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

Shozomatsu Wasan 88

Prince Shotoku, the word saviour of great love,
Stays close to us, like a father;
Avalokiteshvara, the world saviour of great compassion,
Stays close to us like a mother.

The World Saviour

I think that Shinran's special perspective in this verse comes from his experience during the hundred day retreat at Rokkakudo, which is said to have been built by Prince Shotoku (524-621). Shotoku played a prominent role in the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. Avalokiteshvara is enshrined there and, appearing in the form of Shotoku, guided Shinran to Honen Shonin. Nevertheless, Shinran continues to emphasise Shotoku's importance to the world at large. In doing this, he implies that we ought to consider Shotoku's broader relevance and the legacy that he has left for the whole human species.

This implied perspective is to be found in the Hymns in Praise of Prince Shotoku1. These verses contain strong references to the Temple of the Four Deva-Kings (shitennoji), which was another of Shotoku's principal public works. Indeed, the importance of the Four Deva-Kings originally derived from the Vow of Queen Shrimala. Readers will remember that Shinran supported the view that Shotoku had been Queen Shrimala in a previous life. From Queen Shrimala, a lineage of transmission of the dharma to Japan is proposed. It seems obvious that Shotoku built the Temple of the Four Deva-Kings as a way of marking the completion of the arduous task to transmit the dharma from India to Japan - and on to the wider world!

There are two aspects of Prince Shotoku's Constitution that have broad relevance to all of us. The first of these is the second article of the Constitution. This article uses the universal reach of Buddhism as evidence for its virtue.

The three treasures, Buddha, dharma and sangha, are the final refuge for [all beings], and are the supreme objects of faith in all countries.

Then, the tenth article includes these immortal words:

We should abandon wrath and refrain from an angry demeanour. Let us not be resentful when others differ from us. Everyone has a heart, and each heart has its own preferences. His right is my wrong; my right is his wrong. We are not unquestionably wise, nor are they unquestionably stupid. Both of us are just ordinary men. How can any one lay down a rule by which to distinguish right from wrong? We are all, one with another, wise and foolish, like a ring which has no end.

1. CWS, p. 433ff.

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