Unlocking Tannisho, Part 2

As we start to dive into the Tannisho, we are going to be taking a look at the version which was translated by Dr. Taitetsu Unno, one of the world’s renowned scholars on Buddhism and professor at Smith College. He was nice enough to provide a full translation of the Tannisho online for the community, and so many thanks go to him for doing that so that we can all use and advance our Buddhist studies from it. This version is featured on the Living Dharma website here: http://www.livingdharma.org/Tannisho/TannishoContents.html

Lets dive right in and take a look at the first couple of sections:

THE TANNISHO: Prologue

In reflecting upon my foolish thoughts and thinking of the past and present, I deeply regret that there are views deviating from the true entrusting (shinjin) which was taught orally by our late master, and I fear that doubts and confusions may arise among the followers who come after us. Unless we rely upon a good teacher with whom our karmic destinies are fortunately bound, how can we possibly enter the gate of effortless practice? Do not violate the fundamentals of Other Power by imposing upon it your own interpretations.

Thus have I committed to writing some words of the late Shinran which still ring clearly in my ears. My sole purpose is to dispel the clouds of doubt in the minds of the practicers with the same aspiration.

Explanation:

The Tannisho was thought to be written by Yuien-Bo, one of Shinran’s disciples, and makes it glaringly clear that the reason he is writing this is because there were misconceptions and views that were conceived after the death of Shinran, and so in order to correct these views about Shinran and the Buddhism he taught, Yuien-Bo wrote the Tannisho. But what are these ‘views’, and do they matter to us here in the present? Well, that is what the second part of Tannisho discusses. Chapters 1 to 10 discuss what Shinran said that Yuien-Bo heard. This is why each section of the 10 first chapters ends with “so the master said”. Chapters 11 to 18 describe heresies which existed at that time, and corrections to allegations and views that existed that just weren’t true.

Additionally, Yuien also states that we should not ‘violate the fundamentals of Other Power by imposing upon it on your own interpretations’. But of course! The laws of the universe and thus, of other power faith and the vow of Amida Buddha are fixed. It is like the law of gravity – it is a universal law that binds everything, and there is no real way to defy it. Just because you interpreted a law differently, does not mean that it works in that way. Sure, the legal system is laden with those kinds of traps, but not the real world, and certainly not Buddhism. Whatever is there, exists, and there is a definitive way to how everything works. Yuien is saying not to violate the core fundamentals on which other power faith is based on, and how to attain it by applying it to your own personal viewpoints and beliefs. A blind man can not see the sun, yet it is there – so how can you prove to the blind man that it definitively exists? He just has to trust in it, and have faith that it does without any doubts. So is the same of Amida Buddha’s vow and other power faith.

I

When the thought of saying the nembutsu erupts from deep within, having entrusted ourselves to the inconceivable power of Amida’s vow which saves us, enabling us to be born in the Pure Land, we receive at that very moment the ultimate benefit of being grasped never to be abandoned.

Amida’s Primal Vow does not discriminate between the young and old, good and evil – true entrusting alone is essential. The reason is that the Vow is directed to the person burdened with the weight of karmic evil and burning with the flames of blind passion.

Thus, in entrusting ourselves to the Primal Vow, no other form of good is necessary, for there is no good that surpasses the nembutsu. And evil need not be feared, for there is no evil which can obstruct the working of Amida’s Primal Vow.

Explanation:

Section I is an extremely important section in Tannisho, probably one of the most important, if not the most important section in the entire work.

First of all, what is being talked about in the beginning is the time at which salvation occurs, and under what conditions. We, as humans and scholars have always wanted to know when salvation and other power faith occurs, why it occurs, and by what conditions. Here, in the first paragraph it is all stated.

It happens when “the thought of saying the Nembutsu erupts from deep within, having entrusted ourselves to the inconceivable power of Amida’s vow which saves us”. Well, what on Earth does that mean, sounds like a mouthful! First of all, lets take ‘the thought of saying the Nembutsu erupts from deep within’. If you recall, we talked a little bit about this in our Shoshinge discussion. we discussed that the difference between self power and other power is reciting the Nembutsu (or, Namu, Amida Butsu) for different reasons. In terms of self power, we recite the Nembutsu purely for our own good, and do so only to achieve salvation in Amida Buddha’s pure land, which in itself is a selfish act. However, in terms of other power, we recite the Nembutsu out of extreme gratitude towards Amida Buddha for having saved us from the endless wheel of suffering and for having let us board his ship bound towards the light.

So, this latter reason is the reason talked about in the Tannisho above. And, just to be clear, the Tannisho does not imply that any physical recitation of the Nembutsu is required, just the mind behind the recitation. This was actually the focal point of much debate about the Tannisho in the 80’s and the 90’s. Is physical recitation required? What if one is on his or her deathbed and does not actually have the ability to recite the Nembutsu, but has the mind capacity for it? The answer is very simple. In Buddhism, the mind is the most important thing behind anything we do and perform. We have discussed this countless times before, and the same logic applies here. It is the mind that controls the body, which controls the eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. The mind is superior above all. Thus, if you have the mind which is intent on saying the Nembutsu out of deep gratitude and compassion towards Amida Buddha; the mind which has diamond-like faith towards the vow, this is the number one thing that counts in terms of receiving other power faith and salvation from Amida Buddha.

Ok, so once you do have this ‘mind’ of unshakable faith towards the vow and Amida Buddha, then what? “we receive at that very moment the ultimate benefit of being grasped never to be abandoned.”

Grasped means literally, taken under the wing of Amida Buddha, and benefits – what sort of benefits are these? We are not talking about benefits like a fancy car, money, materials, or otherwise. What is talked about are the benefits that are received at the time of being saved by Amida Buddha in this lifetime. I will just list the benefits right here, and there are ten benefits that are granted upon receiving other power faith:

  1. The benefit of being protected and sustained by gods and bodhisattvas
  2. The benefit of being filled with supreme virtue
  3. The benefit of having evil transformed into goodness
  4. The benefit of being protected and cared for by all the Buddhas
  5. The benefit of being praised by all the Buddhas
  6. The benefit of being constantly protected by Amida Buddha
  7. The benefit of having our hearts filled with joy
  8. The benefit of knowing Amida’s benevolence
  9. The benefit of constantly conveying Amida Buddha’s mind
  10. The benefit of belonging to those who will attain Buddha’s enlightenment (entering the stage of the truly settled, or, the 51st stage of enlightenment).

So, in other words, achieving other power faith is a good thing, and you will receive the benefit of unlimited happiness in this lifetime. We talked about this ‘unlimited happiness which never fades away’ before when analyzing the Shoshinge, and this list comes from Shinran Shonin’s Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment – his master work containing all his teachings. You may read this volume in its entirety, in English, online, however I must warn you – its about 1000 pages long, but a good read nonetheless. Having achieved unlimited happiness also means not being a slave to attachments, money, greed, ego and the self –  as all unenlightened beings are.

That was the analysis and explanation of the first paragraph. Since this post is getting quite lengthy, I will break up this part into multiple posts.

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