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The Tannisho Today
Rev Tairyu Furukawa March 1996
On Meditation
Vaughan Evans May 1995
From Blood to Rocks
Geoff Carpenter March 1996
Rev John Paraskevopoulos March 1996
The Meaning of Kikyoshiki
Hongwangi International CentreSeptember 1996
The Shin Buddhist Way
Rev Jack Austin September 1996
A Sutra of Healing and Protection
Tricycle Publications March 1996
Rules for Being Human
Unknown September 1996
September 1996 Sallea Ungar
The Importance of Self Effort
Joren MacDonald September 1997
Self Power and Other Power Play Together
David Brazier
September 1997
Faith in What?
Sep 1997 Ajahn Sumedho (summerised by Max Flisher) Sep 1997
The Myokonin
Friedrich Fenzl September 1997
Toshio Murakami September 1997


Rev Tairyu Furukawa

A beautiful poem to ordinary people. Transcending time, it rings in our mind's ear.

I read the Tannisho as a beautiful poem, It is my daily morning practice to read it aloud. If only l could set it to music, then I would sing it at the top of my voice. Yuien, author of the Tannisho, wrote, 'I shall record some of the words of the late Shinran Shonin which still ring in my ears'. It is perhaps because of this that I find in the Tannisho a beautiful poem - it is really a book which derived from the deep reception in his ears. We find in the book no trace of Yuien's own view, although he was known as an 'able and eloquent' high priest.

Yuien was a treasured disciple of Shinran, the essence of whose religious teaching lay in 'Listening to the Dharma (Law)'. In the words of the Tannisho, we find a resonance in perfect accord between Shinran, master of the 'Listening to the Law', and his disciple, as if a deep communication was achieves through their simultaneous breathing in and out. Its pulse, transcending time, reaches us and rings in our mind's ear. In this lies the attraction of the Tannisho.

If we were to compare Shinran's religion with an art, it would be music. The ultimate expression of his religion lies simply in listening to the original vow of Amida Buddha. It might be better to say that it is music rather than religion.

As music does not exist without ears to hear, so the listening ears were everywhere in Shinran's religion. He maintained his attitude towards listening even in his last years, even at the age of eighty-six, when he repeated the words, 'I am listening' twice in his short text, Jinen Honi Sho (Tract of Naturalness as the Dharma).

In the Tannisho, Shinran's attitude towards listening to the Dharma is demonstrated in his declaration, 'I, Shinran do not have even one disciple of my own'.

'A deep resonance in the depth of the ear' - the attitude of the author Yuien.

What is the Original Vow (Hon Gan) then?
Gan also reads negai (prayer or wish). Negai is etymologically composed of ne (voice) and gal, which together mean 'to send voice' or 'to call with the voice' Hon Gan therefore means that sentient beings have been called by the voice of Amida Buddha who is the Original (Hon) Life.
Furthermore, if we see the relation between ear and voice, the direction of flow is from voice to ear, and yet the voice does not exist without the ear. In this sense we can say that Hon Gan does not exist without the body (here represented by the ear).

But why is it that we cannot hear Hon Gan?
Let's take the following example: we describe a dog's bark as 'wan wan' in Japanese, and 'bau bau' in Italian. But in reality the dog does not say anything - it simply makes a sound, which is neither 'wan wan' not 'bau bau', although it may sound similar. The cry of a dog exists ultimately when we 'listen'. There is no real existence in the representation, 'wan wan' or 'bau bau'. In the same way, Hon Gan is the voice which calls to all sentient beings. If we represent it in words, it may simply become the biassed view of the individual, nothing more than a noise. The real voice will have vanished.

The Tanrnsho was given substance by Yuien's single-minded attitude to listening to the Hon Gan speaking directly into his mind, into the depths of his ear, without any intermediate interpretation. It is because of this that the Tannisho can be called a poem.

For Shinran, mimi (ear) is also mi-mi (body in body)

Shinran says in the second paragraph of the Tannisho, 'If the Original Vow of Amida is true, then Sakyamuni's sermons cannot be untrue'. We can see here the fundamental attitude of Shinran as a seeker of the Way which is to listen to the Original Vow.
The above phrase means, 'Heaven has no mouth; it lets the people speak. We do not, however, have the ears with which to listen to the voice of this heaven which 'lets people speak'; as a result, what Shinran meant to say, and simply feel it too abrupt when we hear his words, 'If the Original Vow of Amida is true...'

But Shinran had ears to listen to the voice of Heaven. He could listen to the Original Vow which let Sakyamuni and Zendo (613-681, one of the Chinese teachers of Pure Land teaching admired by Shinran) speak.

It was because the body of Shinran was like one totally receptive ear. The 'ear' (mimi) is the 'body in body' or 'substance in body' (mi-mi) Yuien's 'deep ear- reception' (jitei) was also nothing but his mi-mi (body in body)

The meaning of Compassion in monastic Buddhism.
The main stream of Buddhism had been monastic until Shinran established domestic Buddhism. There is not space here to discuss in detail the difference between monastic and domestic. I will simply quote an episode which I hope will throw light on Shinran's domestic Buddhism. It is an episode about the old master Kazan.

One day, the old master was on his round begging for alms, leading his six disciples. When they came to an upward slope, they saw a cart at a standstill, piled high with a heavey load. Kato Osho, one of the disciples, left the line without thinking and pushed the back of the cart.' Upon this, the old master'...immediately turned on his heel, and went back to the monastery alone. He then gave an order through an attendant that Kato should leave the monastery. Expulsion from the monastery was the ultimate penalty. Not only Kato, but all the disciples were extremely worried.

This episode indicates that in order to attain the compassion of a Bodhisattva you must cast off secular love and do zazen (sitting meditation). If the essence of monastic Buddhism is characterised by the above example of refraining from helping to push the cart, then the essence of domestic Buddhism lies in pushing the cart.

Even so, if it is only a matter of pushing the cart, it is nothing but secular love, and cannot be the Compassion of the Pure Land. Therefore the Tannisho instructs us to, 'Become a Buddha quickly through the Nembutsu and benefit all sentient beings with Buddha's great Compassion and Mercy'. This means that we should do Nembutsu (Mompo - 'listening to the Dharma') but without abandoning the pushing of the cart.

To sum up, it could be said that in Zen, we address ourselves thoroughly to the study of koan (questions), casting the problem of the cart aside, whereas in the Pure Land tradition, we do Nembutsu while pushing the cart as one of our koan.

The Dharma for the secular.
Today, the world is unnecessarily busy and noisy, and we are pushed day and night by the current of the times, the so-called high-rate economic growth and the programme of scientific technologies and the like. We might think that because of this a story of such an austere Buddhist practice (refraining from expressions of love such as pushing a cart) seems refreshing, and that this should be the proper image of a Buddhist to be pursued in such times.

Such a practice in reality would be too splendidly isolated for a lay person to follow. It can only be admired. However, we should not give up, since there should be a religious way of salvation even for the multitude of ordinary peo-ple who cannot sustain any austere practice. Ordinary people will not be able to go through the hard practice of monastic Buddhism, though it seems like a pure stream. They will not be able to reach the pure water in the unexpected valley.

On the other hand, the Nembutsu is the stream of Dharma whose water we can instantly reach, like the pure stream of a small river running through a village.

The Tannisho is widely read today. It may be because the book shows the Dharma to those people who can neither help to push the cart, nor even, like the carter himself, escape their secular life.

Whatever the answer may be, the water of the Dhanna which runs in the Tannisho will never be tainted. It is because this pure stream is the Dharma for domestic Buddhism which Shinran described as 'Hi so, hi zoku' ('Neither a priest nor a layman').

If I had been the old master Kazan and had seen the cart, I would have scolded the five remaining disciples who assumed an indifferent attitude to-wards the cart, towards the reality in front of their very eyes.

The Tannisho is thus a beautiful poem in praise of ordinary people.

This article first appeared, with the Author's permission, in PLN 6, March 1996. Republished here in agreement with the compiler/editor of the inaugurate hard copy Journal. The Author, any person or any organisation credited, quoted or connected with this article are cordially invited to contact me with any comments, amendments, fresh contributions or complaints. email me



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