Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism


(Rennyo Shonin's Goichidaiki-kikigaki)
Translation by Zuio Hisao Inagaki
Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, Romania 2008

Rennyo Shonin is such a towering figure for Jodo Shinshu Buddhists. We revere him as the 'second founder' of Jodo Shinshu in the sense that he held the early Shinshu organization together, but more importantly because of his accessible restatement of the teachings of Shinran Shonin. His collected letters transmit his understanding and are familiar to all Jodo Shinshu Buddhists. Close reading of his letters reveals the breadth and depth of his shinjin. The letters, while seemingly simple, are in fact subtle and deep, constructed with great and compassionate care. This reveals something of the nature of the author, but the less of the character of Rennyo the man. His early life was spent in great poverty and he was not the obvious choice for the leadership position he was entrusted with, but he successfully led the small but growing organization he inherited in both the worldly and spiritual sense into old age. While there exist a variety of Japanese sources which tell more of Rennyo, to my knowledge none have been easily accessible to the English speaker until now.

What then of the content of the book? It consists of 314 brief passages, each only one or a few paragraphs in length. The majority of the passages record the words or deeds of Rennyo Shonin; some record the deeds or words of his contemporaries and associates - mainly members of his family. For most passages no context is needed or given, but the translator provides brief explanatory notes where necessary. There is no overarching theme or argument presented: it is not that kind of book. The teachings emerge as perhaps they were given by Rennyo, as more or less spontaneous expressions of his shinjin. As in his letters there is a patient repetition of the heart of the matter and if one is familiar with his letters the teachings are familiar.

'... The Other-Power teaching is that at the moment a single thought of entrusting arises in your mind, you are immediately saved. The nembutsu you say after that is simply to repeat, 'Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu...' joyfully with a thought of gratitude that you have been saved..' p23

As is also clear from his letters, Rennyo Shonin's priority at all times was to try to ensure that all he came in contact with had settled faith.

'...Be ready to give yourself up if it is for the sake of making one person attain shinjin. Your selfless effort will not be unrewarded.' p69

'... Whatever I hear, nothing pleases me. I wish to hear that someone has acquired shinjin ...' p91

Again, as in the letters, he was critically concerned that priests transmit the true teachings.

'A preacher should first be settled in shinjin and then study and explain the teachings to others. If he does so, his audience will attain shinjin.' p32

Priests, though, are bonbu like everyone else.

'The Shonin said to the priests, "Priests are doers of great evils." Hearing this everyone was dismayed. The Shonin continued, "Since their karmic evil is great, Amida Tathagata seeks to save them." ' p123

I could go on and expand on passage after passage, but this book deserves to be taken in as a whole. The sum of the book does bring one closer to Rennyo the man; there are glimpses of his private and public personas, but what has been preserved is no doubt a selective view. More importantly though, there is the reiteration of Rennyo Shonin's teachings. What is presented in this work does not go beyond what he gives us in his letters - it doesn't need to. There is no secret teaching, just the patient explanation in various forms of the teaching passed on from Shinran Shonin's teacher, Honen Shonin. 'Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida. Nothing else is required.'

This volume is gratefully received. An inexpensive but well produced paperback it is a testament to the well known scholarship and wisdom of the translator, Professor Zuio Hisao Inagaki, and the commitment and energy of the force behind Dharma Lion Publications, Rev. Josho Adrian Cirlea.

- Mark Healsmith

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