Master T’zu-min

Sainenji (Photo courtesy of Mark Healsmith)

Master T’zu-min was born in 680, a year before the parinirvana of Shan-tao, the fifth Dharma Master in the Jodo Shinshu teaching lineage. The seven enlightened sages that make up our spiritual heritage were revered by Shinran Shonin who adopted the dharma, which they revealed, because each contributed his wisdom and insight to the development and continuity of the true teaching of the Pure Land way.

Like the great monk-traveller and pilgrim Xuanzang before him, Master T’zu-min, or Jimin as his name is pronounced in Japanese, travelled to India to seek Buddhist sacred texts. But he also endeavoured to carry — to the land of Shakyamuni Buddha’s birth –, the most sublime of all gifts, the Pure Land teaching itself. In 719 he returned with many Sanskrit texts and a collection of Buddhist images.

T’zu-min wrote a hymn on the Sutra of the Samadhi of All Buddhas’ Presence. In the Pure Land tradition, this sutra is especially significant because it includes an account of how the enlightened sages (bodhisattvas mahasattvas) of ancient times would see Amida Buddha and receive his teaching (ET, II. III. p. 18). Of course, although a wise monk, T’zu-min would not have claimed such spiritual capacity for himself. But Amida Buddha gave us his Name – Namu-amida-butsu – and in this way we, too, foolish beings, beset with the blind passions, can also hear the call of Amida Buddha.

Therefore, in his hymns according to the Sutra of the Samadhi of All Buddhas’ Presence Tz’u-min calls upon us to take up the way of the nembutsu. No doubt this was also his vocation and mission in India. As Master Shan-tao’s teaching was spreading through east Asia, Tz’u-min called upon all people to gather together for times of nembutsu.

Those gathered in the dharma-hall today!
You have all passed in birth-and-death for kalpas countless as the sands of the Ganges.

Considering then this human existence – hard is it to obtain;
It is like the blossoming of the udumbara. (CWS, p. 41)

To hear and — even more – to gather with dharma friends to take up the nembutsu is very rare indeed. For the udumbara is a fig tree, and for a fig tree to flower before bearing fruit is almost unheard of.

Truly we have come now to hear the Pure Land teaching so rare to encounter;
Truly we have encountered the opening of the dharma-gate of the nembutsu.

Truly we have encountered the call of Amida’s universal Vow;
Truly we have encountered the gathering’s aspiration in shinjin.

Truly we have come today to praise the nembutsu in accord with the sutra;
Truly we have come to pledge to be born on the high lotus dais.

Truly we have encountered no evil spirits in the hall of the dharma;
Truly we have all been able to come here free of sickness.

Truly we have encountered the fulfillment of the virtue of seven-days’ nembutsu;
The Forty-eight Vows will unfailingly take us to the Pure Land. (CWS, p. 41)

Finally, unlike many other religious teachings, T’zu-min has seen from the sutras that in the way of nembutsu there is not a shred of discrimination of any kind. All are equal upon the way. The nembutsu is a true and universal teaching.

Not discriminating at all between the poor and the rich and wellborn,
Not discriminating between the inferior and the highly gifted;

Not choosing the learned and those upholding pure precepts,
Not rejecting those who break precepts and whose evil karma is profound. (CWS, p. 42)