源信広開一代教 Genshin, having thoroughly read and elucidated the
lifetime teachings [of Shakyamuni]
----Chant Book, pg. 31
In the Hymn of True Faith, Master Shinran praised the great priest Genshin (942–1017), who spread the teaching of Amida Buddha’s Vow during Japan's Heian Period: “Genshin conveyed the 'lifetime teachings' far and wide.”
The “lifetime teachings” are the teachings that Shakyamuni Buddha conveyed throughout his life. In total, these make up more than 7,000 volumes of sutras.
Master Genshin's most important work, Essentials on Birth in the Pure Land (Ojoyoshu), compiles important quotes regarding the "path to birth in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss" from many sutras and scriptures. He received high praise, not only from priests in Japan but also from priests in China, which was the center of Buddhism at that time. The Chinese priests called him “Little Shakyamuni.”
So then, what was his childhood like? Master Genshin was born in Yamatonokuni (modern day Nara Prefecture) and his childhood name was Sengikumaru. He was as smart as a whip from early on. Here is a famous episode from his childhood.
When Sengikumaru was seven years old, a priest came to his village. When the priest started to have lunch at the riverbank, some village children came toward him. However, the priest shooed the children away and washed his lunchbox in the river. Then another child approached him.
“Sir, you can never clean your lunchbox with such muddy water,” said Sengikumaru.
Annoyed, the priest said in return, “There is a Buddhist phrase: 'Pure and impure are not distinct.' Intrinsically, there is no concept of clean and dirty.”
(To be continued)