Yamamoto Sensei – some more thoughts

Readers will know that I have written about a pioneer Shin Buddhist ambassador to the English-speaking world, the Reverend Professor Kosho Yamamoto, who – at one stage – taught at the University of Hawaii. Unfortunately there is no public information about his biography. Even the dates of his birth and death are not publicly known. But I have been reflecting again on his work and thought that, this week, I would enumerate seven more reasons for my undying admiration of this remarkable man.

I. Yamamoto Sensei was a true teacher of the Dharma.

Professor Yamamoto published a large number of volumes that taught and praised the Dharma of Amida Buddha. He seems to have owned the company (‘The Karinbunko’) that published his books.

But the principal purport of all that he wrote was to encourage his readers to hear and accept the call of the Primal Vow in Namo Amida Butsu. That is the mark of a true teacher of the Dharma. It is modelled on the life and motivation of Shinran Shonin.

II. Yamamoto Sensei was filled with joy of the Dharma.

Once one gets used to his idiosyncratic writing style it is clear that its lilting eccentricity is redolent with boundless joy. For him, presenting the Dharma was a source of true joy and delight.  It was never a burden.

When you read his translations and glossaries, it becomes evident that he is motivated by a boundless love that cannot be contained.

III. Yamamoto Sensei loved the Dharma in all its forms.

It is clear from his writing that he had a broad and deep interest in Buddhism as a whole. He admired other scholars, and rather than entering into a competition and arguments with them, he was always ready to learn from others. In a couple of his books he tells the stories of his own Buddhist heroes, whatever school of Buddhism they followed.

IV. He was unapologetic about his determination to spread the Dharma.

Yamamoto Sensei was an ‘other-focused’ person. He tells the stories of other Buddhist lives, and he translated scriptures rather than promote his own story. He was clearly an outgoing personality who was fascinated by the contours of the Dharma in all its forms. It seems that he loved to be with other people – especially fellow Buddhists – and to report the extraordinary wonder of their discipleship of the Dharma.

V. He was unrelenting in his efforts to promote the teaching of Jodo Shinshu.

I have heard at second-hand that many people tried is dissuade Yamamoto Sensei from teaching the Dharma. My understanding is that that this was largely because even his supporters despaired at what they saw as his poor grasp of English. Needless to say, he also had strong support from many well-wishers and friends, including his Buddhist school of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha and its Abbot (Gomonshu).

Although he had published a digest in English of the official collection of Jodo Shinshu scriptures (Shinshu Seiten) he went on to expand the detail by publishing a complete translation of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, Shinran Shonin’s, compendium and treatise on the traditional Pure Land scriptures. To do this, he interrupted his work in translating the prodigious Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra. While he was working on the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, however, he developed a painful neurological disorder, which made the task extremely difficult. Undaunted – and with the help of his family and friends – he completed this wonderful endeavour, with its deep and priceless glossary and its summary of the Jodo Shinshu teaching.

VI. He double checked the soundness of his teaching.

One of his finest works is an introduction to Shin Buddhism. It is an elegant and comprehensive work. But, in spite of his own scholarship, he checked the soundness of its content with other masters of the teaching and other scholars.

VII. He was deeply loyal to his religious tradition.

By ‘religious tradition’ I mean the branch of Jodo Shinshu that he belonged to – Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha. He revered the Abbot as its leader and he adored the work of its fellow followers, thinkers and teachers.

All of these characteristics of this great man suggest that Yamamoto Sensei was a soundly-based, trustworthy and compassionate teacher.