The True and Real World of Salvation
Eiken Kobai Sensei 紅楳英顕
Table of Contents
Introduction (by Paul Roberts)
Introduction (by Paul Roberts)
If you were asked what the biggest problem in your life is, what would you say?
Of course, with more than six billion people on the planet, there are lots of answers to that question. But they all boil down into a small and universal number of categories.
In many parts of the world, people have problems getting the basics of life: clean water, enough food, reliable shelter, decent health care. People have emotional problems – in their own minds – in their family lives. Tribal, ethnic and religious groups don’t get along – and often slaughter one another brutally. And people in prosperous, stable societies suffer from sadness, anger and fear – from loneliness and confusion – from a sense of existential despair.
But the one we call the Buddha Shakyamuni – a man who lived 2500 years ago and became fully and finally enlightened – had a bigger understanding. It was an understanding that both transcended and included the experience of everyone on the planet, alive back then and alive today, too.
Shakyamuni Buddha, speaking from a place of enlightened omniscience that is impossible for us to fully comprehend, declared that our biggest problem is that we were each and all stuck in a terrible cycle of repeated birth, life, suffering and death.
Yes, the problems that you have are real and important. But as Shakyamuni Buddha explained, we are all seeing our lives from an ant’s eye view. We think that our biggest problem is that we are suffering from THIS particular issue in THIS particular life. But (Shakyamuni explained gently but firmly), this life is brief, and at some point will be over. And then we will awaken to another life, in another form, and the cycle will start over again.
We will no longer even remember this life, and its problems, after we close our eyes in this body for the last time. And in the next life, it will be the same thing: birth, life, suffering and death.
Over and over, endlessly, for countless ages, moving blindly from life to life, from suffering to suffering, from death to death – strapped like prisoners on a terrible wheel that never stops turning, and never releases us into a full and final experience of freedom.
THIS, Shakyamuni Buddha said, is the crux of our problem – the human condition – and indeed the condition of ALL sentient beings, human and non-human alike. It is – once seen clearly – both terrible and pitiable.
Whatever your particular PERSONAL problems might be, in this body, in this life – THAT (Shakyamuni said) is your REAL problem.
Therefore, the MOST important question you might ask yourself, on your own behalf, and on behalf of us all, is this: How can I SOLVE this problem of being strapped to the wheel of birth and death, of being blindly born into one life after another, of suffering in all the ways that sentient beings suffer, and finally dying once again – only to repeat the cycle?
Everything Shakyamuni did, in his earthly life here 2500 years ago, in his role as “The Buddha”, the Enlightened One, was geared towards helping people like you and me answer this question. Everything He said and did was purposefully said and done to help us get free of the terrible cycle of birth and death, and to finally become fully enlightened ourselves, True Buddhas, at last.
So here is the very first – and the most important – step on the journey towards enlightenment: AWAKEN YOUR ASPIRATION – awaken your deep and perhaps previously hidden desire – to become enlightened just as Shakyamuni Buddha became enlightened. Until that happens – until you ALLOW yourself to feel your deep yearning to escape our common ignorance and darkness, nothing that Shakyamuni Buddha says will make much sense to you.
Once you’ve awakened your aspiration for enlightenment, you are faced with a cornucopia of potential directions, philosophies and teachings. Although there are literally thousands of such directions, both within Buddhism and without, they all boil down to two. There are – in essence – only two distinct pathways to answer this question about how to escape the cycle of birth and death, and finally become a fully enlightened being. Of course, Shakyamuni Buddha taught both pathways – with many, many variants to suit the temperaments and capacities of different people.
What are these two ESSENTIAL pathways?
The first is the path of self-power. It is the path of doing some sort of discipline, wisdom and practice that, step by step, and life by life, will enable a person to climb the mountain of enlightenment. This is the kind of Buddhism that most people are familiar with. It’s the path that depends on PRACTICE – and that tells people that PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT…literally. It is a heroic path, for heroic people, of heroic dedication and unswerving commitment.
The second is the path of OTHER-power. It is the path for those of us who are not heroic – who simply don’t have the capacity, who are too ignorant, too distracted, too caught up in their day to day dramas. It is the path for those of us who are – more often than we’d like to admit – just plain foolish. It is the path for those of us who recognize that we have evil tendencies that simply cannot be eradicated, no matter what kind of practice we might attempt.
In this path of OTHER-Power, we depend on someone or something entirely outside of our finite, limited selves to attain our aspiration for Buddhahood. And, because of Shakyamuni Buddha’s explanation one day at a place called Vulture Peak, we know WHAT that something else is. We know WHAT we can depend on – and WHO we can depend on. For it was there on Vulture Peak that Shakyamuni Buddha taught us about the person and work of ANOTHER Buddha – a transcendental Buddha named Amida.
It was on Vulture Peak that Shakyamuni Buddha first explained that for those who cannot follow the discipline, wisdom and practices of the path of self-power – there IS another way to complete the journey of birth and death through countless lives. There IS another way to break the karmic bondage that has caused us to suffer. There IS another way to attain the perfection that only a Buddha knows.
Master Shinran became the ultimate teacher of this other way – this way of OTHER-power. He taught people – plain people as well as educated people – how to experience the blessed state of SHINJIN – the state of KNOWING, in THIS life, that we would become Buddhas immediately after this life is over, simply by depending on the person and work of this transcendental Buddha named Amida.
This state of KNOWING – this diamond like FAITH that is the core of SHINJIN – is not something we can work up. Rather it is something given to us by Amida Buddha himself. It is given, freely and fully, to the person who truly YEARNS for complete liberation, and yet knows he (or she) cannot achieve it – and then comes to entrust himself completely and utterly to Amida Buddha, who has vowed to save us all, and is fulfilling his vow right up until this very moment in which you are reading these words.
You may not understand this yet – but in that very FIRST moment that a person so entrusts himself to Amida Buddha, he (or she) is sealed for birth in Amida’s own Pure Land at the end of this life. And as soon as birth in the Pure Land occurs, the person IMMEDIATELY completes his (or her) journey, and becomes a True Buddha at long last.
This was the Dharma message of Master Shinran. This was the Dharma message of his successor, Master Rennyo. And today, there are still some who are preach and teach the very same Dharma message – some clerics, some scholars, and some lay people as well.
Eiken Kobai Sensei is one of those scholars. He is a TRUE teacher of Shinran’s True Teaching of the Pure Land Way – the way of entrusting oneself and one’s karmic destiny ENTIRELY, without even a SHRED of doubt – to Amida Buddha and to His promise to save us from the terrible suffering that comes from continual rebirth in a non-Buddha state.
If you are hungry – yearning for enlightenment – trying to find a way to end your own sorrow and suffering – looking to become the kind of enlightened being that can lead others to the end of suffering at last – then please do read Eiken Kobai Sensei’s books. Listen closely to him as he teaches the TRUE teaching of Master Shinran, and also as he deconstructs the FALSE teachings that have often arisen over the centuries that have confused and obscured the True Teaching needlessly.
Why do I recommend Eiken Kobai Sensei’s English language books? Because they are the BEST doorway I know into understanding the heart and mind of Master Shinran, and the true intent of Shakyamuni Buddha in coming into the world – and they are all available FREELY online.
Personally, I am grateful beyond any words I could write that I found his written works online. And I am more grateful still that we have had a profound karmic connection, and that he has become my own Dharma mentor. The clarity of Eiken’s writing, and his own FAITHFULNESS to our primal teacher Shinran, allowed me to find true SHINJIN when I was drowning in a pool of inexpressible sorrow. Because of Eiken’s influence in my life, I have become established on a rock of FAITH that has never wavered through the ups and downs of daily living – and I KNOW that this is, indeed, my last life as a non-Buddha.
I commend him personally, and the words he writes, without reservation to ANYONE who aspires for enlightenment. All you need to do is open your mind, open your heart, and listen deeply. Amida Buddha will do the rest to bring you to a state of SALVATION IN THE PRESENT, where you know that you know that this is your last lifetime as a suffering and ignorant being – and then BUDDHAHOOD IN THE LIFE TO COME.
We now live in the 21st century.
The great image of the Buddha carved into the sandstone cliffs of Bamiyan in Afghanistan was destroyed by the Taliban during March of the first year of this century. And just half a year after that, on September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were destroyed, almost as if signaling that this will be a most terrible century.
The 20th century was a time during which our material culture developed at an astonishing rate because the peoples of our world sought a happier life. And yet, because of ruinous world wars unprecedented in history that have taken place twice, it was also a most calamitous century.
The environment has become an acute problem because of the destruction of nature, particularly during the latter part of the 20th century. We have the problems of indiscriminate killings, murdering people for their insurance, mistreatment of children, bullying among school children,… the list can go on and on, all pointing to the fact that we as a society have lost our hearts.
There are also the problems of terminal care, and dying peacefully and with dignity. Because of the great advances in the life sciences, we now have problems regarding the ethics of prolonging life and stem-cell research.
The ideal of a materialist culture has collapsed because of these problems, and at least in Japan, the 21st century is considered to be a period of the heart – when what was lacking in the 20th century must be brought back into our culture. In Japan, there is now a slight regret for having hidden within the shadow of a materialist culture, and I believe this is a period during which we must turn our eyes to religion – true religion – in order for true happiness to be experienced by the peoples of the world.
Religions can be defined in many different ways. And because there are so many religions, it can also be said that there are many ways of expressing what religion is. I believe true religion is what confers peace and tranquility, and teaches us how to live correctly. Further, I believe the teaching of Jodo-Shinshu that the Venerable Master Shinran (1173-1263 CE) taught is a true religion that combines both these aspects.
I was born the eldest son of the resident minister of a Jodo-Shinshu temple. In keeping with Japanese custom I was groomed to succeed my father from the time I was a child and for that reason, the members of my father’s temple and people in the neighborhood treated me very carefully. Although I was very grateful for such consideration, because I had absolutely no idea about the world of shinjin, I was then not at all happy about my future. In fact, I was very uneasy about it.
I entered the university maintained by the denomination with which my family temple is associated (Ryukoku University), studied the doctrines of Jodo-Shinshu and discussed my lack of understanding with many people, but could not seem to come to any resolution.
During this time when my obligation to follow the path of a resident minister weighed heaviest in my heart, I came across a passage in the “Hymn of True Shinjin” (Shoshin-ge) which I had chanted since childhood:
Shakyamuni appeared in this world
Solely to teach Amida’s ocean-like Primal Vow;
Because we are evil beings in a world of five defilements,
We should entrust ourselves to Amida’s words of truth.
Although I had chanted this passage many, many times in the past, only then did I realize “evil beings in a world of five defilements,” is me! That was over forty years ago. Since then my admiration and appreciation of the Jodo-Shinshu teaching has only continued to increase. My long period of anxiety was completely settled and I now boast about being a Jodo-Shinshu minister.
I am grateful to be asked by the Tankyusha Publishing Company to write this booklet. If it is of even the slightest cause for others to experience the truly wonderful world of salvation that the Venerable Master taught, I can ask for nothing more.
Chapter One. The Venerable Master Shinran's Life
The Venerable Master Shinran (hereafter Venerable Master) was born near the capital city of Kyoto during 1173 CE (承安Joan 3). This was during the latter part of what is referred to as the Heian Period 平安時代 (794-1192 CE). His father was Hino Arinori日野有範, a member of the Hino family, a branch of the Fujiwara clan藤原.
According to tradition, the Venerable Master was born on the 1st day of the 4th lunar month, which is May 21st according to our modern calendar.
The Venerable Master lost both parents as a child, and was initiated as a monk during the spring of 1181 CE, when he was nine years of age. He climbed Mt. Hiei比叡山, then the center of Buddhist study and practice, and concentrated on Buddhist practice.
Enryaku Temple延曆寺 on Mt. Hiei is the main temple of the Tendai Buddhist denomination established by Saicho最澄 (767-822 CE). The Tendai denomination is primarily focused on performing religious practice, the goal of which is to discard all selfish and willful thoughts (referred to as bonno) through “self-centered effort” (jiriki).
The Venerable Master spent twenty years on Mt. Hiei, single-mindedly devoting himself to the Tendai teaching. Although he must have practiced to a degree beyond the capability of most, because he was so severe with himself, he did not feel his practice was doing any good.
The Venerable Master was filled with anguish because he could not reach a state of satori enlightenment which would remove his selfish and willful thoughts. This is not to say that the Venerable Master did not strive earnestly enough, or that he failed in his practice. Rather, it points to how sincere he was, and how deeply he delved into himself as a human being.
During the year 1201 CE, when he was 29 years of age, after performing the most difficult of religious practices on Mt. Hiei, the Venerable Master reached an impasse. He felt he could not continue following the Tendai teaching any further, and determined to seek the way to follow by secluding himself for a hundred days in a temple named Rokkakudo六角堂. The Venerable Master is said to have decided to seclude himself there because Rokkakudo was established by Shotoku Taishi (574-522 CE) 聖德太子, and that the object of worship in that temple was Kusekannon Bosatsu. The Venerable Master venerated Shotoku Taishi, who was considered to be the “Japanese Buddha” and was the form that Kuse Kannon Bosatsu 救世觀音 took in order to appear in this world.
At dawn of the 95th day of the Venerable Master’s seclusion, he received a suggestion from Shotoku Taishi in the form of a dream. Because of that suggestion, the Venerable Master went to see Master Honen (1133-1212 CE) who then had a hermitage in the Yoshimizu吉水 area of Kyoto.
The Venerable Master listened earnestly to Master Honen’s Dharma Talks and became his disciple. He abandoned the way of “self-centered effort” that he had followed until then, and began following the way of “Buddha-centered effort” (tariki). In the Chapter on Transformed Land of his “Teaching, Practice, Shinjin, and Realization” (Kyogyoshinsho), the Venerable Master wrote:
“I, Gutoku Shinran, disciple of Shakyamuni, discarded sundry practices and took refuge in the Primal Vow during the first year of the Kennin 建仁 era (the metal/cock year, 1201 CE).”
In other words, the Venerable Master stated that during the year 1201 CE, when he was 29 years of age, this ignorant Shinran who is unable to follow any religious practice, abandoned the way of “self-centered effort” in which religious practices are performed in order to attain Enlightenment and accepted the Nembutsu teaching which relies on Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow.