• Luigi

The “Hymn of True Faith” is Not a Sutra What? How come? What is the Difference, Then?



In Pure Land Shin Buddhism, people make it a daily habit to do chanting every morning and evening in front of a Buddhist altar. That is because chanting is very important for forming a bond with Buddha and achieving true happiness. So let us learn about chanting.

Master Shinran and Master Rennyo teach that the path for all people to attain true happiness is listening to Buddhism. The most essential in Buddhism is listening to Buddhist teaching. However, we cannot listen to Buddhism at all times. In fact, we spend most of our time unable to listen to Buddhism, and so it is important to make an effort to become as close as possible with Buddha. Therefore, it is strongly encouraged for us to do the chanting every morning and evening.

“Chanting” refers to reading aloud the Hymn of True Faith by Master Shinran and The Letters by Master Rennyo, observing and placing our hands together before the Name, Namu Amida Butsu, reciting this Name, and offering flowers and a light placed in front of the Buddhist altar. These are actions that we call the five right practices.

Five right practices

Right practice of reading:

Reading the Hymn of True Faith and The Letters.

Right practice of visualizing:

Observing the Name (Namu Amida Butsu), letter by letter, and calling to mind Amida Buddha and Amida Buddha's Pure Land.

Right practice of revering:

Putting one's hands together and bowing to the Name (Namu Amida Butsu).

Right practice of reciting:

Reciting Namu Amida Butsu. (Reciting the nembutsu.)

Right practice of praising and offering:

Praising and making offerings to Amida Buddha.

This time, let us focus on the Hymn of True Faith written by Master Shinran. The Hymn is comprised of 120 lines, each 7 Chinese characters long. It is said that the essence of the teachings of Master Shinran is expressed in the Hymn of True Faith. Because this Hymn is written in Chinese characters like sutras are, some people mistake this Hymn for a sutra. But a sutra is a record of the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha alone, and so the Hymn of True Faith is not a sutra.

Some people might think that "faith" has nothing to do with them. However, "faith" doesn't only mean believing in a god or buddha. The Japanese word for “faith,” shinjin, comprises two Chinese characters: "believe" and "mind." "Faith" means believing something with our own mind.

Each and every day, we go through life believing in something. In other words, we cannot live without believing in something. We believe that we will still be alive tomorrow. We plan our future assuming that we will always remain alive and well. “Well, I have money, fortune, status and talent! Everything's going to be fine.” “In my hour of need, I'm sure I can depend on my family and friends.”

We assume that the things we believe in will always be with us and that they will always provide us with courage and comfort. But is that true? The harsh reality is that many people are suffering because of being betrayed and abandoned by something they have put their faith in. Master Shinran described this as follows in the famous Lamenting the Deviations: In this world as fleeting and unstable as a burning house, inhabited by human beings beset by worldly passions, all is idleness and foolishness, utterly devoid of truth.

----Lamenting the Deviations To paraphrase:

This world is as unstable as a burning house, inhabited by human beings consisting of nothing but blind passions; all is empty and vain, without a grain of truth. Only the nembutsu bestowed by Amida is true.

“Faith” as taught by Master Shinran is completely different from such fleeting, undependable faith that does not last. So what kind of “faith” did Master Shinran teach of?

Shinjin, or ‘Faith’, is ‘the true mind’. The true mind refers not to the deluded mind of human beings, but solely to the mind of the Buddha. When the mind of Amida Buddha is granted, it is called Shinjin, or ‘Faith’. "Faith" means the “true mind.” It is entirely different from a human’s deluded mind. It is taught that this mind is bestowed upon us by Amida Buddha, who is supreme in all the universe.

This true mind is also referred to as "other-power faith." The reason why we are able to attain absolute happiness is that Amida Buddha will never abandon us. "I want all people to be granted other-power faith from Amida Buddha and thus attain absolute happiness as quickly as possible!" This is what Master Shinran is teaching us through Hymn of True Faith every morning and evening.

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footnote Master Rennyo (1415-99):

Master Shinran's descendant and a prominent master of True Pure Land Buddhism. Through his letters (collected as Gobunsho [The Letters]) and sermons, he transmitted Master Shinran's teachings faithfully to a vast number of people across Japan, bringing about a revival of this school.

The Letters:

A compilation of letters by Master Rennyo.

Lamenting the Deviations:

One of the best known of the Japanese classics, in which the words of Shinran are recorded.

Summary

The Hymn of True Faith, which we chant every morning and evening, is the essence of Master Shinran’s teaching.

This Hymn urges us to be granted other-power faith by Amida Buddha.

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