Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 111

Having realised the perfect, all-pervasive truth of the nembutsu,
Mahasthamaprapta, together with fifty-two bodhisattvas,
Rose from his seat and prostrated himself
At the feet of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Courage

These verses, based on the Sutra of the Samadhi of Heroic Advance serve as a bridge between the Hymns of the Pure Land (jodo wasan) and the Hymns of Pure Land Masters (koso wasan). The latter constitute Shinran Shonin's most profound and detailed survey of Pure Land tradition. As I have already pointed out, the Sanjo Wasan spiral inwards: from the brilliant light of Amida Buddha, to the working of his wisdom through history - in the Hymns of Pure Land Masters - and finally, to their incisive insight into our hearts and into our decaying era, in the Hymns of the Dharma Ages. In any case, the Koso Wasan are my favourite verses - along with these concluding verses of the Jodo Wasan, their precursor.

The story of the nembutsu way in action, so to speak, begins in these next eight verses which are an account of the way in which Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta attained enlightenment. Then, in the Koso Wasan, there follows the saga of the seven dharma masters whom Shinran revered as his teachers. We, too, may see them as our living guides and our dharma friends.


Mahasthamaprapta, the prince of the Dharma, rose from his seat together with fifty-two accompanying Bodhisattvas, kneeled down at the Buddha's feet, and said: As I remember the bygone days, Ganges-sands kalpas ago, a Buddha named 'Immeasurable Light' appeared in the world. Twelve Thathagatas, beginning with this Buddha, appeared in succession, each dwelling for one kalpa. The last one was called 'Light Outshining Sun and Moon'. This Buddha taught me the Nembutsu Samadhi.1

This passage from the Sutra of the Samadhi of Heroic Advance describes the events, which are celebrated in the next verses, and concentrate on the testimony of Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva. They provide a link between the Jodo Wasan and the Koso Wasan because this bodhisattva stands as a sentinel at the beginning and the ending of this pilgrimage. Hence, these verses serve as the starting point for a cycle of verses which conclude with an account of Honen Shonin, Shinran's dharma teacher. For as far as Shinran is concerned, Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva took the form of Honen and is the embodiment of the wisdom of Amida Tathagata.

The Surangama Sutra is named for the courage, which a novice bodhisattva needs in order to set out upon the path to enlightenment. Mahasthamaprapta is himself an important example of this remarkable quality. Wisdom, compassion and courage are the three pillars of the bodhisattva's endevour.


1: Ryukoku Translation Series, II, p. 166.

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