Principal Teachings of The True Sect of Pure Land, by Yejitsu Okusa, , at sacred-texts.com
The Buddha Shākyamuni left no writings of his own, and all we have of his teachings come from what his disciples retained in their memory and committed to writing after his death. These writings are called "sūtras" or canonical books, of which a large number is still in existence. Among them, there are three sūtras giving a full account of Amitāyus Buddha who brought his effective name into perfection in order to save all sentient beings from sinking into the abyss of sin. The following are the three:
1. The Amitāyus-sūtra or Sukhāvativyūha-sūtra. Two volumes. In this the venerable Shākyamuni talks to Ānanda and Maitreya on the Mount
[paragraph continues] Gṛdhrakūta concerning the spiritual history of Amida. It was translated into Chinese in 252 A.D., by Samghavarman.
2. The Amitāyur Dhyāna-sūtra. One volume. This records what Shākyamuni preached for Ānanda and Vaidehī at the Royal Palace in Rājagṛha concerning the possibility of all sentient beings to be born in the Pure Land of Amitāyus Buddha after the deliverance from this world of suffering. It was translated into Chinese in 424 A.D., by Kālayashas.
3. The Amitāyus sūtra, or Sukhāvativyūha-sūtra. One volume. In this is recorded what Shākyamuni preached for Shāriputra at the garden of Anāthapindika, Shrāvastī, concerning the magnificence of the land of happiness and the virtues of Amitāyus Buddha. It was translated into Chinese by Kumārajīva in 402 A.D.
Of these three sūtras, what is most
important is the Amitāyus sūtra in two volumes; for it is in this sūtra that the true signification of Amida to save all sentient beings is explained with thoroughness, and the teaching of the True Sect of Pure Land is no more than the doctrine enunciated in this sūtra. As to the signification of the other two sūtras, we assume a double interpretation, apparent and inward. The apparent signification of these sūtras, then, is that they supply us with a provisionary means whereby we are finally led to the ultimate reason of salvation by faith in Amida, while inwardly they unfold the real purport of salvation by faith in Amida, which is also the teaching of the Amitāyus sūtra in two volumes. Thus, all these canonical books constitute the sacred lore of the True Sect, whose essential doctrine is to show the way of salvation through the grace of Amida.
There were a great many Indian,
[paragraph continues] Chinese and Japanese predecessors of Shinran Shōnin, who like him preached the true doctrine of salvation by faith. And of these we regard the following seven as most contributing to the development of the teaching of the True Sect: that is, in India we have Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu; in China, Donran (T’an-luan), Dōshaku (Taoch’ao), and Zendō (Shan-tao); and in Japan, Genshin and Genkū (also called Hōnen). They are designated the Seven Fathers (Kōsō, meaning "great patriarchs") of the True Sect. Each one of them left special writings elucidating the faith and philosophy of it; they are:
Nāgārjuna—"The Twelve Reverences" (Jyūni-rai).
Vasubandhu—"Discourse on Pure Land."
Donran—"Commentary" on the
Donran—"Hymn Praising Amida Buddha."
Dōshaku—"On Peace and Joy" (Anrakushū). 2 vols.
Zendō—"A Commentary on the Amitāyurdhyāna-sūtra." 4 vols.
Genshin—"The Wōjō-yōshū." 3 vols.
Genkū—"The Senjaku-hongwan-nembutsu-shū; 2 vols.
From this, it is evident that the fundamental truth of the True Sect was first taught by Shākyamuni himself, which was later developed in detail and made more manifest by these seven fathers of the Sect, while Shinran Shōnin synthesised all these teachings severally brought forward by his predecessors into one system and gave it the name of the
[paragraph continues] True Sect of Pure Land, whereby the doctrine of salvation by faith gained a new and deeper and clearer significance. In this sense, therefore, he is the founder of the True Sect, and his work on the "Doctrine, Practice, Faith, and Attainment" of the True Sect is its fundamental book. As to the other authoritative books published later than the one just mentioned, we have had occasion to refer to them in a previous chapter.