During the chanting every morning and every evening, we read out the Hymn of True Faith. This is a work written by Master Shinran. The Hymn of True Faith includes everything that Master Shinran taught throughout the 90 years of his life— so what exactly is taught in it?
The original Japanese title of the Hymn of True Faith is Shōshinge. Shō means ‘correct’ or ‘true’, shin means ‘faith’, and ge means ‘hymn’. When some people hear about ‘faith’, they may think it has nothing to do with them. However, we all go through life putting our faith in various things, including family, health, money and possessions, social status and reputation, and abilities. There is no-one who believes in or relies on nothing in life.
But when we are betrayed by the happiness we believed in, we are assailed by suffering. Furthermore, the more deeply we believe in something, the sadder and angrier we feel when we are betrayed by it, and the greater the shock we face. We don’t want to let go of the things we rely on at all. Yet the happiness of a peaceful, affectionate family may crumble in the face of a sudden accident or disaster, or a wish to live long may be crushed when one is diagnosed with a serious illness, or a love may be lost when one’s partner’s heart changes. Even if our happiness lasts for a while, no happiness can hold up in the face of death— and so we must pass into the next world completely alone. We only know things that are sure to betray us, and so we suffer.
However, Master Shinran declared, “There exists a ‘true faith’ that will absolutely never betray you!” and he urged us to attain that faith and enter the absolute happiness that will never change even if we die now. This is the message conveyed in the Hymn of True Faith. With a deep and heartrending wish for us to attain true happiness, Master Shinran shed tears as he wrote each and every letter of the hymn.
Attaining happiness now, in this life
The opening lines of this hymn are particularly well-known.
Kimyō muryōju nyorai Namu fukashigi kō “I have been saved by the Buddha of Infinite Life (Amida Buddha) I have been rescued by the Buddha of Inconceivable Light (Amida Buddha)”
Both the “Buddha of Infinite Life” and the “Buddha of Inconceivable Light” are alternative names for Amida Buddha. In these opening lines, Master Shinran is declaring, “I, Shinran, have been saved into absolute happiness through the Vow-power of Amida Buddha!” He is proclaiming that he has attained clear salvation now, in this life. Why does he repeat the same thing twice? In fact, no matter how many times he repeated it, it was never enough, because this was an expression of boundless joy. He could not help but exclaim it hundreds, thousands, millions of times.
Salvation by Amida is not some fantastic tale for after death; we achieve clear salvation now, in this life, while we are still alive and well. Master Shinran teaches us this every morning and every evening.
“Attain the same mind and so join me, Shinran” The Hymn of True Faith then ends with the following two lines: Dō zoku jishu gu dōshin Yui ka shin shi kōsō setsu “Whether monks or lay people, I want all people to attain the same mind as mine. Only believe the teachings of those high priests.”
Here Master Shinran laid out the purpose of his having written the Hymn of True Faith. “Whether monks or lay people” means ‘all people’. What is the “same mind” as what Master Shinran had? As we can see from the opening lines of the Hymn of True Faith, it means to have been saved and embraced through the power of Amida Buddha’s Vow in this life and thus attained the ‘settlement of birth’ that enables you to be born into the Pure Land without fail. In other words, this “mind” is absolute happiness. What Master Shinran was saying here was, “Everyone! Please quickly attain this mind and so join me, Shinran! It is for this purpose that I wrote the Hymn of True Faith!”
In order to accomplish this, he said, we should “only believe the teachings of those high priests.” The “teachings of those high priests” refers to the teachings of the Seven Patriarchs, who were from India, China, and Japan. These great masters correctly conveyed the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, which was the one thing that Śākyamuni Buddha had taught throughout his life.
Therefore, reciting the Hymn of True Faith every morning and evening is a precious opportunity to listen to the true Buddhist teaching—the Vow of Amida Buddha—directly from Master Shinran.
Kimyō muryōju nyorai Namu fukashigi kō (pg. 6) Both muryōju nyorai (the Buddha of Infinite Life) and fukashigi kō [nyorai] (the [Buddha of] Inconceivable Light) refer to Amida Buddha. In these opening lines of the Hymn of True Faith, Master Shinran is expressing his boundless joy at having been saved into absolute happiness now, in this life, through the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.
Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow (promise) “I will save all people into absolute happiness without fail” ↓ Śākyamuni Buddha: Nyorai shoi kō shusse Yui setsu Mida Hongankai (Pg. 11) Master Shinran declared here that Śākyamuni Buddha appeared in this world for one reason alone: to teach the Vow of Amida Buddha. ↓ The Seven Patriarchs India Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva (about 1900 years ago) (ca. 150–250): Ryūju daiji shuttose… (Pg.18) Vasubandhu Bodhisattva (about 1700 years ago) (ca. 320–400): Tenjin bosa zōronse… (Pg. 21) China Master Tan-luan (about 1500 years ago) (476–542): Honshi donran ryōtenshi… (Pg. 24) Master Tao-cho (about 1400 years ago) (562–645): Dōshaku kesshōdō nanshō… (Pg. 27) Master Shan-tao (about 1300 years ago) (613–81): Zendō doku myō busshōi… (Pg. 29) Japan Master Genshin (about 1000 years ago) (942–1017): Genshin kōkai ichidaikyō… (Pg. 31) Master Hōnen (about 900 years ago) (1133–1212): Honshi Genkū* myō bukkyō… (Pg. 33) *Master Hōnen is also called “Master Genkū” ↓ Dō zoku jishu gu dōshin Yui ka shin shi kōsō setsu (Pg. 35) Master Shinran ended the Hymn of True Faith as follows: “Everyone! I want you to attain the same mind as mine and so join me, Shinran! The one thing to do is to hear and believe Amida Buddha’s Vow—there is nothing else.”