Making Effort

and Pureland Buddhism in the Philippines

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Master Shinran, Founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism

Master Shinran or Shinran Shonin is the founder of the Jodo Shinshu School of Pureland Buddhism. It is widely practiced in Japan, also in other Asian countries and in the West.

He was born to an opulent family as Matsuwaka Maru. His father was Lord Arinori, who died suddenly when he was only 4 years old and his mother was Lady Kikko, who died due to frail health when he was 9 years old. Following her death, Matsuwaka decided to enter priesthood. It is because of his acute sense of impermanence that he wanted to enter the temple.  Thinking that he would be next to die, he wanted answers on where people go after death.

With the permission of his uncle Lord Noritsuna (who was then his steward) he presented himself at Shoren temple. This temple was located at Mt. Hiei, the headquarters of the 1Tendai Sect. The head priest Reverend Jichin was delighted that he announced to have his ceremony the next day. However, Matsuwaka stood up and wrote a poem then asked his uncle to hand to the Reverend. With hesitation, his uncle handed the poem which says:

For him who counts on tomorrow
Like for the fragile cherry blossom,
Tonight, unexpected winds may blow.

The Reverend was even more impressed that they performed his ceremony right away.

10 years into his life of asceticism as a monk, Matsuwaka had a dilemma. He can’t get rid of his worldly passions. His thoughts are always plagued by it. Even though he is considered the prodigy of Mt. Hiei – he is incomparable to no one when it comes to studies and practices – he considered himself vile and unworthy, that’s why he made a trip to Sinaga, Osaka to the mausoleum of Prince Shotoku.

Master Shinran revered Prince Shotoku. The Prince was considered the “Sakyamuni of Japan,” because he was responsible for spreading Buddhism in Japan. At the Prince’s mausoleum, he prayed for 3 days and 3 nights. On the 4th day he was exhausted physically and spiritually, he fell asleep. Prince Shotoku then appeared to him in a dream and said: Amida Buddha endeavors to save all mankind. Japan is a suitable place for true Buddhism to flourish. Listen carefully, listen carefully to what I’m going to tell you now. You only have 10 years of life remaining. As your life ends, you shall be reborn into the Pureland simultaneously. Put your trust in the true Buddhist teacher”

Master Shinran wrote these words right away upon waking up. This dream is called the Dream Revelation of Shinaga. He was mostly distressed over the message that he only has 10 years to live. However, the prince also said, “As your life ends, you shall be reborn into the Pureland simultaneously.” So, what was really hinted in this dream? The answer will come to him when he turns 29.

After 17 years of ascetic training and practices in Mt. Hiei, Master Shiran, now 26 years old, is still troubled with his dark mind and the crucial matter of the afterlife, so he talked with Reverend Jichin regarding this. It infuriated the Reverend because what he is seeking cannot be achieved in 10 or 20 years and should not be taken lightly.

He traveled back to Mt. Hiei after his audience with the Reverend. Here he encountered a beautiful woman. She is deeply troubled and is suffering. She begged Master Shinran to take her to the mountain so she too can take the practices. He declined and said that women are prohibited in Mt. Hiei ever since it was established by Reverend Dengyo. To this the woman said that she is saddened by his answer and stated that wouldn’t a person as great as Reverend Dengyo have read the Nirvana Sutra, which teaches that all sentient beings have Buddha-nature and can be saved. She also told him that Buddha’s compassion was “The greater one’s evil, the greater pity should be bestowed upon him.” If this logic is followed, then shouldn’t women be given more compassion because they are tainted? She finished her argument saying that if women are prohibited in the mountain because they are tainted, then the mountain is already tainted by female birds and animals. As a parting thought, the woman said, “Master Shinran will you someday teach the true Buddhism that saves all people without any discrimination?” Then she handed him a gift, a beautiful gemstone, as a remembrance of their meeting. The woman’s name was Tamahi.

This encounter left Master Shinran with confusing thoughts. He was enthralled with Tamahi’s beauty and wisdom but was also doubtful of her intentions. Despite the latter, he can’t get her off his mind. Because of this, he considered himself a hypocrite. He who follows the precepts strictly and looked down on the other monks2 who sneak down the mountain at night to have fun with wine and women, yet here he is embracing a woman in his mind.

Still continuing his search, he would again have 2 dreams that would play an important role in his life.

At 28, Nyorin Kannon Bodhisattva appeared to him in a dream and said, “Excellent, excellent. Your desire is soon to be fulfilled. Excellent, excellent. My desire too will be satisfied.” “Your desire is soon to be fulfilled” means, you will soon attain what you have been wishing for. For Master Shinran this is finding his crucial matter of the afterlife. “My desire too will be satisfied” means Nyoirin’s desire. His mission to convey Amida Buddha’s vow will soon be realized when Master Shinran attains Absolute Happiness. This is the Dream Revelation of Daijo Temple.

At 29 he received the Dream Revelation on Sexual Indulgence from Guze Kannon Bodhisattva. Here Guze Kannon told Master Shinran, “When the practitioner indulges in sex due to his past karma, I will take on the form of the woman Tamajo to be ravished by him. I will magnificently adorn his whole life, and at his death I will lead him to be born in the Land of Supreme Bliss. This is my vow, tell it to all people.” During these times, Buddhist monks cannot marry in the belief that by doing so they violate the precept and violate a woman. However human beings are born out of sexual desire and to distance themselves from it is like a fish trying to distance itself from water.

Master Shinran even grew more desperate. After all it has been 10 years since Prince Shotoku told to him in a dream that he only has 10 years of his life left. He decided to descend Mt. Hiei. Weary and exhausted, one day he was holding on to the railing of Shijo bridge. Here he met Venerable Seikaku. Seikaku noticed that he is pale so he told him his troubles. Seikaku responded that he has solved his crucial matter of the after life because of Master Honen. Master Shinran eagerly asked to be taken to Master Honen. This would change his life dramatically.

It is through Master Honen that Master Shinran found out all about Amida Buddha’s vow, which is achieving Absolute Happiness in this lifetime and in achieving such one’s birth in the Pureland is assured. So at 29 years old, in 1201, Master Shinran attained Absolute Happiness thus assuring his birth in the Pureland after death. The very question that made him decide to enter priesthood has finally been answered after 20 years. Because of this, he called Master Honen as “The True teacher Genku” – a teacher of true Buddhism.

From then on Master Shinran continued to teach about Amida Buddha’s vow until he died at the age of 90 in 1261. He took a wife (her name is Eshinni, but he also married Tamahi before her), he had a child and he ate meat – all the things he avoided before leaving Mt. Hiei, he did and still attained Absolute Happiness in his current lifetime.

1The Tendai Sect was founded by Shiyi in China and spread in Japan by Saicho

2 These monks were fake. They are Heike survivors who escaped Genji’s pursuit. They went to Mt. Hiei to seek refuge.

Quick bullet reference about Master Shinran:

  • Master Shinran was born as Matsuwaka Maru to an opulent family
  • At age 4: His father Lord Arinori died
  • At age 9: His mother Lady Kikkyo died
    He entered priesthood in the Shoren Temple at Mt. Hiei, the headquarters of the Tendai sect
  • At age 19: He was troubled by his worldly desires that he sought the guidance of Prince Shotoku, a person he revered. The Dream Revelation of Shinaga happened
  • At age 26: He sought audience with Reverend Jichin because of his dark mind.
    He met the woman Tamahi.
  • At age 28: The Dream Revelation of Daijo Temple happened
  • At age 29: The Dream on Sexual Indulgence happened
    He met Reverend Seikaku, who introduced him to Master Honen.
    He met Master Honen, who taught him all about Amida Buddha’s vow. He called him the “True Teacher Genku,” because of this.
    He attained Absolute Happiness
  • At age 90: He died after 70 years of teaching Buddhism and about Amida Buddha’s vow.
  • 3 dreams played a great role in his life, they are:
    1. The Dream Revelation of Shinaga (from Prince Shotoku)
    2. The Dream Revelation of Daijjo Temple (from Nyorin Kannon Bodhisattva)
    3. The Dream Revelation on Sexual Indulgence (from Guze Kannon Bodhisattva)

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20th Anniversary of HK Jodo Shinshu, Lectures and Film showing

Last July 29 the Hong Kong chapter of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism held it’s 20th anniversary. Along with the lectures, newcomers are invited to listen to Buddhism and a film showing of the updated version of the “Why Live” was shown. Mr. Takamori (Takamori-Sensei’s son) gave lectures on the purpose of life and on happiness.

Photo Credit: Lolit Choa 

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A Basic Background on Jodo Shinshu Buddhism

Pureland Buddhism is a school of Mahayana Buddhism. It applies Jiri Rita which means by helping others, I help myself. In contrast, to the more traditional way of self-teaching, Gari-gari. It is widely practiced in Japan and is also an important school in China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The school of Pureland Buddhism that I practice is called Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. It was founded by Japanese Monk, Master Shinran and made to flourish by his disciple Rennyo.

It teaches that the ultimate purpose of life is to achieve Absolute Happiness that will never fail us even after death. This can be achieved thru Amida Buddha’s vow, which lifts the veil of ignorance or the dark mind and lets us gain a mind of light or Absolute Happiness. The way to achieving Amida Buddha’s vow is through these 3 things:

  1. Listening to Buddhism
  2. Chanting (is like a prayer venerating the teachings)
  3. Doing the 6 Good Deeds

At the core of these teachings is the Law of Cause and Effect, which essentially means, “Stop doing bad deeds and do good deeds.”

These are the foundations of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, as one studies more about it the depth of each, and more teachings will be discovered.

If you are interested to learn more about Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, we have regular Skype Live lectures. Alternatively, we also have a one-on-one study with a Buddhist teacher. This is great for people who are not comfortable listening with a group. Aside from that the teacher will pace this according to your availability and understanding so you can get the most from your study.

You can join or leave a message on these links if you  are interested:

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Teachers Kodama and Maeda visits the Pureland Buddhism Center of the Philippines

Last June 14, 2017, teachers Kodama and Maeda from Japan visited the Pureland Buddhism Center of the Philippines. They met with some of the members. Those who couldn’t come joined the get-together through Skype.

Photo Credit: Eishi Kodama | Hideo Maeda

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Nothing is Unfair

You have probably heard about the Law of Cause and Effect or the Law of Karma, if not, you can read this article: The Law of Cause and Effect for a longer explanation on what it is. To simplify, the Law states that our actions will always give us a result that could manifest in an instant or could take years or even different lifetimes to show.  The Law’s 3 principles are:

  • Good cause (action or deed) brings Good effects (results)
  • Bad cause (action or deed) brings Bad effects (results)
  • Own cause (action or deed) brings Own effects (results)

Going by the definition of the Law and it’s principles we can say that we deserve what is coming our way. This is because all our actions have repercussions and it’s up to us to if we want it to be good or bad. Again:

  • Good cause (action or deed) brings Good effects (results)
  • Bad cause (action or deed) brings Bad effects (results)
  • Own cause (action or deed) brings Own effects (results)

Also from this we can say that the Law is a way of balancing the world. It makes it fair. As much as we detest how “unfair” life in this world is, it is actually fair because of the Law of Cause and Effect. When good things happen to us, it’s easy for us to claim that this is because of something good that we did. We deserved it. However, when bad things happen it becomes difficult to accept. We find reasons why and the reason is always something else but us. You may be shaking your head now in disbelief and thinking, “Are you trying to say that we should just accept everything that happens to us?” Actually, yes and no.  Yes, because when things already happen, is there really something we can do to change it? We can only avoid it from getting worse and it from happening again. And no, because do we really want to accept that our fate is set to receive the same results over and over? We still have control on the results we will receive in the future and that is by being conscious of the things we do in the present. If we do Good deeds now, we get Good results in the future. Bad results for Bad deeds and regardless of the nature of the deed it will always be our Own deed brings our Own results.

So, because of the Law everything is fair. Of course, there will be times when we would feel things are unfair. We should ask ourselves then, of all the beings in the world why were we placed in that specific situation? Which is easier to accept? Something that we have done in the past gave the result of placing us in that specific situation or we are just randomly there, placed at the wrong place at the wrong time? Isn’t it better that we have control on things that will happen to us rather than just accepting that things happen and we have no influence on it?

Thinking of “unfairness” breeds hate, envy and anger and these are not good or healthy emotions to have. If we continue thinking this way then we will be trapped in its cycle of negativity. If we live by the Law of Cause and Effect, we can accept that life is fair. It will not be an easy task (and it will prod many sensitive situations) but it can give us the chance to develop a calmer and more positive outlook than if we think life is unfair.

18 May 2017

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The deLight in Buddhism

The very first memory I have of Buddhism was as a kid. My cousin told me that monks turn the soil carefully when burying their dead so they won’t disturb the earthworms. Fast forward into my adulthood, I saw the movie “Shaolin.” My admiration for the portrayal of the monks’ discipline and compassion in that movie led me to my first real commitment with Buddhism.

I started reading online articles regarding Buddhism and I was fine with it. Buddhism has a way of making one feel good while learning it and it made me feel that way. However, I was aimless despite the vast resources I found online. Then I met my Buddhist teacher Frank, and later on teacher Sumie.

This is when I discovered that having someone to guide you through your learning magnifies the feeling of goodness and turns it to happiness. The feeling felt surreal at first and I was quite taken aback because of its intensity. I began to wonder, “Why am I this happy?”, “Is it normal to be this happy?” At that time nothing has really changed in me, the things that make me mad, sad, or insecure are still there, and I was aware of that, only that they seemed to be put in the background. They seem to feel less, they seem to feel distant. And it hit me, I have just started listening to Buddhism and I already feel this good? What if I listen more? What if more people were to hear this? These were my thoughts at the start that I still have up to this moment.

Buddhism simply marveled me with its sensibility. How the teachings give us the authority to our actions. No concept of fear, judgment, or punishment only owning up to our deeds and the consequences it will make. It made me feel a relevant aspect of my existence. It is a practical philosophy to follow to give more meaning to our lives and to make living less problematic. The Law of Cause and Effect and the Six Good Deeds alone are good habits to start and keep in our lives, even to those who do not wish to pursue Buddhism. If we all have these as guiding principles in our lives, we would all be living in harmony and life struggles will be more bearable. Buddhism also gifted us the purpose of life, an age old question that we, and all the other humans before us, ask ourselves. It brings peace to know that we don’t live just to survive and then die. We all want purpose and I think even sceptics will agree to that.

I have only been listening to the teachings for a few months and I know that there are still a lot of lessons that I will discover but despite that I have already realized the unselfish promise of Master Shinran and Sakyamuni Buddha to share the wisdom of Amida Buddha. I intend to follow and keep that promise too.

March 2017