in the present.

Marvellously, in this precious human life
I finally Heard Amida’s Primal Vow,
As the spark of True Entrusting
Crosses all the gaps of doubt.

Neither have I, any accumulated merits
Nor ability to perform any good practice.
Yet, this no-root Gift of Entrusting Faith
Simply sprouted from Amida’s grace.

To say that it is simply Inconceivable
Truly describes this ineffable possibility,
How foolish persons with deep evil passions
Are saved by His Compassionate Activity

Accomplishing and fulfilling His Pledge
Amida embraces, not forsaking any person.
We are assured birth in His Land of Peace
The unconditioned realm of Enlightenment.

It is indeed difficult to adequately express
Our gratitude for His Gift of Salvation,
But thankfully calling His Glorious Name
We hear, The Call of Boundless Compassion.

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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

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

EMBRACED AND NOT FORSAKEN
(with lyrics by Heng Ng)

攝 取 不 捨

EMBRACED AND NOT FORSAKEN

Fishes are sustained
Embraced by water
My body and all material things
Are embraced by space.
My wretched mind
Transcends physical matter
Embraced and not forsaken
By Amida Buddha’s grace.

The one-thought moment
Of True Entrusting
Arises when I have Truly Heard
Amida’s Primal Vow.
Boundless Light of Compassion
Embrace without exception
All foolish mundane persons
Here and Now.

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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

Embraced and not forsaken

SESSHU FUSHA

攝 取 不 捨

Embraced

In this stanza from the beautiful Gatha of True Faith, Venerable Master Shinran vividly tells us, that we would receive the inconceivable benefit of being embraced and not forsaken by The Light of Great Compassion, the moment we are able to single-heartedly entrust in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. This Universal Vow is Amida’s absolute promise to save hopeless persons like ourselves from the treacherous cycle of birth and death…

“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
But just like the light of the sun being blocked by clouds and mists
Beneath those clouds and mists, there is brightness, not darkness”

Saved by the inconceivable working of Amida’s Vow, I shall realize birth in the Pure Land: the moment you entrust yourself thus to the Vow, so that the mind set upon saying the nembutsu arises within you, you are immediately brought to share in the benefit of being grasped by Amida, never to be abandoned.

Know that the Primal Vow of Amida makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil; only shinjin (entrusting faith) is essential. For it is the Vow to save the person whose karmic evil is deep and grave and whose blind passions abound.

Thus, for those who entrust themselves to the Primal Vow, no good acts are required, because no good surpasses the nembutsu. Nor need they despair of the evil they commit, for no evil can obstruct the working of Amida’s Primal Vow. – ( Tannisho – Lamenting of Divergences chapter 1)

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Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow is the Tathagata’s pledge to save all  suffering sentient beings, like ourselves, who are firmly caught, for billions of lives, in the net of samsara – the vicious cycle of birth, suffering and death. All of us have struggled in vain, from the moment we are born, constantly seeking to find happiness and to avoid suffering. Yet, being spiritually blind and ignorant, our continuous search for lasting happiness in this fleeting life, would definitely be futile. Thus, carelessly we live and squander away, this extremely rare, human birth.

However, those who come to realize and truthfully admit their utter inability to free themselves by their own self-power efforts and practices, are assured of ultimate happiness, the moment when they single-heartedly entrust themselves, taking refuge in Amida Buddha and the power of The Primal Vow…

“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 is Amida Buddha’s Absolute Confidence (true and real Shinjin – 真 實 信 心) in getting every sentient being out of samsara. The Compassionate saving activities of the Buddha is contained in this Universal Vow – the Other-power that effectively saves all suffering beings trapped in samsara.

Thus, just by simply accepting and entrusting themselves single-heartedly to this Vow – which had already been wonderfully fulfilled ten kalpas ago – countless hopeless sentient beings were saved in the past, are being saved in the present and will be saved in the future.

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 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 the vicious cycle of 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.

Listening Deeply to Amida’s Dharma of Salvation – which had been carefully explained by Master Shinran – would certainly arouse our aspiration to free ourselves from the relentless pain and suffering of samsara. This excellent practice, nurtured by the ripening of good karmic seeds accumulated from the distant past, would surely result in our honest admission, that pathetic persons like ourselves, heavily burdened by greed, hatred, ignorance, jealousy and arrogance, would not be able to extricate ourselves from the tenacious net of samsara.

Thus, when we deeply realize the complete uselessness of our struggles to free ourselves through self-power practices, we would then, immediately let go of all these ego-centric, sundry practices and inclinations; naturally allowing ourselves to be instantly embraced by Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow.

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Embraced and not forsaken (Sesshu Fusha – 攝 取 不 捨) by Amida’s Light, persons of entrusting faith (shinjin – 信 心) are always illumined and protected by all Buddhas. Passionately exhorting all suffering beings to entrust themselves single-heartedly in the Primal Vow, Master Shinran urges us in his magnum opus, the KyoGyoShinSho and in his other wonderful writings, that we should, immediately take this ‘easy’ path out of samsara, by accepting this great benefit of being grasped and forever not abandoned by Amida Buddha…

This, then, is the true teaching easy to practice for small, foolish beings; it is the straight way easy to traverse for the dull and ignorant. Among all teachings the Great Sage preached in his lifetime, none surpasses this ocean of virtues. Let the one who seeks to abandon the defiled and aspire for the pure; who is confused in practice and vacillating in faith; whose mind is dark and whose understanding deficient; whose evils are heavy and whose karmic obstructions manifold – let such persons embrace above all the Tathagata’s exhortations, take refuge without fail in the most excellent direct path, devote themselves solely to this practice, and revere only this shinjin.

Ah! hard to encounter, even in many lifetimes, is the decisive cause of birth, Amida’s universal Vow! Hard to realize, even in myriads of kalpas, is pure shinjin that is true and real! If you should come to realize this practice and shinjin, rejoice at the conditions from the distant past that have brought it about. But if in this lifetime still you are entangled in a net of doubt, then unavoidably you must pass once more in the stream of birth-and-death through myriads of kalpas. Wholly sincere, indeed, are the words of truth that one is grasped, never to be abandoned, the right dharma all-surpassing and wondrous! Hear and reflect, and let there be no wavering or apprehension.

In his Poems on the Pure Land, Master Shinran wrote:

“He watches over Nembutsu followers
Within worlds numerous as dust particles
That lie in the ten directions
Embracing and not forsaking them
Hence, he is called ‘Amida’.”

Thus, the moment we accept the fact that even ignorant beings like us, will be born in the Land of Peace and Bliss through Amida’s “marvellously mysterious Vow”, and there arises within us the desire to Say the Buddha’s Name (Nembutsu – ), we already share in the benefit of “being embraced never to be forsaken”.

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Saying the Buddha’s Name (Namo Amida Butsu, 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛), is Amida’s Great Practice bestowed on all miserable beings and it embodies the Buddha’s Primal Vow. The moment when we come to realize that we are utterly incapable in performing self-power meditative and non-meditative practices, we would surely take the only option available to us by entrusting ourselves to this fulfilled Vow of Boundless Compassion, if gaining freedom from samsara at the end of this precious human life, is indeed our goal.

Thus, Saying the Excellent Name is not our good nor is it our self-power practice for accumulating merits. It is simply our act of true settlement; complete reliance in the Primal Vow and our expression of profound gratitude to Amida Buddha. All the Buddhas throughout the ten directions, with one voice, praise and fully support Saying Amida’s Name, as it is easy to hold and easy to remember, affording all human beings a simple way, to find true meaning in their wretched lives and to free themselves forever from the endless torture of samsara.

Naturally, we enter the Stage of the truly settled of those assured of Nirvana and thereby, live out our remaining days in this perishing material body, listening deeply; gratefully taking refuge in Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow; Saying the Buddha’s Name and so, constantly coming into the Buddha’s presence. We would then, lead our lives,  graciously accepting and abiding with the unfolding of good or bad karma carried forward from our countless past lives.

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Receiving the Gift of Shinjin, solely due to the merit transference of Amida Buddha, we know that, we have now entered into the Rightly Established Group of those absolutely assured of birth in the Pure Land. Saying the Buddha’s Name, we are grateful to be embraced by the Light of Boundless Compassion, as we walk on the only unimpeded Single Path out of samsara…

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

Truly settled in our minds and hearts on this incredible spiritual journey, we now know that this is our last deluded life in samsara. Clearly and definitely, without any doubt, we have HEARD:

The Call of Boundless Compassion

南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Bu
南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Bu
南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Bu

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Home Page: The Call of Boundless Compassion

Amida’s Primal Vow

 阿      陀      本   

the-primal-vow-2

Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow is the Tathagata’s absolute promise to save all wretched sentient beings, like ourselves, who are firmly caught, for billions of lives, in the net of samsara – the vicious cycle of birth, suffering and death. All of us have struggled in vain, from the moment we are born, constantly seeking to find happiness and to avoid suffering. Yet, being spiritually blind and ignorant, our continuous search for lasting happiness in this fleeting life, would definitely be futile. Thus, carelessly we live and squander away, this extremely rare, human birth.

However, those who come to realize and truthfully admit their utter inability to free themselves by their own self-power efforts and practices, are assured of Ultimate Happiness, the moment when they single-heartedly entrust themselves, taking refuge in Amida Buddha and the power of The Primal Vow…

“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.”

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Amida Buddha in His practising stage, countless billions of years ago – as Bodhisattva Dharmakara, under the guidance of Buddha Lokesvararaja – boldly made forty-eight inconceivable Vows, out of great compassion for all suffering sentient beings. These Vows are made fully in accord with the varying karmic circumstances, capacities and natures of beings – the main purpose is to ultimately free everyone, without exception – from the relentless and painful cycle of samsara.

All these Vows have already been wonderfully fulfilled when the Bodhisattva – after countless trillions of years of extremely hard practices in meditation, generosity and strict moral disciplines – attained Perfect Enlightenment ten kalpas ago as Amida Buddha. His Pure Land of Peace and Bliss had been splendidly established specifically to receive all beings who really aspire to be born there and be permanently freed from the dreadful torture of samsara. In every one of the Vows, Amida Buddha had declared that each Vow would be accomplished accordingly as He had promised, otherwise, He is not fit to be a Buddha.

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 those in the present who are karmically ripe, to be born in His Land of Serene Sustenance. Being always amongst the multitudes, The Tathagata, using various skillful methods, sets up the appropriate karmic connections with sentient beings to enable them to be saved in the future.

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Listening Deeply ( ) to the wonderful Buddha Dharma taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, gives us a broad understanding of our truly pathetic lives in samsara and thus, develops our aspiration to escape from this painful existence. Because of His great compassion for all suffering beings, the Buddha have taught 84,000 skilful methods and more – each appropriate to the varying capacities and natures of beings – so that every one would have a chance to escape from samsara.

Listening deeply to the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, Venerable Master Shinran, after 20 years of arduous practice on the Path of Sages, realized that he was absolutely incapable in attaining enlightenment through the difficult, self-powered, meditative and non-meditative practices prescribed. This deep and honest understanding about himself and his poor spiritual capacity, lead him to choose the True Pure Land Way that relies solely on the saving power of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. Receiving the gift of Shinjin – the entrusting faith from Amida Buddha – he was embraced and not forsaken by the Light of Great Compassion and know, without any doubt, that he would become a Buddha at the end of his physical life.

Exhorting us to listen deeply to the True Pure Land Teachings taught by Shakyamuni Buddha for pathetic beings like ourselves in this Dharma ending age, he tells us, through his wonderful expositions, that we would definitely be saved from the cycle of pain and suffering. By relying on the Other-power, we have given ourselves the extremely rare opportunity to extricate ourselves from samsara. Let us listen deeply and reflect on what he wrote:

“The word ‘Hear’ in the passage from the Larger Sutra means that sentient beings, having heard how the Buddha’s Vow arose – its origin and fulfilment – are altogether free of doubt. This is to ‘HEAR’.

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The Primal Vow – that is the 18th Vow – has caused countless mundane foolish persons (bombu 凡 夫), both good or evil, stupid or intelligent , male or female from different social status and environments – to be born directly into The Pure Land of Peace and Bliss and come to the end of all suffering, the beginning of Buddhahood. We should know that Amida Buddha had already accomplished our Pure Land births through the power of The Primal Vow, by fulfilling for each of us our aspirations and their attendant practices – all ignorant sentient beings will realise this fact sooner or later when they are karmically ready to receive Amida Buddha’s precious gift of Salvation.

The Primal Vow is also Amida Buddha’s simple and clear instruction on how we can confidently get to His Pure Land at the end of this life:

.. Single-heartedly and joyfully entrust yourself to Amida Buddha
.. Aspire to be born in His Pure Land
.. Saying the Buddha’s Name 

Thus, by sincerely and joyfully entrusting ourselves, single-heartedly taking refuge only in Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow; aspiring for birth in the Pure Land, we have fully accepted  His Absolute Confidence – His inconceivable Faith-mind (Shinjin, 信 心) – that continuously seeks to save all suffering beings. Spontaneously, with the one thought-moment of entrusting faith  (Shinjin, 信 心), we would Say the Buddha’s Name (Nembutsu, 念 佛) – (Namo Amida Butsu, 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛) – deeply grateful to The Buddha for having saved us, here and now, during this present life.

Completing the cause of our Pure Land birth by fully relying on the Other-power (Buddha-centered Power), we are instantly grasped and never forsaken by the Light of Great Compassion. The darkness of our stubborn ignorance is now broken through and the hindrance of doubt in our minds and hearts, that had plagued us for billion of births, naturally disappears, just like darkness dissipating by itself in the presence of Light.

In the Gatha of True Faith (正 信 偈), Master Shinran passionately expresses in beautiful poetry, his direct and grateful experience on the Primal Vow:

“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.

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.”

Regarding fulfilment of The Primal Vow, Master Shinran wrote:

“The passage declaring the fulfilment of the Primal Vow in the Larger Sutra states: All sentient beings, as they hear the Name, realize even one thought-moment of Shinjin and joy, which is directed to them from Amida’s sincere mind; and aspiring to be born in that land, they then attain birth and dwell in the stage of non-retrogression. Excluded are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right Dharma.”

“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.

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.”

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“Saved by the inconceivable working of Amida’s Vow, I shall realize birth in the Pure Land”: the moment you entrust yourself thus to the Vow, so that the mind set upon saying the Nembutsu arises within you, you are immediately brought to share in the benefit of being grasped by Amida, never to be abandoned.

Know that the Primal Vow of Amida makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil; only Shinjin is essential. For it is the Vow to save the person whose karmic evil is deep and grave and whose blind passions abound.”

Thus, for those who entrust themselves to the Primal Vow, no good acts are required, because no good surpasses the Nembutsu. Nor need they despair of the evil they commit, for no evil can obstruct the working of Amida’s Primal Vow. – (Tannisho – Lamenting Divergences chapter 1).

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We see that The Primal Vow is clearly Amida Buddha’s pledge to every sentient being. He had already attained Supreme Enlightenment and The Pure Land wonderfully established, although not all sentient beings would single-heartedly entrust themselves to this Vow of Boundless Compassion at this time. The enlightenment of all sentient beings had already been fulfilled at the hands of Amida Buddha. Therefore, The Primal Vow is constantly in an active mode, instantly fulfilled the moment sentient beings single-heartedly entrust themselves and fully accept Amida’s Shinjin.

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Saying the Buddha’s Name (Namo Amida Butsu, 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛) embodied in The Primal Vow, is the Great Practice and an active other-power cause of our birth in The Pure Land and attainment of Nirvana. It is not our good nor is it our self-power practice. It is simply our act of true settlement, knowing that we will become Buddhas at the end of this fleeting life. Saying the Buddha’s Name is fully supported by all Buddhas, as it is easy to hold and easy to remember, affording all human beings a simple way, to find true meaning in their lives and to free themselves from the torture of samsara.

The Vow that all the Buddhas Say the Name  is stated in The Larger Sutra:

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters do not all praise and Say my Name, may I not attain the Supreme Enlightenment.”

Thus, in this spiritually defiled Dharma Ending Age (末 法 時 代) when all human beings are karmically overwhelmed by the evil passions of greed, hatred, ignorance, jealousy and arrogance, everything we perceive is fleeting; ultimately false. Only Saying the Buddha’s Name (Nembutsu, 念 佛) – remembering the Buddha – which is fully supported by all the other countless Buddhas in the infinite worlds, is True and Real.

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If we seriously desire to be completely free from all pain and suffering at the end of this precious human life which has given us the right opportunity of encountering The Buddha Dharma, we should completely put aside all meditative and non-meditative practices. We should know that these practices on the Path of Sages are simply beyond our natures and meagre spiritual capacities. Therefore, struggling to practice them for the purpose of getting out of samsara will definitely be in vain.

If we honestly admit that we just Do Not possess the ability to free ourselves by self-power from the  relentless, fearful nightmare of samsara, we will realize that we Do Not have any other choice but to single-heartedly entrust our karmic destiny entirely to Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow.

Thus, fully relying on Other-power – the natural working of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow – we know that our birth in the Land of Peace and Happiness is absolutely assured while we are still living out this unsatisfactory existence. Our endless wandering in the painful realms of samsara has finally come to an end, at the end of this life in mortal flesh.

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Let us Listen deeply, knowing without any doubt, that Amida Buddha has dedicated all His merits and virtues for our going forth to The Pure Land of Ultimate Happiness. We have now clearly and surely 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

 

 

 

 

Ajatasatru – Our Real Story

THE STORY OF WHO WE REALLY ARE

淨 邦 緣 熟

icchantikas-1

Icchantikas are wretched, hopeless persons lacking the seed of salvation – people like ourselves who are stricken with a common human sickness, most difficult to cure in this world. Completely ignorant about the intractable egos that keep us firmly strapped to the vicious wheel of birth and death, we cannot be cured by self-centered means. Only the Compassionate Light of a Supreme Buddha can cure us…..

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“Concerning beings who are difficult to cure, the Buddha has taught the following in The Nirvana Sutra:
Kasyapa, there are three kinds of people in the world who are hard to cure:
.. those who slander the Great Vehicle,
.. those who commit the five grave offenses, and
.. those who lack the seed of Buddhahood (icchantikas).
These three sicknesses are the most severe in the world; they cannot be treated by sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, or bodhisattvas.”

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An Icchantika (一 闡 提) is the description that Venerable Master Shinran gave himself as he carefully explains to us, in his expositions, on the extreme difficulty for this group of wretched, hopeless, foolish and ignorant persons, to cross the ocean of samsara – the painful cycle of birth and death. Without exception every one of us is an icchantika, a person consumed by the uncontrollable urges of lust, ambition, greed, hatred, jealousy and arrogance, in this Dharma Ending Age. We too are badly plagued by the same deep-rooted human sickness that can only be cured by the Other power of a Supreme Buddha.

He relates to us the wonderful, true story of Ajatasatru – The Story of who we really are:

“As I carefully reflect, I see that the inconceivable  Universal Vow is indeed a great vessel bearing us across the ocean difficult to cross and that the Unhindered Light is the Sun of wisdom dispersing the darkness of our ignorance.

Thus it is that, when karmic conditions for the teaching of birth in the Pure Land had ripened, Devadatta provoked Ajatasatru to commit grave crimes. And when the opportunity arose for explaining the pure act by which birth is settled, Sakyamuni led Vaidehi to select the Land of Serene Sustenance.”

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The story of Ajatasatru, the unborn enemy – told in the Nirvana Sutra and related in Master Shinran’s wonderful exposition, the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho (真 實 教 行 信 證) – is an excellent example of a mundane foolish person (凡 夫, bombu) who is overwhelmed and consumed by the fires of egoistic passions – greed, hatred, deep-rooted ignorance, jealousy and arrogance. Having committed the gravest despicable crimes, Prince Ajatasatru later recognized how evil he was and realized that he was a pathetic ‘icchantika’ – one who lacked the seed of salvation; a person without any hope of emancipation and was certainly condemned to the deepest hell.

The relationship of Ajatasatru’s hopeless plight and our own is direct and similar, but most of us are not truthful enough to recognize that we are just as evil, wretched and hopeless as Ajatasatru. Transmigrating through billions of lives, we have accumulated an incredibly immense amount of evil karma and are also destined for the deepest hell. Truly, Ajatasatru is our story – The Story of who we really are.

Prince Ajatasatru – the beloved son of King Bimbisara of the country of Magda in northern India over 2500 years ago – under the instigation of Devadatta, a rebellious senior disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha, seized the throne and mercilessly starved his blameless father to death in prison. If not for the intervention of his compassionate uncle Jivaka, a true disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha, he would have also killed his own mother Queen Vaidehi for smuggling food to sustain the imprisoned Bimbisara. The extreme pain and unimaginable suffering experienced by Vaidehi brought her to implore The Buddha to show her a place throughout the entire universe and trillion world systems that was completely free from the dreadful agonies of mortal samsaric existence.

That tragic incident in this story of Ajatasatru, presented the ripening of a karmic opportunity for Shakyamuni Buddha, to reveal and teach about Amida Buddha and His Pure Land of Happiness and Serene Sustenance – the undisputable choice selected by a painfully distraught Vaidehi from amongst myriad Pure Lands showed to her by The Buddha, through His transcendental power.

Vaidehi’s prayer to Shakyamuni Buddha at that time, opened up an extraordinary escape route for the masses of wretched, mundane foolish persons (凡 夫, bombu) who truly do not have the nature or spiritual capacity to perform difficult meditative or non-meditative disciplines and sagely practices. This is fully in accord with what the Buddha said to Vaidehi about her poor spiritual capacity at that time: “you are a common mortal with inferior mental capacity”.

Recognizing her own nature and hopelessly inferior spiritual capacity, Vaidehi made this passionate prayer:

“My only prayer is this: World-Honored One, may you preach to me in detail of all the places where there is no sorrow or trouble, and where I ought to go to be born anew. I am not satisfied with this world of depravities, with Jambudvipa, which is full of hells, full of hungry spirits, and of the brute creatures. In this world of depravities, there are many assemblies of the wicked. May I not hear, I pray, the voice of the wicked in the future and may I not see any wicked person.

World-Honored One, although all other Buddha countries are pure and radiant with light, I should, nevertheless, wish myself to be born in the realm of Buddha Amitayus, in the world of Highest Happiness, Sukhavati.”

Thereupon, the Buddha showed His satisfaction with Vaidehi’s wonderful choice of Sukhavati – Amida Buddha’s Pure Land of Ultimate Happiness and Serene Sustenance – revealing His original intent with a heart-felt, gental smile.

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Guided by the power of The Buddha, Vaidehi saw the marvelous splendor of Sukhavati. In that instant, a True Buddha and Land was revealed to her. Thus, she joyfully received the certainty of Shinjin, the Entrusting Faith and insight into the wisdom of the Buddhas. Ecstatically, with joy and gratitude, she exclaimed:

“World-Honored One, Never have I seen such a wonder! People such as I can now see that land by the power of the Exalted One! To remember these words is to remember the name of the Buddha. Namo Amida Butsu.”

Vaidehi recognized that any self-power efforts on her part would be utterly useless and that she was able to see Amida Buddha and The Pure Land only by the Other-power of Shakyamuni Buddha. She also knew without any doubt, that her endless pain and suffering in samsara, would definitely come to an end with her assured birth in Sukhavati.

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Ajatasatru’s amazing journey to receive Shinjin – the Entrusting Faith of Salvation directly transmitted to him by The Buddha – would not have been made, had he not encountered and listened deeply to his uncle Jivaka who was a good teacher – a kind and knowledgeable Dharma friend (善 知 識). It must be the ripening of Ajatasatru’s good karma, accumulated from the distant past, that made him listen to the advice of Jivaka.

Because he killed his father, a fever of remorse arose in his own heart and filthy sores began to cover his entire body – he was consumed by extreme pain and agony. Although Ajatasatru had earlier repented his vile, evil nature and despicable behaviour, he could not see any possible escape from the painful hell he had created for himself.

Six close ministers came before him one after another giving him various advice to seek the miraculous formulas of their trusted gurus. Yet, Ajatasatru cannot put any trust or comfort in their words. It was only on the wonderful Dharma teachings and urging of Jivaka that Ajatasatru built up the confidence to seek the compassionate help of Shakyamuni Buddha who already knew that he would come with Jivaka.

The Buddha taught the Dharma of Salvation to Ajatasatru, radiating the Compassionate Light that instantly healed his body and mind. As Ajatasatru listened deeply, absorbing the wonderful words from the Tathagata, his heavy burden of karmic evil was lightened, enabling him to receive the inconceivable Shinjin, the Entrusting Faith that had no root in his heart. With ecstatic joy and profound gratitude to the Buddha, he exclaimed:

“How is this possible! At the beginning I did not know to revere the Tathagata, and did not entrust myself to the Dharma and Sangha. World-honored One, if I had not encountered the Tathagata, the World-honored One, I would have undergone immeasurable suffering for countless, incalculable kalpas in the great hell.”

Thus, entrusting himself and his karmic destiny entirely to the Other-power of the Buddha, Ajatasatru’s progress to enlightenment was assured. He knew without any doubt that he will be freed from the relentless cycle of pain and suffering at the end of his life. The power of a Buddha’s Great Compassion is truly inconceivable.

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Listening Deeply (深 聞 佛 法) to the Buddha Dharma and to the essential teachings conveyed to us in Ajatasatru – the Story of who we really are – will certainly expose the stark truth, that we are actually the icchantikas who are destined for the lowest hell, without any karmic condition whatsoever for salvation.

Learning from this excellent, true story of Ajatasatru, let us honestly recognize the terrible karmic mess we are in at this time. This precious human birth has given us all, the right opportunities to be repeatedly exposed to Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings on Amida Buddha and  His Primal Vow – the one and only Dharma door that remains open to spiritual idiots like us. Deeply listen, listen, and again listen to this excellent Dharma.

Ajatasatru’s amazing journey to find the only reliable escape route out of samsara, should also be our journey. Firstly, his good karma from the distant past ripened when he found and listened deeply to a kind Dharma friend and spiritual confidant (善 知 識) – his uncle Jivaka – a true disciple of the Buddha.

Next, with Jivaka’s repeated encouragements, he found the courage to seek the Other-power help directly and only from a person who had attained Supreme Enlightenment – the Buddha – and not from sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, bodhisattvas or anyone else. Receiving the Compassionate Light of Shinjin from Shakyamuni Buddha, healed him in body and mind. Thus, he received the inconceivable Gift of Salvation while still living out his remaining life as a mundane foolish person filled with blind passions.

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Maturing of our good karma, accumulated from the distant past – though unconscious to us, due to our deep-rooted ignorance – has brought us these extremely rare encounters, awakening to the untiring presence of Amida Buddha, the greatest of all the Buddhas. We are now freely given, this inconceivable awareness of the omnipresent, Compassionate Light of Salvation of Amida Buddha who has pledged to save us, no matter who we are or how heavy the enormous evil karmic baggage we are now carrying.

May all wretched icchantikas – common mortals like ourselves – not squander away our precious human births by playing the self-power games on the Path of sages. Let us listen deeply to the wonderful Pure Land teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha on Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow that clearly show us ‘the Easy Path’ (in accordance with our nature and circumstances), leading to the end of suffering, in this Dharma Ending Age.

The very moment we take heed of the exhortations of the Buddhas and are able to accept without any doubt, Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow, we will receive His inconceivable Gift of Shinjin, The Entrusting Faith that guarantees our birth in His Land of Peace and Bliss at the end of this life. We are thus, instantly embraced and not forsaken by the Light of Great Compassion, here and now. Our pathetic human sickness – the common disease of icchantikas – is finally and fully cured by Amida Buddha.

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Gratefully taking refuge and entrusting our karmic destiny entirely to Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow, we single-heartedly Say His Name (南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Bu) which is endowed with the Tathagata’s infinite merits and virtues. Moreover, the wonderful Name is also fully supported and glorified by all the Buddhas throughout the ten directions.

Thus, with the merit transference from Amida Buddha for going forth, our birth in the Land of Happiness is absolutely assured, while we are still living out this treacherous existence. We know without any doubt, that this is our last life as deluded beings in the dreadful cycle of pain and suffering, at long 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 clearly and truly heard:

The call of Boundless Compassion

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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