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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

HORAI Introduction #204

          Buddhism is a battle between the darkness of sentient beings’ hearts and the Light (virtue) of Nyorai-sama’s great compassion. Sentient beings have no power to erase their sins. The power to extinguish sins is only the Light of the Tathāgata’s Original Vow, the Light of the Name, the Light of the Buddha-wisdom, the Light of the mind of great compassion. [This] Light is virtue.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Reading the KYOGYOSHINSHO #213 (from HORAI No. 220)

Reading the Kyogyoshinsho (213)


第十八願文には、「信」と「行」(乃至十念)とが誓われてある。In the text of the Eighteenth Vow, “faith [shin]” and “practice [gyō]” (up to ten thoughts) are vowed. 十八願成就文には、「聞其名号、信心歓喜、乃至一念(信の一念)……即得往生」とある。The passage on fulfillment of the Eighteenth Vow states that “[those who,] hearing the Name, realize shinjin and joy, even one thought-moment (one thought-moment of faith)… are immediately born.” 善導大師の釈文には、「衆生称念、必得往生」(衆生(が)称念すれば、必ず往生を得)と申された。In Zendō Daishi’s explanatory text, it is said that “sentient beings who say the Name are surely born” (if sentient beings recite the Name, they will certainly be born).
浄土宗の人は、「其の三」(前述)、(219号P.33)を重視して、「念佛を称えなければ往生出来ぬ」と思って、称名に力を入れてお念佛を奨励する。People of the Jōdo School emphasize “[passage] three” (mentioned previously), (No. 219 p. 33) and encourage putting effort into reciting the Name, thinking that “I cannot be born if I do not recite the nembutsu.”
People浄土真宗の人は、親鸞聖人の第十八願(至心・信楽の願)の釈を重んじておる。 of the Jōdo Shin School emphasize Shinran Shōnin’s interpretation of the Eighteenth Vow (the Vow of sincere mind and joyful faith). さて御安心となると、第一の據所は、「第十八願の成就文」である。When it comes to peace of mind [anjin], the first point is the “passage on fulfillment of the Eighteenth Vow.”
聖人は「成就文」を釈して、Interpreting the “passage on fulfillment,” the Shōnin [Shinran] says:
「横超は、即ち願成就(第十八願の成就文)一実円満の真教、真宗是れなり。」と申された。Transcending crosswise is the true teaching based on the fulfillment of the Vow (passage on fulfilment of the Eighteenth Vow), which embodies the perfectly consummate true reality. This indeed is the true essence of the Pure Land way.” Concerning peace of mind, when doubts arise, they should first of all be resolved in light of the “passage on fulfillment of the Primal Vow.”
殆んど、すべての同行は、Almost invariably, all fellow travelers [ask the following questions]:
          1. Will I be saved if I believe?
二、称うれば助かるか、          2. Will I be saved if I recite [the nembutsu]?

この問題を解決した同行は少ない。Fellow travelers who have resolved these questions are few.この問題も第十八願成就文に照らして解決すべきである。 These questions should also be resolved in light of the passage on fulfillment of the Eighteenth Vow.

(一)信心は往生の正因である。(1) Shinjin is the true cause of birth [in the Pure Land].
念佛は往生の正因に非ず。Nembutsu is not the true cause of birth [in the Pure Land].
(二)信心は「本」であって、念佛は「末」である。(2) Shinjin is the “origin,” nembutsu is the “end.”
(三)信心は「体」であって、念佛は「用」であり「相」であり、報恩行である。(3) Shinjin is the “body,” nembutsu is the “working” and “aspect”; it is the practice of repaying [our] gratitude.
(四)信心は先にいただくもので、念佛は後にいただくものである。(4) Shinjin is received first, and the nembutsu is received after.
此の四ヶ条は心得ておかねばならぬ。These four articles must be understood. さりとて、「念佛は称えなくてもよい」と云って、お念佛をしない人がある。Having said that, there are people who do not say the nembutsu, saying, “There is no need to recite the nembutsu.” これは「称えず非事」と云って、異安心である。This is called the “error of not reciting,” and it is a different [i.e. mistaken] faith [i-anjin].
「信巻」末の「必具名号」(真実の信心には必ず名号(称名念佛)を具す)の釈を拝見すべきである。You should look at the explanation of “unfailingly accompanied by [saying] the Name” in the second volume of the “Chapter on Faith” (true and real shinjin always includes saying the Name (nembutsu)).
『御文章』にのたまわく、In Gobunshō we find:

「信心獲得すといふは第十八の願をこころうるなり。この願をこころうるといふは南無阿弥陀佛のすがた(成就文)をこころうるなり」と。Realizing shinjin means understanding the Eighteenth Vow. Understanding this Vow means understanding what Namo Amida Butsu (passage on fulfillment) is.”

Most fellow travelers dislike hearing the origin of the Eighteenth Vow. Moreover, they do not know the text of the Eighteenth Vow [itself], to say nothing of the “passage on fulfillment.”
First and foremost, the Eighteenth Vow and the “passage on fulfillment” of the Eighteenth Vow must be heard and remembered. To go to the Pure Land is to go to the Pure Land by the “Primal Vow-power” of Nyorai-sama.
To taste the Eighteenth Vow and to receive the “Passage on Fulfillment,” what we must pay attention to is the “two kinds of deep faith.” Always having the two kinds of deep faith in your heart, if you do not taste the Eighteenth Vow, you cannot understand its meaning. Amida Nyorai is the Tathagata evoking gratitude, and in light of the self-power Dharma-gate of the Path of Sages, to the person who cannot be saved by any means, Amida Nyorai is the only one who says, “I will save you alone.” Amida Nyorai has already saved the sentient beings throughout the ten directions by means of His “Light” and “Name.” Again, He has already rescued [them] by means of His “Primal Vow” and “Name.”

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Reading the KYOGYOSHINSHO #212 (from HORAI No. 219)

Reading the KYOGYOSHINSHO (212)


Hearing/faith [monshin] (joyful faith) in one thought moment [ichinen] (end of the Chapter on Faith [from Kyōgyōshinshō])

“Contemplating true and real [joyful faith], I find there is the one thought-moment. One thought-moment expresses the ultimate brevity of the instant of the realization of [joyful faith] and manifests the vast, inconceivable mind of joyfulness.”

“The word hear in the passage from the [Larger] Sutra means that sentient beings, having heard how the Buddha’s Vow arose – its origin and fulfillment – are altogether free of doubt. This is to hear. Shinjin is shinjin that is directed to beings through the power of the Primal Vow. Joy expresses gladness in body and mind. Even includes both many and few. One thought-moment: because shinjin is free of double-mindedness, one thought-moment is used. It is the mind that is single. The mind that is single is the true cause of [birth in] the pure fulfilled land.”


          The doctrine of birth through “one thought-moment of faith” is only [to be found in] Jōdo Shinshū. “One thought-moment of faith” means “Namo Amida Butsu, don’t worry, you are saved just as you are,” while hearing this, “Ah! so happy!” What showed us that we are born [in the Pure Land] through one thought-moment of shinjin and joy is “[as they] hear the Name, realize even one thought-moment of shinjin and joy, they then attain birth” from the passage on the fulfilment of the Primal Vow.
          The passage on fulfillment in the last volume of the Larger Sutra is the true spirit of the Eighteenth Vow described by Shaka Nyorai in the first volume. This is the face of Jōdo Shinshū and is also the basis of peace of mind [anjin] in Shinshū.
          In the Eighteenth Vow (first volume of the Larger Sutra), the threefold faith (three minds) of “sincere mind, joyful faith, and wish to be born in my land,” shinjin (faith) and the “nembutsu” of “even one thought-moment” (practice), [which are] “faith” and “practice,” have been vowed.
          Zendō Daishi [Master Shan-tao] interprets the Eighteenth Vow as saying:

“Sentient beings who say the Name will surely be born (if sentient beings say the Name they will certainly be born [in the Pure Land].)”

          The passage on the fulfillment (last volume of the Larger Sutra) of the Primal Vow (Eighteenth Vow) states,

“All sentient beings, as they hear the Name, realize even one thought-moment of shinjin and joy, which is directed to them from Amida’s sincere mind, and aspiring to be born in that land, they then attain birth and dwell in the stage of nonretrogression.” (2)

          The text of the Eighteenth Vow reads,

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and think of me even ten times should not be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.” (1)

          Zendō Daishi interprets the text of the Eighteenth Vow as follows:

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters say my Name even ten times but do not attain birth, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment. The Buddha is now actually there in the Pure Land, and has attained Buddhahood. Know that the momentous Primal Vow is not in vain, and that when sentient beings say the Name, they unfailingly attain birth.” (3)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

An Update

Dear Readers,

I regretfully note that my blog has been idle for quite some time. This has certainly not been because I have nothing more to say on the subject of Jōdo Shinshū! Rather, if I were to offer an excuse, it would be that I have been very busy this past year finishing up my university studies. Now that those have been successfully completed, I am once more turning my attention to this blog.

I began writing and posting here almost four years ago as a means of sharing my personal thoughts while traveling on the Great Unhindered Path of the True Pure Land School (Jōdo Shinshū in Japanese). That purpose remains unchanged to this day, and will continue. In fact, there are a number of topics I would like to write about, and essays on these will be forthcoming. I especially wish in the future to use this space as a way of sharing my life experiences related to Buddhism in general, and Shin Buddhism in particular. Thus, I will be posting photos and reflections as I return to Japan this fall to meet with friends new and old and take part in various events while studying in Kyoto.

Of course, the primary intention is always to share the authentic teaching of Jōdo Shinshū in the form that I have been fortunate to receive it. To that end, I will in the coming months be posting several articles from Hōrai (Dharma Thunder) magazine that I have been translating. These are pieces written by the late Rev. Zuiken Inagaki, a beloved and esteemed preacher of Shinran Shōnin's teaching. Although I am hardly the person qualified to undertake such a monumental task, nevertheless I felt that if I do not attempt it, it will not be done.

The copies of Hōrai magazine, from which the excerpts will be drawn, I received as a surprise gift from my good friend Rev. Yuki Sugahara, formerly minister at the Buddhist Church of Florin in California, and now of Oregon Buddhist Temple. Knowing my zest for Zuiken's words, he presented me with over a decade’s worth of issues, each a veritable goldmine containing verses, sermons, essays, and more. Indeed, such is the extent of the Dharma-treasure here contained, that I was at a loss to know where to begin! In addition, I had previously been given two copies of Hōrai magazine by Mr. Inaba, a fellow traveler associated with Kōrinji Temple in Yokohama, to whom I introduced Zuiken Sensei's work while attending religious services there.

In order to repay my debt of gratitude for these wonderful gifts, I have decided to share Sensei’s words in English to the best of my limited ability. The task is a difficult one, as the Japanese employed is frequently antiquated or contains elements of regional dialect. The resulting translations will therefore necessarily be provisional, and it is to be hoped that they improve with time as my knowledge of the Japanese language grows. Fortunately, I have been helped in this endeavor by another good friend and Dharma-brother, Mr. Melvin Lim of Malaysia. A devoted student of Zuiken Sensei's thought, Melvin has long dedicated himself to the promotion of Sensei’s writings through his own blog "Diamondlike Shinjin" (, to which I give my unreserved recommendation. In the present case, Melvin read my translated drafts and offered invaluable suggestions for their improvement. Of course, any errors of translation are entirely my own.

In conclusion, I would like to note that Zuiken Sensei's teaching is of special significance to me. When I was first starting out on the Pure Land path many years ago, Zuiken's writings were among the first I was fortunate to encounter. Through his joyful verses and clear and unambiguous expositions, Zuiken Sensei has been my good teacher and guide over the years. Indeed, I often feel that he has been at my side all along. In his uncompromising presentation of Shinshu teaching, Zuiken's intention is always to lead the hearer/reader into the all-powerful working of the Primal Vow that is absolute Other-Power—to hear the unconditional Call of Amida's Name, Namo Amida Butsu, and find true peace of mind (anjin) in His all-embracing Light. If someone happening upon this blog encounters the True Dharma through the words of Zuiken Sensei, thereby realizing the indestructible Mind of Joy, I could hope for nothing more.

In gasshō,

Kyōkan G. Schlaefer

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" (