A rare meeting

Wild alstromerias, 23.11.15
Wild alstromerias, 21.11.15

‘Truly we have come now to hear the Pure Land teaching so rare to encounter;
Truly we have encountered the opening of the dharma-gate of the nembutsu.

‘Truly we have encountered the call of Amida’s universal Vow;
Truly we have encountered the gathering’s aspiration in shinjin.’
(Tz’u-min, Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, II, 34; CWS, p. 41)

In the second book of his compendium of Pure Land teaching – the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho – Shinran Shonin includes an extensive quote from a collection of hymns on the Sutra of the Samadhi of All Buddhas’ Presence by the great Chinese teacher Tz’u-min.

Tz’u-min was born in 680, just one year before the demise of Shan-tao (613-681), who, it could be said, is the true founder of Jodo Shinshu. After all, the use of the term Jodo Shinshu to describe our Pure Land tradition is attributed to Shan-tao.

One of the distinguishing features of our Shan-tao lineage is that, in this life, we experience Amida Buddha as a distinct entity; not a mere symbol, metaphor or creation of our own imagination, but a living reality, inconceivable light, the fount of wisdom, compassion and joy.  That is how it seems to me, at any rate.

Shan-tao had a profound influence on the thought of Shinran’s teacher, Honen (1133-1212). However, Shinran drew yet more broadly on Pure Land and other resources to further explain the truth of the universal Vow of Amida Buddha. Hence, Tz’u-min is one of the teachers for whom Shinran seems to have had special regard.

Apart from his lengthy quote from Tz’u-min’s writing in the second book of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, Shinran provides a detailed commentary on a section of Tz’u-min’s writings in Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’ by Seikaku, who was, like Shinran, a disciple of Honen.

Tz’u-min is especially renowned as a defender of the Pure Land way against criticism from the Ch’an, or Zen, sect. He was so dedicated to the nembutsu that he travelled to India and Sri Lanka to propagate the Pure Land teaching there. He was the first Pure Land missionary that I know of. One can only admire him for these endeavours.

Tz’u-min’s liturgy, from which I quoted at the beginning of this post, is truly beautiful and memorable. It sings of the wonder and joy in finding other nembutsu friends and practicers.  It celebrates the nembutsu way as the true practice of the Buddha Dharma. The passage that Shinran quotes ends with these words:

Question: Is it possible for a foolish being to attain birth or not?
How is it that in one utterance the darkness becomes light?

Answer: Cast aside your doubts and often say the nembutsu;
Then naturally Amida will always be near you.’ (CWS, p. 42)

Most importantly, however, Tz’u-min recognises that karmic readiness to hear the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha is rare. And it is rare for people who say the nembutsu to have the opportunity to meet and practice it together.

What a wonder and a joy is it when we nembutsu followers do meet! The delight in practicing together is a precious thing!