Sunday, January 26, 2020

Kyo Amidabutsu (Shiro Amano) of Kawachi Province

Public teaching by Honen
According to Amidaji calendar, on January 26th we celebrate Kyo Amidabutsu (Shiro Amano), a disciple of Honen Shonin. Here are some discussions between him and Honen and the story of his conversion:

"In the province of Kawachi near present-day Osaka, there lived a man called Shiro Amano who was the leader of a gang of thieves. He passed most of his life murdering people and stealing their goods. But after he had grown old, he came under Honen's influence and gave himself over to spiritual life, taking the name of Kyo Amidabutsu. Sometime later he found Honen in the main hall of the temple and said to him, "I have no relatives in the city, so it’ll be hard for me to stay here much longer. I have a friend living in the province of Sagami near Kamakura, and I’m intending to go and ask him to let me stay with him. As I’m already an old man, it’ll be hard for me to come and see you again. Of course, I’m only an ignorant person, so even if I were told all the deepest teachings of the Dharma, it wouldn’t be of much use to me since I wouldn’t understand them. I’d like just one word from you about what I should do to make sure of Birth in the Pure Land, and that I’ll try to remember all my life."

Then Honen spoke as follows : "First of all, notice that there is nothing so extremely profound in the Nembutsu at all. The only thing to know is that everyone who calls upon the sacred Name is certain to be born into the Pure Land. No matter how educated a scholar may be, he has no right to assert that there are things in our school which really do not belong to it. Do not by a great effort of your mind try to make yourself think that there is something so very subtle in the teaching. As calling upon the sacred Name is such an easy practice, there are many who do it. But the reason why so few actually attain ojo (birth in the Pure Land) is that they are ignorant of this old well-known truth of the certainty of Birth to all who believe.”

My commentary: The words, “everyone who calls upon the sacred Name is certain to be born into the Pure Land “ and “certainty of Birth to all who believe” prove that Master Honen taught the Nembutsu of faith (Other Power Nembutsu) to Kyo Amidabutsu. This Nembutsu teaching is very simple, you just say the Name as an expression of faith in Amida Buddha and you will be born in His Pure Land after death. No sophisticated scholarship is needed.

Honen Shonin also said:

“Last month when you and I were here alone together, I got up in the middle of the night and was practicing the Nembutsu. Did you hear me?" Kyo Amidabutsu replied, "I thought I heard something like the sound of your voice during the night." Then Honen said, "This is the very Nembutsu that definitely brings Ojo (birth in the Pure Land). The Nembutsu of a hypocrite or of someone practicing it for show does not lead to the Pure Land. Someone who wants to make sure of it must not practice it for show but with a sincere heart. A person does not act for show in the presence of little children or animals but only in front of his friends and companions or the members of his household who are always with him. The ordinary person (bonbu) who lives among his friends is not without this egoistical heart. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are our intimates or strangers, nor whether or not they are high or low class - there is no greater enemy to our attainment of Ojo than our fellow beings. It is because of the presence of others that our vanity is awakened within our hearts, and so we fail to attain that Birth (Ojo) after death. And though that is so true, none of us can live absolutely alone. So how then is it possible to practice the Nembutsu with a sincere mind (shijoshin) and not with a mind which tries to do things that will please the eyes of others? Someone who is always living with other people and takes no time for quiet reflection is forever living a feigned life. Now if there’s no one to see or hear him and he still quietly rises from his bed in the middle of the night to practice the Nembutsu a hundred or a thousand times to his heart's content - this is the kind of Nembutsu which is not practiced for show but is in harmony with the mind of the Buddha and definitely leads to Birth in the Pure Land. As long as one practices it with a mind like this, it doesn’t matter whether or not it is done in the night time or in the morning, at noon or at twilight. We must always do it as if no one were listening.”

“Basically, what I mean by a mind that longs for certain Birth into the Pure Land and calls upon the sacred Name in all sincerity is like the mind of a thief[1] who wants to steal another's property. Deep down in his heart he means to steal, but as far as his outward appearance is concerned, he doesn’t show the slightest indication to others of his purpose by look or gesture. As others know absolutely nothing about the purpose to steal that is in his mind, we can say that the purpose is for himself alone, without any reference whatsoever to outward appearances. Such an undivided mind as this is necessary in the person who wants to make sure of Birth in the Pure Land. You must never for a moment allow yourself to forget what you are about by letting others know that you are calling upon the sacred Name – not even by the slightest facial expression even though you are in the middle of a crowd of people. At such a time, should anyone except Amida Buddha know about your practicing the Nembutsu? If only Amida Buddha knows, why have any doubts about Birth in the Pure Land?"

To this Kyo Amidabutsu replied, "I can now really see what the teaching about certain Birth in the Pure Land means, and I can fully understand it. If I hadn’t heard these words, I might have missed Birth in the Pure Land at last. But it seems to me from what you have said that it is wrong to tell the beads of the rosary or to move one's lips in prayer before others. Isn't that so?"

Then Honen said, "No, you are mistaken on this point. The most important thing is to continue the practice of the Nembutsu without ceasing. This is why it is said you must always continually keep your mind on this one thing. […]

There are the two kinds of people, the true and the false. With the false, it’s natural for them to fake a thing that is so small there isn’t the least need for it. But on the other hand, the true tell no lies even when it might be to their advantage and don’t think about their own personal gain. They are true to the core and never fake it even in the slightest degree. This is truly their inborn disposition. Now if such true-minded people desire Birth in the Pure Land and devote themselves to the Nembutsu, it doesn’t matter where they are or in whose presence they practice it. Since they never fake it at all, their calling upon the sacred Name is genuine and sincere, and is sure to lead to Birth in the Pure Land. So why should it be prohibited?
Now take the case of a person who is false by nature and does a few things insincerely so as to look good in the eyes of others. Say that he comes in contact with a pious monk and has a believing heart awakened in him so that he develops a strong purpose to attain Birth in the Pure Land. If he makes up his mind to keep on repeating the sacred Name without ceasing, it doesn’t matter where he is or in the presence of what people. He will just go on repeating it with an undiverted mind and with all earnestness. This is a case of downright genuine Nembutsu, and such a person is sure of Birth into the Pure Land. There’s no need at all to forbid him to practice the Nembutsu before others if he does it in this way.” […]

Since a sincere heart (shijoshin) is so particularly hard to have awakened within person, that’s why I’ve spoken as I have so as to awaken it in you. This being the case, how could I not encourage you to keep up the practice of the Nembutsu even at ordinary times from day to day?”

My commentary:
If one is a hypocrite and uses Nembutsu to impress others, he cannot be born in the Pure Land. On the contrary, for a genuine follower who says Nembutsu out of sincere faith and gratitude outward conditions do not matter, as even when he says it many times and in public places, he does it like he is alone with Amida (like being alone at night when no one sees him). Also, if he recites Nembutsu many times it is not because he is obsessed by numbers, but because he simply enjoys expressing his faith.

When Honen said:

“The most important thing is to continue the practice of the Nembutsu without ceasing. This is why it is said you must always continually keep your mind on this one thing”.

he did not mean that one must constantly say Nembutsu hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second to achieve birth in the Pure Land. No one can actually say Nembutsu second by second, and in the Primal Vow Amida himself showed that the number of recitations is not important, “saying my Name perhaps even ten times”.
Master Honen also insisted in many parts of his writings that faith is more important than the number of recitations. Here is an example,

"If one deeply believes in this Vow of Amida Buddha and does not entertain any doubts  about birth in the Pure Land through Nembutsu, ten out of ten and one hundred out of one hundred people will achieve birth in the Pure Land through just a single utterance of Nembutsu. Conversely, one who doubts birth in the Pure Land through Nembutsu will not attain this Birth, even if this individual recites Nembutsu."[2]

Even if one says Nembutsu many times he will not be born in the Pure Land if that Nembutsu is not said on the basis of faith, while just one Nembutsu said as an expression of faith is effective in bringing about Birth. Thus, „without ceasing” in the words of Honen actually means that faith never disappears from the heart of the genuine practitioner, and so, even when one does not actually say the Name, because faith is always present, his mind is always with Amida – „always continually keep your mind on this one thing”.
Also, „without ceasing” and „continually keep your mind on this one thing” means that you will never abandon the Nembutsu of faith during your life. It does not mean to say it second by second, but that you will never abandon it.

Master Honen insisted further that outward appearances are not important when saying the Nembutsu of faith:

“Kyo Amidabutsu questioned again, "When you practice the Nembutsu at night, as you were saying, should you always get up out of bed and do it? And should you always have your rosary and robes on?" To this Honen replied, "The Nembutsu may be practiced whether you are walking, standing, sitting or lying. So it can be left to everyone according to their circumstances to do it either reclining or sitting or in any way you choose. And as to holding the rosary or putting on robes, this also should be decided according to circumstances. The main point is not the outward manner at all but the fixing of the mind on the one thing - firmly determined to gain Ojo and with all seriousness calling upon the sacred Name. This is the all-important thing."

The main point when you say the Name of Amida is to have faith in Him and to sincerely wish to be born in His Pure Land.

Kyo Amidabutsu is overjoyed at the teachings he received from Master Honen and lives the rest of his days in the Nembutsu of faith:

At this Kyo Amidabutsu jumped for joy, putting his hands together in worship as he went away. The next day he went to the house of Honen’s disciple Shinku to say good-bye. He told him that Honen had instructed him yesterday about how he could be sure of Birth in the Pure Land, and now he had no more doubts about it. So with great joy in his heart, he departed and turned his face eastwards. After this, when Shinku met Honen, he asked him if this conversation had actually happened, and Honen said, "Yes, I heard he was an old robber, and I instructed him as I thought his case required. He seemed to thoroughly understand what I told him." So Kyo Amidabutsu went down to Sagami and lived there the rest of his life. When after a long illness, he was drawing near the end he told his friend he was sure of Birth in the Pure Land, and it was all due to his having believed what Honen had taught him. His last words were, "Go and tell Honen of my Birth in the Pure Land.” Without a single doubt and with his hands folded in prayer, he repeated the Nembutsu over some tens of times with a loud voice, and then passed away. So his friend went up to the capital and gave Honen a detailed account of his last days at which Honen remarked, "Well, no doubt he did understand. This is fine."

source of the quotations,

[1] Honen gives the example of a thief because Kyo Amidabutsu (Shiro Amane) was himself a thief before he converted to Nembutsu.
[2] Honen Shonin, Essentials for Birth in the Pure Land through Nembutsu, The Promise of Amida Buddha - Honen's Path to Bliss; English translation of the Genko edition of the works of Honen Shonin - Collected Teachings of Kurodani Shonin: The Japanese Anthology (Wago Toroku), translated by Joji Atone and Yoko Hayashi, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2011, p.361

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