By Gutoku Zenshin
It is now more than two thousand years
Since the passing of Sakyamuni Tathagata.
The right and semblance ages have already closed;
So lament, disciples of later times!
Now, amid the five defilements in the last dharma-age,
Sentient beings are incapable of practice and realization;
Hence the teachings that Sakyamuni left behind
Have all passed into the naga’s palace.
During the right, semblance, and last ages,
Amida’s Primal Vow has spread.
At the end of the semblance and in this last dharma-age,
Good practices have all gone into the naga’s palace.
Good practices: Sakyamuni’s teachings.
The Great Collection Sutra teaches
That we are now in the fifth period of five-hundred years;
Because people are resolute in conflict and dispute,
The pure dharma is concealed in dormancy.
l.4: all roots of good are hidden within the naga’s palace.
When sentient beings’ life-span of tens of thousands of years,
Through a gradual decline of their karmic reward,
Decreased to twenty thousand years,
The age came to be called the “evil world of the five defilements.”
Life-span of tens of thousands of years: the direct recompense of long life has gradually become short.
As the time of kalpa-defilements advances,
The bodies of sentient beings gradually grow smaller;
Their evil and wrongdoing amid the five defilements increase,
So that their minds are like poisonous snakes and evil dragons.
l.3: evil karma increases
Ignorance and blind passions abound,
Pervading everywhere like innumerable particles of dust.
Desire and hatred arising out of conflict and accord
Are like high peaks and mountain ridges.
l.3: greed, envy, jealousy, and contention increase.
l.4: blind passions and evil increase, so that they are like high peaks and mountain ridges.
Sentient beings’ wrong views grow rampant,
Becoming like thickets and forests, bramble and thorns;
Filled with suspicion, they slander those who follow the nembutsu,
While the use of violence and the poison of anger spread widely.
ll.1-2: blind passions and evil increase, becoming like thickets and forests, bramble and thorns.
With life-defilement, the untimely end occurs in a moment,
And both forms of recompense – oneself and one’s environment – perish.
Rejecting right and turning to wrong prevails,
So that people senselessly injure others.
Life-defilement: the life of human beings shortens and becomes weak.
l.2: the lives of human beings and their possessions collapse and disappear.
l.4: people have only evil thoughts; this characterizes sentient beings of the world of five defilements.
Without entrusting themselves to the Tathagata’s compassionate Vow,
No sentient beings of these times – the last dharma-age, and
The fifth five-hundred year period since Sakyamuni’s passing –
Will have a chance of parting from birth-and-death.
l.3: know that this period is the beginning of the last dharma-age.
The ninety-five nonbuddhist teachings defile the world;
The Buddha’s path alone is pure.
Only by going forth and reaching enlightenment can we benefit others
In this burning house; this is the natural working of the Vow.
Ninety-five nonbuddhist teachings: know that nonbuddhist paths are divided into numerous kinds, and that besides these there are also the sixty-two nonbuddhist views.
l.2: know that only the Buddha’s path is pure and excellent.
Going forth and reaching enlightenment: becoming Buddha.
Burning house: this Saha world.
With the advent of the age of the five defilements
Both monks and laity have fallen into contention;
When they see persons who have entrusted themselves to the nembutsu,
Filled with suspicion, they slander and attack them.
Age: the age and its beings.
Those who, it appears, will never attain enlightenment
All attack the practice of solely saying the Name.
The mark of destroying the teaching of sudden attainment
Is that for them, the vast sea of birth-and-death will have no end.
Destroying: to slander, to destroy.
We may think that these times belong to the right dharma-age,
But in us – the lowest of foolish beings –
There is no mind that is pure, true, or real;
How could we awaken the aspiration for enlightenment?
These times: the age and its beings.
l.2: foolish beings sinking in the depths of blind passions. We who are possessed of blind passions.
The aspiration for enlightenment through self-power taught in the Path of Sages
Is beyond our minds and words;
We foolish beings ever sinking in transmigration –
How could we awaken it?
Ever sinking: constantly sinking in the great ocean of birth-and-death.
Transmigration: wandering in the twenty-five forms of existence.
Under the guidance of Buddhas who appeared in this world,
Three times the sands of the Ganges in number,
We awakened the aspiration for supreme enlightenment,
But our self-power failed, and we continued to transmigrate.
The aspiration for supreme enlightenment: the mind that desires to bring all sentient beings to Buddhahood.
Continued to transmigrate: know that, with the aspiration for enlightenment of self-power, we have wandered thus in birth-and-death to this day.
With the advent of the semblance and last dharma-ages, and this world of the five defilements,
The teachings left by Sakyamuni entered into concealment.
Only the compassionate Vow of Amida becomes widely known,
And attainment of birth through the nembutsu spreads.
Teachings left by Sakyamuni: know that the teachings that were left by Sakyamuni have been distorted and lost, and have entered [into concealment].
Of the Vows embraced as supreme and all-surpassing,
Selected through five kalpas of profound thought,
The Vows of immeasurable light and life
Were made the foundation of the working of great compassion.
Concerning the aspiration for supreme enlightenment in the Pure Land path,
We are urged to realize the mind that seeks to attain Buddhahood;
The mind that seeks to attain Buddhahood
Is itself the mind that seeks to save all sentient beings.
Aspiration for supreme enlightenment: the mind that desires to bring all sentient beings to Buddhahood.
l.2: Other Power aspiration for enlightenment. In the Primal Vow, Amida encourages beings to aspire to be born in the Land of Bliss and attain Buddhahood.
Mind that seeks to attain Buddhahood (l.3): the mind deeply entrusting oneself to Amida’s compassionate Vow and aspiring to become Buddha is called “aspiration for enlightenment.”
Mind that seeks to save all sentient beings: know that this is the mind that desires to bring all sentient beings to Buddhahood.
The mind that seeks to save all sentient beings
Is directed to us through Amida’s Vow of wisdom.
Those who realize this true entrusting that is directed to us
Attain great, complete nirvana.
Mind that seeks to save all sentient beings: Other Power aspiration for enlightenment; desire to bring all sentient beings to Buddhahood.
Amida’s Vow of wisdom: Amida Tathagata’s compassionate Vow.
True entrusting that is directed to us: entrusting ourselves without double-mindedness to the power of Amida’s Vow.
Attain great, complete nirvana: to attain the same enlightenment as Amida Tathagata.
Persons who enter Amida’s directing of virtue to beings
And realize the mind that seeks to attain Buddhahood
Completely abandon their self-power directing of merit,
Thus benefiting sentient beings boundlessly.
Amida’s directing of virtue: Amida’s giving us the Primal Vow.
When the waters of the mind entrusting to Other Power enter
The ocean waters of Amida’s Vow of wisdom,
Then in accord with the nature of the true and real fulfilled land,
Blind passions and enlightenment come to be of one taste.
l.2: Amida’s Primal Vow is wisdom. This Primal Vow is likened to the great ocean.
Waters of…entrusting: true and real shinjin is likened to water.
True and fulfilled land: the Land of Bliss is called the fulfilled land.
l.4: our minds and Buddha’s mind become one. When we are born in the Land of Happiness, evil and good become one taste. Blind passions and virtues become one.
All those who deeply entrust themselves
To the two aspects of Amida’s directing of virtue
Attain the stage equal to perfect enlightenment;
Hence, their mindfulness continues unceasingly.
Two aspects of Amida’s directing of virtue: the directing of virtue of Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow has two aspects – directing virtue for going forth and directing virtue for return.
Stage equal to perfect enlightenment: the stage of the truly settled.
Persons who truly realize shinjin,
Which is directed to them through Amida’s Vow of wisdom,
Receive the benefit of being grasped, never to be abandoned;
Hence they attain the stage equal to perfect enlightenment.
Persons who truly realize shinjin: persons who realize true and real shinjin.
Grasped, never to be abandoned: Amida Tathagata takes in and holds the persons of shinjin.
l.4: know that they attain the stage of the truly settled.
Bodhisattva Maitreya must pass 5,670,000,000 years
Before attaining Buddhahood,
But the person who realizes true shinjin
Will attain enlightenment with the end of this life.
The person who attains the stage equal to perfect enlightenment
By the working of the Vow of birth through the nembutsu,
Being the same as Maitreya,
Will realize great, complete nirvana.
Stage equal to perfect enlightenment: the stage of the truly settled. Maitreya is said to be in the stage equal to perfect enlightenment.
Having immediately entered the stage of the truly settled
On realizing true and real shinjin, a person will,
Being the same as Maitreya of the rank of succession
To Buddhahood, attain supreme enlightenment.
Supreme enlightenment: great, complete nirvana.
Even the wise who lived during the semblance dharma-age
Put aside the various teachings of self-power
And entered the gate of the nembutsu,
For it is the teaching in accord with the times and with beings.
Persons who truly realize shinjin
As they utter Amida’s Name,
Being mindful of the Buddha always,
Wish to respond in gratitude to the great benevolence.
When sentient beings of this evil world of the five defilements
Entrust themselves to the selected Primal Vow,
Virtues indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable
Fill those practicers.
The Buddha of Unhindered Light declared:
“To benefit the sentient beings of the future,
I entrust the nembutsu of wisdom
To Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta.”
Full of compassion for the sentient beings of this defiled world,
Mahasthamaprapta encourages us to say the nembutsu;
He embraces the people of shinjin
And brings them into the Pure Land.
Embraces: takes in and holds.
Through the compassion of Sakyamuni and Amida,
We have been brought to realize the mind that seeks to attain Buddhahood.
It is by entering the wisdom of shinjin
That we become persons who respond in gratitude to the Buddha’s benevolence.
l.1: know that we receive true shinjin through their guidance.
Mind that seeks to attain Buddhahood: the mind that entrusts to [Amida’s] Vow to become Buddha; the aspiration for supreme enlightenment in the Pure Land path.
Wisdom of shinjin: know that since Amida’s Vow is wisdom, the emergence of the mind of entrusting oneself to it is the arising of wisdom.
It is by the power of Dharmakara’s Vow
That we realize the nembutsu that is wisdom;
Were it not for the wisdom of shinjin,
How could we attain nirvana?
Nembutsu that is wisdom: this is said because one attains Buddhahood through Amida’s Vow.
Attain nirvana: become true Buddha.
It is a great torch in the long night of ignorance;
Do not sorrow that your eyes of wisdom are dark.
It is a ship on the vast ocean of birth-and-death;
Do not grieve that your obstructions of karmic evil are heavy.
Great torch: Amida’s Primal Vow is likened to a torch.
The power of the Vow is without limit;
Thus, even our karmic evil, deep and heavy, is not oppressive.
The Buddha’s wisdom is without bounds;
Thus, even those of distracted minds and self-indulgence are not abandoned.
l.1: the Buddha’s power is without limit.
l.2: we should not think the obstructions of our karmic evil to be too deep and heavy.
l.3: know that the Buddha’s wisdom is vast and without limit.
l.4: we should know that we will go to the Pure Land regardless of the distraction and evil of our minds.
When we reflect on the establishment of the Vow,
We find that the Tathagata, without abandoning sentient beings in pain and affliction,
Has taken the directing of virtue to them as foremost,
Thus fulfilling the mind of great compassion.
Establishment of the Vow: Amida Tathagata’s establishing of the compassionate Vow.
l.4: know that Amida has attained the mind of great love and great compassion.
The saying of the Name arising from true and real shinjin
Is Amida’s directing of virtue to beings;
Therefore, it is called “not directing merit,”
And saying the nembutsu in self-power is rejected.
Not directing merit: this expression means that we are to realize that it is not the practicer’s directing of merit. This matter is explained in Essentials for Attaining Birth.
When the waters – the minds, good and evil, of foolish beings –
Have entered the vast ocean
Of Amida’s Vow of wisdom, they are immediately
Transformed into the mind of great compassion.
l.1: good and evil minds are likened to [river] waters.
Transformed: the mind of evil is transformed into good.
l.4: Just as the various waters enter the ocean and immediately become seawater, so the waters of the minds, good and evil, become the mind of great compassion.
“Among my disciples, who will give themselves to doing evil,
Wrong views and self-indulgence will flourish,
And in the last age they will destroy my teaching.”
Thus Sakyamuni foretells in the Lotus Face Sutra.
Sentient beings who slander the nembutsu
Fall into Avici hell
And suffer great pain and affliction without respite
For eighty thousand kalpas; thus it is taught.
Avici: “uninterrupted” hell.
Receiving the true cause of birth in the true fulfilled land
Through the words of the two honored ones,
We dwell in the stage of the truly settled;
Thus, we will unfailingly attain nirvana.
Nirvana: great, complete nirvana.
Through the words of the witness and protection
Of the countless Buddhas throughout the ten quarters,
We should realize that the mind of self-power aspiring for supreme enlightenment
Is incapable of reaching fulfillment.
Realization of true and real shinjin
Is rare in the defiled world of the last dharma-age;
The witness of Buddhas countless as the sands of the Ganges
Reveals how difficult it is to attain.
If we had not encountered
Amida’s directing of virtue for going forth and returning,
Our transmigration in birth-and-death would have no end;
What could we do then, sinking in this sea of pain?
l.2: the two aspects of Amida’s directing virtue.
When we entrust ourselves to the inconceivable Buddha-wisdom,
We dwell in the stage of the truly settled.
Those who are born transformed [in the Pure Land] are of superior wisdom,
And they realize the supreme enlightenment.
Entrusting ourselves to the inconceivable Buddha-wisdom
Is taught to be the cause of birth in the fulfilled land.
Realization of shinjin, which is the true cause,
Is among all difficulties even more difficult.
Casting off the pain of birth-and-death since the beginningless past,
We are certain of attaining supreme nirvana.
This is through Amida’s directing of virtue for going forth and returning;
Our gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence is truly hard to fulfill.
Those born in the fulfilled land – practicers of shinjin – are few;
Those born in transformed lands – practicers of self-power – are many.
Since enlightenment cannot be attained through self-power,
We have been transmigrating for innumerable kalpas.
The directing of virtue embodied in Namu-amida-butsu
Is, in its benevolent working, vast and inconceivable;
Through the benefit of the directing of virtue for going forth,
We enter the directing of virtue for returning to this world.
Through great love, which is Amida’s directing of virtue for our going forth,
We attain great compassion, which is Amida’s directing of virtue for our return;
If not for the Buddha’s directing of virtue,
How could we realize enlightenment in the Pure Land?
Amida, Avalokitesvara, and Mahasthamaprapta
Ride on the ship of the great Vow;
Going out on the ocean of birth-and-death,
They call to beings and bring them on board.
Those who deeply entrust themselves
To Amida’s Vow of great compassion
Should all say Namu-amida-butsu constantly,
Whether they are waking or sleeping.
Those who follow the Path of Sages
All take the mind of self-power as essential;
On entering the inconceivable working of Other Power,
They truly realize that no working is true working.
Although we have the teachings of Sakyamuni,
There are no sentient beings who can practice them;
Hence, it is taught that in the last dharma-age,
Not a single person will attain enlightenment through them.
Eminent Pure Land teachers of India, China, and Japan!
Out of pity and compassion, embrace us,
And guiding us to realization of true and real shinjin,
Bring us to enter the stage of the truly settled.
l.4: please bring us to enter the stage of unfailing attainment of Buddhahood.
Those who realize shinjin, which is Other Power,
“Revere [the dharma] and greatly rejoice in it,
And therefore are my true companions.” Such is the praise
Of the World-honored one, the master of the teaching.
Such is the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion,
That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies;
Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers,
That we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust.
Here ends the Hymns on
the Right, Semblance, and Last Dharma-Ages