Lamp for the Latter Ages (Mattosho)

[1 Concerning Thought and No-thought]

The idea of Amida's coming at the moment of death is for those who seek to gain birth in the Pure Land by doing various practices, for they are practicers of self-power. The moment of death is of central concern to such people, for they have not yet attained true shinjin. We may also speak of Amida's coming at the moment of death in the case of those who, though they have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses throughout their lives, encounter a teacher in the hour of death and are led at the very end to utter the nembutsu.

The practicer of true shinjin, however, abides in the stage of the truly settled, for he or she has already been grasped, never to be abandoned. There is no need to wait in anticipation for the moment of death, no need to rely on Amida's coming. At the time shinjin becomes settled, birth too becomes settled; there is no need for the deathbed rites that prepare one for Amida's coming.

"Right-mindedness," then, is the settling of the shinjin of the universal Primal Vow. Because of the realization of this shinjin, a person necessarily attains the supreme nirvana. Shinjin is the mind that is single; the mind that is single is the diamondlike mind; the diamondlike mind is the mind aspiring for great enlightenment; and this is Other Power that is true Other Power.

There are, in addition, two other types of right-mindedness: that achieved through meditative and that through nonmeditative practices. These are right-mindedness of self-power within Other Power. The terms "meditative good" and "nonmeditative good" are used with reference to birth through various practices and indicate the good practices of self-power within Other Power.

Without awaiting Amida's coming, the practicer of self-power will not attain birth even into the borderland, or the womblike birth, or the realm of indolence. For this reason Amida created the Nineteenth Vow, vowing to appear at the moment of death to welcome people who wish to attain birth by directing the merit of their accumulated good toward the Pure Land. Thus, it is the person endeavoring in meditative or nonmeditative practices who must be concerned about awaiting the moment of death and attaining birth through Amida's coming.

The shinjin of the selected Primal Vow has nothing to do with either "thought" or "no-thought." "Thought" refers to meditation on the color and form of an object; "no-thought" means that no form is conceived and no color visualized, so that there is no thought whatever. These are both teachings of the Path of Sages. The Path of Sages comprises teachings that people who have already attained Buddhahood preach in order to encourage us; it includes such schools as the Busshin, Shingon, Tendai, Kegon, and Sanron, which are said to be the ultimate developments of the Mahayana. The Busshin school is the presently growing Zen school. There are also the accommodated Mahayana and the Hinayana teachings, such as the Hosso, Jojitsu, and Kusha. These are all teachings of the Path of Sages. "Accommodated teachings" are those that Buddhas and bodhisattvas, who have already attained Buddhahood, promote by temporarily manifesting themselves in various forms; this is the meaning of the word "accommodated."

The Pure Land teaching also includes doctrines of "thought" and "no-thought," although here "thought" refers to nonmeditative good and "no-thought" to meditative good. "No-thought" in the Pure Land school, then, is quite different from that of the Path of Sages. "No-thought" of the Path of Sages also includes a doctrine of "thought" as visualization. Please ask someone about the full implications of this.

In the Pure Land teaching there are the true and the provisional. The true is the selected Primal Vow. The provisional teaches the good of meditative and nonmeditative practices. The selected Primal Vow is the true essence of the Pure Land way; good practices, whether meditative or nonmeditative, are provisional ways. The true essence of the Pure Land way is the consummation of Mahayana Buddhism; the provisional gateways of expedience include the other Mahayana and the Hinayana teachings, accommodated and real.

The teachers of Sakyamuni numbered one hundred and ten; this is stated in the Garland Sutra.


Kencho 3 [1251], Intercalary ninth month, 20th day


Age 79

[2 Response to an Inquiry from the Nembutsu People of Kasama]

According to Shin Buddhism, there are two kinds of people who seek birth in the Pure Land: those of Other Power and those of self-power. This has been taught by the Indian masters and Pure Land teachers.

Self-power is the effort to attain birth, whether by invoking the names of Buddhas other than Amida and practicing good acts other than the nembutsu, in accordance with your particular circumstances and opportunities; or by endeavoring to make yourself worthy through mending the confusion in your acts, words, and thoughts, confident of your own powers and guided by your own calculation.

Other Power is the entrusting of yourself to the Eighteenth among Amida Tathagata's Vows, the Primal Vow of birth through the nembutsu, which Amida selected and adopted from among all other practices. Since this is the Vow of Tathagata, Honen said: "In Other Power, no working is true working." "Working" [that is negated] is a term connoting calculation. Since the calculation of the person seeking birth is self-power, it is "working." Other Power is entrusting ourselves to the Primal Vow and our birth becoming firmly settled; hence it is altogether without one's own working. Thus, on the one hand, you should not be anxious that Tathagata will not receive you because you do wrong. A foolish being is by nature possessed of blind passions, so you must recognize yourself as a being of karmic evil. On the other hand, you should not think that you deserve to attain birth because you are good. You cannot be born into the true and real fulfilled land through such self-power calculation. I have been taught that with shinjin of self-power a person can attain birth only in the realm of indolence, the borderland, the womb-palace, or the city of doubt.

Through the fulfillment of the Eighteenth Primal Vow, Bodhisattva Dharmakara has become Amida Tathagata, and the benefit that surpasses conceptual understanding has come to transcend all bounds; to express this, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu uses the words, "Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters." Truly know, therefore, that without any differentiation between people good and bad, and regardless of one's having a heart of blind passions, all beings are certain to attain birth. Describing the manner of entrusting in the nembutsu of the Primal Vow, Genshin, Master of Eshin-in, states in his Essentials for Attaining Birth: "It makes no difference whether you are walking, standing still, sitting, or reclining, nor is there a choice to be made among times, places, or other circumstances." He affirms beyond question that the person who has attained true shinjin has been grasped by the compassionate light. And so, Sakyamuni has taught, at the very moment that we, possessed of ignorance and blind passions, are born into the Pure Land of peace, we attain the supreme fruit of Buddhahood.

Yet, it is very rare that people of this corrupt world of the five defilements embrace the teaching of the one Buddha, Sakyamuni, alone, and for this reason all the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters, countless as the sands of the Ganges, have become witnesses to the attainment of birth through the nembutsu that embodies Amida's Primal Vow; this Master Shan-tao has written in his commentary. He explains that Sakyamuni, Amida, and the Buddhas of the ten quarters, all with the same mind, are no more apart from sentient beings of the nembutsu than shadows from things. Hence it is that Sakyamuni rejoices in persons of shinjin, saying, "They are my true companions." Persons of shinjin are the true disciples of the Buddha; they are the ones who abide in right-mindedness. Since they have been grasped never to be abandoned, they are said to have attained the diamondlike mind. They are called "the best among the best," "excellent persons" "wondrous, excellent persons," "the very finest persons," "rare persons." Such people have become established in the stage of the truly settled and are declared, therefore, to be the equal of Maitreya Buddha. This means that since they have realized true shinjin, they will necessarily be born in the true and real fulfilled land. You should know that this shinjin is bestowed through the compassionate means of Sakyamuni, Amida, and all the Buddhas in the ten quarters. Therefore you should not disparage the teachings of other Buddhas or the people who perform good acts other than nembutsu. Neither should you despise those who scorn and slander people of nembutsu; rather, you should have compassion and care for them. This was Honen's teaching.


The depth of the Buddha's benevolence is such that even with birth in the realm of indolence and pride, the borderland, the city of doubt or the womb-palace, which is brought about only through the compassion revealed in Amida's Nineteenth and Twentieth Vows, we meet with a happiness that surpasses understanding. Thus the depth of the Buddha's benevolence is without bound. But how much more should we realize the benevolence of the Buddha with birth into the true and real fulfilled land and attainment of the enlightenment of the supreme nirvana. This is not a matter that Shoshin-bo or I have decided ourselves. Not in any way at all.

Kencho 7 [1255], Tenth month, 3rd day

Gutoku Shinran

Written at age 83


Since those who have realized shinjin necessarily abide in the stage of the truly settled, they are in the stage equal to the perfect enlightenment. In the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life those who have been grasped, never to be abandoned, are said to be in the stage of the truly settled, and in the Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life they are said to have attained the stage equal to perfect enlightenment. Although they differ, the terms "truly settled" and "equal to enlightenment" have the same meaning and indicate the same stage. Equal to the perfect enlightenment is the same stage as that of Maitreya, who is in the rank of succession to Buddhahood. Since persons of shinjin will definitely attain the supreme enlightenment, they are said to be the same as Maitreya.

Now, the Larger Sutra speaks of "[the stage] next [to enlightenment], like Maitreya." Since Maitreya is already close to Buddhahood, it is the custom in various schools to speak of him as Maitreya Buddha. Since those counted among the truly settled are of the same stage as Maitreya, they are also said to be equal to the Tathagatas. Know that persons of true shinjin can be called the equal of Tathagatas because, even though they themselves are always impure and creating karmic evil, their hearts and minds are already equal to Tathagatas.

Since it is already established that Maitreya will attain the supreme enlightenment, we speak of the "Dawn of the Three Assemblies" when he will preach as a Buddha. The person who lives the truth and reality of the Pure Land should understand this. In the Hymns [on the Samadhi] of All Buddhas' Presence, Shan-tao, the Master of Kuang-ming temple, explains that the heart of the person of shinjin already and always resides in the Pure Land. "Resides" means that the heart of the person of shinjin constantly dwells there. This is to say that such a person is the same as Maitreya. Since being of the stage equal to enlightenment is being the same as Maitreya, the person of shinjin is equal to the Tathagatas.

Shoka 1 [1257]



What you inquire about in your letter is a passage from a sutra that states: "Those who attain shinjin and joy are equal to Tathagatas." This is from the Garland Sutra and means that the person who rejoices in shinjin is the equal of all the Tathagatas. This is also indicated in Sakyamuni's statement about those who realize shinjin and greatly rejoice: "The one who sees, reveres, and attains [the dharma] and greatly rejoices - that person is my excellent, close companion."

Further, Amida's Seventeenth Vow declares that the Buddha will not enter into perfect enlightenment if those who say the Name are not praised by all the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters. The passage declaring the fulfillment of the Vow states: "Such people are praised by all the Buddhas and rejoice."

You should have no doubts whatsoever concerning this matter.

Here I have recorded the passages on being equal to the Tathagatas.

Shoka 1 [1257], Tenth month, 10th day


To Shinbutsu-bo

[5 On Jinen-Honi]

Concerning jinen [in the phrase jinen honi]:

Ji means "of itself" - not through the practicer's calculation. It signifies being made so.

Nen means "to be made so" - it is not through the practicer's calculation; it is through the working of the Tathagata's Vow.

Concerning honi:

Honi signifies being made so through the working of the Tathagata's Vow. It is the working of the Vow where there is no room for calculation on the part of the practicer. Know, therefore, that in Other Power, no working is true working.

Jinen signifies being made so from the very beginning. Amida's Vow is, from the very beginning, designed to bring each of us to entrust ourselves to it - saying "Namu-amida-butsu" - and to receive us into the Pure Land; none of this is through our calculation. Thus, there is no room for the practicer to be concerned about being good or bad. This is the meaning of jinen as I have been taught.

As the essential purport of the Vow, [Amida] vowed to bring us all to become supreme Buddha. Supreme Buddha is formless, and because of being formless is called jinen. Buddha, when appearing with form, is not called supreme nirvana. In order to make it known that supreme Buddha is formless, the name Amida Buddha is expressly used; so I have been taught. Amida Buddha fulfills the purpose of making us know the significance of jinen.

After we have realized this, we should not be forever talking about jinen. If we continuously discuss jinen, that no working is true working will again become a problem of working. It is a matter of inconceivable Buddha-wisdom.

[Shoka 2 1258, Twelfth month, 14th day]

Gutoku Shinran

Written at age 86


It is saddening that so many people, both young and old, men and women, have died this year and last. But the Tathagata taught the truth of life's impermanence for us fully, so you must not be distressed by it.

I, for my own part, attach no significance to the condition, good or bad, of persons in their final moments. People in whom shinjin is determined do not doubt, and so abide among the truly settled. For this reason their end also - even for those ignorant and foolish and lacking in wisdom - is a happy one.

You have been explaining to people that one attains birth through the Tathagata's working; it is in no way otherwise. What I have been saying to all of you from many years past has not changed. Simply achieve your birth, firmly avoiding all scholarly debate. I recall hearing the late Master Honen say, "Persons of the Pure Land tradition attain birth in the Pure Land by becoming their foolish selves." Moreover, I remember him smile and say, as he watched humble people of no intellectual pretensions coming to visit him, "Without doubt their birth is settled." And I heard him say after a visit by a man brilliant in letters and debating, "I really wonder about his birth." To this day these things come to mind.

Each of you should attain your birth without being misled by people and without faltering in shinjin. However, the practicer in whom shinjin has not become settled will continue to drift, even without being misled by anyone, for he does not abide among the truly settled.

Please relay what I have written here to the others.


Bun'o [1260], Eleventh month, 13th day


Written at age 88

To Joshin-bo

[7 A Letter by Joshin]

As we say the Name, we become settled in the stage of nonretrogression, for we are grasped by the unhindered light of Tathagata's compassionate mind. Since this is the case, I feel no personal need to inquire anew about "being grasped, never to be abandoned." In addition, the Garland Sutra states, "The person who hears this dharma, rejoices in shinjin, and is free of doubt, swiftly attains the supreme enlightenment; such a person is equal to the Tathagatas." Moreover, the Seventeenth Vow declares that the Name shall be said in praise by the countless Buddhas in the ten quarters. I understand the reference to "the Buddhas countless as the sands of the Ganges" in the passage on the fulfillment of this Vow to be the people of shinjin. I believe that such people are equal to Tathagatas from this present life. Beyond this, I do not rely on my calculation as a foolish being. I would like to have your detailed views on this matter.



Seventh month, 12th day


[Shinran's Reply: On Being Equal to Buddhas]

You should understand that the moment of settling of those who entrust themselves to Tathagata's Vow is none other than the settling into the stage of nonretrogression, because they receive the benefit of being grasped, never to be abandoned. Whether we speak of the settling of true shinjin or the settling of the diamondlike shinjin, both come about through being grasped, never to be abandoned. Thus is awakened the heart and mind that will attain the supreme enlightenment. This is called the stage of nonretrogression, the stage of the truly settled, and the stage equal to the perfect enlightenment.

The Buddhas in the ten quarters rejoice in the settling of this mind and praise it as being equal to the hearts and minds of all Buddhas. Thus, the person of true shinjin is said to be equal to Buddhas. He is also regarded as being the same as Maitreya, who is in [the rank of] succession to Buddhahood.

Since persons of true shinjin are guarded in this world, the Smaller Sutra of Immeasurable Life speaks of "the protection of the countless Buddhas in the ten quarters." This does not mean that they guard such persons after birth into the Pure Land of peace, but rather that they watch over them with protecting thoughts while such persons are still in this Saha world. The Tathagatas throughout the ten quarters, countless as the sands of the Ganges, praise the minds and hearts of persons of true shinjin; it is taught that they are equal to Buddhas.

Further, Other Power means that no working is true working.

"Working" [that is negated] is the practicer's calculating and designing. Tathagata's Primal Vow surpasses conceptual understanding; it is a design of the wisdom of Buddhas. It is not the design of foolish beings. No one can fathom the wisdom of Buddhas, which surpasses conceptual understanding. This includes Maitreya Bodhisattva, who is in [the rank of] succession to Buddhahood. Thus, the great teacher Honen said, "No working is true working." My understanding has been that nothing apart from this realization is necessary for the attainment of birth into the Pure Land; therefore, what others may say is of no concern to me.

[Second month, 25th day]


[Reply to Joshin-bo]


Further, in the expounding of all the various scriptures, there are not more than five kinds of exposition: first, the Buddha's exposition; second, the exposition of holy disciples; third, the exposition of heavenly beings and hermit-sages; fourth, the exposition of demi-gods; fifth, the exposition of miraculous spirits. Among these five, take up the Buddha's exposition and do not rely on the four other kinds. It should be known that the threefold Pure Land sutra is the true exposition of Sakyamuni Tathagata.

The four lands are: first, the land of the dharma-body; second, the land of the fulfilled body; third, the land of the accommodated body; forth, the land of the miraculous body. The present "Pure Land of peace" is a fulfilled land.

The three bodies are: first, the dharma-body; second, the fulfilled body; third, the accommodated body. The present "Amida Tathagata" is a Tathagata of fulfilled body.

The three treasures are: first, the Buddha-treasure; second, the dharma-treasure; third, the sangha-treasure. The present "Pure Land school" belongs to the Buddha-treasure.

The four vehicles are: first, the Buddha vehicle; second, the bodhisattva vehicle; third, the pratyekabuddha vehicle; fourth, the sravaka vehicle. The Pure Land school belongs to the bodhisattva vehicle.

The two teachings are: first, sudden attainment; second, gradual attainment. The present teaching belongs to the sudden.

The two collections of scripture are: first, the bodhisattva-pitaka; second, the sravaka-pitaka. The present teaching belongs to the bodhisattva-pitaka.

The two paths are: first, the path of difficult practice; second, the path of easy practice. The present Pure Land school is the path of easy practice.

The two practices are: first, the right practices; [note] second, the sundry practices. The present Pure Land school is based on the right practices.

The two modes of transcending are: first, transcending lengthwise; second, transcending crosswise. The present Pure Land school is transcending crosswise. Transcending lengthwise is self-power in the Path of Sages.

The two forms of relevance [note] are: first, limited relevance; second, universal relevance. The Pure Land is the teaching of universal relevance.

The two ways concerning abiding are: first, to remain abiding; second, nonabiding. It is taught that the present Pure Land teaching will abide for one hundred years after the age when the dharma has become extinct and benefit sentient beings. The nonabiding are the various good practices of the Path of Sages. The various goods have all entered and remained hidden in the naga's palace.

Of the conceivable and the inconceivable dharma, the conceivable comprises the 84,000 kinds of good of the Path of Sages. The Pure Land teaching is the inconceivable dharma-teaching.

Thus I record these categories. Please ask about them of any knowledgeable person; it is not possible to present them in detail in this letter. My eyes fail me, and besides being utterly forgetful about everything, whatever it may be, I am hardly the person to clarify these matters for others. Please inquire fully of the Pure Land scholars about them.


Intercalary third month, 2nd day


[Note] The practices leading to birth as defined by Shan-tao: 1) reciting the sutras; 2) contemplating Amida; 3) worshiping Amida; 4) pronouncing Amida's Name; 5) revering and giving offerings to Amida.

[Note] The capacity of relating people to the teaching.

[9 The Vow and the Name are One]

I have read your letter very carefully.

I fail to understand why your question should arise, for although we speak of Vow and of Name, these are not two different things. There is no Name separate from the Vow; there is no Vow separate from the Name. Even to say this, however, is to impose one's own calculation. Once you simply realize that the Vow surpasses conceptual understanding and with singleness of heart realize that the Name surpasses conceptual understanding and pronounce it, why should you labor in your own calculation?

It seems to me that with all your attempts to understand by reasoning and by learning you have fallen into confusion. It is completely in error. Once you have simply come to realize that Vow and Name surpass conceptual understanding, you should not calculate in this way or that. There must be nothing of your calculation in the act that leads to birth.

You must simply entrust yourself to Tathagata.


Fifth month, 5th day


To Kyomyo-bo

Please show this letter to the others also. We say that in Other Power, no working is true working.

[10 You Must Realize that the Wisdom of Buddhas Surpasses Conceptual Understanding]

I have read your letter very carefully.

In your question about the teaching, you state that at the point of the awakening of the one moment of shinjin we are grasped and protected by the heart of unhindered light, and hence the karmic cause for birth in the Pure Land is established in ordinary times. This is truly splendid. Yet, though what you state is splendid, I am afraid that it has become nothing but your own calculation. Once you have come simply to believe that it surpasses conceptual understanding, there should be no struggle to reason it out.

You also write that there are people who say, "My aspiration to transcend this world is great, but slight is the karmic cause for my birth in the Pure Land." This is impossible to accept. The aspiration to transcend this world and the karmic cause for birth in the Pure Land are one and the same. I consider these words to be, in their entirety, needless calculation. If you realize that the wisdom of the Buddhas surpasses conceptual understanding, there should not, in addition, be any calculating. You simply should not fall into doubts over the different things that people say. Simply give yourself up to Tathagata's Vow; avoid calculating in any way.


Fifth month, 5th day


To Joshin-bo:

Other Power means to be free of any form of calculation.


I have received your letter of the fourth month, 7th day, on the 26th of the fifth month and have read it carefully. As to the matter you raise, although the one moment of shinjin and the one moment of nembutsu are two, there is no nembutsu separate from shinjin, nor is the one moment of shinjin separate from the one moment of nembutsu. The reason is that the practice of nembutsu is to say it perhaps once, perhaps ten times, on hearing and realizing that birth into the Pure Land is attained by saying the Name fulfilled in the Primal Vow. To hear this Vow and be completely without doubt is the one moment of shinjin. Thus, although shinjin and nembutsu are two, since shinjin is to hear and not doubt that you are saved by only a single pronouncing, which is the fulfillment of practice, there is no shinjin separate from nembutsu; this is the teaching I have received. You should know further that there can be no nembutsu separate from shinjin. Both should be understood to be Amida's Vow. Nembutsu and shinjin on our part are themselves the manifestation of the Vow.


If you are well, by all means please come to visit me in Kyoto.

Fifth month, 28th day


Reply to Kakushin-bo

I am heartened to learn that Senshin-bo is now staying near Kyoto.

Also, I wish to acknowledge your gift of 300 mon, which I humbly accept.

[Shinran Shonin's Reply, Kencho 8 1256,

Fifth month, 28th day]


In answer to your question about the nembutsu: it is completely mistaken to look down upon people who believe in birth through the nembutsu, saying that they are destined for birth in the borderland. For Amida vowed to take into the land of bliss those who say the Name, and thus to entrust oneself deeply and say the Name is to be in perfect accord with the Primal Vow. Though a person may have shinjin, if he or she does not say the Name it is of no avail. And conversely, even though a person fervently says the Name, if that person's shinjin is shallow he cannot attain birth. Thus, it is the person who both deeply entrusts himself to birth through the nembutsu and undertakes to say the Name who is certain to be born in the true fulfilled land.

In short, although persons say the Name, if they do not entrust themselves to the Primal Vow that is Other Power, they will surely be born in the borderland. But how can it be that those who deeply entrust themselves to the power of the Primal Vow are also born there? Please say the nembutsu fully understanding what I have explained above.

My life has now reached the fullness of its years. It is certain that I will go to birth in the Pure Land before you, so without fail I will await you there.


Seventh month, 13th day


Reply to Yuamidabutsu

[13 On Being Grasped, Never To Be Abandoned]

You ask about "being grasped never to be abandoned." Shan-tao's Hymns [on the Samadhi] of All Buddhas' Presence states that Sakyamuni and Amida are our parents of great compassion; using many and various compassionate means, they awaken the supreme shinjin in us. Thus the settling of true shinjin is the working of Sakyamuni and Amida. Persons become free of doubt about their birth because they have been grasped. Once grasped, there should be no calculation at all. Since they dwell in the stage of nonretrogression until being born in the Pure Land, they are said to be in the stage of the truly settled.

Since true shinjin is awakened through the working of the two honored ones, Sakyamuni and Amida, it is when one is grasped that the settling of shinjin occurs. Thereafter the person abides in the stage of the truly settled until born into the Pure Land. Other Power means above all that there must not be the slightest calculation on our part.


Tenth month, 6th day


Reply to Shinobu-bo

[14 A Letter by Kyoshin]

I respectfully submit the following letter. The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life [note1] records the phrase, "the person realizes shinjin and joy," and one of the Hymns on the Pure Land based on the Garland Sutra [note2] states:

The person who attains shinjin and joy

Is taught to be equal to the Tathagatas.

Great shinjin is itself Buddha-nature;

Buddha-nature is none other than Tathagata.

Nevertheless, among the people of single-hearted practice there seem to be some who misunderstand, saying that the statement by fellow-practicers that the person who rejoices in shinjin is equal to Tathagatas reflects an attitude of self-power and inclines toward the Shingon teaching. I do not wish to pass judgment on others, but for my own clarification I write you of this matter.

There is another hymn:

Those who attain true and real shinjin

Immediately join the truly settled;

Thus having entered the stage of nonretrogression,

They necessarily attain nirvana.

The statement, "they attain nirvana," means that when the heart of the persons of true and real shinjin attain the fulfilled land at the end of his or her present life, that person becomes one with the light that is the heart of Tathagata, for his reality is immeasurable life and his activity is inseparable from immeasurable light. This seems to be the reason for saying: "Great shinjin is itself Buddha-nature; Buddha-nature is none other than Tathagata." In my understanding, this corresponds to the Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Vows. The joy of knowing the wonder and benevolence of the Vow of great compassion that Amida established for us, beings of karmic evil, is boundless and can never be fully expressed, for it surpasses all thought and all words. Starting long kalpas ago - far, far in the beginningless past - we have awakened the mind aspiring for great enlightenment under infinite numbers of Buddhas who have appeared in this world, but our self-power has failed [note3]. Now, however, guided by the compassionate means of the two honored ones, we have no intention of performing sundry practices and disciplines or any thought of self-power and doubt. All due to the compassion of the Tathagata of unhindered light, grasping never to abandon us, we rejoice completely free of doubt and our attainment of birth is settled in the nembutsu down to one utterance [note4]. Now that I have realized this to be the inconceivable working of the Vow, I see that everything is for myself alone - the sacred Pure Land scriptures, which I never tire of reading and listening to, the constant desire to meet true teachers, grasping never to abandon, shinjin, nembutsu. By inquiring into your thoughts, according to your teaching and free of subjective views, I have come to know the intent of the Vow and to walk the direct path, and will ultimately attain the true and real fulfilled land. All this is accomplished now in nembutsu down to one utterance and in truly hearing the Name [note5]. How joyful and how grateful I feel. I find the Selected Writings on the Teaching of Amida generally revealing in this matter also. Nevertheless, distracted by the business of everyday life, I tend to be negligent for hours at a time. Still, whether day or night it never slips from my mind, and there is only the act of rejoicing in Amida's compassion; there is solely the diamondlike shinjin whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining, without any thought of the propriety of time or place; there is only the saying of the Name out of gratitude for the Buddha's profound benevolence and for the joy imparted by the benevolence of the masters [note6].

The nembutsu is not a daily routine for me. I wonder if this is wrong. As the matter of ultimate importance for my life, nothing surpasses this. Wishing to receive, if possible, your full and detailed instruction, I have written down something of what I have thought. Although I stayed in Kyoto for a while, I was continually rushed without a moment's peace; I regret this now and desire above all to return with no other business but to be with you for at least five days. That I am moved to say this is all due to your benevolence.

Humbly addressed to the Shonin

Ren'i-bo: please transmit this letter.

Tenth month, 10th day



Some of the people who say the nembutsu add the words mugeko nyorai [Tathagata of unhindered light] between utterance of Namu-amida-butsu. This is criticized by a person who claims that to say kimyo jinjippo mugeko nyorai [I take refuge in the Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters] in addition to Namu-amida-butsu is presumptuous and, in addition, pretentious. How should this matter be understood?


[Shinran's Reply]

It is the greatest of errors to say that one must not say mugeko butsu [Buddha of unhindered light] in addition to Namu-amida-butsu. Kimyo corresponds to Namu. Mugeko butsu is light; it is wisdom. This wisdom is itself Amida Buddha. Since people do not know the form of Amida Buddha, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, exhausting all his resources, created this expression in order that we might know Amida's form with perfect certainty.

In addition, I have made a small number of corrections in the wording of your letter.


[Ren'i's Reply]

I conveyed the contents of your letter in detail to the Shonin, and he stated that it was altogether free from error. However, concerning the statement, "Our attainment of birth is settled by saying the nembutsu once; I realize this to be the inconceivable working of the Vow," he commented that though this appears to be correct, the nembutsu should not be limited to one utterance, and in the margin of your letter he noted with his own hand that this passage was faulty. He instructed me to do this, but I thought that you would find his own writing to be compelling verification and urged him, although he happened to be suffering from a cough at the time, to write it in himself.

Also, people who have come to Kyoto report that there are debates going on in the countryside, mentioning, for example, that some are discussing the matter of being equal to Maitreya. I record here a passage that the Shonin has written about it; I hope you will read it:

Further, concerning being equal to Maitreya: Maitreya is of the stage equal to enlightenment; this is the causal stage of attainment. The moon becomes perfectly full on the fourteenth or fifteenth day, and this stage of Maitreya corresponds to the still half-formed moon on the eight or ninth day. This is like the practice of self-power. As for us, although we are foolish beings, shinjin has been established and our stage is that of the truly settled. This is the causal stage of attainment, the stage equal to enlightenment. Maitreya's way is self-power; ours is Other Power. Although there is this difference between self-power and Other Power, the causal stage of attainment is equal. Further, Maitreya's attainment of the perfect enlightenment will be long in coming, but we shall reach nirvana quickly. He awaits the dawn 5,670,000,000 years hence, but we are as though separated by only a film of bamboo. Among gradual and sudden teachings, his is the sudden and ours is the sudden within the sudden.

Nirvana is the perfect enlightenment. T'an-luan's Commentary tells of a tree called "great firmness." This tree lies buried underground for one hundred years, but when it sends forth shoots, it grows one hundred yards a day. Just as the tree spends one hundred years underground, we abide in this Saha world in the stage of the truly settled. And just as it grows one hundred yards in a single day, such is our attainment of nirvana. This is a metaphor, revealing to us the form of Other Power. The growth of the pine, which does not exceed several inches each year, is very slow, showing us the form of self-power.

Further, concerning being equal to Tathagata: illuminated by the light of the Buddha, foolish beings possessed of blind passions attain shinjin and rejoice. Because they attain shinjin and rejoice, they abide in the stage of the truly settled. Shinjin is wisdom. This wisdom is the wisdom attained because we are grasped by the light of Other Power. The Buddha's light is also wisdom. Thus we can say that the person of shinjin and the Tathagata are the same. "Same" means that, in shinjin, they are equals. The stage of joy signifies the stage in which people rejoice in shinjin. Since a person rejoices in shinjin, he or she is said to be the same as the Tathagata.

I have copied here what the Shonin has written in detail.

Also, concerning your question about pronouncing mugeko nyorai along with Namu-amida-butsu, the Shonin made a detailed comment in the margin of your letter, so I am returning it to you. Although the words are different, whether we say Amida or mugeko, the meaning is one. "Amida" is Sanskrit and has been translated as muryoju (immeasurable life) and mugeko (unhindered light). The Sanskrit and Chinese words differ, but their meaning is the same.

Now then, concerning Kakushin-bo, I was deeply saddened by his death, but also felt great esteem for him, for he never deviated from shinjin. I asked him many times how his realization of shinjin was. Each time he answered that he had not digressed from shinjin and that his realization became stronger and stronger. On his way to Kyoto after he left his own province, he became ill at a place called Hitoichi, and although his companions advised him to return, he replied, "If it is a fatal illness, I will die whether I return or not. If I am to be sick, I will be sick whether I return or whether I stay. If it is all the same, I wish to die at the side of the Shonin." His shinjin was truly splendid - so splendid and enviable that it reminds me of Shan-tao's parable of the two rivers. At the point of death he uttered Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-mugeko-nyorai, Namu-fukashigiko-nyorai (Tathagata of light that surpasses understanding), and putting his hands together, quietly met his end.

Whether one is left behind or goes before, it is surely a sorrowful thing to be parted by death. But the one who first attains nirvana vows without fail to save those who were close to him first and leads those with whom he has been karmically bound, his relatives, and his friends. It should be so, and since I have entered the same path of the teaching as Kakushin, I feel strongly reassured. Since it is said that being parent and child is a bond from a previous life, you too must feel reassured. It is impossible to express how moving and impressive it all was, so I will stop here. How can I speak of it further? I hope to say much more later.

I read this letter to the Shonin in order to see if there were any errors; he told me that there was nothing to be added, and that it was fine. He was especially moved and wept when I came to the part about Kakushin, for he is deeply grieved by his death.

Tenth month, 29th day


To Kyoshin-bo

[Note 1] Bracketed portions indicate places where Shinran has made slight corrections to the wording of the letter. Originally the text here read: "sutra."

[Note 2] Originally: "your hymn."

[Note 3] Originally: "we have not attained enlightenment."

[Note 4] Originally: "by saying the nembutsu once."

[Note 5] Originally: "in saying the nembutsu."

[Note 6] Originally: "the virtue of my master."


What you have written in inquiry is truly to the point. The Garland Sutra states that those who have attained true shinjin are already certain to become Buddhas and therefore are equal to the Tathagatas. Although Maitreya has not yet attained Buddhahood, it is certain that he will, so he is already known as Maitreya Buddha. In this manner, the person who has attained true shinjin is taught to be equal to Tathagatas.

Jyoshin-bo's statement that this person is equal to Maitreya is not in itself wrong. I sense that he has not attained a deep understanding, though, when he criticizes as self-power the view that that mind rejoicing in the attainment of shinjin through Other Power is equal to Tathagatas. Please reflect on this very carefully.

To think in self-power that one is equal to the Tathagatas is a great error. But it is because of the shinjin of Other Power that you rejoice; how can self-power enter into it? Please consider this fully.

I have spoken of this matter in detail to the bearers of this letter. It would be well for Jyoshin-bo to ask them about it.


Tenth month, 21st day


Reply to Joshin-bo


I have heard that, knowing nothing of the scriptures or of the true foundation of the Pure Land teaching, you are telling people who are appallingly self-indulgent and lacking in shame that a person should do evil just as he or she desires. This is absolutely wrong. Were you not aware that I finally broke off relations with Zenjo-bo, who lived in the northern district?

If a person, justifying himself by saying he is a foolish being, can do anything he wants, then is he also to steal or to murder? Even that person who has been inclined to steal will naturally undergo a change of heart if he comes to say the nembutsu aspiring for the land of bliss. Yet people who show no such sign are being told that it is permissible to do wrong; this should never occur under any circumstances.

Maddened beyond control by blind passions, we do things we should not and say things we should not and think things we should not. But if a person is deceitful in his relations with others, doing what he should not and saying what he should not because he thinks it will not hinder his birth, then it is not an instance of being maddened by passion. Since he purposely does these things, they are simply misdeeds that should never have been done.

If you say something to stop the wrongdoing of the people of Kashima and Namekata and correct the distorted views of the people in that area, it will be the sign that you are representing me.

It is deplorable that you have told people to abandon themselves to their hearts' desires and to do anything they want. One must seek to cast off the evil of this world and to cease doing wretched deeds; this is what it means to reject the world and to live the nembutsu. When people who may have said the nembutsu for many years abuse others in word or deed, there is no indication of rejecting this world. Thus Shan-tao teaches in the passage on sincere mind that we should be careful to keep our distance from those people who are given to evil. When has it ever been said that one should act in accordance with one's mind and heart, which are evil? You, who are totally ignorant of the sutras and commentaries and ignorant of the Tathagata's words, must never instruct others in this way.


Birth into the Pure Land has nothing at all to do with the calculation of foolish beings. Since it is completely entrusted to the Primal Vow of the Buddha, it is indeed Other Power. It is ridiculous to try to calculate it in various ways.

Eleventh month, 24th day



I have been taught that within Other Power there is self-power. I have never heard of an other-power within Other Power. That there is self-power within Other Power means that there are people who seek to attain birth through sundry practices and disciplines and through meditative and nonmeditative nembutsu; such people are people of self-power within Other Power. It was not taught that there is an other-power within Other Power. Since Senshin-bo plans to stay in the area for a while, I will speak of all this when he comes.


I gratefully acknowledge your gift of 20 kan.


Eleventh month, 25th day


[Reply to Shinbutsu-bo]


In answer to your question: at the moment persons encounter Amida's Vow - which is Other Power giving itself to us - and the heart that receives true shinjin and rejoices becomes settled in them, they are grasped, never to be abandoned. Hence, the moment they realize the diamondlike mind, they are said to abide in the stage of the truly settled and to attain the same stage as Bodhisattva Maitreya.

Since persons of true and real shinjin are of the same stage as Maitreya, they are equal to Buddhas. Moreover, all Buddhas feel great joy when such a person rejoices in the realization of true shinjin, and they proclaim, "This person is our equal." Sakyamuni's words of rejoicing are found in the Larger Sutra: "The one who sees, reveres, and attains [the dharma] and greatly rejoices - that persons is my excellent, close companion"; thus he teaches that the person who has attained shinjin is equal to Buddhas.

Further, since Maitreya has already become one who is certain to attain Buddhahood, he is called Maitreya Buddha. By this we know that the person who has already realized shinjin that is Other Power can be said to be equal to Buddhas. You should have no doubts about this.

There is nothing I can do about your fellow-practicers, who say that they await the moment of death. Those whose shinjin has become true and real - this being the benefit of the Vow - have been grasped, never to be abandoned; hence they do not depend on Amida's coming at the moment of death. The person whose shinjin has not yet become settled awaits the moment of death in anticipation of Amida's coming.

I will be very happy if you take the name Zuishin-bo. What you have written in your letter is splendid. I cannot accept what your fellow-practicers are saying, but there is nothing to be done about it.


Eleventh month, 26th day


To Zuishin-bo


I have written you often, but I wonder if you have seen my letters.

The fulfillment of Myoho-bo's cherished desire to be born in the Pure Land is surely celebrated by those in Hitachi province who share the same aspiration. In no way is birth accomplished through the calculating of foolish beings; neither can it be the object of the calculation of the eminently wise. Even holy masters of the Mahayana and the Hinayana entrust themselves utterly to the power of the Vow to attain birth, without calculating in any way. But it is an especially rare and splendid result of good karma that ordinary people like yourselves should hear of the Vow and encounter Namu-amida-butsu. Under no circumstances should you have designs concerning it. Regarding this, please read the copies of Seikaku's Essentials of Faith Alone, Ryukan's On Self-power and Other Power, and the other tracts I sent earlier. Such men are the best teachers for our times. Since they have already been born in the Pure Land, nothing can surpass what is written in their tracts.

They understood Master Honen's teaching fully and for this reason attained perfect faith. Even among groups that had been saying the nembutsu for many years, there were always some who spoke of the teaching only from their limited viewpoints, and this still seems to be the case. Even Myoho-bo's birth came about only after he underwent a complete change of heart, for he originally had thoughts of unimaginable wrongdoing.

You must not do what should not be done, think what should not be thought, or say what should not be said, thinking that you can be born in the Pure Land regardless of it. Human beings are such that, maddened by the passions of greed, we desire to possess; maddened by the passions of anger, we hate that which should not be hated, seeking to go against the law of cause and effect; led astray by the passions of ignorance, we do what should not even be thought. But the person who purposely thinks and does what he or she should not, saying that it is permissible because of the Buddha's wondrous Vow to save the foolish being, does not truly desire to reject the world, nor does such a one consciously feel himself a being of karmic evil. Hence such people have no aspiration for the nembutsu nor for the Buddha's Vow; thus, however they engage in nembutsu with such an attitude, it is difficult for them to attain birth in the next life. Please transmit this point fully to the people. There is no need for me to say these things to you, but I write them frankly because you have always shown care and concern for me.

In recent years the teaching of nembutsu has undergone so many alterations, it is hardly necessary for me to comment on them; nevertheless, for people who have carefully received the teaching of the late Master it is still as it originally was, undergoing no change at all. This is well known, so I am sure you have heard about it. Although people who teach variant views of the Pure Land teaching are all disciples of the Master, they rephrase the teaching in their own ways, confusing themselves and misleading others. This is truly deplorable. Even in the capital there are many who are going astray; how much more this is so in the provinces I have little desire to know. It is impossible to say everything in this letter; I will write again.

Myokyo-bo's trip to Kyoto is truly welcome, and I was happy to hear first hand of Myoho-bo's attainment of birth. I am also grateful for the kind gifts from the people there. In any case, their visit comes as a great surprise.

Please be sure to read this letter to everyone. All the nembutsu practicers in the remote districts should without exception see this letter.



Signs of long years of saying the nembutsu and aspiring for birth can be seen in the change in the heart that had been bad and in the deep warmth for friends and fellow-practicers; this is the sign of rejecting the world. You should understand this fully.

People who look down on teachers and who speak ill of the masters commit slander of the dharma. Those who speak ill of their parents are guilty of the five grave offenses. We should keep our distance from them. Thus, since Zenjo-bo, who lived in the northern district, abused his parents and slandered me in various ways, I had no close feelings for him and did not encourage him to come to see me. Those who belittle the example of Myoho-bo even though they hear of his birth are certainly not his fellow-practicers.

I hear that you urge people who are drunk with the wine of ignorance to greater and greater drunkenness and allow people who have long preferred to dine on the three poisons to partake more and more poison, telling them that they should enjoy it; how painful it is! There is such sorrow in being drunk on the wine of ignorance, yet they partake with pleasure of the three poisons while the poisons have not yet abated. They have not yet awakened from the drunkenness of ignorance. Please understand this fully.


I have received all the gifts from the various people as listed, and Myokyo-bo's visit to Kyoto is truly welcome. Words cannot express my appreciation. Although scarcely unexpected, Myoho-bo's attainment of birth still makes me deeply happy. Surely it is celebrated by all the people in Kashima, Namekata, and the remote districts who desire birth in the Pure Land. I have also learned that the ordained layman Hiratsuka attained birth, and I feel something that surpasses all words. I cannot express how wonderful it is. Each of you should realize that you are also certain to attain birth in the Pure Land.

In the past, however, some of those desiring birth failed to understand certain things. It seems that this is still the case. Even in Kyoto there are people who do not understand and who stray in confusion, and I hear of many such people in the various provinces. And even among Honen's disciples, those who take themselves to be remarkable scholars make various changes in expressing the teaching, confusing others as well as themselves so that all suffer together.

It has not been uncommon for people like yourselves, who do not read or know the scriptures, to distort the teaching, having heard that no evil interferes with the attainment of birth. It seems that this is still the case. To hear that you are all falling deeper and deeper into error, following the words of Shinken-bo and others who know nothing of the Pure Land teaching, is truly lamentable.

There was a time for each of you when you knew nothing of Amida's Vow and did not say the Name of Amida Buddha, but now, guided by the compassionate means of Sakyamuni and Amida, you have begun to hear the Vow. Formerly you were drunk with the wine of ignorance and had a liking only for the three poisons of greed, anger, and folly, but since you have begun to hear the Buddha's Vow you have gradually awakened from the drunkenness of ignorance, gradually rejected the three poisons, and come to prefer at all times the medicine of Amida Buddha.

In contrast, how lamentable that people who have not fully awakened from drunkenness are urged to more drunkenness and those still in the grips of poison encouraged to take yet more poison. It is indeed sorrowful to give way to impulses with the excuse that one is by nature possessed of blind passions - excusing acts that should not be committed, words that should not be said, and thoughts that should not be harbored - and to say that one may follow one's desires in any way whatever. It is like offering more wine before the person has become sober or urging him to take even more poison before the poison has abated. "Here's some medicine, so drink all the poison you like" - words like these should never be said.

In people who have long heard the Buddha's Name and said the nembutsu, surely there are signs of rejecting the evil of this world and signs of their desire to cast off the evil in themselves. When people first begin to hear the Buddha's Vow, they wonder, having become thoroughly aware of the karmic evil in their hearts and minds, how they will ever attain birth as they are. To such people we teach that since we are possessed of blind passions, the Buddha receives us without judging whether our hearts are good or bad.

When, upon hearing this, a person's trust in the Buddha has grown deep, he or she comes to abhor such a self and to lament continued existence in birth-and-death; and such a person then joyfully says the Name of Amida Buddha deeply entrusting himself to the Vow. That people seek to stop doing wrong as the heart moves them, although earlier they gave thought to such things and committed them as their minds dictated, is surely a sign of having rejected this world.

Moreover, since shinjin that aspires for attainment of birth arises through the encouragement of Sakyamuni and Amida, once the true and real mind is made to arise in us, how can we remain as we were, possessed of blind passions?

There are reports of wrongdoing even of some among you. I have heard of their slandering the master, holding their true teachers in contempt, and belittling their fellow-practicers - all of which is deeply saddening. They are already guilty of slandering the dharma and committing the five grave offenses. Do not associate with them. The Treatise on the Pure Land states that such thoughts arise because they fail to entrust themselves to the Buddha dharma. Moreover, in explaining the sincere mind it teaches that one should keep a respectful distance and not become familiar with those who give themselves to such wrongdoing. It teaches us rather to draw close to and become companions of our teachers and fellow-practicers. As for becoming friends with those who are given to wrongdoing, it is only after we go to the Pure Land and return to benefit sentient beings that we can become close to and friendly with them. That, however, is not our own design; only by being saved by Amida's Vow can we act as we want. But at this moment, as we are, what can we possibly do? Please consider this very carefully. Since the diamondlike mind that aspires for birth is awakened through the Buddha's working, persons who realize the diamondlike mind will surely not slander their master or be contemptuous of their true teachers.

Please read this letter to all the people who share our aspiration in Kashima, Namekata, Minami-no-sho, and any other area.


Kencho 4 [1252], Eight month, 19th day



When a person has entered completely into the Pure Land of happiness, he or she immediately realizes the supreme nirvana; he realizes the supreme enlightenment. Although the terms differ, they both mean to realize the enlightenment of the Buddha who is dharma-body. As the true cause for this realization, Bodhisattva Dharmakara gave us the Vow of Amida Buddha; this is known as directing virtue for the sake of our going forth in birth. This Vow of directing virtue is the Vow of birth through the nembutsu. To entrust oneself wholeheartedly to the Vow of birth through the nembutsu and be single-hearted is called wholehearted single practice. In terms of the Tathagata's two forms of giving, true shinjin is to entrust oneself to the Vow of giving and be single-hearted; this shinjin arises from the working of the honored ones, Sakyamuni and Amida.


[Second month, 25th day]


[Reply to Joshin-bo]


The Sutra of the Treasure Name states: "The nembutsu of Amida's Primal Vow is not our practice, it is not our good; it is simply keeping the Name of the Buddha." It is the Name that is good, the Name that is the practice. When we speak of practice, we mean doing good. The Primal Vow is clearly the Buddha's promise. When we have understood this, we see that the Vow is not our good, nor is it our practice. Hence we speak of Other Power.

The Name fulfilled in the Primal Vow is the direct cause of our birth; in other words, it is our father. The radiant light of great compassion is the indirect cause of our birth; it is our mother.

1997 copyright Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha