Shoshinge, Part 12

Last time we talked about lines 61-72, which were about Vasubandhu, however, today we are going to move right along and talk about T’an-luan, who is the focus for lines 73-84.

73.    本(ほん) 師(しー) 曇(どん) 鸞(らん) 梁(りょう) 天(てん) 子(しー)
Master T’an- luan was venerated by the King of Liang;
74.    常(じょう) 向(こう) 鸞(らん) 處(し) 菩(ぼー) 薩(さつ) 禮(らーい)
Facing toward his place, the king worshiped him as a Bodhisattva.
75.    三(さん) 藏(ぞう) 流(るー) 支(しー) 授(じゅー) 淨(じょう) 教(きょーう)
When Bodhiruci, the Tripitaka master, gave him a Pure Land scripture,
76.    焚(ぼん) 燒(しょう) 仙(せん) 經(ぎょう) 歸(きー) 樂(らく) 邦(ほーう)
T’an-luan burned his Taoist texts and took refuge in the Land of Bliss.
77.    天(てん) 親(じん) 菩(ぼー) 薩(さー) 論(ろん) 註(ちゅう) 解(げー)
He wrote a commentary on the Bodhisattva Vasubandhu’s discourse, explaining in it:
78.    報(ほー) 土(どー) 因(いん) 果(がー) 顯(けん) 誓(せい) 願(がーん)
Both the cause and the effect of our birth in the Land of Recompense come from Amida’s Vows;
79.    往(おう) 還(げん) 廻(えー) 向(こう) 由(ゆー) 他(たー) 力(りーき)
The karmic energy for our birth and returning to this world originates from the Other- Power.
80.    正(しょう) 定(じょう) 之(しー) 因(いん) 唯(ゆい) 信(しん) 心(じーん)
The cause of attaining the Stage of Right Assurance is Faith alone.
81.    惑(わく) 染(ぜん) 凡(ぼん) 夫(ぶー) 信(しん) 心(じん) 發(ほー)
When Faith is awakened in the minds of deluded and defiled ordinary people,
82.    證(しょう) 知(ち) 生(しょう) 死(じ) 即(そく) 涅(ねー) 槃(はーん)
They are made aware that birth-and-death is Nirvana.
83.    必(ひーつ) 至(しー) 無(むー) 量(りょう) 光(こう) 明(みょう) 土(どー)
After they unfailingly reach the Land of Infinite Light,
84.    諸(しょ) 有(う) 衆(しゅー) 生(じょう) 皆(かい) 普(ふー) 化(けー)
They will save sentient beings everywhere, so says T’an-luan.

Explanation:

T’an-luan was the first ever Chinese master of Buddhism. Until that time, Buddhism had only been confined to India, however it began to move from India to China in the Han Dynasty period. It was during this time that the first ever translation of the Larger Sutra was done. Being that the work gained popularity in later periods, more works were translated from their original Sanskrit, such as the Lotus Sutra and Nagarjuna’s commentaries. There was no doubt though that the Mahayana tradition spread, and rapidly.

As the story goes, T’an-luan was born in north China, and so entered into priesthood at the age of 15. Failing in health, he turned to Taoism and went to see T’ao Hung-ching who gave him some Taoist scriptures. However, on the way back home, he met Bodhiruci who was a monk from India. Upon meeting him, Bodhiruci also gave him some texts on the pure land. Confused on which path to take – Taoism or Buddhism, T’an Luan put both texts on a fire, and resolved to take the path of the scrolls which did not burn through. Sure enough, the Buddhist scrolls survived the fire and so he took the path of Buddhism. This is what is being referred to in lines 73-76 above.

The next few lines talk about T’an-luan’s discourse, in which he takes Nagarjuna’s commentaries and simplifies them, breaks down complex concepts and makes them readily available to casual folk. First of all, in his commentary, T’an-luan talks about the difference between “Difficult Practice” and the “Easy Practice” we have been discussing these past few times. He also taught that acts of selfishness prevent one from doing good deeds, and that good deeds based on deluded views are not in accordance with the true practices. Of course, he also noted that relying on self power as a means to achieve enlightenment is futile. Everyone should take refuge in Amida’s vow and rely on other power faith solely. It should be also noted that T’an-luan was the first one ever to use the term “other power faith”.

Other teachings of T’an-luan are about the self and Amida’s salvation. He said that the self is non-existant, and to those who believe in there being an “I” or their “self” is nothing more than a mere delusion. In regards to Amida’s salvation, he also notes that we must embrace his salvation and not reject it. For Amida’s salvation is boundless, and reaches throughout the ten directions and there is no where his light does not shine in brilliance. Likewise, in the same manner, just because a man is blind and is not able to see the sun, does not mean it does not exist.

Karma is everything. T’an-luan clarified that everything on this Earth, and the reason why we are here today is due to our Karma. Karma is both the cause of our birth in the pure land, and karma is also the cause of us returning to this world again to expound the teachings of Buddhism to save other beings. When we receive other power faith, our karma is taken in by Amida Buddha, and from that point on we are filled with his unlimited, magnificent light. This is known as attaining the state of non-retrogression, or the definitely assured state. This is the state of enlightenment where one knows beyond a shadow of doubt that they will be born in the pure land after death.

So the rest of the lines mean that T’an-luan clarified the process of attaining faith through the vow of Amida Buddha, and that once one attains true faith, they are subsequently born in the pure land and attain Nirvana unfailingly in accordance with the vow. The last line means that once in the pure land, they will travel to other world systems to expound the teachings of the dharma and save other beings from the sufferings of the lower realms. This process is also seen in movies about the Larger Sutra, and the Amida Sutra if you take a look at animated movies explaining these two sutras. Thanks to T’an-luan’s commentaries, as well as Shinran’s, we are able to understand the true meaning of the sutras today.

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