|Shinran Shonin: founder of Shin Buddhism
Gosei’s Myokonin Stories
Translated by Hisao Inagaki
'Myokonin' literally means a wondrous, excellent person. It is used for a devout
follower of Jodo Shinshu, who lives a life of total dedication to Amida and whose acts and sayings, though they often run
counter to common sense, reveal the depth of faith and true humanity. Those known as myokonin have often been found to have
little education but a surprisingly deep understanding of the Other-Power teaching. They are not simply devout practitioners
of the Nembutsu. Having realized the Other-Power and experienced oneness with Amida, they fully live up to his all-embracing
Compassion. While keenly aware of their absolute powerlessness, they are always grateful to Amida, and their daily life is
full of spontaneous expressions of joy and selfless love.
The term originally comes from Shan-tao's commentary on the Contemplation
Sutra. In commenting on the word 'fundarike' (Pundarika, a white lotus-flower), which is used in this sutra to praise
followers of the Nembutsu, Shan-tao (613-681) gives five other words of high praise: 1. konin, an excellent person,
2. jojonin, a superior person, 3. myokonin, 4. keunin, a rare person, and 5. saishonin, a most
excellent person. Of those five, myokonin came to be specially used to refer to a person of True Faith as described
The twenty-two stories of myokonin which will be presented in Part One were originally compiled by Gosei
(1721-94), a Honganji scholar of Iwami Province (present-day Shimane Prefecture), and published by his disciple Sojun in 1842.
Later, Sojun added four more collections of stories. With the addition of one more collection attributed to Zo, a six-collection
book entitled Myokoninden, Biographies of Myokonin, became popular reading among Shin followers in the pre-modern
Kihee of Aki Province
During the Kan'ei era, there was a man named Kihee in Todani Village, Yamagata
County, Aki Province (Hiroshima Prefecture). He was a cattle dealer. Having deep faith in the Primal Vow, he repeated the
Nembutsu without interruption, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying. When a fellow-believer whom he knew very well
stayed with him, Kihee would wake him up several times in the middle of the night. If the man half awoke and mumbled something
in response, Kihee said, "Amida is not here." So saying, he shook the man awake. If the Nembutsu finally came from his friend's
lips, Kihee was satisfied and joined him in repeating the Nembutsu, saying, "How happy! Amida is here."
One day his
wife was weaving hemp by the fireside, with her legs stretched out. Kihee picked up her leg with the tongs. The angry wife
said, "Why are you picking up my leg with the tongs?" He playfully replied, "Since it was by the fireside, I thought it was
firewood." This made his wife even more furious, "How could you mistake my leg for firewood?"
Kihee said, "Careful behavior in
ordinary times is essential. This fireside is used to cook the rice to be offered to Amida. If your deeds are not discreet
in ordinary times, you may cook the sacred rice with your legs fully stretched and unashamed of your impoliteness. That's
why I purposely did that to you." Hearing this, his wife was deeply impressed.
Later, Kihee had his head shaved and
received the Buddhist name, Kyoon ('Teaching Gratefulness'). All through his life, he carefully cherished the Dharma, and
successfully attained birth in the Pure Land.
There was a popular belief in Aki and Iwami Provinces that an image of Kyoon
of Todani was seen in the Honganji. This should be said of this person.
During the Kyoho era (1716-35), there was in Kamedani Village, Ochi District,
Iwami Province (Shimane Prefecture), a Shin devotee called Kuhee, a peasant, of Takadori. At first this man was of violent
nature, cruel and unyielding, but after conversion to Shin he was reputed to be kind and warm-hearted. Rennyo Shonin says,
"When one attains True Faith, one ceases to utter harsh words to one's fellow-believers and dwells in peace of mind." [Goichidaiki-kikigaki
291] Kuhee kept those words close to his heart with gratitude.
Once during a period of drought in the summer, Kuhee
went into the mountain to cut grass for his cattle. On his way he looked at his rice-field and found that someone had blocked
the water-passage leading to it. Seeing that not a drop of water flowed into his rice-field, Kuhee stopped going to his work
and, instead, turned round and went home. After lighting a candle at the family altar, he told his wife and children to worship
Amida to thank him. Puzzled, they asked Kuhee why he had returned home without doing any work and for what they should thank
Kuhee told them what had happened and then explained, "This incident must have been due to my karma, in some former
life, of suspending the water supply to another's rice-field. If I had seen this in my earlier days, I would have become very
angry and retaliated against the one who did this by blocking his water passage. Because of the kind and careful teaching
of the Great Master that I have received, I instantly became aware of the former karma, which had caused this. That is why
we must express our deep appreciation to Amida."
Hearing this, the peasants in Kuhee's neighborhood were deeply ashamed
of themselves. After that, Kuhee's rice-field was always full of water.
One day, when Kuhee was talking to his fellow-believers,
dogs began to fight each other. Seeing this, he said, "How happy I am!" Asked why, he said, "Dogs have no lord, so a strong
dog bullies a weak one. As for us, we are protected by the lord, so we are not afraid of the strong. Also we are admonished
if we are making unreasonable demands." So saying, Kuhee shed tears of joy.
During the Kyoho era (1716-35), there was in the castle-town of Izushi, Tajima
Province (northern part of Hyogo Prefecture), a follower of the Nichiren sect, named Rokuzaemon. When a boy was born to him,
a nurse was employed. Being a devotee of Jodo Shinshu with steadfast Faith, she continually repeated the Nembutsu. Since her
master Rokuzaemon abhorred the Nembutsu, she was not able to say it as she wished. So when she went out of the house, she
would joyfully repeat the Nembutsu as much as she liked to express her gratitude to Amida.
The baby in her bosom heard
the Nembutsu and, when he began to speak, he said the Nembutsu day in and day out. At home the nurse restrained herself from
saying it, but the baby naturally had no such discretion and, to the great dissatisfaction of his parents, repeated the Nembutsu.
New Year's Eve, when the boy was three years old, the nurse secretly said to him, "Tomorrow is New Year's Day, a day of celebration.
Be sure that you never say the Nembutsu."
Next day, all family members, men and women, sat at the rice-cake dinner to celebrate
the long life for everyone. The boy looked up at the nurse and asked her whether he should not say "it" as she had told him
the day before.
His father, hearing this, asked her what it was that she had told his son. Perplexed, she remained silent.
Turning to his son, he said, "What did she tell you?" "If I told you, you would scold her," said the boy. His father promised,
"I won't scold her, so tell me everything." Then the boy extemporaneously made a poem:
Celebrating our long life in this ephemeral world,
today I restrain myself
from saying Amida’s Name.
Wonderstruck, all present thought that a child of four could not make such a poem
and so asked the nurse, "You must know what happened yesterday. Tell us everything."
She replied, "The boy has developed
the habit of saying the Nembutsu from me. I told him yesterday not to say it on New Year's Day. That is all I said to him."
members of the family were all surprised to hear this. The boy's father deeply repented of the fault of abhorring the Nembutsu
as being the karma which would cause one to fall into hell, and then became a devout follower of Jodo Shinshu.
Jiroemon of Settsu
During the Kyoho era (1716-35), there lived at the foot of Mt. Maya of Settsu
Province a Shin follower with steadfast Faith named Jiroemon. He was extremely poor, making his living as a woodcutter. He
would make a pilgrimage to Honzan once or twice a year, and in order to offer a small donation to Honzan, he must earn extra
money by gathering brackens in the field and selling them at the market.
About the same time, there was in
Nishijin, Kyoto, an exceptionally devout follower named Hishiya Ryogen, who never failed to pay a visit to Honzan everyday.
One day he met Jiroemon in the main hall, and witnessed his sincere devotion to the Buddha. Since then they met every year
and became good friends. So, whenever Jiroemon visited Kyoto, Ryogen would let him stay at his home and exchange the joy of
the Dharma with him for a long time.
Once, a year had passed without Jiroemon's visit to Honzan. Ryogen became worried,
thinking that he might have already gone to the Pure Land or become ill. Since, for Ryogen, Jiroemon was the only friend who
would remain close to him until after death, although there were many friends in this life, Ryogen pined to see him.
by a man, Ryogen set out to Settsu. After a long journey they came to Jiroemon's village. Asked where his house was, a villager
replied, "There is certainly a man named Jiroemon, but he wouldn't deserve a visit by such a wealthy man as you. He makes
his living with great difficulty; taking poor meals and wearing threadbare clothes, he appears no better than a beggar. But
if you insists on going to see him, that is his house." So saying, the villager pointed at a hut by the road.
that the hut had bamboo pillars and the door was made of wormwoods; branches of a thorny shrub constituted walls; there was
no floor, except loosely woven straw-mats, which were spread on the earth.
Jiroemon came out of the house to greet Ryogen
and showed him in. "Are you not Ryogen-sama?" Jiroemon exclaimed, "How very nice to see you! I have been unwell these days,
unable to make a pilgrimage to the Honzan as I used to. I am happy to see you well, enjoying the life of Nembutsu more than
Apparently unconcerned about his shabby hut, Jiroemon talked all night with Ryogen and renewed their friendship
of Dharma, while repeating the Nembutsu all the time. Ryogen's attendant, on the other hand, was uninterested in their conversation
and so spent an extremely boring night.
The following morning, they bade each other a long farewell, exchanging words of
promise that if one of them died first, he would wait for the other in the Pure Land, eventually sharing the same lotus-seat
with each other.
Before departure, Ryogen produced some money from the wallet and gave it to Jiroemon, saying, "You seem
rather poor. You may not care about it so much because this is the world of temporary habitation. As a fellow traveler of
the Way, I cannot bear to see your poverty. I give some stipend even to the unworthy servants; why should I not share the
little money I have with a man of the same Faith? Buy a screen door to shut off the wind."
Jiroemon replied, "This is the
remark I did not expect to hear from you. Up to now, I have had a great joy of having you as a good friend of firm Faith.
What you have just said makes me wonder about your understanding of the Dharma. The reason is that one's life of poverty or
wealth, suffering or pleasure, is dependent upon the karmic cause in one's previous lives. You are rich because of your favorable
karma in the past, while I am poor and destitute because of my karma in the past. Even sages cannot escape from the results
of their past karma. Your offer of help runs counter to the law of causality, doesn't it?"
Ryogen apologized, "I am sorry.
It was my mistake to try to redeem my despicable mind this way. I beg you to remain my best friend of the Dharma as before,
for this friendship would be the most valuable thing in this transient world."
After all, they became friendly to each
other again, and remained so for the rest of their lives in their joyful pursuit of the Dharma together.
Jiroemon of Omi
During the Genbun era (1532-1555 C. E.), there was in the station town of Banba,
Omi Province, a packhorse man, named Jiroemon. Being a gentle-natured man, he was able to break in even wild horses. Deeply
entrusting himself to the Original Vow, he continually recited the Nembutsu whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying.
day the feudal lord of Hagi in Nagato Province (present Yamaguchi Prefecture), was on his homeward journey from Edo (Tokyo),
when the horse of one of his retainers fell ill, and so a tame one was chosen from among many station horses. Then Jiroemon
was called to lead the horse. As the company went along, Jiroemon said the Nembutsu without interruption, much to the discomfort
of the warrior.
"Stop that abominable Nembutsu!" said the warrior. Surprised, Jiroemon was silent for a while, but before
they went a few hundred yards, he involuntarily mumbled the Nembutsu, and so he was scolded again. In this way, before they
reached the next station, he received abusive forbidding words from the warrior as many as seven times.
After the warrior
dismounted from the horse at Torimoto Station, he looked angrily at Jiroemon and ordered him to come to the courtyard because
he had some business to do with him. People were astounded and wondered what improper behavior made the warrior mad at Jiroemon.
Anticipating his execution on the spot, they told him to get away quickly as soon as he foresaw the imminent danger.
enough, the warrior came out with a sword in his hand and said, "How I hate you! While leading my horse, you uttered the abominable
Nembutsu as if you were transporting a dead man. I ordered you to stop it several times, but you ignored my order. How outrageous!
Know that you deserve a single blow." So saying, he drew nearer.
Jiroemon showed no sign of fear, and continued to say
the Nembutsu. Becoming more and more furious, the warrior unsheathed the sword, walked round to the back of Jiroemon and held
the sword above his head. Seeing that Jiroemon was unafraid, ready to receive execution by lowering his head while calmly
reciting the Nembutsu, this malicious warrior was deeply impressed. A sudden change of mind occurred as his stock of merit
from his past lives must have reached its full maturity.
The warrior threw down his sword and said, "I was before a follower
of Jodo Shinshu, but have become a hopelessly evil man who cannot bear to hear the Nembutsu. Even the Tathagata Amida could
not save me, could he?"
As he tearfully said this, Jiroemon shed tears of joy and explained to him the deep intent of the
Primal Vow, which transcends relative thoughts of ordinary men. The warrior's mind was instantly awakened to Amida’s
inconceivable Vow. With joy and gratitude, he accompanied Jiroemon to Otsu station. Every night they enjoyed talking to each
other about the wonderful Dharma.
Later, every time the warrior passed through Omi Province, he went to see Jiroemon to
renew their friendship of Dharma.
Jukan of Iwami Province
During the Ken'en era (1748-51C.E.) there was in Takami Village, Obachi County,
Iwami Province, a physician, Ishibashi Jukan by name, and in Yanase Village another physician called Nishigori Genshu. One
day Genshu went to Takami and stayed with Jukan. As Genshu was a devout Shin follower, he wanted to worship Amida in Jukan's
family shrine but there was no Buddha room. Asked why, Jukan said scornfully, "Hell and the Land of Happiness are spoken of
by priests who seek donations. How would learned practitioners concern themselves with such matters?"
Genshu was speechless.
He retired to the bedroom and reflected, "There are indeed men of little association with Amida. As for me, how fortunate!"
After repeating the Nembutsu quietly, he went to sleep.
Three years later, Genshu went to Takami to see a patient. Thinking
that staying with Jukan would inconvenience him, Genshu called on him but just wanted to exchange greetings at the doorstep.
Jukan joyfully came out to greet him and courteously led him in, straight to a big altar. As Jukan opened the folding doors,
a magnificent scroll of honzon was enshrined inside.
Genshu was surprised and asked Jukan, "How in the world did
this come about?" Jukan shed tears and said, "My beloved daughter died last year at the age of six. Before she died, she asked
me where she would go after death. Overwhelmed by sadness but in order to give peace to her mind, I told her that when she
died she would go to a wonderful world called Land of Happiness. She further asked me what she should do to be born there.
Without knowing exactly what to say, I involuntarily assured her, 'Put your palms together and say 'Namu Amida Butsu', then
you can go there.' 'How happy and thankful!' said she, and then single-heartedly repeated the Nembutsu until she died. This
incident brought me to visit the temple to pray for my afterlife. While listening to the sermons more and more, I realized
my misunderstanding of doing self-power practices. Having come to enjoy the same taste of Faith with you, I have requested
Honganji to grant me a Honzon. Please forgive my rudeness some years ago."
So saying, Jukan tearfully expressed his deep
repentance. After that, Genshu and Jukan were firmly tied in the lifelong friendship of Dharma.
of Yamato Province
A man named Seikuro lived in Hokotate Village, Yoshino County, Yamato Province.
He was dull and stupid from birth. Someone kindly wrote his name on his straw hat in syllabary; even that Seikuro could not
read. He was exceptionally dutiful to his parents, but being poverty-stricken, his family had to live at bare subsistence
Seikuro's father died many years ago. In order to support his mother, Seikuro worked hard in his job near Shimoichi
and gave her whatever small amount of money he could save. His mother, too, worked as a day laborer picking tealeaves and
sorting cottonseed. When Seikuro finished his work for the day at his master's shop, he returned to his master's house as
he heard the sound of the evening bell. While other employees were busy preparing dinner, Seikuro, with the master's permission,
would hasten back to his mother to do household chores like bailing water from the well and chopping firewood. Then he hastened
back to the master's house to eat his supper, which had already become cold and tasteless.
From his early youth, Seikuro
had a deep aspiration for Bodhi, and became a truly admirable Shin devotee. All through life, he incessantly recited the Nembutsu,
whether walking, standing, sitting or lying. This is how Faith awoke in his mind. When he was earning his living as a
woodcutter, a couple of nightingales always followed him all the way into the mountain and again to his village. This continued
for about two years. While he was wondering why, once there was an exhibition of treasures at Honzenji Temple in the same
province. Among them was the nightingale cage made of ivory, which had previously belonged to Rennyo Shonin. Hearing that
Rennyo Shonin, while ill in bed, enjoyed listening to the chirping of nightingales because they cried "Ho hokekyo",
which sounded like "Ho o kike" (Listen to the Dharma). Seikuro suddenly noticed that those nightingales had been urging
him to listen to the Dharma. Since then, the more he heard the Dharma, the deeper he realized Amida’s Compassion.
the age of 33, Seikuro was bereft of his wife. He was thrown into deep sorrow, but came to realize with gratitude that those
who died before him would guide him. His pursuit of the Dharma became even more persistent, just as a hungry man sought food
or a thirsty man looked for water. Seikuro had a daughter, for whom he found a husband, named Hisaroku. He then retired to
the next village, called Nibutani.
Seikuro's hut with a thatched roof stands on the mountain-pass; two or three straw mats
are spread on the floor, and there are no household goods except for an iron pot and a couple of teacups. I (Gosei) visited
his house with a few Shinshu followers in the second month of this year (2nd year of Kan'en, i.e., 1749 C. E.); we personally
talked to him and saw his frugal living.
Probably because such an admirable devotee lives there, in Yoshino County there
are many devout followers. From what they say about him, all that Seikuro says is perfectly in accord with the scriptures.
I regretted that I had not had a chance to meet him until then. Having met him and other wonderful devotees, like Sozaemon
of Kurumaki Village and Teiju of Imai Village, I was so impressed that I could not stop shedding tears of joy and gratitude.
On returning home, I organized a tour group of 25 priests and laypeople, including my old mother, Myosei, and together visited
Jokoji Temple in Saso Village on the 29th of the second month, where we listened to the enlightening sermons by Master Gyokutan
and greatly enjoyed meeting with many devout people.
A great many people of the world go to Yoshino to see the cherry-blossom,
but how happy we are to have been given a wonderful chance by Amida to see the flowers of Faith at their best in Yoshino.
I have seen much about Seikuro's life of Faith, which I will record for the sake of other Shin followers.
took his old mother to Honganji Temple. She said she was too old to walk to Kyoto, but Seikuro insisted that she should come
with him. He could have raised money to hire a palanquin, but he thought it would be unbecoming to do so. Therefore, carrying
his mother on his back, he traveled to Kyoto, which was about 80 kilometers away from his home.
Seikuro hung the pillow
of his deceased mother from the ceiling of his room. When his friend asked him the reason, he said, "If I use it for myself,
I may by chance kick it in the darkness. Just the thought of such a thing is awful. Also, if it is hung from the ceiling,
I can easily remember her benevolence whenever I see it."
Having heard many such stories about Seikuro, the lord of Takatori,
Dewa-no-kami, commended him for his wonderful filial piety and intended to give him five bags of rice. Seikuro refused to
receive them, saying, "It is just an ordinary custom to serve one's parents. Since I earn my living by selling firewood, my
daily provision is not lacking. So there is no reason why I should receive the lord's gift."
The lord was so impressed
by Seikuro's sincerity that he summoned him again and gave him ten thousand mon; additionally, the lord gave him permission
to collect as much firewood as he liked in his territory.
This time, Seikuro joyfully accepted the money, but thinking
that it was more than he deserved, he donated all the money to Honganji.
Seikuro usually worked in the field and, when
there was no work, collected firewood and sold it in the market. When a customer asked him the price and demanded a discount,
Seikuro gave him the discount without arguing. Thus his behavior was very much in the spirit of Confucius, who said, "The
gentleman does not argue." Later, no one demanded discount when he bought firewood from Seikuro.
Seikuro visited Honganji
several times a year. Each time he brought firewood as the donation to the head temple. In preparing the firewood to be donated,
he first washed it carefully and dried it. On the way to Kyoto, when he rested by the roadside, he never put it on a dirty
place. The Honganji officials were deeply moved by his sincerity, so they used Seikuro's firewood only for boiling the rice
to be offered at the altar.
When Seikuro's daughter became 17 or 18 years of age, he adopted a man from the next village
named Kyuroku for her husband. Kyuroku was notorious for his bad behavior, such as gambling and quarreling. The villagers
thought that Seikuro would not be happy with Kyuroku, and felt sorry for Seikuro. Within one month after the marriage, Kyuroku
stopped all his evil deeds and became a dutiful son to Seikuro. Besides, he became a devout Shin follower and joyfully recited
the Nembutsu all the time. People admired Seikuro's virtue of Faith, which had transformed Kyuroku.
Once Seikuro wanted
to donate a rice field lot to the local temple and consulted with Kyuroku. "Please feel free to donate whatever you like,"
said Kyuroku. "Even if you leave your descendants a big fortune, unless they have good karma that deserves it, it will become
some other person's possession. If you make a donation to the temple to repay your indebtedness to the Buddha, it will remain
there for ten thousand generations and the merit of that will be ours." So Seikuro joyfully made the donation.
sage said, "One may save money and leave it to one's offspring; but they may not keep it. One may collect books and leave
them to one's descendants; but they may not read them. To accumulate virtue by stealth is truly for the benefit of one's offspring."
Kyuroku's remarks were in perfect agreement with the above saying.
One day Her Eminence the Lord's Mother summoned
Seikuro and asked, "When did you attain Faith?" He replied, "It was when I was forty-two or three that I realized the importance
of aspiring for the Pure Land. In those days, I had doubt and uncertainty about the way of emancipation, but they cleared
away without my knowledge. Now I joyfully anticipate the time of birth in the Pure Land and enjoy saying the Nembutsu of gratitude
and appreciation. This is indeed due to the working of the Other Power."
Hearing this, Her Eminence became more and more
devoted to the Dharma. People applauded Seikuro for his deep devotion that impressed Her Eminence.
At one time, when
the Chief Abbot paid a visit to Yamato Province, Seikuro went to meet him and offered him a donation. Out of the many Shin
followers who were present, only Seikuro was summoned and received in audience. Overjoyed, he recalled how awestruck and thrilled
he was to meet the Chief Abbot and receive his words. He added, "How much more wonderful it would be to be born in the Pure
Land and receive words of Compassion directly from the Tathágata himself!"
Seeing that people of high positions visited
Seikuro at his wretched hut, a lay-monk Koteraya felt sorry for him and began to collect money to build him a new house. As
all his Dharma friends were only too happy to contribute money to this end, a considerable amount of funds were raised. When
Koteraya told Seikuro about the offer of help, Seikuro courteously declined it. Dismayed, Koteraya insisted that Seikuro must
receive the money, otherwise, they would think that Koteraya might have appropriated the funds.
"I do appreciate your kindness,"
said Seikuro, "but it is not good to have a new house built for this old man. As I live in this wretched hut, I long for the
Pure Land. The money you have collected is a gift from the Buddha. If you use it to purchase altar ornaments for Inkoji Temple
where lodgings were offered for the pilgrims, I would be most grateful."
Koteraya was satisfied, and did as Seikuro had
In the old days, the Sage of Mount Shosha, Kyoshin, said, "I use my bent arm for a pillow to sleep at night;
I find delight in it. How should I seek pomp and glory to soar high up in the sky?"
There is also an old saying, "After
fifty years of age, one should not build a new house for oneself." All this indicates that Seikuro's refusal to have a new
house built for him was in accord with the teachings of the Buddha and Confucius.
Master Gyokutan of Jokoji Temple
was formerly a resident priest of Myokakuji Temple at Myogahara in Etchu Province. When he visited there in the spring of
the first year of Kan'en (1748), he took Seikuro along with him. In those days, there were many Shin followers in Etchu, but
only one or two in a thousand were thoroughgoing devotees with deep awareness of their ignorance. So, Gyokutan thought, Seikuro
would have a great influence on those followers even if he did not say much.
Thus Seikuro, an old man of nearly seventy,
was asked to travel a hundred li with Gyokutan. While walking along the toilsome road, Seikuro did not say a word of
complaint. When asked if he was tired, he said, "No." Seeing that he looked very tired and weak, Gyokutan further asked him,
"You say you are not tired, but you are walking with a limp, aren't you?" Seikuro replied, "It is true that I am physically
tired, but not spiritually. As you see, I am an old man; I must look pitiable. Though my body is seventy years old, my heart
is always Eighteen. Since lively Nembutsu gives me pleasure all the time, I never get tired."
When they came to cross a
river, whose water was still cold, Gyokutan made a kind remark, "Although young, I don't like to cross this river. The cold
water must be too much to bear for an old man like you." Seikuro replied, "I don't think this is painful at all. If Amida
vowed to save those who could cross such a river in winter ten times, I might fail to meet the condition for salvation, for
after crossing it a couple of times, I would give up. Thinking of the deep benevolence of Amida who saves me without requiring
such a hard practice, I would not mind crossing a few more rivers like this."
When they arrived at Etchu, those who met
with Seikuro were all impressed by his incomparable pure Faith and felt deeply ashamed of themselves.
On his return
journey, Seikuro was once again accompanied by Gyokutan. When they visited Shinshuji Temple in Hida Province, Master Taigan
of Jokoji Temple at Ozone in Settsu Province had just finished a series of sermons there. So Taigan joined Seikuro and Gyokutan
for their homeward journey. Seeing that walking a long distance was too tiring for the old man, Taigan hired a horse for Seikuro
to ride, but Seikuro stubbornly refused to ride. Pressed for the reason, Seikuro said, "Riding a horse is too much for me.
I am not worthy of it."
"If you think you do not deserve to ride a horse," Taigan further asked, "how come you boarded
the ship of the Primal Vow?"
Seikuro replied, "I did not ask Amida to take me on board, but Amida forced me to board the
"If so, I will force you to ride the horse." So saying, Taigan made him ride the horse.
Saying Nembutsu, Seikuro
on horseback expressed his gratitude, "How grateful! I am on board the ship of the Primal Vow, and on top of that, I am now
At the next station, Seikuro bought a bushel of rice-bran and asked the packhorse man to give it to the
horse. Patting it on the back, he parted from the horse.
When young, Seikuro worked as a stableman for three years, but
never rode a horse. So this was the first experience. Seikuro was thus benevolent to animals.
In the summer of the
following year, the 2nd of Kan'en (1749), I met Seikuro in Kyoto. I said to him, "When you went down to Etchu last year, you
must have met with many grateful devotees wherever you went."
"It was wonderful to see the Dharma thriving everywhere,"
he said, "but before speaking about people in the Etchu Province, I must say that I was rejoicing and was grateful myself
His remark deeply impressed me. We are used to take delight in others' sincere devotion, and tend to be forgetful
of the fact that we ought to be rejoiced ourselves. Seikuro never "counts his neighbors' treasures". He takes every opportunity
to remind himself gratefully of the assurance of birth in the Pure Land.
In the beginning of the 7th month of the same
year, while Seikuro was attending a memorial service at the house of his fellow-believer, Yuan, of Haradani Village, a burglar
broke into his house and got away with seven silver coins, which Seikuro had hidden under a straw mat. Hearing this, people
said, "It is funny that a thief should have burgled Seikuro's house."
"The thief must be in need of money," said Seikuro,
"and so was disappointed at finding nothing very much to steal. I had earned fifteen silver coins by selling cole-seeds but
spent eight on laundry since last spring. So I had seven left at home. I am glad he got away with them, although they were
just a small amount of money."
Puzzled, his friends asked him, "What makes you happy when your money was stolen?"
replied, "Why should I not be happy? The reason is that I had money stolen, but I was born a bombu and so am liable
to steal others' belongings. However, thanks to Amida's Compassion, I do not entertain any thought of stealing. I am grateful
for this. Should I gain ill repute by stealing even five or ten pennies, this would be a disgrace not only to me but also
to my fellow-seekers, and so I would be dissociated from them. I may be blamed for being careless to have money stolen, but
I haven't brought disgrace on my Dharma-friends. That's why I am happy."
On the 27th of the eleven-month in a certain
year, Seikuro sat up all night before the altar. A freezing wind was blowing and snow was dancing in the air. He then remembered
that the Founder Shinran, when traveling, slept in the snow by the roadside, with a rock as a pillow, and that Dharmakara
in his bodhisattva hood went through all kinds of hardship for sentient beings. Then, in order to appreciate better their
compassionate acts, Seikuro took off his clothes and threw himself on the snow, repeating "Namu Amida butsu" in a shivering
voice while thinking with gratitude that the Founder must have been like that.
Kyuroku, the son-in-law, happened to be
staying with Seikuro that night. In the middle of the night he was awakened by a strange sound. He rushed out of door and
found Seikuro tumbling in the snow naked. He hurriedly dressed Seikuro and brought him in. Asked what he was doing, Seikuro
explained that having seen heavy snow, he wanted to remind himself of his deep indebtedness to the Founder. Hearing this,
Kyuroku shared joy and gratitude with Seikuro.
In olden times, Kyoshin of Kako in Harima Province used to take off his
clothes in the cold night and sit on a flattened door with unprocessed buckwheat spread over it, and then recite the Nembutsu.
He did this in order to experience something of the hardship Dharmakara underwent for many aeons and, thereby, repay even
a fraction of his boundless indebtedness to Amida.
Seikuro's fellow-seekers were all impressed by the fact that men of
devout faith of the past and the present would do the same thing. While telling their friends about this, they themselves
felt ashamed of their ungratefulness to Amida and the Founder.
Seikuro began to suffer from paralysis in the winter of
the 2nd year of Kan'en (1749). Unable to walk with ease, he even had difficulty in daily life. In the summer of the following
year, in spite of his illness, he shaved his head and became a nyudo (lay-monk). His joy was especially great, and he became
even more devoted to the Nembutsu.
When his friends came to visit him and called his Buddhist name, "Jogen", Seikuro denied
this and said, "I am a nyudo." He preferred to be called "Nyudo," probably because it was a familiar word which he had heard
many times in Honen's remark, "those ignorant persons, lay-nuns and lay-monks," or in Rennyo's words, "those lay-nuns and
lay-monks who cannot read even one phrase."
Seikuro's illness became more and more serious, but the Nembutsu kept coming
from his mouth with his painful breathing. Kyuroku said to him, "Now that breathing itself seems difficult, you may just feel
grateful in your heart." On hearing this, Seikuro nodded consent and stopped saying the Nembutsu for some time, but before
long resumed recitation as before. Thus, amid continual voicing of the Nembutsu, Seikuro passed away on the 4th day of the
eighth month, third year of Kan'en, at the age of 73.
In connection with Seikuro's Nembutsu until death, we are reminded
of Shinran's disciple, Kakushinbo of Takada. When he was seriously ill, Shinran called to see him. On seeing Kakushinbo breathing
with great difficulty and yet saying the Nembutsu without interruption, Shinran asked him, "Your determination to say the
Nembutsu in spite of great pain is indeed admirable. But why are you so devoted to it, I wonder?"
Kakushinbo replied, "Even
for a short while at the time of impending death, as long as breathing is possible, I feel obliged to repay my indebtedness
to Amida for endowing me with the great benefit of attaining birth in the Pure Land. It is for the purpose of repaying my
indebtedness that I say the Nembutsu."
Shinran was deeply impressed. Shedding tears profusely, he rejoiced that Kakushinbo's
lifelong devotion had its due effect in the end. Seikuro must have been in the same frame of mind as Kakushinbo.
(Gosei) have above presented part of Seikuro's life. He must now be enjoying bath in the seven-jeweled pond with the water
of eight excellent qualities. Having met with many saints of supreme virtue and worshipped Amida, the Great Sage of Compassion,
he must be looking at this Saha world and thinking of his former fellow-seekers. Although he was so ignorant as not to read
his own name in Chinese characters, he has now attained a clear understanding of the one hundred dharmas and become a person
of great wisdom who is thoroughly conversant with innumerable mystic phrases. Also, formerly he was so poor that he could
barely present a couple of bundles of firewood to Honganji, but now he can make as many offerings as he wishes to countless
Buddhas of the ten directions in a moment. This is all due to the wonderful power of the Primal Vow. Those who are left behind
are kindly advised to dedicate themselves to the hearing of the Dharma and appreciating it with joyful hearts by saying the
Nembutsu continually, thereby expecting to see Seikuro again on the flower of Enlightenment.
Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida
End of Fascicle One
Yazaemon of Dewa
There was a man named Yazaemon in Mogami, Dewa Province, Northern Japan. Deeply
concerned about Faith, he visited a number of priests everywhere, but he was not able to settle the problem of Faith. So he
decided to see the Great Teacher, Monshu, and directly ask him about it. After a long journey, he reached the Honganji. When
he sought permission to see the Monshu, an official arranged for him to meet the head of the seminary, Enen of Kezo-an, who
would represent the Monshu. Having heard Enen's compassionate instruction, Yazaemon once thought that he had attained a deep
understanding of Faith. But some time after he returned home, doubt arose again in the mind. So he made yet another journey
to Kyoto to ask about Faith. He thus repeated the journey of approximately two hundred li as many as eight times during the
period of three years.
At last, at the suggestion of Enen, Yazaemon went to see Shukei of Kangi-an in Kubiki-gori, Echigo
Province, who thoroughly explained the Dharma to him. Hearing this, Yazaemon attained clear understanding of it beyond any
shadow of doubt. Thus he became a wonderful devotee of firm Faith.
His stories were often recounted by his fellow-believers.
One of them was that Yazaemon was deeply appreciative of Amida's Benevolence and recited the Nembutsu whenever he had the
occasion to do so in his daily life. The only problem was that when he blew the kitchen fire into flames, he could not say
the Name. However, he discovered that if he used spills he did not have to stop the Nembutsu. This little discovery made him
rejoice very much and made him especially grateful for Amida's compassionate care.
Oshimo of Kawachi
Among the members of Zenryuji Temple in Yaoki Village, Wakae County, Kawachi Province
(present Osaka Prefecture), was a dealer in cotton goods, named Riuemon. His daughter Oshimo, aged eight this year (the second
year of Kan'en, 1749), has a gentle heart with sincere devotion to the Buddha. She has been a regular visitor to the local
dojo, where she joins others in chanting sutras, worshiping the Buddha and listening to sermons. Shoku, the priest of
the dojo, deeply moved by Oshimo's serious Buddhist aspiration, kindly taught her the Dharma, assuring her that even those
who have five hindrances and are subject to the three submissions can complete the karmic cause of birth in the Land of Peace
and Provision by the divine power of the inconceivable Primal Vow. As the store of good karma from her past lives matured,
she said to the priest this summer, "I have heard that women have deeper evil karma than men and so cannot be saved by the
compassionate hands of the Buddhas of the three periods; they are not allowed to enter any of the pure lands in the nine directions.
I gratefully accept the teaching that Amida saves those of evil karma such as me, if they entrust themselves to Amida Tathágata’s
Primal Vow. However, I feel I do not deserve his salvation because my evil karma is so deep. The reason is that last New Year
I went to Mr. So-and-So's house with my friend and stole a penny from the drawer of a lamp-stand, with which I bought some
sweets. On another occasion, I stole a penny from the donation box at the temple and again bought some sweets with it. Later,
after I heard that stealing is the cause of falling into the Hell of Black Rope, I put two-pence before the temple shrine.
I don't think Amida can save such an evil person. Is there any way to expiate my evil karma? How should I repent?"
heard the tearful confession of this little girl, the priest could do nothing but repeat the Nembutsu. After a while, he opened
his mouth and said, "You should not doubt your birth in the Pure Land. Even the heavy karmic hindrances, such as the five
grave offenses and abusing the Right Dharma, do not obstruct your birth if you abandon various practices and entrust yourself
to Amida's Vow-Power. You did not steal two-pence with serious evil intent, did you? You stole the money with childish impulse
to buy sweets. Such an evil act does not create any hindrance to birth. Evil acts should indeed be avoided, but the moment
even the abusers of the Right Dharma and those without any stock of goodness overturn their minds and entrust themselves wholly
to Amida, all their evil karma is destroyed and so their birth in the Pure Land is settled. While deeply aware of your evil
karma, solely entrust yourself to Amida's inconceivable Primal Vow. At that moment your birth is settled without doubt. You
should now joyfully acknowledge the Buddha's Benevolence."
Hearing this, Oshimo bitterly cried and said, "How grateful
I am! While visiting the dojo morning and evening, I have had this concern. Having heard that all the evil I have committed
is removed and I can attain birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss just as I am. I can hardly control the joy. How grateful and
Those who saw Oshima rejoice so much as to dance equally shed tears.
After that, with even deeper devotion
and gratitude to the Buddha, Oshimo continued her visit to the dojo, morning and evening. She also paid sincere respect to
the Sangha. Without being taught, she has learnt the proper attitude in speaking and acting, which is in accord with the scriptures
even to the minutest points. We must say that this is a reflection of wisdom of Faith.
Having realized with regret
that she had never visited the Honganji, Oshimo asked her parents to take her there. So in the ninth month this year, she
was able to attend Hoonko at Otani for the first time; I happened to see her in the Amida Hall. Oshimo's admirable conversion
to firm trust in Amida's emancipation in the life to come is not so much the result of her serious hearing of the Dharma or
her parents' recommendation as Dharmakara's Vow-Power. This strongly reminds me of the golden saying of Shinran Shonin, "When
I reflect on the sea of Great Faith, I find that it does not discriminate between the noble and the mean, priests and laypeople,
male and female, young and old."
This girl does not care about dying. She is ready to cast away her life like a worn-out
straw-sandal. This year, in the middle of the tenth month, there was a great earthquake. Her parents, brothers and sisters,
and male and female servants were all terrified and rushed out of the gate. This 8-year-old girl alone lighted a candle at
the family shrine and recited the Nembutsu. After the quake, people returned home and found Oshimo alone in the house. "Why
didn't you run out of the house?" they asked. "If I have the fixed karma to die in the earthquake, I cannot escape death in
any way." replied Oshimo, "I prefer to die before the Buddha's altar rather than die in the street, so that I might die while
saying the Nembutsu."
This is exactly what Zensebo did in the past. What an admirable determination she had! This little
girl not only rejoiced in the Dharma, but also took every opportunity to urge male and female servants to recite the Nembutsu.
Her steadfast devotion was beyond description. If people hear that she is going to Otani for the Hoonko ceremony, many fellow-believers
visit there. Without intending to spread the Dharma, she spontaneously lead others to awaken Faith; it is true that 'the mind
to attain Buddhahood' contains 'the mind to save sentient beings'.
There was a man named Aburaya Sanzaemon in Saijo Village, Iga Province. He was
a member of Jorenji Temple in Oda Village and well known for his deep devotion.
Since he continually recited the Nembutsu,
even when he was doing his accounts, he often made miscalculations and omissions. His wife grumbled, saying "Recitation of
the Nembutsu is an admirable sacred act, but the loss of income which it causes is no small amount. Please be more careful."
replied, "I keep books so that I do not forget my transactions, even though this is a trivial secular matter. When it comes
to the matter of emancipation for all eternity, how could I forget the Tathágata’s Benevolence even for a short while?"
this, his wife felt deeply ashamed of herself.
Sanzaemon used to tell his wife, "You and I are both bombu, so there
is no knowing when we will start quarreling. If this happens, irrespective of which of us is right, the one who says the Nembutsu
first is the winner."
In his late years, Sanzaemon shaved his head and became a lay-priest with the Buddhist name,
Kyoshin. Since he was unrivaled in his devotion to Amida, people called him "Seikuro of the present age."
He once composed
a song for his maids, which would accompany their work of beating grain in a mortar. It goes as follows:
"Striking a bell or beating a drum to call me,
because I am a deluded wanderer;
the precepts or breaking them was a matter of concern
for those of the bygone age but not for me.
intelligent and knowledgeable you may be,
you are crooked palanquin bearers,
if ignorant of the after-life.
well and listen to the Dharma!
The gold Mountain of Sado Island is right here.
To make me understand the Dharma, eight
Shakyamuni came to the Saha world - for this wretched man!
However well you may hear the Dharma, it is
to no avail,
if your mind does not listen to and accept it.
However well you may have your hair fashioned like a bodhisattva,
python-like nature will soon show.
Compassionate Buddhas have failed to save me;
it is Amida's Vow alone that saves
Let us not pray for happiness in this life or abstain
because of unlucky signs, for we are embraced in Amida's Light.
number of the Nembutsu does not count,
but it comes to my lips whenever I think of his Benevolence.
Let us not forget,
morning and evening, the Benevolence of Amida
who has made us good hearers of the Dharma.
Pretending to have understood
the Dharma well and being given
to wayward fancies is worse than not hearing it at all.
Seeing others' faults, remember
that they are yours;
they are the faults you committed in past lives.
How joyful it is and how grateful I am to watch
the days and months pass by!
The time of my birth in the Pure Land is coming closer.
One dressed in one's best yesterday
be cremated today at Toribeno."
Rokubei of Iga
There was a man named Nagataya Rokubei in Ueno, Iga Province (present Mie Prefecture),
who had firm trust in the Primal Vow. Poor as he was all through his life, he showed no sign of concern about his poverty
and dedicated himself to the Nembutsu, aspiring for enlightenment in the Pure Land.
In the winter of the first year of
Kan'en (1748), Rokubei received tonsure from his Buddhist master and called himself 'Kyoshin'. Even after he passed seventy
years of age, he was in good health. His pursuit of the Dharma continued with undiminished zeal, so whenever there was a Dharma-gathering,
he never failed to attend it, however far away it was.
In the castle-town of Ueno there was a Shingon temple, called Manpukuji,
whose resident monk used to lecture on the precept text Brahma-net Sutra and confer the five precepts and the eight precepts
of abstinence to lay believers. So, many followers of the Shingon sect visited this temple to pay homage to the monk. One
of them came up to Kyoshin and said, "Of all the Buddha's teachings observance of the precepts comes first. Why don't you
come and receive the five precepts from the Venerable Master?"
Rokubei appreciated this man's recommendation and politely
sent him home. Since Rokubei had steadfast faith in the Primal Vow and so was assured of birth in the Pure Land, he had no
intention of depending on the merit of observing the precepts.
This man came again and said, "I can see that you are a
man who aspires for the Buddha Dharma. That's why I urge you to receive the precepts. Do so quickly. If you observe even one
precept, your future life will be a peaceful and happy one. The Venerable Master bears witness to this, and I, too, assure
you of the benefit with confidence."
Unable to hide his real intention any longer, Kyoshin said, "I do appreciate your
kind suggestion, but I am devoted to the Nembutsu in accord with Amida's Primal Vow. I have no doubt that the Nembutsu is
the cause of birth in the Pure Land, because all the Buddhas in the ten directions stand in witness to its efficacy. I was
foolish enough not to follow their recommendation earlier. Even if five or ten human teachers exhorted me to receive the precepts,
I would not do so. I am afraid you are wasting your time. Please do not come again to change my mind."
Kyoshin was at first
reluctant to give an outright refusal, but pressed again, he had to speak his mind. Although he was a man of little education,
his remarks, which came from the depth of Faith greatly, impressed me.
In the winter of the 2nd year of Kan'en (1749)
Kyoshin had jaundice, which appeared unyielding. From that time he dedicated himself to the Nembutsu even more with increasing
joy of gratitude for Amida's Compassion. Taking no medicine, he only waited for the time of birth in the Pure Land.
the night of the 29th of the 12th month, I visited him to bid farewell for his last journey, and found him suffering pain
from fasting for more than ten days. However, he was alert and was able to hear and see well. After talking for some time,
I went in front of the altar, chanted a sutra and read two letters from Rennyo's Letters. As I did so, kyoshin sat up in the
bed and washed his hands. After listening to my chant and recitation intently, he shed tears of gratitude, saying, "How grateful
I am for your visit! Until you came, there had not been any chanting. I have joyfully heard you chant and recite." So saying,
Kyoshin repeated the Nembutsu with renewed high spirits.
On the 3rd day in the New Year, knowing that the time of his death
was imminent, Kyoshin called his family and relatives together and bade them farewell. In joy at going to the Pure Land very
soon, he said the Nembutsu without interruption. At about eight o'clock in the evening, he appeared hard of breathing. When
those who were in attendance asked him if he was in pain, he said, "Yes, the pain is great, but not unbearable. It is natural
that anyone leaving this world of Samsara where he has been living for so long should have this much pain. Before I die, I
wish to worship the Compassionate One for the last time."
Kyoshin had his nursing man take the Amida scroll from the altar
and hang it on the screen in the bedroom. Then he sat up in the bed, worshiped it with joined hands and joyfully repeated
the Nembutsu for a long time.
Finally, he came to himself and said, "How impious I am to bring the revered image here in
an unclean sick man's bedroom when I ought to go to the altar myself and pay my last homage to Amida!" So saying, he asked
the man in attendance to take the scroll back to the altar.
The voice of Kyoshin's Nembutsu became weaker and weaker until
it ceased to be heard. His death came at the Tiger hour (4 o'clock in the morning), fourth day of the first month, third year
of Kan'en (1750), when he was 73 years of age.
What is amazing is that Kyoshin's teacher, the resident priest of Jorenji
Temple in Kanbe Village, had a dream at the fifth period of the night (from 3 to 5 o'clock in the morning): Kyoshin came to
visit the temple. He entered the main hall and, facing toward the Amida statue, worshiped the Buddha and thanked him with
gratitude, "I have been in delusion since the beginning-less past, but am now leaving here once and for all and going to your
Pure Land." Having repeated the Nembutsu about ten times, Kyoshin died in front of the Amida statue.
I have heard this
story directly from the resident priest of this temple. A long time ago, Kyoshin of Kako in Harima Province (present Hyogo
Prefecture) announced his death to Shonyo Shonin. Kyoshin of the present age told his teacher about his own death. It was
certainly with good reason that Rokubei chose his Buddhist name, Kyoshin, when he received tonsure. I am also reminded of
the words of a Shin teacher, "Saying 'Namo Amida butsu' is the most auspicious feature attending the death of a Nembutsu
follower, even more auspicious than purple clouds, exotic scent or exquisite music."
A priest of Zuioji Temple in Nagato Province (present Yamaguchi Prefecture) had
a chance to give a Dharma talk at a brothel in Maruyama in Nagasaki. A prostitute, named Kotoura, must have had a mature stock
of merit because on hearing the preacher's explanation of the Name, she rejoiced beyond measure. Reflecting on her wretchedness,
she expressed herself in a poem:
"How sad it is to live on telling lies
when my karmic hindrances are heavy
enough without them!"
The preacher gave an extemporaneous reply as follows:
"So long as your mind is in accord with Amida's Vow,
let the style of your
life be as it naturally comes."
Kotoura shed tears of joy, and began to live a life of gratitude.
As a saying
has it that virtue accrues to a person of Faith, a respectable man redeemed the advance and took Kotoura as his wife. But
about half a year later, she became seriously ill. At her deathbed, she said to her husband, "I have been hiding something
from you since I came here. This family belongs to the Nichiren sect, and so the Nembutsu is forbidden. I have, therefore,
been saying the Nembutsu inaudibly. Now my life is coming to a close. Please allow me to recite it aloud."
by her sincere pleading, the husband joined her in repeating the Nembutsu.
Kotoura made another request to her husband,
"I received the wonderful teaching from the priest of Zuioji, so I wish to present a coat to him." So saying, she produced
a coat and wrote a poem on a piece of paper, which read:
"To the master of the Dharma who taught me the wonderful Way,
present this as a keepsake with tears soaking my sleeves. "Through the wife's devotion to the Dharma her husband and other
members of the family became devout followers of Jodo Shinshu. Their neighbors, too, began to savor the taste of the Dharma.
There was a man named Chuzaemon in Kashima-no-gori in Hitachi Province. At first
he belonged to the Zen school. When young, he lost his beloved wife, which made him reflect deeply on impermanence of human
life and seek ways to deliverance. Since there are in Buddhism a dozen different approaches, one could not easily determine
which was superior and which was inferior. So, wishing to study whatever method of salvation was in accord with the divine
will, Chuzaemon attempted a three-week fasting while earnestly praying to the god of his locality. Having failed to receive
any inspiration, he next made a daily pilgrimage to Kashima God, some three li away, for three years, regardless of
heavy rain at night or strong wind during the day. Still there was no divine message.
Disappointed, Chuzaemon came back
to Zen with which he had had a close connection from childhood. He studied its teaching and practiced meditation for about
ten years. However hard he tried, his mind was still beclouded and his spiritual eye continued to be blinded, and so he was
not able to see the moon of True Suchness, as he had wished.
Then he gave up Zen and entered the Shingon School. But his
three-year dedication to esoteric practices proved fruitless. When he heard that the last way of salvation in the Latter Days
was the Nembutsu, he finally abandoned the Path of Sages and entered the Pure Land Path. At first he single-heartedly recited
the Nembutsu for twenty to thirty thousand times a day and later diligently repeated the Nembutsu for fifty or sixty thousand
times a day. During the passage of twelve years, he twice made a cross-country pilgrimage to sacred places in over sixty provinces
while continually saying the Nembutsu with fervent aspiration for birth in the Pure Land. Despite all his efforts, Chuzaemon
was not able to attain a settled mind.
When he reached sixty years of age, he became even more impatient. This time, he
changed over to the Nichiren School. With firm belief that no other Buddhist teachings surpassed the Lotus teaching, which
was the revelation of the Buddha's true intent, Chuzaemon continually chanted the Lotus Sutra and repeated the Sacred Title.
Then it occurred to him that he would marry again a woman who could take care of the secular affairs and hopefully would accompany
him even after death. So he prayed to the tutelary god, and found a suitable woman.
Contrary to his expectation, however,
his new wife did not recite the Sacred Title even once. Chuzaemon was utterly disappointed and began to complain to the deity.
One day, after two years of their marriage, he spotted his wife reverently worshiping a certain object in front of a chest
of drawers in the drawing room.
"What are you worshiping?" Chuzaemon asked.
"This is my guardian deity that my mother
gave me," she replied.
Chuzaemon insisted on seeing the object, but she refused. After repeated demand, she finally showed
it to him. It was Amida's image, which bore the autograph of Jakunyo Shonin [the 14th monshu, 1651-1725] on the back. He was
surprised and asked her how she came to have faith in Amida.
Seeing that there was no necessity to hide the secret any
longer, his wife explained, "I am a follower of Jodo Shinshu. With deep acknowledgement of Amida's Vow to save those as wretched
as myself, I secretly thank him from time to time."
Chuzaemon began to laugh and said, "It is ridiculous that such a lazy
person as you should be saved and be born in the Land of Bliss!"
She said, "Setting aside my birth in the Pure Land for
a while, may I ask you whether you would definitely become a Buddha."
To this question, he replied, "From my youth I have
tried various hard practices, but I am not yet sure of attaining Buddhahood."
His wife shed tears and said, "Hearing your
story, I feel Amida's Vow to be even more trustworthy. Such a good person as you has not yet found the path to Buddhahood.
It is solely by the Buddha's Power that this stupid woman has been assured of her Buddhahood. How wonderful!."
was astonished and deeply impressed by his wife's remark, which was beyond ordinary thinking. He said to her, "I wish to know
more about the faith of Jodoshinshu. Do tell me what understanding of the Dharma you have."
"If you wish to have faith
in Jodo Shinshu, you must quickly hear and understand the intent of Amida's Primal Vow and take refuge in him." So saying,
the wife produced the scroll of Amida's image and placed a set of ornaments on the altar-table; she also brought out the service
books, like Shoshinge with hymns and Rennyo's Letters, and put them on the table.
"It would not be befitting for
me to chant but since you wish to hear the teaching of Jodo Shinshu, I will humbly chant for you one of the Letters, which
we must appreciate as the direct exposition of the Dharma by Rennyo Shonin."
She then read out the letter, which began
with "Those laymen and laywomen in the Latter Days who are ignorant..."
As Chuzaemon listened carefully, he shed tears
of joy profusely and said, "What a joy it is that my doubt has totally cleared up! Why didn't you teach me this wonderful
Dharma before?" His joy was thus mixed with complaint.
The wife replied, "I very much wished to recommend this teaching
to you, but I thought that you wouldn't listen to this foolish woman. Since this is a matter of stored goodness from the past,
I have not been able to do anything about it. Now I see that your good karma has ripened. Please come to Jodo Shinshu and
have deep faith in Amida's Vow." She then gave him the five collections of Rennyo's Letters.
Chuzaemon began to read them.
When he came to the third letter in the second collection that cautions us against despising other Buddhas, bodhisattvas and
deities, he could not hold back tears which streamed down his cheeks. Asked why, he said, "I have been unaware of the original
intent of various deities, thinking that they are of little use for our spiritual progress. Now I realize that through their
compassionate guidance I have come to take refuge in Amida's Vow."
Chuzaemon became a devout follower of Jodo Shinshu.
First, he became a member of Muryojuji Temple at Tori-no-su, and later received ordination receiving the name Jokan ("Pure
Leisure"). This year, the 3rd of Horeki (1753), he is 73 years of age. He and his wife together keep relishing the Dharma.
[I have recorded the above story which the resident priest of Shorenji of Mito related to me.]
of Echizen Province
A warrior named Araki Mataroku lived in Fukui County, Echizen Province. His family
belonged to the Jodo School, and he was, from the beginning, a serious seeker of the Way.
When he heard the teaching of
Jodo Shinshu during the Meiwa era (1764-1772), his stored good karma must have fully ripened. He became the most devoted follower
in the district. He continued to say the Nembutsu throughout the day, whether he was walking, standing, sitting or lying down.
Even when he was working in the office, his Nembutsu did not stop. Younger warriors ridiculed him, saying that it was an act
unbecoming to a warrior.
Mataroku's father, hearing this, asked a priest to give some advice to his son. The priest took
the trouble of admonishing Mataroku by quoting the master's words, "Even if one is called a thief of an ox, one should be
careful not to be thought of as a pious after-life seeker."
Mataroku respectfully accepted this advice but his gratitude
to Amida spontaneously found its expression in the Nembutsu. Since he could not keep the Nembutsu from coming to his lips,
he pleaded to the priest, "Master, please make me a special case and allow me to say the Nembutsu as I wish." He then composed
"Though I try not to say the Nembutsu, it comes to my lips;
In the end people
admonish me to stop saying it."
"I have become desperate not knowing what to do;
My Nembutsu is like a burning fire
which water cannot put out."
Those who at first ridiculed Mataroku became impressed by his sincere devotion
to the Dharma. Soon there was no one who laughed at him about his Nembutsu.
of Echizen Province
Among the retainers of the same daimyo in Echizen Province there was a samurai
named Arakawa Souemon, who received from his master a fief of 450 koku of rice (1 koku is about 5 bushels). This man
belonged to the Jodo sect and had deep faith in the Nembutsu. When he was home, he never left the family shrine. Since he
was taught that ordinary people with distracted thoughts were liable to be negligent in the practice of Nembutsu in daily
life, he used to do his routine work before the Buddha's image. He also collected whatever reading materials on the Nembutsu
teaching came to his knowledge.
One day, when Souemon read Rennyo's Letters, he was deeply impressed and began to have
great interest in Jodo Shinshu. As he read on and came to the passage in the fifth fascicle which reads, "...if there is no
doubt in the mind, even as small as a speck of dust...", he wondered, "How in the world would it be possible for ordinary
people to attain the mind free of doubt?" He then invited a scholar to his house and, after respectfully bowing his head,
showed him to the shrine room.
"I have this question, which troubles me day and night. How can one have the mind completely
free of doubt?" Souemon asked.
The master replied, "If one tries to remove doubt with the mind of an ordinary person, the
more one thinks and contemplates, the bigger the doubt grows. Your birth in the Pure Land is not dependent on your good mind.
Just entrust yourself in the Power of Amida's Primal Vow with the firm belief that he has the inconceivable Power to save
the most wretched person like yourself. Then you will receive the great benefit of his embrace and your birth in the Land
of Recompense will be definitely assured, even if you doubt it."
Souemon greatly rejoiced and said, "Having heard your
exposition, I now cannot doubt even if I want to. What a wonderful teaching! How grateful I am to encounter this Dharma! My
doubt has been completely cleared."
Unable to hold back the tears, he composed a poem:
"I have been watching the lotus-flower
as something beyond my reach;
I feel as if I had it in my hand."
Souemon thus became a man of Great Faith.
Later he said to Araki Mataroku,
"You and I belonged to the Jodo sect, but through the teaching of Jodo Shinshu we have come to the settled mind. We must repay
our indebtedness. How about going to the Honganji to thank Shinran Shonin?"
Mataroku joyfully agreed to do so. In the summer
of the 7th year of An'ei (1778), they took a two-week holiday pretending that it was a pilgrimage to Ise Grand Shrine. They
went to Honganji and respectfully paid homage to Shinran Shonin. When they were shown around the temple, they marveled at
the golden splendor and magnificence of the beautiful rooms, which they took as manifestations of Amida's majestic Light.
they annually held the memorial service for Shinran Shonin with utmost gratitude. In the 9th year of An'ei (1780) Souemon
passed away and was born in the Pure Land.
of Iga Province
A retainer of a daimyo in Iga Province (present Mie Prefecture), named Kuse Magonojo,
came from a Zen family but became devoted to Jodo Shinshu. When he was assigned to the master's manor in Yamato Province as
a chief magistrate, there was a lawsuit lasting for three years between a Shingon temple and the farmers. The priest wanted
to broaden the road in front of the temple gate, while the farmers claimed more land as their estate.
The magistrate composed
a poem and showed it to the Shingon priest, asking him to correct it. The poem read:
"How I wish the Path of the Dharma to be broad,
even if the roads in the world
Seeing this, the priest, deeply ashamed of himself, went round the whole village
and apologized for insisting on broadening the road.
The villagers, seeing this, were ashamed of themselves. They agreed
to broaden the road and donate it to the temple. The virtue of Faith indeed brought about this happy resolution through the
Magonojo greatly revered and rejoiced in the Dharma. Before he died in the 4th
month of the 7th year of Meiwa (1770) in Ueno of Iga Province at the age of 68, he composed six poems for his sister.
(1) Having left everything to the Buddha,
I have no worries in the mind.
Transmigration in the six realms having ended,
I now dwell in the Stage of Non-retrogression.
(3) Since salvation
comes from Amida,
I simply accept it with gratitude.
(4) The more I become aware of my grave evils,
is my joy for having boarded Amida's ship.
(5) A gem-laden gate and a brushwood door make no difference;
illumines everywhere equally.
(6) Having left myself in the hands of the Buddha whom I worship,
I feel no anxiety
about my life after death.
Among the members of Sairenji Temple in Asuna Village, Ouchi County, Iwami Province,
was a man named Shoya Genzaburo. Though born into a family of the Jodo Shinshu tradition for many generation, he was ignorant
of its teaching. He had a household altar for gods, to which he offered rice wine and a light, and also had prayer-sheets
on the walls and pillars. He was thus deluded into believing in the benefits in the present life.
In recent years, when
master Taigan was invited to Sairenji Temple, Genzaburo received from him the following teaching:
As the attainment of
Faith is very much a matter of the maturing of one's stored good in past lives, there is not much one can do about it. But
since it has become an established custom to submit one's identity with one's sealed name to the authorities, in Jodo Shinshu,
too, the followers are required to abide by the state law as well as the Buddha Dharma. In addition, during the period of
Kanbun (1661-73) the Office of Temples and Shrines issued a set of rules stipulating observance of religious ordinances. Accordingly,
those in charge of village affairs should follow the rules so as to maintain peace and harmony among the villagers.
and his wife were impressed by the master's instruction and made up their minds to stop enshrining the altar-shelf. But hesitant
about moving the altar straight away, they started with stopping the offering of a light and then rice wine. Before anybody
noticed, they took away the altar and removed all the prayer-sheets and tablets from the house, which they took to the shrine
for disposal in the proper manner. They instead put up the notice of the authorities in the house. Thenceforth, they continued
to savor the Dharma more and more.
In the spring of the fourth year of Meiwa (1764), Genzaburo wanted to make a pilgrimage
to the Honganji. He submitted a petition to the magistrate office, asking for permission to take leave for a specified period
to visit the Ise Grand Shrine. When he was about to impress his seal on the request, he reflected, "In our tradition we are
not supposed to pray for the benefits in the present life. This request for leave on the pretext of visiting the Grant Shrine
is a false one. To submit this would be a betrayal to the Buddha's benevolence and run counter to my loyalty to the authorities.
Should I become ill or ill on the way, this petition might be read by others. Some would ridicule me by saying how I, a follower
of Jodo Shinshu, could make a false pretense of visiting the Grant Shrine though, in fact, I am making a pilgrimage to the
Honganji. Others might be confused, wondering how a public servant could break the law in this way."
So thinking, he went
to the magistrate office in Dewa and stated the truth to the magistrate. He then changed the request to read that he would
visit the Honganji in Kyoto.
A clerk in charge of the furnace, which Genzaburo owned, named Sukeroku, was also an unrivaled
devout follower of Jodo Shinshu. On New Year's Eve in the fifth year of Meiwa, after other workers had all gone home, Sukeroku
was alone in the workshop. Genzaburo sent him the words, "You must be peacefully reciting the Nembutsu to welcome in the New
Year. Since we in the head house are all busily running up and down, I envy you." In response Sukeroku wrote a poem in clumsy
"Without counting my debts,
I clap my hands, with a rosary tied around,
the end of the year draws near."
Although Sukeroku was not a person with poetic taste, his poem was wonderful.
To Amida who saves all beings without counting their debts of evil karma, Sukeroku expressed his joy of gratitude by clapping
his hands as he submitted his whole self to Amida without any trace of self-effort in the three modes of his act.
In Ookuni Village, Ginzanryo, Iwami Province, there was a man named Yasui Zenbee.
He was well-known for his learning. He was a member of Mangyoji Temple in Amakawachi Village and, by family tradition, a follower
of Jodo Shinshu. Join, the master of Dharma-seal, recognized Zenbee's scholarship and took him as his disciple. Zenbee was
ordained and received the precepts and a Buddhist name, Shinkai ("Mind-Precept").
Zenbee's elder brother died and there
was no one in the family who would succeed to the family. His parents pleaded the master to send Zenbee back to secular life.
Join initially refused to do so but finally granted their request. Zenbee was afraid of committing the offense of quitting
the priesthood but could not disobey his parents' wishes.
Years and months having past, Zenbee's stored good must have
matured; he was awakened to the settled mind of the Other-Power and became a steadfast practitioner of the Nembutsu. His inner
state of mind and his outward life coordinated well presenting a beautiful harmony.
It happened that the nurse of his
second son, whom Zenbee had arranged to marry, had a difficult delivery. She suffered excruciating pain for five days. As
all her family were deeply concerned, and thought that medical art was powerless, they asked the master of Ryushoji Temple
to grant her a magical tablet. Although they took extreme care not to betray this secret to Zenbee, this came to his knowledge.
He immediately wrote a letter to them, "You have cast aside the mind of self-power to perform various practices and entrusted
yourselves to Amida Tathágata, with the assurance of emancipation in the life to come. Should you receive some other method
for your salvation, how would you explain this to the Founder, Shinran Shonin? Since this woman was sent out from this house
as a bride, she is a member of my family. Even if she died, I would not allow her to take the tablet"
Zenbee himself went
to see her and exhorted, "Should you die and become born in the Land of Utmost Bliss, what more could you ask for? People
in the world say that those women who die without giving birth to babies will fall into the hell of pools of blood. This is
a groundless superstition. One who has taken refuge in Amida in a single thought of entrusting is embraced in his Light. Even
if one dies covered with blood, there should not be any doubt that one will be born onto a lotus-pedestal."
The woman was
originally devoted steadfast to Amida and had no intention of taking a magical tablet. Reassured by Zenbee's kind exhortation,
she felt better and successfully delivered a baby, and also had no trouble after the childbirth. Thus her family barely escaped
from the delusion of praying for benefits in this life. Owing to Zenbee's determination, they did not bring ridicule upon
themselves. All his fellow-believers praised his virtue.
Daughter of Kaga Province
In Ubamachi, Kanazawa, in Kaga Province, there was a man named Kagiya Kyubee.
When his daughter, Onamu, aged seven, heard the first reading of Rennyo's Letters in the New Year, she made a poem:
"I heard the explanation of a folded lotus-leaf
at the first reading of sacred
scriptures in the New Year."
This soon reached the ears of the Chief Abbot. In the following year, when she
went to Kyoto, she was summoned by the Chief Abbot. He wanted her to make another poem. So she presented this:
"When a violet flower bends its head,
that's where its calyx stands."
The Chief Abbot greatly admired this poem.
Being a devout person of steadfast
Faith, Onamu used to attend Dharma-gatherings. One day, she had a scab around her mouth, which was painful. Someone advised
that a charred old tea bag applied to the scab could heal it. When she asked for an old tea bag, her grandmother told her
to moisten the charred tea bag with her saliva while reciting the Nembutsu, explaining that the miraculous power of the Nembutsu
would stop the pain.
The girl admonished, "This is a great mistake, Grandma. Isn't it outrageous to use the sacred Nembutsu
as medicine. Illness should be cured by medicine. It would be a sacrilege to utilize the Nembutsu for one's benefit in the
present life. We should say the Nembutsu to express our gratitude for the Buddha's boundless Benevolence."
As a proverb
has it, "There is an old man aged ten, a boy aged a hundred." This is quite true. Those who hear this story should quickly
strive to attain Faith. Faith of the Other-Power has the virtue of breaking our ignorance and fulfilling our aspiration, and
so it is not mingled with the mind of self-power to perform various practices.
"Whoever cares about other practices and meritorious acts
has no master of
the six-character Name in his heart."
"Accepting whole-heartedly Amida's Compassion,
we pay no attention to other
practices or good acts."
In the neighborhood of Shibata Castle in Kanbara County, Echigo Province, there
was a devout Shinshu follower, named Yamafukuro Denbee. He lived to a very long age. On the 7th day of 3rd month, 3rd year
of Tenmei (1783), he died at the age of 117. His tomb stone stands by the roadside, on which is inscribed his last poem:
"I have been hunted down by Amida
since he attained Buddhahood
caught on charges of grave offenses."
This poem rejoices all passers-by.
Yoichi of Kaga
A man named Yoichi, who lived in Migi Village, Kaga Province, was the most devoted
follower in his district. He recounted this dream to his friends: When he was about twenty, he had a dreadful dream in which
he went to hell. Visiting various regions of hell, he saw unspeakable torments that the sinners were suffering. When he awoke,
he was dripping with sweat. He later found that his dream was not different from the descriptions of hell in Shan-tao's
Liturgy for Birth and Hymn in Praise of Pratyutpanna Samadhi and Genshin's Collection of Essential Passages
Concerning Birth in the Pure Land.
Deeply shocked, Yoichi began to attend sermons at temples every evening, even if
they were as far as ten kilometers away. Since he left home after work, by the time he got to the temples, sermons were nearly
finished, but he enjoyed listening to the informal talks on the Dharma which were usually given after the formal sermons.
When he returned home, it was nearly 2 o'clock in the morning. Asked if he was too tired in the daytime after walking such
a long distance every night, he replied, "I have begun to understand the teaching of Faith of the Other-Power, so I am only
too happy to go and listen to the Dharma, even if I have less time for sleep. Also my heart is so enlivened by the Dharma
that I feel myself more capable of carrying out my daily work."
Several weeks passed in this way. His intense listening
to the Dharma led him finally to awakening to the Buddha's Power. "Although my heart was full of doubt and skepticism," he
remarked with tears in his eyes, "owing to Amida's Power, the darkness of my mind has been completely removed and the pure
Faith of absolute trust in Amida has arisen in my mind." Without any pretension of being a good after-life seeker, Yoichi
was totally given to Sincere and Joyful Faith and spoke only of the wonderful Primal Vow with gratitude. Hearing this, his
friends joined him in deep appreciation of the Dharma.
After Yoichi's conversion to the Other-Power teaching, he never
got angry due to the benefit of Amida's Light of Great Compassion. Once some young villagers pushed him over into the rice
field to try his patience. Instead of getting angry, Yoichi joyfully said, "I was startled by Amida's action which reminded
me of the important matter of birth-and-death." The young villagers were all deeply ashamed of themselves.
One day, when
he returned from outside, he saw the fishmonger stealing some millet grains from his garden. He quickly hid himself behind
the building and thus allowed the trader to complete his theft. His neighbor, who saw this, asked Yoichi why he did so. Yoichi
replied, "If I had charged him with an offense of theft, he would not come here again, and thus lose the chance to talk with
me about the Dharma."
Yoichi sometimes went on business to places 5 or 6 li away, but never failed to return
home on the same day. Asked why, he replied, "The Tathágata is waiting for me." Every night, after performing a service at
the family shrine to express his gratitude to the Buddha, he went to sleep before the shrine. Whenever he awoke during the
night, he respectfully stroked the shrine, saying, "You are the only one who loves such a wretched man like me."
to say, "It is due solely to the benevolence of the Great Master, the Chief Abbot, that such a stupid man as me has come to
understand the teaching of Faith which is most difficult to attain." So saying, he deeply bowed to the direction of the Honganji
every morning and evening. After that he joyfully deposited a penny or two into a bamboo pipe as a donation to the Honganji.
Yoichi passed by the jail nearby, he knelt down and tearfully expressed his indebtedness to the state, saying, "This is the
kind reminder to me alone of my duty to abide by the law."
In his advanced age, Yoichi shaved his head and received
a Buddhist name, Nyusai ("Entry into the West").