Travelling through life with the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho

Namo Amida Butsu
The nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu. Calligraphy by Zuiken Saizo Inagaki Sensei (1885-1981)

This is the first post in appreciation of Shinran Shonin’s great compendium of the teaching, practice and realisation of the nembutsu tradition of the Buddha Dharma. For the next year or two, I plan to share with my readers, on The Udumbara Flower, my thoughts on this wonderful work. I hope that I will be able to sustain two posts each month: one around the beginning of the month and the second a couple of weeks later.

In his sublime introduction to this book, which I will refer to as The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation, the twentieth century Dharma Master Zuiken Saizo Inagaki noted that ‘Shinran-Shonin appeared in Japan for the sake of [those bound by blind passions and karmic evil]. He founded the [school of Jodo Shinshu] as a new method in Buddhism by which the Great Nirvana could be attained. In other words, Shinran-Shonin, surveying all the fields of both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, propagated the Dharma of Amida Buddha in the form of [The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation].’

That is an accurate and succinct description. It prepares us for journey with Shinran through the life of the Buddha Dharma until its culmination in Jodo Shinshu, the true teaching of the Pure Land way.

In the English-speaking world we are truly blessed to have at least five translations of The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation. Each of them deserves our attention. It seems to me that when we study a great work like this and are not able to read the original because we have only a very weak, if any, appreciation of the original language that was used when it was first compiled (in this case, classical Chinese), the more scholarly translations that we have to hand the greater the likelihood of coming to a sound understanding.

Today, I would like to briefly introduce each of the translations that I consult.

1. The Collected Works of Shinran

My principal source for all of Shinran’s writings is The Collected Works of Shinran Vols 1 and 2, which was published in 1997 by Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha.  This is mainly a collection of many works from Shinran’s brush that had previously been published in serial fashion from 1978. This was the year that I finally left behind all other religious teachings and practices and took up exclusively the nembutsu way, having come, after a long search, to a clear understanding that there was no other spiritual option available to me as a human being.  That was a special year of joy and discovery, and the beginning of a completely new life.

The reason that I use — as my principal source — the translation of The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation, which is the first work in The Collected Works of Shinran, is that this publication was compiled and translated over twenty years by a panel of highly qualified Shin Buddhist scholars. To my mind this process of translation, especially when it is such an important masterpiece, would result in outstanding standards of reliability and trustworthiness.

2.Kyogyoshinsho: On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment by Shinran

 This translation is the work of professor emeritus of Ryukoku University, Rev Dr Hisao Inagaki. I was immensely privileged to be one of his small panel of proof-readers. This afforded the chance to ask questions of a fine scholar and to ask questions as we grappled with the suitability of the words and phrases that he selected to translate this work. I particularly like the warmth and accessibility of this translation. It reads well and is a good adjunct to the translation in The Collected Works of Shinran.

3. Shinran’s Kyogyoshinsho

This is a translation of the essential chapters of the The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation by the well-regarded and popular Zen Buddhist master Daisetz Taitaro Suzuki. Although he was mainly known for his writing on Zen – and Buddhism generally – his translation of The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation is another very readable and fine scholarly work. It often affords useful contrasts with the other translations and presents an opportunity to ponder Shinran’s teaching in a way that broadens one’s perspective in refreshing ways.

Dr Suzuki is a master of explaining the Buddha Dharma to western readers and this translation is no exception.

4. The Kyo Gyo Shin Sho

 This translation by Ryukoku University is another partial translation, which is nevertheless an excellent resource because it includes the original Chinese, a transliteration of the text and copious footnotes.

5. The Kyogyoshinsho

 This is the oldest English translation of The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation. It was the work of Kosho Yamamoto, who translated several Jodo Shinshu scriptures and a magnificent introduction to it as well. The great advantage of this work is its poetic style and the way that Professor Yamamoto uses a consistent pattern of translation. There is a warmth and personal enthusiasm about his writing that is apparent in this translation.