Shinran and His Work, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
Before proceeding with the treatment of my subject it will be well for me to put my readers in possession of this celebrated poem * or hymn, composed by the great Shinran himself, which is said to form a part of the daily devotions of every truly devout Shinshu household. I shall constantly have occasion to refer to it in the course of these pages, as it forms in itself a sort of summary of the whole historical position of the Shinshu. I am fortunately able to avail myself of the assistance afforded me by a translation from Mr. Tada's own pen. I have in several passages made use of words and phrases drawn from Christian theology to express what I have believed to be the real meaning of the poem. I have done so purposely, my object in doing so being to call attention to the parallelisms between the two systems. They are indeed well called parallel, for like parallel straight lines they "meet in Infinity." May we say that Infinity is God?
[Pages 36 through the top of page 46, which contain the Japanese text of the Shōshinge, are presented as thumbnailed images—JBH].
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1-2. I put my trust in the great Tathāgata of Infinite Life and Boundless Light!
3–10. Hōzō the Bodhisattva, * in the days of his humiliation, being in the presence of the Tathāgata Sejizaiō, † examining the degree of excellence of the Paradises of all the Buddhas, the causes of their formation, and the angels and men in them, made his great Vow and proclaimed his mighty Oath, which he meditated and selected for the space of five long Kalpas; and he repeated the Vow of announcing his Holy Name 'Amida' in all the Ten Quarters.
11–16. Universally doth he send forth his endless, boundless, all-pervading, unrivalled, supreme Light, his Light of Purity, of Joy, of Wisdom, His changeless, unconceivable, unexplainable Light, brighter than the brightness of Sun or Moon. His Light illuminates worlds more numerous than dust, and all sentient creatures enjoy it and are illuminated thereby.
17–20. His Holy Name * which was revealed by his Vow of Salvation, is the fundamental Power that justly determines us to enter into his Pure Land. His Vow to make us put our sincere trust in it is the effective cause which produces perfect Enlightenment. His Vow to lead us without fail into Nirvāna has been fulfilled; in consequence of it, we can acquire the same rank as the Bodhisattva † in this life, and Nirvāna in the next.
21–24. The reason why the Tathāgata S’akyamuni was revealed to the world was solely that he might proclaim the Boundless Ocean of Amida's Fundamental Vow. Men, numerous as the Ocean Waves, who are subject to the Five Obstacles ‡ and
entangled in Evil, should certainly listen to the Tathāgata's true words.
25–28. If once there be aroused in. us but one thought of joy and love (in consequence of the Vow), we turn just as we are * with our sins and lusts upon us, towards Nirvāna. Laymen and saints alike, † even those who have committed the five deadly sins, ‡ and slandered the Holy Laws of Buddha, will yet, by faith in the power of the Tathāgata, enter into the enjoyment and taste of his mercy, as surely as the water in the mountain stream ultimately reaches the Ocean and becomes salt.
29–35. The Light of the Divine Heart which has taken hold of us, illuminates and protects us
continually, and dispels the darkness of Ignorance. It is true that the dark mist of covetousness and passion constantly overhangs the sky that is above the believing heart. Yet, though the sky above may be constantly overcast, beneath the cloud * it is light, there is no darkness.
35–40. When we have made Faith our own, and have received a sight of the great mercy and a thought of pious joy, we pass away sideways † from the five evil spheres of life. ‡ If any layman, whether good or bad, hears and believes the all-embracing Vow of Amida-Buddha, him will the Tathāgata S’akyamuni praise for his wisdom, and will call him a lotus-flower among men.
41–48. For sentient creatures, who are heretical, evil, and proud, to believe and accept the practice of Amida's Fundamental Vow, is indeed a hard matter, there is nothing harder than this.
Abhidharma § Doctors of Western India, noble
priests of China and Japan, have declared to us that the true meaning of the Great Saint's (S’akyamuni's) appearance was to point to the true Vow of Amida, and the Vow is just the way for us.
50–54. S’akyamuni the Tathāgata, on the mountain peak in Lanka, * (in Ceylon), prophesied for the people assembled to hear him that there should appear in South India, a great teacher, Nāgārjuna by name, who should destroy the conflicting views of Entity and Non-Entity, † who should clearly teach the excellent law, of the Mahāyāna, who should reach the Class of Joy and be born in Paradise.
55–60. He (Nāgārjuna) * taught that the way of Salvation by one's own efforts is like a toilsome journey by land, that the Way of Faith in the Merits of Another is as an easy voyage in a fair ship over smooth waters, that if a man put his trust in the Fundamental Vow of Amida, he will enter at once, by Buddha's power, into the class of those destined to be born in the Pure Land. Only let him ever call upon the Name of the Tathāgata, and gratefully commemorate the great all-embracing Vow.
61–64. Vasubandhu, † also, the Bodhisattva, composed his praise of the Pure Land, put his whole trust and confidence in the Tathāgata of Boundless Light, established the truth by the Sutras, ‡ and made clear the way of 'cross-wise going-out' through the merits of the great Fundamental Vow.
65–72. (Vasubandhu taught), with a view to the Salvation of Men through the Faith in Another's merits which Amida bestows § upon us, the mystery
of the One Heart. If a man enter into this Faith, he will acquire the merit of the Great Ocean of Divine Treasures, and will certainly be admitted to the Great Company of the Saints, in the present life. In the future life, he will go to the Pure Land which shines with the Light of Wisdom like the lotus, and having acquired the Holy Existence with divine power he will return to the forest of human passions, and there, in the garden of life and death, (for the Salvation of his fellow creatures), will manifest himself in various transformations.
73–78. Take Donran * our teacher, whom the king (Wuti) of the Lian Dynasty reverenced as a Bodhisattva. From Bodhiruci, the Master of the Tripitaka, he received the teaching of the Pure Land, and burning the ascetic books (in which he had hitherto put his trust), put his faith in the Paradise of Bliss. He followed the teachings of Vasubandhu, (which he learned from Bodhiruci), and clearly taught that Amida's Great Vow was the effective cause of Birth in Paradise.
78–84. (Donran taught) that the Grace of new birth into Paradise, as well as that whereby we can return to Earth to aid our fellowing-beings, is a gift which we receive through the Buddha's power, and that the effective cause whereby we are justly determined to be born in the Pure Land, is only the believing heart. Wherefore, if we, blind and sinful persons, arouse this believing heart, we can perceive Nirvana in this life. Afterwards, without fail, we reach the Pure Land of Boundless Light, and teaching all sentient creatures that are involved in misery of Earth, lead them to salvation.
85–92. Dōshaku * taught that the innumerable practices for perfecting righteousness by one's own efforts are of no value, and the invocation of the Name which comprises all virtues, he praised as beneficial. He spoke much of the three marks of Non-Faith † and Faith, and showed that in all three Ages ‡
it is the principle of Mercy that alone rules and draws men. Though a man had done evil all his life, yet, .if he were once brought near to the Great Vow, he would reach the Land of Bliss and enjoy the fruits of Salvation.
93–94. Zendō * was the first that understood the true will of Buddha S’akyamuni in his age, † and that had pity, alike for those who practised meditation or moral good, as for those who lived in wickedness.
95–100. Zendō taught that the Effect of Salvation is given by the Holy Light ‡ and the Sacred Name of Amida, and expounded the Great Ocean of Wisdom contained in the Fundamental Vow. The believer, having rightly received the adamantine heart of firm faith, and having answered to the calling of the Tathāgata with a joyful heart, like Vaidehi § receives the threefold assurance ** and
immediately enters into the happiness of the Eternal Life. *
101–102. Genshin studied all the teachings of S’akyamuni, and earnestly aspired to go to the Buddha's Land. He exhorted all men to go there too.
103–108. Genshin † established a difference between a pure and an impure Faith, the one deep and the other shallow. Also, he taught that there are two forms of Paradise (Kwedo and Hōdo), as places of rest for those of deep and shallow faith respectively. O deadly sinner! Invoke but once Amida-Buddha! He is taking hold of us. Though our eyes of flesh can not clearly see him owing to our sins, yet is his mercy constantly present to illuminate our minds.
109—112. My teacher Genkū ‡ threw light on Buddhism, and had deep compassion for the laity, good or bad. It was he who originated the Shinshu teachings in this country, and propagated
in this wicked world the doctrine of Amida's Selected Vow. *
113–116. Genkū taught that the reason why men keep constantly returning to the Home of Error (bodily life), is entirely due to our being fast bound with doubt. In order that we may enter straight into the peaceful and eternal abode of Nirvāna, it is necessary for us to receive the believing heart.
117–120. Thus prophets and teachers, propagating the teachings of the Sutras, have saved countless men from countless evils. Monks and laymen in the present age! We must put our hearts together, and believe the words that these exalted monks have spoken.
35:* It may be well to state here that great doubts have been thrown upon the historicity of Shinran. It is maintained by some that no such person as Shinran ever existed, that, in other words, he was a mythical personage, invented by Genkū's not over scrupulous disciple, Zenshin, for purposes of his own, and that no documentary proof of Shinran's existence can be advanced dating less than a century from the date of his supposed death. On this point I have reserved my judgment, and have given Shinran the benefit of the doubt.
46:* Hōzō is in the Sanskrit Dharmakara. It is the name given to Amida during the period of his sojourn on earth as a man. It will be borne in mind of course that, according to the Shinshu teachings, he existed as Amitābha before his appearance on earth in the form of a man. The in-i no to ki, which Mr. Tada has translated "days of his humiliation," form an interlude between an eternal Past and an eternal Future, just as do the thirty three years of the earthly life of Jesus Christ.
46:† Sejizaiō. Sanskrit Lokes’vara Rāja, "King Lord of the World." In the Sukhavati Vyuha this is the name given to the Buddha before whom Hōzō appeared to make his vow. Cf. Heb x. 5-11, and Phil ii. 9. 10.
47:* His Holy Name, i.e. Amida Butsu.
47:† A Bodhisattva is the stage immediately below that of a Buddha. If we remember that a Buddha is a "perfect Being," we shall also see that there is an analogy between a Bodhisattva, and a "Son of God" such as Saint John speaks of.
47:‡ There are said to be 5 obstacles which call men away from the duties of religion, and so hinder their Salvation (go-joku): 1. War, sickness, calamity. 2. The hindrances which come from contact with immoral men and which infects our lives. 3. The hindrances of false doctrine, heresy, and schism. 4. The hindrances of our own lusts and passions. 5. The despondency which leads men to accidie or acedia, i.e. "getting slack," and sometimes even to suicide.
48:* Just as we are. Mr. Tada's words will at once suggest a well-known Christian hymn which has the same thought.
48:† Laymen and Saints alike. We shall see, in the course of these chapters, that there are certain historical connections between the Manichaeans and some of the Amidaist Fathers. It is possible that the distinction here made between laymen and Saints may be an echo of Manichaeism. We shall land it again in the case of later Patriarchs, and in the Appendix.
48:‡There are two enumerations of the deadly sins. In the Hīnayāna, they are 1. Parricide, 2. Matricide. 3. The murder of a religious man. 4. The introduction of strife into the Church. 5, With evil intent to wound a Buddha. The five deadly sins of the Mahāyāna are the following:—1. Sacrilegious defilement or destruction of temples, images, or holy vessels 2. To speak slightingly or contemptuously of the three Vehicles or forms of faith. 3. To treat religious persons with disrespect. 4. The deadly sins of the Hīnayāna, mentioned above. 5. Committing any of the ten forbidden things, taking life, theft, adultery, lying, unclean language, malicious talking, a double tongue, greediness, anger, folly. It is probably to the latter that Shinran is here referring. Cf. x. Tim i. 8–16.
49:* Beneath the cloud. It is possible that this word "cloud" may have some reference to the name given to Manichaean temples, Dar-un-Kōmyōji, "Temple of the Light Shining in the Great Cloud." See Appendix I and II
49:† Sideways i.e. by a short cut. Salvation by Faith. For the expression, "taken hold of us," a few lines above, Cf. Phil. iii. 12.
49:‡ The five spheres of existence into which Evil enters are: 1. Angels, (liable to fall). 2. Men. 3. Devils in Hell. 4. Hungry Demons. 5. Beasts and Brutes.
49:§ Abhidharma etc. In these lines, Shinran is referring especially to the seven Patriarchs of the Shinshu, whom we shall have occasion to mention again. The writers of the Abhidharma or metaphysical treatises of the Buddhist Canon must all be placed the end of the first century A.D., if not later. p. 50 The Apocryphal Gospel of St. Thomas tells us that the great Christian preacher met a martyr's death at Gandhāra, the very spot where the remains of Kanishka's temple with the relics of S’akyamuni have recently been discovered. And only a few years after this there arises in Buddhism a school of preachers who say that Salvation comes not by any works that man can do, but by Faith in One who has given himself to be our Saviour!
50:* Lanka is the old name of Ceylon. In the Sūtra known in Japan as the Ryoga Kyō, (Lankāvātara Sūtra) it is said by some that S’akyamuni (whether miraculously or not) visited Ceylon, and there prophesied that Nāgārjuna should appear some six centuries afterwards, and do all the things here mentioned. I cannot here enter into the question of the genuineness of this much disputed Buddhist prophecy.
50:† The question of Entity and Non-Entity which troubled Buddhism in the first century A.D. also under the name of the Gnostic heresy known as Docetism, was troubling the infant Christian Church. From recent discoveries it would seem the Entity teachers (Sarvāstivādins) were most powerful under Kanishka.
51:* Nāgārjuna's date may be placed somewhere about A.D. 120, during the reign of Kanishka, who flourished until about A.D. 150. The Council which Kanishka held is said to have devoted very especial attention to the Abhidharma, and was followed by a great out-burst of missionary activity which brought the Amida books to China in A.D. 147. V. A. Smith (Early Hist. of India p. 231) says that this was due to Kanishka's conquest of Khotan, which opened the way for his Buddhist subjects to penetrate into China.
51:† Vasubandhu's date is now generally placed about A.D. 450.
51:‡ One Shinshu priest has explained this to me in the Singular, as referring only to the Daikyō, or Amitāyurdhyāni Sutra.
51:§ bestows. Cf. Eph. ii. 8.
52:* Donran is esteemed as the first of the Chinese Patriarchs. His date is given as A.D. 500–560, and his activities fell under the rule of the Lian Dynasty, A.D. 502–557. Donran apparently began life as a Taoist philosopher, who being very anxious to complete some philosophical investigations, and fearing lest he should die before they were completed, sought for some potent elixir of Life. Bodhiruci, an Indian missionary, working at Loyang from A.D. 503 to 558, pointed him to the Amida Scriptures. But it is evident that Bodhiruci, like his Master, Vasubandhu, mainly thought of the hope set before the believer of "returning to the forest of human passions," and it was this that attracted Donran, as giving him the hope of completing his investigations. Re-birth in Paradise was to him a thing to be desired mainly on that account.
53:* Dōshaku's birth is given as A.D. 554, or thereabouts. He is reckoned as the Second Chinese Patriarch, and lived long enough to see and advise his successor, Zendō. See Appendix I.
53:† Non-Faith and Faith. A faith which is not a true one, says Mr. Tada in his commentary, may be known by the following characteristic marks. 1. It is not pure and simple. 2. Is not a faith "with the whole heart." 3. Is liable to changes. On the contrary, a true faith is. 1. Plain and simple. 2. Whole-hearted. 3. Lasting (sōzokushin).
53:‡ The three Ages are well known to Buddhist thought. (a) The period of Upright Law, to last for 500 years after the Nirvana. By that time the true understanding of S’akya's teaching would have died out. (b) A period of 1000 years, beginning 500 years after the Nirvana—the Image Law Period. Then (c) a second millennium (or according to the Shinshu, 10,000 years, of the Decay of the Law. In this period Shinran appeared, as did also Nichiren. Dōshaku's teaching was that, whatever p. 54 might be the period, the Mercy of the Buddha would still hold good, and the more so when the decay of Faith made Salvation by Works more and more difficult. It is instructive to note the parallel between Dōshaku's thought as here given, and St. Paul's arguments as to the relations between the Gospel and the Law as worked out in the Epistle to the Galatians.
54:* Zendō. circa A.D. 614. See Appendix I.
54:† in his age. i.e. in S’akyamuni's own age. This would mean that Zendō first understood that S’akyamuni's chief object in teaching, was to point men to Amida. Manes apparently did the same.
54:‡ Holy Light. i e. Kōmyō. See Appendix I and II.
54:§ Vaidehi, Queen of Bimbisāra, to whom S’akyamuni first gave the teachings about Amida, in the Amitāyurdhyāni-Sutra.
54:** threefold assurance. lit. san-nin, the three forms of perfect patience. But the word seems to correspond more or less with the threefold plerophoria or "full assurance," mentioned by St. Paul in Col. ii. 2; Heb. vi. 2; X. 22.
55:* Eternal Life. Compare a very similar thought in St. John V. 24
55:† Genshin, first Japanese Patriarch. A.D. 912–1017. Wrote much on the efficacy of prayer. The distinction which Genshin makes between the two forms of Paradise, and the two kinds of faith, savours somewhat of Manichaeism. Kwedo is a place where the soul is "purged" from the seeds of error, by the "fire" of the Holy Name. See Appendix I and II.
55:‡ Genkū's date is A.D. 1133–1212. Genkū's compassion for the laity was called out by the political and social miseries of his time, and by the neglect of their duty as religious teachers by the large and influential sects of the day. It is the contention of the Shinshu that all Shinran's reforms were really prompted by Genkū (Hōnen).
56:* Selected Vow: because Hōzo Biku made his Vow after a careful study and examination of all the different Paradises of the various Buddhas.