Collected Works of Shinran

A Letter by Kyoshin, reply by Shinran, reply by Ren’i

I respectfully submit the following letter. {The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life} [note1] records the phrase, “the person realizes shinjin and joy,” and {one of the Hymns on the Pure Land based on the Garland Sutra} [note2] states:

The person who attains shinjin and joy
Is taught to be equal to the Tathagatas.
Great shinjin is itself Buddha-nature;
Buddha-nature is none other than Tathagata.

Nevertheless, among the people of single-hearted practice there seem to be some who misunderstand, saying that the statement by fellow-practicers that the person who rejoices in shinjin is equal to Tathagatas reflects an attitude of self-power and inclines toward the Shingon teaching. I do not wish to pass judgment on others, but for my own clarification I write you of this matter.

There is another hymn:

Those who attain true and real shinjin
Immediately join the truly settled;
Thus having entered the stage of nonretrogression,
They necessarily attain nirvana.

The statement, “they attain nirvana,” means that when the heart of the persons of true and real shinjin attain the fulfilled land at the end of his or her present life, that person becomes one with the light that is the heart of Tathagata, for his reality is immeasurable life and his activity is inseparable from immeasurable light. This seems to be the reason for saying: “Great shinjin is itself Buddha-nature; Buddha-nature is none other than Tathagata.” In my understanding, this corresponds to the Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Vows. The joy of knowing the wonder and benevolence of the Vow of great compassion that Amida established for us, beings of karmic evil, is boundless and can never be fully expressed, for it surpasses all thought and all words. Starting long kalpas ago – far, far in the beginningless past – we have awakened the mind aspiring for great enlightenment under infinite numbers of Buddhas who have appeared in this world, but {our self-power has failed} [note3]. Now, however, guided by the compassionate means of the two honored ones, we have no intention of performing sundry practices and disciplines or any thought of self-power and doubt. All due to the compassion of the Tathagata of unhindered light, grasping never to abandon us, we rejoice completely free of doubt and our attainment of birth is settled {in the nembutsu down to one utterance} [note4]. Now that I have realized this to be the inconceivable working of the Vow, I see that everything is for myself alone – the sacred Pure Land scriptures, which I never tire of reading and listening to, the constant desire to meet true teachers, grasping never to abandon, shinjin, nembutsu. By inquiring into your thoughts, according to your teaching and free of subjective views, I have come to know the intent of the Vow and to walk the direct path, and will ultimately attain the true and real fulfilled land. All this is accomplished now {in nembutsu down to one utterance and in truly hearing the Name} [note5]. How joyful and how grateful I feel. I find theSelected Writings on the Teaching of Amida generally revealing in this matter also. Nevertheless, distracted by the business of everyday life, I tend to be negligent for hours at a time. Still, whether day or night it never slips from my mind, and there is only the act of rejoicing in Amida’s compassion; there is solely the diamondlike shinjin whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining, without any thought of the propriety of time or place; there is only the saying of the Name out of gratitude for the Buddha’s profound benevolence and for the joy imparted by {the benevolence of the masters} [note6].
The nembutsu is not a daily routine for me. I wonder if this is wrong. As the matter of ultimate importance for my life, nothing surpasses this. Wishing to receive, if possible, your full and detailed instruction, I have written down something of what I have thought. Although I stayed in Kyoto for a while, I was continually rushed without a moment’s peace; I regret this now and desire above all to return with no other business but to be with you for at least five days. That I am moved to say this is all due to your benevolence.

Humbly addressed to the Shonin

Ren’i-bo: please transmit this letter.

Tenth month, 10th day



Some of the people who say the nembutsu add the words mugeko nyorai [Tathagata of unhindered light] between utterance of Namu-amida-butsu. This is criticized by a person who claims that to say kimyo jinjippo mugeko nyorai [I take refuge in the Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters] in addition to Namu-amida-butsu is presumptuous and, in addition, pretentious. How should this matter be understood?


[Shinran’s Reply]

It is the greatest of errors to say that one must not say mugeko butsu [Buddha of unhindered light] in addition to Namu-amida-butsu. Kimyo corresponds to Namu. Mugeko butsu is light; it is wisdom. This wisdom is itself Amida Buddha. Since people do not know the form of Amida Buddha, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, exhausting all his resources, created this expression in order that we might know Amida’s form with perfect certainty.
In addition, I have made a small number of corrections in the wording of your letter.


[Ren’i’s Reply]

I conveyed the contents of your letter in detail to the Shonin, and he stated that it was altogether free from error. However, concerning the statement, “Our attainment of birth is settled by saying the nembutsu once; I realize this to be the inconceivable working of the Vow,” he commented that though this appears to be correct, the nembutsu should not be limited to one utterance, and in the margin of your letter he noted with his own hand that this passage was faulty. He instructed me to do this, but I thought that you would find his own writing to be compelling verification and urged him, although he happened to be suffering from a cough at the time, to write it in himself.

Also, people who have come to Kyoto report that there are debates going on in the countryside, mentioning, for example, that some are discussing the matter of being equal to Maitreya. I record here a passage that the Shonin has written about it; I hope you will read it:

Further, concerning being equal to Maitreya: Maitreya is of the stage equal to enlightenment; this is the causal stage of attainment. The moon becomes perfectly full on the fourteenth or fifteenth day, and this stage of Maitreya corresponds to the still half-formed moon on the eight or ninth day. This is like the practice of self-power. As for us, although we are foolish beings, shinjin has been established and our stage is that of the truly settled. This is the causal stage of attainment, the stage equal to enlightenment. Maitreya’s way is self-power; ours is Other Power. Although there is this difference between self-power and Other Power, the causal stage of attainment is equal. Further, Maitreya’s attainment of the perfect enlightenment will be long in coming, but we shall reach nirvana quickly. He awaits the dawn 5,670,000,000 years hence, but we are as though separated by only a film of bamboo. Among gradual and sudden teachings, his is the sudden and ours is the sudden within the sudden.

Nirvana is the perfect enlightenment. T’an-luan’s Commentary tells of a tree called “great firmness.” This tree lies buried underground for one hundred years, but when it sends forth shoots, it grows one hundred yards a day. Just as the tree spends one hundred years underground, we abide in this Saha world in the stage of the truly settled. And just as it grows one hundred yards in a single day, such is our attainment of nirvana. This is a metaphor, revealing to us the form of Other Power. The growth of the pine, which does not exceed several inches each year, is very slow, showing us the form of self-power.

Further, concerning being equal to Tathagata: illuminated by the light of the Buddha, foolish beings possessed of blind passions attain shinjin and rejoice. Because they attain shinjin and rejoice, they abide in the stage of the truly settled. Shinjin is wisdom. This wisdom is the wisdom attained because we are grasped by the light of Other Power. The Buddha’s light is also wisdom. Thus we can say that the person of shinjin and the Tathagata are the same. “Same” means that, in shinjin, they are equals. The stage of joy signifies the stage in which people rejoice in shinjin. Since a person rejoices in shinjin, he or she is said to be the same as the Tathagata.

I have copied here what the Shonin has written in detail.

Also, concerning your question about pronouncing mugeko nyorai along with Namu-amida-butsu, the Shonin made a detailed comment in the margin of your letter, so I am returning it to you. Although the words are different, whether we say Amida or mugeko, the meaning is one. “Amida” is Sanskrit and has been translated as muryoju (immeasurable life) and mugeko (unhindered light). The Sanskrit and Chinese words differ, but their meaning is the same.

Now then, concerning Kakushin-bo, I was deeply saddened by his death, but also felt great esteem for him, for he never deviated from shinjin. I asked him many times how his realization of shinjin was. Each time he answered that he had not digressed from shinjin and that his realization became stronger and stronger. On his way to Kyoto after he left his own province, he became ill at a place called Hitoichi, and although his companions advised him to return, he replied, “If it is a fatal illness, I will die whether I return or not. If I am to be sick, I will be sick whether I return or whether I stay. If it is all the same, I wish to die at the side of the Shonin.” His shinjin was truly splendid – so splendid and enviable that it reminds me of Shan-tao’s parable of the two rivers. At the point of death he uttered Namu-amida-butsuNamu-mugeko-nyoraiNamu-fukashigiko-nyorai (Tathagata of light that surpasses understanding), and putting his hands together, quietly met his end.

Whether one is left behind or goes before, it is surely a sorrowful thing to be parted by death. But the one who first attains nirvana vows without fail to save those who were close to him first and leads those with whom he has been karmically bound, his relatives, and his friends. It should be so, and since I have entered the same path of the teaching as Kakushin, I feel strongly reassured. Since it is said that being parent and child is a bond from a previous life, you too must feel reassured. It is impossible to express how moving and impressive it all was, so I will stop here. How can I speak of it further? I hope to say much more later.

I read this letter to the Shonin in order to see if there were any errors; he told me that there was nothing to be added, and that it was fine. He was especially moved and wept when I came to the part about Kakushin, for he is deeply grieved by his death.

Tenth month, 29th day


To Kyoshin-bo