It is the heart that seeks refuge in Amida even once,
That treads the path of full accord with True Dharma.
If deeply evil-encumbered beings desire to seek refuge in Tathagata,
Go westward exclusively to the power of the Dharma.
If the Heart has settled on the path to hear the Dharma,
For a certainty it will recite ‘Namo Amida Butsu’.
These are the words of Rennyo Shonin quoted in a letter called On a Hymn in Three Verses.
Because 14 May is the annual observance of Rennyo Shonin’s memorial, I wanted to pay tribute to him in this post. For he is such a wonderful Dharma teacher and I owe him so much that there is never any repaying of it.
The reason for this is the fact that, for many years, the five-fascicle collection of his letters (Gobunsho) was my constant companion. I read them in a translation included in Shinshu Seiten, Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Teaching, which was published by the Buddhist Churches of America in 1978. I understand that the translation was the work of the devoted American Shinshu follower, Elson B Snow.
The collection of Rennyo’s letters in this translation nurtured my spiritual life at a particularly busy time, when I had no opportunity to formally attend to morning and evening observances in a more traditional way. I am not alone in regard to holding Rennyo’s letters in high esteem. Millions of nembutsu people have cherished them throughout the last five hundred years, and millions continue to love them still.
This letter–On a Hymn in Three Verses–is particularly poignant. Although it was written about twenty-two years before Rennyo died, he reflects on impermanence and the passage of time, and that leads him to remind us of the need to find deliverance from birth-and-death in the present.
The letter opens with these words:
Autumn is over and spring is past. In the passing of time, yesterday and today are gone. Unaware I have become old.
Rennyo’s reflections on the real state of things lead him to realise just what it is that is the most important thing in our lives:
Thus when I deeply consider my state where, thus far, not having been called by the fierce and violent winds of uncertainty and being lulled into believing that I shall exist forever, I discover that my life is actually only a dream and something very ephemeral in nature. There is nothing left but to aspire for the way to find deliverance.
Thus, when I hear that there is the Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata that will easily deliver sentient beings like us of this evil world of the Closing Third Era, I truly feel hopeful and deeply grateful.
He goes on to reflect on his own life and the wonder of the power of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. He then explains why he wrote the three verses:
In the gratefulness that I feel for the wonderful singular teachings of the Primal Vow, I completely forgot myself and have composed the above.
The message of his little poem is perfect, clear and easy to understand. It tells us to entrust ourselves to Amida, and say the nembutsu.
Namo Amida Butsu