The Great Sage, the World-honored One

From The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fascicle 3, Letter 4

When we carefully consider the transiency of human life, we realize that the living will certainly end in death and that the prosperous will eventually decline. This is how life is in the human world. Even so, we vainly live days and nights, spending months and years to no purpose. Indeed, we may lament about it, but I feel that we could never really comprehend the true extent of this pitifully sad situation.

How true it is that impermanence is difficult to escape for all, from the Great Sage, the World-honored One, at the highest level, to Devadatta, who committed evil acts and grave offenses, at the lowest.

Moreover, to receive life as a human being is indeed rare and difficult, and even more so is it the opportunity to encounter the Buddha Dharma, the way of emancipation from birth-and-death through practices of self-power is difficult to follow at the present time in the latter days. Therefore, our lives would be spent in vain unless we encountered the Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata.

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On the Designation of Our Tradition

The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fascicle 1, Letter 15

Question: How has it come about that there is such a widespread practice of referring to our tradition as the “Ikkōshū”? I am puzzled about this.


Answer: Our tradition’s designation as the “Ikkōshū” was certainly not determined by our founder. Generally speaking, the reason everyone says [this] is because we “steadfastly” (ikkō ni) rely on Amida Buddha. However, since a passage in the [Larger] Sutra teaches “steadfast and exclusive mindfulness of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life” (Daimuryōjukyō, T.12:272b), referring to us as the “Ikkōshū” presents no problem when the implication is “be steadfastly mindful of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life.” Our founder, however, did indeed designate this sect as the “Jōdo Shinshū.” Hence we now that the term “Ikkōshū” did not come from within our sect. Further, others within the Jōdoshū allow the sundry practices. Our Master rejected the sundry practices, and it is on this basis that we attain birth in the true and real (shinjitsu) fulfilled land. For this reason, he specifically inserted the character shin (true).


A further question: I understand clearly that, long ago, [the founder] designated our tradition as the “Jōdo Shinshū.” However, I would like to hear in detail how it is that in the teaching of our sect, although we are laypeople of deep evil karma, burdened with evil acts and grave offenses, we are to be born readily in the Land of Utmost Bliss through reliance on the working of Amida’s Vow.

Answer: The import of our tradition is that when faith is decisively settled,
we will unfailingly attain birth in the true and real fulfilled land. And so if you
ask what this faith is, [the answer is that] it is just [a matter of] relying single-
heartedly and without any worry on Amida Tathāgata, giving no thought to
other buddhas and bodhisattvas and entrusting ourselves steadfastly and withoutany double-mindedness to Amida. This we call “settlement of faith.” The twocharacters shin-jin are [literally] read “true mind.” We say “true mind” because the practitioner is not saved by his mistaken mind of self-power (jiriki no kokoro) but by the right mind of other-power given by the Tathāgata.
Further, we are not saved simply by repeating the Name without any understanding of it. Hence the [Larger] Sutra teaches that we “hear the Name
and realize faith and joy” (Daimuryōjukyō, T.12:272b; Kyōgyōshinshō,
T.83:601a, 605a). “Hearing the Name” is not hearing the six-character Name
na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu unreflectively; it means that when we meet a good
teacher, receive his teaching, and entrust ourselves (namu) to the Name
(namu-amida-butsu), Amida Buddha unfailingly saves us. This is explained
in the [Larger] Sutra as “realizing faith and joy.” Consequently, we should
understand that namu-amida-butsu shows how he saves us.


After we have come to this realization, we must bear in mind that the
Name we say walking, standing, sitting, and lying down is simply an expres-
sion of gratitude for Amida Tathāgata’s benevolence in saving us. With this,
we are to be declared other-power nenbutsu practitioners who have attained
faith and will be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss.


Respectfully.


The compilation and writing of this letter were completed between 9:00 and 11:00 A.M. on the second day of the latter part of the ninth month, Bunmei
5 (1473), at the hot springs at Yamanaka, Kaga province.
Shōnyo, disciple of Śākyamuni
(written seal)

On the Point of Departure

From The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fascicle 2, Letter 2

In the school founded by the Master, faith is placed before all else. If we ask the purpose of that faith, [the answer is that] it is the point of departure enabling wretched ordinary beings like ourselves, who lack good and do evil, to go readily to Amida’s Pure Land. Without attaining faith, we will not be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss but will fall into the hell of incessant pain (avīci). If we then ask how to attain that faith, [the answer is that], relying deeply on the single buddha, Amida Tathāgata, we give no thought to any of the various good deeds and myriad practices, and, dismissing the inclination to make petitions to the various buddhas and bodhisattvas just for this life, and discarding false, erroneous thoughts such as those of self-power, we entrust ourselves singleheartedly and steadfastly, without double-mindedness, to Amida; without fail, Amida embraces such people with his all-pervading light and will not abandon them.

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On Practicing as Prescribed

From The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fascicle 3, Letter 2

The teachings of the various sects differ, but since they were all [expounded] during Śākya[muni]’s lifetime, they are indeed the incomparable Dharma. For this reason, there is absolutely no doubt that people who practice them as prescribed will attain enlightenment and become buddhas. However, sentient beings of this last [Dharma] age are of the lowest capacity; this is a time when those who practice as prescribed are rare.

Here [we realize that] Amida Tathāgata’s Primal Vow of other-power was made to save sentient beings in such times as these. To this end, [Amida] meditated for five kalpas and, performing practices for numberless kalpas, vowed that he would not attain perfect enlightenment unless sentient beings who commit evil and lack good reach buddhahood. Completely fulfilling that Vow, he became the Buddha Amida. Sentient beings of this last [Dharma] age can never become buddhas unless they deeply entrust themselves to Amida, relying on this buddha’s Primal Vow.

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On Drowsiness

From The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fascicle 1, Letter 6

I don’t know why, but recently (this summer), I have been particularly subject to drowsiness, and when I consider why I should be [so] lethargic, I feel without a doubt that the moment of death leading to birth [in the Pure Land] may be close at hand. This thought makes me sad, and I feel in particular the sorrow of parting. And yet, to this very day I have prepared myself with no lack of care, thinking that the time of birth might be imminent. All I continually long for in regard to this, day and night, is that, after [my death], there will be no regression in those among the visitors to this temple whose faith is decisively settled. As things now stand, there should be no difficulties if I die, but each of you is particularly lax in your thinking in regard to birth. As long as you live, you should be as I have described. I am altogether dissatisfied with what each of you has understood. In this life, even tomorrow is uncertain, and no matter what we say, nothing is to any avail when life ends. If our doubts are not clearly dispelled during this life, we will surely [be filled with] regret. I hope that you will bear this in mind.

Respectfully.

This is entrusted to those [assembled] on the other side of the sliding doors. In the years to come, please take it out and read it.

Written on the twenty-fifth day of the fourth month, Bunmei 5 (1473).

All the Sacred Scriptures

From The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fascicle 5, Letter 9

The essential point of the settled mind in our tradition lies simply in the meaning of the six-character Name, “Na-mo-a-mi-da-butsu” (literally, paying homage to Amida Buddha).

This means that when we pay homage - “namo” - to Amida Buddha, we are immediately saved by the Buddha. So the two-character word, “na-mo,” means to take refuge.

“To take refuge” means that we, sentient beings, setting aside various practices, entrust ourselves unwaveringly to Amida Buddha for our emancipation in the afterlife Accordingly, Amida Tathagata, knowing this fully, saves all of us, without exception.

Thereupon, since Amida Buddha saves the sentient beings who entrust themselves - “namo” - to the Buddha, the six-character Name, “Na-mo-a-mi-da-butsu,” manifests how we, sentient beings, are all saved without discrimination.

For this reason, when we speak of attaining the entrusting heart of Other Power, we find that it is exactly what the six-character Name, “Na-mo-a-mi-da-butsu,” means. We should, therefore, realize that all the sacred scriptures indeed are solely meant to make us entrust ourselves to the six-character Name, “Na-mo-a-mi-da-butsu.”

Humbly and respectfully.

Severing Crosswise the Five Evil Courses

From The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fascicle 2, Letter 4

Question: I understand that the reason why we speak of the all-surpassing Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata is that it is the supreme Vow made for foolish beings like us in the latter age of the five defilements, who commit evil and do not do any good act.

But we have no clear understanding as to in what state of mind we should be and how we should entrust ourselves to Amida in order to attain birth in the Pure Land. Please teach us about this in detail.

Answer: Out of great love and great compassion the Buddha vowed to save us, the beings of the present latter age, however deep our karmic evils may be, who wholly entrust ourselves to Amida Tathagata, taking refuge only in Amida Buddha single-mindedly and unwaveringly, without regard to other Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Since Amida sends forth great light and enfolds us in it, the [Contemplation] Sutra states: “The light shines everywhere throughout the worlds of the ten quarters, embracing and not forsaking sentient beings of the nembutsu.”

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All Women

From The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fascicle 5, Letter 17

All women, if you seriously care about the afterlife and turn to the Buddha Dharma with sincere devotion, you should just entrust yourselves deeply to Amida Tathagata and, casting aside various practices, single-heartedly rely on Amida with the firm assurance of your emancipation in the afterlife. Then you will be unfailingly born in the land of bliss. There should never be any doubt about this.

After having attained this understanding, you should simply say “Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu, …” whether awake or asleep, with gratitude and appreciation, accepting deep in your mind Amida Tathagata’s readiness to save you. You will then be called nembutsu practicers who have attained the entrusting heart.

Humbly and respectfully.

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Women Remaining in Lay Life

From The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fascicle 5, Letter 3

Women who remain in lay life should realize and never entertain the slightest doubt that those who, without any calculation, deeply rely on Amida Buddha single-mindedly and unwaveringly, entrusting themselves to the Buddha for their emancipation in the afterlife, will all be saved.

This is the intent of the Primal Vow of Other Power, the vow of Amida Tathagata.

Beyond this, whenever they feel joy and gratitude for their emancipation in the afterlife, they should simply say “Namo Amida Butsu, …”

Humbly and respectfully.

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Hunting and Fishing

From The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fascicle 1, Letter 3

The important point of the settled mind in our tradition does not lie particularly in refraining from evil thoughts or keeping delusory thoughts and attachments from arising.

We may just carry on trading, working as servants, hunting or fishing. If we deeply realize that the Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata promises to save such worthless people like us, who are absorbed, morning and evening, inn our daily engagements, deluded under the influence of our evil karma, and if we single-heartedly entrust ourselves to Amida Buddha’s compassionate Vow without any doubt, while having firm assurance of our emancipation - since such a single thought of entrusting is sincere, we will certainly be saved by the Tathagata.

Beyond this, in what state of mind should we say the nembutsu? We should say the nembutsu as long as we live, acknowledging our deep indebtedness to the benevolence of Amida who saves us by settling our birth through the endowment of the power of entrusting which we thus receive.

Such people are called practicers with the entrusting heart who have attained the settled mind of our tradition.

Humbly and respectfully.

18th day of the 12th month, 3rd year of Bunmei [1471]