Updated: Jan 16
I, Shinran, do not have even a single disciple.
This surprising declaration was not actually intended to reflect historical fact.
The grace of Amida's great compassion
I long to repay, though I grind my body to dust.
And the grace of the masters who led me
I long to repay, though I crush my bones to bits.
The benevolence of Amida Buddha and the debt of gratitude owed to teachers of the Vow can never be fully repaid. Not even sacrificing oneself would suffice. All anyone can do is weep at his own laziness for not making a particle of recompense.
Master Shinran conveyed Buddhism with a passionate drive to repay his debt of gratitude—and many young people became his disciples one after another, following in his footsteps and dedicating their lives to sharing the teachings.
We know from various historical documents, including a registry of the names of his disciples, that between sixty and seventy people studied under him in intimate association.
So why did Master Shinran say he had no disciples? What Master Shinran said here came from his deep awareness of his own self.
Master Shinran did not consider these people to be his disciples. Actually, he was unable to look at them in such a way.
On the surface it may indeed appear that he opened others' eyes to the crucial question of their fate for eternity, got them to listen earnestly to Buddhist teaching, and so saved them; but Master Shinran knew differently, better than anyone else.
I do not know good from evil
or right from wrong.
I lack the slightest mercy or compassion,
yet out of a desire for honor and wealth, I want to lead others.
(Hymns of Compunction)
Although he is totally ignorant and unqualified to stand above others, says Master Shinran, in his lust for recognition and riches he craves being kowtowed to as teacher; he is depraved and despicable.
This comes from the heartfelt repentance of one to whom it has been clearly revealed that he is trapped within the desire for fame and fortune.
Lacking the slightest mercy or compassion,
I cannot presume to benefit others.
If not for the ship of Amida's Vow,
How should anyone cross the sea of tribulation?
(Hymns of Lament and Reflection)
Master Shinran makes it clear that he has not a mite of mercy or compassion, and so could never lead anyone to salvation; the salvation of humanity is possible only due to Amida's great compassion.
This is the anguished confession of one who sees clearly both his own evil, hypocritical nature and the Primal Vow (great compassion) that never judges, never forsakes.
The painful sea of birth and death knows no bounds.
Long have we been submerged in its waters.
Only the ship of Amida's universal Vow
will take us aboard and carry us across without fail.
(Hymns on the Masters)
We have long been submerged in the vastness of the ocean of suffering; the only thing that will carry us to the Land of Infinite Light without fail is Amida Buddha’s Vow-ship of Great Compassion.
If Master Shinran’s followers had listened to Buddhism and been saved due to his power, then he could have said, “They are my disciples.”
But since all is the doing of Amida's great compassion, declares Master Shinran, for him to call anyone his disciple is out of the question.
Dipping into the stream, Master Shinran knew its source. He understood clearly that having his eyes opened to the question of his ultimate fate, listening with an impassioned spirit to Buddhism, and receiving true happiness in this life were all due to the great workings of Amida Buddha (the workings that came from five kalpas of contemplation).
He knew that through profound bonds we are all born into this world as human beings, we are all alike nurtured by Amida and enjoy walking in his Supreme Way, and we are all brothers and sisters with no distinctions of high and low. Therefore Master Shinran reaches out to the whole human race as family and fellow travelers.
In an age of rigid class divisions, Master Shinran manifested burning love for all mankind, inviting one and all to join him in the Supreme Way with these words: "I, Shinran, do not have even a single disciple."
Due to coronavirus, the world is filled with uneasiness and fear. We now find our movements restricted and divisions worsening. However, we Shinran Students have been turning this crisis into great opportunities. With country borders no longer a barrier (thanks to the internet), we have strengthened our unity in ways never seen before.
Now is the time for us to face the poor and afflicted one by one. Let us freely reach out to suffering people’s hearts with the treasure-sword of truth to guide them to true salvation.
Our greatest chance is now—we must not waste even a moment.