The Way of Jodo Shinshu
Reflections on the Hymns of Shinran Shonin

Jodo Wasan 96

Amida Tathagata came forth and guided beings,
Teaching the 'Chapter on Life-span'
In the Sutra of Golden Splendour
In order to end calamities and ensure long life.

The Sutra of Golden Splendour

This is the first of fifteen verses, which celebrate the benefits that beings receive in their present life as a result of entrusting themselves to the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha in his Name. The first two verses (Jodo Wasan 96 & 97) are concerned with the amelioration of calamity. The next two verses (98 & 99) celebrate the power of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha to overcome our karmic evil. And the remaining eleven verses (100 - 110) proclaim the benefit of being protected by gods and Buddhas.

Almost all of the hymns in the three collections (Sanjo Wasan) are renderings of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho into accessible form for people who cannot read the scholarly Chinese of that work. Indeed, while the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho is a vast and comprehensive compendium of Pure Land teaching - including Shinran Shonin's commentary - the hymns cover the same ground with clarity and simplicity. The Hymns on Benefits in the Present are no different. But they do not necessarily match specific passages from the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho. Nevertheless, Shinran does sum up benefits in the present life in the third chapter, On True Shinjin of the Pure Land Way.

  1. The benefit of being protected and sustained by unseen powers.
  2. The benefit of being possessed of supreme virtues.
  3. The benefit of our karmic evil being transformed into good.
  4. The benefit of being protected and cared for by all the Buddhas.
  5. The benefit of being praised by all the Buddhas.
  6. The benefit of being constantly protected by the light of the Buddha's heart.
  7. The benefit of having great joy in our hearts.
  8. The benefit of being aware of Amida's benevolence and of responding in gratitude to his virtue.
  9. The benefit of constantly practicing great compassion.
  10. The benefit of entering the stage of the truly settled.1

There is no quotation from the Sutra of Golden Splendour in the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho. So the reference here is unusual. It was also delivered by four Buddhas, not Amida Buddha alone. But, according to Shinran it was Amida Buddha who stood forth in his compassion to proclaim the chapter on Measurement of Life, the heart of the sutra. This is because Amida Buddha is the original Buddha and teacher of all Buddhas throughout the universe.2

If we are to understand the last line of this verse, which proclaims protection from calamities and the assurance of a long life, we only need to understand the lived experience of Tanluan, the third Dharma Master of the way of Jodo Shinshu.

Before Tanluan converted to the Buddha Dharma through the guidance of the central Asian Buddhist missionary Bodhiruchi, he was a follower of Taoism. He suffered from fragile health and wanted to master techniques for extending his life indefinitely. But when he met Bodhiruchi he converted to Buddhism because he saw the futility of seeking a longer life in the realm of birth-and-death (samsara), the falsity of Taoist practice in that regard and the wisdom of being born in the Pure Land and becoming a Buddha.

This is the meaning of 'ending calamities and ensuring long life' in the Pure Land tradition. In this life we remain subject to old age, sickness and death. But people see these 'calamities' differently when they have accepted the way of nembutsu. They enter the compassionate embrace of Amida Buddha and glean the capacity to live this current life to the full, until its natural culmination at birth in the Pure Land.

1: CWS, p.112

2: Jodo Wasan, 88; CWS, p. 349

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