The Osha Castle Tragedy:
Essence Of The General Preface to Venerable Master Shinran's Treatise Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Attainment (Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho)
Commentary by Eiken Kobai Sensei
The General Preface to the Venerable Master Shinran's Teaching, Practice, Faith and Attainment begins with:
Reflecting carefully, I realize that the difficult-to-consider Universal Vow is a great vessel that bears us across the difficult-to-cross ocean. The unhindered light is the sun of wisdom that vanquishes the darkness of our ignorance. Thus when conditions had matured for the teaching of birth in the Pure Land to be revealed, Jodatsu provoked Jase to commit great crimes. Using this opportunity, Shakyamuni Buddha lead Idaike to select the Land of Peace and Happiness by explaining the pure action by which birth (in the Pure Land) is established.
In other words, after careful reflection, the Venerable Master realized that Amida Buddha's Primal Vow, which is absolutely beyond the comprehension of the "ignorant filled with base passions" (bombu), is a great ship that allows us to sail across the ocean of delusion from which it is so difficult to be saved, that it is the light which rips asunder the darkness of doubt without being obstructed by anything.
And because that is what it is, when the Pure Land teaching matured to where it could be revealed in this world, Jodatsu (Daiba, Devadatta in Sanskrit) seduced Jase (Ajase, Ajatasatru in Sanskrit) into turning against his own father, King Binbashara (Bimbisara in Sanskrit), and finally killing him. This tragic incident resulted in Shakyamuni Buddha leading Idai (Queen Idaike, Queen Vaidehi in Sanskrit), who desired to live in a world without suffering, to select the Pure Land of Ultimate Joy.
That world is attained by reliance on the Nembutsu of Amida Buddha's Primal Vow. This is called "accommodative virtue" (gonke no nin), which refers to a Buddha or a Bodhisattva who has temporarily assumed a form to bring about the salvation of sentient beings. The Venerable Master Shinran considered Daiba, Ajase and Idaike in this story recounted in the Meditation Sutra, to be Bodhisattvas who assumed the forms they did in order to relieve the suffering of sentient beings in this world. What this story tells us is that the Buddha's Great Compassion is what truly saves those who are filled with evil, such as those who commit the "five perversities" (gogyaku).
As I have already stated, the above are the opening words of the Venerable Master Shinran's major work, Teaching, Practice, Faith and Attainment. Obviously, he wanted first of all, to praise the virtue of the Primal Vow by which he himself was saved, and therefore described the central character in the Meditation Sutra, Queen Idaike, with the words, "Shakyamuni Buddha lead Queen Idaike to select the Land of Peace and Happiness...."
Queen Idaike was the consort of King Binbashara of the great country of Magda in ancient India.
King Binbashara was a devout Buddhist and well-known in Buddhist history for having constructed the first gathering place for Buddhists, known as Chikurin Temple. According to what is narrated in the sutras, the king and his queen had a very difficult time conceiving a child. Because he was so anxious for an heir, King Binbashara consulted a soothsayer, who told him that an ascetic living deep in the mountains would die in three years and be reborn as the king's child.
King Binbashara was so anxious for an heir, however, that he could not wait three years. He therefore ordered certain of his followers to visit the ascetic and persuade him to end his life immediately. If the ascetic refused, King Binbashara ordered, they were to kill him. And because the ascetic did refuse to kill himself, the king's followers killed the ascetic.
Just before he was killed, the ascetic said that when he was reborn as the king's son, he would in turn kill the king. The king's followers reported this threat to the king.
As the soothsayer had prophesied, Queen Idaike found herself pregnant the night of the ascetic's death. King Binbashara was overjoyed. He called the soothsayer to ask whether the child would be male or a female. The soothsayer replied that it would be a male, and that this male successor would eventually injure the king.
At first King Binbashara did not feel threatened by the impending birth of his son. Finally, however, he became concerned enough that he ordered Queen Idaike to give birth from the top of a cliff, hoping the newly-born infant would be killed. Queen Idaike did so, but miraculously, the infant lived. All it received was a small cut in its baby finger.
The infant grew up to be Prince Ajase who rebelled against his father, imprisoned him in a jail with seven walls and finally killed him.
Daiba was Shakyamuni Buddha's cousin. He is said to have been Anan's (Shakyamuni Buddha's closest disciple) older brother. Although Daiba was also a disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha, he gradually developed the ambition to become the leader of the fledgling Buddhist organization.
To accomplish that end, he approached Prince Ajase, gained the prince's trust, and proposed that Ajase become the political leader of the land by replacing his father as king of Magda. He then tried to take control of Shakyamuni Buddha's organization.
After planning this intrigue, Daiba learned the details of Ajase's birth, which played right into his hands. "Your father planned to kill you!" Daiba told Ajase. "Because he (King Binbashara) does not love you, he will not allow you to succeed him. That's why you should do away with your father and assume the reigns of power yourself!"
Ajase did not trust Daiba at first, and actually became angry at Daiba's suggestion that he kill his own father. After being told that his injured little finger was proof that his father had tried to have him killed, however, Ajase began trusting Daiba. At first, Ajase tried to starve his father to death by placing him in a jail with seven walls.
The Venerable Master Shinran wrote about this in Hymns of the Pure Land (Jodo Wasan) in the following way:
Not waiting for the ascetic’s natural death,
King Bimbisara had him killed.
In retribution for this horrendous act,
He himself was placed in a prison of seven nested walls.
Last year I went on a Buddhist pilgrimage to India. With my own eyes I saw the remains of the seven-walled jail within which King Binbashara was imprisoned; the remains of wheel tracks of the chariot that the king rode; the remains of Osha Castle where King Binbashara, Queen Idaike and Prince Ajase lived; and finally the remains of King Binbashara's temple, said to be the first Buddhist structure ever built (Chikurin Temple. What remains today, however, was built much later.) The activities of Shakyamuni Buddha, King Binbashara, Queen Idaike, Prince Ajase and Daiba two-thousand-five-hundred years ago came vividly to mind.
Returning to my narrative, Queen Idaike learned that her son had imprisoned her husband in a seven-walled jail and was starving him. She therefore covered her body with a mixture of honey and wheat-flour paste, and filled her ornaments with wine. In this way, she was able to secretly feed her husband. After 'three periods of seven days' (21 days), when Ajase inquired of his guards about his father's condition, he learned how his mother was keeping his father alive.
"My mother has turned against me!" Ajase shouted. "She's a traitor!"
Ajase tried to kill his own mother, but was prevented from doing so by two of his senior counselors, Giba and Gakko (Jiva and Candraprabha in Sanskrit). Queen Idaike was placed in prison as a compromise.
The problem of a child using violence to solve a family quarrel is the same social problem that exists today, 2,500 years later. I believe that for a parent, nothing is more frightening than to have a child use violence. How much more difficult would it be for a mother who sacrificed herself to give birth to and raise a child, have that child turn against her?
Choked with tears, Queen Idaike faced Mt. Gishaku where Shakyamuni Buddha was then living, and asked him to console her.
Shakyamuni Buddha immediately appeared before Queen Idaike.
"O World-Honored One," Queen Idaike said, "what evil have I committed that I gave birth to such a child?
"Further, O World-Honored One, how could you be related to so evil a person as Daiba?" she asked.
While acknowledging the evil in her own child, Queen Idaike could not help but make allowances for that evil. "If only that even-more-evil Daiba had not been around...if that Daiba had not tempted my precious son, my precious Ajase would not have killed his father." Even as she sought his help, Queen Idaike could not help feeling resentment towards Shakyamuni Buddha because of a desire to protect her own child. Her resentment of Shakyamuni Buddha was all the greater because Daiba was Shakyamuni Buddha's cousin.
Queen Idaike thus reveals herself as a self-centered, deeply-evil individual who is 'ignorant and filled with base passions' (bombu).
But Queen Idaike then asks, "O World-Honored One, please teach me of a world in which there is no suffering or agony. That is where I would like to live. Please use your great powers to show me such a pure world!"
Shakyamuni Buddha revealed and explained the various Buddha-worlds in the ten directions. Queen Idaike selected Amida Buddha's Pure Land (the Pure Land of Serene Sustenance), and asked to be born there.
This is expressed in the General Preface to the Teaching, Practice, Faith and Attainment in the following way:
And using this opportunity (to reveal the Pure Land teaching), Shakyamuni Buddha lead Vaidehi to select the Land of Peace and Happiness.
And in Hymns of the Pure Land, the Venerable Master Shinran wrote:
From boundless compassion
Instructed Queen Idaike,
Leading her to select
Amida’s world of peace and happiness
From all the lands
Revealed in the pedestal of light.
The Venerable Master Shinran said that in order to lead Queen Idaike from her grief and sorrow as a result of the treachery of her own son - in response to her desire for a realm without suffering or anguish - Shakyamuni Buddha lead her to wish birth in Amida Buddha's Pure Land of Ultimate Joy.
The Venerable Master Shinran considered King Binbashara, Queen Idaike, Prince Ajase and Daiba to be bodhisattvas who took human form in order to "save" deluded beings. He considered this tragedy of Osha Castle a means to lead those who are aware of the "weight of their karmic evil" (zai-aku jinju) and their "ignorance and base passions" (bombu) to the realm of salvation through the Primal Vow. That is why the Venerable Master emphasized that, like Queen Idaike, those with true and real shinjin would receive great salvation.
In his Hymn of True Faith, the Venerable Master wrote:
When doers correctly receive the diamond-like mind,
In accord with the one-thought-moment of joy;
They acquire the “three-fold insight”
And reveal the eternal bliss of dharma-nature
Just as Queen Idaike did.
As expressed here, those with the settled 'diamond-like mind' (SHINJIN) and the resulting joyous mind and heart, acquire the same 'three-fold insight' (joy, awakening, confidence).
The Venerable Master Shinran considered acquiring the 'three-fold insight' to be the same as entering the 'group of those assured (of birth in the Pure Land)' and that doing so guarantees we will be born in the Pure Land where we will attain Enlightenment.
Essentially, what this part of the Hymn of True Faith states is that in this present life, those with 'settled SHINJIN' will dwell in the same 'group of those assured (of birth in the Pure Land)' that Shakyamuni Buddha taught Queen Idaike in the story of the Tragedy of Osha Castle.
Regarding this point, in the Chapter on Faith of the Teaching, Practice, Faith and Attainment, it states that since those with 'settled SHINJIN' are guaranteed to become a Buddha, they are the same as Miryoku Bosatsu. Following this passage, the Venerable Master continued:
Moreover, those who receive the diamond-like mind are the equals of Queen Idaike and realize the insights of joy, awakening, and confidence. This is because they have the true mind directed toward them '(in the aspect of) going (to the Pure Land),' which accords with (the working of) the 'marvelously mysterious' Primal Vow.
In other words, those who receive the SHINJIN of "Buddha-centered power" receive the same "three-fold insight" of "joy" (ki), "awakening" (go) and "confidence" (shin) that Queen Idaike did, and dwell in the "group of those assured (of birth in the Pure Land)." All this, the Venerable Master Shinran said, is solely due to the power of Amida Buddha's Primal Vow.
He expressed this in the General Preface to his Teaching, Practice, Faith and Attainment: "... Shakyamuni lead (Queen) Idaike to select the Land of Peace and Happiness" after being oppressed by her own son and being jailed, after barely escaping being killed herself. While lamenting her difficulties, Queen Idaike heard and seriously considered Shakyamuni Buddha's Dharma Talk. As a result, she entered the world of salvation through the Primal Vow, received the 'three-fold insight' and entered the 'group of those assured (of birth in the Pure Land)' in her present life. This is what the Venerable Master Shinran emphasized and urged us to also become.
Near the end of the General Preface are the words:
Ah, hard it is to encounter, even in many lifetimes, the decisive cause of birth (in the Pure Land), Amida's universal vow! How hard it is to realize, even in myriads of kalpas, pure SHINJIN that is true and real!
As expressed here, the true and real 'pure SHINJIN' (jo shin) is difficult to receive, but when it is received, we are able to appreciate the 'power of (Amida Buddha's) Primal Vow' (honganriki), and take the greatest of joy in it.
I believe this expresses very well the Venerable Master Shinran's mind and heart that urges us to receive SHINJIN.
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