Shoshinge, Part 16

109.    本(ほん) 師(し) 源(げん) 空(くう) 明(みょう) 佛(ぶっ) 教(きょう)
Honen, the master of our school, was well-versed in Buddhism;
110.    憐(れん) 愍(みん) 善(ぜん) 惡(まく) 凡(ぼん) 夫(ぶ) 人(にん)
He was compassionately mindful of both good and wicked ordinary people.
111.    眞(しん) 宗(しゅう) 教(きょう) 証(しょう) 興(こう) 片(へん) 州(しゅう)
Disseminating the teaching of the True Way throughout Japan,
112.    選(せん) 擇(じゃく) 本(ほん) 願(がん) 弘(ぐ) 惡(あく) 世(せ)
He spread the selected Primal Vow in this evil world.
113.    還(げん) 來(らい) 生(しょう) 死(じ) 輪(りん) 轉(てん) 家(げ)
Transmigration in the house of Samsara
114.    決(けっ) 以(ち) 疑(ぎ) 情(じょう) 爲(い) 所(しょ) 止(し)
Is definitely caused by the fault of doubt;
115.    速(そく) 入(にゅう) 寂(じゃく) 静(じょう) 無(む) 爲(い) 樂(らく)
Quick entry into the Capital of Uncreated Tranquility
116.    必(ひっ) 以(ち) 信(しん) 心(じん) 爲(い) 能(のう) 入(にゅう)
Is necessarily realized by Faith.

Explanation:

These few lines here, towards the end of the Shoshinge, talk about the seventh master of Buddhism, Honen Shonin. Honen was born in Okayama prefecture in Japan. When he was young, his father, an official for the province, was attacked by several men of an opposing faction. Although Honen witnessed this event, his father said to him not to take revenge or feel hatred towards the people who did this to him. If one were to seek out revenge, then that would result in a “snowball effect” of more anger being passed around. He thought it to be better to stop the cycle, and so Honen accepted the fact about his father’s demise and attributed it to his karma. He then went to Mt. Hiei to study Buddhism under Master Genko.

It was atop the mountain that he read and read the scriptures, from morning until night. Often he read the scriptures many many times. However, despite reading the scriptures, he still had not solved the problem he was looking to solve – the grave problem of the after death and resolving the issue of his dark mind. But it was in the third month of 1175 that the following dawned upon him when he read the Contemplation Sutra:

To recite Amida’s Name with singleness of mind continually and without interruption, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying, irrespective of the length of practice — this is called the Act of Right Assurance, because it accords with Amida’s Vow.

It was at this point that Honen had finally resolved the grave problem of the afterlife, gave up all (self-power) related practices about Buddhism, and devoted his life to the Nembutsu (or, Namu Amida Butsu) teaching. Now the difference between Honen and the other masters of Buddhism is that Honen relied strictly on the Nembutsu as a means to achieving birth in the pure land. The reason for this is because he believed that the Nembutsu was the only act in accordance with the vow of Amida Buddha and was the only act that would lead one to the pure land. That being said, Honen abandoned other practices such as meditation and reading sutras and taught that the best and only way to achieve salvation is through the Nembutsu. He himself also practiced the Nembutsu, reciting it for 7 continuous days as many masters had done in the past. During that time he was able to visualize Amida Buddha and the pure land successfully. This was something that very few people have done in the entire history of the world. In addition, people also say that because of this, Honen must have been a reincarnation of a Buddha past, or perhaps Shan-tao or another Buddhist master.

So the few lines above really mean that Honen, being well-versed in Buddhism, felt compassion towards everyone, good and bad. He knew that doubt was the real true cause of transmigrating from life to life from the beginning-less past, but despite this he still taught that the Nembutsu and the vow of Amida Buddha. ‘Quick entry’ into peace and tranquility is caused by faith and faith alone.

Doubt in what though? Doubt in the vow, doubt in Amida Buddha, doubt about the world around you. We all have doubts in this world. If we don’t know something, we are eager to blindly follow the next person who claims to know the way. We know nothing, chasing one temporary pleasure after another being led around like blind mice. The only one thing that is true in this world is the vow of Amida Buddha. If you have faith and oneness in this, then you will be on the path of no hindrance, and thus, receive other power faith from Amida Buddha. Your mind will be clear of all delusions and suffering. Finally, you will wake up from the nightmare you have been facing all along as you swam from shore to shore.

Why were you chasing after money, wealth and fame? Was it because you wanted to live a comfortable life? In that case, what is a comfortable life? 50? 100? 200 million? Can you imagine what your life would be like if you had such kind of money? I can tell you, life would be the same as before, and you would chase after more and more things. No matter what we have, or how much we have, we will always chase after more. That is the human condition. Failing to know the purpose of life is like investing time sitting around and doing nothing, waiting for death to come. Once you face death, all your money and status will fade away and nothing can or will protect you from that. Your once ‘certain’ life will become rather uncertain once more.

So be careful what seeds you plant in this lifetime. The best thing to do is take refuge in the vow of Amida Buddha. This is the only thing that can guarantee your salvation in the future.

So Honen continued to propagate the teachings of Buddhism throughout Japan (and as Shinran’s master) until his exile in 1206. At that time there was a lot of widespread mania going on about the Nembutsu teaching, and actually at that time it was not considered a real form of accepted practice. This was mostly due to jealousy/ money/ censorship on the part of the ‘powers that be’ at the time. There was also a ban on the teaching. Honen was pardoned eventually and returned back to Kyoto, however it was too late as he had become ill and died.

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