As I humbly reflect on the past [when the late Master was alive] and the present in my foolish mind, I cannot but lament the divergences from the true shinjin that he conveyed by speaking to us directly, and I fear there are doubts and confusions in the way followers receive and transmit the teaching. (A Record in Lament of Divergences, PrefaceCWS, p. 661)

The pathos of these opening words to A Record in Lament of Divergences (Tanni Sho) is palpable.

How sad that people who had received the sublime and liberating teaching of Master Shinran (1173-1263), the founder of the Jodo Shinshu School of Buddhism, could seek to spoil and derange its beauty and excellence. In so doing, erstwhile disciples of the true teaching of Pure Land Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu) would divert the attention of seekers away from the task–upheld by the bodhisattva vehicle–of becoming a Buddha through the nembutsu.

How sad that, after endless aeons of effort, the prospect of attaining birth in the Pure Land at the conclusion of this very life in the world of suffering and illusion, would be lost. How truly tragic that, having heard the gentle and luminous words of the Master, there were those who sought to advance their own purposes by trying to misrepresent the wonderful teaching that Shinran had passed on.

The kind of distorted teaching that had currency among Shinran’s fellow followers are well known.

For example, there were those who said that because Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow did not discriminate against any being at all, we could behave in whatever way we choose.

Clearly, people who thought in that way had no sense at all of the true depth of their own karmic evil. They were surely devoid of the inevitable joy and bottomless gratitude, which would follow such a realisation, as they accepted the call of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. Indeed, they could not have been people of entrusting heart (shinjin).

We know that Shinran sent his son, Zenran, to address this problem. But, instead of calling it for what it was, Zenran claimed to have received a special teaching from his father. He even went to so far as to say that the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha was a ‘withered flower’. (CWS, p. 583)

As we progress through the Tanni Sho we will feel much of the pathos that is expressed in these first few lines of the Preface. We will also contemplate the recorded words of the Master, Shinran, and explore how it might be that that this little pamphlet could guide and inspire us still.

(As foreshadowed eighteen months ago, this is the first in a series of short essays on The Tannisho.)