The sacred scriptures should be read …

[Regular updates will resume from 10 June 2019]

Rennyo Shonin once said, ‘The scroll of the sacred object of reverence should be kept hanging until it wears away; the sacred scriptures should be read over and over again until they become threadbare.’ (Thus have I heard from Rennyo Shonin, 5; tr. Hisao Inagaki)

 I have heard it said, ‘Constantly dredge out the channel of entrusting heart (shinjin) and let the water of Amida’s Dharma flow freely. (Gobunsho 1.16)

These sayings of Rennyo Shonin remind all people of nembutsu to keep on reading and studying the sacred scriptures until the volumes fall apart from constant use. He was not addressing learned scholars but ordinary people, like you and me: people who struggle and work for a living at every conceivable occupation – sales people, marketing people, farmers, doctors, fishers, hunters, military personnel – the list is endless. The Dharma is always delightful. We do not really need much encouragement to read and study it throughout our lives.

The scriptures include the Three Pure Land Sutras, the writings of the seven dharma masters, Shinran Shonin, Rennyo Shonin and many others whose work has come to be revered and studied by people of nembutsu. Some choose a single text to guide them through their lives. A popular example is The Tanni Sho. Shinran especially composed the three volumes of Hymns (wasan) as the vehicle to convey the full significance of the Pure Land teaching. We do not really need anything more than this.

Shinran’s first and major work, the The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation (usually known simply as the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho) is not for everyone and there is no reason why it must be. Nevertheless, the American Shin Buddhist devotee and scholar, the late Rev Dr Alfred Bloom, suggested, rightly, I think, that some people would warm to it and adopt it as their favourite spiritual resource.

In the English-speaking world we are truly blessed to have at least five translations of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho. 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 cannot read the language of its composition (in this case, classical Chinese), the more scholarly translations that we can consult the greater the likelihood of coming to a sound understanding.

Here is a list of my suggestions.

1. The Collected Works of Shinran, published by Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha

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.

The Kyo Gyo Shin Sho is the first book in this collection. The reason that I use this translation as my principal source is that it 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.

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

Published by the Numata Centre for Translation and Research, this translation is the work of professor emeritus of Ryukoku University, Rev Dr Hisao Inagaki. 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.

  1. Shinran’s Kyogyoshinsho tr. D.T. Suzuki

This is a translation of the essential chapters of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho 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 Kyo Gyo Shin Sho 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 was a master of explaining the Buddha Dharma to western readers and this translation is no exception.

  1. 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.

  1. The Kyogyoshinsho, tr. Kosho Yamamoto

 This is the oldest English translation of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho. 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.

It seems to me that, before too long, anyone who does feel inclined to make Shinran’s Kyo Gyo Shin Sho their primary spiritual resource will find that its ultimate origin is, indeed, the Buddha of inconceivable light.