Words of Honen Shonin I

1. An Extraordinary Opportunity

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writtings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


I have wandered for eons through the various realms of the triple world, yet I did not meet with Shakyamuni Buddha, and I can't help wondering which one, of the four kinds of birth I might have taken, prevented me from hearing the words of the Tathagata.


Because, you see, when Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra, I wasn't among the listeners. Nor did I hear the discourse on the Perfection of Wisdom. I wasn't a member of the great assembly on Vulture Peak when Shakyamuni spoke the Lotus Sutra, nor was I present in the Crane Forest at the time of the Great and Final Extinction.


Countless families of the city of Shravasti missed a chance to hear the Buddha's words. Perhaps I was one of them, living in a nearby house during the Buddha's residence there. For all I learned, I might as well have been in the lowermost of hells! What a woeful and wretched circumstance! How lamentable!


A being may drift for countless eons through the round of death and rebirth.   Yet somehow, at last, I have come to birth in the human realm so difficult to attain.   Human form is extremely rare, and the teaching of the Buddha hard to hear even though we may seek it for an immensely long period of time. Now I have this rare opportunity to hear the Buddha's words.


Though it is regrettable not to have met Shyakyamuni Buddha during his lifetime, nevertheless it is the greatest of blessings to be born into this world and have a chance to listen to the profound teachings.   the likelihood of this happening can be compared to that of a blind turtle placing his head through the hole in a piece of driftwood upon emerging from the depths of the ocean once in a hundred years.


The Buddha's teaching was brought to Japan in the winter of the thirteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Kinmei (607 C.E). Before that time the Dharma was not propagated here, and there was no possibility of living one's life for the sake of Enlightenment.


Such considerations as there move me to wonder what sort of

past actions provide the conditions necessary for birth in human form.   What did I do to cause it?   I'm not sure. Anyway, it's very difficult to gain the Dharma, but now we have it.


What a waste it would be, then, to live vainly, without giving heed to the teachings or putting them into practice. To die without making the least spiritual progress, how shameful!

(From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 32)





前篇 第1 難値得遇(なんちとくぐう) 勅伝第32巻




2. The Doctrinal Basis for the Founding of a New Movement

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writtings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


Many teachings can be found in the Buddhist tradition, but in the end they can be reduced to the Threefold Training in Virtue, Concentration, and Wisdom practiced by adherents of the Small and Great Vehicles, the exoteric and esoteric schools.   In my own case, however, I cannot claim to uphold even a single precept, nor have I attained any kind of smadhi.


A certain Dharma Master has said that unless you keep the precepts you cannot hope to realize samadhi.   The mind of an ordinary person is never at rest, but ceaselessly chases after sensory simulation, like a monkey leaping from branch to branch of a tree.   Perpetually distracted, the mind is very easy to stir up and very hard to calm down.


How, then , can the sword of true and undefiled wisdom be obtained? Without that sword, how can one cut away the bonds of blind passion that give rise to unwholesome actions?   And if the arising of defilements can't be prevented, how can one ever break out of the cycle of birth-and-death? Alas!Alas! What can be done?   One can only weep for the condition of ordinary, foolish persons, such as I am, incompetent to undertake the Threefold Training in Virtue, Concentration, and Wisdom.


So I wondered: apart from the Threefold Training, is there any teaching suitable for a person of my capacity? Is there any practice I can successfully cultivate? With this question in mind I sought out many learned men and sages. But none of them could teach me the way, or even point it out to me.   Finally, discouraged and gloomy, I went to the library at Kurodani where I opened the scriptures and, one by one, read through them all.


One day, I came to the following passages in Zendo's commentary on The Contemplation Sutra: "Whether sitting, standing, or lying down, just wholeheartedly repeat the name of Amdia Buddha. Don't stop even for a moment.   This is the definitely right activity that will lead to salvation without fail, for it accords with the fundamental vow of the Buddha."

When I read this, I realized the truth of it, became deeply convinced, and opened my heart to it, thenceforward relying on it completely.   Therefore we should ceaselessly repeat the Buddha's name in the certainty that by doing so we establish the good karmic conditions that cause us to be born in the Land of Bliss.   (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 6)


前篇 第2 立教開宗(りっきょうかいしゅう) 





3. The Holy Path and the Pure Land Path

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writtings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


Someone remarked to the Venerable Honen that his every utterance of nembutsu must meet the requirements of the Buddha's own thought.   The Venerable Honen asked. "Why do you say so?" His interlocutor replied, "You are learned and therefore you know all about the merit of recitation and you understand in detail the deep meaning of Amida's Vow."


To this the Venerable Honen answered, "If you really believe in Amida's fundamental vow, you won't say such things as that. The fundamental vow is just for such people as woodcutters and grassgatherers, vegetable pickers, drawers of water and the like, illiterate folk who merely recite the Buddha's name wholeheartedly, confident that as a result of saying "Namu Amida Butsu" they will be born into the western land.   The recitation of such people perfectly fulfills the Buddha's requirements.


"If wisdom were the cause of deliverance from birth-and-death, then why would I, Genku(Honen), abandon the path of sages and devote myself exclusively to this pure land path?   The practice of the path of sages consists in the attempt to become free of birth-and-death through one's own understanding, whereas to enter the path of the pure land is just to accept one's state of incorrigible ignorance and to be born in the Land of Bliss (by virtue of Amida Nyorai's power)." (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 21)




前篇 第3 聖浄二門(しょうじょうにもん) 勅伝第21巻




Day 4 The True Purpose of the Buddha's Coming into This World


The Fundamental Vow of rebirth through nembutsu is based on the compassionate desire to save all beings equally.   Indeed, compassion is the essential nature of the Buddha's mind, hence the passage in The Sutra of Contemplation that reads, "Buddha-mind is Great Compassion."   The Venerable Zendo, in commenting on this line, wrote, "Because Amida Buddha has compassion for everyone equally, he can save everyone without exception." By "all" he means that in the whole wide world not even one person is excluded.


Therefore I can say that the vow of rebirth through nembutsu is Amida's essential resolution, and thus stands apart from other religious practices. So much so that Shakyamuni himself appeared in this world just to reveal Amida Buddha's fundamental vow.   Taking into account the variety of people and their respective capacities, Shakyamuni Buddha taught other kinds of practice; but to propagate those methods was not his main intention.

Nembutsu alone is the essence of the fundamental vow by means of which Amida intends to save all beings, and also it is the real reason for Shakyamuni Buddha's coming into this world.   The nemubutsu, therefore, cannot be compared to other religious practices.* (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 28)



前篇第4 出世本懐(しゅっせほんがい) 勅伝第28巻




5.  Dependence of n the Fundamental Vow Only

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writtings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


A very long time ago, when Amida Buddha had not yet attained buddhahood, he was called Dharmakara Bodhisattva.   Moved by a profound desire to establish a pure land and save people from suffering, he went before the Tathagata Lokeshvararaja and, with utmost determination, made forty-eight vows. Among them was the vow to save all living beings by causing those who call his name to be born into his Land of Bliss.   This is the vow that we call the fundamental vow of rebirth through nembutsu.


In the first volume of the larger Sutra of the Land of Ultimate Bliss we find the following passage: "If, after I have realized buddhahood, it is not possible for all beings of ten directions who sincerely and with deep faith think of me up to ten times to be born in my land (except those have committed the five deadly sins or injured the true teachings*), then may I not attain complete enlightenment.


The Great Master Zendo reflected upon this passage and gave it this interpretation: "Of all beings of ten directions who recite my name up to ten times, if any one of them is not reborn, I shall not accept enlightenement."


It is now ten kalpas since that Buddha, having realized buddhahood, took up residence in that land.   Be assured, therefore, that his fundamental vow was not in vain.   Whenever a person recites Amida's name, he will be born into that land without fail.


What we call Buddha-mindfulness is not meditation on the Buddha's Dharma-body, nor visualization of his form, but just the wholehearted recitation of Amida Buddha's name.   That is how we understand the term nembutsu and therefore in this passage we read it as "recite my name."


All other practices besides nembutsu, thought they are meaningful and noble in themselves, cannot compare in merit with the recitation of the name of the Buddha Amida, for they are not specified by the fundamental vow.


It is a general rule that those who wish to be born in a particular land ought to follow the vow of buddha who established that country.   Thus those who wish to be born into the western land of Amida Buddha should follow this fundamental vow. (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 25)

6.  Pondering the Truth for Five Kaplas

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writtings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


When Amida Buddha was still Dharmakara Bodhisattva, he passed five kalpas in pondering the truth of cause and effect.   Then, for five more kalpas, he employed various methods to save ordinary people through the working of karma.   With great compassion he established a special vow that applies to common people, by means of which all those of inferior capacity can be saved.


If rebirth in the pure land depended upon a being's capacity and karmic merit, then it would be very hard to attain indeed.   "For that reason," says Amida Buddha, "I spent innumerable years in the cultivation of spiritual practices.   All ten thousand kinds of practice bore good karmic fruit.   All practices for the sake of enlightenment were fulfilled in every condition.   Each and every meritorious deed, together with karmic merit of all those deeds, has been condensed into my name and title for the benefit of those who call upon me sincerely.   Every living being who, in response to my fundamental vow, recites my name wholeheartedly will be born into the pure land.  (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 32)

7. All Buddhas Bear Witness to Nembutsu

(Sixty selctions from the Sayings & Writtings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight Ryokan Nakamura)


All the buddhas of six directions, as many as the sands of the river Ganges, extend their broad and long tongues to cover all beings of the great trichiliocosm, and proclaim to them the indisputable fact that whosoever recites the name of Amida Buddha will be born into the western land.

In other words, all buddhas of six directions, as numerous as the Ganges's sands, bear witness to the fact that nembutsu alone constitutes the fundamental vow of Amida Nyorai.   All other practices are not mentioned in Amida's fundamental vow and therefore all the buddhas of the six directions do not testify regarding their benefits.   Bearing in mind the true significance of this dharma, set your mind firmly to the task of reciting the name and title, thereby receiving the benefits of Amida Buddha's fundamental vow, which Shakyamuni Buddha has personally transmitted and all the Buddhas of the six directions proclaim.

Neither the fundamental vow, nor Shakyamuni's personal recommendation, nor the blessing of the buddhas of the six directions were uttered in vain.   That's why the cultivation of nembutsu is superior to all other religious practices. Of this you can be certain. (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 25)

8. Nembutsu is Suitable for People of All Capacities

(Sixty selctions from the Sayings & Writtings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight Ryokan Nakamura)

The pure land teaching is superior to other teachings; the practice of nembutsu is superior to other practices. Why? Because it is suitable for all people, whatever their (moral or intellectual) capacities.

As for other kinds of practice- for instance the meditation on noumenon, the arousing of bodhichitta, the reading aloud of Mahayana sutras, the recitation of mantra, the cultivation of tranquility and insight-all these are, to be sure, the genuine teachings of the Buddha, all are truly ways to liberate oneself from birth-and-death and realize Nirvana.   But because the Dharma is declining in our ear, none of us can actually cultivate these methods, for we lack the capacity to do so.   As the age of the end of Dharma draws near, human beings will have a lifespan of only ten years!

Any of us might be carrying the stain of the ten misdeeds and the five deadly sins. For people in such a condition as ours, nemubutsu is the only possible way of salvation.   Those who recite the name and title, whether man or woman, young old, regardless of circumstances or capacity, all will be saved by the compassion of Amida Tathagata's great vow of nembutsu.

It is for that reason that I insist upon the superiority of nemubutsu to all other dharmas. No other practice can bear comparison to it.   (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 45)

9. The Aspiring Heart

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writtings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


The most important thing for cultivations of nembutsu to bear mind, if they wish to be born into the pure land, is this: let your thoughts dwell on life after death: arouse the fervent desire to be born in the western land; and believe wholeheartedly that Amdia Nyorai, together with a host of beings, will come to welcome you at the moment of death.   This understanding alone is important. For those who grasp the importance of life after death and single-mindedly recite the nembutsu, nothing else is necessary.


Even though we speak of the three hearts, the expression "aspiring heart" will do just as well.   The aspiring heart is the very core of practice. When its workings are open and without external hindrance, it can be called the sincere heart (Shijoshin). Because the aspiring heart is utterly devoted and firmly convinced, without the least doubt that when we recite "Namu Amida Butsu" Amida Buddha will come to greet us, such an affirmative heart can also be called a believing heart (Jinshin). Finally, since we wish to be born in the pure land and therefore live and practice solely for the sake of it, such unshakable determination can be called the heart of merit-transference and vows (Ekohotsuganshin).


Thus if, out of our firm intention to attain birth in the pure land, there arises this aspiring heart, then the three hearts will be realized without our making any special effort to cultivate them; for the aspiring heart is the very center of the three hearts. (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 24)

10. Instruction about Nembutsu in a Short Letter

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writtings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


Regarding the capacity of ordinary people of this age of the declining Dharma to attain birth into the Land of Ultimate Bliss, do not doubt it even though your religious practice may seem insufficient.   Ten repetitions of Amida Buddha's name, or even one, is enough for rebirth.   Though you may be sinful, do not allow doubt to hinder you; for, as we are told, Amida Nyora does not discriminate among beings on account of their behavior. Do not doubt it because we happen to be far removed in time from the period of the true Dharma.   Even the beings of the next age, when the Dharma has completely vanished, will be able to go for birth to the pure land.   How much more easily, then, can the people of our own era go there!


There may not be one of us who is capable of right living. Indeed, we commit misdeeds incessantly.   Nevertheless, do not doubt the possibility of attaining birth.   Has not Shakyamuni testified that he himself was at one time full of defiling passions?


In the ten directions there are countless Buddha lands. WE should aspire to be born in the western land because, as begins who have committed the five sins, it is the only pure land into which we can be born.


In the universe there are buddhas as numerous as the sands of the River Ganges.   But we rely on Amida Buddha only, because he comes in person to welcome everyone who has recited his name three times, or five.  


Out of the multitude of spiritual practices cultivate only the nemubutsu, for it is the one chosen by Amida when he made his fundamental vow.   The ship of Amida Buddha's vow will carry us to the pure land.   Once we are there, our every desire will be satisfied.   Whether or not we board that ship depends upon our having the heart of reliance.


The most precious of all delights is to be born a human being, which is a very rare birth; to rely on the fundamental vow, so hard to meet; to be released from samsara and to be reborn at last in the pure land. And if a sinful person can be born there, how much more easily a good one?   So far as the religious practice of reciting the nembutsu is concerned, rest assured that as few as ten utterances, and even only one, is not without efficacy, and confidently proceed to practice without ceasing.   If one utterance is enough to insure rebirth, how much more certain is it if your recite incessantly?


Amida Buddha has already kept his promise not to accept enlightenment until the terms of his vow are fulfilled.   Indeed, he now dwells in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.  Surely he will come to meet us when we are about to die.     Shakyamuni Buddha will rejoice o see that by following his teachings we have escaped the round of birth-and-death. And likewise the buddhas of the six directions will rejoice to learn that we have been born, never to regress, into the land of Amida Buddha, whom they have approved and praised.


Let our joy fill the heights of the heavens and the depth of the ocean because in this life we have met with Amida buddha's fundamental vow.   We should repay this blessing with gratitude throughout our lives, whether sitting, standing, moving or lying down.


Let us live in complete dependence upon his promise of "up to ten times" and wholeheartedly rely on his "assurance of rebirth in the pure land."  

(A letter of teachings sent to the sage of Kuroda, Shunjo-bo Chogen, From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 21)

11. Perfect Reliance

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


Do not concerned with the extend of your defilements, nor whether your burden of sin is heavy or light.   Just recite "Namu Amida Butsu" with your lips, listen to the sound of your voice, and set your mind firmly on being born in the pure land.   Your own firmly set mind creates the conditions for your birth ( in the western land).   If you don't grasp that fact, then your birth is uncertain. If you doubt it, then it's not assured.   If you believe your birth to e certain, then it is assured.


That's why I keep asking you just to utter the holy name with deep faith in the Buddha's compassion.   Whatever your character or karmic inheritance may be Amida Buddha's compassion.   whatever your character or karmic inheritance may be, Amida Buddha will unfailingly come to welcome you, for such is the nature of his vow.


To rely wholeheartedly upon him, without the slightest anxiety about past deeds, nor any doubt whatever about one's future birth, that is what we call the heart of reliance.   (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 22)


12. Reasons for Choosing the Pure Land Path

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


If you wish to be free of the bondage of birth-and-death, then one of the two excellent dharmas you should give up the path of the sages and choose the pure land path as your sole practice.   And if you with to enter the pure land path, then between the right practice and the miscellaneous practices you must ignore the miscellaneous and choose the right.   To do the right practice requires that, between the essential practice and the auxiliary practices, you set aside the auxiliary practices and take up the essential right activity, and concentrate on that.   What we call the essential practice is none other than reciting the Buddha's name, the practice which surely results in pure land birth, in accord with the Buddha's fundamental vow. (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 18)

13. Gain and Loss in Practice

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


The many kinds of practice that are recommended for birth into the pure land can be roughly divide into two categories.   The first is exclusive practice, that is, the recitation of nembutsu.   The other, miscellaneous practice, includes all practices apart from oral nembutsu, both definite and non-definite.   Those who do as suggested in the introduction to Hymns of going for Birth, "who practice reverently, exclusively, uninterruptedly throughout the whole of their lives, ten out of ten will be born in the west, a hundred out of a hundred."


When we compare the exclusive practice with the miscellaneous practices, we see that the exclusive practice with the miscellaneous practices, we see that the difference is between gain and loss.   Gain in this case can be equated with one's ability to be born in the pure land.   Of those who recite "Namu Amida Butsu," if ten do it, ten will be reborn; if a hundred do it, all one hundred will be able to gain rebirth.   That's all.


Loss here means simply to lose one's chance to benefit by rebirth in the western land. Of one hundred people who cultivate the various other practices, perhaps one or two might be able to attain pure land birth; our of a thousand, perhaps three, or five.   The rest will be unable to go there for birth.


In short, those who live in the essential practice are all able to be born, why?   Because their practice is a response to the fundamental vow of Amida Buddha, and follows the advice of Shakyamuni Buddha.   Of those who perform the miscellaneous practices, however, only a few will be born.   Why? Because their practice fails to harmonize with the fundamental vow of Amida Buddha, and it does not follow the advice of Shakyamuni.


The minds of those who live in "Namu Amida Butsu" and aspire to rebirth in the pure land are deeply in accord with minds of the two Fortunate Ones. On the other hand, the minds of those who aspire for birth but cultivate the miscellaneous practices do not accord deeply with the intentions of those buddhas.


This is only part of what the Great Master Zendo, in the preface to Hymns of Rebirth, has to say on the subject of gain and loss. According to the Venerable Zendo there are, beside the ones I have given, many more reasons for keeping to the essential practice.   In his commentary on the Sutra of contemplation he discussed the matter in such great detail that it cannot even be summarized here. Nevertheless, I wish it to e understood that I base my remarks on those passages.   (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 25)


14. The Teaching of the Fundamental Vow Stands Alone

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)

The nembutsu of the fundamental vow can and should be truly independent, for it requires no external supports.   By "external supports" I mean reliance upon one's human intelligence, moral conduct, the heart that seeks the path, compassion, or anything else.   None of these is an auxiliary to nembutsu, which stands alone.


Good people should seek salvation in the recitation of "Namu Amida Butsu" just as they are.   And bad people should seek salvation in "Namu Amida Butsu" just as they are.   Whether they are bad or good, let people just recite "Namu Amida Butsu" as they were the day they were born. Such a person need not depend on any other means. Even so, every one who tries to rectify his evil ways, and do good deeds, acts in accord with the Buddha's wishes.


If a person's mind is not set on going for birth, or if he believes himself to be disqualified for this reason or that, then his birth in the pure land is not assured.   (Gyojo ezu, Chapter 21)

15. Faith and Practice Together

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


If a person thinks he can be reborn in the pure land by means of ten utterances of the name, or even one, and, as a result of this belief, recites inattentively, then his faith obstructs his practice. If, on the other hand, a person agrees with the Venerable Zendo that one ought to recite incessantly, yet harbors doubts that he will be born as a result of one utterance only, then his practice obstructs his faith.


Moment by moment, without ceasing to recite, you should base your faith firmly on the single nembutsu as a cause of rebirth, cultivated for the whole length of your life. If you doubt that one recitation will result in rebirth, then each recitation will be lacking in faith.


Amida Buddha's fundamental vow assures us of birth into the pure land for those who utter his name even once. Each and every utterance, then, actually fulfills the karmic conditions necessary for rebirth.

16. Self-Power Nembutsu and Other-Power Nembutsu

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


It is unreasonable, and terribly mistaken, to suppose that those who recite an enormous number of nembutsu depend on their own power.   People who utter the name only once or twice, yet rely on their own understanding, practice the nembutsu of self-power.   But should someone recite a thousand or ten thousand times-should he cultivate nembutsu day and night for three months or three years-then, provided he lives in complete reliance on the merit of Amida Buddha's fundamental vow and with every repetition reaffirms his trust, his recitation must be considered the nemubutsu of salvation by Amida Buddha's power only.


Likewise, the practice of those who have the three hearts, though they utter the name moment by moment, day and night, cannot possibly be considered the nembutsu of salvation by self-power, so long as they place complete reliance on the saving power of Amida Buddha's fundamental vow alone.


(From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 21)

17. The Easiest Way to Attain Rebirth in the Pure Land

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


Although nembutsu can be done in a variety of ways, depending upon the particular significance one attaches to it, for us it is enough just to recite six syllables, in which all spiritual practices are contained.   All you need to do is in your heart to rely on the fundamental vow, with your mouth say the name and title, and hold the beads of mindfulness in your hand.   This very mindfulness, continuously maintained, is the karma that determines pure land birth.


Basically the practice of nembutsu is effective regardless of time, place and circumstances-whether it is done standing, moving, or lying down; whether one's body and mouth are clean or not-and so it is called the easy practice for ojo*. And note this well: to do it with a pure heart is the essential factor.   Therefore your should urge others to do it. By cultivating in this way under all circumstances, your mind will become more stable. (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 25)

*Literally, "going for birth", i.e., birth into Amida Buddha's Land of Ultimate Bliss.

18. Living in Peace and Security

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


Live your human life in whatever manner enables you to practice nembutsu.   Renounce everything that interferes with recitation. If you can't utter the name while living in just one place, become a vagabond and do it.   If it is difficult because you constantly travel, then establish a fixed residence and recite. If you are under religious vows and have trouble reciting because of it, then resume the householder's life. If you can't practice as a householder, abandon the home life.


If you are living alone and it doesn't work, try to find a companion, a fellow cultivator who will encourage you.   But if reciting with others is a hindrance, then live by yourself.

Should you be prevented from reciting by the necessity of providing yourself with food and clothing, accept the charity of others and continue your practice.   And if no one will help you, then get by somehow, but keep doing it!


If you have a spouse, family and servants, it should be because they make it easier for you to cultivate nembutsu.   By no means should you keep them if they get in the way of it.   Property and high standing are to be cherished insofar as they serve to support nemubutsu.   But if they become hindrances they should be given up.   Generally speaking, any of these things is all right provided it helps us to achieve true serenity and to fulfill our wish to be born in the pure land.


The human body can be the cause of our return to the three crossings from which it is hard to escape, yet we cling to it.   How much better ought we nourish and care for our bodies, knowing that this body which recites "Namu Amida Butsu" is the vehicle for rebirth into the pure land. When the body does not serve as an auxiliary condition of birth through nembutsu, but is maintained only for the purpose of sensual gratification in living, then it becomes the vehicle for returning to the three evil paths. If, on the contrary, you care for yourself with the aim of pure land birth, then concern for the body will be a supporting condition for the fulfillment of ojo. (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 45)


19. The Fulfillment of Karma for Rebirth

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


In two sorts of circumstances it is possible to embark upon the ship of Amida Buddha's vow, and in tow not. Of the circumstances in which it is impossible to embark, the first is that of people who, having done unwholesome deeds, (are unable to entrust themselves to the fundamental vow) because of an excessively strong sense of guilt.   Though they go on practicing nembutsu, they don't believe that they can go the pure land, and so they cannot.   In the second kind of case, one recites with the aspiration useless. Because in such a case personal intention is believed to be more important than the fundamental vow, one does not embark.


Of the two kinds of conditions in which the person does actually embark for the pure land, the first is the case of someone like me, who has committed offenses; someone, that is, who can certainly expect to fall into hell as the result of his actions.   But even in such circumstances, should he begin to recite the Buddha's name because he firmly believes in Amida Buddha's vow, his rebirth in the pure land is assured.   Joy and gratitude will arise, and he will embark for the pure land.


The second case is that of the person who, from the most remote past, has had the aspiration for enlightenment, and yet has not been liberated from the bondage of birth-and-death on that account.   Regardless of whether or not one possesses bodhicitta, and whatever the degree of one's sinfulness, a person attains ojo by simply reciting the Buddha's name moment after moment. It is through the merit of that practice alone, in reliance upon the power of the Buddha, that we board the ship of the fundamental vow. (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 21)

20. The Difficulty of Visualization

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


Buddhists of our day ought to abandon their practice of buddha-contemplation.   When you attempt to visualize the image of buddhas and bodhisattvas, the fact is that what you see in your minds' eye is not as clear as a form as those of the images made by the sculptors Unkei and Kokei.   And when you try to picture the adornments of the Land of Bliss, it's hard to see them half as well as you can see the beauty of the flowers and fruits of the cherry, plum and peach trees right here in this world.


"The Buddha is already present in the Land of Bliss, having attained enlightenment. All beings should realize that his fundamental vow was not made in vain. If you utter his name you will surely be born into the Land of Bliss." If you put you trust in this passage from Master Zendo's commentary, and in the fundamental vow, and wholeheartedly recite the Buddha's name, then the three hearts will be fulfilled spontaneously.

Ven. Zendo's Commentary on the Sutra of Contemplation of the Buddha of Infinite Life. (Kan gyo no sho)

(From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 21)

21. Right Endeavor

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


It is a fact that many enjoy viewing he blossoms of the Golden Valley and spend slow-moving spring days in idle leisure.   Some climb to the balconies of the Southern Pavilion to view the moon on autumn nights, while others spend their years in roaming the thousand miles of cloud-tipped mountains, or struggle against the sea in order to obtain a livelihood.   Far from their loved ones, they labor in the numbing cold of winter and under the scorching summer sun. They freeze and sweat toil and grow old in their occupations.


Some, surrounded by wife and children, friends and family, cannot cut the ties of affection that bind them. Others, seeing only their enemies and those they despise, never cease to rankle with loathing and vexation.


Whatever people may do-day and night, morning and evening; moving, standing, sitting and lying down-they are just serving their own interests with all their energy, amassing the karma that will carry them to the three evil states and the eight afflictions of renewed existence.   In a sutra it says that a being has eight billion four hundred million thoughts, by virtue of which one creates, whatever one does, the karma that leads to the three lowermost regions of hell.   Each yesterday and every today comes and goes in this way, time without end, and all for naught.

(From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 32)

22. The transience and Preciousness of Life

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


The blossom that opens in the morning is scattered by the evening breeze, and the dew, condensed in hours of darkness before dawn, is dispelled by the rays of the morning sun.   Heedless or willfully ignorant of this procession of changes, man dreams of prosperity all through life and, without understanding the nature of transience, hopes for longevity.


All the while, across the face of the earth moves the restless wind of impermanence, dissolving all it touches. Dewdrops of birth-and-death vanish forever. man's body is left to rot in field or forest, and bones bleach on some remote mountain, to become at last a mere heap of dust covered with moss or grass, while under open skies the spirit wanders alone.   Wife, children and family, who dwell together where once he dwelt, cannot comfort him.   Far from him is his treasure house full of precious things. Regret and bitterness are his companions. At length he reaches the court of Yama, Lord of the Lower Realms, whose task it is to determine the degree of offense and its proper penalty.   And Yama says to him, "You were born in a land where the teachings of the Buddha are known and proclaimed, yet you have come back here, having made no effort in spiritual practices and having attained nothing?   Why? what could one possibly reply to such a question?   I implore you earnestly and with effort to pursue the way of deliverance, that you may not once again return to the three realms of torment. (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 32)

23. The One-Sheet Document

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


The method of final salvation that I have propounded is neither the kind of contemplation advocated by numerous scholars of China and Japan, nor is it the recitation of the Buddha's name that issues from the study and deep understanding of it.

Nothing but the mere recitation, without doubt, of "Namu Amida Butsu" will result in the believer's birth in the pure land.   Just this alone is sufficient; nothing else need to be considered.  


Mention is often made of the three hearts and the four ways of practice, but all these are included in the firm belief that rebirth in the pure land is most conclusively assured by the recitation of "Namu Amida Butsu." Had I a doctrine more profound than this one, I would be excluded from the compassionate guidance of the Exalted On, Amida and Shakyamuni, and be left out of the fundamental vow of Amida Buddha.


Those who believe in the nembutsu, no matter how learned they may be in the teachings of Shyakyamuni's whole lifetime, should behave like unlettered ignoramuses or like simple-hearted women whose faith is implicit.   Thus, without any pretention to scholarship or wisdom you should single-mindedly recite the name of Amida Buddha and that alone.


In order to confirm the authenticity of the teachings herein given, I affix my hand print.   The doctrines of assured mind an correct practice have been fully described in this document.   It represents my complete understanding of the Buddha's teachings.   Nothing else need to be added to what I have written here.   I have made this statement in the hope of avoiding any misunderstanding that may arise in future.

23rd day of January, 2nd year of Kenryaku (1212 C.E.)



The Venerable Honen's parting message to his disciple, Seikambo, two days before he was led to the pure land. (From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 37)

24. Nembutsu Retreat

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


Once in a while we ought to set aside a special time for the saying of the nembutsu, so as to arouse body and mind to cultivation.   Sixty or seventy thousand utterances per day may seem like enough. But it is well known that when our eyes and ears get used to something, its freshness gradually fades, and we pay less and less attention to it.   And with daily business pressing us from morning till night, there's real danger that we'll lose sight of our religious commitments.


Therefore, it's good to set aside a period for the practice of nembutsu from time to time, in order to revitalize our practice.   Our great master, Zendo, encouraged devotees to do it, and the Venerable Eshin explained in detail how to prepare for it.   According to his instructions, before starting a session you should thoroughly clean the room in which you will be doing it, and adorn it with such offerings as you can afford of flowers and incense.   Cleanse your body and clothing, too.   Recite the nembutsu for six periods or twelve periods a day.   When more than one person does it, you should take turns, of various lengths according to the convenience of the participation, so that the practice can be kept up continuously throughout the session. The way you arrange it should conform to circumstances.

(From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 21)

25. Venerable Honen Praises Venerable Zendo

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


It's clear, upon reflection, that the Venerable Zendo's commentary on the Sutra of Contemplation is nothing less than a guidebook to the western land.   Truly, in spiritual matters it is our eyes and our feet, and devotees should cherish it accordingly.   We should revere this text all the more because while Venerable Zendo was writing it a monk appeared to him every night, in a dreem, and explained to him the sutra's deep meaning.   Perhaps this monk was an emanation of Amida Buddha himself, and a sign of his compassion.


Furthermore, there is a tradition, dating from the T'ang dynasty, to the effect that the Venerable Zendo was himself an incarnation of the Buddha Amida. If this assertion is true, then the commentary is itself the direct teaching of Amida Buddha.   Master Zendo himself says, "Let anyone who intends to make a copy of this book do it with as much reverence as he would copy the words of the Buddha." This is not a merely a manner of speaking, but a great truth.   For if we seek to discover who the Venerable Zendo really was, we will find that he is none other than the Dharma king of the forty-eight vows, the very same one who announced, ten kalpas ago, that he had attained complete awakening, thereby giving us a basis for absolute trust in nembutsu.


Seeking to know more about his manifest body, we learn that he is the one who instructed us in the exclusive cultivation of nembutsu. His words, spoken after he had attained birth (in the pure land) through samadhi, can surely guide us to the pure land.   His original body differed from his manifest body, yet both were united in their intention to achieve our deliverance.  


I, a monk of small attainments, when first I looked into this commentary and understood its basic message, at once gave up all other practices and devoted myself to nembutsu alone.   From that day onward I resolved to cultivate it for my own benefit and the welfare of others.


Whenever I've been asked about the goal, I've always spoken of the pure land in the west as the harbor.   When asked about the means of reaching it, I've said that nembutsu alone is the ship that will carry us to the land.   There are very many who believed what I taught them, while unbelievers have been few*.


*"The editor of Gyojo ezu added the following words: "No one sincerely desiring rebirth through nembutsu and determined to make it this life's main occupation, could ignore the importance of Master Zendo's commentary."

26. Amida Buddha's Light Shines on Nembutsu Devotees Only

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


As it is written in the Sutra of Contemplation, "The light of Amida Buddha illumines all being and never forsaking them." This means that those living beings who recite the nembutsu exclusively are bathed in Amida Buddha's light, but not those who cultivate other spiritual practices.   But someone may raise the following objection:"Surely the Buddha's light ought to illumine and embrace a person whatever method he may follow, provided he also prays that he may enter the land of bliss.   How can it be that the Buddha chooses to illumine only those who practice nemubutsu?"   Addressing this matter, Zendo says, "Amida Buddha's body is like a mountain of gold.   The light emitted by his marks of attainment penetrates ever one of the quarters of the world, yet only those who practice nembutsu receive the light.   Be assured, therefore, that the fundamental vow is the most effective of all vows."   And so on.


The meaning is this: nembutsu is the only activity prescribed by Amida Buddha in his fundamental vow; and the glory that shines forth from him since he became a buddha touches all those who rely upon the vow he made prior to enlightenment. But because his fundamental vow does not mention any of the other practices, it is not possible for Amida's light to shine on those who practices, it is not possible for Amida' light to shine on those who performs them.   Bear in mind that whoever longs for the Land of Ultimate Bliss should cultivate nembutsu of the fundamental vow and bask in (Amida Buddha's ) all -embracing light. Again, I urge you to hold the practice of nembutsu above all else. You should put your utmost effort into the recitation of the name.

(From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 25)

27. The Intimate Relation (Shin-nen)

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


Of the three relations that hold between the Buddha and sentient beings, the Venerable Zendo explained one, the intimate relation, as follows: "When sentient beings prostrate themselves to the Buddha, the Buddha sees them.   When people call to him, he hearts them.   When they think about him, he thinks about them.   In this way the deeds, words, and thoughts - the three kinds of action of Amida Buddha and his devotees - become one in the intimacy of parent and children. For this reason it is called the intimate relation." So if you hold the nenju in your hand, the Buddha will see it. And if in your heart you hold the thought, "I shall continue to utter the nembutsu," the Buddha will turn his attention to you, and thus you are one among those who are thought about and cherished. Even so, you should at least move your mouth in recitation, and then the three modes of action will accord with those of the Buddha.   By the three modes of action I mean that the activity of body, mouth and heart. Bear in mid also that the voice is an essential element in uttering the name in the spirit of the fundamental vow. When you recite loudly enough to hear the sound with your own ears, this is called "audible nembutsu." (Gyojo ezu, Chapter 23)

28. Deathbed Reception

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


We often talk about the natures of things. For example, the heat of the flame rises toward the sky; water seeks its own level; some kinds of fruit are sour, others are sweet.   It is just in the nature of certain kinds of things to have certain qualities. There isn't the slightest doubt that we are speaking of the same kind of natural process whenever we speak of the Buddha's fundamental vow, the commitment he made to come and meet, when they die, all those who did nothing more than sincerely call out his name, and to guide them to the pure land of perfect bliss.   This is beyond doubt!

(From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 21)

29. Eliminating Arrogant Mind

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


If you believe so deeply in nembutsu that you become a truly notable nembutsu devotee, be careful that when you observe other people you do not say to yourself, "These people are far below me, and much more sinful than I, who am perfect in my cultivation of nembutsu and spiritually advanced beyond all others." In this wide world with its countless inhabitants, there may be lots of splendid nembutsu devotees, hidden high in the mountains or deep in the forests, of whom one hears and knows nothing whatever.   It is therefore an error to say to yourself, "There is no nembutsu devotee as good as I."


This is nothing but arrogance, and indicates an absence of the three hearts.   It is when people are in just such a condition that evil spirits come to hinder their birth into the pure land. Were I truly so spiritually accomplished that I had overcome by my own efforts every tendency to sin, then perhaps it would be proper for me to say so. But in actuality it is only through the power and merit of Amida Buddha's vow that I am cleansed of evil passions and freed from sin.   Furthermore, it is only because Amida Buddha himself comes to guide us to the pure land that we are able to get there at all.   If, on the contrary, it were by my own power that I attained ojo, at least there would be a reason for a display of haughtiness. But the fact remains that whenever pride arises in the heart, it shows positively that we have gone astray, both in faith and in practice. And because we are utterly out of harmony with the vow of Amida Buddha, neither he nor any other buddha can protect us.   We are therefore exposed to the influence and power of evil spirits. At all times beware of letting pride establish itself. Humbly I implore you to take this advice to heart!


(From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 21)

30. The Venerable Honen's Memorial

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)

Horembo, one of the Venerable Honen's disciples, said to him, "From ancient times all distinguished monks have left memorial temples for posterity, but none has been built for you.   What site should be chosen for it after you pass away? He replied, "If you erect a monument over my grave, the influence of my teaching will be confined to one place, and it will not spread far and wide.   But I assure you that the whole country will be my memorial. I say this because the sole purpose of my living has been to carry the nembutsu everywhere.   So wherever the practice of nembutsu is found, in any class of society from the highest to the lowest, that place is associated with my memory.   Even though it may be the thatched cottage of a diver or a fisherman, every such place throughout the country can serve as my monument.: So said he.

(From Gyojo Ezu, Chapter 37)

31. Persuading People to Practice

(Sixty Selections from the Sayings & Writings of Honen Shonin, translated by Rev. Dwight R. Nakamura)


When you encounter people who do not believe in the efficacy of nembutsu practice, don't even talk to them, much less get involved in arguments about religion.   However, when you do meet such people, bear in mind that it is wrong to despise and reproach those whose ideas and convictions are different from yours.   Only reflect that they shall soon commit even worse sins, and have compassion for them.


On the other hand, should you come upon a person who utters the nembutsu with longing for birth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, then even if he is a foreigner from the end of the earth, regard hi with as great affection as you would your mother or father.   And if you meet someone who is inclined to cultivate nembutsu even a little, encourage him to do it more, bearing in mind that to assist the stranger is to help Amida Buddha to fulfill his fundamental vow.

(From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 25)