“Thus I have Heard from Rennyo Shonin” – Vol. 1

(1-30)

translation with notes by Zuio H. Inagaki

(1) Nembutsu on New Year’s Day:

When Dotoku of Kanjuji Village in Yamashina, Kyoto, went to the Shonin on New Year’s Day in the second year of Meio (1493), he received the following words from Rennyo Shonin::
“Dotoku, say the Nembutsu. The self-power nembutsu is practiced with an expectation that the Buddha will save you because of the merits of reciting the nembutsu many times. The Other-Power nembutsu is that at the moment a single thought of entrusting arises in your mind, you are immediately saved. The nembutsu you say after that is simply to repeat, “Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu, …” joyfully with a thought of gratitude that you have been saved. The Other-Power means the Power of Another. This single thought continues right up to the end of your life, ensuring your birth in the Pure Land.”

(2) Morning service

One day, during the morning service, the following six hymns were chanted:::
“Of the five inconceivabilities which are expounded,
Nothing can compare with the inconceivability of the Buddha-Dharma;
The inconceivability of the Buddha-Dharma
Refers to Amida’s Primal Vow.

Amida’s Merit-transference has been accomplished
In two phases, Going forth and Returning;
Through the two phases of Merit-transference
We are enabled to attain both Faith and Practice.

The Merit-transference in the phase of Going forth means:
When Amida’s sincere guidance becomes mature,
We are enabled to attain Faith and Practice of the Compassionate Vow
And realize that Samsara is Nirvana.

The Merit-transference in the phase of Returning means:
:    After attaining the stage of benefiting and guiding others,
We instantly turn into various states of existence
And cultivate the virtue of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra.

The single mind of entrusting which Vasubandhu, the discourse-master, professed,
According to Master T’an-luan’s explanation,
Is Faith of the Other-Power
Which we, passion-ridden ones, awaken in our heart.

The Light Unhindered throughout the Ten Quarters,
Illuminating the darkness of spiritual ignorance,
Brings those who rejoice with a single thought of entrusting
To reach Nirvana, the state of Extinction, without fail.”
(Hymns on the Masters, 33-38)

In the evening sermon, the Shonin cited a passage from the Contemplation Sutra, “… each ray of light shines universally upon the lands of the ten quarters, embracing, and not forsaking, those who are mindful of the Buddha” and Honen Shonen’s poem, “There is no place where the moonlight does not shine/ but it only dwells in the mind of one who looks upon it.”
The Shonin’s sermon was unspeakably wonderful. After the Shonin left, the Lord of the Northern Hall, Jitsunyo Shonin, praised him appreciatively by referring to the sermon that evening and the one the night before. He was overcome by deep feeling of gratitude. “How grateful, how grateful I am! No words can express my feeling of gratitude.” So saying, deeply moved, he profusely shed tears.

(3) The Shonin forgot the service order:

One day, at the time of service, the Shonin forgot the order of junsan. After retiring to the Southern Hall, he remarked, “The hymns with which Shinran Shonin taught us were so wonderful that I forgot the order of junsan.”
“How sad it is,” he commented, “that very few accept his exhortation and attain birth in the Pure Land.”
[Note] ‘Junsan':: A liturgical order in the Jodoshin school; while chanting a sutra, priests seated in the inner sactuary take turns reciting the first line of wasan; this seems to have started at the time of Rennyo at the Honganji head temple, but it is commonly practiced at ordinary temples.
‘Southern Hall': Rennyo’s hall for retreat at Yamashina Honganji.

(4) Mindfulness and recitation are one:

Someone asked the Shonin, “I do not understand very well why ‘mindfulness’ and ‘recitation’ are one.”
The Shonin replied, “There is a saying, ‘What one has in mind is bound to show in one’s appearance.’ This being so, if you realize that the substance of Faith is Namo Amida Butsu, you will see that reciting it and being mindful of it are one.”

(5) The main object of worship should be kept hanging until it wears away:

Rennyo Shonin once said, “The scroll of the main object of worship should be kept hanging until it wears away; the sacred scriptures should be read over and over again until they become thread-bare.” He said thus in a couplet.

(6) ‘Namo’ means…

The Shonin said, “‘Namu’ means ‘taking refuge.’ ‘Taking refuge’ means ‘entrusting oneself to Amida with singleness of thought.’ Further, ‘making an aspiration and transferring the merit’ means that to those who entrust themselves to Amida, he immediately endows great good and great merit, whose substance is Namo Amida Butsu.”

(7) The Shonin said to Gansho Kakuzen:

The Shonin said to Gansho Kakuzen Matashiro of Kaga Province (Ishikawa Prefecture) by quoting a scripture, “Shinjin is to accept that when a single thought of entrusting to Amida arises in one’s mind, Amida immediately saves such a person; the way this operation takes place is shown as Namo Amida Butsu. Then, however great your karmic evil may be, it is destroyed by the power of Faith endowed through a single-thought of entrusting.”
He continued, “This implies that the delusory karma, which caused you to transmigrate in the six realms since the beginningless past, is annulled by the wonderful Vow-Power originating from the Buddha’s non-arising (and non-perishing) wisdom at the moment you take refuge in Namo Amida Butsu with singleness of thought, thereby planting the true cause of attaining Nirvana in your mind.”
He then painted sacred words on a sheet of paper for a scroll and gave it to Gansho.
[Note] ‘A scripture': Refers to Zonkaku’s Jodo shin’yosho
‘The six realms': The six realms of Samsara where beings transmigrate in accordance with their karma: hell, realm of hungry ghosts, realm of animals, realm of fighting spirits, realm of humans, and realm of devas.

(8) The Shonin said to Kyoken and Kuken:

The Shonin said to Kyoken of Mikawa Province (Aichi Prefecture) and Kuken of Ise Province (Mie Prefecture), “‘Namu’ means ‘to take refuge in'; it means to entrust yourself to Amida with the assurance of salvation. You will soon realize that your taking refuge in him implies Amida’s aspiring to save you by transferring his merits to you.”

(9) Discerning well but not accepting in faith:

(Kuzen) said to the Shonin, “I do not understand very well (the remark of the Anjin-ketsujosho), ‘Although we have been long endowed with the Vow and Practice of the Other-Power, we have been vainly subject to transmigration being bound by groundless attachments to self-power.'”
The Shonin replied, “This remark is said of those who discern well the teaching but do not accept it in faith.”

(10) Deep understanding of shinjin:

(Soshun of) the Fukudenji Temple (in Shiga Prefecture) said to the Shonin, “I am not clear about the remark (of the Anjin-ketsujosho), ‘Amida’s Great Compassion fills the minds of sentient beings.'”
The Shonin replied, “The lotus-flower of the Buddha’s Mind blooms in the minds of sentient beings; how can it bloom on a plateau? It is said (in the Anjin-ketsujosho), ‘Merits and virtues of Amida’s Mind and Body enter the bodies of all sentient beings throughout the universe and fill them to overflowing.’ This is to say that the remark you asked me about concerns deep understanding of shinjin.”
Hearing this, (Soshun of) the Fukudenji Temple gratefully rejoiced.

(11) Chanting the Shoshinge and Wasan:

At the service on the eve of Shinran Shonin’s memorial day, the twenty-eighth day of the tenth month, the Shonin said, “Are you thinking of transferring the merit of chanting the Shonshinge and Wasan to the Buddha and Shinran Shonin? If so, what a deplorable thing it is! In other schools, they perform services and transfer the merit of that to the Buddha. In our school, we are taught to understand well Faith of Other-Power, and the import of this is stated in Shinran Shonin’s Wasan. It is especially emphasized that we should discern well the meanings of the commentaries of the Seven Masters through the Wasan. To say the nembutsu with gratitude for our indebtedness to the Shonin is to express our joy of acknowledging the Buddha’s benevolence before the Shonin.” Thus it was kindly admonished.

(12) However well you may study the scriptures:

The Shonin said, “However well you may study the scriptures, it is useless if you are not firmly settled in Faith of Other-Power. If your faith in Amida with the belief that your birth in the Pure Land is settled continues withut confusion until death, you will certainly attain birth.”

(13) Reincarnation of the Founder Shinran:

During the Hoonko season (seven days prior to Shinran Shonin’s memorial day which falls on the 28th day of the 11th month or January 16), on the 24th day of the 11th month in the 3rd year of Meio, at about 2 o’clock in the morning, Kuzen (Rennyo’s disciple and the author of his biography) visited the Goeizo Hall at the Honganji and paid homage to Shinran Shonin’s statue. He was asleep for a while. What he saw in a dreamy state was Rennyo Shonin appearing in person from behind the sliding door at the back of the sanctuary as if emerging from a pile of cotton. As he kept adoring the image, he noticed that the apperance of the image was that of the Founder Shinran. Wondering how strange, he looked inside the sanctury and found that the Shonin was not there.
When Kuzen was thinking of telling Kyomonbo (Rennyo’s disciple, 1435-1510) that the Founder Shinran had been reborn as Rennyo Shonin to revive the teaching of this school, Kyomonbo was giving a Dharma talk in which he quoted Kakunyo’s Liturgy of Hoonko to praise the Founder’s teaching, “It is as if a piece of wood and a stone could produce fire upon meeting the proper condition; also it is as if a tile and a pebble would turn into a gem if polished with a file.”
Kuzen awoke from the dream. Ever since then, he has adored Rennyo Shonin as the incarnation of the Founder Shinran.

(14) What a preacher should do:

A preacher should first be settled in shinjin and then study and explain to others the scriptures. If he does so, the audience will attain shinjin.

(15) Saying the nembutsu with joy:

The Shonin said, “If you have entrusted yourself to Amida with firm belief in his salvation and rejoice in it with gratitude, you express your joy in the nembutsu. By so doing, you repay your indebtedness to the Buddha.”

(16) Settle your shinjin well:

The Shonin said to (Renjun of) Ootsu Chikamatsu, “Settle your shinjin well and make others settle their shinjin.”
[Note] ‘Renjun':: Rennyo’s thirteenth son. He was the caretaker of the Kenshoji Temple at Ootsu Chikamatsu when Rennyo was staying there for more than two years before moving to Yoshizaki.

(17) Appreciation for the year’s end:

On the 6th day of the 12th month (1495), the Shonin was due to pay a visit to the Revered One at Tonda; the night before, that is, on the 5th, many people went to see the Shonin. The Shonin asked, “What brought so many people here?”
Junsei said, “I suppose they wish to express their gratitude for the inspiring sermons the other day (i.e., at the Hoonko service) and also to convey the year’s end greetings and appreciation to you before you go to Tonda tomorrow.”
The Shonin said, “The year’s end greetings are totally useless. Tell them to gain shinjin and make this a token of appreciation for the year’s end, will you?”
[Note] ‘The Revered One at Tonda': Refers to the resident priest of the Kyogyoji Temple at Tonda (present-day Takatsuki City, Osaka). Rennyo gave the name Kyogyoji (Teaching-Practice Temple) to this temple and later his nineteenth son Rengei became the resident priest.
‘Junsei': 1421-1510; Rennyo’s disciple in close attendance and the founder of the Shoenji in Kanazawa. Rennyo gave him the name ‘Hokyo.’

(18) Urging of the Great Practice of Other-Power:

The Shonin said, “When we lapse into indolence, we tend to harbor doubt wondering whether we will fail to attain birth in the Pure Land. Upon reflection, however, we are ashamed about remaining indolent for so long following our entrusting to Amida Tathagata and the settlement of our birth. Being reassured of his salvation in spite of our excessive indolence, we come to rejoice gratefully in his benevolence. This we call ‘urging of the Great Practice of Other-Power’.” Thus the Shonin said.

(19) The Rightly Established State and Nirvana:

When I (Kuzen) asked the Shonin, “Should I say the nembutsu with grateful acknowledgement of the fact that I have already been saved or should I say the nembutsu with grateful anticipation of his salvation?”
The Shonin said, “Both are correct. From the standpoint of the Rightly Established State, you can express your joy at having been saved. From the standpoint of the attainment of Nirvana, you express your gratitude for salvation in the future. Since both are a joyful acknowledgement of the fact that you will become a Buddha, you are correct either way.”
[Note] ‘The Rightly Established State'::Those who have entrusted themselves to Amida in accordance with the Eighteenth Vow are firmly assured of birth in the Pure Land and attaining enlightenment. This is originally a general Buddhist term but Shinran applied it to those of the Faith of Other-Power. There are two spiritual benefits for such people: dwelling in the Rightly Established State is the benefit in the present life and attainment of Nirvana is the benefit subsequent to our birth in the Pure Land.

(20) Returning to Kyoto from Tonda:

After returning to Kyoto from the Kyogyoji at Tonda on the 23rd day of the 1st month, in the 5th year of Meio (1496), the Shonin said in a stern tone, “From this year on, I do not want to see anyone lacking shinjin.” He then began to explain all about shinjin even more kindly.
The Shonin also held a no play at the Seiganji Temple and, on the 17th day of the 2nd month, he went down to the Kyogyoji Temple at Tonda again, and returned to Kyoto via the Shinshuji Temple at Sakai on the 27th day of the 3rd month.
On the 28th day, the Shonin said, “The reason I have been to Sakai in spite of some hardships was to explain to the followers the spirit of ‘entrusting myself to Amida and guiding others to entrust themselves to Amida.’ Hearing people rejoice at attaining shinjin wherever I go, I have returned home with great joy.”
[Note] ‘Seiganji': A temple in Kyoto. According to a different theory, this is the name of a specific no play. It is also proposed that this refers to a priest named Ryoyu of the Senganji Temple.
‘Sakai':: The name of a town in Osaka. The Shonin visited the Shinshuji Temple there, which is now called Sakai Betsuin. The temple was founded by Kakunyo’s disciple, Doyu, and was called Shinsho-in.
‘Entrusting myself…':: A well-known phrase which originally appears in the Liturgy for Birth by Shan-tao (Zendo).

(21) Speak out after attaining shinjin:

On the 9th day of the 4th month, the Shonin said, “It will be good if you speak out after attaining shinjin. You should not engage in idle talk. Explain well to others the import of the One Mind.” This was his remark to Kuzen.
[Note] ‘One Mind':: The absolute faith transferred to the aspirant by Amida. It is itself Amida’s heart and is the cause of birth in the Pure Land. The term appears as ‘single thought’ in the passage of fulfillment of the Eighteenth Vow, which Shinran interprets as the non-dual faith and the One Mind.

(22) Visit to Sakai:

On the 12th day of the same month, the Shonin visited the Shinshuji Temple at Sakai.

(23) The import of two Wasans:

On the 20th day of the 7th month, the Shonin returned home [in Kyoto from Sakai]. During that day, he preached the Dharma based on the hymn [from the Hymns on the Patriarchs]::
“For us in the evil world of the five defilements,
Only through the Diamond-hard Faith,
Birth and death is abandoned for ever,
And birth in the Pure Land of Naturalness is assured.”
He continued to talk on the next hymn:
[“The moment Faith as hard as diamond
Is firmly established in our minds,
Amida’s Compassionate Light embraces us;
Thus we are freed for ever from birth and death.”]
“I have returned home to tell you the import of these two hymns,” he continued. “How grateful and thankful I am for the teaching that ‘birth in the Pure Land of Naturalness is assured’ and ‘we are freed for ever from birth and death.'” Thus he expressed his gratitude over and over again.
[Note] ‘Five defilements':: The five marks of a period of general degeneration, consisting of degradation of 1) kalpa, or eon, 2) views, 3) passions, 4) human condition, and 5) human lifespan.
‘The Pure Land of Naturalness':: The Pure Land which accords with True Suchness or Ultimate Reality.

(24) The character “mu” of “namu”:

The Shonin said, “When I paint the characters “namu,” I follow Shinran Shonin’s style.”
After he had painted Namo Amida Butsu in gold dust on a sheet of paper, he hung it on the wall of the drawing room and said, “Both Fukashigikobutsu (The Buddha of Inconceivable Light) and Mugekobutsu (The Buddha of Unhindered Light) are the names that glorify the virtue of Namo Amida Butsu. For this reason, Namo Amida Butsu should be revered as the fundamental Name.”
[Note] ’Fukashigikobutsu':: Refers to Namo Fukashigikobutsu (Homage to the Buddha of Inconceivable Light), the eight-character name used as one of the three objects of worship in Jodoshinshu.The term of adoration ‘Fukashigiko’ first appears in T’an-luan’s (Donran) Verses in Praise of Amida Buddha and Shinran uses it in the Shoshinge..
‘Mugekobutsu’:: Refers to Kimyojinjippo mugekonyorai (Homage to the Buddha of Unhindered Light), the ten-character name used as one of the three objects of worship. This term of adoration was first used by Vasubandhu (Tenjin), the Second Patriarch, in his Discourse on the Pure Land.

(25) A hymn and a poem

Junsei said to the Shonin, “I wish to hear the meaning of this hymn:
‘From the sincere and compassionate words
Of immeasurable Buddhas of the ten quarters,
We should know that it is impossible to awaken
The Great Bodhi-mind with the self-power.’
(from the Hymns on the Three Dharma Ages)
The Shonin replied, “The Buddhas take it as their primary duty to urge sentient beings to take refuge in Amida.
‘In this [defiled] world, give up the thought of becoming nuns;
For it is as useless as the horns of a cow [which are crooked].’
This is the Founder’s poem. Hence, we know that outward appearance is uncalled-for; the One Mind is essential. People of the world say, “Even if the hair is shaven, the mind remains unshaven.”

(26) A Poem on Toribeno:

The Shonin said, “Shinran Shonin’s poem reads:
How sad and sorrowful I am to think of Toribeno,
the place where so many people I knew were cremated.”
[Note] Toribeno:: The place in Kyoto, on the eastern hillside, where there was a crematorium.

(27) The Founder’s Portrait:

On the 20th day of the 9th month in the 5th year of Meio (1496), the Shonin granted a portrait of the Founder to Kuzen. How inexpressibly appreciative he was!
[Note] This record is based on Kuzen’s diary.

(28) The Founder’s Biography:

In the 11th month of the same year, on the 25th day of the Hoonko period, the Shonin read the Founder’s Biography before his statue and, afterwards, taught the Dharma. His talk was impressive beyond words.
[Note] ’Hoonko':: Lit. ‘Dharma-gathering for acknowledging indebtedness'; in Jodoshinshu, the service in memory of Shinran Shonin was first held in 1297 by Kakunyo, the third monshu, to commemorate the thirty-third year of the Founder’s passing. It became an established custom in the Jodoshinshu temples to hold such a service on Shinran’s memorial day, i.e., 28th day of the 11th month or January 16, preceded by a week-long services and Dharma-talks.
‘Biography':: A biography of Shinran, entitled Godensho, was compiled by Kakunyo, to which were added pictures showing various aspects of Shinran’s life. It became a custom to read this biography during the Hoonko period.

(29) The original portrait painting of the Founder:

On the 16th day of the 4th month in the 6th year of Meio (1497), the Shonin returned home [from Sakai]. On that day, he produced the original portrait painting of the Founder wrapped in a sheet of thick paper. Spreading it with his both hands, he showed it to all present to have them worship it and said, “[The inscription on the portrait painting] is in Shinran Shonin’s own hand.” He continued, “Without good karmic relationships, you would not be able to see this.”
[Note] Shinran’s portrait painting:: It is not exactly known whether the portrait in question was ‘Kagami no goei’ or ‘Anjo no goei.’

(30) All Buddhas join Amida:

The Shonin said, “It is said in a hymn [in the Hymns on Patriarchs]:
All Buddhas glorify themselves with three kinds of acts,
Attaining ultimate equality among themselves,
For the sole purpose of remedying
False and deceitful body, speech, and mind of each sentient being.
This hymn shows that all Buddhas join Amida in saving sentient beings.”