Tao-Cho – 4th True Pure Land Master

Master Tao-Cho

道 绰 大 师

Dao Chuo (Final) - artwork

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here ends the Hymns on Master Tao-ch’o


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

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

The Call of Boundless Compassion

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

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


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