Who were the Seven Patriarchs?

Master Shinran praised seven Buddhist teachers from India, China, and Japan for having correctly conveyed Amida’s Vow. These masters are called the Seven Patriarchs. In India, Nāgārjuna divided Buddhism up into “the path of difficult practice” and “the path of easy practice” and proclaimed Amida’s Vow as the path of easy practice that can save all people. After him came Vasubandhu, who wrote the timeless masterpiece Treatise on the Pure Land.

Then there were three masters in China. The first was Master Tan-luan, who explicated in Commentary on Treatise on the Pure Land that the source of suffering – the darkness of mind – can be eliminated in a split-second through Amida’s Vow-power. The second was Master Tao-cho, who, in his work Compilation on the Land of Peace and Joy, divided Buddhism up into the path of sages and the Pure Land path, and asserted that the one and only path on which we can be saved is the Pure Land path, which teaches of Amida’s Vow. The third was Master Shan-tao, who studied under Master Tao-cho. In his masterpiece Commentary on the Contemplation Sūtra, he shattered misconceptions that were prevalent in Buddhist circles at the time and clarified Amida Buddha’s true intention.

The last two masters were from Japan. Master Genshin is renowned for his work Essentials on Birth in the Pure Land, which is famous for its depictions of the hell realm, and he spread the Pure Land teachings. Finally, Master Hōnen clarified in his work A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu in the Selected Vow that there is absolutely nothing that can save us other than turning only to the Buddha of Infinite Life. For this he faced unjust persecution from authorities and was exiled to Shikoku. All of the Seven Patriarchs braved fierce criticism and attacks to convey the Vow of Amida; to these masters we owe a great debt of gratitude.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #65 | 2016, Who were the Seven Patriarchs?

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