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Master Tao-Cho Part 1

道綽決聖道難証   Doshaku kesshodo nansho 唯明浄土可通入   Yui myo Jodo katsunyu                         (Chant Book pg. 27)


"Master Tao-cho determined that it is impossible to be saved by the path of sages And clarified that the Pure Land path alone is passable"

From this line onward, Master Shinran clarified the teachings of Master Tao-cho, the fourth of the seven renowned priests whom he respected immensely. Master Tao-cho was born in Northern Qi in China 1400 years ago. In 577, China was in a period of war between its states. The state of Qi was overthrown all too easily by a large enemy force from a neighboring state called Zhou. The new ruler, Emperor Wu, cracked down on Buddhism uncompromisingly. A great number of temples were burned down and monks were forced to return to secular life. Some monks fought back against the oppression at the risk of their lives. However, the majority of monks gave up and returned to secular life. As a result of this, Buddhism began declining day by day. During such turbulent times, Master Tao-cho became a priest at the age of 14 and found refuge in the teachings of the Nirvana sect of Buddhism.

He mastered the doctrine of the Nirvana Sutra and lectured on it 24 times. After that, he dedicated most of his time to practicing Zen Buddhism and was recognized as a zenji (master of Zen Buddhism) by many people. Despite the fact that he had achieved great success, no matter how wholeheartedly he devoted himself to ascetic practices, he could not resolve his crucial matter of the afterlife. He found himself at a serious roadblock in his path.

One day, Master Tao-Cho went to the temple of Master Tan-luan (Donran) in Shibi. Upon reading his accomplishments inscribed on a gravestone at the temple, Master Tao-cho was so shocked it was as if a hundred thunderclaps came to him all at once.

In 608 (Sui Dynasty), Master Tao-cho was deadlocked in his ascetic training, and he went to visit the temple of Master Tan-luan (Donran). An epitaph said that Master Tan-luan burned his texts on the secret of immortality and took refuge in the teaching of Pure Land Buddhism. “Even such a great priest as Master Tan-luan did not rely on his own wisdom or ascetic training. Instead, he sought salvation through Amida Buddha’s Vow. How is it possible for one like me to attain buddhahood in the Age of Dharma Decline?”

Realizing what he had to do, he cast aside the Nirvana sect of Buddhism and moved into Master Tan-luan's temple at once. He took Master Tan-luan's masterpiece Commentary on Treatise on the Pure Land as his guide and started to seek Amida Buddha’s Vow. He was 48.

Saved by Amida Buddha, Master Tao-cho gave more than 200 lectures on the Sutra of Contemplation on the Buddha of Infinite Life and also clarified the true meaning of this sutra in his main work, the two-volume Passages on Peace and Joy (Anrakushu). Every day Master Tao-cho would recite the nembutsu countless times, and he widely conveyed the virtue of Namu Amida Butsu.

His influence in teaching grew at a dramatic rate. To give one example, it was said that in Jinyang, Taiyuan, and Wenshui (modern-day Shanxi Province), "everybody over the age of 7 recites the nembutsu." It is also said that nobody spat or showed their back to the West where, Buddhism teaches, Amida Buddha’s land exists.