Shoshinge, Part 13

The previous time, we talked quite a bit about T’an-luan, and there is actually more to him than what I mentioned, but the actual goal of these Shoshinge explanations is to get to the root points necessary to understand the lines of the Shoshinge. You know, they say that the essence of the Shoshinge lies in the first two lines, and a lot of Buddhism teachers do teach that way, however that is as vague as saying Apple sells computers. Yes, the Shoshinge’s main, main point is the first two lines, but those same two lines are also the whole point of Buddhism!! In order to deepen our understanding and bond to Amida Buddha, we must go more into depth and continue our studies.

Today’s focus will be lines 85-92, about Tao-ch’o, the second Chinese master of Buddhism.

85.    道(どう) 綽(しゃーく) 決(けーつ) 聖(しょう) 道(どう) 難(なん) 證(しょーう)
Master Tao-ch’o determined that by the Path of Sages Bodhi is difficult to attain
86.    唯(ゆい) 明(みょう) 淨(じょう) 土(どー) 可(かー) 通(つう) 入(にゅう)
And clearly presented the Pure Land Path as the only way of salvation.
87.    万(まん) 善(ぜん) 自(じー) 力(りき) 貶(へん) 勤(ごん) 修(しゅー)
He disparaged practicing thousands of acts of merits with self-power
88.    円(えん) 滿(まん) 徳(とく) 號(ごう) 勸(かん) 專(せん) 稱(しょう)
And urged us to recite exclusively the Name of perfect virtues.
89.    三(さん) 不(ぷ) 三(さん) 信(しん) 誨(け) 慇(おん) 懃(ごん)
He kindly cautioned against imperfect faith, which has three aspects.
90.    像(ぞう) 末(まつ) 法(ほう) 滅(めつ) 同(どう) 悲(ひ) 引(いん)
He compassionately guided those of the ages of Semblance Dharma, Decadent Dharma and Extinct Dharma alike.
91.    一(いっ) 生(しょう) 造(ぞう) 惡(あく) 値(ち) 弘(ぐ) 誓(ぜい)
Whatever evils we may commit throughout our lives, if we encounter the Universal Vow,
92.    至(し) 安(あん) 養(にょう) 界(かい) 証(しょう) 妙(みょう) 果(か)
We shall reach the Land of Peace and Provision and realize the Supreme Fruition.

Explanation:

Tao-Ch’o was born in what is now known as Shan-hsi province, China. He started studying religion and entered into priesthood when he was 14, however, it was later on that he was inspired by the writings of T’an-luan that he decided to convert to Pure Land Buddhism. He was particularly fascinated by his concept of self power Buddhism vs. other power Buddhism. He was also said to have practiced the Nembutsu (or, the recitation of Namu Amida Butsu) tens of thousands of times a day, and urged everyone he met to do the same, and even count the times they said it with beans!

In terms of the lines above, the first thing we notice is that he says that the “path of the sages” is difficult to attain compared to the “pure land path” to salvation. We have been discussing this path of the sages the past few times here, and generally what that means is to perform various religious practices in order to enter the pure land. However, in the end, we all find out that it is impossible to practice a single ounce of good, and it is at that moment that we reach a vertical line called the twofold revelation – there is no point for us beyond the path of hell, and yet, there is no other place for us but paradise, so says Shinran Shonin.

That being said, Tao-Ch’o “disparaged” practicing acts of merit with self power. Remember, self power is the power we give to ourselves, our own man-made effort. Through this power, it is impossible to reach enlightenment. You must be granted faith by Amida Buddha and be saved by his vow. It is for this reason that Tao-Ch’o urged us to “recite the name of perfect virtues” which is, Namu Amida Butsu. Not just recite it, but recite it with true intention, and having already attained true faith from Amida Buddha. So in other words, what he is saying is not to practice with self power or the intention of attaining other power faith. practice with true faith and gratitude towards Amida Buddha for having saved you from this realm of incessant suffering with nothing but painful birth and death cycles.

At this point, he cautions against “imperfect faith”, which is again, more of the same we have talked about in the previous paragraph. If we practice good deeds with ulterior motives or bad intentions, we are doomed to failure. We are nothing but beings filled with blind passions and false hopes. We have faith in things that eventually will collapse, and are blind to the power of Amida Buddha. No matter how many self power practices we do, there will always be doubt. This is what he means by imperfect faith, and the three types of imperfect faith are sincerity, single-mindedness and continuity. If you cannot get rid of attachment, you will never be able to break out of the cycle of birth and death.

However, even though we human beings are evil, Amida Buddha takes us aboard his ship. Why? Why would he do that? We do nothing but slander Buddhism, commit the 5 great evils and worship other beings, Gods, Devas and bodhisattvas. The reason is, because Amida Buddha has unlimited compassion, and extends his hand to us despite all our shortcomings. So even though we are evil, and commit the 5 great evils constantly, we should always recite the Nembutsu with singleness of mind and singleness of heart. To do so with diligence will “make all hindrances be removed naturally” so says Shinran Shonin.

So think of human beings as drowning every day in a great big ocean as vast as the universe. We temporarily cling on to different logs, moving from stages to waypoints in life, however nothing seems to satisfy us. Your new car, graduation from college, a first job, marriage, a new home – all these things are temporary existences that cannot serve you beyond your life. However, being saved by the vow of Amida Buddha will last for a lifetime, and you will be granted unlimited happiness upon attaining it.

So the last two lines mean that no matter what evils we may commit, encountering the vow of Amida Buddha will lead us to the pure land where we will attain perfect enlightenment of the highest nature.

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