Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism


For me Shinran, there is nothing other than entrusting myself to my beloved teacher's words, 'Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida.'
(Tannisho, Chapter 2)

Good morning. It's a great pleasure to have been given this opportunity to address the Shin Buddhist Sangha in Australia on this great event of the 750th memorial service for Shinran Shonin. Shinran died on the 28th day of the eleventh month of the lunar calendar in the second year of the Kōchō era, which falls on 16 January 1263. In Japan, almost all temples have a memorial service for Shinran Shonin some time before that date. It is the most important occasion of the year in which they chant the sutra and listen to a Dharma talk. It is known as "Hō-on-kō," which means a gathering for acknowledging our indebtedness to Shinran Shonin for opening up the Buddha path that we ordinary ones can walk.

When Shinran died, his daughter Kakushinni was at his deathbed, and three days later she sent a letter to her mother Eshinni, who was in Echigo, about 600 km away from Kyoto, to inform her of Shinran's death. That letter is lost to us, but the reply written by Eshinni has been preserved in the library of Hongwanji. The letter begins with the sentence, "I read your letter of the first day of the 12th month a little after the 20th of the same month." The sentence that follows it is: "It is beyond doubt that your father has attained birth in the Pure Land. It is not even necessary to mention it again now." After that she tells her daughter about some important events in Shinran's earlier life, to clarify why she thinks his birth in the Pure Land is beyond doubt.

First, Eshinni talks about Shinran's descending from Mt. Hiei and confining himself in the Hexagonal Pavilion ("Rokkakudō") to pray for his afterlife. Near the dawn of the 95th day, Prince Shotoku as the incarnation of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara appeared and gave Shinran some instruction. We do not know exactly what kind of instruction it was, but immediately after that Shinran went to see Honen and commuted to his nembutsu hall for one hundred days, rain or shine. Then he decided that he would totally entrust himself to Honen's teaching of exclusive practice of nembutsu, and that he would go to any place where Honen was going, whatever others might say about Honen's teaching.

Then Eshinni talks about the dream she had when she and Shinran were staying at a place called Shimotsuma in Hitachi Province (northeast of present Tokyo). Perhaps Shinran was in his forties at that time. In the dream, she saw two drawings of Buddhas hanging from the gate in front of a shrine. One of them had a face which emitted light, and the other had a normal face. When she wondered who the Buddhas were, she heard a voice telling her that the one with a light-emitting face was Honen, who was the incarnation of Bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta, the element of Amida Buddha's wisdom.

The voice further said that the other Buddha was Shinran, the incarnation of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, the element of Amida's compassion. The next morning she told her husband only about the Buddha with a light-emitting face. Then Shinran said, "There are many kinds of dreams, but this one is telling you the truth. I have heard that Honen Shonin was the incarnation of Bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta." However, she did not tell Shinran about the other Buddha and all her life she kept it to herself, inwardly revering her husband as the incarnation of the Bodhisattva of compassion.

After these stories, Eshinni again tells her daughter Kakushinni, "That is why regardless of the way he died, there is no room for doubting that Shinran Shonin has attained birth in the Pure Land".

Judging from Eshinni's repeated assurance of Shinran's attainment of birth in the Pure Land, her daughter Kakushinni seems to have had a fraction of doubt about it. Those days, people believed that when a virtuous priest died, purple clouds hovered in the sky, heavenly music was heard, and fragrant smell of sandalwood filled the room. That was the way Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were supposed to die. However, probably none of those extraordinary things took place when Shinran died. He died a normal death, or an ordinary person's death. That is why Kakushinni was a little disturbed.

However, that is the most meaningful part of the story for us. If he had died as a Buddha would die, he would have been a very different person from us. He was born the son of a lesser aristocratic family, he entered the monastery on Mt. Hiei at 9 and engaged in studies and practices while observing the precepts for 20 years, but failed in achieving Buddhahood in this life.

After he met Honen, he was encouraged by his teacher's words that one should live so as to make it easier to say the nembutsu and decided to have a wife. While deepening his understanding of the teaching of nembutsu, he had a family and lived an ordinary man's life and then died an ordinary man's death. In this way he demonstrated with his entire life that the teaching of the nembutsu of the Primal Vow really works by living it himself.

Shinran has also proved that when a sincere nembutsu practicer dies, that is the moment of the perfection of his nembutsu life and of the attainment of birth in the Pure Land. That is the moment of triumph over birth-and-death and hence an occasion to be celebrated.

On this occasion of the 750th memorial service for Shinran Shonin, I have shared with you my thought about our indebtedness to Shinran.

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