The Meeting of Saint Honen and Master Shandao (Zendo)


In the course of our lives, if we should want very much to do something or to see someone, we might find ourselves saying, “…even in a dream.” So much do we desire a certain experience that we should feel joy and gratitude to realize our wish in a brief and transient act of creative imagination as we sleep. 

In fact most of us do have dreams that fulfill our wishes. For people of every race and culture, regardless of age and sex, dreams are an important source of knowledge and comfort. In recent times, the psychologists Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung have revived the ancient art and science of analyzing dreams, and throughout the course of history countless great men and women in every walk of life have used dreams to help them deal successfully with the problems of living. The founder of the Japanese Pure Land Movement, Saint Honen, also found a source of wisdom and inspiration in his dreams. 

In the year 1175 C.E., Saint Honen began to propagate the exclusive practice of Nenbutsu based on the teachings of the Chinese Meditation Master Shandao (Zendo). From the day of his decision to follow the way of Nenbutsu Saint Honen revered Master Shandao as his personal teacher, and though he carefully studied the writings of all the Chinese and Japanese Pure Land teachers, he always considered himself a direct disciple of Master Shandao. The text he most often consulted was Master Shandao’s Commentary on the Scripture about the Contemplation of Amitabha Buddha. He commissioned a painting of the Five Masters, which depicted the lineage of the Pure Land Movement in China. Often he gazed at it longing to see Master Shandao. 

But Master Shandao had died about five hundred years before Saint Honen was born, so it was impossible for Saint Honen to meet him in the reality. It was natural, therefore, he should wish to see his teacher in a dream. One night his cherished wish to meet Master Shandao was realized. He had the following dream: 


Saint Honen stood upon the thickly forested bank of a great river at the foot of a high mountain. He climbed the mountain and looked westward toward the setting sun. The sky was filled with purple clouds. Flocks of birds gave forth an indescribably beautiful song and shone with an unearthly light. To Saint Honen, these were signs that someone was about to be received into the Land of Final ease. Then he saw in the distance the figure of a monk floating towards him across the purple clouds. The upper half of his body appeared to be clothed in the black robe of an ordinary Chinese priest and the lower half had the form and golden color of a Buddha’s body. Bowing his head and placing his palms together in reverence, Saint Honen asked, “Who are you, Venerable sir?” The bhikshu answered solemnly, “I am Shandao, a monk of China, You are spreading the way of exclusive cultivation of Nenbutsu, which is precious beyond price and of incalculable benefit to sentient beings. I am grateful, and therefore I came to see you.” So moved was Saint Honen by this message, and by the sight of his beloved teacher, that he was unable to speak even one word. Before he could reply, he awakened from the dream. 

Owing to the depth of Saint Honen’s religious aspiration, and his debt of wisdom to Master Shandao, his joy must have been even greater than ours would be if we met in a dream with a departed relative or good friend. Thus it was the Saint Honen, knowing full well that the meeting had taken place only in a dream, was nevertheless much strengthened in his resolve to continue on the power of Amitabha’s vows and recitation of “Namu Amida Butsu”. Because Saint Honen believed that Master Shandao approved of his teaching, he spread the knowledge of the Pure Land and Nenbutsu with confidence and vigor wherever he went. 

According to Saint Honen’s biographers, he met Master Shandao in dreams several times thereafter. The dream described herein is known as the Meeting of Saint Honen and Master Shandao. It has been the subject of many paintings during the past eight hundred years. Sometimes the figure of Master Shandao alone is depicted in painting or sculpture. It is called Meditation Master Shandao in the Dream or the Half-Golden Saint. 

The meetings of Master Shandao and Saint Honen are regarded as confirming the succession of spiritual leadership in the Pure Land Movement, and the direct transmission of is to be held. The most important and elaborate of such ceremonies is the Goju Soden or Fivefold Transmission of the Pure Land Teachings. Though infrequent, it is done as often as possible to strengthen the faith and practice of Saint Honen’s followers. 

Hotsugan-Mon / Prayers for the Follower. 

I pray with all my heart that I will be received into the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, without any suffering and disturbance of mind and body, according to His Supreme Vow, and with the guidance of His disciples from the Land in my last moments. I pray that I may return from the Pure Land to this world, with the supernal power of the Buddha, to help and guide all those who are lost and suffering to find their way of peace. Though my wishes are lofty and endless like the Universe. I have determined to realize them. Being embraced by Amida Buddha, I hereby commit myself to this purpose .

From Jodo Mission Dendo Series No. 16 Revised by Pure Land Institute