Sangha Voices: David Chin

Sangha Voices is a collection of profiles and perspectives featuring our temple members. For our very first profile, David Chin, the current temple president, shares how he came to be involved with San Mateo Buddhist Temple.

David Chin

My name is David Chin and I have been going to the San Mateo Buddhist Temple since 1991. I have been here through the more traditional route of attending Dharma School as a young kid. My parents and I had just moved over from New York to start elementary school here in San Mateo. My Mom and her grandparents are from here and my grandma was still teaching Dharma School at the time. Everything about the temple was still new too me and I did not really understand even reciting Namu Amida Bustu. Being so young and shy, I barely spoke out loud when saying the nembutsu. I basically whispered it under my breath during class and when ever I had to go up for oshoko.

Of course, eventually I got more comfortable around the temple and now think of it as my second home. It is hard to say what impact a place or community has on you when it has essentially always been there in your life. Being part of a larger community is something I only realized the value of later during high school and college by really becoming friends with people that did not have the same in their own lives. Being Buddhist and being part of this temple is an integral part of my identity and likely how I approach life. I imagine I would be a quite different person if we had stayed back in New York and I never became part of a Sangha.

The Four Universal Bodhisattva Vows

Living beings are limitless, I vow to liberate them all.

Blind passions are limitless, I vow to sever them all.

Dharma gates are inexhaustible, I vow to know them all.

Unsurpassed is awakening, I vow to realize it.

Commentary from Genshin’s Ojoyoshu, Section on the Correct Practice of the Nembutsu

To begin with, the manifestation of practice is generally called the mind that vows to become a Buddha.  It is also referred to as the mind that seeks the highest awakening while transforming living beings below.  The manifestation of practice is also expressed as the Four Universal Vows.

These vows can be understood in two ways.  The first way is to understand the Four Universal Vows as they arise from life situations.  This is compassion conditioned by a feeling of sympathy for living beings[1], or compassion conditioned by an appreciation of the Dharma[2].  The second way is to understand the Four Universal Vows as they arise from true reality.  This is unconditioned compassion[3].

[The Four Universal Vows as they arise from life situations]

I will now explain the Four Universal Vows as they arise from life situations. 

The first vow is “Living beings are limitless, I vow to liberate them all.”  One should think, “All living beings have Buddha-nature, I will guide them all to enter the state of nirvana without remainder[4].” . . . This is the cause for awakening of the transformation body[5]

The second vow is “Base passions are limitless, I vow to sever them all.” . . .  This is the cause for awakening of the Dharma body[6]

The third vow is “Dharma gates are inexhaustible, I vow to know them all.” . . . This is the cause for awakening of the reward body[7]

The fourth vow is “Unsurpassed is awakening, I vow to realize it.”[8]  This is the vow to seek the awakening of Buddhahood.  It is said that because this vow contains the practice and vows of the previous three, it leads one to realize perfect awaking of the three bodies.  Moreover it enables one to broadly guide all beings to liberation.

[The Four Universal Vows as they arise from true reality]

With regard to the Four Universal Vows as they arise from true reality, all things are originally tranquil [as in the state of Nirvana].  They neither exist nor lack existence.  They neither continue nor cease.  They neither arise nor are extinguished.  They are neither defiled nor pure.  There is no form or fragrance that is not an expression of the Middle Way[9]. 

Samsara itself is Nirvana.  The base passion themselves are awakening.   One by one, the gates of defilement themselves become the 84,000 perfected virtues.  Darkness changes into light, like ice melts into water[10].  It is neither far away, nor something that comes from another place.  The mind is completely endowed with virtues in a single thought-moment, as if receiving the wish-fulfilling jewel.  There is neither treasure nor lack of treasure.  To say it does not exist would be a lie.  To say it exists would be a false view.  It cannot be known by the mind.  It cannot be explained with words.

In the midst of this of inconceivable unbounded Dharma, living beings tie themselves down with concepts.  In the midst of the Dharma where there is nothing to cast off, they strive for liberation.  For this reason, [the bodhisattva] awakens great compassion and establishes the Four Universal Vows for all beings in the Dharma-realm.  This is called following true reality to the mind of aspiration.  It is the very highest mind that aspires for awakening.

Relationship between the Four Universal Bodhisattva Vows and the Four Noble Truths

Each of these two ways of understanding the Four Universal Vows has two meanings. 

[The Four Noble Truths and the Four Universal Vows as they arise from life situations]

From the perspective of the Four Universal Vows as they arise from life situations, the first and second vows express the removal of suffering of living beings as described in the Truth of Suffering and Cause of Suffering, the First and Second Noble Truths.  The third and fourth vows express bestowing upon living beings the joy that is described in the Path to Liberation from Suffering and the End of Suffering, the Fourth and Third Noble Truths.

[The Four Noble Truths and the Four Universal Vows as they arise from true reality]

From the perspective of the Four Universal Vows as they arise from true reality, the first vow refers to other beings, and the remaining three vows refer to oneself.  This is to say that both the removal the suffering described the First and Second Noble Truths and the bestowing of joy described the Third and Fourth Noble Truths are all contained within the first vow.  In order to realize absolute and complete fulfillment of this vow, one gives rise to the remaining three vows that refer to oneself.

(Jodo Shinshu Seiten Shichisohen Chushakuban, p. 903-906; Taisho Shinshu Daizokyo No. 2682, Vol. 84, p. 48-49, translated by H. Adams)

[1] Also referred to as “small compassion.” Cf. Shinran’s Hymns of the Latter Dharma Age:“Lacking even small love and small compassion, / I cannot hope to benefit sentient beings. / Were it not for the ship of Amida’s Vow, / How could I cross the ocean of painful existence?” (Collected Works of Shinran, p. 422)

[2] Also referred to as “medium compassion.”

[3] Also referred to as “Great Compassion.”  This is the compassion of the Buddhas.

[4] 無餘涅槃the state of total liberation from all physical and mental conditions. This is in contrast to nirvāṇa with remainder 有餘涅槃, where the body still exists. (

[5] The transformation body nirmanakaya: a body manifested to correspond to the different needs and capacities of living beings. (Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist Terms, H. Inagaki, p. 237)

[6] The Dharma body Dharmakaya: the body of the ultimate reality (Ibid., p. 113)

[7] The reward body sambhogakaya: the body of a buddha received as the result of his meritorious practices (Ibid., p. 102)

[8] Genshin’s version of the Fourth Universal Vow (無上菩提誓願證), differs slightly from the more common Chinese version 佛道無上誓願成 “The way of the Buddha is unsurpassed, I vow to perfect it.”

[9] The Middle Way that rejects the two positions of “is” and “is not.”  This is characteristic of the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhist Philosophy.

[10] Cf. Shinran’s Hymn’s of the Pure Land Masters: “Obstructions of karmic evil turn into virtues; / It is like the relation of ice and water: / The more the ice, the more the water; / The more the obstructions, the more the virtues.” (Collected Works of Shinran, p. 371)

Shōshinge: Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu (Session 8)

This month as we celebrate Sakyamuni Buddha’s Birthday, the following verse from the Shoshinge expresses our appreciation for the meaning of his appearance in this world:

Sakyamuni Tathagata appeared in this world
Solely to teach the ocean-like Primal Vow of Amida;
We, an ocean of beings in an evil age of five defilements,
Should entrust ourselves to the Tathagata’s words of truth.

Full text of Shōshinge


To join us for this online Dharma Session, CLICK HERE and sign up for “Study Classes and Seminars”.

Rev. CJ Dunford’s Ohigan Spring Equinox Dharma Talk

Rev. Dunford shares their reflections on how Shinran Shonin’s Nembutsu teaching challenged the structures of oppression in 13th century Japan, and the inspiration we can find in the Nembutsu as we endeavor to reflect the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha in midst of our own troubled times.

A Reflection on Recent Anti-Asian Attacks

In recent weeks, we have seen a deeply troubling series of attacks on Buddhist and Asian American communities.  These attacks stoke anger and fear in our minds, as we worry for the safety of our family, our friends, and ourselves.  In moments like this, the Buddha appears in our lives to inspire us with the courage to stand in solidarity with our neighbors and speak up with a bold voice that echoes with the wisdom of the Tathagata’s words of truth.  Let us take the Buddha as our guide and work tirelessly so that all beings may live with care and respect for one another as fellow travelers who share a common wish for a life of peace and bliss.

Namo Amida Butsu

A Passage on Right Views from Shinran’s True Teaching, Practice, and Realization

Chapter on Transformed Buddha-Bodies and Lands, Section 88

Chapter Eight, “Evil Spirits” Attainment of Reverent Trust,” part one, of the Great Collection “Moon-Matrix” Sutra, fascicle five, states:

[The Buddha said,] “All beings! If you keep your distance from wrong views, you will gain ten kinds of virtue. What are these ten? First, with your mind pliant and good, you will have companions who are wise and virtuous. Second, believing in the recompense of actions, leading even to death, you will not commit any evil acts. Third, venerating the three treasures, you will not trust in gods. Fourth, adopting right views, you will not decide propitious or unpropitious times according to the season, day or month. Fifth, always being born in realms of human beings or devas, you will never fall into the evil courses. Sixth, attaining a mind of clarity in wisdom and goodness, you will be praised by others. Seventh, abandoning secular involvements, you will always pursue the holy path. Eighth, parting from views of annihilation and eternality, you will believe in the law of causation. Ninth, you will always meet and be with people of right faith, right practice, and right aspiration. Tenth, you will be born into the good courses of existence.

“You will direct the roots of good acquired from casting off wrong views toward attainment of supreme, perfect enlightenment. People who do so quickly fulfill the six paramitas and will attain perfect enlightenment in a Buddha-land of goodness and purity. Having achieved enlightenment, they will adorn sentient beings with their virtues, wisdom, and all their roots of good in their own Buddha-land. Being born in those lands, people do not put trust in gods; leaving behind their fear of the evil course, they will be born into good courses on ending their lives there.”

Shōshinge: Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu (Session 7)

This month we reflect upon the following verse as it relates to our journey to the Other Shore of enlightenment:

The Name embodying the Primal Vow is the act of true settlement, The Vow of entrusting with sincere mind is the cause of birth;
We realize the equal of enlightenment and supreme nirvana Through the fulfillment of the Vow of attaining nirvana without fail.

Continue reading “Shōshinge: Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu (Session 7)”

Sangha Voices: tell us your SMBT story!

SMBT is looking to feature you—voices of the Sangha—and your unique story on our website and Facebook page. Everyone has a story to tell, and we’d love to hear about your connection to the temple.

We hope to build a collection of SMBT member profiles to showcase the wonderful members of our community.  If you have a family member or friend who has an SMBT story to share, please encourage them to participate as well.


Send us a photo of you/the storyteller with text (<500 characters) or video (<60 seconds please) answering the questions below:

  • Your name (first name only is okay)
  • How long you’ve been with SMBT
  • How you first became affiliated with SMBT
  • Choose one of these questions:
    • Favorite aspect of the temple
    • How you connect with the temple/Dharma
    • What kind of impact SMBT has had on you
    • Favorite memory of the temple
    • Or anything else of your choosing!

What happens next?

Please send your content to or call (650) 342-2541. Once we receive your material, we’ll get back to you on when we’ll publish your story. We’ll share Sangha voices on a rolling basis, with an aim to post 1-2 stories per month.

Disclaimer: Please note that the content you submit to us will be posted publicly on our digital channels (Facebook page, SMBT website). By submitting content, you agree to grant permission to SMBT to share your recordings (audio, video, digital, and/or images) and quotes/profile online.