Rev Tairyu Furukawa
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'
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
'A deep resonance
in the depth of the ear' - the attitude of the author Yuien.
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
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).
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.
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.
mimi (ear) is also mi-mi (body in body)
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...'
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
meaning of Compassion in monastic Buddhism.
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.
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.
Dharma for the secular.
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.
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.
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.
is thus a beautiful poem in praise of ordinary people.
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.