Kyoshin of Kako

I am now neither a monk nor one in worldly life. For this reason, I have taken the term ‘Toku’ (stubble haired) as my name. – (Shinran, Kyo Gyo Shin Sho VI, 117)

I follow the example of shami Kyoshin – (Shinran, Gaijasho)

blog-25.04.16One of my favourite Dharma Masters is Kyoshin who lived in Kako, a village in present-day Hyogo.  I first learned about this remarkable man of nembutsu in Shinran in the Contemporary World, which was first published by the Hongwanji International Center in 1973 and again in 1979. It is not out of print! We still have two fresh copies in our Dojo bookstore!

I found the book particularly appealing because it presented the nembutsu way as essentially a personal choice that was based on one’s own self-awareness, granted by the light and Name of Amida Buddha. This is consistent with Shinran’s sense that the nembutsu had been devised especially for him alone.

When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realise that it was entirely for my sake alone! Then how I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma. (Shinran, Tanni Sho, Postscript)

We are told that Shinran especially admired Kyoshin of Kako and saw him as a model person of nembutsu. Living about four centuries before Shinran, Kyoshin died in 866. His adult life began as a well-regarded scholar monk at Kofukuji in Nara. We know about him from an anonymous record, which gives a brief account of his life after the monastery.

Kyoshin, who settled in Kako, built no fence to the west: toward the Land of Bliss the gate lay open. Nor, befittingly, did he enshrine an image of worship; he kept no sacred books.  In appearance not a monk nor yet worldly, he faced the west always, saying the nembutsu, and was like one to whom all else was forgotten.  (Plain Words on the Pure Land Way, 98)

Kyoshin married and made his living by serving as a luggage-porter for travellers. Perhaps, such a life of single-minded nembutsu could be said to be the way of adoration and beatitude given by Amida Buddha: a life of entrusting heart. His nembutsu, isami-no-nembutsu, an expression of thanksgiving that seeks nothing, asks nothing — ‘courageous’ nembutsu. Certainly, the fact that Shinran so admired Kyoshin and his way of life suggests that Shinran recognised in him the heart and mind given by Amida, which he also shared with his teacher, Honen Shonin.

A disciple of Shinran, Ren’i, once wrote to him about another disciple, Kakushin-bo, in these terms:

His shinjin was truly splendid — so splendid and enviable that it reminds me of Shan-tao’s parable of the two rivers (Lamp for the Latter Ages, 14)

Kyoshin, Shinran and Kakushin-bo all seem to me to be true people of nembutsu. It is not so much that they needed to adopt Kyoshin’s life-style, as the fact that they had no thought of following any other way. They accepted without any misgiving the working of Amida Buddha’s boundless compassion and were unstintingly grateful for it. They followed the way of nembutsu with single-minded dedication.

In addition Kyoshin and Shinran also lived ordinary domestic lives, because nothing is needed as the way out of samsara other than Namu-amida-butsu.