Our Jodo Shu
Honen, the founder of the Jodo Shu denomination, was born in 1133 in Japan. His childhood name was Seishimaru. The turbulent era in which he lived was full of social and political turmoil and chaos. According to Honen's life story, his father Tokikuni Uruma, a military chief, was killed in a night raid by his enemy Sada Akira. As a young child, Seishimaru wanted to avenge his father's death. However, his father's dying request was that he does not take revenge and instead enter monastic life. Thus, young Honen went to the local monastery to become a priest. Shortly thereafter, seeing that he was an exceptional student, his teacher sent him to Mt. Hiei, the center of Buddhist studies at the time. There, he studied under several teachers. But his studies did not bring him peace of mind.
Honen was an extremely learned man. There are legends that say that he read seven thousand volumes of sutra through five times! Once Honen came across Ojoyoshu (Teachings Essential for Birth into the Pure Land) by Genshin (942-1017), which led him to the writings of the great Chinese Pure Land Master, Zendo (Shan-tao/Shandao, 613-682). In Zendo's Commentary on the Meditation Sutra, Kangyosho, Honen came across the line: "Whether walking or standing, sitting or lying, only repeat the name of Amida with all your heart. Never cease the practice of it even for a moment. This is the very work which unfailingly issues in salvation, for it is in accordance with the Original Vow of Amida Buddha." With this, Honen became convinced that Nenbutsu was the only way to salvation in the latter age of decline (Mappo).
Honen taught that all sentient beings could be saved by the great compassion of Amida, the Buddha of Infinite Life and Light. In is chaotic age, people believed that they were not able to reach enlightenment with their own power (jiriki), but needed to rely on Amida's saving power (Tariki). The only way to achieve enlightenment was by wholeheartedly calling Amida's Name.
In 1175, at the age of forty-two, Honen left Mr. Hiei to live in a hermitage at Yoshimizu in eastern Kyoto to spread the way of Nenbutsu to people from all walks of life, to men and women, to young and old. In his most important written work, Senchaku Hongwan Nenbutsushu (A Collection of Passages on the Nenbutsu chosen in the Original Vows), he explains why the Nenbutsu was best suited to save all beings, and cites passages from various sutras and commentaries to show that to say "Namu Amida Butsu" is the only way to ensure one's delivery to Amida Buddha's Pure Land.
Denomination: Jodo Shu ( Pure Land Buddhism)
Founder: Honen Shonin ( 1133-1212)
Established: 1175 (5th Year of Joan Period)
Center of Belief: Amida Buddha, the Infinite Life and Light. The Buddha of Boundless Compassion and Wisdom.
Mantra (Shomyo): Reciting the Holy Name of Amida Buddha, Namu Amida Butsu
The Heart of the Teachings: Simply believe in Amida Buddha's Original Vow of salvation for all beings (Hongan) and recite Amida Buddha's
Holy Name wholeheartedly so that salvation can be attained in this world and world to come.
Daily Practice: Asking for His guidance, protection, and inspiration, recite Amida Buddha's Holy Name. Waking up in he morning and
before you go to sleep, recite the Nenbutsu, Namu Amida Butsu, ten times with
Basic Scriptures: The Three Pure Land Sutras and the Ojo-ron Commentary.
Daily Devotion Book: Otsutome
There is no place where the moonlight
Casts not its uplifting ray;
With him who has the seeing eye
Alone that light will stay.
- Honen Shonin (1133-1212)-
The Hawaii Council of Jodo Missions originally published the Otsutome Book in 1978 to commemorate the 800th Anniversary of the founding of Jodo Shu. With English translations of the sutras by Rev. Dwight Ryokan Nakamura, the Otsutome book played a significant role in the services of all the Hawaii Jodo Shu temples and was loved by both Japanese and English-speaking members for thirty six years. However, since time has changed the situation and needs of the temples in haaii, both members and ministers felt it was time to update the Otsutome book.
Now PDF version is available to download for free!
Teaching of Saint Zendo (Shandao)
To bless others by conveying Tathagata’s boundless compassion, constitutes true repayment of the Buddha’s Grace. -Shandao-
The teaching of Pure Land or Jodo Buddhism originated in India and developed into a practical form of belief in China. This teaching attracted the popular masses with its offer of a simple way to salvation through reciting of the Name of Amitabha Buddha. The faith and practice of recitation allowed the individual to be born in the Pure Land, from which state he would be assured of the achievement of Nirvana or enlightenment. The Pure Land in Buddhist teaching was established by Amitabha Buddha, with His great vows to save all beings, as a result of the infinite merit he acquired through ages of practicing compassion.
Tan-luan (476-542) popularized the Pure Land teaching by joining it to the theory of the decline of the Buddha-Dharma, and he was followed by Tao-cho’o (562-645) and Shandao (613-681).
Shandao was a celebrated scholar and an active promoter of Jodo Buddhism in the T’ang Dynasty. Due to his holy life and compassion toward others he was often been called a transformation of Amitabha Buddha. His name is immortal in the history of Pure Land doctrine because of his elaborate views presented in them on the nature of Amitabha Buddha and His Pure Land.
Beside the four volumes of commentary on the said sutra, he composed the following four treatises and hymnals: Ojo-raisan-ge , Hoji-san, Kannen-homon, Hanju-san. All of his writings were based on the strict self introspection and awareness of the fragility and facility of human nature.
Most of them were in the form of poems or hymns which directly appealed to the religious sentiments of the people in those days. He also encouraged the followers to draw a mandala diagram to help them understand the significance of Pure Land. Always exceedingly pure of nature, he put tremendous effort into creating solemn rituals in their religious practices with beautifully composed poems and music, which easily infused the teachings into the hearts of contemporary people.
Analyzing the pure land teaching in the method of meditation, attitude, and conditions of practice, he established a comprehensive religious life as follow:
1. Three states of mind:
a. True mind – genuine and sincere mind
b. Deep mind- true mind of deep faith
c. Hearty desire to be born in the Pure Land.
2. Five Right Practices:
a. Chanting the Sutra
b. Meditating on the Buddha
c. Worshiping the Buddha
d. Uttering the Name
e. Worship and veneration.
3. Four ways of Exercise:
d. Throughout the life-time
These were all exclusively directed towards Amitabha Buddha and his Pure Land alone. Among them, the fourth Right Practice, the utterance of His Name, was specifically designated as the Right Assurance or “decisive practice for birth into the Pure Land” in accordance with the original vow of the Buddha.
He interpreted the words “even with ten thoughts” in the supreme Eighteenth Vow in his own way to mean “even unto ten times utterance.” He meant the utterance could be innumerable or even ten time or a single utterance whatever it may be. The number of utterances was, however, not essential, but the quality of it was of great importance.
Although the Amitayurdhyana Sutra describes the varieties of meditation on the characteristic distinguishing marks and virtues of Amitabha Buddha, as we as the utterance of His name, the latter is the real essence of the Sutra in view of the Supreme Vow.
Shandao was a rare combination of Saint, mystic artist, poet, orator and even architect. Through his great effort and untiring demonstration of compassion, Nembutsu became popular among the people with the belief that the utterance of Buddha’s Name was the most excellent and the easiest way for the ordinary man to be born into Pure Land and attain enlightenment.
He clarified the fact that Amitabha’s Pure Land was the true Land of Reward, and developed a comprehensive interpretation of religious life, with the understand of human nature and universal deliverance. The Pure Land teaching thus condensed by Shandawith the decisive practice of Nembutsu was handed down by Saint Honen and bore magnificent fruit in Japan five hundred years later.
He returned to the Pure Land at the age of sixty-eight reciting with his last breath the Name of Amitabha. Namu Amida Butsu