The radiant light, unhindered and inconceivable, eradicates suffering and brings realization of joy; the excellent Name, perfectly embodying all practices, eliminates obstacles and dispels doubt. This is the teaching and practice for our latter age; devote yourself solely to it. It is eye and limb in this defiled world; do not fail to endeavor in it. Accepting and living the supreme, universal Vow, then, abandon the defiled and aspire for the pure. Reverently embracing the Tathagata's teaching, respond in gratitude to his benevolence and be thankful for his compassion.

~ Shinran Shonin, Passages on the Pure Land Way

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Day 2017

Happy New Year to my friends and readers from around the world!

As I reflect on the past year, I am filled with gratitude that I was given the opportunity to strengthen my connections with our Jodo Shinshu tradition through many precious encounters, particularly while living and studying in Japan. I believe that these spiritual friendships will outlast the impermanence of this Saha world, and I look forward to learning more from each one of them in the years to come. As Zuiken Sensei says, "Those who have become your friends with selfish desires will part from you through selfish desires; those who have become your friends through the Buddhist Way will never part from you" (Shinshu Dharma-pada, p. 60).

This morning, I woke early in hopes of seeing the first sunrise of the New Year. Unfortunately, the weather here in northern California was cloudy today, so the rising sun remained invisible. Standing beside the river near my apartment, I listened to the sounds of fish jumping and the calls of birds, and pondered the unfathomable working of Amida's Original Vow, which has enabled me to hear the Dharma in this life. The overcast sky reminded me of the words of Shinran Shōnin that we recite in the "Hymn of True Faith":

The light of compassion that grasps us illumines and protects us always;
The darkness of our ignorance is already broken through;
Still the clouds and mists of greed and desire, anger and hatred,
Cover as always the sky of true and real shinjin.

But though light of the sun is veiled by clouds and mists,
Beneath the clouds and mists there is brightness, not dark.
When one realizes shinjin, seeing and revering and attaining great joy,
One immediately leaps crosswise, closing off the five evil courses.

I would like to keep these words in mind as I continue to deepen my personal understanding and appreciation of our Jodo Shinshu teaching this year. I will continue to post occasional reflections on my journey on this blog as time permits. If there is anyone who follows what I write here and (more importantly) derives some benefit from it, I would especially like to wish you a happy and prosperous 2017.

In gassho,

Shaku Kyōkan

January 1, 2017

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Miscellaneous Verses

If you try to resolve your doubts
Through your own power,
You will find they pop up
Again and again,
Like mushrooms after the rain.
But if you rely on the Buddha's power,
You will find your doubts naturally dissolve
Like mist before the sun.

Such is the understanding
Not based on human calculation,
The thoughts and opinions
Of the unenlightened.
It is the diamond-like assurance
Of the Buddha's True Mind.
We call this True Mind,
"Joyful Faith" (shingyo)

After a lifetime spent
Listening to the Dharma,
What does one hear?
Only the call of the Primal Vow,
Namo Amida Butsu.

Reading books
And piling up knowledge
Is not the Buddhist path.

Though others may speak
Of how fine the water is,
You cannot know this yourself
Unless you dive in.

Plunge into the Buddha-Dharma!
Immerse yourself in the true Wisdom!
Unless you are willing to undergo
The flames of Samsara
In order to hear
The Tathagata's Name,
This life, too, will pass by
To no purpose.

Finding myself lost and alone,
Far from shore,
The waves of blind passions
Swept over me.
All hope of rescue gone --
Then I heard the calling voice:
"I am here for your rescue!"

How can this be?
I never petitioned the Buddha's appearance,
Yet there he is.

Spiritual relief comes
At the sound of Amida's Voice,
"Do not be afraid!
I will not leave you behind.
Unless you too are free,
How can I possibly enjoy
The bliss of Nirvana?"

The Tathagata's salvation
Is the wonderful world
Of the inconceivable Wisdom
Of the incomprehensible Light
Lying beyond all thoughts
Of foolish beings.

What is the way to true liberation?
Only Faith.
What kind of Faith?
The Faith that arises spontaneously
At the sound of His Call.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Some Thoughts on "Listening" (Chōmon)

In orthodox Jodo Shinshu, listening to the Buddha-Dharma (chomon) is not a spiritual practice (gyo) that brings about a result. This is because "it is not the 'listening' that we do that allows us to receive shinjin" (Kobai, Namo Amida Butsu: Misunderstandings of Master Rennyo). [1]

There is nothing more to shinjin than understanding the meaning of Amida's "name-and-title" (myogo), hearing the call of the Primal Vow, and obeying its command without doubt or hesitation. Hence, "that hearing, just as it is, is what shinjin is."

Or as Zuiken Sensei put it, "Believing does not come after hearing. Peace of mind does not come after believing. Listen carefully to the call of the Original Vow, which has accomplished namuamidabutsu and also accomplished our hearing of it, believing in it and peace of mind. If you have listened well, you will be relieved of the heavy burden on your shoulders." [2]

Of course, in order to hear the Name, it goes without saying that we must "pass through the triple-thousand worlds aflame" with determination to seek the truth of the Buddha's Words. But the process of listening itself does not depend on the calculating mind of foolish beings. This defiled mind of ours cannot “see” the Buddha's mind; only the Buddha can see the Buddha's mind. So how can we see? Amida Buddha makes us see through “hearing the Name.” Besides hearing the Name, there is no practice or condition for sentient beings to fulfill in order to enter the world of salvation.

To state once again, listening to the Dharma in the context of Jodo Shinshu does not mean exerting one's mind in order to “get it.” Rather, it is an opening up to the "marvelously mysterious" working of the Vow, which is itself brought about naturally by the skillful means of our true father-and-mother, Amida. As Zuiken Sensei says, “‘Hearing the Name, having joy in shinjin (faith)’ is the abstruse tenet of Jōdō Shinshū, the anjin (settled mind) of the Shōnin, as well as the basis for salvation. ‘Hearing’ is the working of the Name; other than this working, the Name is not found. ‘Hearing’ is the great shinjin that is the mind of great compassion, so it is the real cause of birth in the Land of Recompense.” [3]

So long as we listen to the Dharma with the mind of self-power, we cannot realize true peace of mind (anjin). But as soon as this self-power mind is overturned, we enter the ocean of the Vow. How is this mind overturned? It is overturned through nothing but the Light and Name of Amida Tathagata.

For more on this topic, please read Chapter 3, "The Way to Shinjin" from Namo Amida Butsu: Misunderstandings of Master Rennyo by Rev. Dr. Eiken Kobai.


[1] The Japanese term chomon 聴聞 may be translated variously as “listening” or “hearing.” In the context of the Buddha-Dharma, “listening” suggests a casual acquaintance with the doctrines or an understanding driven by self-centered effort, while “hearing” implies deep realization of the true meaning of the Name. Upon settlement of shinjin based on Other-Power, we become aware that Amida’s salvation precedes even our “hearing” of it. There is, therefore, as the Myokonin Okaru observed, nothing left but hearing.

[2] Zuiken S. Inagaki, "On Faith" (

[3] Zuiken S. Inagaki, "Shinran Shōnin" (

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Those who think they will never fall into hell
     Are certain to go there;
Those who believe they will be born in the Pure Land
     Rarely attain their goal.
What way is left for me, then,
     Apart from the Original Vow?

Yokohama, Japan
April 10, 2016

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

An Important Pure Land Scriptural Text

A signed copy of Rev. Dr. Zuio H. Inagaki's English translation of Shan-tao's Kannenbōmon (The Method of Contemplation on Amida). It is a joy to receive such a beautiful gift, and an even greater joy to read it! Gassho

My Kikyoshiki Experience

NOTE: The following essay was first published on my personal Facebook page at 12:23PM on March 23, 2016.
This Higan’e, I was fortunate to attend services at three Jodo Shinshu temples here in Japan. The first was Nishi Honganji ( in Kyoto, my denomination’s head temple (Honzan), where I met with Rev. Eiken Kobai and received my Dharma-name after an unforgettable tour of the temple’s architectural treasures led by Rev. Clifton Dodatsu Ong. Immediately following the kikyoshiki ceremony, I had the opportunity to attend the service held in Amida-do (the H...all of Amida Buddha). Here, for the first time, I heard the sound of the Kansho bell and listened as the hall reverberated with voices chanting the Sanbutsuge and Wasan.

On Sunday, I journeyed to Nara to attend Higan’e service at Jokyouji ( at Reverend Clifton's invitation. This beautiful and historic temple was founded in the 13th century by Gyoen, a disciple of Shinran Shonin who was formerly a samurai. Here, I was honored to meet the granddaughter of Rev. Riken Katsura, Rev. Zuiken Inagaki’s teacher. Serious listening to the Buddha-Dharma is a matter of course at Jokyouji, where Zuiken Sensei’s legacy is alive and well. His writings were referenced multiple times during my visit, and I even had lunch in a room where his calligraphy adorned the walls. One of the temple’s members, at the age of 100, travels four kilometers by bicycle to attend services! To hear the Dharma in the company of such dedicated fellow-travelers was a rare privilege indeed. I was also presented with two books, Zuiken Sensei’s biography of Shakyamuni Buddha, and an introduction to Shinshu teaching by his son Rev. Zuio Inagaki—beautiful gifts that I will certainly cherish in memory of the wonderful people I met at Jokyouji.

The next day, I went at the invitation of Rev. Eiken Kobai to Osaka, where I attended another Higan’e service at Jofukuji. All the temple members listened with rapt attention to Kobai Sensei’s Dharma-talk on the meaning and significance of Ohigan (literally, "the Other Shore”), frequently nodding or saying the Nembutsu as his explanations and numerous illustrations resonated with them. After the service, I was invited to the room housing the family obutsudan, where I learned that I was the first American to visit the temple since it was rebuilt following World War II. At Jofukuji I also met my friend Mr. Yoshida Tokushin in person for the first time. To commemorate our meeting, Mr. Yoshida gave me a golden Dharma-wheel pin and Japan Buddhist Federation clip for my montoshikisho, which I will wear in gratitude for this encounter.

Each of these experiences reminded me of the familiar words of Ondokusan, sung so often during Higan’e:

 Such is the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion,
 That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies;
 Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers,
 That we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Birth is the Achievement of Amida

Birth in the Pure Land—the world of True Enlightenment—is altogether the achievement of Amida Tathagata. You cannot attain birth in the Pure Land merely by thinking that you will be born there, as your foolish and unenlightened thoughts do not constitute the cause of birth. Only through the working of the living Buddha Amida, and by the power of his Primal Vow, can you be born in the Land of Peace and Bliss. Through "hearing the Name," the great compassionate Vow-Mind of Amida fills our hearts and becomes great shinjin, the True Faith. And it is this "shinjitsu shinjin" (true and real entrusting mind) alone that is the cause of birth. The realization involved in this "taking refuge" is twofold: "There is nowhere for me to go but hell, yet Amida Buddha exists to save just such a miserable being as that. Ah, so grateful! Nanmandabutsu, nanmandabutsu!" The Nembutsu that consequently emerges is the ho-on nembutsu spoken in absolute gratitude to Tathagata's benevolence. It is the true Other-Power Nembutsu that is devoid of calculation and self-power. Gassho