Back to the Tannisho!

For how is entrance into the single gate of easy practice possible unless we happily come to rely on a true teacher whom conditions bring us to encounter? (CWS, p. 661)

Until about eight weeks ago I skimmed through the Tannisho (A Record in Lament of Divergences), over a number of posts, in order to highlight the writer’s disquiet about the tendency to neglect the imperative of Other Power. In the process, I fell back in love with the Tannisho.

Last week, I sought to bring to light my feeling that the most effective way of understanding the teaching of Other Power nembutsu was to seek guidance from Shinran himself. In doing this I did not mean in any way to discount the importance of other Jodo Shinshu commentators, especially Rennyo Shonin.

Rennyo’s letters, as we receive them, give a thoroughly accurate account of the teaching of Other Power shinjin. Rennyo is able to do this because he is a man of the same shinjin as Shinran. He was obviously a careful and thorough student of Shinran’s teaching.

These days, we are very privileged to have access to a reliable translation of most of Shinran’s writing and can read his teaching for ourselves. Even so, it is handy to have a relatively brief digest of his teaching. There are several candidates for this role.

The first, and most obvious among these, are Shinran’s Hymns. Indeed, my very first contact with Shinran’s own writing was his Hymns. The great advantage of the Hymns, even in translation, is that they are easy to grasp and remember. Needless to say, their meaning is also enhanced for us by Shinran’s additional notes, which are included in the translations of the Hymns, in The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol 1. The Writings (CWS), pp. 321-447.

Another brief digest of Shinran’s thought are the collections of his Letters, which deal with all of the key elements of his teaching. Quite a few of the letters relate to the doctrinal controversies that arose in the Kanto (eastern Honshu) after Shinran had returned to Kyoto.

In contrast to the Hymns and the Letters, the Tannisho is a report of Shinran’s teaching by a close disciple. The exchanges that are described in the Tannisho sometimes relate to the same controversies, which Shinran addresses in his Letters. But the strength of the Tannisho is its structure and immediacy. It is ordered into discrete discussions about particular topics. Its immediacy is evident in the close personal interaction that the author had with his teacher; and the author’s acute and accurate reports of what he heard, and the lessons that he learned.

I agree with the sentiments in the Introduction to Tannisho: A Primer (Ryukoku University, 1982) translated by Dennis Hirota:

Unlike other works by Shinran, which sectarian scholars often seem bent on making as unattractive as possible, the appeal of Tannisho is such that it transcends sectarian barriers to be widely read by those who have no knowledge of Shinran or even of Buddhism.

I will begin a more detailed exploration of the Tannisho next week and continue it for the foreseeable future.

Author: George Gatenby

George is a Shin Buddhist priest and lives in South Australia