Shoshinge, Part 1

In talking about Pure Land Buddhism, the Shoshinge is without a doubt one of the most important texts. It ranks up there with the Amida and Lotus Sutra, and was written by Shinran Shonin as the “Hymn of True Faith”. Everyday, in the true Pure Land household, family members chant the Shoshinge once in the morning, and once in the evening. However, in doing so, many people are unaware of what it actually means.

Therefore, in these series of articles, it is my intention to make the Shoshinge available to casual readers and explain its content in a very simplified manner. I would like to personally thank Hisao Inagaki for putting his commentary on the Shoshinge online for everyone to study, and without which I would have not been able to understand the whole of the Shoshinge. If you wish to read more in depth about the Shoshinge, I suggest that you visit his website here: http://www12.canvas.ne.jp/horai/nembutsu-faith-a.htm. This article uses Inagaki’s English translations, however, the original Japanese text is also provided.

The Shoshinge contains lots of technical terms, making it somewhat of a challenge to sum up in a short article, however I will try my best to do that for you.

1. Background Info

As mentioned earlier, the Shoshinge was written by Shinran Shonin as the Hymn of True Faith. In it, he urges (you) the reader to take refuge in Amida Buddha as he has, and therefore be granted salvation. It consists of 120 lines, of which approximately half is a sort of tribute and thanks to the 7 masters of Buddhism (Honen, Nagarjuna, Zendo, etc).

It was written in Japanese, however, it is the very old archaic style of Japanese where there was only Chinese characters.

2. Lines 1-2

1. 歸(きー) 命(みょう) 無(む) 量(りょう) 壽(じゅー) 如(にょー) 來(らいー)

I take refuge in the Tathagata of Infinite Life;

2. 南(なー) 无(むー) 不(ふー) 可(かー) 思(しー) 議(ぎー) 光(こう)

I take refuge in the Buddha of Inconceivable Light.

Explanation:

Shinran Shonin begins the Shoshinge by rejoicing (saying twice) that he has been saved by the Buddha of Infinite Life, and the Buddha of Inconceivable Light, Amida Buddha. Shinran takes refuge in Amida Buddha and entrusts himself entirely to him. In addition, he urges everyone else to do the same and take refuge in Amida Buddha, and attain birth in the pure land.

3. Lines 3-10

3. 法(ほう) 藏(ぞー) 菩(ぼー) 薩(さ) 因(いん) 位(にー) 時(じー)

Dharmakara, at the outset of his career as a Bodhisattva,

4. 在(ざい) 世(せー) 自(じー) 在(ざい) 王(おう) 佛(ぶーつ) 所(しょー)

Was in the presence of Lokeshvararaja, the Enlightened One.

5. 覩(とー) 見(けん) 諸(しょー) 佛(ぶつ) 淨(じょう) 土(どー) 因(いーん)

He saw the pure lands of many Buddhas, observed how they had been established,

6. 國(こく) 土(どー) 人(にん) 天(てん) 之(しー) 善(ぜん) 惡(まーく)

And examined everything, good and bad, about the humans and devas inhabiting them.

7. 建(こん) 立(りゅう) 無(むー) 上(じょう) 殊(しゅー) 勝(しょう) 願(がーん)

He then brought forth the unsurpassed and most excellent Vows,

8. 超(ちょう) 發(ほっ) 希(けー) 有(う) 大(だーい) 弘(ぐ) 誓(ぜーい)

The Great Vows, immeasurable in scope and depth, which the world had never known.

9. 五(ごー) 劫(こう) 思(し) 惟(ゆい) 之(しー) 攝(しょう) 受(じゅー)

Dharmakara chose and cherished his Vows after contemplation for five kalpas.

10. 重(じゅう) 誓(せい) 名(みょう) 聲(しょう) 聞(もん) 十(じーっ) 方(ぽーう)

He further vowed that his Name would be heard throughout the ten quarters.

Explanation:

These next 7 lines are talking about how Dharmakara came up with his 48 vows, and the story behind how that all transpired. For those who don’t know, Dharmakara was Amida Buddha, well, before he became a Buddha and when he was a Bodhisattva. This whole story is of course told in the Larger Sutra, but I will give a Cliff’s Notes version of it here:

Long ago, there was a Bodhisattva named Dharmakara, and when he was in the causal stage of his Bodhisattva Tenure (this is called being on the outset, close to achieving Buddhahood), appeared in front of Lokeshvaraja Buddha. They say that Dharmakara was once a standard Buddha a-la Sakyamuni Buddha who appeared on this Earth 2500 years ago, however there is no historical evidence to back up this claim; therefore, that is considered mythological. They also say that Dharmakara acted in the same way that Sakyamuni (Gautama Siddharta) did – renounced the throne and sought enlightenment. However, that too is also said in the Larger Sutra, but cannot be backed up by historical records because it would have had to have been over 10 Kalpas ago. We have enough of a tough time regulating the banks to keep accurate records today! Can you imagine any record keeping systems in place eons ago????

Anyway, Dharmakara appeared in front of Lokeshvaraja Buddha and, with aspirations of achieving Buddhahood, demanded the Buddha to show him by what practices the other Buddhas have established their pure lands so that he could create his own. Long story short, Lokeshvaraja revealed in detail by what practices the other pure lands were established, and told Dharmakara all which he wanted to know.

After seeing and studying the other pure lands of the other Buddhas, Dharmakara resolved his own vows, and then, after 5 kalpas of contemplation, chose the practices by which he would establish his own pure land.

So that is the brief story of how it went. Again, there is more in-depth information in the Larger Sutra, as well as Hisao Inagaki’s work, however, for the sake of brevity I am keeping it at a minimum.

One thing I also want to touch on is the reason why Dharmakara wanted to establish his own pure land and fulfill his vows and become a Buddha. The reason is because he saw that sentient beings (that is us!) were made of nothing but worldly passions and driven by them. During 5 kalpas he observed them, and came to this conclusion. Not only were sentient beings driven by meaningless worldly passions, but were caught in the endless cycle of birth and death.

In other words, it is like watching mice and cheese. You have the cheese hooked up to a small electric trap, set to fire if the mouse tries to take a bite. Despite many electrocutions, the mouse will come back again and again to try to get the cheese. Us humans, too, are driven in the same way as the mouse. Day after day we go to work, come home, eat and sleep. Our lives are nearly driven by money, let alone other passions. If not money, then something else. Either way we consume and consume, but in the end, at ones death, it is all meaningless. Think about the mice and the electrified cheese- if you saw such a thing, wouldn’t you feel sorry for it and want to save it from its torture? Such is the feeling of Dharmakara to sentient beings. He had great compassion and so, this was the reason he resolved to save beings from this endless, meaningless cycle.

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5 Responses

  1. […] Read more:  Shoshinge, Part 1 « Notes on Jodo Shinshu Pure Land Buddhism […]

  2. […] See the original post here: Shoshinge, Part 1 « Notes on Jodo Shinshu Pure Land Buddhism […]

  3. […] See the original post here:  Shoshinge, Part 1 « Notes on Jodo Shinshu Pure Land Buddhism […]

  4. […] Go here to read the rest:  Shoshinge, Part 1 « Notes on Jodo Shinshu Pure Land Buddhism […]

  5. […] Go here to read the rest: Shoshinge, Part 1 « Notes on Jodo Shinshu Pure Land Buddhism […]

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