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Monthly Dharma Thoughts

How fortunate I am!


In the Kyogyoshinsho, Shinran Shonin writes, “Here, I tell myself, Gutoku Shaku no Shinran, are you not most fortunate! It is not every day that one comes across the scriptures of India and Central Asia, or the masterful commentaries of China and Japan,* but it has been your experience to encounter them. Nor is it every day that one has a chance to hear what you have been able to hear.”** What Shinran Shonin is saying is he counts himself fortunate to have been able to encounter the Buddha Dharma.

Buddhism came to Japan from India and China, crossing the desert sands from the Western regions along the Silk Road and over seas to this island strand. In order for the Buddha Dharma to reach our ears, it has required a long process fueled by the untiring efforts of countless Buddhist seekers and masters.

In an early period of transmission from India to China, scholar monks would journey from China to India in search of Dharma. The Chinese monk Yijing (d. 713), who later became an eminent Buddhist master, spent over twenty years abroad. In an account of his experiences, Yijing writes, “Many an eminent master set off from the capital Chang’an in search of Dharma. Of the one hundred strong who left, however, there were not even ten who managed to return.”*** This conveys to us the difficulty with which the Buddha Dharma was transmitted.

It is impossible to tell how many people have placed their lives on the line to transmit the Dharma to Japan. When we say the Nembutsu together as one, we must always keep in mind the untold suffering that went into making this one moment of Dharma possible. Moreover, the fact that the Nembutsu has been especially sought after and handed down as a rare find generation after generation is eloquent testimony to its role as the living teaching of the Dharma.

It was the learned Pure Land masters who pointed out the Nembutsu of Amida’s Original Vow as the way most suited for ordinary unenlightened people like us, and we remain ever grateful for their efforts. It is thanks to them that we consider ourselves most fortunate to have come across the teaching of Amida Tathagata’s Vow of Great Compassion. It is due to them that we can enjoy this moment of saying the Nembutsu together.


*Note: The kanbun elements of the original passage ‘the scriptures of . . . China and Japan’ contain the characters for east 東 (China) and west 西 (India), and sun 日 (Japan) and moon 月 (Central Asia). Taken together, they might be understood to suggest a kind of Buddhist cosmology in which Shinran Shonin located himself.

** Note: Cf. CWS (The Collected Works of Shinran) I: 4.

***Note: Yijing’s The Biographies of Eminent Monks who went to the Western Regions in Search of Dharma during the Great Tang Dynasty. For an early English translation, see J. Takakusu, trans., A Record of the Buddhist Religion as Practised in India and the Malay Archipelago (a.d. 671­695), by I-tsing, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896.