During the Kan’ei era (1624ｰ44), there was a man named Kihee in Todani Village, Yamagata County, Aki Province (Hiroshima Prefecture). He was a cattle dealer. Having deep faith in the Primal Vow, he repeated the Nembutsu without interruption, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying. When a fellow-believer whom he knew very well stayed with him, Kihee would wake him up several times in the middle of the night. If the man half awoke and mumbled something in response, Kihee said, “Amida is not here.” So saying, he shook the man awake. If the Nembutsu finally came from his friend’s lips, Kihee was satisfied and joined him in repeating the Nembutsu, saying, “How happy! Amida is here.”
One day his wife was weaving hemp by the fireside, with her legs stretched out. Kihee picked up her leg with the tongs. The angry wife said, “Why are you picking up my leg with the tongs?” He playfully replied, “Since it was by the fireside, I thought it was firewood.” This made his wife even more furious, “How could you mistake my leg for firewood?”
Kihee said, “Careful behavior in ordinary times is essential. This fireside is used to cook the rice to be offered to Amida. If your deeds are not discreet in ordinary times, you may cook the sacred rice with your legs fully stretched and unashamed of your impoliteness. That’s why I purposely did that to you.” Hearing this, his wife was deeply impressed.
Later, Kihee had his head shaved and received the Buddhist name, Kyoon (‘Teaching Gratefulness’). All through his life, he carefully cherished the Dharma, and successfully attained birth in the Pure Land.
There was a popular belief in Aki and Iwami Provinces that an image of Kyoon of Todani was seen in the Honganji. This should be said of this person.
During the Kyoho era (1716-35), there was in Kamedani Village, Ochi District, Iwami Province (Shimane Prefecture), a Shin devotee called Kuhee, a peasant, of Takadori. At first this man was of violent nature, cruel and unyielding, but after conversion to Shin he was reputed to be kind and warm-hearted. Rennyo Shonin says, “When one attains True Faith, one ceases to utter harsh words to one’s fellow-believers and dwells in peace of mind.” [Goichidaiki-kikigaki 291] Kuhee kept those words close to his heart with gratitude.
Once during a period of drought in the summer, Kuhee went into the mountain to cut grass for his cattle. On his way he looked at his rice-field and found that someone had blocked the water-passage leading to it. Seeing that not a drop of water flowed into his rice-field, Kuhee stopped going to his work and, instead, turned round and went home. After lighting a candle at the family altar, he told his wife and children to worship Amida to thank him. Puzzled, they asked Kuhee why he had returned home without doing any work and for what they should thank Amida.
Kuhee told them what had happened and then explained, “This incident must have been due to my karma, in some former life, of suspending the water supply to another’s rice-field. If I had seen this in my earlier days, I would have become very angry and retaliated against the one who did this by blocking his water passage. Because of the kind and careful teaching of the Great Master that I have received, I instantly became aware of the former karma which had caused this. That is why we must express our deep appreciation to Amida.”
Hearing this, the peasants in Kuhee’s neighborhood were deeply ashamed of themselves. After that, Kuhee’s rice-field was always full of water.
One day, when Kuhee was talking to his fellow-believers, dogs began to fight each other. Seeing this, he said, “How happy I am!” Asked why, he said, “Dogs have no lord, so a strong dog bullies a weak one. As for us, we are protected by the lord, so we are not afraid of the strong. Also we are admonished if we are making unreasonable demands.” So saying, Kuhee shed tears of joy.
During the Kyoho era (1716-35), there was in the castle-town of Izushi, Tajima Province (northern part of Hyogo Prefecture), a follower of the Nichiren sect, named Rokuzaemon. When a boy was born to him, a nurse was employed. Being a devotee of Jodoshinshu with steadfast Faith, she continually repeated the Nembutsu. Since her master Rokuzaemon abhorred the Nembutsu, she was not able to say it as she wished. So when she went out of the house, she would joyfully repeat the Nembutsu as much as she liked to express her gratitude to Amida.
The baby in her bosom heard the Nembutsu and, when he began to speak, he said the Nembutsu day in and day out. At home the nurse restrained herself from saying it, but the baby naturally had no such discretion and, to the great dissatisfaction of his parents, repeated the Nembutsu.
On New Year’s Eve, when the boy was three years old, the nurse secretly said to him, “Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, a day of celebration. Be sure that you never say the Nembutsu.”
Next day, all family members, men and women, sat at the rice-cake dinner to celebrate the long life for everyone. The boy looked up at the nurse and asked her whether he should not say “it” as she had told him the day before.
His father, hearing this, asked her what it was that she had told his son. Perplexed, she remained silent. Turning to his son, he said, “What did she tell you?” “If I told you, you would scold her,” said the boy. His father promised, “I won’t scold her, so tell me everything.” Then the boy extemporaneously made a poem:
Celebrating our long life in this ephemeral world,
Today I restrain myself from saying Amida’s Name.
Wonderstruck, all present thought that a child of four could not make such a poem and so asked the nurse, “You must know what happened yesterday. Tell us everything.”
She replied, “The boy has developed the habit of saying the Nembutsu from me. I told him yesterday not to say it on New Year’s Day. That is all I said to him.”
The members of the family were all surprised to hear this. The boy’s father deeply repented of the fault of abhorring the Nembutsu as being the karma which would cause one to fall into hell, and then became a devout follower of Jodoshinshu.
During the Kyoho era (1716-35), there lived at the foot of Mt. Maya of Settsu Province a Shin follower with steadfast Faith named Jiroemon. He was extremely poor, making his living as a woodcutter. He would make a pilgrimage to Honzan once or twice a year, and in order to offer a small donation to Honzan, he must earn extra money by gathering brackens in the field and selling them at the market.
About the same time, there was in Nishijin, Kyoto, an exceptionally devout follower named Hishiya Ryogen, who never failed to pay a visit to Honzan everyday. One day he met Jiroemon in the main hall, and witnessed his sincere devotion to the Buddha. Since then they met every year and became good friends. So, whenever Jiroemon visited Kyoto, Ryogen would let him stay at his home and exchange the joy of the Dharma with him for a long time.
Once, a year had passed without Jiroemon’s visit to Honzan. Ryogen became worried, thinking that he might have already gone to the Pure Land or become ill. Since, for Ryogen, Jiroemon was the only friend who would remain close to him until after death, although there were many friends in this life, Ryogen pined to see him.
Accompanied by a man, Ryogen set out to Settsu. After a long journey they came to Jiroemon’s village. Asked where his house was, a villager replied, “There is certainly a man named Jiroemon, but he wouldn’t deserve a visit by such a wealthy man as you. He makes his living with great difficulty; taking poor meals and wearing threadbare clothes, he appears no better than a beggar. But if you insists on going to see him, that is his house.” So saying, the villager pointed at a hut by the road.
Ryogen found that the hut had bamboo pillars and the door was made of wormwoods; branches of a thorny shrub constituted walls; there was no floor, except loosely woven straw-mats, which were spread on the earth.
Jiroemon came out of the house to greet Ryogen and showed him in.”Are you not Ryogen-sama?” Jiroemon exclaimed, “How very nice to see you! I have been unwell these days, unable to make a pilgrimage to the Honzan as I used to. I am happy to see you well, enjoying the life of Nembutsu more than ever before.”
Apparently unconcerned about his shabby hut, Jiroemon talked all night with Ryogen and renewed their friendship of Dharma, while repeating the Nembutsu all the time. Ryogen’s attendant, on the other hand, was uninterested in their conversation and so spent an extremely boring night.
The following morning, they bade each other a long farewell, exchanging words of promise that if one of them died first, he would wait for the other in the Pure Land, eventually sharing the same lotus-seat with each other.
Before departure, Ryogen produced some money from the wallet and gave it to Jiroemon, saying, “You seem rather poor. You may not care about it so much because this is the world of temporary habitation. As a fellow traveler of the Way, I cannot bear to see your poverty. I give some stipend even to the unworthy servants; why should I not share the little money I have with a man of the same Faith? Buy a screen door to shut off the wind.”
Jiroemon replied, “This is the remark I did not expect to hear from you. Up to now, I have had a great joy of having you as a good friend of firm Faith. What you have just said makes me wonder about your understanding of the Dharma. The reason is that one’s life of poverty or wealth, suffering or pleasure, is dependent upon the karmic cause in one’s previous lives. You are rich because of your favorable karma in the past, while I am poor and destitute because of my karma in the past. Even sages cannot escape from the results of their past karma. Your offer of help runs counter to the law of causality, doesn’t it?”
Ryogen apologized, “I am sorry. It was my mistake to try to redeem my despicable mind this way. I beg you to remain my best friend of the Dharma as before, for this friendship would be the most valuable thing in this transient world.”
After all, they became friendly to each other again, and remained so for the rest of their lives in their joyful pursuit of the Dharma together.
During the Genbun era (1532-1555), there was in the station town of Banba, Omi Province, a pack-horse man, named Jiroemon. Being a gentle-natured man, he was able to break in even wild horses. Deeply entrusting himself to the Original Vow, he continually recited the Nembutsu whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying.
One day the feudal lord of Hagi in Nagato Province (present Yamaguchi Prefecture), was on his homeward journey from Edo (Tokyo), when the horse of one of his retainers fell ill, and so a tame one was chosen from among many station horses. Then Jiroemon was called to lead the horse. As the company went along, Jiroemon said the Nembutsu without interruption, much to the discomfort of the warrior.
“Stop that abominable Nembutsu!” said the warrior. Surprised, Jiroemon was silent for a while, but before they went a few hundred yards, he involuntarily mumbled the Nembutsu, and so he was scolded again. In this way, before they reached the next station, he received abusive forbidding words from the warrior as many as seven times.
After the warrior dismounted from the horse at Torimoto Station, he looked angrily at Jiroemon and ordered him to come to the courtyard because he had some business to do with him. People were astounded and wondered what improper behavior made the warrior mad at Jiroemon. Anticipating his execution on the spot, they told him to get away quickly as soon as he foresaw the imminent danger.
Sure enough, the warrior came out with a sword in his hand and said, “How I hate you! While leading my horse, you uttered the abominable Nembutsu as if you were transporting a dead man. I ordered you to stop it several times, but you ignored my order. How outrageous! Know that you deserve a single blow.” So saying, he drew nearer.
Jiroemon showed no sign of fear, and continued to say the Nembutsu. Becoming more and more furious, the warrior unsheathed the sword, walked round to the back of Jiroemon and held the sword above his head. Seeing that Jiroemon was unafraid, ready to receive execution by lowering his head while calmly reciting the Nembutsu, this malicious warrior was deeply impressed. A sudden change of mind occurred as his stock of merit from his past lives must have reached its full maturity.
The warrior threw down his sword and said, “I was before a follower of Jodoshinshu, but have become a hopelessly evil man who cannot bear to hear the Nembutsu. Even the Tathagata Amida could not save me, could he?”
As he tearfully said this, Jiroemon shed tears of joy and explained to him the deep intent of the Primal Vow which transcends relative thoughts of ordinary men. The warrior’s mind was instantly awakened to Amida’s inconceivable Vow. With joy and gratitude, he accompanied Jiroemon to Otsu station. Every night they enjoyed talking to each other about the wonderful Dharma.
Later, every time the warrior passed through Omi Province, he went to see Jiroemon to renew their friendship of Dharma.
During the Ken’en era (1748-51) there was in Takami Village, Obachi County, Iwami Province, a physician, Ishibashi Jukan by name, and in Yanase Village another physician called Nishigori Genshu. One day Genshu went to Takami and stayed with Jukan. As Genshu was a devout Shin follower, he wanted to worship Amida in Jukan’s family shrine but there was no Buddha room. Asked why, Jukan said scornfully, “Hell and the Land of Happiness are spoken of by priests who seek donations. How would learned practitioners concern themselves with such matters?”
Genshu was speechless. He retired to the bedroom and reflected, “There are indeed men of little association with Amida. As for me, how fortunate!” After repeating the Nembutsu quietly, he went to sleep.
Three years later, Genshu went to Takami to see a patient. Thinking that staying with Jukan would inconvenience him, Genshu called on him but just wanted to exchange greetings at the doorstep. Jukan joyfully came out to greet him and courteously led him in, straight to a big altar. As Jukan opened the folding doors, a magnificent scroll of honzon was enshrined inside.
Genshu was surprised and asked Jukan, “How in the world did this come about?” Jukan shed tears and said, “My beloved daughter died last year at the age of six. Before she died, she asked me where she would go after death. Overwhelmed by sadness but in order to give peace to her mind, I told her that when she died she would go to a wonderful world called Land of Happiness. She further asked me what she should do to be born there. Without knowing exactly what to say, I involuntarily assured her, ‘Put your palms together and say ‘Namu Amida Butsu’, then you can go there.’ ‘How happy and thankful!’ said she, and then single-heartedly repeated the Nembutsu until she died. This incident brought me to visit the temple to pray for my afterlife. While listening to the sermons more and more, I realized my misunderstanding of doing self-power practices. Having come to enjoy the same taste of Faith with you, I have requested Honganji to grant me a honzon. Please forgive my rudeness some years ago.”
So saying, Jukan tearfully expressed his deep repentance. After that, Genshu and Jukan were firmly tied in the lifelong friendship of Dharma.
A man named Seikuro lived in Hokotate Village, Yoshino County, Yamato Province. He was dull and stupid from birth. Someone kindly wrote his name on his straw hat in syllabary; even that Seikuro could not read. He was exceptionally dutiful to his parents, but being poverty-stricken, his family had to live at bare subsistence level.
Seikuro’s father died many years ago. In order to support his mother, Seikuro worked hard in his job near Shimoichi and gave her whatever small amount of money he could save. His mother, too, worked as a day-laborer picking tea-leaves and sorting cotton seed. When Seikuro finished his work for the day at his master’s shop, he returned to his master’s house as he heard the sound of the evening bell. While other employees were busy preparing dinner, Seikuro, with the master’s permission, would hasten back to his mother to do household chores like bailing water from the well and chopping firewood. Then he hastened back to the master’s house to eat his supper which had already become cold and tasteless.
From his early youth, Seikuro had a deep aspiration for Bodhi, and became a truly admirable Shin devotee. All through life, he incessantly recited the Nembutsu, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying. This is how Faith awoke in his mind. When he was earning his living as a woodcutter, a couple of nightingales always followed him all the way into the mountain and again to his village. This continued for about two years. While he was wondering why, once there was an exhibition of treasures at Honzenji Temple in the same province. Among them was the nightingale cage made of ivory, which had previously belonged to Rennyo Shonin. Hearing that Rennyo Shonin, while ill in bed, enjoyed listening to the chirping of nightingales because they cried “Ho hokekyo”, which sounded like “Ho o kike” (Listen to the Dharma). Seikuro suddenly noticed that those nightingales had been urging him to listen to the Dharma. Since then, the more he heard the Dharma, the deeper he realized Amida’s Compassion.
At the age of 33, Seikuro was bereft of his wife. He was thrown into deep sorrow, but came to realize with gratitude that those who died before him would guide him. His pursuit of the Dharma became even more persistent, just as a hungry man sought food or a thirsty man looked for water. Seikuro had a daughter, for whom he found a husband, named Hisaroku. He then retired to the next village, called Nibutani.
Seikuro’s hut with a thatched roof stands on the mountain-pass; two or three straw mats are spread on the floor, and there are no household goods except for an iron pot and a couple of teacups. I (Gosei) visited his house with a few Shinshu followers in the second month of this year (2nd year of Kan’en, i.e., 1749); we personally talked to him and saw his frugal living.
Probably because such an admirable devotee lives there, in Yoshino County there are many devout followers. From what they say about him, all that Seikuro says is perfectly in accord with the scriptures. I regretted that I had not had a chance to meet him until then. Having met him and other wonderful devotees, like Sozaemon of Kurumaki Village and Teiju of Imai Village, I was so impressed that I could not stop shedding tears of joy and gratitude. On returning home, I organized a tour group of 25 priests and laypeople, including my old mother, Myosei, and together visited Jokoji Temple in Saso Village on the 29th of the second month, where we listened to the enlightening sermons by Master Gyokutan and greatly enjoyed meeting with many devout people.
A great many people of the world go to Yoshino to see the cherry-blossom, but how happy we are to have been given a wonderful chance by Amida to see the flowers of Faith at their best in Yoshino. I have seen much about Seikuro’s life of Faith, which I will record for the sake of other Shin followers.
Once Seikuro took his old mother to Honganji Temple. She said she was too old to walk to Kyoto, but Seikuro insisted that she should come with him. He could have raised money to hire a palanquin, but he thought it would be unbecoming to do so. Therefore, carrying his mother on his back, he travelled to Kyoto which was about 80 kilometers away from his home.
Seikuro hung the pillow of his deceased mother from the ceiling of his room. When his friend asked him the reason, he said, “If I use it for myself, I may by chance kick it in the darkness. Just the thought of such a thing is awful. Also, if it is hung from the ceiling, I can easily remember her benevolence whenever I see it.”
Having heard many such stories about Seikuro, the lord of Takatori, Dewa-no-kami, commended him for his wonderful filial piety and intended to give him five bags of rice. Seikuro refused to receive them, saying, “It is just an ordinary custom to serve one’s parents. Since I earn my living by selling firewood, my daily provision is not lacking. So there is no reason why I should receive the lord’s gift.”
The lord was so impressed by Seikuro’s sincerity that he summoned him again and gave him ten thousand mon; additionally, the lord gave him permission to collect as much firewood as he liked in his territory.
This time, Seikuro joyfully accepted the money, but thinking that it was more than he deserved, he donated all the money to Honganji.
Seikuro usually worked in the field and, when there was no work, collected firewood and sold it in the market. When a customer asked him the price and demanded a discount, Seikuro gave him the discount without arguing. Thus his behavior was very much in the spirit of Confucius, who said, “The gentleman does not argue.” Later, no one demanded discount when he bought firewood from Seikuro.
Seikuro visited Honganji several times a year. Each time he brought firewood as the donation to the head temple. In preparing the firewood to be donated, he first washed it carefully and dried it. On the way to Kyoto, when he rested by the roadside, he never put it on a dirty place. The Honganji officials were deeply moved by his sincerity, so they used Seikuro’s firewood only for boiling the rice to be offered at the altar.
When Seikuro’s daughter became 17 or 18 years of age, he adopted a man from the next village named Kyuroku for her husband. Kyuroku was notorious for his bad behavior, such as gambling and quarreling. The villagers thought that Seikuro would not be happy with Kyuroku, and felt sorry for Seikuro. Within one month after the marriage, Kyuroku stopped all his evil deeds and became a dutiful son to Seikuro. Besides, he became a devout Shin follower and joyfully recited the Nembutsu all the time. People admired Seikuro’s virtue of Faith which had transformed Kyuroku.
Once Seikuro wanted to donate a rice field lot to the local temple and consulted with Kyuroku. “Please feel free to donate whatever you like,” said Kyuroku. “Even if you leave your descendants a big fortune, unless they have good karma that deserves it, it will become some other person’s possession. If you make a donation to the temple to repay your indebtedness to the Buddha, it will remain there for ten thousand generations and the merit of that will be ours.” So Seikuro joyfully made the donation.
An ancient sage said, “One may save money and leave it to one’s offspring; but they may not keep it. One may collect books and leave them to one’s descendants; but they may not read them. To accumulate virtue by stealth is truly for the benefit of one’s offspring.” Kyuroku’s remarks were in perfect agreement with the above saying.
One day Her Eminence the Lord’s Mother summoned Seikuro and asked, “When did you attain Faith?” He replied, “It was when I was forty-two or three that I realized the importance of aspiring for the Pure Land. In those days, I had doubt and uncertainty about the way of emancipation, but they cleared away without my knowledge. Now I joyfully anticipate the time of birth in the Pure Land and enjoy saying the Nembutsu of gratitude and appreciation. This is indeed due to the working of the Other Power.”
Hearing this, Her Eminence became more and more devoted to the Dharma. People applauded Seikuro for his deep devotion that impressed Her Eminence.
At one time, when the Chief Abbot paid a visit to Yamato Province, Seikuro went to meet him and offered him a donation. Out of the many Shin followers who were present, only Seikuro was summoned and received in audience. Overjoyed, he recalled how awestruck and thrilled he was to meet the Chief Abbot and receive his words. He added, “How much more wonderful it would be to be born in the Pure Land and receive words of Compassion directly from the Tathagata himself!”
Seeing that people of high positions visited Seikuro at his wretched hut, a lay-monk Koteraya felt sorry for him and began to collect money to build him a new house. As all his Dharma friends were only too happy to contribute money to this end, a considerable amount of funds were raised. When Koteraya told Seikuro about the offer of help, Seikuro courteously declined it. Dismayed, Koteraya insisted that Seikuro must receive the money, otherwise, they would think that Koteraya might have appropriated the funds.
“I do appreciate your kindness,” said Seikuro, “but it is not good to have a new house built for this old man. As I live in this wretched hut, I long for the Pure Land. The money you have collected is a gift from the Buddha. If you use it to purchase altar ornaments for Inkoji Temple where lodgings were offered for the pilgrims, I would be most grateful.”
Koteraya was satisfied, and did as Seikuro had told.
In the old days, the Sage of Mount Shosha, Kyoshin, said, “I use my bent arm for a pillow to sleep at night; I find delight in it. How should I seek pomp and glory to soar high up in the sky?”
There is also an old saying, “After fifty years of age, one should not build a new house for oneself.” All this indicates that Seikuro’s refusal to have a new house built for him was in accord with the teachings of the Buddha and Confucius.
Master Gyokutan of Jokoji Temple was formerly a resident priest of Myokakuji Temple at Myogahara in Etchu Province. When he visited there in the spring of the first year of Kan’en (1748), he took Seikuro along with him. In those days, there were many Shin followers in Etchu, but only one or two in a thousand were thoroughgoing devotees with deep awareness of their ignorance. So, Gyokutan thought, Seikuro would have a great influence on those followers even if he did not say much.
Thus Seikuro, an old man of nearly seventy, was asked to travel a hundred li with Gyokutan. While walking along the toilsome road, Seikuro did not say a word of complaint. When asked if he was tired, he said, “No.” Seeing that he looked very tired and weak, Gyokutan further asked him, “You say you are not tired, but you are walking with a limp, aren’t you?” Seikuro replied, “It is true that I am physically tired, but not spiritually. As you see, I am an old man; I must look pitiable. Though my body is seventy years old, my heart is always Eighteen. Since lively Nembutsu gives me pleasure all the time, I never get tired.”
When they came to cross a river, whose water was still cold, Gyokutan made a kind remark, “Although young, I don’t like to cross this river. The cold water must be too much to bear for an old man like you.” Seikuro replied, “I don’t think this is painful at all. If Amida vowed to save those who could cross such a river in winter ten times, I might fail to meet the condition for salvation, for after crossing it a couple of times, I would give up. Thinking of the deep benevolence of Amida who saves me without requiring such a hard practice, I would not mind crossing a few more rivers like this.”
When they arrived at Etchu, those who met with Seikuro were all impressed by his incomparable pure Faith and felt deeply ashamed of themselves.
On his return journey, Seikuro was once again accompanied by Gyokutan. When they visited Shinshuji Temple in Hida Province, Master Taigan of Jokoji Temple at Ozone in Settsu Province had just finished a series of sermons there. So Taigan joined Seikuro and Gyokutan for their homeward journey. Seeing that walking a long distance was too tiring for the old man, Taigan hired a horse for Seikuro to ride, but Seikuro stubbornly refused to ride. Pressed for the reason, Seikuro said, “Riding a horse is too much for me. I am not worthy of it.”
“If you think you do not deserve to ride a horse,” Taigan further asked, “how come you boarded the ship of the Primal Vow?”
Seikuro replied, “I did not ask Amida to take me on board, but Amida forced me to board the ship.”
“If so, I will force you to ride the horse.” So saying, Taigan made him ride the horse.
Saying Nembutsu, Seikuro on horseback expressed his gratitude, “How grateful! I am on board the ship of the Primal Vow, and on top of that, I am now on horseback.”
At the next station, Seikuro bought a bushel of rice-bran and asked the pack-horse man to give it to the horse. Patting it on the back, he parted from the horse.
When young, Seikuro worked as a stableman for three years, but never rode a horse. So this was the first experience. Seikuro was thus benevolent to animals.
In the summer of the following year, the 2nd of Kan’en (1749), I met Seikuro in Kyoto. I said to him, “When you went down to Etchu last year, you must have met with many grateful devotees wherever you went.”
“It was wonderful to see the Dharma thriving everywhere,” he said, “but before speaking about people in the Etchu Province, I must say that I was rejoicing and was grateful myself then.”
His remark deeply impressed me. We are used to take delight in others’ sincere devotion, and tend to be forgetful of the fact that we ought to be rejoiced ourselves. Seikuro never “counts his neighbors’ treasures”. He takes every opportunity to remind himself gratefully of the assurance of birth in the Pure Land.
In the beginning of the 7th month of the same year, while Seikuro was attending a memorial service at the house of his fellow-believer, Yuan, of Haradani Village, a burglar broke into his house and got away with seven silver coins which Seikuro had hidden under a straw mat. Hearing this, people said, “It is funny that a thief should have burgled Seikuro’s house.”
“The thief must be in need of money,” said Seikuro, “and so was disappointed at finding nothing very much to steal. I had earned fifteen silver coins by selling cole-seeds but spent eight on laundry since last spring. So I had seven left at home. I am glad he got away with them, although they were just a small amount of money.”
Puzzled, his friends asked him, “What makes you happy when your money was stolen?”
Seikuro replied, “Why should I not be happy? The reason is that I had money stolen, but I was born a bombu and so am liable to steal others’ belongings. However, thanks to Amida’s Compassion, I do not entertain any thought of stealing. I am grateful for this. Should I gain ill repute by stealing even five or ten pennies, this would be a disgrace not only to me but also to my fellow-seekers, and so I would be dissociated from them. I may be blamed for being careless to have money stolen, but I haven’t brought disgrace on my Dharma-friends. That’s why I am happy.”
On the 27th of the eleven month in a certain year, Seikuro sat up all night before the altar. A freezing wind was blowing and snow was dancing in the air. He then remembered that the Founder Shinran, when travelling, slept in the snow by the roadside, with a rock as a pillow, and that Dharmakara in his bodhisattvahood went through all kinds of hardship for sentient beings. Then, in order to appreciate better their compassionate acts, Seikuro took off his clothes and threw himself on the snow, repeating “Namu amida butsu” in a shivering voice while thinking with gratitude that the Founder must have been like that.
Kyuroku, the son-in-law, happened to be staying with Seikuro that night. In the middle of the night he was awakened by a strange sound. He rushed out of door and found Seikuro tumbling in the snow naked. He hurriedly dressed Seikuro and brought him in. Asked what he was doing, Seikuro explained that having seen heavy snow, he wanted to remind himself of his deep indebtedness to the Founder. Hearing this, Kyuroku shared joy and gratitude with Seikuro.
In olden times, Kyoshin of Kako in Harima Province used to take off his clothes in the cold night and sit on a flattened door with unprocessed buckwheat spread over it, and then recite the Nembutsu. He did this in order to experience something of the hardship Dharmakara underwent for many aeons and, thereby, repay even a fraction of his boundless indebtedness to Amida.
Seikuro’s fellow-seekers were all impressed by the fact that men of devout faith of the past and the present would do the same thing. While telling their friends about this, they themselves felt ashamed of their ungratefulness to Amida and the Founder.
Seikuro began to suffer from paralysis in the winter of the 2nd year of Kan’en (1749). Unable to walk with ease, he even had difficulty in daily life. In the summer of the following year, in spite of his illness, he shaved his head and became a nyudo (lay-monk). His joy was especially great, and he became even more devoted to the Nembutsu.
When his friends came to visit him and called his Buddhist name, “Jogen”, Seikuro denied this and said, “I am a nyudo.” He preferred to be called “Nyudo”, probably because it was a familiar word which he had heard many times in Honen’s remark, “those ignorant persons, lay-nuns and lay-monks,” or in Rennyo’s words, “those lay-nuns and lay-monks who cannot read even one phrase.”
Seikuro’s illness became more and more serious, but the Nembutsu kept coming from his mouth with his painful breathing. Kyuroku said to him, “Now that breathing itself seems difficult, you may just feel grateful in your heart.” On hearing this, Seikuro nodded consent and stopped saying the Nembutsu for some time, but before long resumed recitation as before. Thus, amid continual voicing of the Nembutsu, Seikuro passed away on the 4th day of the eighth month, third year of Kan’en, at the age of 73.
In connection with Seikuro’s Nembutsu until death, we are reminded of Shinran’s disciple, Kakushinbo of Takada. When he was seriously ill, Shinran called to see him. On seeing Kakushinbo breathing with great difficulty and yet saying the Nembutsu without interruption, Shinran asked him, “Your determination to say the Nembutsu in spite of great pain is indeed admirable. But why are you so devoted to it, I wonder?”
Kakushinbo replied, “Even for a short while at the time of impending death, as long as breathing is possible, I feel obliged to repay my indebtedness to Amida for endowing me with the great benefit of attaining birth in the Pure Land. It is for the purpose of repaying my indebtedness that I say the Nembutsu.”
Shinran was deeply impressed. Shedding tears profusely, he rejoiced that Kakushinbo’s lifelong devotion had its due effect in the end. Seikuro must have been in the same frame of mind as Kakushinbo.
I (Gosei) have above presented part of Seikuro’s life. He must now be enjoying bath in the seven-jewelled pond with the water of eight excellent qualities. Having met with many saints of supreme virtue and worshipped Amida, the Great Sage of Compassion, he must be looking at this Saha world and thinking of his former fellow-seekers. Although he was so ignorant as not to read his own name in Chinese characters, he has now attained a clear understanding of the one hundred dharmas and become a person of great wisdom who is thoroughly conversant with innumerable mystic phrases. Also, formerly he was so poor that he could barely present a couple of bundles of firewood to Honganji, but now he can make as many offerings as he wishes to countless Buddhas of the ten directions in a moment. This is all due to the wonderful power of the Primal Vow. Those who are left behind are kindly advised to dedicate themselves to the hearing of the Dharma and appreciating it with joyful hearts by saying the Nembutsu continually, thereby expecting to see Seikuro again on the flower of Enlightenment.
Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu