There was a man named Yazaemon in Mogami, Dewa Province, Northern Japan. Deeply concerned about Faith, he visited a number of priests everywhere, but he was not able to settle the problem of Faith. So he decided to see the Great Teacher, Monshu, and directly ask him about it. After a long journey, he reached the Honganji. When he sought permission to see the Monshu, an official arranged for him to meet the head of the seminary, Enen of Kezo-an, who would represent the Monshu. Having heard Enen’s compassionate instruction, Yazaemon once thought that he had attained a deep understanding of Faith. But some time after he returned home, doubt arose again in the mind. So he made yet another journey to Kyoto to ask about Faith. He thus repeated the journey of approximately two hundred li as many as eight times during the period of three years.
At last, at the suggestion of Enen, Yazaemon went to see Shukei of Kangi-an in Kubiki-gori, Echigo Province, who thoroughly explained the Dharma to him. Hearing this, Yazaemon attained clear understanding of it beyond any shadow of doubt. Thus he became a wonderful devotee of firm Faith.
His stories were often recounted by his fellow-believers. One of them was that Yazaemon was deeply appreciative of Amida’s Benevolence and recited the Nembutsu whenever he had the occasion to do so in his daily life. The only problem was that when he blew the kitchen fire into flames, he could not say the Name. However, he discovered that if he used spills he did not have to stop the Nembutsu. This little discovery made him rejoice very much and made him especially grateful for Amida’s compassionate care.
Among the members of Zenryuji Temple in Yaoki Village, Wakae County, Kawachi Province (present Osaka Prefecture), was a dealer in cotton goods, named Riuemon. His daughter Oshimo, aged eight this year (the second year of Kan’en, 1749), has a gentle heart with sincere devotion to the Buddha. She has been a regular visitor to the local dojo, where she joins others in chanting sutras, worshiping the Buddha and listening to sermons. Shoku, the priest of the dojo, deeply moved by Oshimo’s serious Buddhist aspiration, kindly taught her the Dharma, assuring her that even those who have five hindrances and are subject to the three submissions can complete the karmic cause of birth in the Land of Peace and Provision by the divine power of the inconceivable Primal Vow. As the store of good karma from her past lives matured, she said to the priest this summer, “I have heard that women have deeper evil karma than men and so cannot be saved by the compassionate hands of the Buddhas of the three periods; they are not allowed to enter any of the pure lands in the nine directions. I gratefully accept the teaching that Amida saves those of evil karma such as me, if they entrust themselves to Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow. However, I feel I do not deserve his salvation because my evil karma is so deep. The reason is that last New Year I went to Mr. So-and-So’s house with my friend and stole a penny from the drawer of a lamp-stand, with which I bought some sweets. On another occasion, I stole a penny from the donation box at the temple and again bought some sweets with it. Later, after I heard that stealing is the cause of falling into the Hell of Black Rope, I put two-pence before the temple shrine. I don’t think Amida can save such an evil person. Is there any way to expiate my evil karma? How should I repent?”
Having heard the tearful confession of this little girl, the priest could do nothing but repeat the Nembutsu. After a while, he opened his mouth and said, “You should not doubt your birth in the Pure Land. Even the heavy karmic hindrances, such as the five grave offenses and abusing the Right Dharma, do not obstruct your birth if you abandon various practices and entrust yourself to Amida’s Vow-Power. You did not steal two-pence with serious evil intent, did you? You stole the money with childish impulse to buy sweets. Such an evil act does not create any hindrance to birth. Evil acts should indeed be avoided, but the moment even the abusers of the Right Dharma and those without any stock of goodness overturn their minds and entrust themselves wholly to Amida, all their evil karma is destroyed and so their birth in the Pure Land is settled. While deeply aware of your evil karma, solely entrust yourself to Amida’s inconceivable Primal Vow. At that moment your birth is settled without doubt. You should now joyfully acknowledge the Buddha’s Benevolence.”
Hearing this, Oshimo bitterly cried and said, “How grateful I am! While visiting the dojo morning and evening, I have had this concern. Having heard that all the evil I have committed is removed and I can attain birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss just as I am. I can hardly control the joy. How grateful and how joyful!”
Those who saw Oshima rejoice so much as to dance equally shed tears.
After that, with even deeper devotion and gratitude to the Buddha, Oshimo continued her visit to the dojo, morning and evening. She also paid sincere respect to the Sangha. Without being taught, she has learnt the proper attitude in speaking and acting, which is in accord with the scriptures even to the minutest points. We must say that this is a reflection of wisdom of Faith.
Having realized with regret that she had never visited the Honganji, Oshimo asked her parents to take her there. So in the ninth month this year, she was able to attend Hoonko at Otani for the first time; I happened to see her in the Amida Hall. Oshimo’s admirable conversion to firm trust in Amida’s emancipation in the life to come is not so much the result of her serious hearing of the Dharma or her parents’ recommendation as Dharmakara’s Vow-Power. This strongly reminds me of the golden saying of Shinran Shonin, “When I reflect on the sea of Great Faith, I find that it does not discriminate between the noble and the mean, priests and laypeople, male and female, young and old.”
This girl does not care about dying. She is ready to cast away her life like a worn-out straw-sandal. This year, in the middle of the tenth month, there was a great earthquake. Her parents, brothers and sisters, and male and female servants were all terrified and rushed out of the gate. This 8-year-old girl alone lighted a candle at the family shrine and recited the Nembutsu. After the quake, people returned home and found Oshimo alone in the house. “Why didn’t you run out of the house?” they asked. “If I have the fixed karma to die in the earthquake, I cannot escape death in any way.” replied Oshimo, “I prefer to die before the Buddha’s altar rather than die in the street, so that I might die while saying the Nembutsu.”
This is exactly what Zensebo did in the past. What an admirable determination she had! This little girl not only rejoiced in the Dharma, but also took every opportunity to urge male and female servants to recite the Nembutsu. Her steadfast devotion was beyond description. If people hear that she is going to Otani for the Hoonko ceremony, many fellow-believers visit there. Without intending to spread the Dharma, she spontaneously lead others to awaken Faith; it is true that ‘the mind to attain Buddhahood’ contains ‘the mind to save sentient beings’.
There was a man named Aburaya Sanzaemon in Saijo Village, Iga Province. He was a member of Jorenji Temple in Oda Village and well-known for his deep devotion.
Since he continually recited the Nembutsu, even when he was doing his accounts, he often made miscalculations and omissions. His wife grumbled, saying “Recitation of the Nembutsu is an admirable sacred act, but the loss of income which it causes is no small amount. Please be more careful.”
Sanzaemon replied, “I keep books so that I do not forget my transactions, even though this is a trivial secular matter. When it comes to the matter of emancipation for all eternity, how could I forget the Tathagata’s Benevolence even for a short while?”
Hearing this, his wife felt deeply ashamed of herself.
Sanzaemon used to tell his wife, “You and I are both bombu, so there is no knowing when we will start quarreling. If this happens, irrespective of which of us is right, the one who says the Nembutsu first is the winner.”
In his late years, Sanzaemon shaved his head and became a lay-priest with the Buddhist name, Kyoshin. Since he was unrivaled in his devotion to Amida, people called him “Seikuro of the present age.”
He once composed a song for his maids which would accompany their work of beating grain in a mortar. It goes as follows:
“Striking a bell or beating a drum to call me,
because I am a deluded wanderer;
Observing the precepts or breaking them was a matter of concern
for those of the bygone age but not for me.
However brilliant, intelligent and knowledgeable you may be,
you are crooked palanquin bearers,
if ignorant of the after-life.
Heed well and listen to the Dharma!
The gold mountain of Sado Island is right here.
To make me understand the Dharma, eight thousand times
Shakyamuni came to the Saha world – for this wretched man!
However well you may hear the Dharma, it is to no avail,
if your mind does not listen to and accept it.
However well you may have your hair fashioned like a bodhisattva,
your python-like nature will soon show.
Compassionate Buddhas have failed to save me;
it is Amida’s Vow alone that saves me.
Let us not pray for happiness in this life or abstain
because of unlucky signs, for we are embraced in Amida’s Light.
The number of the Nembutsu does not count,
but it comes to my lips whenever I think of his Benevolence.
Let us not forget, morning and evening, the Benevolence of Amida
who has made us good hearers of the Dharma.
Pretending to have understood the Dharma well and being given
to wayward fancies is worse than not hearing it at all.
Seeing others’ faults, remember that they are yours;
they are the faults you committed in past lives.
How joyful it is and how grateful I am to watch the days and months pass by!
The time of my birth in the Pure Land is coming closer.
One dressed in one’s best yesterday
may be cremated today at Toribeno.”
There was a man named Nagataya Rokubei in Ueno, Iga Province (present Mie Prefecture), who had firm trust in the Primal Vow. Poor as he was all through his life, he showed no sign of concern about his poverty and dedicated himself to the Nembutsu, aspiring for enlightenment in the Pure Land.
In the winter of the first year of Kan’en (1748), Rokubei received tonsure from his Buddhist master and called himself ‘Kyoshin’. Even after he passed seventy years of age, he was in good health. His pursuit of the Dharma continued with undiminished zeal, so whenever there was a Dharma-gathering, he never failed to attend it, however far away it was.
In the castle-town of Ueno there was a Shingon temple, called Manpukuji, whose resident monk used to lecture on the precept text Brahma-net Sutra and confer the five precepts and the eight precepts of abstinence to lay believers. So, many followers of the Shingon sect visited this temple to pay homage to the monk. One of them came up to Kyoshin and said, “Of all the Buddha’s teachings observance of the precepts comes first. Why don’t you come and receive the five precepts from the Venerable Master?”
Rokubei appreciated this man’s recommendation and politely sent him home. Since Rokubei had steadfast faith in the Primal Vow and so was assured of birth in the Pure Land, he had no intention of depending on the merit of observing the precepts.
This man came again and said, “I can see that you are a man who aspires for the Buddha Dharma. That’s why I urge you to receive the precepts. Do so quickly. If you observe even one precept, your future life will be a peaceful and happy one. The Venerable Master bears witness to this, and I, too, assure you of the benefit with confidence.”
Unable to hide his real intention any longer, Kyoshin said, “I do appreciate your kind suggestion, but I am devoted to the Nembutsu in accord with Amida’s Primal Vow. I have no doubt that the Nembutsu is the cause of birth in the Pure Land, because all the Buddhas in the ten directions stand in witness to its efficacy. I was foolish enough not to follow their recommendation earlier. Even if five or ten human teachers exhorted me to receive the precepts, I would not do so. I am afraid you are wasting your time. Please do not come again to change my mind.”
Kyoshin was at first reluctant to give an outright refusal, but pressed again, he had to speak his mind. Although he was a man of little education, his remarks which came from the depth of Faith greatly impressed me.
In the winter of the 2nd year of Kan’en (1749) Kyoshin had jaundice, which appeared unyielding. From that time he dedicated himself to the Nembutsu even more with increasing joy of gratitude for Amida’s Compassion. Taking no medicine, he only waited for the time of birth in the Pure Land.
On the night of the 29th of the 12th month, I visited him to bid farewell for his last journey, and found him suffering pain from fasting for more than ten days. However, he was alert and was able to hear and see well. After talking for some time, I went in front of the altar, chanted a sutra and read two letters from Rennyo’s Letters. As I did so, kyoshin sat up in the bed and washed his hands. After listening to my chant and recitation intently, he shed tears of gratitude, saying, “How grateful I am for your visit! Until you came, there had not been any chanting. I have joyfully heard you chant and recite.” So saying, Kyoshin repeated the Nembutsu with renewed high spirits.
On the 3rd day in the New Year, knowing that the time of his death was imminent, Kyoshin called his family and relatives together and bade them farewell. In joy at going to the Pure Land very soon, he said the Nembutsu without interruption. At about eight o’clock in the evening, he appeared hard of breathing. When those who were in attendance asked him if he was in pain, he said, “Yes, the pain is great, but not unbearable. It is natural that anyone leaving this world of Samsara where he has been living for so long should have this much pain. Before I die, I wish to worship the Compassionate One for the last time.”
Kyoshin had his nursing man take the Amida scroll from the altar and hang it on the screen in the bedroom. Then he sat up in the bed, worshiped it with joined hands and joyfully repeated the Nembutsu for a long time.
Finally, he came to himself and said, “How impious I am to bring the revered image here in an unclean sick man’s bedroom when I ought to go to the altar myself and pay my last homage to Amida!” So saying, he asked the man in attendance to take the scroll back to the altar.
The voice of Kyoshin’s Nembutsu became weaker and weaker until it ceased to be heard. His death came at the Tiger hour (4 o’clock in the morning), fourth day of the first month, third year of Kan’en (1750), when he was 73 years of age.
What is amazing is that Kyoshin’s teacher, the resident priest of Jorenji Temple in Kanbe Village, had a dream at the fifth period of the night (from 3 to 5 o’clock in the morning): Kyoshin came to visit the temple. He entered the main hall and, facing toward the Amida statue, worshiped the Buddha and thanked him with gratitude, “I have been in delusion since the beginningless past, but am now leaving here once and for all and going to your Pure Land.” Having repeated the Nembutsu about ten times, Kyoshin died in front of the Amida statue.
I have heard this story directly from the resident priest of this temple. A long time ago, Kyoshin of Kako in Harima Province (present Hyogo Prefecture) announced his death to Shonyo Shonin. Kyoshin of the present age told his teacher about his own death. It was certainly with good reason that Rokubei chose his Buddhist name, Kyoshin, when he received tonsure. I am also reminded of the words of a Shin teacher, “Saying ‘Namo amida butsu’ is the most auspicious feature attending the death of a Nembutsu follower, even more auspicious than purple clouds, exotic scent or exquisite music.”
A priest of Zuioji Temple in Nagato Province (present Yamaguchi Prefecture) had a chance to give a Dharma talk at a brothel in Maruyama in Nagasaki. A prostitute, named Kotoura, must have had a mature stock of merit because on hearing the preacher’s explanation of the Name, she rejoiced beyond measure. Reflecting on her wretchedness, she expressed herself in a poem:
“How sad it is to live on telling lies
when my karmic hindrances are heavy enough without them!”
The preacher gave an extemporaneous reply as follows:
“So long as your mind is in accord with Amida’s Vow,
let the style of your life be as it naturally comes.”
Kotoura shed tears of joy, and began to live a life of gratitude.
As a saying has it that virtue accrues to a person of Faith, a respectable man redeemed the advance and took Kotoura as his wife. But about half a year later, she became seriously ill. At her deathbed, she said to her husband, “I have been hiding something from you since I came here. This family belongs to the Nichiren sect, and so the Nembutsu is forbidden. I have, therefore, been saying the Nembutsu inaudibly. Now my life is coming to a close. Please allow me to recite it aloud.”
Deeply moved by her sincere pleading, the husband joined her in repeating the Nembutsu.
Kotoura made another request to her husband, “I received the wonderful teaching from the priest of Zuioji, so I wish to present a coat to him.” So saying, she produced a coat and wrote a poem on a piece of paper, which read:
“To the master of the Dharma who taught me the wonderful Way,
I present this as a keepsake with tears soaking my sleeves.”Through the wife’s devotion to the Dharma her husband and other members of the family became devout followers of Jodo Shinshu. Their neighbors, too, began to savor the taste of the Dharma.
There was a man named Chuzaemon in Kashima-no-gori in Hitachi Province. At first he belonged to the Zen school. When young, he lost his beloved wife, which made him reflect deeply on impermanence of human life and seek ways to deliverance. Since there are in Buddhism a dozen different approaches, one could not easily determine which was superior and which was inferior. So, wishing to study whatever method of salvation was in accord with the divine will, Chuzaemon attempted a three-week fasting while earnestly praying to the god of his locality. Having failed to receive any inspiration, he next made a daily pilgrimage to Kashima God, some three li away, for three years, regardless of heavy rain at night or strong wind during the day. Still there was no divine message.
Disappointed, Chuzaemon came back to Zen with which he had had a close connection from childhood. He studied its teaching and practiced meditation for about ten years. However hard he tried, his mind was still beclouded and his spiritual eye continued to be blinded, and so he was not able to see the moon of True Suchness, as he had wished.
Then he gave up Zen and entered the Shingon school. But his three-year dedication to esoteric practices proved fruitless. When he heard that the last way of salvation in the Latter Days was the Nembutsu, he finally abandoned the Path of Sages and entered the Pure Land Path. At first he single-heartedly recited the Nembutsu for twenty to thirty thousand times a day and later diligently repeated the Nembutsu for fifty or sixty thousand times a day. During the passage of twelve years, he twice made a cross-country pilgrimage to sacred places in over sixty provinces while continually saying the Nembutsu with fervent aspiration for birth in the Pure Land. Despite all his efforts, Chuzaemon was not able to attain a settled mind.
When he reached sixty years of age, he became even more impatient. This time, he changed over to the Nichiren school. With firm belief that no other Buddhist teachings surpassed the Lotus teaching which was the revelation of the Buddha’s true intent, Chuzaemon continually chanted the Lotus Sutra and repeated the Sacred Title. Then it occurred to him that he would marry again a woman who could take care of the secular affairs and hopefully would accompany him even after death. So he prayed to the tutelary god, and found a suitable woman.
Contrary to his expectation, however, his new wife did not recite the Sacred Title even once. Chuzaemon was utterly disappointed and began to complain to the deity. One day, after two years of their marriage, he spotted his wife reverently worshiping a certain object in front of a chest of drawers in the drawing room.
“What are you worshiping?” Chuzaemon asked.
“This is my guardian deity that my mother gave me,” she replied.
Chuzaemon insisted on seeing the object, but she refused. After repeated demand, she finally showed it to him. It was Amida’s image which bore the autograph of Jakunyo Shonin [the 14th monshu, 1651-1725] on the back. He was surprised and asked her how she came to have faith in Amida.
Seeing that there was no necessity to hide the secret any longer, his wife explained, “I am a follower of Jodoshinshu. With deep acknowledgement of Amida’s Vow to save those as wretched as myself, I secretly thank him from time to time.”
Chuzaemon began to laugh and said, “It is ridiculous that such a lazy person as you should be saved and be born in the Land of Bliss!”
She said, “Setting aside my birth in the Pure Land for a while, may I ask you whether you would definitely become a Buddha.”
To this question, he replied, “From my youth I have tried various hard practices, but I am not yet sure of attaining Buddhahood.”
His wife shed tears and said, “Hearing your story, I feel Amida’s Vow to be even more trustworthy. Such a good person as you has not yet found the path to Buddhahood. It is solely by the Buddha’s Power that this stupid woman has been assured of her Buddhahood. How wonderful!.”
Chuzaemon was astonished and deeply impressed by his wife’s remark which was beyond ordinary thinking. He said to her, “I wish to know more about the faith of Jodoshinshu. Do tell me what understanding of the Dharma you have.”
“If you wish to have faith in Jodoshinshu, you must quickly hear and understand the intent of Amida’s Primal Vow and take refuge in him.” So saying, the wife produced the scroll of Amida’s image and placed a set of ornaments on the altar-table; she also brought out the service books, like Shoshinge with hymns and Rennyo’s Letters, and put them on the table.
“It would not be befitting for me to chant but since you wish to hear the teaching of Jodoshinshu, I will humbly chant for you one of the Letters, which we must appreciate as the direct exposition of the Dharma by Rennyo Shonin.”
She then read out the letter, which began with “Those laymen and laywomen in the Latter Days who are ignorant…”
As Chuzaemon listened carefully, he shed tears of joy profusely and said, “What a joy it is that my doubt has totally cleared up! Why didn’t you teach me this wonderful Dharma before?” His joy was thus mixed with complaint.
The wife replied, “I very much wished to recommend this teaching to you, but I thought that you wouldn’t listen to this foolish woman. Since this is a matter of stored goodness from the past, I have not been able to do anything about it. Now I see that your good karma has ripened. Please come to Jodoshinshu and have deep faith in Amida’s Vow.” She then gave him the five collections of Rennyo’s Letters.
Chuzaemon began to read them. When he came to the third letter in the second collection that cautions us against despising other Buddhas, bodhisattvas and deities, he could not hold back tears which streamed down his cheeks. Asked why, he said, “I have been unaware of the original intent of various deities, thinking that they are of little use for our spiritual progress. Now I realize that through their compassionate guidance I have come to take refuge in Amida’s Vow.”
Chuzaemon became a devout follower of Jodoshinshu. First, he became a member of Muryojuji Temple at Tori-no-su, and later received ordination receiving the name Jokan (“Pure Leisure”). This year, the 3rd of Horeki (1753), he is 73 years of age. He and his wife together keep relishing the Dharma. [I have recorded the above story which the resident priest of Shorenji of Mito related to me.]
A warrior named Araki Mataroku lived in Fukui County, Echizen Province. His family belonged to the Jodo school, and he was, from the beginning, a serious seeker of the Way.
When he heard the teaching of Jodoshinshu during the Meiwa era (1764-1772), his stored good karma must have fully ripened. He became the most devoted follower in the district. He continued to say the Nembutsu throughout the day, whether he was walking, standing, sitting or lying down. Even when he was working in the office, his Nembutsu did not stop. Younger warriors ridiculed him, saying that it was an act unbecoming to a warrior.
Mataroku’s father, hearing this, asked a priest to give some advice to his son. The priest took the trouble of admonishing Mataroku by quoting the master’s words, “Even if one is called a thief of an ox, one should be careful not to be thought of as a pious after-life seeker.”
Mataroku respectfully accepted this advice but his gratitude to Amida spontaneously found its expression in the Nembutsu. Since he could not keep the Nembutsu from coming to his lips, he pleaded to the priest, “Master, please make me a special case and allow me to say the Nembutsu as I wish.” He then composed two poems:
“Though I try not to say the Nembutsu, it comes to my lips;
In the end people admonish me to stop saying it.”
“I have become desperate not knowing what to do;
My Nembutsu is like a burning fire which water cannot put out.”
Those who at first ridiculed Mataroku became impressed by his sincere devotion to the Dharma. Soon there was no one who laughed at him about his Nembutsu.
Among the retainers of the same daimyo in Echizen Province there was a samurai named Arakawa Souemon, who received from his master a fief of 450 koku of rice (1 koku is about 5 bushels). This man belonged to the Jodo sect and had deep faith in the Nembutsu. When he was home, he never left the family shrine. Since he was taught that ordinary people with distracted thoughts were liable to be negligent in the practice of Nembutsu in daily life, he used to do his routine work before the Buddha’s image. He also collected whatever reading materials on the Nembutsu teaching came to his knowledge.
One day, when Souemon read Rennyo’s Letters, he was deeply impressed and began to have great interest in Jodoshinshu. As he read on and came to the passage in the fifth fascicle which reads, “…if there is no doubt in the mind, even as small as a speck of dust…”, he wondered, “How in the world would it be possible for ordinary people to attain the mind free of doubt?” He then invited a scholar to his house and, after respectfully bowing his head, showed him to the shrine room.
“I have this question which troubles me day and night. How can one have the mind completely free of doubt?” Souemon asked.
The master replied, “If one tries to remove doubt with the mind of an ordinary person, the more one thinks and contemplates, the bigger the doubt grows. Your birth in the Pure Land is not dependent on your good mind. Just entrust yourself in the Power of Amida’s Primal Vow with the firm belief that he has the inconceivable Power to save the most wretched person like yourself. Then you will receive the great benefit of his embrace and your birth in the Land of Recompense will be definitely assured, even if you doubt it.”
Souemon greatly rejoiced and said, “Having heard your exposition, I now cannot doubt even if I want to. What a wonderful teaching! How grateful I am to encounter this Dharma! My doubt has been completely cleared.”
Unable to hold back the tears, he composed a poem:
“I have been watching the lotus-flower
as something beyond my reach;
Today I feel as if I had it in my hand.”
Souemon thus became a man of Great Faith.
Later he said to Araki Mataroku, “You and I belonged to the Jodo sect, but through the teaching of Jodoshinshu we have come to the settled mind. We must repay our indebtedness. How about going to the Honganji to thank Shinran Shonin?”
Mataroku joyfully agreed to do so. In the summer of the 7th year of An’ei (1778), they took a two-week holiday pretending that it was a pilgrimage to Ise Grand Shrine. They went to Honganji and respectfully paid homage to Shinran Shonin. When they were shown around the temple, they marveled at the golden splendor and magnificence of the beautiful rooms, which they took as manifestations of Amida’s majestic Light.
Henceforth, they annually held the memorial service for Shinran Shonin with utmost gratitude. In the 9th year of An’ei (1780) Souemon passed away and was born in the Pure Land.
A retainer of a daimyo in Iga Province (present Mie Prefecture), named Kuse Magonojo, came from a Zen family but became devoted to Jodoshinshu. When he was assigned to the master’s manor in Yamato Province as a chief magistrate, there was a lawsuit lasting for three years between a Shingon temple and the farmers. The priest wanted to broaden the road in front of the temple gate, while the farmers claimed more land as their estate.
The magistrate composed a poem and showed it to the Shingon priest, asking him to correct it. The poem read:
“How I wish the Path of the Dharma to be broad,
even if the roads in the world remain narrow!”
Seeing this, the priest, deeply ashamed of himself, went round the whole village and apologized for insisting on broadening the road.
The villagers, seeing this, were ashamed of themselves. They agreed to broaden the road and donate it to the temple. The virtue of Faith indeed brought about this happy resolution through the poem.
Magonojo greatly revered and rejoiced in the Dharma. Before he died in the 4th month of the 7th year of Meiwa (1770) in Ueno of Iga Province at the age of 68, he composed six poems for his sister.
(1) Having left everything to the Buddha,
I have no worries in the mind.
(2) Transmigration in the six realms having ended,
I now dwell in the Stage of Non-retrogression.
(3) Since salvation comes from Amida,
I simply accept it with gratitude.
(4) The more I become aware of my grave evils,
The greater is my joy for having boarded Amida’s ship.
(5) A gem-laden gate and a brushwood door make no difference;
The moonlight illumines everywhere equally.
(6) Having left myself in the hands of the Buddha whom I worship,
I feel no anxiety about my life after death.
Among the members of Sairenji Temple in Asuna Village, Ouchi County, Iwami Province, was a man named Shoya Genzaburo. Though born into a family of the Jodoshinshu tradition for many generation, he was ignorant of its teaching. He had a household altar for gods, to which he offered rice wine and a light, and also had prayer-sheets on the walls and pillars. He was thus deluded into believing in the benefits in the present life.
In recent years, when master Taigan was invited to Sairenji Temple, Genzaburo received from him the following teaching:
As the attainment of Faith is very much a matter of the maturing of one’s stored good in past lives, there is not much one can do about it. But since it has become an established custom to submit one’s identity with one’s sealed name to the authorities, in Jodoshinshu, too, the followers are required to abide by the state law as well as the Buddha Dharma. In addition, during the period of Kanbun (1661-73) the Office of Temples and Shrines issued a set of rules stipulating observance of religious ordinances. Accordingly, those in charge of village affairs should follow the rules so as to maintain peace and harmony among the villagers.
Genzaburo and his wife were impressed by the master’s instruction and made up their minds to stop enshrining the altar-shelf. But hesitant about moving the altar straight away, they started with stopping the offering of a light and then rice wine. Before anybody noticed, they took away the altar and removed all the prayer-sheets and tablets from the house, which they took to the shrine for disposal in the proper manner. They instead put up the notice of the authorities in the house. Thenceforth, they continued to savor the Dharma more and more.
In the spring of the fourth year of Meiwa (1764), Genzaburo wanted to make a pilgrimage to the Honganji. He submitted a petition to the magistrate office, asking for permission to take leave for a specified period to visit the Ise Grand Shrine. When he was about to impress his seal on the request, he reflected, “In our tradition we are not supposed to pray for the benefits in the present life. This request for leave on the pretext of visiting the Grant Shrine is a false one. To submit this would be a betrayal to the Buddha’s benevolence and run counter to my loyalty to the authorities. Should I become ill or ill on the way, this petition might be read by others. Some would ridicule me by saying how I, a follower of Jodoshinshu, could make a false pretense of visiting the Grant Shrine though, in fact, I am making a pilgrimage to the Honganji. Others might be confused, wondering how a public servant could break the law in this way.”
So thinking, he went to the magistrate office in Dewa and stated the truth to the magistrate. He then changed the request to read that he would visit the Honganji in Kyoto.
A clerk in charge of the furnace which Genzaburo owned, named Sukeroku, was also an unrivaled devout follower of Jodoshinshu. On New Year’s Eve in the fifth year of Meiwa, after other workers had all gone home, Sukeroku was alone in the workshop. Genzaburo sent him the words, “You must be peacefully reciting the Nembutsu to welcome in the New Year. Since we in the head house are all busily running up and down, I envy you.” In response Sukeroku wrote a poem in clumsy handwriting:
“Without counting my debts,
I clap my hands, with a rosary tied around,
As the end of the year draws near.”
Although Sukeroku was not a person with poetic taste, his poem was wonderful. To Amida who saves all beings without counting their debts of evil karma, Sukeroku expressed his joy of gratitude by clapping his hands as he submitted his whole self to Amida without any trace of self-effort in the three modes of his act.
In Ookuni Village, Ginzanryo, Iwami Province, there was a man named Yasui Zenbee. He was well-known for his learning. He was a member of Mangyoji Temple in Amakawachi Village and, by family tradition, a follower of Jodoshinshu. Join, the master of Dharma-seal, recognized Zenbee’s scholarship and took him as his disciple. Zenbee was ordained and received the precepts and a Buddhist name, Shinkai (“Mind-Precept”).
Zenbee’s elder brother died and there was no one in the family who would succeed to the family. His parents pleaded the master to send Zenbee back to secular life. Join initially refused to do so but finally granted their request. Zenbee was afraid of committing the offense of quitting the priesthood but could not disobey his parents’ wishes.
Years and months having past, Zenbee’s stored good must have matured; he was awakened to the settled mind of the Other-Power and became a steadfast practicer of the Nembutsu. His inner state of mind and his outward life coordinated well presenting a beautiful harmony.
It happened that the nurse of his second son, whom Zenbee had arranged to marry, had a difficult delivery. She suffered excruciating pain for five days. As all her family were deeply concerned, and thought that medical art was powerless, they asked the master of Ryushoji Temple to grant her a magical tablet. Although they took extreme care not to betray this secret to Zenbee, this came to his knowledge. He immediately wrote a letter to them, “You have cast aside the mind of self-power to perform various practices and entrusted yourselves to Amida Tathagata, with the assurance of emancipation in the life to come. Should you receive some other method for your salvation, how would you explain this to the Founder, Shinran Shonin? Since this woman was sent out from this house as a bride, she is a member of my family. Even if she died, I would not allow her to take the tablet”
Zenbee himself went to see her and exhorted, “Should you die and become born in the Land of Utmost Bliss, what more could you ask for? People in the world say that those women who die without giving birth to babies will fall into the hell of pools of blood. This is a groundless superstition. One who has taken refuge in Amida in a single thought of entrusting is embraced in his Light. Even if one dies covered with blood, there should not be any doubt that one will be born onto a lotus-pedestal.”
The woman was originally devoted steadfast to Amida and had no intention of taking a magical tablet. Reassured by Zenbee’s kind exhortation, she felt better and successfully delivered a baby, and also had no trouble after the child-birth. Thus her family barely escaped from the delusion of praying for benefits in this life. Owing to Zenbee’s determination, they did not bring ridicule upon themselves. All his fellow-believers praised his virtue.
In Ubamachi, Kanazawa, in Kaga Province, there was a man named Kagiya Kyubee. When his daughter, Onamu, aged seven, heard the first reading of Rennyo’s Letters in the New Year, she made a poem:
“I heard the explanation of a folded lotus-leaf
at the first reading of sacred scriptures in the New Year.”
This soon reached the ears of the Chief Abbot. In the following year, when she went to Kyoto, she was summoned by the Chief Abbot. He wanted her to make another poem. So she presented this:
“When a violet flower bends its head,
that’s where its calyx stands.”
The Chief Abbot greatly admired this poem.
Being a devout person of steadfast Faith, Onamu used to attend Dharma-gatherings. One day, she had a scab around her mouth, which was painful. Someone advised that a charred old tea bag applied to the scab could heal it. When she asked for an old tea bag, her grandmother told her to moisten the charred tea bag with her saliva while reciting the Nembutsu, explaining that the miraculous power of the Nembutsu would stop the pain.
The girl admonished, “This is a great mistake, Grandma. Isn’t it outrageous to use the sacred Nembutsu as medicine. Illness should be cured by medicine. It would be a sacrilege to utilize the Nembutsu for one’s benefit in the present life. We should say the Nembutsu to express our gratitude for the Buddha’s boundless Benevolence.”
As a proverb has it, “There is an old man aged ten, a boy aged a hundred.” This is quite true. Those who hear this story should quickly strive to attain Faith. Faith of the Other-Power has the virtue of breaking our ignorance and fulfilling our aspiration, and so it is not mingled with the mind of self-power to perform various practices.
“Whoever cares about other practices and meritorious acts
has no master of the six-character Name in his heart.”
“Accepting whole-heartedly Amida’s Compassion,
we pay no attention to other practices or good acts.”
In the neighborhood of Shibata Castle in Kanbara County, Echigo Province, there was a devout Shinshu follower, named Yamafukuro Denbee. He lived to a very long age. On the 7th day of 3rd month, 3rd year of Tenmei (1783), he died at the age of 117. His tomb stone stands by the roadside, on which is inscribed his last poem:
“I have been hunted down by Amida
since he attained Buddhahood
and finally caught on charges of grave offenses.”
This poem rejoices all passers-by.
A man named Yoichi, who lived in Migi Village, Kaga Province, was the most devoted follower in his district. He recounted this dream to his friends: When he was about twenty, he had a dreadful dream in which he went to hell. Visiting various regions of hell, he saw unspeakable torments that the sinners were suffering. When he awoke, he was dripping with sweat. He later found that his dream was not different from the descriptions of hell in Shan-tao’s Liturgy for Birth and Hymn in Praise of Pratyutpanna Samadhi and Genshin’s Collection of Essential Passages Concerning Birth in the Pure Land.
Deeply shocked, Yoichi began to attend sermons at temples every evening, even if they were as far as ten kilometers away. Since he left home after work, by the time he got to the temples, sermons were nearly finished, but he enjoyed listening to the informal talks on the Dharma which were usually given after the formal sermons. When he returned home, it was nearly 2 o’clock in the morning. Asked if he was too tired in the daytime after walking such a long distance every night, he replied, “I have begun to understand the teaching of Faith of the Other-Power, so I am only too happy to go and listen to the Dharma, even if I have less time for sleep. Also my heart is so enlivened by the Dharma that I feel myself more capable of carrying out my daily work.”
Several weeks passed in this way. His intense listening to the Dharma led him finally to awakening to the Buddha’s Power. “Although my heart was full of doubt and skepticism,” he remarked with tears in his eyes, “owing to Amida’s Power, the darkness of my mind has been completely removed and the pure Faith of absolute trust in Amida has arisen in my mind.” Without any pretension of being a good after-life seeker, Yoichi was totally given to Sincere and Joyful Faith and spoke only of the wonderful Primal Vow with gratitude. Hearing this, his friends joined him in deep appreciation of the Dharma.
After Yoichi’s conversion to the Other-Power teaching, he never got angry due to the benefit of Amida’s Light of Great Compassion. Once some young villagers pushed him over into the rice field to try his patience. Instead of getting angry, Yoichi joyfully said, “I was startled by Amida’s action which reminded me of the important matter of birth-and-death.” The young villagers were all deeply ashamed of themselves.
One day, when he returned from from outside, he saw the fishmonger stealing some millet grains from his garden. He quickly hid himself behind the building and thus allowed the trader to complete his theft. His neighbor, who saw this, asked Yoichi why he did so. Yoichi replied, “If I had charged him with an offense of theft, he would not come here again, and thus lose the chance to talk with me about the Dharma.”
Yoichi sometimes went on business to places 5 or 6 li away, but never failed to return home on the same day. Asked why, he replied, “The Tathagata is waiting for me.” Every night, after performing a service at the family shrine to express his gratitude to the Buddha, he went to sleep before the shrine. Whenever he awoke during the night, he respectfully stroked the shrine, saying, “You are the only one who loves such a wretched man like me.”
He used to say, “It is due solely to the benevolence of the Great Master, the Chief Abbot, that such a stupid man as me has come to understand the teaching of Faith which is most difficult to attain.” So saying, he deeply bowed to the direction of the Honganji every morning and evening. After that he joyfully deposited a penny or two into a bamboo pipe as a donation to the Honganji.
Whenever Yoichi passed by the jail nearby, he knelt down and tearfully expressed his indebtedness to the state, saying, “This is the kind reminder to me alone of my duty to abide by the law.”
In his advanced age, Yoichi shaved his head and received a Buddhist name, Nyusai (“Entry into the West”).