Master Shan-tao

Twenty-six Hymns based on his Writings


Manifested from the oceanlike great mind
Was Master Shan-tao;
For the sake of beings of this defiled world in the latter age,
He called on the Buddhas of the ten quarters to bear witness to his teaching.

His teaching: his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra.


Shan-tao appeared in the world in succeeding ages,
Manifesting himself as Fa-chao and Shao-k’ang,
And by revealing the treasury of virtues,
He fulfilled the Buddhas’ fundamental intent.

Treasury of virtues: He refers to the Name as the “treasury of virtues,” for all roots of good have been gathered in it.


If women did not entrust themselves to Amida’s Name and Vow,
They would never become free of the five obstructions,
Even though they passed through myriads of kalpas;
How, then, would their existence as women be transformed?


Sakyamuni, revealing the “essential” gate
To lead people of meditative and nonmeditative practices
And provisionally teaching the right and sundry practices,
Wholly urges us to perform the saying of the Name alone.

Right and sundry practices: the five right practices and the five sundry practices. The five right practices [focusing on Amida Buddha] are: 1) worship, 2) recitation of the sutras, 3) contemplation, 4) saying the Name, and 5) praise and making offerings. When it is said that there are six right practices, praise and making offerings are listed separately.


Performing auxiliary and right practices together is “mixed praxis”;
Since those who endeavor in this way
Have not attained the mind that is single,
They lack the heart that responds in gratitude to the Buddha’s benevolence.

l.1: Practices focused solely on Amida Buddha are called the “right practices”; practices focused on other Buddhas and other good acts are “sundry practices.” The four or the five right practices other than saying the Name are auxiliary practices. Solely and single-heartedly practicing the saying of the Name is “wholehearted single praxis.”


Practicers who pray for worldly benefits,
Although they may perform chiefly the saying of the Buddha’s Name,
Are also termed people of mixed praxis;
In rejecting such practice, it is taught that not one in a thousand attains birth.

Not one in a thousand: Master Hui-kuan’s commentary states not one in ten thousand.


Although their meanings are not the same,
Sundry practices and mixed praxis are alike;
Acts which are not the practice that leads to the Pure Land
Are all termed sundry practices.

Sundry practices and mixed praxis: Sundry practices are all the various practices; mixed praxis refers to performing the auxiliary acts while praying for benefits of this world.


Master Shan-tao, calling the Buddhas to bear witness,
Led us to overturn the two minds of meditative and nonmeditative practices;
Presenting the parable of the two rivers of greed and anger,
He ensured the safeguarding of the shinjin of the universal Vow.

Calling the Buddhas to bear witness: Shan-tao addressed the Buddhas of the ten quarters, praying to them to become witnesses to his composition of a commentary on the Contemplation Sutra.
Greed: to desire a woman, to desire a man.
Anger: to be wrathful and enraged.
Safeguarding (shugo): shu means, for example, becoming the ruler of a country and protecting it; go means gathering all together and protecting, though not becoming the country’s ruler.


Even when the time of extinction of the sutras has come,
Foolish beings, by encountering the true teaching of the universal Vow –
The exposition of which was the fundamental intent of the Tathagata’s appearance in the world –
Will think on Amida and attain enlightenment.

Extinction of the sutras: the extinction of the Buddha’s teaching. There will be, for the ten thousand-year period of the last dharma-age, only accommodated teachings, not the real teaching. After the ten thousand years, the teaching of Amida will survive for one hundred years.
True teaching: to take the true and real as the essence. “True” is the opposite of temporary and provisional. The eighty-four thousand dharma-gates are provisional teachings. The Pure Land way alone is the true teaching.


The inconceivable working of the power of the Buddha-dharma
Is such that external hindrances and karmic fetters do not obstruct us;
Hence, the universal, Primal Vow of Amida
Is termed the “decisive cause” of birth.

Decisive cause: it is superior to all the various good acts.


The mind and practice of self-power do not bring one
Into the fulfilled land established through the power of the Vow;
Hence, sages of the Mahayana and Hinayana
All entrust themselves to Amida’s universal Vow.


When we come to know truly that we are possessed of blind passions,
And entrust ourselves to the power of the Primal Vow,
We will, on abandoning completely our defiled existence,
Realize the eternal bliss of dharma-nature.


Sakyamuni and Amida are our father and our mother,
Full of love and compassion for us;
Guiding us through various skillful means,
They bring us to awaken the supreme shinjin.

l.1: Sakyamuni is likened to our father, Amida to our mother.
Awaken (hotsu-ki): hotsu means to awaken what has existed from the past; ki means to give rise to something new, for the first time.


Persons who have thoroughly realized the true mind,
Because it is the diamondlike mind,
Are equal to those who accomplish
The three grades of repentance; thus Shan-tao teaches.

Diamondlike mind: true shinjin.
Three grades of repentance: In the high grade, blood flows from the eyes and emerges from the body. In the middle grade, blood flows from the eyes and sweat issues from the body. In the low grade tears flow, and thoughts of repentance penetrate to the marrow.


Only with the diamondlike shinjin
Can we, living in the evil world of the five defilements,
Completely abandon birth-and-death forever
And reach the Pure Land of naturalness.


When the time comes
For shinjin, indestructible as diamond, to become settled,
Amida grasps and protects us with compassionate light,
So that we part forever from birth-and-death.

Indestructible (kengo): ken refers to firmness of mind; go refers to firmness of thought.
Grasps and protects: we are grasped and protected in the mind of the Tathagata of unhindered light.


Concerning those who have not realized true and real shinjin,
Shan-tao teaches that they “lack one mind”;
Know, therefore, that all who lack this mind that is single
Do not yet possess the threefold shinjin.

Threefold shinjin: shinjin of the Primal Vow.


Persons who realize the true entrusting that is [Amida’s] benefiting of others,
Because they are in correspondence with the Vow,
Accord with Sakyamuni’s teaching and the words of the Buddhas;
Thus, there is nothing that obstructs them.

Obstructs: distracts and confuses.


Those who are free of even a moment of doubt,
Having been able to hear the nembutsu of the Pure Land way,
Are praised as “rare and excellent persons,”
And are ascertained to “have realized right-mindedness.”

Free of even a moment of doubt: there is no doubting of the Primal Vow.
Realized right-mindedness: to have shinjin that leads to birth in the Pure Land.


When people are not in correspondence with the Primal Vow,
Various conditions arise to trouble and confuse them.
To lose sight of shinjin in confusion
Is to “lose right-mindedness.”


Since shinjin arises from the Vow,
We attain Buddhahood through the nembutsu by the [Vow’s] spontaneous working.
The spontaneous working is itself the fulfilled land;
Our realization of supreme nirvana is beyond doubt.


The time has come when the five defilements increase;
Those who doubt and revile Amida’s Vow are numerous.
Both monks and lay people despise the nembutsu
And harm any they see engaging in it.


Those who revile and attack the Primal Vow
Are termed “persons completely blind to dharma” or “persons lacking the seed of Buddhahood.”
Passing kalpas numerous as the particles of the great earth,
They long sink in the three evil courses.

Revile and attack: to say that the teaching one follows is superior and that the teaching others follow is inferior.
Persons lacking the seed of Buddhahood: those for whom it is hard to attain Buddhahood; those wholly without trust in the Buddhist teaching.
Particles: fine particles of dust; particles that alight on the tips of rabbit’s fur or other sheep’s fleece. There is nothing more slender than such fur or fleece.


Although they have been given the teaching of the path to the West,
They have obstructed themselves and obstructed others from accepting it,
And so for vast kalpas since the distant past,
They have spent their lives meaninglessly and in vain.


Had we not received the power of the universal Vow,
When could we part from this Saha world?
Reflecting deeply on the Buddha’s benevolence,
Let us think on Amida always.


Casting off long kalpas of painful existence in this world of Saha,
We live in expectation of the Pure Land, the uncreated;
This is the power of our teacher, Sakyamuni;
Let us respond always in gratitude for his compassion and benevolence.

Here ends the Hymns on
Master Shan-tao