Amida’s Pure Land, (5 syllables)
Extremely far Buddha Land, (7 syllables)
Before I had thought. (5 syllables)
Namu Amida Butsu (7 syllables)
Now it comes here at my feet (7 syllables)
By Dr. /Archbishop Benkyo Shiio (1876-1971)
(Translated by Kosen Ishikawa)
極楽は 遥けきくにと 思いしに なむあみだぶに かよう足元 (Gokuraku wa Harukeki Kuni to Omoishi ni Namu Amida Butsu ni Kayou Ashimoto)
This is another short poem called “Tanka” written by Dr. Benkyo Shiio who was the 82nd Chief Abbot of Zojoji Head Temple. It is known as “Zojoji no Goeika” or “Song of Zojoji.”
Many Japanese Tanka have been translated into English with a Quatrain style which is a type of four lines stanza with one of rhyme schemes. Some translators translate Tanka into two-lines poem in English, because all Tanaka can be divided into two parts. (The first three lines and two lines.)
I don’t have any attachment of my preference of stanza but I enjoy translation of 5 lines Japanese Tanka into English with 5 lines and certain numbers of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. Of course, it is always better to follow one of the rhyme schemes, and I want to rearrange words in the future.
However my top priority is to introduce wonderful Japanese Tanka and its meanings to English-speaking members and friends as an addition to our assets of our teachings.
This Tanka is very similar to the Kuya Shonin’s Tanka which I introduced before.
We have heard,
the Pure Land,
is far, far away
yet striving earnestly
we reach our destination
(Translated by Jonathan Watts & Rev. Yoshiharu Tomatsu)
The first three lines are almost same. The difference is just a verb. Dr. Shiio used the verb “thought (think)” while Kuya Shonin used the verb “heard(hear).” They are both talking about general impressions on the Pure Land as extremely far land.
Then in the following last two lines, Dr. Shiio expressed his strong realization that Pure Land comes here whenever he recites Namu Amida Butsu whereas Kuya Shonin mentioned two ways to reach the Pure Land on the last two lines.
This Tanka may represent Dr. Shiio’s faith that Ojuo is possible through Nenbutsu in this present moment which is quite different from the traditional Jodo Shu that stresses Ojo is attained through death.
But what he really wanted to say in this Tanka was through Nenbutsu, we can be connected to Amida Buddha anywhere and anytime whenever we recite Namu Amida Butsu.
In 1949, Dr. Shioo visited Hawaii for about a month to give special services and teachings at Jodo Shu temples from September 2 to October 11. Koloa Jodo Mission had an honor to welcome Dr. Shiio and many members took part in the “Jukai” or “to receive precepts” ceremony and received “Dharma Name” from Dr. Shiio.