Words of Honen Shonin II

1. The Difficult Path and the Easy Path

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

For those of us who are born into this transient world, the pure land path is just to wish wholeheartedly to leave the Saha world-system and to be born in to the Land of Bliss. One's birth into that land in accord with the intent of Amida Buddha's great vow is not determined by one's good or bad deeds, but in actuality depends solely upon whether or not one relies on the Buddha's compassion.


For this reason the Venerable Doshaku said, "The Pure land path is the only way for ordinary persons to be born into the Land of Bliss." Therefore, those who are eater to be free from the round of birth-and-death should give up the practices of the holy path and engage in pure land practice, which is the easy way for everyone.   It is from this standpoint that the tow ways - the path of the sages and the pure land path-are called the difficult way and the easy way respectively.


The difference can be explained in terms of a simile in which the path of the sages is compared to the act of traveling toward one's destination over steep and perilous mountain roads, while the pure land path is like taking a boat over calm seas.   People who have weak legs and poor eyesight are not likely to make it through the mountains. By boat, however, they can get where they want to go. For such people it is really the only way they can reach their destination.


When we consider the capacities of the people of this kalpa, it is obvious that our wisdom-eyes have gone blind and our legs of Dharma-practice are incapable of carrying us forward. So we must give up hope of going through the gate of the difficult path and ascending the steep road.   The only way open to us is to cross the ocean of birth-and-death on the ship of Amida Buddha's fundamental vow and thereby arrive on the shores of the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

From The Essential Teachings of the Pure Land School (Jodo-shu ryaku-sho)

2. Rebirth through Other-Power

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


There are not merely one or two ways, but myriad ways to gain deliverance from the affliction of birth-and-death.   Yet there is only one that I especially recommend, and that is to desire with all your heart to be born into the pure land.   Throughout his long career, Shakyamuni Buddha repeatedly advised us to rely on Amida Buddha's fundamental vow. Let me explain why. At the time, long ago, when the bodhisattva Dharamakara made his vows, he resolved not to attain complete enlightenment unless all his aspirations were fulfilled.   "All beings of the ten directions who with sincerity and deep faith call my name ten times or even once-except those who have committed the five deadly sins or injured the true Dharma-should any of them not be born in my land after I realize buddhahood, then may I not attain enlightenment."


Because he has already realized buddhahood and established the Land of Ultimate Bliss, we can be certain that anyone who recites his name will be born in the pure land without fail. When a person draws his last breath on the brink of death, Amida Buddha, accompanied by a host of celestial beings, comes to his bedside to receive and embrace him with his compassion. Nothing can stand in the way of your being welcomed by the Buddha, neither past bad karma nor present unwholesome entanglements.   Whether man or woman, noble or commoner, good or bad, when a person relies completely on Amida Buddha nothing can prevent rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.


As a sound ship can carry a heavy load of stone thousands of miles across the ocean without sinking, likewise the weight of a person's offenses, no matter how heavy, can cross to the other shore on the vessel of Amida Buddha's compassion.   So even if you have accumulated a lot of demerit because of past misdeeds, don't doubt the power of the fundamental vow.  This is called birth into the pure land through the power of the other.


From Dialogues on Twelve Subjects (Juni Kajo mondo)

3. A Dharma in Accord with Our Capacities

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


The Venerable Honen said to Shinjaku-bo, a monk from Harima province, "Suppose the emperor dispatched two edicts, one to the eastern provinces and the other to the western provinces. What do you suppose would happen if the one intend for the western region were sent by mistake to the east, and vice-versa?   Could anyone make sense of them, let alone comply with them?"   After thinking a while, the monk Shinjaku-bo replied, "Even though they were imperial edicts, nobody would be able to follow them."


"That's a reasonable conclusion,," said the Venerable Honen, and continued, "Now the two imperial edicts are like the teachings we have inherited from Shakyamuni, which apply to one or another of the three periods of time: the age of the true Dharma, the age of the semblance of Dharama, and the age of decline of Dharama. The methods of the so-called path of the sages are appropriate to the ages of the true Dharma and its semblance, for they can be practiced only by people of superior capacity and wisdom.   Let us think of the way of the sages as the emperor's proclamation to the western provinces.


"The so-called pure land path and its practices are suitable for beings of the degenerate age in which the Dharma is declining.   In the age even persons of inferior capacity can be delivered from the ills of birth-and-death. Let us think of the pure land path as the emperor's proclamation to the northeastern provinces.   It would be disastrous to mix up these two paths, since only one of them is suitable to all three periods.


"Once I met with a number of scholars in Ohara, to debate the relative merits of the path of the sages and the pure land path. Both sides had good reasons for their views.   In the end, my views prevailed because of their fitness.   When at last we came to discuss the actual application of the two doctrines, I granted that they were equally the teaching of the Buddha, just as both horns belong to the ox, and went on to show that, from the standpoint of human capacity, the method of the pure land is much the better of the two and has had demonstrably greater success in our time.   There is no denying the profundity of the path of the sages.   But it belongs to a bygone era, and isn't suited to the people of the present day.   On the other hand, though the pure land path seems shallow at first glance, it is perfectly suited to the needs of ordinary, ignorant people like us.


"When in this way I persuaded the others, the audience applauded, all now certain of the truth of the say, "During the decline of the Dharma, which shall last ten thousand years, all other sutras shall perish, yet the one that speaks of Amida Buddha shall endure to save beings."


From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 6

4. Nembutsu Alone Will Remain

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


In the words of the large sutra, "Even after the Three Treasurers have been lost, it will still be possible for people to be saved by calling the Buddha's name."   And what is written in that discourse was reaffirmed by Master Zendo in the following words: "Even after the rest of the Three Treasurers have been gone for a thousand years, the two-volume sutra* will remain for another one hundred years.   Those who hear it and reverently pronounce the name of Amida Buddha even once will surely be born into the pure land."


These two passages about the fundamental vow ought to be sufficient to convince us of the vastness of its extent and the breadth of its embrace. Of karma, the heavy alone is mentioned, but of course the light is also included.   those who do bad deeds are reborn in the western land, so the good must be born there, too.   If those who live in the border lands far from India are able to go to the pure land, then surely so are those who live closer.   And if persons born long after the Buddha's time are embraced by the vow, then naturally those born earlier are included.   Indeed, the scope of Amida's mercy is beyond our ability to imagine.   Bear in mind and cherish this knowledge!


Though most of us believe that we are living in the age of the decline of the Dharma, it's obvious that the final one hundred years still lie ahead.   We may have heavy bad karma, but we have not yet committed any of the five deadly offense. Let us be thankful that though we live on the very edge, we are not living in the last one hundred years of the Dharma.   Let us realize and rejoice in our good fortune not to be excluded from the compassion of the vow.


Even so, should we commit the five deadly offenses in the future, be assured that Amida Buddha will not abandon us. In full awareness of the Buddha's compassion, let us recite the name with the three hearts of devotion.

*The Larger Sukhavati-vyuha sutra


From An Outline of the Teaching for Rebirth in the Pure Land (Ojo taiyo-sho)

5. Incomparable Merit

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


Should it be the case that you have no good karmic roots, it is nevertheless possible to acquire supreme merit through the single-minded practice of nembutsu.   Should it be the case that you do have some accumulated merit as a result of past deeds, you might be inclined to think that you can be born (into the pure land) without reciting the Buddha's name. For this reason the Venerable Zendo advised us against having confidence in the efficacy of our own merit.   He urged us instead of just to recite the name.


In one of the sutras it says that as soon as we begin to say the Buddha's name we receive inconceivable blessings.   Moreover it is written that through recitation we will acquire supreme merit.   If merely by uttering the Buddha's name we receive incalculable benefit and supreme merit, how much more merit shall we acquire if we recite continuously?


Therefore, even if you've never committed so much as a single good deed in this life, don't doubt for a moment that you will be reborn in the pure land through nembutsu.


From The Discourse on Rebirth through Nembutsu (Nembutsu ojo gi)

6. The Transmission of Nembutsu

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


Shakyamuni Tathagata explains, in the sutra, various kinds of spiritual disciple, both those which entail contemplative absorption and those who do not. After he has finished with those matters, he further exhorts Ananda and, without making a single reference he recommends the practice of nembutsu alone, in the following words:"Ananda, do not forget these words! To hold fast to these words is to preserve the name of the Buddha of Infinite Life."


The great Master Zendo commented on this passage as follows: "With these words Shakyamuni Buddha entrusts the name of Amida Buddha to Ananda for its transmission to posterity.   From this we can conclude that although Shakyamuni taught the benefits of other types of spiritual absorption and others not, the ultimate purpose of Amida Buddha's fundamental vow is to lead all sentient beings to the discipline of calling upon him and no other."


Now, when we examine Amida Buddha's fundamental vow, we find that not one of those many disciplines, contemplative or otherwise, is mentioned there. And that's why, when it was time for Shakyamuni to transmit to Ananda the practice for the attainment of rebirth in the pure land, he said nothing about the other disciplines, but chose to transmit only the nembutsu of the fundamental vow. Therefore I sincerely urge you to practice in accord with instructions handed down from Shakyamuni himself.

*The Sutra of the Contemplation of the Buddha of Infinite Life.

(From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 25)

7. Discerning the Right Path

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


According to Master Zendo, the various methods by which a person can attain birth in the pure land are roughly divisible into two categories, to wit, right methods and extraneous methods. Of the first group, right methods, there are five kinds.   The first, the right method of chanting sutras, is to read or recite the three pure land scriptures.   These are 1) the Sutra of the Land of Ultimate Bliss 2) the Sutra of the Contemplation of the Buddha Infinite Life, and 3) the Sutra of the Buddha Infinite Light.   The second, the right method of contemplation is to visualize mentally the forms of the Land of Bliss.   The third, the right method of paying homage, is simply to bow down in reverence to Amida Buddha alone.   Fourth, the right method of recitation is just to recite "Namu Amida Butsu."   The fifth, the Buddha's virtue.   These five together are called the fivefold right method.   When you further divide the fifth element in two, there are then six kinds of right practice. Taken together, these six practices fall into two groups, the essential and the supportive.


To recite the Buddha's name single-mindedly, whether sitting, walking, standing or lying down, regardless of whether it is day or night, with perfect recollection, never neglecting it even for a moment, that is the essential practice. Why? Because it accords with Amida Buddha's fundamental vow. For this reason we declare nembutsu to be the essential act for attaining birth.   As for the other five practices, all can be considered auxiliary acts.   In other words, though not indispensable for rebirth in the pure land, bowing, chanting, offering (and contemplation) are practices that support recitation.


Finally, except for the essential activity and the auxiliary right activities, all other spiritual disciplines should be regarded as extraneous.


*I.e., praise and offerings considered as separate activities.

From A Reply to Ogo Taro (Ogo Taro Yuestu Kawasu gohenji)

8. How to Settled the Mind and Begin to Practice

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


If you truly wish to be born into the pure land of Bliss, your intentions and your method of practice should co-operate. According to Master Zendo, just to practice only, without the right motivation, will not get you anywhere. On the other hand, good intentions by themselves are equally fruitless when one lacks the means to attain what is desired. But when aspiration and method work together harmoniously, then whatever one undertakes can be accomplished. In general - not only for pure land rebirth but in the case of the path of the sages as well - will and means should correspond.   What the Buddhist tradition calls the practice of arousing the Dharma-mind is nothing more than this.   In the pure land path, Master Zendo calls these same conditions assured mind*and single-minded cultivation**.




From A Brief Explanation of the Pure Land Path (Ojor taisyo-sho)

9. Sincere Heart

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


What we usually call "truly sincere heart" (Shin jitsu Shin), our esteemed teacher Zendo calls "the heart of truth" (Shijo shin).   Now the heart of truth has nothing false in it.   A false heart is the result of losing one's true heart because of defilements, all of which proceed from desire, aversion and delusion.


There are two types of desire: the contended heart of few wishes and the discontented heart of unquenchable cravings. In the pure land path what we try to eliminate is the discontented mind of ceaseless hankering. Such gross desires should be restrained.   the pure land path does everything to discourage the discontented, lustful heart.   Followers of the pure land path should understand this and single-mindedly recite the Buddha's name. This kind of nembutsu is the true nembutsu.


I should add, however, that the contented heart of few wishes is certainly acceptable. So long as we venerate our elders, love and nurture our juniors, and observe common social morality, anger and hatred can be tolerated. The defilement of ignorance is nothing more than the foolish heart that we should endeavor to make wise.


First and foremost, we should renounce our attachment to ordinary worldly life and long for birth in the pure land. Make the pure land path more important than any other factor in your life, and then the defilement of ignorance cannot harm you.   Though you are deluded, delusion is no obstacle to liberation so long as you value birth in the pure land above all else.   If you can cultivate such an attitude, the deluded mind with its greed and anger will naturally vanish and heart of truth will arise.   In understanding of the pure land tradition this true mind is also called bodhichitta.


In short, without attaching undue importance to the affairs of daily life, just sincerely endeavor to practice the path of nembutsu alone.   We call this intention "the heart of truth."



From a Short Defense of the Pure Land Teaching (Shichi kajo kissho mon) Chapter 9

10. Deeply Believing Heart

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


From the first we must acknowledge that we are human beings and, as such, have a very limited capacity for wholesome moral action. Only when we have accepted this fact can we rely completely on the fundamental vow of the Buddha.   If Master Zendo had not called attention to our condition, and had spoken only of the Buddha's compassion, then, when those who aspire to birth in the pure land experience the arising of such defilements as anger and greed, or when they commit any of the ten evil deeds or other offenses such as failure to keep the precepts, at such times, even though they have recited the Buddha's name in accord with the fundamental vow, they might become discouraged, begin to doubt the teachings, and engage in useless self-deprecation s they reflect on their lack of merit.   They might think that such unworthy persons as themselves cannot be reborn into the pure land merely by uttering the holy name ten times, or even once, as established in the fundamental vow.


Fortunately, for us, Master Zendo, having foreseen that this kind of situation would arise, purposely directs us to consider these two elements.   He enables us to see clearly that even though we are still afflicted by blind passions, though we are ignorant worldlings who commit unskillful deeds, all we have to do is call the name of Amida Buddha once with full confidence in his vow and we shall certainly be born into the pure land.

This interpretation by Master Zendo touches my heart and arouses strong feelings of gratitude.

From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 22

11. Longing Heart of Merit-Transference

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


The phrase "to turn over merit with longing heart*" means that one wholeheartedly dedicates all one's good actions of body, speech, and thought solely to birth in the pure land.

If you actually live and practice with these three kinds of intention**, you will be born into the pure land without fail.

*ekohotsugan shin

*The three hearts (see glossary)

From A Brief Explanation of the Three Hearts (San Jin Gi)

12. The story of the Great Giver

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


Prince Great Giver, by his unflagging effort, crossed ten thousand miles of ocean and succeeded in obtaining the wish-fulfilling gem from the king of nagas.   But we followers of the pure land path can obtain the marvelous jewel of Amida Buddha's fundamental vow just by calmly walking the white path that lies between the river of fire and the river of water.**


The dragon gods, unwilling to part with their treasurer, stole it back from the prince at the first opportunity. We, too, are in danger of losing our treasure by allowing ourselves to the influenced by opinions and practices different from the pure land path.


Again, when the prince set about to empty the ocean of water with only a shell, a host of celestial beings from every level of the heavens came to his aid.   In our case, if we use the hand of faith to bail out the water of doubt, and resolutely ignore the abuse of non-believes, then the buddhas of the six regions of space, more numerous than the sands of the Ganges, will come to help us until complete reliance on Amida Buddha's vow has been established.


*For the story of the prince, see Great Giver in glossary.

**See Two rivers in glossary.

From gyo jo ezu, Chapter 32

13. Incomparable Bliss in the Dharma

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


At the close of each of his vows, the bodhisattva Dharmakara declared that unless it were fulfilled he would not attain enlightenment.   Ten kalpas have already passed since Amida Buddha realized complete awakening.   Therefore we can be sure that his vows were perfectly fulfilled, and that any sentient being who calls his name will be born in the pure land without fail.   If this were not the case, why should we believe that Amida Buddha has truly realized buddhahood?


Though the time will come when the Buddha, Dharma and Sangaha shall vanish from the earth, even then one utterance of the holy name will result in rebirth in the pure land. Even one who carries the karmic burden of the five deadly sins can attain rebirth by reciting only ten times.   How much more easily can we be born who live while the Three Treasurers still exist, and who have not yet committed the five deadly sins, if only we will call out his name?


Weak causal relations could not have brought us into contact with the fundamental vow in this time and place. Surely we have done some very good deeds in former lives, and to realize it should make us glad.   Yet we should take care not to let this opportunity slip through our fingers. Despite this karmic affinity, if we don't respond with confidence in the vow, we will lose our chance to be reborn. So don't allow the least doubt to arise. Don't vacillate! Just hold tight to the nembutsu and you will surely be liberated from the round of birth-and-death and go off to the pure land as soon as this life is over.


From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 25

14. The Four Kinds of Practice

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


Question: We've discussed faith and come to understand what it means to have faith in the Buddha. Could you now, please, instruct us on practice?


Answer: The four qualities of practice set forth in Master Zendo's Hymns in Praise of the Pure Land should be considered the basis of practice in the pure land path. The first of these is lifelong practice, which means to cultivate from this moment on, throughout life, without ceasing until we die. The second is reverent practice. This is to practice devoutly, to be mindful at all times of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha of the Land of Bliss, and to pay respect to them in accord with their true value.   The third, ceaseless practice, is explained as follows in The Essentials for Birth*. At all times continually recite the Buddha's name, fixing your mind on birth in the pure land, and throughout life incessantly recollect it.   Without allowing yourself to be distracted, direct your attention to rebirth." The last of the four is exclusive practice.   With your whole heart look forward expectantly to birth in the pure land, worship and bear in mind the Buddha, Infinite Light, and don't think about anything else, nor perform any other spiritual practices. Just single-mindedly think of Amida Buddha.   All these kinds of practice should be continuously maintained day after day.


*See glossary, Eshin.

From Dialogue on the Essential Teachings (Yogi mondo)

15. Routine Practice of Nembutsu

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


Question: Regarding the use * of recitation of beads in daily religious practice, is it better to recite, say, sixty thousand or one hundred thousand times without keeping count of the exact number, or to recite only twenty or thirty thousand nembutsu, counting one bead for every utterance?


Answer: Perfect fulfillment of spiritual practice cannot be attained easily by ordinary foolish people.   Though they may intend to recite and count scrupulously twenty or thirty thousand utterances in a day, they seldom follow through.   Because a greater number of utterances is always better, you should recite continuously.


The purpose of recitation is not to accumulate some definite number, whether twenty thousand or sixty thousand. Yet we recommend making a commitment to do a large number, because if we didn't set a high figure you might suppose that a lower one was better, and thus give in to laziness.

*When the beads are used correctly, one utterance corresponds to one bead.   Evidently some nembutsu devotees were given to reciting inattentively while fingering the beads, and not actually using them to count the number of times they uttered the name.


From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 22

16. On the Use of Beads as an Aid to Recitation

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


Question: When we recite, should we use beads or not?


Answer: You should use them.   When you dance or sing a song, don't you set a beat and keep it?   Think of the beads as musical notes that guide your recitation.   Tongue and hand move in rhythm to the music.   But even though you hold the beads, unless you are completely free of delusion, defilements*, will arise from the darkness of your heart, like unexpected visitors, as you recite.


Recall that when you finger the beads, you do it not in order to count defilements, but to count a certain number of recitations of the name.   So set up nembutsu as master of the house. Be clear about this: nembutsu is the host and the defilements are guests.   In this way we continue to practice even though defilements arise, just as guests in the house are allowed to come and go.


We should be grateful that it is possible to practice in this way.   But we shouldn't use it as an excuse to attend to the defilements instead of the name! If, because of it, you spend your time talking with others while advancing the beads randomly, you have good reason to feel ashamed.

*The flow of sensations, thoughts, feelings and impulses that ceaselessly arise according to causes and conditions and which, in the absence of right mindfulness, command attention and invite unwholesome action.

17.   The Accomplishment of One Million Utterances

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


In the matter of one million recitations of "Namu Amida Butsu," no mention of any such practice can be found in the fundamental vow. However, it is written in the smaller sutra* that whoever repeats the nembutsu for one, two, and so on up to seven days will be reborn in the Land of Bliss. For that reason it is strongly suggested that we recite the name continuously for seven days.   The masters of the pure land tradition hold that it is possible to complete one million utterances within that period.


Should some ordinary people be unable to accumulate the full number within seven days, they can take eight or nine days to do it.   Even if some people cannot ever complete one million recitations, that doesn't mean that they cannot be born into the pure land, for by ten utterances, or even one, a person can go for birth in the western land.   And when we ponder the thought that a person can by born into the pure land by reciting the name ten times or even once, our happiness and zeal naturally leads us to accumulate the merit of a million utterances of the name.


*The lesser Sutra of the Land of Bliss (Skt., Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra), also known as the Sutra of Amitabha (J. Amida Kyo)

From Gyojo ezu, Chapter

18Unshakable Belief in Cause and Effect

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


Recite the name ten times while bearing in mind the ten cardinal precepts.   IN the depths of your heart observe the forty-eight minor precepts while relying on the forty-eight vows. Whatever practice you cultivate, you should hold to the precepts the way a drowning man clings to a life-preserver.   Keep your posture upright and your mind concentrated as if your life depends upon not spilling a single drop of oil from a brimming bowl you are carrying*. If you conduct yourself in this manner, you can accomplish the goal of any practice.


In actuality, many of us commit the four bad deeds and engage in the ten unwholesome acts.   It's hard to find anyone who keeps the precepts perfectly.


"Avoid evil; do only good."   That is the universal precept of all buddhas, past, present and future. Whoever does good gets good results (in this life or a future life). Likewise, those who practice evil will surely suffer the consequences of their misdeeds sooner or later.   That is the law of cause and effect.


This isn't the first time that such a moral concept has been mentioned.   In fact, we've heard about it often.   And yet we act as if we'd never heard it before! Be that as it may, let all of us, according to our respective capacities, refrain from wrongdoing as much as we can. And whenever we have the chance, let us practice nembutsu and aspire to birth in the pure land.



*The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra contains a passage that tells the story of a king who ordered one of his subjects to undergo a mortal trial. His task was to carry a pot of oil, full to the brim, a distance of 25 Chinese miles without losing any of the liquid.   Should he spill so much as a single drop he would be killed instantly.   By intense concentration, and in spite of distractions, he succeeded.   The passage concludes, "Those who would keep the Buddha's precepts must conduct themselves in this manner. If, overcome by passion, one commits even the slightest offense, he leaves the life of Dharma and plunges into the round of birth-and-death."


From Gyojo ezu, Chpater 32

19Filial Piety

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


Those who always observe filial piety by showing respect, love and concern for their parents, should leave everything to Amida Buddha.   We have grown, we have attained adulthood, we have conceived the desire to be born in the pure land and have the chance to recite "Namu Amida Butsu." None of this could have occurred without the parents who raised us. To show our gratitude, let us turn over an merit acquired through nembutsu and recognized by Amida Buddha, and let us pray to him to receive our parents into the pure land, so that the results of their bad karma can come to an end. If we wholeheartedly desire this for our parents, then undoubtedly they will be welcomed into the pure land.


From words of Instruction to a Devotee (Aruhitoni shimei sareitaru kotoba)

20. The Understanding of Devotees

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


It is important for devotees of the Buddha-Dharma to apprehend the transience of the world.   In the course of our ordinary existence nothing is constant and permanent.   Regarding everyday life in this way, we should bear in mind the fundamental vow, and call upon the Buddha to receive us into the Pure Land.


Consider how difficult it is to attain birth in human form, and try to see that to live one's life without acquiring wisdom, and therefore die in vain, is a terrible waste.   After wandering for ages through the six realms of existence, to receive this exceedingly rate human body is as unlikely as for a thread fallen from the sky to pass through the eye of a needle lying on the bottom of the ocean.


Think hard upon the fact that in this very life we have been fortunate enough to meet with the Dharma.   If we can't obtain release from samsara here and now, when can we expect it to happen? Once we sink back into the hells, we won't be able to bear even so much as the names of the Three Treasures though we live for an in conceivably long time. In such miserable circumstances how could we possibly develop confidence in the Three Treasures?


So it is appropriate to rejoice from time to time, whenever we recall the accumulated good karma that brought us here. Of all the people in the world - well-born and low, good and bad- only a few believe in the Buddha's teaching and long for birth in the pure land. It must be very hard to believe in creating the causes and conditions for rebirth in the lower realms through slander and hatred of others.


If, on the contrary, you can believe in and cherish the Dharma, rely upon the Buddha's compassion and aspire for birth in the pure land, all those blessings is just the result of merit gained on account of the wholesome actions you performed in past lives.   It was not accomplished entirely in this lifetime.   We should rejoice and be grateful that, due to the ripening of previous karma, the necessary conditions now obtain for our birth in the pure land.


Bear in mind and ponder all I've just said. No matter the circumstances in which you find yourself, don't miss a chance to reflect in this way.


From Dialogues on Twelve Points (JuniKajo Mondo)

21. Wholeheartedly Following the Buddha-Dharma

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


We should consider the recitation of "Namu Amida Butsu" alone as sufficient for rebirth into the pure land.   Even so, if you habitually neglect to perform compassionate deeds, if you commit misdeeds and fail to make the utmost effort in recitation, that is not truly the way of one who follows the Buddha-Dharma.


We know that parents bestow their love and compassion upon their children equally whether they are good or bad. In the same way, thought the Buddha's compassion extends through the universe to embrace and save all, whether they are good or bad, nevertheless our good actions delight the Buddha and our bad actions cause him to weep.


Good seeds, in order to bring forth healthy plants, should be planted in fertile ground.   Therefore, strive to avoid evil and do good even as you recite the nembutsu wholeheartedly.   That is truly the way to follow the Buddha's teaching.


From Discourse on Birth through Nembutsu (Nembutsu ojo-go)

22Reject the Advice of the Unenlightened

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


It is a lamentable fact that there are those who persist in saying that it's impossible to be born into the pure land. Don't listen to what they say even if they are noble and accomplished persons.   To their own way of thinking they may be quite superior, even eminent in their fields of endeavor.   Still, they haven't quite attained enlightenment.   Words of instruction from people who believe they can save themselves by their own efforts, about practices other than nembutsu, are a hindrance and a bad example to those who seek birth in the Land of Bliss.   So don't listen to the advice of the unenlightened, but rely utterly on the Buddha's vow alone, for that is the only way to be saved.


From A Letter Sent to Shonyo-bo   (Shonyobo e tsukawasu on-fumi)

23Serenity at the Moment of Death

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


People who aspire wholeheartedly to be born into the pure land and, with complete confidence in the fundamental vow, recite the nembutsu single-mindedly, are not upset or confused in the final moments of life.   I mention this in order to draw your attention to an important point.   The real purpose of the Buddha's coming to receive dying persons is to instill in them right mindfulness in reciting the nembutsu at the time of their departure from his life.   If you don't quite grasp this fact you might suppose that it is your own right mindfulness in reciting the nembutsu that causes the Buddha to come and receive you.   Those who understand the matter in this way do not put their trust in the fundamental vow, and overlook the significance of the relevant passage in the sutra*. In the pure land scripture we find the following words:"..with great compassion the Buddha guides the dying and give them great strength so that their minds are not agitated."   This passage assures us that Amida Buddha will come to receive us in our last moments on account of the karmic merit of the nembutsu we recited during the whole of our lives.   In the ordinary circumstances of daily life you concentrate on nembutsu, and that's why the Buddha will come in your final moments to receive you.   When we witness the Buddha's coming to welcome the dying and pacifying their hearts, then we can be assured that they abide in right mindfulness. If, on the other hand, you didn't pay much attention to nembutsu during your everyday life, and merely wished for the Buddha to receive you, then I'm afraid you have harbored a grave misunderstanding and unrealistic expectations.


We who believe in Amida Buddha's fundamental vow should have no doubt that in our final moments the Buddha's compassion will enfold us.   So just put yourself single-mindedly into the recitation of "Namu Amida Butsu" whenever you can.

*Sutra in Praise of the Pure Land (Sho san jodo kyo)

From A Reply to Ogo Taro (Ogo Taro e tsukawasu gohenji)

24. Assurance of Birth through Purification

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

There are five acts which are known as the heinous crimes or deadly sins, to wit, directly and intentionally to kill one's own father; to kill one's own mother; to kill an arhat; to maliciously injure a Buddha, causing him to bleed; and to cause disunity in the Sangha.


According to the scriptures, birth in the pure land can be assured even for those who with ill-will commit one of the five deadly sins and do not repent and who, because of that offense, are destined to fall into the hell of interminable pain and throughout countless eons endure excruciating agony.   If, when death is near, such a person is given guidance and instructed by a virtuous teacher to recite "Namu Amida Butsu" ten times, then his every utterance of the name becomes the cause to save him and allow him to be born in the pure land.   With each utterance of the holy name, sins are nullified which otherwise would have caused him to turn on the wheel of birth-and-death for eighty billion kalpas.   Thus, even such a person, one who carries an immense burden of negative karma, can be reborn through the recitation of the nembutsu ten times or even once.   Except through the power of the Buddha's vow, how could such a thing be possible?   And yet all this I firmly believe.


From A Letter Sent to Shonyo-bo (Shonyobo e tsukawasu on-fumi)

25Assurance of Birth through Connection

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


Question: Is the benefit of Amida's reception effective in daily life or only at the time of death?


Answer: Surely it is present in daily life.   How do we know?   The person who has a pure wish for rebirth in the pure land, sincere and free of doubt, who just waits for the Buddha's reception, such a person is one who recite "Namu Amida Butsu" with the three hearts.   When one has the three hearts one will surely be reborn into the pure land as stated in the Sutra of the Contemplation of Infinite Life.

For those who truly desire to be born in the land, Amida Buddha's light of eighty-four thousand rays greets them in their final moments.   This is the same light that has shone on them since they first began to recite "Namu Amida Butsu" and which has never ceased to shine on them throughout their lives.   For that reason Amida Buddha's vow is called "never-forsaking."


From Essential Discourse on Rebirth through Nembutsu

(Nembutsu-Ojo yogi-sho)

26.   The Buddha Embraces Us and the Gods Protect Us.

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


Whoever deeply believe in the Buddha Amida's fundamental vow, and wholeheartedly wished to go for birth by means of nembutsu, shall be surrounded by Amida Buddha together with the bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi *, all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions and an enormous retinue of celestial beings.   All of them will surround the devotee day and night, whether he is walking, standing sitting or lying down, and they will follow the devotee like a shadow, protecting him and removing the influence of evil spirits who cause vexations of mind and body. During his lifetime he will not be sick, but will dwell in peace and safety, and on his deathbed he will be received into the pure land.


Those who believe in nembutsu and sincerely desire pure land birth need do nothing more than that.   It isn't necessary to pray to the various buddhas, bodhisattvas and gods, or to observe temporary commitments to abstinence in order to be free of negative forces.   Furthermore, those who take refuge in the Buddha, Dharam, and Sangha will be protected all their lives by Dharma-guardians and deities as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. Let us clearly grasp this fact: because buddhas, gods and Dharma-guardians surround and protect us, no demons or other evil spirits will disturb or torment us.


*Skt. Avalokiteshvara

**Skg. Mahasthamaprapta.


From A Brief Explanation of the Pure Land Doctrine (Jodo-shu ryaku-sho)

27.   The Heavy Burden Will be Made Lighter

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


The accumulation of past karma imposes certain conditions upon the present life.   When we fall ill we are just experiencing the consequences of our past actions.   So when we get sick we shouldn't expect that our prayers to the celestial beings will have any effect.   If by prayer alone sickness could be cured or life prolonged, who would ever become gravely ill?   Who would ever die?


Yet by virtue of the Buddha's power the afflicted person can accept the sickness, which otherwise must be experienced as more painful.   Thus the Buddha is able to deliver us from the worst kinds of misery and oppression that result from our past unwholesome deeds.   the Buddha enables those who sincerely believe in nembutsu to experience as less grave the very serious illness that (except for the power of Amida's vows) would have befallen them due to their accumulated bad karma.


Because it is the result of our own actions, sickness is unavoidable. Yet, even for those who have not realized the blessing of the Buddha's compassion, the full effects of their past actions need not be felt.   The compassion of the Buddha enables us to be born in the pure land by negating the results of our unwholesome acts and deadly sins.


Compare the length of our lives with the infinite life span of Amida Buddha, and then reflect.   Why shouldn't you believe that he has the power to extend the lives of devotees or put an end to their illness?   That ought to be an easy task for Amida Buddha.


Even so, those who do not devoutly pray for the blessing of life after death, and who don't truly rely on the fundamental vow, have no chance to be surrounded by the buddhas and bodhisattvas, nor will they be protected . In his commentary*, Master Zendo states that those who neither pray for birth in the pure land after death nor rely on the fundamental vow have no opportunity to be surrounded and guarded by the host of celestial beings.

Even when you do recite "Namu Amida Butsu" it is crucial to have deep faith in the Buddha's compassion and to cherish the genuine desire to leave this world and to be born into the pure land.

*Commentary on the Sutra of Contemplation


From A Brief Explanation of the Pure Land Teachings (Jodo-shu ryaku-sho)

28.   Favorable and Unfavorable Conditions

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


In this life there is no better way to cut the fetters that bind us to samsara than to depend on nembutsu.   Everyone- including even those who will reject and speak ill of what I've written here-will someday be reunited as friends born on the petals of lotuses in one of the nine grades of Amida Buddha's pure land, whether or not conditions are favorable for their birth there.


So far as our capacity to receive the (pure land) teaching is concerned, everyone is eligible, irrespective of how great a burden of negative karma a person may be carrying.   No one is excluded; not those who have committed the five heinous offenses, nor women, nor hopeless sinners.


As for the requirements of practice, with ten recitations, or even one, birth in the pure land is assured.   So don't be discouraged even if you are a woman afflicted with the fivefold impediment* and chafing under the three kinds of obedience**. Just depend completely on Amida Buddha's vow and give yourself wholeheartedly to the recitation of "Namu Amida Butsu."


Were it not for the practice of nembutsu, even good people might have difficulty in attaining birth in the pure land, and bad people that much more.

Aspire to cultivate the five kinds of mindfulness, for they will destroy the fivefold impediment.   And the three aspects of devotion will overcome any feelings of inferiority that may be engendered by the three kinds of obedience. One utterance of the name is enough to insure that Amida Buddha will come to welcome you! Therefore you should recite "Namu Amida Butsu" whether you are standing, moving, sitting or lying down, irrespective of time, place and circumstances. Truly!


*According to the Lotus Sutra, Chapter 11, one who in this life has been born a women cannot in her next life be reborn as (1) a higher divine being (mahabrahman), (2) Indra, king of the gods, (3) Mara (Death), lord of the evil spirits, (4) a wheel-turning ruler (cakravartin), or (5) a buddha.


** The three kinds of obedience are obedience to (1) one's father, (2) one's husband, and (3) one's son.


From Essential Teachings on Rebirth through Nembutsu (Nembutsu-Ojo yogi-sho)

29. Born on the Same Blossom

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


It is an undeniable fact of life that all those who meet must one day part.   And this state of affairs did not begin today.   So let us not be anxious or sorrowful.   If the conditions created by our past actions are sufficient, we shall be reborn on the same lotus blossom in the Land of Bliss.   In no time at all we shall meet again in the pure land!


The sadness we feel at the moment of separation is fleeting, like a dream in the spring night. Whether we trust each other or revile each other now, let those who may be born in the pure land sooner show the way to those who come later.   To become one who leads others to the pure land is a pleasure for those who are born there.


In this life, we have the good fortune to be closely related, reciting the Buddha's name, dwelling in the same light, receiving the same guidance and protection of the host of sages of the pure land.   The same Buddha-Dharma creates this intimacy between us.   You shouldn't think that we can ever be apart from each other, or believe that our connection is weak.   When you and I, Genku, recite "Namu Amida Butsu," though your home be far away from mine, we are actually very close.   Those who don't depend on nembutsu, even though they may stand shoulder to shoulder or sit knee to knee with me, are really far from me because their actions of body, mouth and heart are alien.   We live in different worlds.


From The Sixteen-Gate Record (Jurokumon-ki)

30. Dedicating Merit

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


Throughout our lives, whenever we do regular daily recitation, the merit of that practice should be transferred to others and made the cause of their rebirth in the pure land. If we turn over to the departed the merit of saying the nembutsu, then the light of Amida Buddha will shine in all the hells, in the realm of asura, and in the realm of the hungry sprites, touching all who suffer in the three lower worlds.*   Their agony will be eased , and when their lives are over they will be rescued from further suffering.   The larger sutra contains the following passage:"Even those who have fallen into the three deepest levels of hell- of fire, of blood and of swords-and who are destined to endure the most excruciation torments, if they are able to see Amdia Buddha's light they will be freed from their agnory.   After death, all such beings without exception, having seen the light of the Buddha, shall gain delivearnce and be reborn in the pure land (never again to return to the lower realms.)

*See glossary, six realms of existence.

From Gyojo ezu, Chapter 30.