Master Honen and a Self-power Buddhist

Is This Exclusiveness or True Compassion?

Long ago, there was a priest called Myohen of the Shingon school of Buddhism. He had read Master Honen’s magnum opus, Senjaku-hongan Nembutsu-shu, and said that there were indeed some virtuous things in what Honen says, but what nerve of him to say that we should abandon all forms of self-power Buddhism and take refuge in Amida Buddha’s Vow.

“Self-power Buddhism was also taught by Sakyamuni Buddha, wasn’t it? And yet he says, ‘Not one in a thousand can be saved by self-power Buddhism. There is no way to salvation other than by Amida Buddha’s Vow.’ That’s an overly eccentric and exclusive remark.” Myohen would disparage Master Honen as an exclusive, rebellious, obstinate and narrow-minded priest.

One night, however, he had a dream. A great number of pitiful sick people gathered at the Saida-mon gate of Ten’nouji temple. Among them was a familiar-looking holy man, clad in a black priest’s robe and priest’s stole. He held a monk’s iron bowl with thin rice gruel in it, and with a tiny sea shell, he scooped some rice gruel and gently poured it into the sick people’s mouths.

The priest was the only one nursing and paying respects to those pitiful lepers, who had been abandoned by their parents, sisters and brothers, and their spouses and children, and the way he nursed them was truly warm and sympathetic.

“What a noble person!” thought Myohen in his dream, before asking the person next to him, “It’s amazing that such a person still exists in this age of Dharma decline. Who in the world is he?” he asked the person beside him. “That person, to be sure, is Master Honen of Yoshimizu.” Just as Myohen was startled by these words, he awoke from his dream.

“I was totally mistaken in thinking that Master Honen was a conceited and exclusive person. Expecting those sick people to eat rice is unreasonable. In that state of illness, there isn’t a thing they could eat no matter how nutritious and how much of food there may be. Thin rice gruel must be their only choice. Thin rice gruel was indeed the only food that could keep them alive,” he thought.

Let us examine what this episode illustrates. If you learn the Complete Sutras, you will find countless self-power Buddhist teachings. However, no matter how numerous these teachings are, we cannot be liberated by them. They are far beyond the reach of us lowly beings. Myohen was awakened to the fact that there is no means to salvation aside from Amida Buddha’s Vow. It is the only path to salvation for people like us who live in this period of Dharma decline. He repented deeply and became Master Honen’s disciple.

Nowadays there are voices that criticize Master Shinran’s teaching as exclusionism. It is probably because it thoroughly refutes the erroneous and expounds the truth that all religions other than Buddhism are heretical; and that even in Buddhism, one can only be saved through Amida Buddha’s Vow. It’s the same criticism with Myohen. Refuting all that is contrary to Amida Buddha’s Vow is the sacred duty of and an act of true compassion by Buddhists that have awoken to the truth, sought the truth, and attained the truth.

Saying that refuting wrong doctrines is exclusive is a wrong and reckless remark. People that do this are unaware how strictly the Buddha, Master Shinran and Master Rennyo refuted wrongs. These true masters devoted their entire lives to refuting erroneous teachings. The crucial matter of the afterlife is not a game. We must not pander to others’ emotions and gloss it over. There is no path to salvation other than Amida Buddha’s Vow. For this reason, we should devote our whole lives to clarifying the Vow and refuting all erroneous teachings. This is our sacred mission.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #33 | 2013, Master Honen and a Self-power Buddhist

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