Introduction of Sanmai Hottokuki (1)

In 1981, my father took me and my brother to travel to Tatsuno, Hyogo prefecture in order to participate in Nenbutsu Walk in commemoration of the 850th Anniversary of the birth of Honen Shonin.   This was my first travel to far Kansai and I was 10 years old.  As is often the case with ministers' wives, my mother and my sister stayed home.


This walk was actually started from Tanjoji Temple, Okayama, where Honen Shonin was born in 1133.   As Honen Shonin headed to Kyoto from Okayama in 1146, the destination of this walk was to Kyoto (*Honen walked to the Mt. Hiei, but this project was to go to Chion-in temple where Master passed away. )


I don't know how many days did they take to complete walking from Okayama to Kyoto, but the walk we participated in was one day walk from Tatsuno to Takasago (about 28 miles.)   There were actually some people who completed in walking the whole distance, but many people like us partially participated.  By the way, if you go to Kyoto from Okayama by Shinkansen, it only takes a hour now.


We arrived at hotel in Tatsuno late evening, where about 50 priests were gathered for dinner.  I think there were no children except us, but I remember Jodo Shu young priests kindly spoke to us as if they knew us already during our staying.  It was a huge room with tatami mat where everybody slept.   It gave me a very strong impression that we were like family.


On the next day, I don't remember how early we departed to walk, but this start of walking was also my start of the chanting Nenbutsu many times.  As we walked through the town, I remember some people stopped and put their hands together to chant "Namu Amida Bu" with us.   Young priests actually led us to chant "Namu Amida Bu" loudly.  This means, I chanted Nenbutsu and at the same time, I was listening to their reciting Nenbutsu.   I never chanted and listened to Nenbutsu for such a long time.   Before and after we had breaks, we recited Nenbutsu, too.   So this walk was Nenbutsu, Nenbutsu, and nothing but Nenbutsu with walking.  


Unfortunately, afternoon, I got blisters on my foot and they let me ride on a van which was supporting the walk.  Then as we got closer to the temple in Takasago, they let me walked again.   It was evening and many members were welcoming us by reciting Nenbutsu.   Although I didn't complete a day walk but they kindly told me I did good job.   Through this event, I realized there were quite large numbers of Japanese were followers of Nenbutsu.   After picture-taking at the temple, we went to Osaka by train.


During riding upon the train, I had a mysterious experience.  Although we were done with Nenbutsu walk and nobody chanted "Namu Amida Bu", I heard some people kept chanting Nenbutsu.  I stood up and looked around us, but there were nobody chanting.   Then my brother and father asked me, "Are you hearing Nenbutsu, too,  Kosen?"   Surprisingly, they were hearing Nenbutsu, too.   We were not sure whether this experience was so-called auditory hallucination or not, but for us, the Nenbutsu was recognized as "real experience."   


Many years later, when I was under the final training at Chion-in temple, I had the same experience.  Every day was a repetition of chanting Nenbutsu, sutras, studying and prostration.  Naturally we recited Nenbutsu many times for many days.  And then I knew not only I but also many priests experienced to hear "Nenbutsu" during the night when nobody was reciting Nenbutsu around us.   I felt security, warmness and protection from the series of voices chanting Namu Amida Bu and it was the moment I knew the existence of Amida Buddha.


Since then, I haven't had a mysterious experience but at least I know the more nenbutsu I recite, something mysterious could happen.   It made me naturally believe Honen Shonin's experiences written in his diary, "Sanmai Hottokuki" were true.


Then what were his mysterious experiences?  And what is "Sanmai Hottokuki"?  I'm now preparing to translate and explain them in English.

Introduction of Sanmai Hottokuki (2)

 "Sanmai Hottokuki" is a legendary diary which is said to be written by our Master Honen, starting from January 1st, 1198 (when he was 66 years old)  to January 4th, 1206 (when he was 74yrs old).


The word, Sanmai Hottokuki  can be divided into three parts; Sanmai, Hottoku and ki.

The first word, Sanmai (三昧) is a translation of "Samadhi" in Sanskrit which usually means higher level of concentrated meditation (*Wikipedia).   According to the Japanese-English Buddhist dictionary,  Sanmai means " Concentration of the mind on a single object" or simply "meditation".


Next,  Hottoku () can be also divided into two words;  Ho(Hotsu) and Toku.    " Ho(Hotsu )"or "Hatsu"means "to appear and birth" and "toku()" means "to gain or to attain."

So" Sanmai Hottoku (三昧発得)" usually means " to attain higher level of meditation. "    However in Jodo tradition, "Sanmai Hottoku" specifically means "to attain visualization of Amida Buddha and his pure land."


 The last word, "Ki ()"  means a record or diary but this Sanmai Hottokuki-diary was neither  written every day nor written in detail.   It was more like memo.    The reason why I used the word "legendary" was because the existence of "Sanmai Hottokuki" was just mentioned in old documents.   Till today,  there is no original document of  "Sanmai Hottokuki" found.   


One of the documents which referred the existence of  Master Honen's "Sanmai Hottokuki" are

1 . Honen Shonin Denki, so-called "Daigobon"  (醍醐本『法然上人伝記』)   which was said to be one of the oldest biographies of Honen Shonin, written by Seikanbo Genchi (1183-1238) or his disciples.    For a long time this biography was lost  but discovered in 1917.   Now it is well-known as "Daigobon edition" named after the Daigoji Sanboin Temple where they discovered this book.



2.  Saihoshinan-sho (西方指南抄、中本)written by Shinran Shonin around 1256-1257 (when Shinran Shonin was 84 to 85 years old, he transcribed Master's words from the collections of Genchi.



3.  Shui Kurodani Shonin Gotouroku (拾遺黒谷上人語燈、巻上)by Doko Ryoe around 1274.   

Kurodani Shonin Gotoroku is a collection of words, letters, and sermons of the Master Honen, edited by his disciple's disciple, Ryoe Doko Shonin from November 1274 to January 1275.   Kurodani Shonin is another name (nickname)  of Master Honen.    Total of the Volumes of the collection is 18 Volumes.   They can be divided into 3 categories and called as follows;

I. 1st to 10th Volume:   Kurodani Shonin Kango Touroku or "Kango Touroku", written in Chinese characters.


II.  11th to 15th Volume: Kurodani Shonin Wago Touroku or " Wago Touroku", written in Japanese.   This was translated in English (Promise of Amida Buddha.)

III. 16th to 18th Volume: Shui Kurodani Shonin Gotouroku or "Shui Touroku", written in both Chinese  and Japanese.    "Shui" means " to pick up later the important words (that they missed)." 

*Sanmai Hottokuki is written in Chinese in the volume 16th.


All sources are available at Jodoshu Zensho. 



4.  The forty eight biographical picture scrolls of Honen Shonin (四十八巻伝)(around 1307).  

This is a national treasure of Japan and this  book of biographical scrolls, has lots of ”another (nick)name" such as"Honen Shonin Shiju hachi (48) kan den" , "Honen Shonin Gyojoezu" or "Chokushu Goden" or its abbreviation,  "Chokuden." This was translated in modern Japanese by Jodo Shu Reserach Institute and available to buy online.




Actually there are more biographies of Honen Shonin and Jodo Shu Research Institute listed 6 major biographies here.

I also searched "Sanmai Hottokuki" at the Jodoshu Zensho and nine titles of the book or paper hit .   But of course, no Enlgish translations.   So I'd like to select to explain the four documents above which contains Master Honen's diary so called "Sanmai Hottokuki."

Introduction of Sanmai Hottokuki (3)

Before translating  Master Honen's diary or what is called "Sanmai Hottokuki" into English,  I was very curious about  how often Master Honen actually used the word, "Sanmai Hottoku (attaining samadhi)" in his writings.  So I used Jodoshu Zensho Search system and I searched the keyword "Sanmai Hottoku" under the restriction of the writer Genku (Master Honen) himself,  in order to know the frequency of his usage.


Easily I guessed Master Honen didn't use it many times because Jodoshu doesn't emphasize on the Nenbutsu for attaining Samadhi.   To my surprise, the numbers he used "Sanmai Hottoku" were much smaller than I expected.   There were  "Sanmai Hottoku" only 11 times in the 6 different texts among the collections of Master Honen's words.     Master Honen actually didn't use "Sanmai Hottoku" for himself.   As a title name of his diary, he only used "Sanmai Hottokuki" two times, in the beginning and in the end.   That's all.    The rest 9 times were used for Master Shan-tao (613-681) who was described as a man of  having attained "Samadhi" or "Sanmai Hottoku no hito" in Japanese. 

In Master Honen's Senchakushu, "Sanmai Hottoku" or " to achieve samadhi" were used four times.


"Master Shan-tao was a man who did indeed achieve samadhi (Sanmai Hottoku).   We rely on him because there is evidence that he achieved samadhi (Sanmai Hottoku) , according to the method of the contemplation.   


Question:  "If then, you rely on those who could achieve samadhi (Sanmai Hottoku), the Dhyana master Huai-kan (Ekan) was a man who did attain it.   Why do you not also rely on him?"

Answer: Shan-tao was the master, whereas Huai-kan( was his disciple.  One should rely on the master rather than on the disciple.   Further, the master and the disciple differed in many points of doctrine.  It is for these reasons that we do not rely on (the disciple)."


Question: "If you rely on masters but not on their disciples, then, since the Dhyana master Tao-ch'o (562–645) was not only Master Shan-tao's own master but also one of the patriarchs of the Pure Land school, why is it that you do not rely on him?

Answer: Although the Dhyana master Tao-ch'o was indeed Shan-tao's master, still he had not yet achieved samadhi.  That is why he himself did not know whether or not he could attain birth.  "

(Honen's Senchakushu, Chapter 16, page 148-149)


Same sentences as above were seen in the collection of  "Kurodani Shonin Kango-touroku (Page 356, Jodoshu Zensho Volume 9.)  "Sanmai Hottoku" were used four times.  

Then, Honen Shonin used "Sanmai Hottoku" again for Master Shan-tao as one of the Master Shan-tao's ten virtues, according to the Kurodani Shonin Kango-touroku  collected by Ryoe Doko(1243-1330).


Ten Virtues of Master Shan-tao were listed by Master Honen.


1.  Virtue of Nenbutsu with sincere heart  一者至誠念佛

2. Virtue of attaining Samadhi   者三昧發得德 

3. Virtue of flashing light from the mouth of Nenbutsu  三者光從口出

4.  Virtue of the extinguish of Master Tao-ch'o's doubt  四者爲師决疑

5.  Virtue of viewing Amida Buddha in his dream before writing Kangyosho  五者造疏感夢

6.  Virtue of spreading teachings Pure Land path. 六者化導盛廣


7.  Virtue of throwing himself into the Nirvana *  七者遺身入滅

8.  Virtue of being respected by the Emperor 八者帝王歸敬


9.  Virtue of his writings giving out the light * 九者遺文放光

10.  Virtue of his statue making miracle 十者形像神變

(page 431, Jodoshu Zensho Volume 9)


"Sanmai Hottoku" is also used in "A Reply to the Lady Kujo",

"This is explained in the Commentary on the Meditation Sutra by Master Shan-tao, who truly realized the state of samadhi through reciting nembutsu."  (Page 176, The Promise of Amida Buddha)


That's all Honen used the word "Sanmai Hottoku" in his writings.   

On the other hand,  the scene of "Sanmai Hottou" or Master Honen's experience of attaining samadhi was always  included  in the biographical picture scrolls of Honen Shonin.    This means though Master Honen didn't emphasize on attaining samadhi but the event/experience of Master Honen attained samadhi was regarded as one of the important life events by his disciples.    This was just like Master Honen highly respected Master Shan-tao because he was believed to attain  samadhi.    


Then how do they describe an important event of Master Honen's "Sanmai Hottoku" in the biographies. The following is an English translation from the  "Honen Shonin Gyojoezu" which included the description of Master Honen's Sanmai Hottoku.


"Honen Shonin spent many years to devote himself to do the right practice of Nenbutsu,  excluded other practices.   As a result (of the virtue/merit) of this single-hearted recitation of Nenbutsu,  finally he attained Samadhi or the higher level of meditation to visualize Amida Buddha and his Pure Land.   It was January 7th, 1198 when Honen Shonin was observing a Special Nenbutsu Retreat called "Betsuji Nenbutsu".    He was 66 years old.    During the recitation of Nenbutsu,  at first brilliant light appeared.  Next, he was able to see the jeweled water and pond of the Pure Land.   Later, the ground filled with lapis lazuli  (emerald) appeared for a short time in front of Honen Shonin.


In February,  same year, Honen Shonin saw the jewel ground, the jewel pond(*2), and jewel towers of the Pure Land in front of him during the recitation of Nenbutsu.    After this, various features or aspects of the Pure Land appeared one after another.    One time, Honen Shonin emit (gave out) the light out of his left eye(*3).   It was like lapis lazuli which was seemed to be in his (left) eye.   Its shape was like a jar.   Since this shape had a red flower, it seemed to be a jewel jar.   One time, when Honen Shonin viewed toward the west, rows of  jewel trees appeared.     These jewel trees looked moving higher and lower as Honen Shonin wished them to be.    One time,  the place where Honen Shonin was sitting became a jewel ground.   One time, Buddha's face appeared in front of him.  One time huge Amida Buddha and his assisted two Bodhisattvas (Kwannon and Seishi) appeared.   One time Seishi Bodhisattva came to see Honen Shonin.    Immediately after Honen Shonin experienced these Samadhi, Honen Shonin had a master of Buddhist arts to paint what Honen experienced.      Also he heard various sounds of the beautiful birds, flute, and harp of the Pure Land.

His experiences in detail were written in Honen Shonin's diary, "Sanmai Hottokuki" by himself.   Honen Shonin never showed this diary to others when he was alive.    It is said that Seikanbo Genchi(1183-1239) read this diary for his first time when he inherited (took over) the Master Honen's place (temple.)    They say Myohen Sozu (1142-1224) of Kouyasan was overjoyed with tears when he saw this record. (page 91-92, From Honen Shonin Gyojoezu in modern Japanese)


*1  The original Chinese word is "" which could mean a bigger pond like lake or a small pond.   Dr. Junjiro Takakusu tanslated it as "jeweled lake."


*2 After his attainig Samadhi, Gyojoezu continued to say,  "Honen Shonin was able to read sutras at night without having a candle light.  They say his eyes were like flash light.


Honen's Senchakushu, translated and edited by the Senchakushu English Translation Project (Honolulu: The Kuroda Institiute of University of Hawaii Press & Tokyo: Sogo Bukkyo Kenkyujo of Taisho University, May 1998)

Honen's Path to Bliss "The Promise of Amida Buddha",  translated by Joji Atone & Yoko Hayashi (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2011.

Jodoshu Zensho

Gendaigoyaku Honen Shonin Gyojoezu, edited by Jodo Shu Research Institute (Tokyo: Jodoshu, 2013)



Introduction of Sanmai Hottokuki (4) - Kosen's Memo


  • Who should we rely on?

According to Senchakushu, the most respected priest for Master Honen to rely on was the person who had characteristics of both No.1 and No.2.


No. 1.   The person who was a Buddhist Master who had disciples.

No. 2.   The person who achieved Samadhi.


Master Hui-kan did achieve samadhi however he was a disciple of Master Shan-tao.  Therefore Master Honen said, he was not the one to rely on.


Also Master Ta'o-cho was a Buddhist Master.  He was also a master of Shan-tao.   However, because he didn't achieve Samadhi, Honen said he was also not the person to rely on wholeheartedly.


The only person who were both No.1 and No.2, were Master Shan-tao.  Therefore Honen said, Master Shan-tao was the one we should rely on wholeheartedly.  This is called "Henne-Zendo" in Japanese. 


In other words, the reasons why Master Honen rely on Master Shan-tao were;

1. He was a Buddhist Master.

2. He achieved samadhi.


Although Master Honen didn't use the word "Sanmai Hottoku" , however,  because he respected the Master who achieved Samadhi, "Sanmai Hottoku" must have been respected very much at the same time, too.   "Sanmai Hottoku" must be very important for Master Honen.


In fact, various illustrated-biographies of Master Honen did include the scene/event of Master Honen achieving samadhi.


The following pictures are the pictures of "Master Honen's Sanmai Hottoku."


from JSRI website/ Honen Shonin Gyojoezu, possessed by Chionin Temple
from JSRI website/ Honen Shonin Gyojoezu, possessed by Chionin Temple
from Honen Shonin Eden (14th century), Myogenji Temple/
from Honen Shonin Eden (14th century), Myogenji Temple/
Honen Shonin Eden (15th Century), Chionin Temple
Honen Shonin Eden (15th Century), Chionin Temple

I will add some more pictures later, but I thought the third picture was the most interesting.   

There are five priests who all look like Master Honen!  When I saw this picture, I understood the meaning of the following picture, at the same time.

This picture was from the Honen Shonin Gyojoezu.   As you see, there are two Seishi Bodhisattva(Mahasthamaprapta) in the same picture.   What does it mean?


I don't know if you noticed this picture, but this is exactly same picture with the first picture at Jodo Shu Research Institute.   They just included Amida Buddha and two Bodhisattvas.   They didn't include 2nd Seishi Bodhisattva so that they didn't need to explaine why there were two Seishi Bodhisattva.


But now I got it.  This never meant  there were two Seishi Bodhisattvas.  It just looked strange because two different scenes/events were painted in the same place.    

Let me quote gyjoezu again.


"One time huge Amida Buddha and his assisted two Bodhisattvas (Kwannon and Seishi) appeared.   One time Seishi Bodhisattva came to see Honen Shonin. "


So this picture shows, one day,  Amida Buddha and two Bodhisattvas came to Honen Shonin.  And another day, Seishi Bodhisattva came....