Rare is it to come upon the sacred scriptures from the westward land of India and the commentaries of the masters of China and Japan, but now I have been able to encounter them. Rare is it to hear them, but already I have been able to hear. Reverently entrusting myself to the teaching, practice and realisation that are the true essence of the Pure Land way, I am especially aware of the profundity of the Tathagata’s benevolence. Here I rejoice in what I have heard and extol what I have attained.
(Shinran, Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, Preface)
With these words, Shinran Shonin concludes the Preface to his wonderful and luminous anthology of Pure Land scriptures and commentaries, the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho.
These words also set the tone for this new series of posts under the general title of The Udumbara Flower. The Udumbara is the name of a legendary fig tree which is said to flower only once in every three thousand years. So too, in Shinran’s view, is it rare to come upon the scriptures and commentaries of the Pure Land way.
These words also remind us that in this new blog, we will turn our gaze towards the sages of our tradition; mainly the Masters of our school whose wisdom and insight makes up the bulk of Shinran’s collection of quotations.
I cannot claim to be either an academic or a scholar but I do think that I have been blessed by a series of events that have brought the spiritual riches of Shinran’s Kyo Gyo Shin Sho before me since about 1978. One October evening of that year I read the enthusiastic introduction to it by the Reverencd Saizo Inagaki (Zuiken).
Because I was captivated by Zuiken Sensei’s fervent advocacy for the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho it eventually became a constant companion, as it still is – the more so, since full and quality translations began to appear from the presses of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha.
I am lucky, because instead of being told, as seems so often to be the case, that the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho is ‘too difficult for an ordinary person’, Zuiken’s enthusiasm was contagious. So the book has become a wonderful source of listening (chomon) for a relatively isolated person like me, who does not have ready access to a large Shin Buddhist temple or community.
Zuiken’s encouragement was reinforced at tokudo, when we were presented with a copy of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, almost as though it was a handbook for living, as — indeed — it has proven to be.
The Kyo Gyo Shin Sho is, in fact, just as Shinran describes it in its full title: A Collection of Passages Revealing the True Teaching, Practice and Realisation of the Pure Land Way (Ken jodo shinjitsu kyo gyo sho monrui). The passages referred to in the title make up the vast bulk of the book, and are quotations from the Sutras and the Commentaries of the Masters.
As he presents them to us, Shinran delves into the depths of their meaning and brings the light of the Buddha into brilliant relief from them, making it clear that the scriptures delivered by Shakyamuni Buddha, and the commentaries of the Masters of India, China and Japan reveal the working–in the world, in history and in our lives–of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.
In this blog, we will listen to Shakyamuni Buddha, the Pure Land Masters, and Shinran.