A New Year’s Message from Takamori-sensei
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.
---- Lamenting the Deviations, Section 2
After turning sixty, Master Shinran left Kanto, painful as it was to part from it, then returned to his native Kyoto and began to concentrate on writing. Most of his copious writings were done after the age of seventy-six. Yet after his return to Kyoto, a number of events took place to shake the faith of those he left behind. One was the blasphemous insistence of the monk Nichiren that anyone who said the nembutsu would go to Avici Hell, the hell of greatest suffering. Nichiren stirred agitation throughout Kanto by fanatically spreading this lie. Within the Shin Buddhist community, the false teachings of Master Shinran’s first son, Zenran, were rampant. Agitated by the profound upheaval in their faith, several Shin Buddhist followers 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." All their lives, they never forgot what Master Shinran consistently taught: “Buddhism must be heard even at the risk of one's life.”
What is the Path to Birth in Paradise?
Section Ⅱ of Lamenting the Deviations (Tannisho) begins with Master Shinran's blunt remark to the believers:
"Each of you has come seeking me … at the risk of your life, with one thing only in mind: to ask the path to birth in the land of utmost bliss." Clearly, during his twenty years in the Kanto area this path was all that he had taught. What is the "path to birth in the land of utmost bliss"?
It is the Vow of Amida Buddha to all humanity: "I will enable you to be born in the Pure Land without fail." The followers’ faith in the Vow was shaken. “But what if…?” So they staked their lives on a trip with one goal in mind: to attain the fulfillment of knowing that they could go to the Pure Land without fail. They never forgot the words that Master Shinran consistently said: “Buddhism must be heard even at the risk of one's life.” But what exactly do these words mean? This has to be clarified.
The Teachings of the True Buddhist Masters
In Hymns on the Pure Land, Master Shinran taught the attitude with which we should listen to Buddhism by condensing the words of Sakyamuni Buddha into simple terms.
Though the universe
should become a sea of flames,
he who crosses it to hear the Name of Amida
will achieve everlasting salvation.
This hymn by Master Shinran means that if you keep on listening to Buddhism "through hell and high water" and you are saved by Amida, you are certain to achieve radiant, eternal bliss. In the Chapter on White Bones, Master Rennyo instructed in the same way.
Hence we may have radiant faces in the morning but in the evening be no more than white ashes … [The once-familiar form] is taken to an outlying field, and when it has vanished with the midnight smoke, nothing is left but white ashes. This is indeed indescribably sad. And so, because the impermanence of this world creates a condition of uncertainty for young and old alike, we should all immediately take to heart the crucial matter of the afterlife, deeply rely on Amida Buddha and be saved, and say the nembutsu.
Buddhism must be heard
even if it means fighting one's way
through raging flames;
then what hindrance can there be
in rain or wind or snow?
In the Words of Rennyo Heard and Recorded During His Lifetime, he also gives a familiar example as follows:
Buddhism must be listened to by setting aside the world's affairs. Thinking that one should listen to Buddhist law when not occupied with the world's affairs is shallow.
In other words, Buddhism is so important that one must listen to it even if it means dropping all one’s work. The assumption that it is enough to fit Buddhism in between other things in life shows a sad lack of understanding, Master Rennyo laments.
The World's Affairs and the Ultimate Purpose of Being Born Human
Here Master Rennyo describes means of living as "the world's affairs." Given that resolving the crucial matter of birth and death is our true purpose in life, one can only marvel at the aptness of this pithy phrase. Yet where on earth can these teachings of Master Shinran and Master Rennyo be heard today? Almost nowhere. There is almost no place where the right attitude for listening to Buddhism is taught strictly.
This year is the 10th anniversary of the publishing of Unlocking Tannisho. We should not fall behind the Shinran Followers of 800 years ago. Let us rise up to listen to Buddhism at the risk of our lives. We must make this year a supreme treasure to accomplish the ultimate purpose of being born human.