In January, a Buddhist teacher in Japan received a message from Brazil. It was from a man in his 30's, who lives in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.
In December last year, I went to the cinema to see Why We Live on the recommendation of a relative in São Paulo. I was raised in a Christian household and had had no contact with Buddhism, so I wasn’t able to understand everything in the movie. However, after I finished watching the movie, I just couldn’t forget it. I thought, “There is something important in that movie.” That thought grew stronger and stronger, so I went to see it once again. I wanted to watch the movie again because I had something that I wanted to hear clearly. During his sermon in the movie, I think Master Rennyo said, “In the instant when we are taken aboard the Vow-ship of great compassion, we gain certainty of being able to go to a bright world in the future.” That is the one thing I’d wanted to know since I was little: what happens to people when they die?
At the bottom of my heart, I had this anxiety that would not go away no matter what I attained. I thought this fear must come from “not knowing what will happen to me when I die.” So I felt, “The answer to my question must be in this movie. If it is, then I want to know it no matter what.”
We are taken aboard the great ship “only by listening.” So my anxiety regarding what happens after death can be resolved “only by listening”? Is that for real? Did Master Rennyo really say “only by listening”? Or did he say some other things too? Still wondering about these questions, I went back to see the movie for a second time. When Master Rennyo began his sermon, I focused all my attention on listening.
He really did say, “We can be taken aboard this great ship only by listening.”
“Only by listening”
But even though I’d listened intently, I still wasn’t aboard the Vow-ship. I still had that fear about what will happen after I die.
Oh, I know – it’s because I wasn’t listening in the right way. So just how should I listen? Please teach me. What should I listen to, and how?
A copy of the Portuguese version of You Were Born For A Reason, the basis of the movie, was sent to the man in Brasilia from São Paulo. When reading You Were Born For A Reason, what shocked the man the most was Master Shinran’s declaration of the veracity of Amida’s Vow that promises to enable us to be born in the Pure Land without fail. So while we are still alive, we gain certainty of being born in the Pure Land after death? Can such a thing really happen? Master Shinran declared, “It can.”
Anxiety regarding what will happen after death can be resolved only by listening. “Only by listening” means that we hear the truth of Amida’s Vow. How can I hear the truth as the truth? I want to know. Solely to hear the answer to this question, the man decided to travel halfway across the planet from Brazil to Japan. And he was among the audience of the Buddhist convention held at the 2,000-Tatami-Mat Hall to listen to Buddhism.
Master Shinran said as follows.
Though the universe
should become a sea of flames,
he who crosses it to hear the Name of Amida
will achieve everlasting salvation.
----Hymns on the Pure Land
“Hearing” means that anyone at all hears the origin, beginning to end, of Amida’s Vow without a trace of doubt in his mind. This is “hearing.”
Master Shinran is urging us, “The time will definitely come when your doubt toward Amida’s Vow is cleared up. Listen until that point!”
“Listen at the Risk of Your Life”—Acting in Accordance with Master Shinran’s Persistent Words
About 800 years ago, through the power of Amida Buddha’s Vow that grants salvation (through listening alone), Master Shinran became one whose birth in the Pure Land (after death) was settled (while alive) and thus he resolved humanity’s most crucial matter.
The reason why all humanity of all times and places were born human is solely to attain other-power diamond faith—thus gaining settlement of birth—just like Master Shinran did.
Amida Buddha promised, “I will grant you the conviction that your birth in the Pure Land is settled.” 800 years ago, in order to clear up their doubts toward this Vow, a group of people made the 30-day journey all the way from Kanto to Kyoto to see Master Shinran. This is the story of Section II of Tannisho. Let us hear an excerpt from Unlocking Tannisho.
"Each of you has come seeking me, crossing the borders of more than ten provinces at the risk of your life, with one thing only in mind: to ask the path to birth in the land of utmost bliss."
----Tannisho, Section II
You have come to see me all the way from Kanto, crossing over mountains and rivers of more than ten provinces without regard for your lives, intending solely to verify the path to birth in the land of utmost bliss.
The second section of Tannisho contains an account of a harrowing confrontation between Shinran and people who risked their lives to hear true Buddhist teaching … After Shinran left Kanto, a number of events sowed confusion among his followers there. Agitated by the profound upheaval in their faith, several of them resolved to make the perilous journey to Kyoto in order to meet directly with the master and ascertain the truth.
The journey would take a month or more. On the way they would cross over mountains, ford rivers, and be threatened by murderous thieves and bandits lurking everywhere. There was no knowing if they would return alive. Each one who made the trip did so truly "at the risk of [his] life," determined to hear the truth of Buddhism no matter what the cost, just as Shinran had exhorted. All their lives, they remained faithful to the ever-present voice of Shinran: “Buddhism must be heard even at the risk of one's life.”
How did Master Shinran respond to these followers who had come to him at the risk of their lives? Let us see what happened in the animated movie.
From The Light of the World: Shinran Shonin Vol. 6
They Admired Master Shinran More Than Anyone. Yet Still They Doubted...
Master Shinran: Gentlemen. You have crossed the borders of more than ten provinces, exposing yourselves to danger — risking your lives — to come to me. I know why you are here. You want to know the path to the Pure Land, do you not?
Narrator: The band of followers thought of all they had endured to come this far — negotiating steep paths, carrying the injured and encouraging the sick, crossing mountains and streams, being assaulted by robbers.
Master Shinran: Yet if you have come under the illusion that I know any way of salvation apart from Amida Buddha’s Vow, or that I possess some secret text, it is an outrage. I am grieved beyond words.
(The followers from Kantō recall the slanderous words of Nichiren, the false teachings of Zenran, and the disciples who were shaken by this)
A disciple of Nichiren: He who recites the Nembutsu will go to Hell!
Zenran: There is a secret formula for salvation.
Disciples of Master Shinran:
- Is that right?
- This is awful.
- We’ve got to ask Shinran.
- You’re right.
Narrator: Realizing that Shinran knew their innermost thoughts, and seeing what intense sorrow their actions had caused him, the men from Kanto trembled.
Master Shinran: If you doubt me, then go to Nara or Mt. Hiei. You’ll find many eminent scholars there. Ask them the path to salvation in the afterlife!
Yuinen-bo: Nara or Mt. Hiei?
Shinbutsu-bo: Eminent scholars?
(They look at each other and remember a lecture by Master Shinran)
Subtitles: Thirty years earlier at Inada Monastery
Subtitles: Shinran (in his 50's)
Master Shinran: I, Shinran, was troubled by the crucial matter of my afterlife. I searched desperately for a great master who could teach me the path to salvation. In despair, I sought a true master of Buddhism to guide me, but in vain. And I wept.
Yuinen-bo: Were there none in Nara or on Mt. Hiei?
Shinbutsu-bo: Great priests and Buddhist scholars from all over the country gather there, they say.
Master Shinran: There was no one. Now I understand they all were ignorant of Buddhism. But then I met the great priest Honen. You can imagine my joy.
Narrator: At Shinran’s scathing mention of Nara and Mt. Hiei, the men of Kanto were overcome with chagrin. They had made the hard trek believing it demonstrated complete trust in Shinran — only to be shown that it was in fact a betrayal of him. They wept in remorse. Yet Shinran’s clear, unswerving faith inspired and invigorated them, banishing all thought of hardship and swelling their hearts with confidence.
At Master Shinran's Wrath, Their Hearts Leapt in Trust
Master Shinran: When, through the teachings of Master Honen, the unimaginable wonder of Amida Buddha’s Vow was revealed to me and the mind intent on saying the Nembutsu erupted within me, in that very instant I was saved, and became one who is destined for the Pure Land. It is just as I have always told you.
Rokubei: Nichiren declares that if we say the Nembutsu, we’ll go to Hell.
Master Shinran: Do you still intend to make me say whether the Nembutsu is the seed of Pure Land birth or a deed that will plunge us into Hell? Do you?
Narrator: The men trembled at Shinran’s wrath. Yet at the same time their hearts leaped. They were strangely buoyant, full of relief and limitless trust in their master.
Master Shinran: Even if I have been deceived by Honen and fall into Hell as a result, I will have no regret. If I, Shinran, had the slightest chance of salvation, I might regret being deceived and falling into Hell. But I have no chance. Since I have no chance whatever of salvation, it is only right for me to fall into Hell.
Narrator: Again, the followers from Kanto could only marvel at the utter consistency of Shinran’s faith.
Master Shinran: Ah, Amida Buddha’s Vow is true. Sakyamuni, Shan-tao and Honen taught only the Vow. Then how could there be lies in their teaching? Honen’s words being true, how could there be untruth in what I teach? My teachings contain nothing of myself.
Rokubei: Forgive us.
Master Shinran: This is my faith, and nothing else. It will never change.
(With lowered heads, the followers all weep)
Master Shinran: Solving the great problem of what lies after death is each one’s task. Whether you abandon the Nembutsu and follow Nichiren or whether you believe in the Nembutsu and join me, the decision is entirely yours. I have no more to say.
Followers: Yes, Master!
Narrator: Shinran was merciless in his scolding of the men who had journeyed to see him at the risk of their lives. Yet they returned to Kanto fully satisfied, their hearts singing.
From Unlocking Tannisho
Given that Amida's Primal Vow is true, the sermons of Shakyamuni Buddha cannot be empty words. Given that the Buddha's sermons are true, the commentaries of Shan-tao cannot be empty. If Shan-tao's commentaries are true, can the sayings of Honen be false? If Honen's sayings are true, how could what I, Shinran, say be false?
Because Amida's Primal Vow is true, then the teachings of Shakyamuni, which concern only the Vow, cannot be false. If the sermons of Shakyamuni are true, then the commentaries of Shan-tao, who explained them faithfully, cannot contain lies. If the commentaries of Shan-tao are true, then how can there be any falsehood in the sayings of Master Honen, who conveyed them faithfully? If the sayings of Honen are true, then how can what I say be empty, since I have faithfully conveyed what he said?
If you place your trust in people, you will be crushed when they leave you. If you place your trust in money, you will crumble when it runs out. If you place your trust in honour, you will collapse in despair when you lose it. If you place your trust in your own self, you will suffer a breakdown when your self-belief is shaken. Master Shinran is shouting to all people: “Have your mind stand firm in the ground of Amida’s Vow!”
With this mind, Master Shinran wrote the six volumes of Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment. Without knowing this masterwork, one absolutely cannot unlock Tannisho.
On the 3rd of March 2008, 700 years after it was written, Tannisho was finally unlocked based on Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment when Unlocking Tannisho was published.
2018 marks the 10th Anniversary of the publication of Unlocking Tannisho. So in this wonderful year, let us listen intently to Amida’s Vow until its truth is clearly revealed to us without any trace of doubt.