As for me, I simply accept and entrust myself to what my revered teacher told me, ‘Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida’; nothing else is involved. (Shinran, Tannisho 2; CWS, p. 662)
As Shinran Shonin’s life progressed from that one moment in 1201, when he ‘discarded sundry practices and took refuge in the Primal Vow’, (CWS, p. 290) there was nothing left for him to do except proclaim the Name, Namo Amida Butsu, to all who would listen. Eventually, after his return from the provincial region of the Kanto to the city of Kyoto, he found time to write. And what flowed through his brush was the news of his discovery of the power of the Primal Vow.
Such a realisation meant that he had a heart that rested in the embrace of pure compassion, the Life and Light of Amida Buddha. It is this that caused him to proclaim the Dharma of the Primal Vow in writing. Life passes quickly and at a certain point it is time to record things for posterity.
The disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha passed his teaching down from generation to generation by word of mouth for several centuries. After all that time, as the age of ‘the semblance Dharma’ (CWS, p. 245 et. al.) began to dawn, they felt compelled to begin the process of recording the teachings they had received, so that people could hear the Buddha Dharma free of the distortions of human ego and self-importance. Among these scriptures is the ‘Larger Sutra’ – The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life.
For centuries, people who trusted in the teaching of the Larger Sutra, also recorded their own experience and passed it on to later generations. One such person was Shinran, who inherited the Buddha’s teaching as it had been lived and experienced by the seven Dharma Masters of the nembutsu way. Shinran was not imparting his own ideas but, as we see in the quote from the Tannisho at the beginning of this post, this message was handed down through his own living teacher, Honen Shonin.
Of all his literary endeavours, Shinran’s Hymns stand out because they actually allow the Dharma of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow to reach the ears and enter the hearts of ordinary, foolish beings like me. In his Hymns he makes clear the content of the sutra in a way that is accessible, can be heard clearly and enabled to enter our hearts and minds: thus, leading us along the path of nembutsu to our ultimate destiny.