Our Great Master Saint Honen
Rev. Gensho Hara
The following famous episode has been passed down. At the end of Saint Honen’s life, one of his disciples asked Honen, “Will you surely be born into the Pure Land this time?” Saint Honen replied, “I was originally in the Pure Land, so I am sure that I will return there.”
Then another disciple, Horenbo Shinku said, “All the great masters of the past have memorial temples, however you have not built a single one. Upon your passing, where shall we build yours?” Saint Honen answered, “If you erect a single memorial for me, my Nembutsu teaching will be confined to that one place and will not be widely spread. My memorial shall be everywhere. The reason for this is because teaching the Nembutsu is my life’s work. Thus, wherever the Nembutsu can be found -- wherever it is practiced, whether it be in a thatched cottage of a humble fisherman, without any distinction of high or low -- there shall be my memorial.”
From this passage, we are able to understand our master Honen Shonin’s deep conviction in Nembutsu. Such was his profound faith that he called himself the one who came from the Pure Land and the one who will return to it and confirmed that wherever the Nembutsu is practiced would be his memorial temple. However, this conclusion, which he reached at the end of his life, took a whole life time of struggle. As we quickly trace over his footsteps, we can see the following.
Honen Shonin was born in 1133 as the son of a samurai. He lived in Japan at about the time that Saint Francis of Assisi lived in Europe. It is said that Honen Shonin’s father, Tokikuni, was killed in a night attack by his enemy when Honen Shonin was only nine years old. As Tokikuni was dying, he told his young son, “Do not seek revenge, instead seek the way in which you can save me as well as yourself, and even my enemy.” With these last words, Honen Shonin went to a local monastery to become a priest. Later, he was sent to Mount Hiei, the center of Buddhist studies at the time for further studies and practice.
However, unsatisfied with his life on Mount Hiei and despite reading many, many sutras, Honen Shonin could not find a peace of mind. Finally, after many years of struggle, he came upon a passage in the commentary on the Kanmuryojukyo (the Contemplation Sutra) by the great Chinese Pure Land master Shantao (Zendo Daishi): “Whether walking or standing, sitting or lying, only repeat the name of Amida Buddha with all your heart. Never cease this practice even for a moment. This is the very work which unfailingly brings forth salvation for it is in accordance with the Original Vow of Amida Buddha. ” After reading this passage, Honen Shonin realized that vocal Nembutsu was the only way to reach the Pure Land and from then on, he diligently practiced the Nembutsu.
In 1175, at the age of forty-two, Honen Shonin moved to an area called Yoshimizu and from there he began to spread his Nembutsu teaching. In 1198, Honen Shonin composed his major religious treatise, Senchaku Hongan Nembutsu shu (A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Selected in the Original Vow). In it, he explains why the Nembutsu is the most venerable practice. With the spread and popularity of Nembutsu, Saint Honen’s movement for a time was suppressed. Even when Saint Honen was sentenced to exile, he said, “I will continue to say ‘Namu Amida Butsu. ’ Even if I am executed, this teaching must be spread. ” Four years later, Saint Honen was allowed to return to Kyoto, where he spent his last days.
During his lifetime, Honen Shonin attracted a broad and diverse range of followers -- both men and women, rich and poor. Saint Honen was a rare person to have had such a following. Later, several of his disciples established their own branches based on his teachings. Perhaps this is proof that Saint Honen’s teachings were broad and not limited. Further, it is perhaps because of his compassionate and open-hearted character that so many from all walks of life were attracted to him.
As Saint Honen’s life was drawing to a close, he composed a short piece known as Ichimai kishomon (The One Sheet Document). In it, he emphasized Nembutsu teaching: “It is nothing but the mere recitation of ‘Namu Amida Butsu,’ but without a doubt of Amida’s mercy, whereby one may be born into the Pure Land.” It is with such a profound conviction that Honen Shonin taught the Nembutsu and with such a conviction in which we ourselves should practice the Nembutsu. It is my hope that with our great master Honen Shonin as our compassionate guide, we call Amida Buddha’s Holy Name– Namu Amida Butsu– in our daily lives, live our lives fruitfully and aspire to be born into the Pure Land.
Namu Amida Butsu
Noble Spirit of Katsu Goto Shines Forever
Rev. Wajira Wansa
Katsu Kobayakawa Goto was a Japanese interpreter and entrepreneur. He was a victim of hatred crime. He was born in Kanagawa prefecture about 1862. He was a one of the government contract immigrant came to Hawaii. Goto’s ship, City of Tokyo, arrived Hawaii on February 8, 1885. He was only 23 years old and fluent in English. It is believed that he learned English at the port of Yokohama during employed at Oiso county office in Kanagawa. After arrived in Honolulu, he received three-year - contract to Soper Write & Co, plantation at O’okala on the Big Island. This plantation, was later known as O’okala Sugar Plantation. There was a Japanese language school in O’okala, affiliated to Jodo shu, according to Hawaii Jodo Shu history. Goto, after finished his three –year- contract to the O’okala Sugar Plantation, he opened his first Japanese general store in Honokaa town. Somehow, he had saved some money to started his own business. Many of Japanese and many of the other ethnic plantation workers shopped at his store. This built up some hate and jealousy among the other stores owners in the town, about his business success.
Goto was a negotiator for Japanese laborers’ rights of Honokaa Sugar plantation. There was a cane fire on October 19, 1889, at the plantation. The plantation owner blamed Japanese workers and thought, Goto, was behind the incident. Japanese workers of the plantation had asked Goto’s help. Goto got on his horse to meet them at the camp on that evening. When he was coming back late that night, he was ambushed and pulled from his horse and murdered and hung him on a telephone pole. This was a big shock to Japanese community in Honokaa. They lost a most wanted leader. The news was widely published in the newspapers.
“A Japanese storekeeper K.Goto, was found dead this morning at 60’clock, hanging to a cross arm on a telephone pole about one hundred yards from the Honokaa jail. A two –inch rope, evidently purchased for the purpose………” (Daily Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Published on October 29, 1889.)
There is a memorial monument by the road side, in Honokaa town to remind this sad and cruel act. The monument was built in 1994.
Goto was laid to rest at Hamakua Jodo Mission cemetery. The members of the temple have been taking care of his grave since he was buried there, putting the flowers and cleaning the marble head stone.
Recently, the governor of Hiroshima, Hidehiko Yuzaki and his assembly visited Hamakua Jodo Mission cemetery to pay their respect to Katsu Goto. They also visited five years ago, when they came to Hawaii to attend the celebration of Hiroshima Kenjin kai on the Big Island.
Dr. Fumiko Kaya, niece of Katsu Goto, was a well -known person in Hiroshima. She devoted her volunteer works to build up the relationship between Hiroshima and Hawaii. She founded, the Goto of Hiroshima Foundation to help Hawaii university students to study in Hiroshima.
Prof. Patsy Iwasaki, assistant professor at University of Hawaii at Hilo, was a one of the scholarship winner studied in Hiroshima. She works hard to keep the legacy of Katsu Goto for future generations. There is a documentary of life of Katsu Goto, directed by Prof. Patsy Iwasaki. She also published an illustrated book, tittle “Hamakua Hero” a true plantation story. There are many articles were published in many magazines and newspapers in Hawaii, about the legacy of Katsu Goto. We all love and need a peaceful world, country and community not the hate and jealousy among us. Buddha mentioned in Dhammapada; “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me: the hatred of those who harbor such thoughts is not appeased. Hatred is never appeased hatred in this world; it is appeased by love. This is an eternal law.
May legacy of Katsu Goto shine forever. May peace prevail the world.
Rev. Koji Ezaki
The US President Donald Trump declared the National Emergency on March 13, 2020 and governor Ige of the State of Hawaii proclaimed the Stay-at-home order on March 25. Since then all non-essential workers have been requested to stay at home and many stores and even many hotels in Waikiki temporarily closed. The Stay-at-home order will be until end of May. Many Buddhist temples in Hawaii have already decided to cancel their bon dance in June and July. We are feeling anxiousness especially because we don’t know how long this situation will continue. This pandemic will surely change our lifestyle in the future. I know everybody is frustrated, but please stay at home to keep away from the virus. The Haleiwa Jodo Mission and I wish for your wellbeing and happiness.
Humans have fought many pandemics in history: plague, cholera, yellow fever, and smallpox. Not only these four but there was malaria, ebola fever, Hansen’s disease, tuberculosis, and so on. We are still fighting with the flu every year. These diseases are caused by a virus or bacteria. In the 14th century, the plague spread throughout the European countries. It is said one third of the population in Europe died by this epidemic.
Around the same time, the Inca Empire in South America and Aztecs in Mexico perished and was destroyed completely by the smallpox. Back to the year 735, over 1,200 years ago, a smallpox outbreak occurred in Japan. It is said 25% of the Japanese citizens died. During this spread of the disease, people heavily leaned on Buddhism and prayed for Buddha’s help. In order to hold down this pandemic, the ruler at that time commanded to build a Great Buddha in Nara. The Great Buddha in Nara, which you may have visited in Japan, was the result of the pandemic. Today, the smallpox is eradicated. Humans got a victory over the smallpox by creating a vaccine. Here is another story.
Do you know the relation between the Panama Canal and the pandemic? The Panama Canal construction project started in 1869. From 1880 to 1889, during this nine years, about 30,000 workers died by an unidentified disease. At first, they didn’t know why people died one after another. Finally, they found that it was the mosquito that brought out this pandemic: yellow fever and malaria. Yellow fever is not eradicated yet but a vaccine is available today in helping to hold it down around the world. In our long history, humans have created vaccines and antibiotics and have been struggling to fight many diseases.
Have you ever heard the story titled, “Pied Piper of Hamelin” in the Grimm’s Fairy Tale? This story is fictious but based on a true story that took place in Garman. The story goes something like this… In 1284 in the German town of Hamelin they were facing a rat infestation. A piper, dressed in a bright cloth coat of many colors, appeared. This piper promised to get rid of the rats in return for a payment, to which the townspeople agreed to. Although the piper got rid of the rats by leading them away with his music, the people of Hamelin reneged on their promise. The furious piper left, vowing revenge. On the 26th of July of the same year, the piper returned and led the children away, never to be seen again, just as he did the rats. Nevertheless, three children were left behind. One of the three was lame, and could not keep up, another was deaf and could not hear the music, while the third was blind and could not see where he was going. All three children survived. This story is very mysterious. According to a theory, this story is talking about a pandemic caused by rats with a huge number of children in Hamelin victimized by the disease. This story may teach us a lesson today to practice the stay-at-home policy.
All visitors arriving in the State of Hawaii were and are still required to a 14-day quarantine. This strategy drastically lowered the number of visitors to Hawaii. Do you know the origin of the word “quarantine”? The word quarantine came from Italy from the Venetian dialect “quarantena.” In 1377 the plague spread in Italy. At that time, people were required 30 days of isolation. But 30 days isolation was not enough to recover from the disease, so they changed it to 40 days of isolation. In the Venetian dialect 40 days is quarantena. After that, the word quarantena became the meaning, “isolation from the disease” and in English, quarantine. To tell you the truth, I had a disease when I was 4 years old. It was scarlet fever. This disease has almost disappeared in recent times. Only a very small number of children became infected 50 years ago. I really don’t remember what happened to me because I was little. I do remember not being hospitalized but being isolated in a bedroom in our house with my brother and sister being kept away from me. Whoever stayed with me washed their hands with alcohol. My quarantine was about a month. As a physically active 4-year-old kid, I was so bored and wanted for the last day of my quarantine to end. That’s my memory of quarantine.
Now let’s think about viruses. A virus is a microbe. So, is virus a being or non-being? What do you think? Actually we cannot say it is a being or non-being. It has a DNA but it cannot move by itself. Just like a car without an engine. If the car doesn’t have an engine do you say it is a car? I would say it is like a car but not a car.
COVID-19 is also the same. COVID-19 itself cannot travel by itself. It attaches on to people and people becomes the vehicle and carries it throughout the world. Think about it, the Stay-at-home order is the perfect way to weaken the power of the virous. If everybody stays in place, the virus will have no vehicle to move from, it will lose its power. Also, it is very important for us to have thoughtfulness and kindness to others. Why do we stay at home? Why do we have to put the face masks on?
Why do we have to keep social distance? The reason is to protect ourselves and to protect others. Don’t forget you stay at home for others, put the masks on for others, and keep 6 feet for others. If we are kind to others, if we treat others with consideration and thoughtfulness, the virus will disappear naturally. It’s a time that humans unite and go over this obstacle.
Thoughts on Peace
Bishop Kosen Ishikawa
One Island, Many Peoples, All Kauaians — This is the saying I used to see in front of the Fire Station in Poipu, Kauai. Now, they have a roundabout there and it’s almost impossible to notice this sign while driving. But before installing a roundabout, traffic was always busy and all vehicles had to stop in front of this sign at the T-junction on the way back to Koloa. The more I saw this sign, the more I got interested and attracted. Later, I was so moved to know such a simple saying with only 6 words was telling the truth about peace.
The greatness of this saying is the fact they created a new word “Kauaian.” Although you may guess the meaning of the word “Kauaian”, it is not in the dictionary. It is truly amazing such a simple new word can satisfy everyone who lives on the island. It doesn’t matter whether you are American, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Filipino or not, everyone who lives on the island can be “Kauaian” without fail.
If we stick to the country where we came from, we see differences which can be the source of argument and fighting. But what if we can create a new word, new idea or new ideology which could satisfy everyone? The idea of “Kauaian” can be a great example of how we can have peace among different people. Whenever we have argument and difference, instead of sticking to the old words and old ideas, we should create a new word or idea that can apply to everyone. By having the same understanding under the new idea, we don’t need to argue with each other because we all can be Ohana or family from the bigger viewpoint.
It is extremely sad and horrible what’s happening in the Ukraine right now. We tend to hate Russia and would like to support Ukraine. But what we should support is nothing but peace, not the specific country. It is true this war was started by Russia but Ukraine is also fighting back. This has caused more people died and many buildings destroyed. There is no winner in war. Whether Ukrainians or Russians, many precious lives were lost and cannot return.
Once again, as long as we stick to the narrow understanding, war can happen anytime. We need to transcend the old concepts and ideas and should seek the new way to satisfy everyone in the world. Just like the word Kauaian, it is very important to realize we can be the same people who all live in our mother planet Earth. Yes, we can be all be called “Earthians” or “Earthlings.”
Let us all pray. May peace prevail on Earth. Namu Amida Butsu.
Rev. Junshin Miyazaki
Ojo is a Buddhist term that means rebirth in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha. Saint Honen often used this word. It shows up in His parting message. ‘Tada ojo Gokuraku no tame ni wa, Namu Amida Butsu to moshite utagainaku, ojo suru zo to omoi torite mosu hoka ni wa betsu no shisai sorawazu’ (To be born in Amida Buddha’s Pure Land, we need only to say Namu Amida Butsu and believe without a doubt that we will attain birth there.)
Ojo also means death because ojo occurs right after death. A famous monk soldier Benkei (?-1189) who lived in the same time of Saint Honen died on his feet as many arrows stuck his body to protect his lord Yoshitsune. His death is called Tachi Ojo or standing ojo.
When an old person dies a natural, peaceful, and admirable death, it is called Dai-ojo or great ojo.
I would like to share a dai-ojo story of a member of Kohala Jodo Mission who passed away in Kohala in the 1980s. I will temporarily call him Mr. K. I heard about Mr. K’s dai-ojo from his son who was a board member of Kohala Jodo Mission. He was a little over 80 when I was assigned there in 2002.
Mr. K was born in Okinawa and came to Hawaii to work for a sugar plantation in Kohala. Mr. K was short, strong, hard-working, quiet, and mild. His wife was more sociable and ‘shanshan’. She handmade tofu to support the family. And Same as many Okinawans, they offered water and rice and prayed to their home altar every day. Mr. K’s beloved wife passed away when he was in his 90s but he was still strong. He worked outside, and prayed to the Buddha, ancestors, and his late wife every day.
When Mr. K became 100 years old, he went to Okinawa with his son. Then he visited the mainland to see his children. After he got back home, he cleaned his yard and his house. Then one day, he came to the kitchen and told his daughter-in-law, ‘Enough. I will go where my wife is.’ He stopped eating. Mr. K’s children didn’t know what to do, so they put him in Kohala Hospital. Mr. K calmly declined any treatments, said thank you to visitors, and peacefully passed away.
I think Mr. K’s passing is truly dai-ojo, and I highly respect his accomplishments. It is not easy to accomplish dai-ojo like Mr. K, however, it is worth trying. Let us repeat Namu Amida Butsu every day, love someone, and try to be healthy, hard-working, mild, and religious. Namu Amida Butsu.
Rev. John Hara
Ohigan is a great time of year where we find the time to reflect on our own lives, offer our prayers to our loved ones and ancestors and renew our commitment to Buddhism. Ohigan happens twice a year during the fall and spring equinox. Ohigan, which literally translates to the other shore. This shore is a representation of Amida Buddha’s Pure Land. West of here where the sunsets. The Pure Land is where we are guided by Amida Buddha to experience spiritual enlightenment.
During the spring and fall Ohigan, I offer to those who come to the Ohigan service a simple practice that can be done every day during any time of the year, but because Ohigan is an auspicious time in the way that the day is a representation of the middle path of Buddhism. It becomes the perfect time of year to practice this gratitude prayer and meditation. I simply ask that you set your alarm to the sunset and I ask that you take a moment out of your schedule to dedicate a moment to put your palms together and offer your thoughts and prayers to a loved one by saying the Nenbutsu towards the setting sun.
For those of you new to Jodo Buddhism the nenbutsu is the way way to chant Amida Buddha’s name ten times. By saying “Na-mu A-mi-da Bu,” four times twice and the last two times we say “Na-mu A-mi-da Bu-tsu,” and finish with “Na-mu A-mi-da Bu.” This chant is the Jodo Buddhist practice of calling upon Amida Buddha. The Buddha that represents infinite light and boundless life. Even without understanding the meaning this call to Amida Buddha has merit and benefit.
When we say Namu Amida Butsu we welcome Amida Buddha into our hearts and minds. Namu means- I take refuge or I embrace in Amida Buddha.
Not to be mistaken by the historical buddha Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha was a historical figure and Amida Buddha is a spiritual buddha that exist in the Sutras. Which were orally transmitted teachings of the Buddha and later written down on leaves that were sewn together by string and thread. This is similar in the way medical stitches are called sutras.
Since the day is half light and dark Ohigan becomes a celestial symbolism of the middle path. The middle path in Buddhism is what I like to think of as the goldilocks of Buddhism. Not too much one way and not too much the other, but just right.
Is it possible to have too much fun in life? Some people may not think so, but here is what I mean. You have so much fun that you neglect or forget something important. Just the same you might be too sad or angry and neglect or forget something important. Our feelings and emotions can overwhelm us. Often in Buddhism it is emphasized that the middle path is what keeps balance in our lives. A great way to physically visualize this is our own physical balance. What happens if I put my weight too much forward? I fall forward or if I put my weight too much back? I fall backward. Life can be the same as an unbalanced life can lead to our own pain and suffering.
Buddhism teaches us to stay balanced, it teaches us that we do fall over from time to time. It’s okay to fall down and what do we do when we fall down? We pick ourselves up and continue to live a balanced life. No matter how many times we fall, the balanced life is what Buddhist strive for. In life you have obstacles you might not see them and you might trip and fall face flat. It happens without our intention or control so Buddhism teaches us and reminds us to accept the fall as is and recenter ourselves to move forward.
When we find ourselves lost or disturbed or unbalanced, the first thing we can do is take a moment to center ourselves. How do we center ourselves in Buddhism? We can breathe mindfully. Take a breath and relax any tension in our bodies. Anyone who does sports or competitions will know the importance of relaxation in the body and mind. Tension constricts blood flow and the ability to see and move freely. So mindful breathing is the first step to centering ourself. This can be difficult if you are physically in pain or mentally distressed, and it might not be so easy for everyone. Buddhism has different practices to prescribes for different people.
Another way to center ourselves is calling upon Amida Buddha name. Chanting the nenbutsu daily. From my own experience it’s important to mindfully be present and thoughtful as you allow Amida Buddha into your heart and mind. I have shared with you two ways to center yourself. Breathing mindfully and calling upon Amida Buddha name mindfully. Another way is to think about the blessings of your life. This will help with whatever imbalance you may be experiencing. If by chance you can’t find one thing to be grateful for then you might be overwhelmed for sure and so try to hold your breath. If mindful breathing or mindful nenbutsu is too difficult to do. Hold your breath as long as you can. Come up for air when you feel discomfort. Eventually you will breathe again and that is what you can be grateful for. Breathing means you are living and so there is always hope if you are living. You may not realize at the moment but you are more centered than before.
I recommended the three ways of centering one’s self, mindful breathing, mindful nenbutsu, and mindful gratitude. Again, if you find yourself overwhelmed to be not grateful for any one thing then remember your breath. Your breath is nothing to be taken for granted.
Ohigan is themed as the middle path of Buddhism, take time to reflect on your lives and offer a prayer to your loved ones and ancestors. Again, set your alarms after you read these words. Look towards the setting sun every day for this month and think of a loved one. As you face towards the West to the Pureland you will find beauty and peace and your thoughts and prayers will transform to gratitude and happiness. Buddhism is the practice of mindfulness and gratitude. If you continue this practice of the Nenbutsu each day you will be mindful and you will have a way to express that gratitude for living by saying, Namu Amida Butsu.
Wagen-Aigo -和顔愛語 -
Rev. Myoko Takano
Wagen-aigo is a great Buddhist word. At first, I would like to explain about the Kanji meaning of “Wagen-aigo”.
和 (wa) → Peace, Come down
顔 (gen) → Face
愛 (ai) → Love, Affection
語 (go) → Word
Direct translation is peace, and face, love, and word. This is the meaning of each Kanji.
Next, I’ll show you the meaning of “Wagen-aigo”. Wagen-aigo means to treat people well with a gentle smile and thoughtful words. Furthermore, it means to catch the sense of people’s feeling first, and then understanding their thought or wishes, and then to do some good thing for them. Wagen-aigo is to catch the sense of people's feelings first and then ask yourself what you can do for people, and then to do something for them with gentle words and behavior. When we catch the sense of people’s bad feelings like sadness, anger, tiredness, stressful, we should carefully speak and treat people well with Wagen aigo attitude.
However, when it comes to practicing the "Wagen-aigo" on yourself, it is not easy. For example, when you feel sick, tired, feel bud, it is difficult for you to make a smile. And in other case, if you catch the sense of a bad attitude from people, like the person is mad at you, you must hesitate to give caring and gentle words to the person.
The important thing in this point is to catch their feelings first, and then you treat them with appropriate words and attitudes." If you want to make people smile, first you should show your smile to them. If you want people to speak kindly, first you give people your kind words. In other words, if you want to get happiness, first you should give people your happiness. You should respect people and catch their feeling first and consider their happiness.
The important thing of Wagen-aigo is compassion. In Buddhism, also this compassionate mind is very important. In order to live in peace, it is important for everyone to have a compassionate heart. If both you and I are willing to consider each other with Wagen-aigo mind, you and I can feel calm and at peace.
We worship Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is compassionate Buddha. When you wholeheartedly rely on his teaching and recite his sacred name, Namu Amida Butsu, Amida Buddha saves you with compassion.
Wagen-aigo is one of the Buddhist training in order to enrich your heart. Your gentle and calm smile makes your mind peaceful. If you use gentle and caring words around you, your heart will naturally become kind. I would like to show about Wagen-aigo procedure.
Step1. Giving smile and caring words to the people around you.
Step2. The words and smile you give makes them happy and
illuminate their hearts.
Step3. Not only people around you are happy, but also you are happy.
In addition, their gentle actions and words also naturally brighten people’s heart around them.
Step4. Wagen-aigo makes a gentle and peaceful community.
Step5. You can spent more happy daily life with people who are
around you with Wagen-aigo.
This is the ideal procedure of Wagen-aigo. This will improve your society better.
Let us practice in your familiar and friends, surrounding place like at home, at workplace, at school. In some cases, it might be difficult to carry out Wagen-aigo immediately to close relationships like a family and friends.
Also, it is difficult for you to make a smile or kind words suddenly if you are not usually aware of it. However, making an effort of Wagen-aigo is very important.
Wagen-aigo is a step to create a good community that you can start by yourself, and it is your own Buddhist training. By all means, let us keep Wagen-aigo mind, and spend your daily life with Wagen-aigo from today.
Which Do You Like Better, Treacherous Mountain Path or Easy Hiking Path?
Rev. Takaaki Tanabe
Needless to say, our Jodo Shu or Pure Land Buddhism is one of Buddhist sects. We can divide Buddhism into two schools. One is Mahayana Buddhism. Another one is Theravada Buddhism. Generally speaking, Theravada Buddhism was introduced and spread from India to Southeast Asia (Sri Lanka, Thailand, etc.). On the other hand, Mahayana Buddhism was spread to Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea and to Japan. Therefore Mahayana Buddhism is sometimes called as “Northern Buddhism” whereas Theravada Buddhism is called “Southern Buddhism.”
As the word “Mahayana” means “great vehicle”, the core idea of Mahayana Buddhism views this entire earth and universe as a "great vehicle." Together with everyone in a great vehicle, we should seek for the enlightenment. On the other hand, Theravada Buddhism seeks for the alignment of one’s own mind. They focus individual’s salvation. However, it may be not easy to achieve only one's own mental alignment. In addition, focusing only on oneself may be apt to mislead an idea of selflessness. Honen Shonin, the founder of the Jodo Shu, tried to seek the way for everyone to be saved without difficulty. He also wanted to prevent people from falling into a self-centered way of thinking.
As a result, Honen Shonin reached the idea to divide Buddhism into another two categories from the view point of the path. The first path is called “Shodo-mon” or “Hoy gate” and another path is called “Jodo-mon” or the Pure Land Gate. The idea of two paths are not originated in Honen but first explained by one of the Chinese Pure Land Masters called “Daochuo” or Doshaku Zenji (562-645). According to his book “Anraku-shu, ” the Holy Gate and Pure Land Gate are referred to as the “Difficult Path” and the “Easy Path.” To illustrate, the Holy Gate is like akin to traversing a treacherous road on foot whereas the Pure Land Gate which is the Easy Path corresponds to crossing the ocean on a ship. The lame and sightless are unable to travel an arduous route, but a ship will transport them with east to the other shore.
Later on, Honen Shonin said as follows; “If you hope to depart immediately from the delusive worlds of the transmigration of birth and death, you must, within two categories of excellent teachings, put aside the Holy Gate and select the Pure Land Gate. If you wish to enter the Pure Land Gate, you must select between the *Right Practices (*for birth in the Pure Land) and the Miscellaneous Practices (*the contemplation of both Buddha Amitabha and the majestic adornments of the Land of ultimate bliss), relying upon Right Practices and abandoning the miscellaneous practices.
In order to pursue the Right Practices, you must choose to devote yourselves to performing the Rightly Established Practice between the Auxiliary Acts and the Rightly Established Practice. The Rightly stablished Practice refers to the vocalization of the name of Amida Buddha.
In other words, Honen Shonin recommended us to do the rightly established practice which is to recite “Namu Amida Butsu.” Nenbutsu is such a simple and easy practice that doesn’t require any difficult concepts. That’s why it is called as “the Easy Path.” Once again, we can recite Nenbutsu for ourselves, for others, for our ancestors and for everyone at anytime and anywhere. Now going back to the first question, which do you like it better, treacherous mountain path or easy hiking path?