RENNYO SHONIN OFUMI (GOBUNSHO)

THE LETTERS OF MASTER RENNYO


Fascicle One



1. On Followers and Disciples


Someone has asked: “In our tradition, are followers necessarily considered disciples of a particular priest, or do we speak of them as disciples of the Tathagata and of Master [Shinran]? I have no clear understanding of this. Also, there are some who have informal groups of followers in various places and are determined these days to keep this from the priest of the temple [to which they belong]. As people say that this is inappropriate, I am confused about it also. Please instruct me.”


Answer: I consider these questions to be of the utmost importance indeed. I shall state briefly what I have heard in our tradition. Please listen.


The late Master said:


[I], Shinran, do not have even a single disciple. The reason for this is that when I expound the Tathagata’s Dharma to sentient beings in the ten directions, I am only speaking as the Tathagata’s representative. [I] . . . do not propagate any new Dharma at all; I entrust myself to the Tathagata’s Dharma and simply teach that to others. Besides that, what do I teach that I would speak of having disciples?


Thus we are one another’s companions and fellow practitioners. Because of this, the Master spoke respectfully of “companions and fellow practitioners.”



Recently, however, even priests of high position, ignorant of what our school teaches about the settled mind, severely rebuke those among their disciples who happen to go to places where faith is discussed and listen to the Dharma; thus, at times, discord arises. Consequently, since the priests themselves do not clearly hear the reality of faith, and since they deal with their disciples in such a manner, faith is not decisively settled either for them or for their disciples, and their lives then pass in vain. It is truly difficult for them to escape blame for harming themselves and others. This is deplorable, deplorable.


An old poem says:


Long ago, joy was wrapped in my sleeves—

but, tonight,it’s more than I can contain!

“Long ago, joy was wrapped in my sleeves” means that in the past, we felt certain—without any clear understanding of the sundry practices and the right practices—that we would be born [in the Pure Land] if we just said the nenbutsu. “But, tonight, it’s more than I can contain” means that the joy of saying the nenbutsu in grateful return for the Buddha’s benevolence is especially great now that, having heard and understood the difference between the right and the sundry [practices], we have become steadfast and singlehearted and have thus undergone a decisive settling of faith. Because of this, we are so overjoyed that we feel like dancing—hence the joy is “more than I can contain.”



Respectfully. Bunmei 3 (1471), 7.15



2. On Becoming a Priest in the Aspiration for Buddhahood


The fundamental principle of Master Shinran in our tradition is not that one should become a priest in the aspiration for buddhahood or that one should renounce family and separate oneself from worldly attachments; it is simply that when, with [the awakening of] the one thought-moment of taking refuge [in Amida], other-power faith is decisively settled, no distinction at all is made between male and female, old and young.


The [Larger] Sutra describes the state of having attained this faith (shin) as “immediately attaining birth [in the Pure Land] and dwelling in [a state of] non-retrogression” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:272b; Jodo monrui jusho, T.83:646b); [Tanluan] says in a commentary, “With the awakening of the one thought [of entrusting], we enter the company of those [whose birth] is truly settled” (Jodo ronchu,T.40:826b; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:597b). This, then, is what is meant by talk of “not [waiting for Amida to] come to meet [us at the moment of death]” and of “completing the cause [of birth] in ordinary life.”


In a hymn, [Shinran] says:


Those who aspire to [birth in] Amida’s fulfilled land,

Though outward conditions may vary,
Should truly accept the Name [as promised in] the Primal Vow
And, sleeping or waking, never forget it.

“Outward conditions [may vary]” means that no distinction is made between layperson and priest or between male and female. Next, “should truly accept the Name [as promised in] the Primal Vow and, sleeping or waking, never forget it” means that—no matter what the external form [of our lives] may be, and even if our evil karma includes the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses, or if we are among those who slander the Dharma or lack the seed of buddhahood—if we undergo a turning of the mind and repent, and truly realize deep within that Amida Tathagata’s saving Primal Vow is for just such wretched people, if we entrust ourselves without any double-mindedness to the Tathagata and, without forgetting, sleeping or waking, are always mindful of Amida, then we are said to be people of faith who rely on the Primal Vow and have attained the decisive mind.


Then, beyond this, even if we say the Name [constantly]—walking, standing, sitting, and lying down—we should think of it as an expression of gratitude for Amida Tathagata’s benevolence. Such a person is called a practitioner who has realized true and real faith and whose birth is decisively settled.


On this hot day my flowing sweat

may truly be my tears
and what I’ve written with my brush—
how strange it looks.

Respectfully. Bunmei 3 (1471), 7.18



3. On Hunting  and Fishing


First, [realizing] the settled mind in our tradition does not mean that we put a stop to our mind’s evil or to the rising of delusions and attachments. Simply carry on with your trade or position of service, hunt and fish. For when we realize deeply that Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow promises to save such worthless beings as ourselves, who are confused morning and evening by evil karma, when we singleheartedly (without any double-mindedness) rely on the compassionate vow of the one Buddha Amida, and when sincere faith is awakened in us by the realization that Amida saves us, then, without fail, we partake of the Tathagata’s saving work.


Beyond this, when there is a question as to with what understanding we should say the nenbutsu, [the answer is that] we are to say the nenbutsu as long as we live, realizing that it is in gratitude, in return for the gracious benevolence that saves us by giving us the power of entrusting, through which our birth is assured. [Those who do] this are to be called practitioners of faith in whom the settled mind of our tradition is established.


Respectfully. Bunmei 3 (1471), 12.18



4. Some Questions and Answers


[Question:] I am told that Master Shinran’s tradition speaks of “completing the cause [of birth in the Pure Land] in ordinary life” and does not adhere to “[Amida’s] coming to meet [us at the moment of death].” What does this mean? I do not know anything about “completing the cause [of birth] in ordinary life” or about the significance of “not [waiting for Amida to] come to meet [us at the moment of death].” I would like to hear about this in detail.


Answer: Indeed, I consider these questions to be of the utmost importance for our tradition. From the beginning, this school has taught that “with the awakening of the one thought-moment [of faith], the cause [of birth] is completed in ordinary life.” After we have understood that it is through the unfolding of past good that we hear and realize in [the midst of] ordinary life that Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow saves us, we understand that it is not by our own power but through the gift of other-power, the wisdom of the Buddha, that we become aware of how Amida’s Primal Vow came to be. This is the meaning of “completing the cause [of birth] in ordinary life.” Thus “completing the cause [of birth] in ordinary life” is a state of mind in which we have heard and fully understood this principle and are convinced that birth is assured; we refer to it as “with the awakening of the one thoughtmoment, joining the company of those [whose birth is] truly settled,” “completing the cause [of birth] in ordinary life,” and “immediately attaining birth [in the Pure Land] and dwelling in [a state of] non-retrogression.”


Question: I fully understand the concept of “birth [in the Pure Land] with the awakening of the one thought-moment.” However, I still do not understand the meaning of “not [waiting for Amida to] come and meet [us at the moment of death].” Would you kindly explain this?


Answer: As for the matter of “not [waiting for Amida to] come to meet [us at the moment of death],” when we realize that “with the awakening of the one thought-moment, we join the company of those [whose birth is] truly settled,” there is no longer any need to expect [Amida’s] coming. The reason is that “waiting for [Amida to] come to meet [us]” is a matter of concern to those who perform various other practices. For practitioners of true and real faith, it is understood that there is no longer a wait for [Amida’s] coming to meet [us] when we immediately receive, with the awakening of the one thought-moment, the benefit of [being protected by] the light that embraces and never abandons.


Therefore, according to the teaching of the Master, “[Amida’s] coming to meet [us at the moment of death]” pertains to birth through various other practices; practitioners of true and real faith are embraced and never abandoned, and for this reason, they join the company of those [whose birth is] truly settled. Because they join those who are truly settled, they will attain nirvana without fail. Hence there is no waiting for the moment of death and no reliance on [Amida’s] coming to meet [us at that time]. We should bear these words in mind.


Question: Should we understand [the state of] being truly settled and [that of] nirvana as one benefit, or as two?


Answer: The dimension of “the awakening of the one thought-moment” is that of “[joining] the company of those truly settled.” This is the benefit [we gain] in the defiled world. Next, it should be understood that nirvana is the benefit to be gained in the Pure Land. Hence we should think of them as two benefits.


Question: Knowing that birth is assured when we have understood as you have explained, how should we understand being told that we must go to the trouble of acquiring faith? I would like to hear about this, too.


Answer: This inquiry is indeed of great importance. That is, the very understanding that conforms to what has been explained above is precisely what we mean by decisively settled faith.


Question: I clearly understand that the state in which faith is decisively settled is described as “completing the cause [of birth] in ordinary life,” “not [waiting for Amida to] come to meet [us at the moment of death],” and “[joining] the company of those who are truly settled.” However, I do not yet understand whether, after faith is decisively settled, we should say the nenbutsu for the sake of birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss or in gratitude for [Amida] Buddha’s benevolence.


Answer: I consider this question, too, to be of great importance. The point is that we must not think of the nenbutsu said after the awakening of the one thought-moment of faith as an act for the sake of birth; it should be understood to be solely in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence. Therefore, Master Shandao explained it as “spending one’s entire life at the upper limit, one thought-moment [of faith] at the lower.” It is understood that “one thought-moment at the lower” refers to the settling of faith, and “spending one’s entire life at the upper limit” refers to the nenbutsu said in gratitude, in return for the Buddha’s benevolence. These are things that should be very thoroughly understood.


Respectfully. Bunmei 4 (1472), 11.27



5. On Pilgrimage in the Snow


From [the beginning of] this year, an unexpectedly large number of priests and laypeople—men and women from the three provinces of Kashu, Noto, and Etchu—have flocked in pilgrimage to this mountain at Yoshizaki; I am uneasy as to what the understanding of each of these people may be.


The reason for this, first of all, is that in our tradition, assurance of birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss with this life is grounded in our having attained other-power faith. However, within this school, there is no one who has attained firm faith. How can people like this be readily born in the fulfilled land? This matter is of the greatest importance. In what frame of mind have they come here through this snow—having fortunately managed to endure the long journey of five to ten ri? I am thoroughly apprehensive about this. But whatever their thinking may have been in the past, I will state in detail what should be borne in mind from now on. Be attentive; listen very carefully.


The point is to keep the matter of other-power faith firmly in mind. Beyond that, you should just say the nenbutsu—walking, standing, sitting, and lying down—in gratitude for [Amida] Buddha’s benevolence. With this understanding, the birth that is to come [in the Pure Land] is assured. In the fullness of this joy, go to the temples of the priests who are your teachers, and offer some tangible expression of your gratitude. [One who does] this is to be declared a person of faith who has fully understood the principles of our tradition.


Respectfully. Bunmei 5 (1473), 2.8



6. On Drowsiness


I don’t know why, but recently (this summer), I have been particularly subject to drowsiness, and when I consider why I should be [so] lethargic, I feel without a doubt that the moment of death leading to birth [in the Pure Land] may be close at hand. This thought makes me sad, and I feel in particular the sorrow of parting. And yet, to this very day I have prepared myself with no lack of care, thinking that the time of birth might be imminent. All I continually long for in regard to this, day and night, is that, after [my death], there will be no regression in those among the visitors to this temple whose faith is decisively settled. As things now stand, there should be no difficulties if I die, but each of you is particularly lax in your thinking in regard to birth. As long as you live, you should be as I have described. I am altogether dissatisfied with what each of you has understood. In this life, even tomorrow is uncertain, and no matter what we say, nothing is to any avail when life ends. If our doubts are not clearly dispelled during this life, we will surely [be filled with] regret. I hope that you will bear this in mind.


Respectfully. This is entrusted to those [assembled] on the other side of the sliding doors.


In the years to come, please take it out and read it.


Written on the twenty-fifth day of the fourth month, Bunmei 5 (1473).



7. A Discussion about Yoshizaki


This past year (fourth year of Bunmei), about the middle of the third month as I recall, a few women of some distinction, accompanied by male attendants, were talking about this mountain. “A temple has recently been built on the summit at Yoshizaki,” they said. “What a remarkably interesting place that is! Everyone knows that followers of the sect—priests and laypeople, men and women—flock to the mountain in pilgrimage, particularly from the seven provinces of Kaga, Etchu, Noto, Echigo, Shinano, Dewa, and Oshu. This is extraordinary for the last [Dharma] age, and does not appear to be insignificant. But we would like to hear in detail how the nenbutsu teaching is presented to each of these followers and, above all, what it means when people say that ‘faith’ is taught as the most important thing. We, too—because we suffer the bodily existence of women wretched with the burden of deep and heavy evil karma—wish to aspire for birth by hearing and understanding this ‘faith.’”


When this inquiry was made of the man [living] on the mountain, he responded, “Without doing anything in particular, but simply realizing that you are wretched beings burdened with the ten transgressions, the five grave offenses, the five obstacles, and the three submissions, you must deeply understand that Amida Tathagata is the form for saving such persons. For when there arises the one thought-moment [of faith] in which we entrust ourselves to Amida without any double-mindedness and realize that [Amida] saves us, the Tathagata sends forth eighty-four thousand rays of light with which he graciously embraces us. This is what is meant by saying that ‘Amida Tathagata embraces practitioners of the nenbutsu.’ ‘Embraces and never abandons’ means ‘receives and does not discard.’ We say that [one whose understanding is in accord with] this is a person who has realized faith. Then, beyond this, we must bear in mind that the nenbutsu, ‘namu-amida-butsu,’ which we say sleeping or waking, standing or sitting down, is that nenbutsu, ‘namu-amida-butsu,’ said by those saved by Amida as an expression of gratitude for Amida’s gracious benevolence.”


When he had carefully related this, the women and others [who were with them] replied, “There is indeed no way to express our shame over not having entrusted ourselves until now to Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow, which is so suited to our innate capacities. From now on, we shall steadfastly entrust ourselves to Amida, and, believing singleheartedly that our birth has been accomplished by the saving work of the Tathagata, we shall bear in mind that the nenbutsu is, after this, a saying of the Name in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence. There is no way at all to express our thankfulness and awe at having been given this opportunity through inconceivable conditions from the past, and at having heard the incomparable Dharma. Now it is time to say farewell.”


And with this, their eyes brimming with tears, they took their leave.


Respectfully. Bunmei 5 (1473), 8.12



8. On Building at Yoshizaki


Around the beginning of the fourth month of the third year of Bunmei, I just slipped away, without any settled plan, from a place near the Miidera’s southern branch temple at Otsu, in the Shiga district of Omi province, and travelled through various parts of Echizen and Kaga. Then, as this site—Yoshizaki, in the Hosorogi district of [Echizen] province—was particularly appealing, we made a clearing on the mountain, which for many years had been the habitat of wild beasts. Beginning on the twenty-seventh day of the seventh month, we put up a building that might be called a temple. With the passage of time from yesterday to today and so on, three years have elapsed with the seasonal changes.


In the meantime, priests and laypeople, men and women, have flocked here; but as this appears to have no purpose at all, I have prohibited their coming and going as of this year. For, to my mind, the fundamental reason for being in this place is that, having received life in the human realm and having already met with the Buddha-Dharma, which is difficult to meet, it is indeed shameful if one falls in vain into hell. Thus I have reached a judgment that people who are unconcerned about the decisive settling of nenbutsu faith and attainment of birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss should not gather at this place. This is solely because what is fundamental for us is not reputation and personal gain but simply a concern for enlightenment (bodhi) in the afterlife. Therefore let there be no misinterpretation by those who see this or hear about it.


Respectfully. Bunmei 5 (1473), 9



9. On Avoiding Certain Things


For a long time, people have said uniformly that ours is a ridiculous, degenerate sect. This does indeed point to a certain truth: among those in our tradition, [there are] some who unhesitatingly proclaim our teaching in the presence of those of other schools and other sects. This is a great mistake. Observing our tradition’s rules of conduct means keeping firmly to ourselves the teaching transmitted in our tradition and not giving any outward sign of it; those who do this are said to be people of discretion. These days, however, some talk carelessly and without reserve about matters concerning our sect in the presence of those of other schools and other sects; as a result, our tradition is considered shallow. Because there are some with mistaken views, others think that our sect is degraded and detestable. We should bear in mind that this is not at all the fault of others, but that it is the fault of our own people.


Next, as for the matter of avoiding things that are impure and inauspicious, it is established that in our tradition, within the Buddha-Dharma, we do not regard any particular thing as taboo. But are there not things that we should avoid in regard to other sects and the civil authorities? Of course, in the presence of those of other sects and other schools, there are certainly things to be avoided. Further, we should not criticize others for avoiding things.


Despite all this, it is clearly seen in many passages of various sutras that those who follow the practice of the Buddha-Dharma—not only people of the nenbutsu—should not be concerned to such an extent with the avoidance of things. First, a passage in the Nirvana Sutra says, “Within the Tathagata’s Dharma, there is no choosing of auspicious days and favorable times” (Daihatsu nehangyo, T.12:482b). Also, a passage in the Sutra of the Samadhi of All Buddhas’ Presence states:


Laywomen who hear of this samadhi and want to practice it . . . take refuge in the Buddha; take refuge in the Dharma; take refuge in the Sangha. Do not follow other paths; do not worship heavenly beings; do not enshrine spirits; do not look for auspicious days” (Hanju zanmaikyo, T.13:901b).


Although there are other passages similar to these in the sutras, I offer these selections. They teach, in particular, that nenbutsu practitioners should not follow such ways. Let this be thoroughly understood.


Respectfully. Bunmei 5 (1473), 9



10. On the Wives of the Priests in Charge of Lodgings at Yoshizaki


Those who become wives of the priests in charge of lodgings on this mountain at Yoshizaki should be aware that this happens because past conditions in their previous lives are not shallow. This awareness, however, will come about after they have realized that the afterlife is the matter of greatest importance and undergone a decisive settling of faith. Therefore those who are to be wives [of the priests] should, by all means, firmly attain faith.


First of all, because what is known as settled mind in our tradition differs greatly from and is superior to [the understanding of] the Jodo schools in general, it is said to be the great faith of other-power. Therefore, we should realize that those who have attained this faith—ten out of ten, one hundred out of one hundred—are assured of the birth that is to come [in the Pure Land].


[Question:] How should we understand this faith (anjin)? We do not know about it in any detail.


Answer: This question is indeed of the utmost importance. This is how to attain the faith of our tradition:


To begin with, being women—hence wretched creatures of deep evil karma, burdened with the five obstacles and the three submissions—you were abandoned long ago by the Tathagatas of the ten directions and also by all the buddhas of the three periods; yet Amida Tathagata alone graciously vowed to save just such persons [as you] and long ago made the Forty-eight Vows. Among these vows, beyond [promising] in the Eighteenth Vow to save all evildoers and women, Amida then made a further vow, the Thirty-fifth, to save women because of the depth of their evil karma and doubts. You should have a deep sense of gratitude for Amida Tathagata’s benevolence in having undergone such painstaking endeavors.


Question: After we have come to realize our thankfulness that Amida Tathagata made vows time and again in this way to save people like us, then in what frame of mind should we entrust ourselves to Amida? We need to have this explained in detail.


Answer: If you wish to attain faith and entrust yourselves to Amida, first realize that human life endures only as long as a dream or an illusion and that the afterlife [in the Pure Land] is indeed the blissful result in eternity, that human life means the enjoyment of [only] fifty to a hundred years, and that the afterlife is the matter of greatest importance. Abandoning your inclination toward all sundry practices and discarding your tendency to avoid certain things, entrust yourselves singleheartedly and steadfastly to Amida and, without concerning yourselves with other buddhas, bodhisattvas, and the various kami, take refuge exclusively in Amida, with the assurance that this coming birth is a certainty. Then, in an outpouring of thankfulness, you should say the nenbutsu and respond in gratitude to Amida Tathagata’s benevolence in saving you. This is the frame of mind of resident priests’ wives who have attained faith.


Respectfully. Bunmei 5 (1473), 9.11



11. On Lightning  and Morning Dew


On deep contemplation, we realize that the pleasures of human life last only as long as a flash of lightning or the morning dew, a dream or an illusion. Even if we enjoy a life of pomp and glory and can do as we wish, this is only a matter of some fifty to a hundred years. If the wind of impermanence were to come even now and summon us, would we not suffer illness of one kind or another and die? And indeed, at the time of death, no part of either the family or the wealth on which we have depended for so long can accompany us. Thus, all alone, we must cross the great river of three currents, at the end of the mountain path that we take after death. Let us realize, then, that what we should earnestly aspire to is [birth in the Pure Land in] the afterlife, that the one we should rely upon is Amida Tathagata, and that the place to which we go after faith is decisively settled is the Pure Land of serene sustenance. These days, however, the priests in this region who are nenbutsu people are seriously at variance with the Buddha-Dharma. That is, they call followers from whom they receive donations “good disciples” and speak of them as “people of faith.” This is a serious error. Also, the disciples think that if they just bring an abundance of things to the priests, they will be saved by the priests’ power, even if their own power is insufficient. This, too, is an error. And so between the priests and their followers, there is not a modicum of understanding of our tradition’s faith. This is indeed deplorable. Without a doubt, neither priests nor disciples will be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss; they will fall in vain into hell.


Even though we lament this, we cannot lament deeply enough; though we grieve, we should grieve more deeply. From now on, therefore, [the priests] should seek out those who fully know the details of the great faith of other-power, let their faith be decisively settled, and then teach the essentials of that faith to their disciples; together, they will surely attain the birth that is to come [in the Pure Land], which is the most important matter.


Respectfully. Bunmei 5 (1473), the middle of the ninth month



12. The Choshoji’s Past


For years, the followers at the Choshoji have been seriously at variance with the Buddha-Dharma. My reason for saying this, first of all, has to do with the leader of the assembly. He thinks that to occupy the place of honor and drink before everyone else and to court the admiration of those seated around him, as well as that of others, is really the most important aspect of the Buddha-Dharma. This is certainly of no use for birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss; it appears to be just for worldly reputation.


Now, what is the purpose of monthly meetings in our sect?


Laypeople, lacking wisdom, spend their days and nights in vain; their lives pass by meaninglessly, and, in the end, they fall into the three evil paths. The meetings are occasions when, even if only once a month, just those who practice the nenbutsu should at least gather in the meeting place and discuss their own faith and the faith of others. Recently, however, because matters of faith are never discussed in terms of right and wrong, the situation is deplorable beyond words.


In conclusion, there must definitely be discussions of faith from now on among those at the meetings. For this is how we are to attain birth in the true and real Land of Utmost Bliss.


Respectfully. Bunmei 5 (1473), end of the ninth month



13. On the False “Ten Kalpas” Teachings in This Region


Recently, some of the nenbutsu people in this region have been using strange terms, insisting that they express the attainment of faith; furthermore, they hold to this as if they knew all about our tradition’s faith. In their words, “Faith is not forgetting the benevolence of Amida, who settled our birth [in the Pure Land] from the time of his perfect enlightenment ten kalpas ago!” This is a serious error. For even if they know all about Amida Tathagata’s perfect enlightenment, this is useless without knowing the significance of other-power faith, by which we are to attain birth.


Therefore, from now on, they should first of all know the true and real faith of our tradition very thoroughly. That faith is expounded in the Larger Sutra as “the threefold entrusting”; in the Contemplation Sutra, it is called “the three minds”; and in the Amida Sutra, it is expressed as “one mind.” Although the terms differ in all three sutras, they are simply meant to express the one mind given to us by other-power.


What, then, do we mean by “faith”?


First of all, when we set aside all sundry practices and steadfastly rely on Amida Tathagata and, giving no thought to any of the kami or to other buddhas, take refuge with singleness of heart exclusively in Amida, the Tathagata embraces [us] with his light and never abandons us. This is precisely how the one thought-moment of faith is decisively settled.


After we have understood this, we must bear in mind that the nenbutsu expresses our gratitude to Amida Tathagata for his benevolence in granting us other-power faith. With this, we are to be declared nenbutsu practitioners in whom faith is decisively settled.


Respectfully. Written in Bunmei 5 (1473), in the last part of the ninth month



14. An Admonition against Slander


Now, among nenbutsu people in our tradition, there must be no slander of other teachings. First of all, in Etchu and Kaga, this applies to Tateyama, Shirayama, and the other mountain temples; in Echizen, to the Heisenji, the Toyoharaji, and others. Indeed, we were specifically cautioned about this long ago in the [Larger] Sutra:


Excluded [from the Eighteenth Vow] are those who commit the five grave offenses and slander the True Dharma (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:268a, 272b; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:598b).


Consequently, nenbutsu people especially must not slander other sects. We see, too, that scholars of the various sects of the path of sages should never slander people of the nenbutsu. For although there are many of these passages in the sutras and commentaries, we have been strictly warned about this, first of all, in the Commentary on the Mahapraj├▒aparamita Sutra by Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, the founder of the eight schools. That passage says:


If, out of attachment to the Dharma he follows, a person speaks ill of the Dharma of others, he will not escape the sufferings of hell, even if he is one who observes the precepts (Daichidoron, T.25:63c).


Since we have clear testimonials such as this, [we realize that] all are the Buddha’s teachings and that we must not mistakenly slander them. As they are all relevant to specific sects, the point is surely that we just do not rely on them; it is outrageous for people in our tradition who have no understanding to criticize other sects. Those who are head priests in each locality must not fail to enforce this strictly.


Respectfully. Bunmei 5 (1473), the last part of the ninth month



15. On the Designation of Our Tradition


Question: How has it come about that there is such a widespread practice of referring to our tradition as the “Ikkushu”? I am puzzled about this.


Answer: Our tradition’s designation as the “Ikkoshu ” was certainly not determined by our founder. Generally speaking, the reason everyone says [this] is because we “steadfastly” (ikko ni) rely on Amida Buddha. However, since a passage in the [Larger] Sutra teaches “steadfast and exclusive mindfulness of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:272b), referring to us as the “Ikkoshu ” presents no problem when the implication is “be steadfastly mindful of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life.” Our founder, however, did indeed designate this sect as the “Jodo Shinshu.” Hence we know that the term “Ikkoshu” did not come from within our sect. Further, others within the Jodoshu allow the sundry practices. Our Master rejected the sundry practices, and it is on this basis that we attain birth in the true and real (shinjitsu) fulfilled land. For this reason, he specifically inserted the character shin (true).


A further question: I understand clearly that, long ago, [the founder] designated our tradition as the “Jodo Shinshu.” However, I would like to hear in detail how it is that in the teaching of our sect, although we are laypeople of deep evil karma, burdened with evil acts and grave offenses, we are to be born readily in the Land of Utmost Bliss through reliance on the working of Amida’s Vow.


Answer: The import of our tradition is that when faith is decisively settled, we will unfailingly attain birth in the true and real fulfilled land. And so if you ask what this faith is, [the answer is that] it is just [a matter of] relying singleheartedly and without any worry on Amida Tathagata, giving no thought to other buddhas and bodhisattvas and entrusting ourselves steadfastly and without any double-mindedness to Amida. This we call “settlement of faith.” The two characters shin-jin are [literally] read “true mind.” We say “true mind” because the practitioner is not saved by his mistaken mind of self-power (jiriki no kokoro) but by the right mind of other-power given by the Tathagata.


Further, we are not saved simply by repeating the Name without any understanding of it. Hence the [Larger] Sutra teaches that we “hear the Name and realize faith and joy” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:272b; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:601a, 605a). “Hearing the Name” is not hearing the six-character Name “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu” unreflectively; it means that when we meet a good teacher, receive his teaching, and entrust ourselves (“namu”) to the Name (“namu-amida-butsu”), Amida Buddha unfailingly saves us. This is explained in the [Larger] Sutra as “realizing faith and joy.” Consequently, we should understand that “namu-amida-butsu” shows how he saves us.


After we have come to this realization, we must bear in mind that the Name we say walking, standing, sitting, and lying down is simply an expression of gratitude for Amida Tathagata’s benevolence in saving us. With this, we are to be declared other-power nenbutsu practitioners who have attained faith and will be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss.


Respectfully.


The compilation and writing of this letter were completed between 9:00 and 11:00 A.M. on the second day of the latter part of the ninth month, Bunmei 5 (1473), at the hot springs at Yamanaka, Kaga province.


Shonyo, disciple of Sakyamuni

(written seal)


Fascicle Two


1. On Clearing the Channels  of Faith


I hear that during the past seven days of thanksgiving services, wives of the priests in charge of lodgings and others as well have, for the most part, undergone a decisive settling of faith. This is wonderful, and one could hope for nothing more. And yet, if we just let things be, faith, too, will disappear. It does seem that “time after time, [we must] clear the channels of faith and let the waters of Amida’s Dharma flow.”


In regard to this, [it must be understood that] although women have been abandoned by all the buddhas of the ten directions and the three periods, it is indeed thanks to Amida Tathagata that they are saved. For to whatever extent women’s minds may be true, their inclination to doubt is deep, and their tendency to avoid things [impure and inauspicious] is still more difficult to cast off. Laywomen in particular, absorbed in practical matters and in their concern for children and grandchildren, devote themselves only to this life; and while they know the human realm—so patently ephemeral— to be a place of uncertainty for young and old alike, they pass their nights and days to no purpose, giving no thought at all to the fact that they will soon sink into the three evil paths and the eight difficulties. This is the way of ordinary people; it is inexpressibly deplorable.


They must, therefore, take refuge singleheartedly and steadfastly in the compassionate vow of the one Buddha Amida and deeply entrust themselves; discarding the inclination to engage in the sundry practices, they must also cast off all thought of courting favor with the kami and other buddhas. Then, realizing that Amida Tathagata made the Primal Vow for the sake of wretched women like themselves and that the Buddha’s wisdom is indeed inconceivable, and knowing that they are evil and worthless beings, they should be deeply moved to turn and enter [the mind of] the Tathagata. Then they will realize that their entrusting [of themselves] and their mindfulness [of Amida] are both brought about through Amida Tathagata’s compassionate means.


People who understand [the teaching] in this way are precisely those who have attained other-power faith. Moreover, this state is described as “dwelling in the company of those [whose birth in the Pure Land is] truly settled,” “[being certain of] reaching nirvana,” “reaching the stage equal to perfect enlightenment,” and “[being in] the same [stage] as Maitreya.” We also say that these are people whose births have been settled with the awakening of the one thought-moment [of faith]. Bear in mind that, on the basis of this understanding, the nenbutsu (the saying of the Name) is the nenbutsu of joy, expressing our gratitude for the benevolence of Amida Tathagata who readily settles our birth.


Respectfully.


First of all, observe our tradition’s regulations very carefully in regard to the above. For if [people] fully understand the way of faith as stated here, they will store it deep within themselves and not give any sign of it in the presence of those of other sects and others [not of our tradition]; neither will they talk about faith. As for the kami [and other buddhas], we simply do not rely on them; we must not belittle them. The Master also spoke of the person who is “true” as described above—in both matters of faith and matters of conduct—as a practitioner of faith who has discretion. Quite simply, we are to be deeply mindful of the Buddha-Dharma.


Respectfully.


I have written this letter on the eighth day of the twelfth month of Bunmei 5 (1473) and am giving it to the wives of the priests in charge of the lodgings on this mountain. If there are other matters still in question, they should inquire again.


With the passage of winter and summer, age 58. (seal)


I have written this down as a guide for future generations—may these words on the Dharma be my memento.



2. On the Point of Departure


In the school founded by the Master, faith is placed before all else. If we ask the purpose of that faith, [the answer is that] it is the point of departure enabling wretched ordinary beings like ourselves, who lack good and do evil, to go readily to Amida’s Pure Land. Without attaining faith, we will not be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss but will fall into the hell of incessant pain (avici).


If we then ask how to attain that faith, [the answer is that], relying deeply on the single buddha, Amida Tathagata, we give no thought to any of the various good deeds and myriad practices, and, dismissing the inclination to make petitions to the various buddhas and bodhisattvas just for this life, and discarding false, erroneous thoughts such as those of self-power, we entrust ourselves singleheartedly and steadfastly, without double-mindedness, to Amida; without fail, Amida embraces such people with his all-pervading light and will not abandon them. Once we have attained faith (shin) in this way, we should bear in mind that the nenbutsu we say at all times, sleeping or waking, expresses our gratitude for the benevolence of Amida who saves us.


Those who understand as explained above are indeed exemplary of what it is to have attained faith fully according to our tradition. If there are people who say that there is something else over and above this called “faith,” they are greatly mistaken. We can never accept [such a claim].


Respectfully.


What has been set down in this letter is the right meaning of faith, taught by Master Shinran of our tradition. Those who thoroughly understand these points must never discuss anything to do with this faith in the presence of those of other sects and others [not of our tradition]. Furthermore, we simply do not rely on any of the other buddhas and bodhisattvas or on the various kami; we must never belittle them. We must recognize that each and every one of the various kami is indeed included within the virtue of Amida, the one buddha. Without exception, do not disparage any of the various teachings. By [adhering to] these points, one will be known as a person who carefully observes our tradition’s rules of conduct. Hence the Master said, “Even if you are called a ‘cow thief,’ do not act in such a way that you are seen as an aspirant for [buddhahood in] the afterlife, or as a ‘good’ person, or as a follower of the Buddha-Dharma; these were his very words. We must practice the nenbutsu, keeping these points very carefully in mind.


Written on the evening of the twelfth day, the twelfth month, of Bunmei 5 (1473).



3. On Three Items, [Including] Kami Manifestations


Within the school of teaching propagated by our tradition’s founding Master, there have been discrepancies in what everyone has preached. From now on, therefore—from the priests in charge of the lodgings on this mountain on down to those [priests] who read [but] a single volume of the scriptures, each of the people who assemble [here], and each of those who want to be enrolled as followers of this school—[all] must know the provisions of these three items and henceforth be governed accordingly.


Item: Do not slander other teachings and other sects.


Item: Do not belittle the various kami and buddhas and bodhisattvas. Item: Receive faith and attain birth in the fulfilled land.


Those who do not observe the points in the above three items and take them as fundamental, storing them deep in their hearts, are to be forbidden access to this mountain [community].


I left the capital in midsummer of the third year of Bunmei and, in the latter part of the seventh month of the same year, occupied a hut in a windand wave-lashed place on this mountain. My purpose in staying here over this four-year period has simply been to lead those throughout the Hokuriku who have not undergone a decisive settling of faith according to our tradition into the same faith (anjin), [guiding them all] uniformly by what is expressed in these three items. For this reason, I have persevered until now. Therefore if you honor these [items], knowing their significance, this will indeed accomplish my fundamental intent in staying in this region for these months and years.


Item: By kami manifestations, we mean that [buddhas and bodhisattvas] appear provisionally as kami to save sentient beings in whatever way possible; they lament that those who lack faith (shin) in the Buddha-Dharma fall helplessly into hell. Relying on even the slightest of [related past] conditions, they appear provisionally as kami through compassionate means to lead [sentient beings] at last into the Buddha-Dharma.


Therefore sentient beings of the present time [should realize that] if they rely on Amida and, undergoing a decisive settling of faith, repeat the nenbutsu and are to be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss, then all the kami [in their various] manifestations, recognizing this as [the fulfillment of] their own fundamental purpose, will rejoice and protect nenbutsu practitioners. Consequently, even if we do not worship the kami in particular, since all are encompassed when we rely solely on one buddha, Amida, we give credence [to them] even though we do not rely on them in particular.


Item: Within our tradition, there must be no slandering of other teachings and other sects. As the teachings were all given by ??kya[muni] during his lifetime, they should be fruitful if they are practiced just as they were expounded. In this last [Dharma] age, however, people like ourselves are not equal to the teachings of the various sects of the path of sages; therefore, we simply do not rely on them or entrust ourselves to them.


Item: Because the buddhas and bodhisattvas are discrete manifestations of Amida Tathagata, [Amida] is the original teacher and the original buddha of the buddhas of the ten directions. For this reason, when we take refuge in one buddha, Amida, we take refuge in all the buddhas and bodhisattvas; hence the buddhas and bodhisattvas are all encompassed within the one body of Amida.


Item: Amida Tathagata’s true and real other-power faith, taught by our founder Master Shinran, is formalized in our entrusting ourselves to the Primal Vow by discarding all sundry practices and steadfastly and singleheartedly taking refuge in Amida through the single practice [of the nenbutsu] and singlemindedness. Therefore, in accord with what we have heard from our predecessors—bearing in mind continually that Amida Tathagata’s true and real faith is the inconceivable [working] of the Buddha’s wisdom that is imparted by other-power, and having determined that the [awakening of the] one thought-moment [of faith] is the time when birth [in the Pure Land] is assured—[we realize that] it is a matter of course that if one’s life continues on after that, there will naturally be many utterances [of the nenbutsu]. Accordingly, we are taught that the many utterances, the [many] callings of the Name, are in grateful return for the Buddha’s benevolence, birth [in the Pure Land] being assured in ordinary life with [the awakening of] a single thought-moment [of faith].


Therefore the essential point transmitted by the founding Master in our school is but one thing: this faith. Not knowing this [is what distinguishes those of] other schools; knowing it is the mark of [those who participate in] the Shinshu. Further, in the presence of others [not of our tradition], you must never display outwardly what it is to be a person of the nenbutsu according to this tradition. This is the foundation for the conduct of those who have attained the faith of the Shinshu.


[The above] is as stated previously.


Written on the eleventh day of the first month of Bunmei 6 (1474).



4. On Severing Crosswise the Five Evil Courses


[Question:] The reason why the Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata is said to be “all-surpassing” is that it is the supreme vow made for the sake of ordinary beings like ourselves who, belonging to the defiled world of the last [Dharma] age, commit evil and lack good. Yet we have no clear understanding as to how we should conceive of this, and how we should entrust ourselves to Amida in order to be born in the Pure Land. Please tell us about this in detail.


Answer: Sentient beings [living] now, in the last [Dharma] age, should simply entrust themselves exclusively to Amida Tathagata; even though they do not rely on other buddhas and bodhisattvas as well, the Buddha has vowed with great mercy and great compassion that, however deep their evil karma may be, he will save those who singleheartedly and steadfastly take refuge in one buddha, Amida. Sending forth the great light [of his compassion], he receives them within that light. Hence the Contemplation Sutra teaches:


The light shines throughout the worlds of the ten directions, and sentient beings mindful of the Buddha are embraced, never to be abandoned” (Kanmuryojukyo, T.12:343b).


Because of this, the way that will surely lead us to the evil courses, “the five paths” or “the six paths,” is closed off through the inconceivable working of Amida Tathagata’s Vow. How this comes about is explained in the Larger Sutra: “One severs crosswise the five evil courses, and the evil courses close off of themselves” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:274b).


Therefore however much we may fear that we are going to fall into hell, when we entrust ourselves without a single thought of doubt to the Tathagata’s Vow, those [of us] who are received into Amida Tathagata’s embracing light will not fall into hell through our designing but are certain to go to the Land of Utmost Bliss. When this has become clear to us, since it is we who receive the immeasurable benevolence of the Tathagata’s great compassion, all we can do—day and night, morning and evening—is to say the nenbutsu in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence, repeating the Name at all times. This is precisely what it is to have attained true and real faith.


Respectfully.


In the sixth year of Bunmei (1474), the evening of the fifteenth day of the second month, remembering the [day] long ago when the Great Sage, the World-honored One, passed into nirvana. Beneath the lamp, rubbing my weakening eyes, I have finished blackening my brush.


Age 60. (seal)



5. On Devotional Beads


From what I have observed of the ways of nenbutsu people on this mountain over the past three or four years, there is indeed no sign of [anyone] having undergone a decisive settling of the faith (anjin) that is other-power. The reason for [my saying] this is that there is no one who even carries devotional beads. It is as if they grasped the Buddha directly with bare hands. The Master certainly never said that we should venerate the Buddha by discarding the beads. Nevertheless, even if we do not carry them, all that is necessary for birth in the Pure Land is simply other-power faith. Given that, there are no obstacles. [Yet] it is well for those of priestly rank to wear robes and carry devotional beads; people who have attained true and real faith unfailingly voice it, and it is evident in their bearing.


At present, then, it seems that those who have properly attained true and real faith are extremely rare. When we ask why this is, we find that, because [priests] do not realize the wonder of Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow and its suitability for us, they persist in their own thinking in regard to whatever they hear, always pretending that they understand about faith; without really hearing anything, they merely imitate others. Since they are in this state, their own birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss seems uncertain. Needless to say, they cannot possibly teach our followers and companions [in the tradition]. In such a frame of mind as this, birth in the fulfilled land in the afterlife is impossible.


What a deplorable situation! We must simply calm our minds and reflect on this. Indeed, human life may end at any time, whenever the outgoing breath fails to await the incoming of the next. We must by all means take the BuddhaDharma carefully into our hearts and let faith be decisively settled.


Respectfully. Written in haste, early in the morning of the sixteenth day of the second month, in the sixth year of Bunmei (1474).



6. On Norms of Conduct


If there are any of you who have heard the meaning of our tradition’s otherpower faith and become decisively settled, you must store the truth of that faith in the bottom of your hearts; do not talk about it with those of other sects or others [not of our tradition]. Furthermore, you must not praise it openly [in the presence of such people] on byways and main roads and in the villages where you live. Next, do not slight the provincial military governors and local land stewards, claiming that you have attained faith; meet your public obligations in full without fail. Further, do not belittle the various kami and buddhas and bodhisattvas, for they are all encompassed within the six characters “na-mua-mi-da-butsu.” Besides this, in particular, take the laws of the state as your outer aspect, store other-power faith deep in your hearts, and take [the principles of] humanity and justice as essential. Bear in mind that these are the rules of conduct that have been established within our tradition.


Respectfully.


Written on the seventeenth day of the second month of Bunmei 6 (1474).



7. “Going Is Easy, Yet No One Is [Born] There”


On quiet consideration, [we realize that] it is indeed due to the efficacy of keeping the five precepts that we receive life in the human realm. This is an extremely rare event. Nevertheless, life in the human realm is but a momentary passage; the afterlife is the blissful result in eternity. And even if we boast of wealth and enjoy overwhelming fame, it is the way of the world that “those who prosper will surely decline, and those who meet are certain to part”; hence we cannot hold to such prosperity for long. It will last only fifty to a hundred years. When we hear, too, of the uncertainty of life for old and young alike, [we realize that] there is indeed little upon which we can depend. Accordingly, sentient beings of the present [age] should aspire to birth in the Pure Land through other-power faith.


To receive that faith, there is no need at all for wisdom or learning, for wealth and status or for poverty and distress; it does not matter if one is good or evil, male or female. What is fundamental is that we simply discard the sundry practices and take refuge in the right practice. To take refuge in the right practice is just to rely on Amida Tathagata singleheartedly and steadfastly, without any contriving. Sentient beings everywhere who entrust themselves in this way are embraced within [Amida’s] light; he does not abandon them, and when life is spent, he brings them without fail to the Pure Land. It is through this singleminded faith alone that we are born in the Pure Land. How readily we attain this settled mind—there is no effort on our part! Hence the two characters “anjin” are read “easily [attained] mind”; they have this meaning.


Through faith alone, singleheartedly and steadfastly relying on the Tathagata, we will be born without any difficulty at all in the Land of Utmost Bliss. This settled mind—how readily we understand it! And the Pure Land—how easily we go there! Hence the Larger Sutra teaches: “Going is easy, and yet no one is [born] there” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:274b). This passage means that when we realize the settled mind and rely steadfastly on Amida, it is easy to go to the Pure Land; but because those who receive faith are rare, although it is easy to go to the Pure Land, no one is [born] there.


Once we have reached this understanding, the Name we say day and night, morning and evening, is solely an expression of gratitude for the benevolence of the universal vow of great compassion. Deeply mindful of the BuddhaDharma and knowing the significance of faith, which is readily received, we will unfailingly attain the birth that is to come in the fulfilled land, which is the matter of greatest importance.


Respectfully. A fair copy, made on the third day of the third month, Bunmei 6 (1474).



8. On the Original Teacher and the Original Buddha


People of evil [karma] who have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses and women, burdened with the five obstacles and the three submissions—all of whom have been excluded from the compassionate vows of all the buddhas of the ten directions and the three periods and helplessly abandoned—these are ordinary beings no different from ourselves. Therefore, since Amida Tathagata is the original teacher and the original buddha of all the buddhas of the three periods and the ten directions, it was Amida who (as the buddha existing from the distant past) made the all-surpassing, great Vow: he himself would save all of us sentient beings equally— women, burdened with the five obstacles and the three submissions, and ordinary beings in the last [Dharma] age like [ourselves] who, lacking good, have been abandoned by all the buddhas. Thus making the supreme vow, he became Amida Buddha long ago. Apart from relying exclusively on this Tathagata, there is no way at all for sentient beings in the last [Dharma] age to be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss. Accordingly, those who fully know other-power faith, which was taught by Master Shinran, are all certain to be born in the Pure Land, ten people out of ten.


[Question:] When we think of receiving faith and going to Amida’s fulfilled land, what should our attitude be, and what should we understand about the way we receive this faith? I would like to hear about this in detail.


Answer: The meaning of other-power faith as taught by Master Shinran in our tradition is that when we simply realize that we are wretched beings of deep evil karma, entrust ourselves singleheartedly and steadfastly to Amida Tathagata, discard the sundry practices, and devote ourselves to “the single practice and singlemindedness,” we will be received without fail within [Amida’s] all-pervading light. This is indeed how birth [in the Pure Land] is decisively settled.


Above and beyond this, what we must bear in mind is that, once birth is assured through the one thought-moment of faith in which we singleheartedly and steadfastly take refuge in Amida, the Name that we say walking, standing, sitting, and lying down is the nenbutsu of gratitude [said in] return for the benevolence of Amida Tathagata’s great compassion in readily settling our birth. This you should know. In other words, this is [the frame of mind of] a person who is decisively settled in our tradition’s faith.


Respectfully. The middle of the third month, Bunmei 6 (1474)



9. On “The Loyal Retainer and the Faithful  Wife”


Why is it that, in relying on Amida Tathagata, we completely reject the myriad good deeds and practices, designating them as the sundry practices? It is [because of] the great Vow, in which Amida Buddha has promised to save sentient beings who rely on him singleheartedly and steadfastly, however deep their evil karma may be. Therefore, “singleheartedly and steadfastly” means that we take no other buddha as peer to Amida Buddha. This is the same as the rule in human society that one relies on only one master. Hence, in the words of an outer [non-Buddhist] text, “a loyal retainer will not serve two masters; a faithful wife will not take a second husband.” Since Amida Tathagata is the original teacher and master of all the buddhas of the three periods, how can all the buddhas who are his disciples not rejoice when we rely on that buddha who is the master? You must understand the grounds for this very thoroughly.


Since the substance of practice, “namu-amida-butsu,” encompasses all the kami, buddhas, and bodhisattvas and, besides these, each and every one of the myriad good deeds and practices, what could be lacking that would necessitate our putting our minds to the various practices and good deeds? The Name “namu-amida-butsu” completely embodies all the myriad good deeds and practices; hence it is surely trustworthy.


Then how do we rely on Amida Tathagata and how do we entrust ourselves and attain birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss?


There is no need for effort on our part; when we just realize deeply that Amida Tathagata himself graciously made the Vow to save those of us who, as wretched beings burdened with the most deeply rooted evil, can only go to hell, and when faith is awakened in the one thought-moment of taking refuge, then—surely prompted by the unfolding of past good as well—otherpower faith is granted through the wisdom of the Buddha. Consequently, the Buddha’s mind and the mind of the ordinary being become one; the person who has attained such a state of mind is called a practitioner who has attained faith. Beyond this, we must bear in mind that, simply by saying the nenbutsu, sleeping or waking, no matter where or when, we should express our gratitude for the benevolence of the universal vow of great compassion.


Respectfully. Written on the seventeenth day of the third month, Bunmei 6 (1474).



10. On the Oneness of the Buddha’s  Mind and the Mind of Ordinary Beings


[Question:] The import of the basic principles taught by Master Shinran of our tradition is, first of all, that other-power faith is of the utmost importance. It is clearly seen in the sutras and commentaries that, without fully knowing this other-power faith, [realization of] the birth that is to come in the Land of Utmost Bliss—the matter of greatest importance—is indeed not possible. Therefore when we know what other-power faith is all about and aspire to birth in the true and real fulfilled land, what should our attitude be, and what should we do to attain birth in this Land of Utmost Bliss? I do not know about this in any detail. Please let me have your kind instruction. I feel that after hearing this, I shall surely attain firm faith.


Answer: The import of other-power faith in our tradition is that, without worrying at all about the depth of our evil karma, we simply entrust ourselves singleheartedly and steadfastly to Amida Tathagata and realize deeply that it is indeed the inconceivable power of the Vow that saves everyone—people of evil [karma] (like ourselves) who have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses, and even women burdened with the five obstacles and the three submissions; and when there is not a moment’s doubt of the Primal Vow, the Tathagata, fully knowing that [practitioner’s] mind, graciously causes the evil mind of the practitioner to be entirely the same as the good mind of the Tathagata. This is what is meant by our saying that “the Buddha’s mind and the mind of the ordinary being become one.” Consequently, we should realize that we have been received within Amida Tathagata’s all-pervading light and that we will dwell within this light for the duration of our lives. Then, when life is spent, [Amida] brings us at once to the true and real fulfilled land.


How, then, do we respond to the gracious, inestimable benevolence of Amida’s great compassion? [The answer is that] by simply repeating the nenbutsu, saying the Name of the Buddha—day and night, morning and evening—we express our gratitude for Amida Tathagata’s benevolence. Bear in mind that this is what is meant by the teaching of “completing the cause [of birth] in ordinary life, with the awakening of the one thought-moment [of entrusting],” as set forth in our tradition. Therefore, in relying singleheartedly on Amida in this way, there is no need for special effort on our part. As it is easy to receive faith, it is easier still to become a buddha—to be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss. How precious Amida’s Primal Vow is! How precious other-power faith is! There is no doubt at all as to our birth.


Yet, beyond this, there is a further point that should be clearly understood in regard to our conduct. That is, all the kami and buddhas have appeared as the various kami and buddhas through compassionate means, to enable us to receive this singular other-power faith that we realize now. Therefore, because all the [kami], buddhas, and bodhisattvas are originally discrete manifestations of Amida Tathagata, all—each and every one—are encompassed within the single thought-moment in which we, entrusting ourselves, say “Namu-amida-butsu”; for this reason, we are not to belittle them.


Again, there is still another point to be understood. You must never slight the provincial military governors and local land stewards, saying that you are a person who reveres the Buddha-Dharma and has attained faith. Meet your public obligations in full without fail.


People who comply with the above exemplify the conduct of nenbutsu practitioners in whom faith has been awakened and who aspire to [birth in the Pure Land in] the afterlife. They are, in other words, ones who faithfully abide by the Buddha-Dharma and the laws of the state.


Respectfully. Written on the thirteenth day of the fifth month, Bunmei 6 (1474).



11. On the Fivefold Teaching


In recent years, the import of the teaching of our tradition’s Master Shinran has been presented in various ways in the provinces, with a lack of uniformity. This is a most deplorable situation. For, to begin with, although the birth of ordinary beings [in the Pure Land] through other-power faith has been of primary importance in our tradition, [some] brush aside the matter of faith and do not consider it. They propose that “faith is not forgetting that Amida Tathagata settled our birth at the time of his perfect enlightenment ten kalpas ago.” What is completely lacking in this is the element of taking refuge in Amida and realizing other-power faith. Therefore however well they may know that their birth has been settled since the time of [Amida’s] perfect enlightenment ten kalpas ago, unless they fully know the significance of other-power faith, through which we attain birth, they will not attain birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss. There are also some people who say, “Even if we take refuge in Amida, this is to no avail without a good teacher. Therefore, there is nothing for us to do but rely on a good teacher.” These are their words. They, too, are people who have not properly attained our tradition’s faith.


The function of a good teacher is just to encourage people to take refuge in Amida singleheartedly and steadfastly. Therefore a fivefold teaching has been established [giving the conditions necessary for birth]: first, [the unfolding of] good from the past; second, [meeting] a good teacher; third, [encountering Amida’s] light; fourth, [attaining] faith; and, fifth, [saying] the Name [of the Buddha]. Unless this fivefold teaching is realized, it is evident [in the received texts] that birth is impossible. Thus the good teacher is the messenger who tells us to take refuge in Amida Buddha. Without meeting a good teacher through the unfolding of good from the past, birth is impossible. Bear in mind, however, that to abandon Amida, in whom we take refuge, and to take only the good teacher as essential is a serious error.


Respectfully.


Bunmei 6 (1474), 5.20



12. On the Fifty Years of Human Life


When we consider the fifty years of human life, [we realize that] they correspond to a day and a night in the heaven of the four kings. Moreover, fifty years in the heaven of the four kings is but a day and a night in the hell of repeated existence. Despite this fact, people take no notice of falling into hell and undergoing suffering; neither do they think deeply of going to the Pure Land and enjoying unsurpassed bliss. Thus they live to no purpose and, passing days and months in vain, pay no attention to the decisive settling of the one mind of their own [faith]. They never look at a single volume of the scriptures, nor do they ever instruct their followers by citing a single passage of the teachings. Morning and evening, they simply watch for spare moments, stretch out with their pillows, and go off to sleep. Surely this is deplorable. Think it over quietly.


From now on, therefore, those who in their negligence fail to uphold the Dharma must by all means seek to attain birth in the true and real fulfilled land through the decisive settling of faith; this will indeed bring benefit to them. It should be recognized, moreover, that this is in accord with the principle of benefiting oneself and benefiting others.


Respectfully.


This was written on the second day of the middle period of the sixth month, Bunmei 6 (1474). I have simply let words flow from the brush in the extreme heat.



13. On the Reputation of Our School


Fully observing the regulations established in our tradition means acting in such a way toward other sects and toward society that we do not draw public attention to our sect; we take this as fundamental. Recently, however, there have been some among the nenbutsu people in our tradition who have deliberately brought to others’ notice what our school is all about; they have thought that this would enhance the reputation of our school and, in particular, they have sought to denigrate other schools. Nothing could be more absurd. Moreover, it deeply contradicts Master [Shinran]’s intention. For he said precisely, long ago, “Even if you are called a ‘cow thief,’ do not give the appearance of [being a participant in] our tradition.” We must keep these words very carefully in mind.


Next, those who seek to know in full what settled mind means in our tradition need no wisdom or learning at all; they do not need to be male or female, noble or humble. For when we simply realize that we are wretched beings of deep evil karma and know that the only buddha who saves even such persons as this is Amida Tathagata, and when, without any contriving, but with the thought of holding fast to the sleeve of this Buddha Amida, we entrust ourselves [to him] to save us, [bringing us to buddhahood] in the afterlife, then Amida Tathagata deeply rejoices and, sending forth from himself eighty-four thousand great rays of light, receives us within that light. This is clearly explained in the [Contemplation] Sutra:


The light shines throughout the worlds of the ten directions, and sentient beings mindful of the Buddha are embraced, never to be abandoned (Kanmuryojukyo, T.12:343b).


This you should know.


There is, then, no worry about becoming a buddha. How incomparable is the all-surpassing Primal Vow! And how gracious is Amida Tathagata’s light! Without encountering the [receptive] condition of this light, there can be no cure at all for the fearful sickness of ignorance and karma-hindrance which has been ours from the beginningless past. Yet now, prompted by the condition of this light, good from the past comes into being, and we assuredly attain other-power faith. It is immediately clear, however, that this is faith granted by Amida Tathagata. Thus we now know beyond question that this is not faith generated by the practitioner but that it is Amida Tathagata’s great other-power faith. Accordingly, all those who have once attained other-power faith should reflect deeply on how gracious Amida Tathagata’s benevolence is and repeat the nenbutsu, saying the Name of the Buddha always in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence.


Respectfully. Written on the third day of the seventh month, Bunmei 6 (1474).



14. On “Secret Teachings”


The “secret teachings” that are widespread in Echizen province are certainly not the Buddha-Dharma; they are deplorable, outer [non-Buddhist] teachings. Relying on them is futile; it creates karma through which one sinks for a long time into the hell of incessant pain (avici). You must never, never follow those who are still attached to these secret [teachings] and who, considering them to be of the utmost importance, ingratiate themselves with others and deceive them. Separate yourself immediately from those who expound secret [teachings], lose no time in confessing them just as you have received them, and warn everyone about them.


Those who seek to know thoroughly the meaning of our tradition’s teaching and be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss must, to begin with, know about other-power faith. What is the importance of other-power faith?


It is the provision by which wretched ordinary beings like ourselves go readily to the Pure Land.


In what way does other-power faith find expression?


We simply entrust ourselves exclusively to Amida Tathagata, singleheartedly and steadfastly, without any contriving. And with the awakening of the one thought-moment in which we realize that Amida saves us, Amida Tathagata unfailingly sends forth his embracing light and keeps us safe within this light as long as we are in this world (saha). It is precisely in this state that our birth is assured.


Thus “namu-amida-butsu” expresses the attainment of other-power faith. We should bear in mind that this faith expresses the significance of “namuamida-butsu.” Then, because we receive this one other-power faith, there is no doubt at all that we will be born readily in the Land of Utmost Bliss.


How incomparable is Amida Tathagata’s other-power Primal Vow! How are we to respond to this gracious benevolence of Amida? Simply by saying “Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu,” sleeping or waking, we respond to Amida Tathagata’s benevolence. With what mind, then, do we say “Namuamida-butsu”?


Think of it as the rejoicing mind that realizes, with humility and wonder, the graciousness of Amida Tathagata’s saving work.


Respectfully. Bunmei 6 (1474), 7.5



15. On Kubon and Chorakuji


In Japan, various branches of the Jodo sect have been established; it is divided into Seizan, Chinzei, Kubon, Chorakuji, and many others. Although the teaching set forth by Master Honen is one, when some people who had been followers of the path of sages came to the master and listened to Pure Land teaching, they did not properly understand his explanation; because of this, still not having given up the ways of their original sects, they tried instead to bring these into the Jodoshu. Consequently, there is a lack of uniformity. Nevertheless, we must never slander these [ways]. What is important is simply that we store our sect’s faith (anjin) deep in our minds and, with our own [faith] decisively settled, exhort others as well.


What is the meaning of faith (anjin) within our tradition?


[The answer is that,] first of all, being deeply convinced that we are worthless beings burdened with the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses, the five obstacles and the three submissions, we then recognize that it is the inconceivable working of Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow that, as its primary aim, saves just such wretched persons; and when we deeply entrust ourselves and have not the slightest doubt, Amida embraces [us] without fail. This is precisely what it is to have attained true and real other-power faith. In realizing faith in this way, with [the awakening of] the one thought-moment [of entrusting], there is no need for any effort on our part.


This other-power faith—how readily we can understand it! And the Name [of the Buddha]—how readily we can practice it! Realizing faith is therefore nothing other than this, and understanding the six characters “namu-a-mi-da-butsu” is the substance of other-power faith.


What is the meaning of “namu-amida-butsu”? The two characters “namu” mean that, aspiring for birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss, we deeply entrust ourselves to Amida. Then Amida Buddha takes pity on sentient beings who entrust themselves in this way, and although ours is an existence burdened with terrible offenses for myriads of kalpas from the beginningless past, because we encounter the [receptive] condition of Amida Tathagata’s light, all the deep offenses of ignorance and karma-hindrance are immediately extinguished, and we assuredly dwell among those [whose birth is] truly settled. Then, discarding the ordinary body, we attain the buddha body. This is what “Amida Tathagata” signifies. It is on these grounds that the three characters “a-mi-da” are read “receives, saves, and delivers.”


Once faith has been decisively settled in this way, if we then realize the graciousness of Amida Tathagata’s benevolence and simply repeat the nenbutsu, saying the Name of the Buddha, that will truly fulfill the principle of responding in gratitude to Amida Tathagata’s benevolence.


Respectfully. Written on the ninth day of the seventh month, Bunmei 6 (1474).

Shonyo, disciple of Sakyamuni
(written seal)


Fascicle Three



1. On People Who Are Only Listed by Name


People who are only listed by name in our tradition as well as those who have been followers for a long time [should realize that] if they do not fully understand what the settled mind is, they must by all means, from this day on, carefully inquire of others about the great faith that is other-power, so that their birth in the fulfilled land may be decisively settled. Realizing the settled mind in our tradition is simply [a matter of] relying deeply and exclusively on Amida Tathagata. But what sort of buddha is this Amida Buddha, and what sort of person does he save?


It was Amida Buddha who made the great Vow that he alone would save us ordinary beings and women, wretched and abandoned by all the buddhas of the three periods. He meditated for five kalpas and, undergoing practices for numberless kalpas, vowed to save even those sentient beings whose evil karma includes the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses, those who slander the Dharma, and those who lack the seed of buddhahood (icchantika). Surpassing the compassionate vows of the various buddhas, he completely fulfilled this Vow and thus became Amida Tathagata (whom we know also as Amida Buddha).


Then how do we entrust ourselves to this buddha, and what frame of mind should we have to be saved?


[The answer is that] we disregard the depth of our evil karma and simply entrust ourselves to Amida Buddha steadfastly and without double-mindedness; and when we are completely free of doubt, he will save us without fail.


Amida Tathagata, then, assuredly delivers all sentient beings by two means, “embracing” and “light.” First of all, when those with good from the past are illumined by this light, the evil that has accumulated as karma-hindrances is all extinguished. Then, as for “embracing,” since all evil hindrances are extinguished when we encounter the [receptive] condition of this light, sentient beings are immediately received within it. Hence these two, “embracing” and “light,” are of the utmost importance in Amida Buddha’s [saving work]. In saying that faith is settled with [the awakening of] the one thought-moment of taking refuge [in Amida], we mean that it is when we encounter this embracing light that the settling of faith occurs. It is clear at this present time, therefore, that the substance of practice, “namu-amida-butsu,” expresses in six characters precisely how it is that we are to be born in the Pure Land. Knowing this, I am more and more thankful and filled with awe.


Then, once faith is decisively settled, we should—sleeping or waking— just say the nenbutsu in gratitude, joyfully remembering that we have received Amida Tathagata’s benevolence beyond measure. That is indeed the practice that truly returns the Buddha’s benevolence.


Respectfully. Written on the fourteenth day of the seventh month, Bunmei 6 (1474).



2. On Practicing as Prescribed


The teachings of the various sects differ, but since they were all [expounded] during Sakya[muni]’s lifetime, they are indeed the incomparable Dharma. For this reason, there is absolutely no doubt that people who practice them as prescribed will attain enlightenment and become buddhas. However, sentient beings of this last [Dharma] age are of the lowest capacity; this is a time when those who practice as prescribed are rare.


Here [we realize that] Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow of other-power was made to save sentient beings in such times as these. To this end, [Amida] meditated for five kalpas and, performing practices for numberless kalpas, vowed that he would not attain perfect enlightenment unless sentient beings who commit evil and lack good reach buddhahood. Completely fulfilling that Vow, he became the Buddha Amida. Sentient beings of this last [Dharma] age can never become buddhas unless they deeply entrust themselves to Amida, relying on this buddha’s Primal Vow.


How do we entrust ourselves to Amida Tathagata’s other-power Primal


Vow, and what frame of mind should we have to be saved?


Entrusting ourselves to Amida simply means that those who truly know what other-power faith is will all be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss, ten people out of ten.


Then what is that other-power faith?


It is simply “namu-amida-butsu.” Fully knowing the meaning of the six characters “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu” is precisely what other-power faith is all about. We must, therefore, thoroughly understand the substance of these six characters.


To begin with, what do the two characters “na-mu” mean?


“Na-mu” means relying on Amida singleheartedly and steadfastly, without any contriving, and entrusting ourselves without double-mindedness [to Amida] to save us, [bringing us to buddhahood] in the afterlife.


Then, what do the four characters “a-mi-da-butsu”  mean?


“A-mi-da-butsu” means that, without fail, Amida sends forth from himself light that illumines sentient beings who rely on him singleheartedly and are free of doubt, as explained above. He receives them within that light, and when their span of life comes to an end, he brings them to the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss. This is “a-mi-da-butsu.”


According to what is commonly said about the nenbutsu, people think they will be saved if they just repeat “Namu-amida-butsu” with their lips. That is uncertain. There are, however, some within the Jodo school who teach this. Let us not judge it as right or wrong. I simply explain our tradition’s way of faith (anjin), which was taught by the founder of our sect. Those who have [good] conditions from the past should hear this and promptly attain [assurance of] the birth that is to come in the Land of Utmost Bliss. Those who understand this should say the Name of the Buddha; [remembering] the benevolence of Amida Tathagata who readily saves us, they should repeat the nenbutsu, saying the Name of the Buddha in grateful return for the Buddha’s benevolence, which we receive beyond measure.


Respectfully. Written on the fifth day of the eighth month, Bunmei 6 (1474).



3. On the Followers of [the Priest] Shoko


Concerning the followers of [the priest] Shoko of Kawajiri in this region: I cannot but feel uneasy about their understanding of faith according to the Buddha-Dharma. I shall now, however, discuss our tradition’s basic principles in detail. Each person should listen to this attentively, take it as fundamental, and thus be assured of the birth that is to come in the Land of Utmost Bliss.


What does “Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow of birth through the nenbutsu” mean?


[The answer is that] if only other-power faith is decisively settled, laypeople lacking wisdom and even those who have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses will all be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss.


How difficult is it, then, to attain that faith?


Those who, without any worry, simply entrust themselves exclusively (with no double-mindedness) to Amida Tathagata and keep their thoughts from straying in other directions will all become buddhas, ten people out of ten. It is easy to hold to this single mind [of faith]. People who merely repeat the nenbutsu aloud have only a partial understanding; they will not be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss. It is those who fully realize the significance of this nenbutsu who will become buddhas. If only the single thought of fully entrusting ourselves to Amida is settled, we will go readily to the Pure Land.


Besides this, remember that it is outrageous to cite complicated secret [teachings] and not reverence the Buddha.


And so, because Amida Tathagata’s other-power Primal Vow is meant to save people of deep evil karma in this last [Dharma] age, it is the Primal Vow of other-power that is completely suited to laypeople like ourselves. How thankful I am for Amida Tathagata’s Vow! And how thankful I am for Sakya[muni] Tathagata’s golden words! Revere them. Entrust yourselves to them. For those who understand as I have explained above truly exemplify the nenbutsu practitioner in whom our tradition’s faith is decisively settled.


Then, beyond this, remember that the nenbutsu we say throughout our lives expresses our gratitude for the measureless benevolence of Amida Tathagata who readily saves us.


Respectfully. Written on the sixth day of the eighth month, Bunmei 6 (1474).



4. On the Great Sage, the World-honored One


When we carefully consider the ephemeral nature of human life, we realize that the living inevitably face death and that the prosperous eventually decline. And so we only live out our years, spending nights to no purpose and days to no avail. This is indeed inexpressibly sad. What is difficult to escape, then, is impermanence—whether at the highest level, that of the Great Sage, the World-honored One [Sakyamuni], or at the lowest, that of Devadatta, who committed transgressions and evil offenses. Now what is extremely difficult to receive is human form; what is difficult to meet is the Buddha-Dharma. Even though we may chance to meet the Buddha-Dharma, the way leading to emancipation from birth and death by the path of self-power practices is, at the present time, in the last [Dharma] age, difficult and beyond our reach. Because of this, our lives will pass by in vain unless we encounter the Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata.


Now, however, we are able to meet the single teaching of the universal vow. Therefore the only thing we should aspire to is [birth in] the Pure Land of utmost bliss, and the only one we should rely upon is Amida Tathagata; with faith decisively settled, we should say the nenbutsu. But what ordinary people generally have in mind is that if they merely repeat “Namu-amida-butsu” aloud, they will be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss. That is most uncertain.


What, then, is the meaning of the six characters “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu”? We must realize that when anyone relies steadfastly on Amida Tathagata, the Buddha saves him, fully knowing that sentient being. This is what is expressed in the six characters “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu.”


Then, in order to be saved in [regard to] the most important matter, the afterlife, how do we entrust ourselves to Amida Tathagata?


[The answer is that] when we entrust ourselves without any worry or double-mindedness—casting away all sundry practices and miscellaneous good acts and relying on Amida Tathagata singleheartedly and steadfastly— [Amida] sends forth his light and embraces within it the sentient beings who rely on him. This is called “receiving the benefit of Amida Tathagata’s embracing light.” It is also called “[receiving] the benefit of the vow that never abandons us.” Once we have been received in this way within Amida Tathagata’s light, we will be born immediately into the true and real fulfilled land when life is spent. Let there be no doubt about this.


Besides this, what good would it do to rely on other buddhas or to perform meritorious good deeds? How wonderful and gracious Amida Tathagata is! How can we express our gratitude for this measureless benevolence?


Understand that it is simply by saying aloud “Namu-amida-butsu, Namuamida-butsu” that we return the [Buddha’s] benevolence in profound gratitude.


Respectfully. Bunmei 6 (1474), 8.18



5. On the Compassionate Vows of Other Buddhas


When we inquire in detail as to why it is that Amida’s Primal Vow surpasses the compassionate vows of other buddhas, [we realize that] the buddhas of the ten directions are unable to save sentient beings with extremely deep evil karma or women, who are burdened with the five obstacles and the three submissions. Hence it is said that Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow surpasses other buddhas’ vows.


What sort of sentient beings does Amida Tathagata’s all-surpassing great Vow save?


It is the great Vow that, without exception, saves evildoers who have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses, and even women, who are burdened with the five obstacles and the three submissions. Hence it is [through] the working of the great Vow of other-power that [Amida] proclaims that he will unfailingly lead to the Land of Utmost Bliss [all] sentient beings, ten people out of ten, who singleheartedly and steadfastly entrust themselves to him.


Then how do wretched ordinary beings like ourselves rely on Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, and in what frame of mind should we entrust ourselves to Amida? Please explain in detail. Attaining faith according to this teaching, we shall entrust ourselves to Amida, aspire to [birth in] the Land of Utmost Bliss, and say the nenbutsu.


Answer: To begin with, what is now widely taught about the nenbutsu makes people think they will be saved if they merely repeat “Namu-amida-butsu” without any understanding. That is very doubtful. The teaching of the Jodoshu is divided into various schools in the capital and the provinces. We do not, however, judge that as right or wrong. We simply explain our founder’s teaching as it has been transmitted within the tradition.


Now, listen carefully, with the ears of one aspiring to emancipation and with your heads lowered in reverence. You may realize the thought of faith and joy.


Laypeople and those who have committed evil all through their lives should simply disregard the depth of their evil karma and deeply accept Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow as the inconceivable vow-power centered on saving just such wretched beings [as themselves]. Relying singleheartedly and steadfastly on Amida, they should solely seek to attain other-power faith.


What, then, is other-power faith?


The six-character Name “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu” shows how it is that Amida Buddha saves us. We say that a person who has understood this in detail is one who has attained other-power faith. The two characters “na-mu” signify sentient beings’ entrusting themselves to Amida Buddha singleheartedly and steadfastly, with no other thought than that he will save them. This is called “taking refuge.” Next, the four characters “a-mi-da-butsu” signify that, without exception, Amida Buddha saves sentient beings who entrust themselves (“na-mu”). This means, in other words, that he “embraces and never abandons us.” “Embraces and never abandons” means that Amida Tathagata receives nenbutsu practitioners within his light and will not forsake them. And so, in regard to the import of “namu-amida-butsu,” we know that it is in testimony to Amida Buddha’s saving us that the Name is expressed in these six characters, “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu.” When we have understood them in this way, we are assured of birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss.


How gracious and wonderful this is! And beyond this, since we have been saved once and for all by Amida Tathagata, the nenbutsu expresses the joy of having been saved. Hence we describe this nenbutsu as “the saying of the Name in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence” and “the saying of the Name after [the realization of] faith (shin).”


Respectfully. Written on the sixth day of the ninth month, Bunmei 6 (1474).



6. On Saying the Tathagata’s Name Only, at All Times


What is the meaning of “namu-amida-butsu”?


To begin with, the two characters “na-mu” have two meanings, “to take refuge” and “to aspire to be born and to direct virtue.” Also, “namu” is the vow; “amida-butsu” is the practice. When we cast away the sundry practices and miscellaneous good acts and entrust ourselves to Amida Tathagata with the single practice and singlemindedness, awakening the one thought-moment of taking refuge in which we realize that he saves us, [Amida] graciously sends forth his all-pervading light and receives us. This is precisely what is meant by the four characters “a-mi-da-butsu” and, also, by “aspiring to be born and directing virtue.” We see, then, that the six characters “na-mu-ami-da-butsu” comprise the Name that fully expresses the significance of other-power faith, through which we are to be born [in the Pure Land].


For this reason, the passage on the fulfillment of the Vow teaches that we “hear the Name and realize faith and joy” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:272b; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:601a, 605a). The meaning of this passage is that, hearing the Name, we rejoice in faith. “Hearing the Name” is not just hearing it in a general way. It should be understood that when we have met a good teacher and heard and fully realized the significance of the six characters “namu-a-mi-da-butsu,” this realization is other-power faith, through which we are to be born in the fulfilled land. Hence “realize faith and joy” means that when faith is settled, we rejoice, knowing that birth in the Pure Land is assured.


And so, when we reflect on Amida Tathagata’s painstaking endeavors for five kalpas [of meditation] and numberless, uncountable kalpas [of practice], and when we think of the graciousness and wonder of his saving us so readily, it is hard to express our feelings. [Shinran] refers to this in a hymn (Shozomatsu wasan, T.83:666b):


The benevolence of “namu-amida-butsu,”  [Amida’s] directing of virtue, is vast and inconceivable;

As the benefit of his directing virtue toward our going [to the Pure Land],
We are led into his directing [virtue] toward our return to this world.


Also, in the Gatha of True Faith, there is [the following passage] (Shoshinge, T.83:600b):


Saying the Tathagata’s Name only, at all times,

We should respond in gratitude to the universal vow of great compassion.

Hence [we realize] all the more that—walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, irrespective of time, place, or any other circumstances—we should simply repeat the nenbutsu, saying the Name of the Buddha in grateful return for the Buddha’s benevolence.


Respectfully. Written on the twentieth day of the tenth month, Bunmei 6 (1474).



7. On the Three Acts of the Buddha and of Sentient Beings


What Master Shinran emphasized above all else was other-power faith, the single path by which lay practitioners in the defiled world of the last [Dharma] age, lacking wisdom, are born promptly and without difficulty in the Pure Land; this he taught as fundamental. Everyone knows very well, then, that Amida Tathagata unfailingly saves each and every one of the people of utter foolishness who have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses and even women burdened with the five obstacles and the three submissions. But how do we ordinary beings entrust ourselves to Amida Buddha, and in what way do we rely on him now in order to be born in the world of utmost bliss? [The answer is that] we simply entrust ourselves exclusively to Amida Tathagata and, casting off all other [practices], steadfastly take refuge in Amida; and when we singleheartedly entrust ourselves to the Primal Vow without double-mindedness in regard to Amida Tathagata, then, without fail, we will be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss. This is precisely what it is to have attained other-power faith.


Faith is [a matter of] clearly discerning the significance of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow and singleheartedly taking refuge in Amida; this we call decisive settlement of other-power faith (anjin). Therefore, full realization of the significance of the six characters “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu” is the substance of decisively settled faith. That is, the two characters “na-mu” indicate the receptive attitude of the sentient beings, the persons to be saved, who entrust themselves to Amida Buddha. Next, the four characters “a-mida-butsu” signify the Dharma through which Amida Tathagata saves sentient beings. This is expressed as “the oneness in ‘namu-amida-butsu’ of the person [to be saved] and Dharma [that saves].” Thus the three acts of sentient beings and the three acts of Amida become one. Referring to this, Master Shandao wrote in his commentary, “The three acts of the Buddha and of sentient beings are inseparable” (Kangyosho, T.37:268a).


There should be no doubt at all, therefore, that those in whom faith is decisively settled with the one thought-moment of taking refuge will all be born without fail in the fulfilled land. Those who cast off the evil on their side, which is attachment to self-power, and rely singleheartedly on Amida, deeply entrusting themselves and realizing that this is the inconceivable working of the Vow, will all unfailingly attain birth in the true and real fulfilled land, ten people out of ten. Once [we have understood] this, we should say the nenbutsu in gratitude at all times, mindful only of Amida Tathagata’s deep benevolence.


Respectfully. Bunmei 7 (1475), 2.23



8. On the False “Ten Kalpas” Teaching in This Province and Others


In this province and others, [there are many] these days who are sharply at variance with what our tradition teaches about the settled mind. Each person feels that he understands correctly, and few think of making further effort to attain true and real faith by asking others about views that run counter to the Dharma. This is indeed a deplorable attachment. Unless the birth that is to come in the fulfilled land is decisively settled by their quickly repenting and confessing these views and abiding in our tradition’s true and real faith, it is indeed just as if they went to a mountain of treasure and returned empty-handed. They say, in words that are at variance with this faith, “Faith is not forgetting or doubting at present that Amida Tathagata completely settled our birth at the time of his perfect enlightenment ten kalpas ago.” Dwelling in this mistaken view—without taking refuge in Amida and having their faith decisively settled—they cannot be born in the fulfilled land. This is, therefore, a deviant and mistaken understanding.


If we are to clarify what the settled mind is in our tradition, we say that to understand “namu-amida-butsu” fully is to have attained other-power faith. Hence Shandao explains the six characters “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu” by saying, “‘Namu’ means ‘to take refuge.’ It also signifies aspiring to be born and directing virtue” (Kangy?sho, T.37:250a; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:594c).


What does this mean?


[The explanation is that] when Amida Tathagata in his causal stage [as the bhiksu Dharmakara] determined the practice through which we ordinary beings are to be born [in the Pure Land], he labored on our behalf because ordinary beings’ directing of virtue is based on self-power and is therefore difficult to accomplish. In order to give this virtue to us, he fulfilled [the practice] through which virtue is directed; he gives it to us ordinary beings with the [awakening of the] one thought-moment of our taking refuge—“namu.” Consequently, this is not a directing of virtue from the side of ordinary beings but the Tathagata’s directing of virtue, which we call a nondirecting of virtue from the practitioner’s side. Thus the two characters “na-mu” mean “to take refuge”; they also mean “to aspire for birth and to direct virtue.” On these grounds, [Amida] unfailingly embraces and never abandons sentient beings who take refuge (“namu”). For this reason, we say “Namu-amida-butsu.”


This is precisely what we mean when we refer to nenbutsu practitioners who have attained other-power faith through the one thought-moment of taking refuge and who have completed the cause [of birth] in ordinary life. This you should know. People who understand in this way should repeat the nenbutsu, saying the Name of the Buddha [at all times]—walking, standing, sitting, and lying down—truly, acknowledging Amida Tathagata’s deep and boundless benevolence. [Shinran] expresses this in the [following] lines (Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:600b):


The moment we are mindful of Amida’s Primal Vow,

We are naturally brought to enter the stage of the definitely settled;
Saying the Tathagata’s Name only, at all times,
We should respond in gratitude to the universal vow of great compassion.

Respectfully. Bunmei 7 (1475), 2.25



9. On the Anniversary of Master Shinran’s Death


Today being the [monthly] anniversary of Master [Shin]ran’s death, there are few people who do not intend by all means to repay their indebtedness and express their gratitude for his benevolence. What everyone must understand, however, is how difficult it will be for people to conform to the intention of our Master if (as in the case of practitioners who have not attained true and real faith through the power of the Primal Vow and in whom the settled mind is yet to be realized [mianjin]) they make the visit perfunctorily, for today only, and think that what is essential in the Shinshu is just filling the members’ meeting place. Nevertheless, it is probably good for those who are not concerned about the thanksgiving services to be here, even if they attend reluctantly.


Those who intend to come without fail on the twenty-eighth of every month [must understand that] people in whom the settled mind is yet to be realized (mianjin) and for whom the customary ways of faith are not decisively established should, by all means, quickly attain other-power faith based on the truth and reality of the Primal Vow, thereby decisively settling the birth that is to come in the fulfilled land. It is this that will truly accomplish their [own] resolve to repay their indebtedness and express their gratitude for the Master’s benevolence. This also means that, as a matter of course, their objective of birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss is assured. It is, in other words, entirely consistent with what is expressed in [Shandao’s] commentary (Ojo raisange, T.47:442a):


To realize faith oneself and to guide others to faith is the most difficult of all difficulties; to tell of great compassion and awaken beings everywhere is truly to respond in gratitude to the Buddha’s benevolence.


Although more than a hundred years have already passed since the Master’s death, we gratefully revere the image before our eyes. And although his benevolent voice is distant, separated from us by the wind of impermanence, his words of truth have been directly transmitted by his descendents; they resound with clarity deep in our ears. Thus it is that our school’s faith, grounded in the truth and reality of other-power, has been transmitted until today without interruption.


Therefore, given this present occasion, if there are people who have not realized the faith that is the truth and reality of the Primal Vow, we must indeed conclude they have not received the prompting of good from the past. If there were not people for whom good from the past had unfolded, all would be in vain and the birth that is to come [in the Pure Land] could not be settled. This would be the one thing to be lamented above all else.


And yet, although it is now difficult to encounter the one way of the Primal Vow, we are, on occasions, able to meet this supreme Primal Vow. This is indeed the joy of all joys—what could compare with it? We should revere [the Primal Vow]; we should entrust ourselves to it. People who thus overturn the evil delusions that have persisted in their minds over time and are then and there grounded in other-power faith, based on the ultimate truth of the Primal Vow, will truly conform to the Master’s intention. This in itself will surely fulfill our resolve to repay our indebtedness and express our gratitude for the Master’s benevolence today.


Respectfully. Written on the twenty-eighth day of the fifth month, Bunmei 7 (1475).



10. On Six Items, Including “Kami Manifestations”


Followers of our tradition should be aware of the significance of the provisions of the six items [below] and, inwardly entrusting themselves deeply to the Buddha-Dharma, should act in such a way as to give no outward sign of it. Therefore, it is a serious error that, these days, nenbutsu people in our tradition deliberately make known to those of other sects the way things are in our school. To put it briefly: from now on you must follow the BuddhaDharma, observing the intent of these provisions. Those who go against these rules will no longer be counted among the followers [of our tradition].


Item: Do not make light of [Shinto] shrines.


Item: Do not make light of the buddhas, bodhisattvas, or [Buddhist] temples [enshrining deities].


Item: Do not slander other sects or other teachings.


Item: Do not slight the provincial military governors or local land stewards.


Item: The interpretation of the Buddha-Dharma in this province is wrong; therefore, turn to the right teaching.


Item: other-power faith as established in our tradition must be decisively settled deep in our hearts and minds.


First, all “kami manifestations” are transformations; in their original state, they are buddhas and bodhisattvas, but when they look upon the sentient beings of this realm, they realize that it is somewhat difficult [for those beings] to approach buddhas and bodhisattvas. Hence they appear provisionally as kami as a compassionate means of forming a bond with sentient beings and of encouraging them, through the strength [of that bond], to enter finally into the Buddha-Dharma. This is the meaning of [the passage] that says:


The first stage in forming a bond is softening the light and mixing with the dust; the final stage in benefiting beings is [manifesting] the eight aspects and attaining the way (Makashikan, T.46:80a).


Therefore sentient beings in the present world [should realize that] those who entrust themselves to the Buddha-Dharma and say the nenbutsu will surely be recognized by kami [in their various] manifestations as [the fulfillment of] their original intent. For this reason, although we do not specifically worship kami or entrust ourselves to them, when we take refuge in the compassionate vow of the one Buddha Amida, the thought of similarly entrusting ourselves to [the kami] is encompassed within that.


Second, as buddhas and bodhisattvas are the original state for kami manifestations, when sentient beings of the present time entrust themselves to Amida Tathagata and say the nenbutsu, the other buddhas and bodhisattvas feel that this is the fulfillment of their original intent, since they all rely on their original teacher, Amida Tathagata. For this reason, although we do not rely specifically on the other buddhas, when we entrust ourselves to the one buddha, Amida Buddha, all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are encompassed—each and every one. Simply realize that when we take refuge in Amida Tathagata singleheartedly and steadfastly, all the other buddhas’ wisdom and virtue come to be encompassed within one body, Amida [and so become ours].


Third, it is a great mistake to slander other sects and other teachings. The reason for this was shown long ago in the three Pure Land sutras. Moreover, scholars of other sects should never disparage people of the nenbutsu. In view of the law [of karma], it is clear that neither [followers of] our sect nor [those of] others can escape retribution for this offense.


Fourth, in regard to the provincial military governors and local land stewards, deal carefully with fixed yearly tributes and payments to officials and, besides that, take [the principles of] humanity and justice as fundamental.


Fifth, the interpretation of the Buddha-Dharma in this province is not the right teaching of our tradition; it appears to be a wrong view. In brief: listening from now on to our tradition’s right teaching, which is true and real, you must overturn customary evil attachments and move toward a mind that is good.


Sixth, true people of the nenbutsu in our tradition fully know the right teaching established by the founder and, although they commit evil and lack good, they take attainment of birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss to be the fundamental intent of our sect.


The right understanding of our school’s settled mind is that, without any striving, we rely singleheartedly and steadfastly on Amida Tathagata and recognize how inconceivable it is that, although we are wretched beings burdened with evil deeds and blind passion, the working of Amida’s Vow—the strong cause [of birth]—is directed toward saving such worthless beings; and when just a single thought free of doubt becomes firm, Amida unfailingly sends forth his unhindered light and embraces us. People who have undergone a decisive settling of faith in this way will all, each and every one, be born in the fulfilled land—ten people out of ten. What this means, in other words, is that these are people in whom other-power faith is decisively settled.


Above and beyond this, what we should bear in mind is that it is indeed [through] Amida Tathagata’s gracious and vast benevolence [that birth in the Pure Land is settled]; and with this realization, sleeping or waking, we simply say “Namu amida butsu” in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence. What else, then, do we need besides this for [birth in] the afterlife? Is it not truly deplorable that [some people] confuse others by talking about false teachings that are of uncertain origin and are unknown to us, and furthermore that they debase the transmission of the Dharma? You must reflect on this very carefully.


Respectfully. Bunmei 7 (1475), 7.15



11. On the Services Held Every Year without Exception


As the twenty-eighth of this month is the anniversary [of the death] of our founder, Master [Shinran], services [have been held] every year without exception, in recognition of our indebtedness and in grateful response to [his] benevolence. Even the most humble fellow practitioners [come at this time] from the various provinces and districts; those who fail to recognize their indebtedness must indeed be like wood and stones!


Although this foolish old man has somehow lived for the past four or five years in the Hokuriku, in a remote corner of the mountains by the sea, it is beyond all expectation that he is still alive and has come to this province, and that this year, for the first time, we shall celebrate thanksgiving services together [in honor] of the Master’s anniversary. This is indeed the [result of] inconceivable past conditions; I rejoice over it more and more deeply, time and again.


People who gather from this and other provinces should, therefore, first of all, be fully aware of the significance of the regulations established by the founding Master. He said, “Even if you are called a ‘cow thief,’ do not act in such a way that you are seen as a follower of the Buddha-Dharma or as an aspirant for [buddhahood in] the afterlife.” Besides this, he also carefully stipulated that we should observe [the principles of] humanity, justice, propriety, wisdom, and sincerity; that we should honor the laws of the state; and that, deep within, we should take other-power faith, established by the Primal Vow, as fundamental.


But recently, although people these days act as if they knew the Buddha-Dharma, [it is clear] from what I have observed that while they give an outward appearance of relying on the Buddha-Dharma, there is no decisive settling of faith (anjin), the single path in our tradition. Besides that, on the strength of their own ability, they read texts that are not authenticated in our tradition and then talk about unknown, false teachings. Wandering among the followers of our [sect] and others, they make up lies and, finally, under “orders from the head temple,” they deceive people and take things [from them], thereby debasing the fundamental principles of our tradition. Is this not truly deplorable?


Therefore, unless each of these people repents and confesses his evil ways and turns to the right teaching during the seven-day thanksgiving services [commemorating] the anniversary of the Master’s death on the twentyeighth of this month, [their coming will be to no purpose]; and if they attend these seven-day thanksgiving services just in imitation of others, though they say that they come to repay their indebtedness and express their gratitude for the [Master’s] benevolence, [their coming] will amount to nothing at all. Hence it is precisely those people who have attained faith through the working of Amida’s Vow who will return the Buddha’s benevolence in gratitude and respond gratefully to their teacher’s virtue. Those who thoroughly understand this and come to pay homage to the Master are the ones who are truly in accord with [Amida’s] intention; they, in particular, will be deeply possessed of the resolve to repay their indebtedness and express their gratitude for his benevolence during this month’s anniversary.


Respectfully. Written on the twenty-first day of the eleventh month, Bunmei 7 (1475).



12. On the Presence or Absence of Good from the Past


These days, as in the past, it seems that many of those who call themselves followers of the Buddha-Dharma and extol and proclaim the teaching in various places in the provinces are themselves not truly grounded in the right teaching of our tradition. When we ask the reason for this, [the answer is that] in the first place, although they act as if they knew the Buddha-Dharma in depth, no part of their understanding has been gained from authentic sources. Some have heard the teaching quite by chance, from the edge of a veranda or from outside a sliding door; their aspiration for the Buddha-Dharma is in truth shallow, and they think there is no one who knows better than they what the Buddha-Dharma is all about. Consequently, when they happen to see people who proclaim our tradition’s right teaching in the correct manner, they cling persistently to their own biased views. Is it not, in the first place, arrogance for them to assume immediately that only they fully know [the teaching]?


In this frame of mind, they wander from place to place among followers [of our tradition] and read the scriptures and, in addition to that, they simply ingratiate themselves with people, make up lies, and take things [from them], saying that they are sent from the main temple when they are carrying out personal matters. How can these people be called good followers of the Buddha-Dharma or readers of scripture? This is utterly deplorable. It is the one thing we should lament above all else. Those who want to present our tradition’s teaching and instruct others must therefore, first of all, be fully aware of the steps in instruction.


When we consider presenting our tradition’s other-power faith, we must first distinguish between the people who have good from the past and those who lack good from the past. For, however long ago a person may have listed his name as a participant in this [tradition], it will be difficult for one who lacks good from the past to attain faith. Indeed, faith (shin) will of itself be decisively settled in the person for whom past good has unfolded. And so, when we discuss the two [kinds of] practices—right and sundry—in the presence of people who lack good from the past, this may lay the foundation for slander, contrary to what one would expect. To teach extensively in the presence of ordinary people without understanding this principle of the presence or absence of good from the past is in total opposition to our tradition’s rules of conduct.


Hence the Larger Sutra says, “If a person lacks roots of good, he will not be able to hear this sutra” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:273a; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:630c) and “To hear this sutra and to sustain faith (shingyo) are the most difficult of all difficulties; nothing surpasses these difficulties” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:279a; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:631c). Also, Shandao states:


If a person has already practiced this Dharma at one time in the past and is able to hear it again now, he will immediately realize joy (Kangyosho, T.37:264a).


In any case, it is clear, according to the sutras and commentaries, that everything depends on good from the past. Thus we understand that we should watch over people in whom there is good from the past and transmit the Dharma of our tradition to them. We must be fully aware of the significance of this and then instruct others.


In particular, first of all, take the laws of the state as fundamental and, giving priority to [the principles of] humanity and justice, follow the generally accepted customs; deep within yourself, maintain the settled mind of our tradition; and outwardly conduct yourself in such a way that the transmission of the Dharma you have received will not be evident to those of other sects and other schools. This distinguishes the person who fully knows our tradition’s right teaching, which is true and real.


Respectfully. Bunmei 8 (1476), 1.27

Shonyo, disciple of Sakyamuni
(written seal)


13. On Followers of Our Tradition


Followers of our tradition—both those in whom the settled mind is already established and those [whose faith is] yet to be established but who seek to attain the settled mind—must bear in mind the following points:


First of all, outwardly take the laws of the state as fundamental; do not hold any of the kami, buddhas, or bodhisattvas in contempt; do not slander other sects or other teachings. Do not slight the provincial military governors or local landowners, but meet fixed yearly tributes and payments to officials in full. Besides that, take [the principles of] humanity and justice as essential. Inwardly, rely singleheartedly and steadfastly on Amida Tathagata for [birth in the Pure Land in] the afterlife and give no thought to any of the sundry practices and miscellaneous good acts; when we entrust ourselves without a single thought of doubt, we will be born without fail in the true and real Pure Land of utmost bliss. With this understanding, one is to be declared a nenbutsu follower who has realized faith through Amida Tathagata’s other-power.


Having thus attained the faith that is expressed through the nenbutsu, we should then realize that, although we are wretched beings of deep evil karma who commit evil all our lives, when we once awaken faith with the one thought-moment of taking refuge [in Amida], we are readily saved by the working of the Buddha’s Vow. Then, deeply recognizing the graciousness of Amida Tathagata’s inconceivable, all-surpassing Primal Vow—the strong cause [of birth]—we simply say the nenbutsu, sleeping or waking, in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence, and repay our indebtedness to Amida Tathagata.


Nothing we know beyond this is of any use for the [attainment of birth in the] afterlife, but these days, people talk absurdly—as if something were lacking—about unknown, eccentric teachings that have not been transmitted [within our tradition]; thus they confuse others and debase the unsurpassed transmission of the Dharma. This is indeed a deplorable situation. We must think about it very carefully.


Respectfully. Bunmei 8 (1476), 7.18




Fascicle Four


1. On Shinshu Nenbutsu Practitioners


There are many among the Shinshu practitioners of the nenbutsu who have no understanding of the Dharma. Hence I have, for the most part, set down the main points. In brief, practitioners of the same mind are to take these words as fundamental from now on.


There are two points in regard to this. First, before all else, one must be settled in the faith (anjin) through which one’s own birth [in the Pure Land] is accomplished. Second, in teaching others, one must determine the presence or absence of good from the past. We must keep these principles firmly in mind.


As for the first matter of one’s own birth, store the faith that is awakened in the one thought-moment deeply within yourselves; moreover, persevere in saying the Name in gratitude for [Amida] Buddha’s benevolence through other-power. In addition to this, honor the laws of the state and take [the principles of] humanity and justice as fundamental. Further, do not slight the various [kami and] buddhas and bodhisattvas, or belittle other teachings and other sects; simply follow the customs of ordinary life. Outwardly, do not show your devotion to our tradition to those of other sects and other schools. By this, one is to be declared a Shinshu nenbutsu practitioner who observes the regulations of our tradition’s Master [Shinran]. In particular, act with extreme caution, as this is a time when people determinedly strain their ears to hear anything that can be distorted and spread in slander.


The “other-power threefold entrusting” taught in our tradition is described in the Eighteenth Vow as “with sincere mind, entrusting and aspiring to be born in my land” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:268a; Songo shinzo meimon, T.83:679a). Although we call this “threefold entrusting,” it is simply the one mind [of faith] in which a practitioner takes refuge, relying on Amida. That is to say, with the awakening of the one thought-moment in which a practitioner for whom past good has unfolded takes refuge in Amida, the Buddha embraces that practitioner (who has taken refuge through the one thought-moment) with his compassionate light. Indicating this moment, we speak of “threefold entrusting—with sincere mind, entrusting and aspiring to be born.” The passage on the fulfillment of the Vow further explains it as “immediately attaining birth [in the Pure Land] and dwelling in [a state of] non-retrogression” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:272b; Jodo monrui jusho, T.83:646b). Or again, we may say that [a person in] this state is a person of true and real faith, a practitioner with deep past causes, and one who has completed the cause [of birth] in ordinary life. Hence there is nothing, be it taking refuge in Amida or attaining faith, that is not related to good from the past.


We find, therefore, that if people who [seek] birth through the nenbutsu [do not realize faith] through the prompting of past causes, the birth to come in the fulfilled land is impossible. In the words of the Master, the point of this is: “If you should realize faith, rejoice in conditions from the distant past” (Jodo monrui jusho, T.83:645a). And so, the understanding in our tradition is that efforts to teach others will be useless if we fail to determine the presence or absence of good from the past. For this reason, one should instruct others after having considered their innate capacity [for birth] in light of the existence or nonexistence of good from the past.


Recently, the way of followers of the Buddha-Dharma in our tradition has been to talk indiscreetly about the teaching with no clear understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Hence we hear that the true meaning of Shin teaching has been utterly lost. It is with detailed knowledge of the above that one is to proclaim our tradition’s basic principles.


Respectfully. Bunmei 9 (1477), 1.8



2. On the Allotted Span of Life


If we calculate the length of human life, the allotted span at this time is fifty-six years. At present, however, it is indeed noteworthy for a person to have lived to be fifty-six. Given this, at sixty-three, I am already well into the years of decline. By my count, my life has already been extended by seven years. I feel uneasy on this point as to what sort of illness I may encounter in meeting the conditions leading to death, this being the working effect of karma from the past. This is something that certainly cannot be predicted.


In particular, as I observe the present state of affairs, [it is clear that] because this is a time of instability, human sorrow exceeds all imagination. If this is a world where we can surely die at once if we want to die, why have I lived on until now? Quite simply, the place where I am eager to be born is the Pure Land of utmost bliss, and what I aspire to and long to attain is the undefiled buddha body. But then, for a person who has, through the wisdom of the Buddha, realized the settled mind that is other-power [with the awakening] of the one thought-moment of taking refuge, what could be lacking that he would hasten the time of death established in a previous life (having reached the point of devoting himself until his life’s end to the saying of the Name in grateful return for the Buddha’s benevolence)? To the contrary, he might be foolishly deluded. Such is the reflection of this foolish old man. Others, too, should be of this mind.


The way of the world is, above all, that we continue on as if unaware of the uncertainty of life for young and old alike. Existence is as ephemeral as a flash of lightning or the morning dew, and the wind of impermanence may come even now. Yet we think only of prolonging this life for as long as possible, without ever aspiring to [birth in the Pure Land] in the afterlife. This is inexpressibly deplorable.


From today, we should quickly entrust ourselves to Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow of other-power. Steadfastly taking refuge in the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, we should aspire to birth in the true and real fulfilled land and repeat the nenbutsu, saying the Name of the Buddha.


Respectfully.


When [these thoughts] suddenly came to mind, I wrote them down quickly, finishing before seven in the morning, on the seventeenth day of the ninth month, Bunmei 9 (1477).


Shinsho-in [Rennyo]. Age 63.

Though written to be left behind, this is a letter that simply flowed from the brush—phrases here and there may indeed seem strange.


3. On the Present Plight of the World


The present plight of the world is such that no one knows when things will settle down. Consequently, as this is a time when it is difficult even to pass along the roads between the provinces, it is a period of utter confusion for the Buddha-Dharma and for mundane law. As a result, in some instances, no one even visits the temples and shrines of wondrous effects.


When we hear, in regard to this, that the human realm is [a place of] uncertainty for young and old alike, [we might feel that] we should quickly cultivate whatever meritorious good deeds may be possible and aspire to whatever enlightenment and nirvana may be attainable. Yet, at this time—though we call the present world “the last Dharma age of defilement and confusion”—Amida Tathagata’s other-power Primal Vow is mysteriously thriving all the more. Therefore, laypeople [must understand] that unless they rely on this vast, compassionate vow, realize the one thought-moment of faith, and attain birth in the Pure Land of suchness (eternity and bliss), it is indeed as if they went to a mountain of treasure and returned empty-handed. Quiet your minds and deeply reflect on this.


Thus it is that when we inquire in detail about the vows of all the buddhas, we hear that they were unable to save women burdened with the five obstacles and evildoers who had committed the five grave offenses. We are reminded in regard to this that it was Amida Tathagata who alone made an unsurpassed, incomparable Vow—the great Vow that he would save ordinary beings burdened with evils and offenses and women burdened with the five obstacles. How gracious [a vow]—and how inadequate words are to describe it!


Accordingly, long ago, when Sakyamuni expounded the Lotus [Sutra], the wondrous text of the One Vehicle, on Mount Grdhrakhta, Devadatta provoked Ajatasatru to acts of treachery; Sakya[muni] then led Vaidehi to aspire to the Land of Serene Sustenance. Because [Sakyamuni] withdrew from the assembly gathered at Mount Grdhrakhta where he was expounding the Lotus [Sutra], descended to the royal palace, and graciously set forth the Pure Land teaching for Vaidehi’s sake, Amida’s Primal Vow has flourished to this day. This is why we say that the teachings of the Lotus and the nenbutsu were given at the same time.


In other words, it is clear that Sakya[muni] used the five grave offenses in which Vaidehi, Devadatta, and Ajatasatru were involved as compassionate means to cause women and those who have committed the five grave offenses in the last [Dharma] age to aspire to birth in the Land of Serene Sustenance; [he assured us that] even such people would unfailingly attain birth in the Land of Serene Sustenance if they took refuge in the inconceivable Primal Vow. This you should know.


Respectfully. Written on the twenty-seventh day of the ninth month, Bunmei 9 (1477).



4. On a Hymn in Three Verses


As fall and spring slip away, the months and years go by; yesterday is spent, and today draws to a close. Little did I know that I would grow old before I was aware of it, with the unnoticed passage of the years. Yet, on occasion during that time, I must have known the beauty of flowers and birds, the wind, and the moon; I must also have met with the joy and sorrow of pleasure and pain. But now there is not even a single instance that I remember in particular. How sad it is to have grown gray with age, having done no more than pass nights and days to no purpose! But when I deeply reflect on the apparent soundness of my own existence, not yet having been called away by the relentless wind of impermanence, it seems like a dream, like an illusion. As for now, there is nothing left but to aspire to the one way of getting out of birth and death. And so, when I hear that it is Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow that readily saves sentient beings like ourselves in this evil future age, I feel truly confident and thankful.


When we simply take refuge in this Primal Vow with sincere mind, with the [awakening of the] one thought-moment in which there is no doubt, then, without any anxiety, birth [in the Pure Land] is assured if we die at that time. Or, if life is prolonged, then during that time, we should say the nenbutsu in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence and await our lives’ end. As I have indeed heard that this is precisely what is meant by “completing the cause [of birth] in ordinary life,” this teaching of decisively settled faith continues to sound in the depths of my ears even now. How grateful I am—and how inadequate it is to say only that!


And so, in overwhelming awe and thankfulness for Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow of other-power, I shall express what is written above as a hymn, [simply] giving way to what rises to my lips:


The mind that even once relies on Amida: that mind is in accord with the True Dharma.

When, deeply burdened with evil karma, we come to rely profoundly on the Tathagata,
by the power of the Dharma, we will go to the West.
When our minds are settled in the path of hearing the Dharma, let us simply say “Namu-amida-butsu.”

I write this in spite of myself, in response to the incomparable single teaching of the Primal Vow. The meaning of the three verses is as follows: The first tells what it is for faith to be decisively settled through the one thought-moment of taking refuge. The next verse gives the meaning of “unfailingly attaining nirvana,” the benefit of “entering the company of those [whose birth is] truly settled.” The intent of the next is to explain what it is to “know Amida’s benevolence and express gratitude,” once we have rejoiced in diamondlike faith.


I felt, then, that even such a quiet voicing as this, since it is based on the awakening of other-power faith, might at least serve as an act of devotion in grateful return for Amida Buddha’s benevolence. I also thought that those who hear, if they have [the necessary] past conditions, might come to the same mind. I am, however, already in my seventh decade and feel it ridiculous, particularly as one who is both foolish and untalented, to speak of the teaching in this inadequate and uninformed way; yet at the same time—simply filled with awe at the single path of the Primal Vow—I have written down these poor verses, letting them flow from the brush without further reflection. Let those who see them in days to come not speak badly of them. Indeed, they may serve as a condition leading to praise of the Buddha’s teaching and as a cause leading to the turning of the Dharma wheel. By all means, let there never be any disparagement of them.


Respectfully.


I have written this down in a short time by the fire, in the middle of the twelfth month, the ninth year of Bunmei.


The above letter was picked up in the road and brought back to this temple by [a priest of] the Bussh?ji who was out on an errand and walking from Hari-no-kihara to Kuken-zaike.


Bunmei 9 (1477), 12.2



5. From the Middle Period until the Present


Among those who have carried out the teaching of our tradition from the middle period [from the time of Kakunyo] until the present, some have done so without knowing at all whether [their listeners] have, or lack, good from the past. Simply put, you must be aware of this from now on. When you read the scriptures, for example, or when you speak [even] briefly about the teaching, you must [first] ascertain this, and then proclaim the Dharma as taught within our school; or, again, when people gather in large numbers to listen to the Buddha-Dharma and you feel that there may be some among those people who lack good from the past, you should not discuss the meaning of our school’s true and real Dharma. Recently, however, as I observe how people preach, [it is clear that some] lack this awareness and simply feel that, whichever type of person the listener may be, he will surely be grounded in our tradition’s faith (anjin) if they preach well. You should know that this is an error. Carry out the teaching of our tradition with full awareness of what is written above. From the middle period until now, there has been no one at all who has understood this and preached with excellence. You are to undertake preaching in the traditional way, fully recognizing these points. As the twenty-eighth of this month marks an annual ceremony, there are many who faithfully anticipate observing nenbutsu services to repay their indebtedness and express their gratitude for the benevolence of our founder, Master [Shinran]. This is because of their clearly knowing the truth of “drawing from the stream to discover the source” (Hoonko shiki, T.83:756a). It is entirely due to the pervasiveness of the Master’s teaching.


Meanwhile, in recent years, [some] have confused people to the extreme by spreading distorted teachings not discussed in our tradition. Others, reprimanded by local land stewards and domain holders, (who are themselves entrenched in wrong views,) have come to view our tradition’s true and real faith (anjin) as mistaken. Is this not a deplorable situation? It is lamentable; it is dreadful.


In sum, during the seven days and nights of the thanksgiving services this month, each person should deeply repent; and, leaving none of his own mistaken thoughts at the bottom of his mind, he should undergo a turning of that mind and confess before the revered image [of the founder] in this temple, telling of this every day and every night so that everyone will hear about it. This, in other words, is in accord with [a passage in Shandao’s] commentary:


With a turning of the mind, [even] slanderers of the Dharma and those who lack the seed of buddhahood (icchantika) will all be born [in the Pure Land] (Hojisan, T.47:426a; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:615c).


It also corresponds to the teaching of “realizing faith (shin) oneself and guiding others to faith (shin).” Then, on hearing about this turning of the mind and repentance, attentive people will indeed feel the rightness of it, and in some of them the ordinary “bad” mind may be similarly overturned and changed into the “good” mind. This will truly accomplish the fundamental purpose of the Master’s anniversary this month. In other words, this is the offering through which we repay our indebtedness and express our gratitude [for his benevolence].


Respectfully. Bunmei 14 (1482), 11.21



6. On Three Items


The thanksgiving services this month are held as an annual ceremony of long standing, marking the anniversary of the death of the founder, Master [Shinran]. Consequently, followers of our tradition in provinces far and near are filled with eagerness for the pilgrimage and wish to express the sincerity of their gratitude on this occasion. And so it is that, for seven days and nights every year, they concentrate on and devote themselves to nenbutsu services. This is precisely why practitioners of true and real faith are flourishing. Indeed, we might almost say that the period of firm practice of the nenbutsu has come.


Among those who make pilgrimages during the seven-day period as a result of this, there may indeed be some who come to worship before the revered image [of the founder] only in imitation of others. These people should promptly kneel before the revered image and, through a turning of the mind and repentance, enter into the true purport of the Primal Vow and attain true and real faith with the awakening of the one thought-moment [of entrusting].


We must realize that “namu-amida-butsu” is the essence of the settled mind for nenbutsu practitioners. This is because “namu” means “to take refuge.” We must know that, for ordinary beings like ourselves who lack good and do evil, “taking refuge” expresses the [entrusting] mind that relies on Amida Buddha. This entrusting mind is none other than the mind of Amida Buddha, who receives sentient beings into his great light of eighty-four thousand rays and grants to sentient beings the two aspects of the Buddha’s directing of virtue, outgoing [from birth and death] and returning [into birth and death]. Thus faith has no other meaning than this. Everything is encompassed within “namuamida-butsu.” Recently, some people have been thinking otherwise.


In regard to this, among the followers of our tradition in various provinces, there are many who confuse the meaning of the Dharma by propounding obscure teachings not prescribed in the scriptures designated by our founder. This is indeed ridiculous. In brief, people like these should certainly take part in this seven-day period of thanksgiving services, reverse their mistakes, and ground themselves in the right teaching.


Item: Those who are pillars of the Buddha-Dharma and hold the position of priest in accord with the tradition are said to have told others about false teachings that are unknown to us and of obscure origin and, recently, to have actively engaged in this far and wide in order to be considered learned. This is preposterous.


Item: It is a great mistake for people to announce that they are making a pilgrimage to the revered image [of the founder] at the Honganji, in Kyoto, and then to speak indiscriminately to others about matters concerning the Buddha-Dharma regardless of the sort of people who are around, especially on main roads and thoroughfares and at checking stations and ferry crossings.


Item: Should there be a situation in which someone asks what sort of Buddha-Dharma you rely on, do not answer outright that you are a nenbutsu person in our tradition. Simply reply that you are a person of no particular sect who just knows the nenbutsu to be something precious. This, in other words, is the bearing of a person who, as our tradition’s Master taught, will not be seen as a follower of the Buddha-Dharma.


You must recognize, therefore, that right understanding in our tradition is knowing these points thoroughly and giving no sign of them outwardly. Furthermore, none of the points established by the community during the thanksgiving services over the past two or three years are to be altered. If by chance there are points with which members of this community are at variance, those who differ can no longer be followers of the founding Master.


Respectfully. Bunmei 15 (1483), 11



7. On Six Items


As the thanksgiving services this month are an annual ceremony of long standing, there has been no lapse up to now in our seven-day observations of them. On this occasion, therefore, followers from various provinces come with an earnest resolve to repay their indebtedness and express their gratitude; they devote themselves to the fundamental practice of the nenbutsu, saying the Name of the Buddha. This is indeed the virtue of the single practice and the singlemindedness through which birth [in the Pure Land] is settled.


In regard to those on pilgrimage from the provinces, however, it seems that few dwell in the same faith (anjin). The reason for this is that their aspiration is not truly for the Buddha-Dharma—and if they are simply imitating others or following social convention, it is indeed a lamentable situation. For when those in whom the settled mind is yet to be realized (mianjin) do not even discuss their doubts, they betray the utmost lack of faith (fushin). And so, although they endure a journey of thousands of ri and undergo great hardship in coming to the capital, it is to no purpose at all. This is utterly deplorable. But if they are people lacking good from the past, perhaps we must say that it cannot be helped.


Item: Although it seems that the Buddha-Dharma has been flourishing in recent years, we hear that those who hold the position of priest are indeed the last ones to hold any discussion whatsoever of faith. This is a deeply lamentable situation.


Item: There are many humble followers who hear the truth of other power faith [without seeking instruction through the temples], and it is said that priests have been angry about this. This is preposterous.


Item: There is a point to be borne in mind by each of those who come on pilgrimage from the countryside: it is inexcusable for them to discuss the Buddha-Dharma with no hesitation about being among outsiders or being on main roads and byways, at checking stations and on ferry boats. This must definitely stop.


Item: If there is a situation in which someone asks a nenbutsu person in our tradition what sect [he belongs to], he should not answer outright that he is a nenbutsu person of this sect. He should simply reply that he is a nenbutsu person of no particular sect. This, in other words, is the conduct [of one] who, as our Master taught, will not be seen as a follower of the BuddhaDharma. Be thoroughly aware of this point and give no outward sign [of being a participant in our tradition]. This indeed is the right understanding in regard to the conduct of nenbutsu people in our tradition.


Item: Even if you feel that you understand the significance of the Buddha-Dharma—having listened through sliding doors or over a hedge— faith will be decisively settled [only] by your repeatedly and carefully asking others about its meaning. If you leave things to your own way of thinking, there will invariably be mistakes. It has been said recently that there are such instances these days.


Item: You should ask others, time after time, about what you have understood of faith until other-power faith (anjin) is decisively settled. If you listen but once, there will surely be mistakes.


The above six items should be carefully borne in mind. I have noticed recently that, although everyone listens to the Buddha-Dharma, there is no one who has undergone a true and real settling of faith by just hearing the teaching in a general way; consequently, [their realization of] the settled mind, too, is not as it should be.


Respectfully.


Bunmei 16 (1484), 11.21



8. On Eight Items


The thanksgiving services on the twenty-eighth of this month are a tradition handed down from the past. Accordingly, this is the occasion on which followers from provinces far and near come with an earnest resolve to repay their indebtedness and express their gratitude [for the benevolence of Master Shinran]. There has been no lapse these days or in the past in the continual repetition of the nenbutsu, the saying of the Buddha’s Name. This is the legacy of the founding Master’s transmission of the Dharma, the peerless teaching that extends to all under heaven and across the four seas.


On this occasion of seven days and nights, therefore, let those persons who oppose the Dharma in their lack of faith (fushin) attain the faith that leads to birth in the Pure Land. This in itself would serve as a repayment of indebtedness on the Master’s anniversary this month. It may be that those who fail to do so are lacking in resolve to repay their indebtedness and express their gratitude. For, among those who call themselves Shinshu nenbutsu people, there are some these days who have not truly—from the bottom of their hearts—undergone a decisive settling of our tradition’s faith (anjin); some give every indication of expressing gratitude for [the sake of] reputation, others perfunctorily. This is a situation that should never be. For it is a lamentable state of affairs that those who come to the capital, having endured a journey of thousands of ri and undergone great hardship, should then be uselessly concerned with reputation or blindly follow others. It must be emphasized that this is extremely shallow thinking. But for those lacking good from the past, it cannot be helped. If they make a full confession, however, and direct themselves toward the right-mindedness of the one mind [of faith], they may yet achieve the Master’s fundamental intent.


Item: Among those on pilgrimage from the various provinces, there are some who, regardless of where they are—even on main roads and thoroughfares, at checking stations and on ferry boats—talk to others openly about matters concerning the Buddha-Dharma. This should not be.


Item: In various places, there are many who praise rarely encountered teachings that we do not discuss at all in our tradition; similarly, they use strange phrases not found in our sect’s teachings. This is seriously mistaken thinking. From now on, it must definitely stop.


Item: During this seven-day period of thanksgiving services, those whose faith is not settled should, without exception, make up their minds to repent and confess without holding back anything in their hearts and then attain true and real faith.


Item: There are some people who have not yet undergone any decisive settling of faith (anjin) and should for this reason raise their doubts. However, they keep these things to themselves and do not talk openly about them. When we press and question them, they just try to evade the point, without saying frankly what is on their minds. This is inexcusable. They should speak unreservedly and thus ground themselves in true and real faith.


Item: In recent years, priests who are pillars of the Buddha-Dharma have been seriously lacking in faith while followers [of the tradition], companions, have, on the contrary, undergone a decisive settling of faith. When they then talk about the priests’ lack of faith, [the priests] become very angry. This is absurd. From now on, both priests and disciples must abide in the same faith.


Item: Recently, there have been rumors of extremely heavy drinking on the part of those in the position of priest. This is outrageous; such a thing should not be. We do not tell those who drink intoxicants that they must stop altogether. [But] when there is heavy drinking, there are sure to be times when there is nothing but drunken confusion in connection with the BuddhaDharma and with followers; thus it is improper. If those in the priest’s position stop on such occasions, they will indeed contribute to the prospering of the Buddha-Dharma. If they are unable to stop completely, one cup may be permissible. It may follow as a matter of course that they do not stop because their aspiration in regard to the Buddha-Dharma is weak. These are points that deserve deep reflection.


Item: If those in whom faith is decisively settled have frequent discussions of faith with each other when there are meetings for fellow practitioners, this will provide the basis on which the Shinshu will flourish.


Item: It must be understood that the decisive settling of faith in our tradition is expressed by the six characters “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu.” Shandao explained long ago in his commentary: “‘Namu’ means ‘to take refuge.’ It also signifies aspiring to be born and directing virtue. ‘Amida-butsu’ is the practice” (Kangyosho, T.37:250ab; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:594c).


When sentient beings take refuge in Amida [saying] “namu,” Amida Buddha, fully knowing those sentient beings, bestows on them the virtue of a myriad of good deeds and practices, countless as the grains of sand in the Ganges River. This is what is meant by “Amida-butsu is the practice.” Those who take refuge (“namu”) are therefore one with the saving Dharma of Amida Buddha; we speak of “the oneness in ‘namu-amida-butsu’ of the person [to be saved] and the Dharma [that saves],” indicating this point. We must bear in mind, therefore, that “namu-amida-butsu” expresses the full realization of perfect enlightenment [that was accomplished] when Amida Buddha vowed long ago when he was the bhik?u Dharm?kara that unless sentient beings attained buddhahood, he too would not attain perfect enlightenment. This, in other words, is evidence that our birth [in the Pure Land] is settled. Hence it should be concluded that our realization of other-power faith is expressed in just these six characters.


The significance of these eight items is as stated. Meanwhile, it has already been nine years since [we began] the construction of this temple. During the thanksgiving services each year, everyone feels that he has fully heard and understood [the teaching] and undergone a decisive settling of faith; but as the meaning of that faith differs even as of yesterday and today, it may amount to nothing at all. But if those lacking faith ( fushinjin) do not quickly attain true and real faith during the thanksgiving services this month— during this year’s thanksgiving services in particular—it seems things will be the same, even with the passage of many years.


This foolish old man has, however, already passed his seventh decade and finds it difficult to anticipate next year’s thanksgiving services. For this reason, if there are people who really and truly attain decisively settled faith (shin), I would consider [their realization] to be, first, an expression of gratitude to the Master this month, and, next, the fulfillment of a desire an old man has cherished over these seven or eight years.


Respectfully. Bunmei 17 (1485), 11.23



9. On an Epidemic


Recently, people have been dying in great numbers, reportedly from an epidemic. It is not that they die primarily because of the epidemic. It is [because of] determinate karma that has been settled from the first moment of our births. We should not be so deeply surprised by this. And yet when people die at this time, everyone thinks it strange. It is really quite reasonable.


Amida Tathagata has declared that he will unfailingly save those sentient beings who singleheartedly rely on him—ordinary beings in the last [Dharma] age and people like ourselves, burdened with evil karma, however deep the evil may be. At such a time as this, we should entrust ourselves to Amida Buddha all the more deeply and, realizing that we will be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss, relinquish every bit of doubt, steadfastly and singleheartedly acknowledging how gracious Amida is. Once we have understood this, our saying “Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu”—sleeping or waking—is an expression of gratitude conveying our joy and thankfulness [that Amida] really saves us in this way. This, in other words, is the nenbutsu of gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence.


Respectfully. Entoku 4 (1492), 6



10. On the Present Age


Let all women living in the present age deeply entrust themselves with singleness of mind to Amida Tathagata. Apart from that, they must realize, they will never be saved in [regard to] the afterlife, whatever teaching they may rely upon.


How, then, should they entrust themselves to Amida, and how should they aspire to the afterlife?


They should have no doubt at all that there will unfailingly be deliverance for those who, without any worry, simply rely singleheartedly on Amida and entrust themselves [to him] to save them, [bringing them to buddhahood] in the afterlife. Once [they have understood] this, they should just say the nenbutsu in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence, recognizing it as [an expression of] thankfulness [for the fact] that there will assuredly be deliverance.


Respectfully. Age 83. (seal)



11. On the Oneness of the Person [to Be Saved] and the Dharma [That Saves]


What is the meaning of “namu-amida-butsu”?  And further, how are we to entrust ourselves to Amida and attain birth in the fulfilled land?


What we must understand, first of all, is that we entrust ourselves to Amida by carefully discerning what the six characters “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu” are all about. “Namu-amida-butsu” is essentially nothing other than the [entrusting] mind of we sentient beings who rely on Amida to save us, [bringing us to buddhahood] in the afterlife. In other words, Amida Tathagata, fully knowing the sentient beings who entrust themselves, readily bestows virtue of unsurpassed, great benefit. This is what is meant by saying that he “directs virtue to sentient beings.” Therefore, because those who entrust themselves to Amida are inseparable from Amida Buddha’s saving Dharma, we speak of this as “the oneness in ‘namu-amida-butsu’ of the person [to be saved] and the Dharma [that saves]”; it has this meaning. We must bear in mind that this is other-power faith, through which our birth [in the Pure Land] is settled.



The writing of this [letter] was completed on the twenty-fifth day of the fifth month, Meio 6 (1497).


Age 83.



12. On Semimonthly  Meetings


For what purpose have there come to be meetings twice each month? They are [held] for the sake of realizing one’s own faith which leads to birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss and for nothing else. Although there have been “meetings” everywhere each month, from the past up until now, there has never been anything at all that might be called a discussion of faith. In recent years in particular, when there have been meetings (wherever they have been), everyone has dispersed after nothing more than sake, rice, and tea. This is indeed contrary to the fundamental intent of the Buddha-Dharma. Although each of those lacking faith (fushin) should by all means raise their doubts and discuss what it is to have faith or be without it, they take their leave without coming to any conclusions. This is not as it should be. You must carefully reflect on this matter. In brief, it is essential that each of those lacking faith (fushin) have discussions of faith with one another from now on.


The meaning of our tradition’s settled mind is that, regardless of the depth of our own evil hindrances, there is no doubt whatsoever that [Amida] will save all sentient beings who simply put a stop to their inclination toward the sundry practices, singleheartedly take refuge in Amida Tathagata, and deeply entrust themselves [to him] to save them in [regard to] the most important matter, [the birth] that is to come in the afterlife. Those who thoroughly understand in this way will indeed be born [in the Pure Land], one hundred out of one hundred. Once [they have understood] this, if they recognize the holding of meetings each month as a repayment of indebtedness and expression of gratitude, they may indeed be called practitioners endowed with true and real faith.


Respectfully. Written on the twenty-fifth day of the second month, Meio 7 (1498).


To the members of the congregations that meet twice each month.


Age 84.



13. Reflections in Early Summer


Fall and spring have slipped away, and it is already the middle of early summer in this seventh year of Meio; I have grown old—I am eighty-four. This particular year, however, I have been seriously beset by illness, and as a result my whole body has suffered—ears, eyes, hands, and feet. I realize, then, that this in itself is the outcome of past karma and also the harbinger of birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss. Master Honen said, pursuant to this, “Practitioners who aspire for the Pure Land are filled with joy when they become ill”; these are his very words. And yet, it never occurs to me to rejoice over illness. I am a shameful person. This is disgraceful; it is deplorable. Nevertheless, according to our sect’s teaching of “completing the cause [of birth in the Pure Land] in ordinary life, with the awakening of the one thought-moment [of entrusting],” I am now settled in the single path of faith (anjin). [My] saying of the Name in grateful return for the Buddha’s benevolence is therefore unceasing; walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, I am never forgetful.


What follows are the reflections of this foolish old man.


Generally speaking, in observing the attitude of followers of this sect in the various places where I have stayed, I have found no indication of faith being clearly and decisively settled. This is most lamentable. For if (in testimony to this old man having already lived some eighty years) there were a flourishing of practitioners for whom faith was decisively settled, this might be considered the mark of a long life. But I see no sign at all of [faith] being clearly settled.


What are the grounds [for this lament]? Considering that the human realm is a place of uncertainty for young and old alike, we will surely undergo some sort of illness and die. Everyone must understand that, given the circumstances in a world like this, it is essential that faith be settled decisively and promptly—indeed, as soon as possible—and that we be assured of the birth to come in the Land of Utmost Bliss. [It is also essential] that we live out our lives after that in conformity with the ordinary circumstances of human life. We must think seriously about this and, deep within, awaken the aspiration to entrust ourselves singlemindedly to Amida.


Respectfully.


Meio 7 (1498), the first day of the middle period of early summer. Written by an old priest, eighty-four years of age.


If ever we are able to hear

the Name of Amida,
let us all entrust ourselves,
“Namu-amida-butsu.”


14. On Our School’s Settled Mind


Our school’s settled mind is expressed by the six characters “na-mu-a-mida-butsu.” This you should know. Master Shandao explains these six characters, saying:


“Namu” means “to take refuge.” It also signifies aspiring to be born and directing virtue. “Amida-butsu” is the practice. Because of this, we unfailingly attain birth (Kangyosho, T.37:250ab; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:594c).


First, the two characters “na-mu” mean “to take refuge.” “To take refuge” expresses the [entrusting] mind of sentient beings who rely on Amida Buddha to save them, [bringing them to buddhahood] in the afterlife. Then, “Aspiring for birth and directing virtue” expresses the [Buddha’s] mind that embraces and saves sentient beings who entrust themselves. This is the precise meaning of the four characters “a-mi-da-butsu.”


What attitude should ignorant sentient beings like ourselves take, then, and how should we entrust ourselves to Amida?


When we abandon the sundry practices and steadfastly and singleheartedly rely on Amida to save us in [regard to] the afterlife, there is no doubt at all that we will be born without fail in the Land of Utmost Bliss. Thus the two characters “na-mu” signify the sentient being, the person who relies on Amida. Further, the four characters “a-mi-da-butsu” express the Dharma that saves sentient beings who entrust themselves. This, then, is precisely what we mean by “the oneness in ‘namu-amida-butsu’ of the person [to be saved] and the Dharma [that saves].” Through this teaching, we know that birth [in the Pure Land] for all of us sentient beings is realized in “namu-amida-butsu.”


Respectfully. Meio 7 (1498), 4



15. On Building [the Priest’s Quarters] at Osaka


After seeing Osaka (in Ikutama estate, Higashinari district, Settsu province) for the first time, I had a simple temple built promptly in the traditional way, surely through some sort of link to the place from the past. [Building] began in the latter part of autumn in the fifth year of Meio; as of this year, three years have already sped by. I feel this to be none other than the result of inconceivable conditions from the distant past.


My fundamental reason for being in this place, then, has never been to live out my life in tranquility, to seek wealth and fame, or to enjoy the beauty to be found in flowers and birds, the wind, and the moon; my only longing is that practitioners of decisively settled faith may flourish and that fellow practitioners who say the nenbutsu may come forth for the sake of supreme enlightenment (bodhi). Moreover, if there are any in the world who harbor prejudice [against us] or if any difficult issues arise, I will give up my attachment to this place and immediately withdraw. Therefore, if [everyone]— regardless of whether they are of noble or humble birth, priest or lay—could be brought to a definite settling of faith that is firm and diamondlike, this would truly be in accord with the Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata and, in particular, in conformity with the fundamental intent of the Master [Shinran].


It is extraordinary that, as of this year, this foolish old man has already lived to the age of eighty-four. And as this [life] may indeed have been in accord with the meaning of the Dharma in our tradition, I could know no greater satisfaction. But I have been ill since the summer of this year, and at present there is no sign of recovery. I feel it certain at last that I will not fail to attain my long-cherished desire of birth [in the Pure Land] during the coming winter. All I long for, morning and evening, is that there will be a decisive settling of faith for everyone while I am still alive. Although this does indeed depend on good from the past, there is never a moment when it is not on my mind. Moreover, it might even be considered the consequence of my having spent three years in this place. By all means, then, let there be a decisive settling of faith during this seven-day period of thanksgiving services so that everyone may realize the fundamental intent [of the Dharma], birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss.


Respectfully.


This letter is to be read, beginning on the twenty-first day of the eleventh month of Meio 7 (1498), so that everyone may receive faith (shin).


Shonyo, disciple of Sakyamuni


(written seal)




Fascicle Five



1. On Laymen and Laywomen Lacking Wisdom in the Last [Dharma] Age


Laymen and laywomen lacking wisdom in the last [Dharma] age [should realize that] sentient beings who rely deeply and with singleness of mind on Amida Buddha and entrust themselves singleheartedly and steadfastly (without ever turning their minds in any other direction) to the Buddha to save them are unfailingly saved by Amida Tathagata, even if their evil karma is deep and heavy. This is the essence of the Eighteenth Vow of birth [in the Pure Land] through the nenbutsu.


Once [faith] has been decisively settled in this way, they should—sleeping or waking—repeat the nenbutsu, saying the Name of the Buddha as long as they live.


Respectfully.



2. On the Eighty Thousand Teachings


It has been said that those who do not know [the importance of] the afterlife are foolish, even though they may understand eighty thousand sutras and teachings; those who know about the afterlife are wise, even though they may be unlettered men and women who have renounced the world while remaining in lay life. The import of our tradition is, therefore, that for those who do not realize the significance of the one thought-moment of faith— even though they may diligently read the various scriptures and be widely informed—all is in vain. This you should know.


Therefore, as the Master [Shinran] has said, no men or women will ever be saved without entrusting themselves to Amida’s Primal Vow. Hence there should be no doubt at all that those who abandon the sundry practices and, with [the awakening of] the one thought-moment, deeply entrust themselves to Amida Tathagata to save them in [regard to] the afterlife will all be born in Amida’s fulfilled land, whether ten people or one hundred—whatever sort of [men or] women they may be.


Respectfully.



3. On Women Who Have Renounced the World while Remaining in Lay Life and on Ordinary Women


Women who have renounced the world while remaining in lay life and ordinary women as well should realize and have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that there is deliverance for all those who simply rely deeply (singleheartedly and steadfastly) on Amida Buddha and entrust themselves to [the Buddha] to save them, [bringing them to buddhahood] in the afterlife. This is the Primal Vow of other-power, the Vow of Amida Tathagata. Once [they have realized] this, when they then feel thankfulness and joy at being saved in [regard to] the afterlife, they should simply repeat “Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu.”


Those of deep evil karma, both men and women, [should realize that] even if they entrust themselves to the compassionate vows of the various buddhas, it is extremely difficult for them [to be saved] by the power of those buddhas, since the present period is the evil world of the last [Dharma] age. Therefore, the one we revere as Amida Tathagata, surpassing all [other] buddhas, made the great Vow that he would save even evildoers who have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses; [fulfilling the Vow], he became Amida Buddha. Since it is Amida who vowed that he would not attain enlightenment if he failed to save sentient beings who deeply rely on this Buddha and singlemindedly entrust themselves [to him] to save them, there is no doubt at all that they will be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss.


Hence it is certain that those who, without doubting, deeply (singleheartedly and steadfastly) entrust themselves to Amida Tathagata to save them, leave their deep evil karma to the Buddha, and undergo a settling of the one thought-moment of faith will all be born in the Pure Land—ten out of ten, one hundred out of one hundred. Once [they have realized] this, then when a sense of awe wells up in their hearts, they should say the nenbutsu, “Namuamida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu,” whatever the hour, wherever they may be. This, in other words, is the nenbutsu of gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence.


Respectfully.



4. On Men and Women


Those of deep evil karma, both men and women, [should realize that] even if they entrust themselves to the compassionate vows of the various buddhas, it is extremely difficult for them [to be saved] by the power of those buddhas, since the present period is the evil world of the last [Dharma] age. Therefore, the one we revere as Amida Tathagata, surpassing all [other] buddhas, made the great Vow that he would save even evildoers who have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses; [fulfilling the Vow], he became Amida Buddha. Since it is Amida who vowed that he would not attain enlightenment if he failed to save sentient beings who deeply rely on this Buddha and singlemindedly entrust themselves [to him] to save them, there is no doubt at all that they will be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss.


Hence it is certain that those who, without doubting, deeply (singleheartedly and steadfastly) entrust themselves to Amida Tathagata to save them, leave their deep evil karma to the Buddha, and undergo a settling of the one thought-moment of faith will all be born in the Pure Land—ten out of ten, one hundred out of one hundred. Once [they have realized] this, then when a sense of awe wells up in their hearts, they should say the nenbutsu, “Namuamida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu,” whatever the hour, wherever they may be. This, in other words, is the nenbutsu of gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence.


Respectfully.



5. On Realizing Faith


Realizing faith means understanding the Eighteenth Vow. Understanding this vow means understanding what “namu-amida-butsu” is. For within the one thought-moment of taking refuge—“namu”—there is aspiration for birth and directing of virtue. This, in other words, is the mind that Amida Tathagata directs to ordinary beings. In the Larger Sutra, this is explained as “enabling all sentient beings to fulfill their virtue” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:269c). Thus it is taught that the evil karma and blind passions accumulated from the beginningless past are extinguished (with no traces remaining) by the inconceivable working of the Vow, and that we dwell in the company of those [whose birth in the Pure Land is] truly settled, in the stage of non-retrogression. This, then, is what we mean by “attaining nirvana without severing blind passions” (Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:600a). This is a matter presented exclusively in our tradition; there should be no discussion of the above with those of other traditions. Bear this carefully in mind.


Respectfully.



6. On the Great Benefit Bestowed with [the Awakening of] the One Thought-moment [of Faith]


In the Hymns [on the Last Dharma Age], Master [Shinran] states that virtue of unsurpassed and great benefit is bestowed on practitioners who, with [the awakening of] the one thought-moment, entrust themselves to Amida (Shozomatsu wasan, T.83:665c):


When sentient beings of this evil world of the five defilements entrust themselves to the selected Primal Vow, indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable virtue fills the existence of these practitioners.


In this hymn, “sentient beings of this evil world of the five defilements” refers to all of us, [including] women and evildoers. Therefore although we are such wretched beings who commit evil throughout our lives, there is no doubt at all that those who rely singleheartedly and steadfastly on Amida Tathagata and entrust themselves to [the Buddha] to save them in [regard to] the afterlife will unfailingly be saved. Amida bestows “indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable great virtue” on those who entrust themselves in this way.


“Indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable virtue” means unlimited great virtue. Because this great virtue is directed to us sentient beings who singlemindedly entrust ourselves to Amida, karma-hindrances of the three periods, past, future, and present, are instantly extinguished, and we are established in the stage of those who are truly settled, or in the stage equal to perfect enlightenment. Again, this is expressed in the Hymns [on the Last Dharma Age] (Shozomatsu wasan, T.83:664bc, 665b):


Entrust yourselves to the Primal Vow of Amida.

All those who entrust themselves to the Primal Vow will, through the benefit of being embraced and never abandoned, reach [the stage] equal to perfect enlightenment.

“Being embraced and never abandoned” also means that sentient beings who singlemindedly entrust themselves to Amida are received within the [Buddha’s] light, and that, since the entrusting mind does not change, they will not be forsaken. Although there are various teachings besides this, there should never be any doubt that sentient beings who entrust themselves solely to Amida in the one thought-moment will, each and every one, be born in the fulfilled land.


Respectfully.



7. On the Five Obstacles and the Three Submissions


Because the bodily existence of women is defined by the five obstacles and the three submissions, they are burdened with deep evil karma exceeding that of men. For this reason, the buddhas of the ten directions can never, by their own power, bring any woman to buddhahood. Yet Amida Tathagata, having made the great Vow that he himself would save women, delivers them. Without entrusting herself to this buddha, a woman is unable to become a buddha.


What attitude should [a woman] have, then, and how should she entrust herself to Amida Buddha and become a buddha?


By just entrusting herself solely to Amida Buddha (with no doublemindedness, with steadfastness, and with the single thought that [Amida] saves her in [regard to] the afterlife) [a woman] will readily become a buddha. If this mind is free of the slightest doubt, she will unfailingly go to the Land of Utmost Bliss and become a splendid buddha.


Once [she understands] this, what she must then bear in mind is that, whenever she says the nenbutsu, she says [it] only to express her joy and thankfulness for the benevolence of Amida Tathagata who readily saves such a wretched being as herself. Let [this] be understood.


Respectfully.



8. On the Meditation for Five Kalpas


Both the Primal Vow following the meditation for five kalpas and the practice of numberless, uncountable kalpas are simply compassionate means to save all of us sentient beings without fail. To this end, Amida Tathagata underwent painstaking endeavors and made the Primal Vow, “namu-amidabutsu”; he became “namu-amida-butsu,” having vowed that he would not attain enlightenment if he failed to save sentient beings (erring beings) who, with [the awakening of] the one thought-moment, entrust themselves to Amida Buddha, abandon the sundry practices, and rely on Amida steadfastly and singleheartedly. We should know that this is precisely why it is that we are to be born readily in the Land of Utmost Bliss.


The meaning of the six characters “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu” is, therefore, that all sentient beings are to be born in the fulfilled land. For when we take refuge—“namu”—Amida Buddha immediately saves us. Hence the two characters “na-mu” express sentient beings’ turning to Amida Tathagata and entrusting themselves [to Amida] to save them, [bringing them to buddhahood] in the afterlife. We must realize that those who entrust themselves to Amida in this way are saved without exception; this itself is the essence of the four characters “a-mi-da-butsu.”


Therefore, those who abandon the sundry practices and wholeheartedly entrust themselves [to Amida] to save them in [regard to] the afterlife (even if they are women burdened with the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses, the five obstacles and the three submissions) will be saved without exception—each and every one, whether there are ten people or one hundred. Those who believe this without doubting will be born in Amida’s true and real Pure Land.


Respectfully.



9. On All the Holy Texts


The meaning of settled mind in our tradition is wholly expressed by six characters, “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu.” That is, when we take refuge—“namu”— Amida Buddha immediately saves us. Hence the two characters “na-mu” mean “taking refuge.” “Taking refuge” signifies the mind of sentient beings who abandon the sundry practices and steadfastly entrust themselves to Amida Buddha to save them, [bringing them to buddhahood] in the afterlife. [The four characters “a-mi-da-butsu”] express the mind of Amida Tathagata who, fully knowing sentient beings, saves them without exception.


Accordingly, since Amida Buddha saves sentient beings who entrust themselves—“namu”—we know that the import of the six characters “namu-a-mi-da-butsu” is precisely that all of us sentient beings are equally saved. Hence our realization of other-power faith is itself expressed by the six characters “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu.” We should recognize, therefore, that all the scriptures have the sole intent of bringing us to entrust ourselves to the six characters “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu.”


Respectfully.



10. On Faith as Fundamental


What is taught by the Master [Shinran] and by his school is that faith is fundamental. For when we cast away the sundry practices and singleheartedly take refuge in Amida, birth [in the Pure Land] is assured by the Buddha through the inconceivable working of the Vow. [Attaining] this state is also described as “entering, with the awakening of the one thought-moment [of entrusting], the company of those [whose birth in the Pure Land is] truly settled” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:272b; Jodo ronchu, T.40:826b; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:597b). The nenbutsu, saying the Name of the Buddha, should then be understood as the nenbutsu of gratitude in return for Amida’s benevolence, through which the Tathagata has established our birth.


Respectfully.



11. On the Anniversary [of Master Shinran’s Death]


Among those who make the pilgrimage, bring offerings, and come before the [image of] the Master [Shinran] to repay their indebtedness and express their gratitude during this anniversary, there will be those who have realized faith. There will also be those who are lacking in faith (fushinjin). This is an extremely serious matter. For unless there is a decisive settling of faith, the birth that is to come in the fulfilled land is uncertain. Therefore, those whose faith is lacking (fushin) should in all haste attain the decisive mind.


The human realm is a place of uncertainty. The Land of Utmost Bliss is one of eternity. Hence we should not make our abode in the uncertain human realm, but rather aspire to [birth in] the eternal Land of Utmost Bliss. In our tradition, therefore, the matter of faith is placed before all else; unless we are fully aware of the reason for this, everything is meaningless. We must promptly undergo a decisive settling of faith (anjin) and aspire to birth in the Pure Land.


What is widespread in the world and what everyone has in mind is that if they just say the Name with their lips, without any understanding, they will be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss. That is most uncertain. Receiving other-power faith is a matter of fully knowing the import of the six characters “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu” and thereby undergoing a settling of faith.


As for the substance of faith, [a passage] in the [Larger] Sutra states: “Hear the Name and realize faith and joy” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:272b; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:601a, 605a). Shandao has said:


“Namu” means “to take refuge.” It also signifies aspiring to be born and directing virtue. “Amida-butsu” is the practice (Kangyosho, T.37:250ab; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:594c).


The meaning of the two characters “na-mu” is that we abandon the sundry practices and, without doubting, entrust ourselves singleheartedly and steadfastly to Amida Buddha. The meaning of the four characters “a-mi-da-butsu” is that, without any effort on our part, [Amida] saves sentient beings who singleheartedly take refuge in him. This is the very essence of the four characters “a-mi-da-butsu.” To understand “namu-amida-butsu” in this way is, therefore, to receive faith. This, in other words, is [the understanding of] the nenbutsu practitioner who has fully realized other-power faith.


Respectfully.



12. On the Sleeve [of Amida]


Those who wish to know in full what settled mind means in our tradition need no wisdom or learning at all. For when we simply realize that we are wretched beings of deep evil karma and know that the only buddha who saves even such people as these is Amida Tathagata, and when, without any contriving but with the thought of holding fast to the sleeve of this Buddha Amida, we entrust ourselves [to him] to save us, [bringing us to buddhahood] in the afterlife, then Amida Tathagata deeply rejoices and, sending forth from himself eighty-four thousand great rays of light, receives us within that light. Hence this is explained in the [Contemplation] Sutra:


The light shines throughout the worlds of the ten directions, and sentient beings mindful of the Buddha are embraced, never to be abandoned (Amidakyo, T.12:343b].


This you should know.


There is, then, no anxiety over becoming a buddha. How incomparable is the all-surpassing Primal Vow! And how gracious is Amida Tathagata’s light! Without encountering the [receptive] condition of this light, there can be no cure at all for the fearful sickness of ignorance and karma-hindrance, which has been ours from the beginningless past.


Prompted by the condition of this light, and with the ripening of good from the past, we assuredly attain other-power faith now. It is immediately clear, however, that this is faith granted by Amida Tathagata. Hence we know now, beyond question, that this is not faith generated by the practitioner, but that it is Amida Tathagata’s great other-power faith. Accordingly, all those who have once attained other-power faith should reflect gratefully on Amida Tathagata’s benevolence and repeat the nenbutsu, saying the Name of the


Buddha always, in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence.


Respectfully.



13. On the Unsurpassed, Most Profound Virtues and Benefits


Since the phrase “namu-amida-butsu” consists of only six characters, we may not realize that it has such virtue; yet the magnitude of the unsurpassed, most profound virtues and benefits within this Name of six characters is absolutely beyond measure. We should know, therefore, that the realization of faith is contained in these six characters. There is absolutely no faith apart from this or outside of the six characters.


Shandao explains the six characters of this “na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu,”


saying:


“Namu” means “to take refuge.” It also signifies aspiring to be born and directing virtue. “Amida-butsu” is the practice. Because of this, we unfailingly attain birth (Kangyosho, T.37:250ab; Kyogyoshinsho, T.83:594c).


How should we understand this explanation?


[The answer is that] if, with [the awakening of] the one thought-moment [of entrusting], a person takes refuge in Amida Buddha—even if his is an existence like ours, burdened with evil karma and blind passions—[Amida], knowing that person, will save him without fail. In other words, “taking refuge” means that we entrust ourselves [to Amida] to save us. [Amida’s] bestowal of unsurpassed and great benefit on sentient beings who entrust themselves in the one thought-moment is called “aspiring to be born and directing virtue.” Because [Amida] bestows on us sentient beings great goodness and great virtue through [his] “aspiring to be born and directing virtue,” the evil karma and blind passions accumulated over myriads of kalpas from the beginningless past are instantly extinguished; hence our blind passions and evil karma all disappear, and we dwell even now in the company of those [whose birth in the Pure Land is] truly settled, in the stage of non-retrogression.


We understand more and more clearly, then, that the six characters “namu-a-mi-da-butsu” affirm that we are to be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss. Therefore, one who fully understands the meaning of the six characters of the Name—“settled mind (anjin),” or “faith (shinjin)”—is said to be a person who has realized great faith given by other-power. Since there is this incomparable teaching, let us deeply entrust ourselves.


Respectfully.



14. On [Women of] Noble and Humble Birth


We must realize that, unbeknownst to others, all women have deep evil karma; whether of noble or humble birth, they are wretched beings. How, then, should they entrust themselves to Amida?


[The answer is that] women who rely firmly and without any anxiety on Amida Tathagata and accept that [Amida] saves them in [regard to] the most important matter, the afterlife, will unfailingly be saved. If, leaving the depth of their evil to Amida, they simply rely singleheartedly on Amida Tathagata to save them in [regard to] the afterlife, there is no doubt that [Amida], fully knowing those beings, will save them. Whether there are ten people or one hundred, they need not have the slightest doubt whatsoever that all—each and every one—will be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss. Women who entrust themselves in this way will be born in the Pure Land. They should entrust themselves ever more deeply to Amida Tathagata, realizing how shameful it is that until now they have not trusted such an easy way.


Respectfully.



15. On the Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata


What sort of sentient beings does the Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata save? Also, how do we entrust ourselves to Amida, and through what attitude are we saved?


To begin with, in regard to the persons [to be saved], even if they are evildoers who have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses or women burdened with the five obstacles and the three submissions, they should not be concerned about the depth and weight of their evil karma. It is only by great faith alone, other-power, that we realize birth in the true and real Land of Utmost Bliss.


As for faith, then, what should our attitude be, and how should we entrust ourselves to Amida?


In realizing faith, we simply cast off the sundry practices and disciplines and the evil mind of self-power and, without any doubts, singleheartedly and deeply take refuge in Amida. This we call true and real faith. Amida Tathagata, fully knowing the sentient beings who singleheartedly and steadfastly entrust themselves in this way, graciously sends forth rays of light, receives these beings within the light, and enables them to be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss. We speak of this as “[Amida’s light] embracing sentient beings [who are practitioners] of the nenbutsu.”


Beyond this, even though we say the nenbutsu throughout our lives, we should understand that it is the nenbutsu of gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence. With this, one is to be declared a nenbutsu practitioner who has fully realized our tradition’s faith.


Respectfully.



16. On White Bones


When we deeply consider the transiency of this world, [we realize that] what is altogether fleeting is our own span of life: it is like an illusion from beginning to end. And so we have not yet heard of anyone living ten thousand years. A lifetime passes quickly. Can anyone now live to be a hundred? Will I die first, or will my neighbor? Will it be today or tomorrow? We do not know. Those we leave behind and those who go before us are more numerous than the dewdrops that rest briefly beneath the trees and on their leaftips. Hence we may have radiant faces in the morning but in the evening be no more than white bones.


With the coming of the wind of impermanence, both eyes are instantly closed, and when a single breath is forever stilled, the radiant face is drained of life and its vibrant glow is lost. Although family and relatives may gather and grieve broken-heartedly, this is to no avail. As there is nothing else to be done, [the once-familiar form] is taken to an outlying field, and when it has vanished with the midnight smoke, nothing is left but white bones. This is indeed indescribably sad.


And so, because the impermanence of this world creates a condition of uncertainty for young and old alike, we should all immediately take to heart the most important matter, the afterlife, and, deeply entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha, say the nenbutsu.


Respectfully.



17. On All Women


All women—if they are concerned about the afterlife and have a sense of reverence for the Buddha-Dharma—should simply entrust themselves deeply to Amida Tathagata, cast off the sundry practices, and rely singleheartedly and firmly [on Amida] to save them [bringing them to buddhahood] in the afterlife. They should have no doubt whatsoever that [such] women will be born without fail in the Land of Utmost Bliss. After they have understood this, then—sleeping or waking—they should just say “Namu-amida-butsu, Namuamida-butsu,” realizing deeply and wholeheartedly how gracious and wonderful it is that Amida Tathagata readily receives them within his saving work. We speak of these [women] as people of the nenbutsu who have received faith.


Respectfully.



18. On Master [Shinran] of Our Tradition


[In realizing] the settled mind expounded by Master [Shinran] of our tradition, we first, without any calculating, cast off our wretchedness and the depth of our evil and dismiss any inclination toward the sundry practices and disciplines; and then, with [the awakening of] the one thought-moment, we entrust ourselves singleheartedly and deeply to Amida Tathagata to save us, [bringing us to buddhahood] in the afterlife. All those who do this will be saved without exception, ten out of ten, or one hundred out of one hundred. There should not be the slightest doubt about this. Those who fully understand in this way are called “practitioners of faith.”


Once [we have realized] this, when we then think of the joy of being saved in the afterlife, we should—sleeping or waking—say “Namu-amidabutsu, Namu-amida-butsu.”


Respectfully.



19. On Evildoers of the Last [Dharma] Age


Let all evildoers and women of the last [Dharma] age deeply entrust themselves with singleness of mind to Amida Buddha. Apart from that, whatever Dharma they may rely upon, they will never be saved in [regard to] the afterlife.


How, then, should they entrust themselves to Amida Tathagata, and how should they aspire to the afterlife? They should have no doubt at all that there will unfailingly be deliverance for those who simply rely singleheartedly and firmly on Amida Tathagata and deeply entrust themselves [to Amida] to save them, [bringing them to buddhahood] in the afterlife.


Respectfully.



20. On Women Attaining Buddhahood


All women who firmly rely on Amida Tathagata and entrust themselves [to Amida] to save them in [regard to] the afterlife will unfailingly be delivered. For Amida Tathagata himself made the supreme great vow concerning women [who are] abandoned by all [other] buddhas, thinking, “If I do not save women, which of the other buddhas will save them?”


Resolving to go beyond all [other] buddhas and save women, he meditated for five kalpas; undergoing practices for numberless kalpas, he made the all-surpassing great Vow. Thus it is Amida who originated the incomparable vow, “women’s attainment of buddhahood.” For this reason, women who deeply rely on Amida and entrust themselves [to him] to save them in [regard to] the afterlife will all be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss.


Respectfully.



21. On Passages in the [Larger] Sutra and in [Tanluan’s] Commentary


[The meaning of] settled mind in our tradition [is that] we abandon the inclination toward the sundry practices and disciplines; whatever our evil karma may be (even though it is deep), we leave that to the Buddha and simply, with [the awakening of] the one thought-moment, entrust ourselves singleheartedly and deeply to Amida Tathagata. Sentient beings who rely on [Amida] to save them will all be delivered, ten out of ten or one hundred out of one hundred. There should not be the slightest doubt whatsoever about this. We speak of those who entrust themselves in this way as people in whom faith (anjin) is firmly and rightly settled.


Passages in the [Larger] Sutra and in [Tanluan’s] commentary express this clearly, stating that “with the awakening of the one thought-moment [of entrusting], we dwell in the company of those [whose birth in the Pure Land is] truly settled” (Daimuryojukyo, T.12:272b; Jodo ronchu, T.40:826b; Kyogyoshinshu, T.83:597b); this refers to “practitioners who have completed the cause [for birth in the Pure Land] in ordinary life.” We must, therefore, bear in mind that simply entrusting ourselves deeply to Amida Buddha with [the awakening of] the one thought-moment is of the utmost importance. Other than this, we should say the nenbutsu always—walking or resting, sitting or lying down— realizing the profound benevolence of Amida Tathagata who readily saves us.


Respectfully.



22. On the Import of Our Tradition’s Teaching


Those who seek to know thoroughly the meaning of our tradition’s teaching and be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss must first of all know about other-power faith.


What is the essential point of other-power faith? It is the provision by which wretched foolish beings like ourselves go readily to the Pure Land.


In what way does other-power faith find expression? We simply entrust ourselves exclusively to Amida Tathagata, singleheartedly and steadfastly; and with the awakening of the one thought-moment in which we realize that Amida saves us, Amida Tathagata unfailingly sends forth his embracing light and keeps us safe within this light as long as we are in this world (saha). It is precisely in this state that our birth is assured.


Thus “namu-amida-butsu” expresses the attaining of other-power faith. We must bear in mind that this faith is the source of “namu-amida-butsu.” Then, because we receive this one other-power faith, there is no doubt at all that we will be born readily in the Land of Utmost Bliss. How incomparable is Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow!


How are we to respond to this gracious benevolence of Amida?


Simply by saying “Namu-amida-butsu,” sleeping or waking, we respond to Amida Tathagata’s benevolence.


With what mind, then, do we say “Namu-amida-butsu”?


Think of it as the rejoicing mind that realizes how gracious and wonderful it is that Amida Tathagata saves us.


Respectfully.


Shonyo, disciple of Sakyamuni

(written seal)

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