UNLOCKING TANNISHO Shinran's Words on the Pure Land Path
私たちはみな旅人である。しかし、どこへ向かっているのだろう？ 人生の旅の目的は何であろうか。 幾人かの偉人がこの問いに答えようとした。その一人が釈迦である。国王の子として生まれながら、彼は快適な生活を捨てて真の幸福を探求 ...
Tannisho: Amplified Translation
A Guide to Tannisho:
Close Translation and Clarification of Easily Misunderstood Passages
Close Translations of Tannisho
1 How Easy It Is to Misunderstand Tannisho—Clarification of Section I of Tannisho (1 of 4)—
2 Amida's Salvation Happens in This Life—Clarification of Section I of Tannisho (2 of 4)—
3 “The Sole Requirement Is Faith”—Clarification of Section I of Tannisho (3 of 4)—
4 “No Need for Good, No Fear of Evil”: What Does This Really Mean? —Clarification of Section I of Tannisho (4 of 4)—
5 Does Other-Power Mean That We Sit Back and Do Nothing? —Clarification of Section II of Tannisho (1 of 4)—
6 “Only Say the Nembutsu”: The Meaning of “Only”—Clarification of Section II of Tannisho (2 of 4)—
7 The Real Meaning of Shinran's “I Do Not Know in the Least”—Clarification of Section II of Tannisho (3 of 4)—
8 Because Amida's Vow Is True—Clarification of Section II of Tannisho (4 of 4)—
9 “If Even a Good Person Will Attain Salvation, All the More So Will an Evil Person”—Clarification of Section III of Tannisho—
10 The Real Meaning of “Quickly Attaining Buddhahood”—Clarification of Section IV of Tannisho—
11 Funerals and Memorial Services Are Not for the Dead—Clarification of Section V of Tannisho—
12 No Disciples: Shinran's Love for One and All—Clarification of Section VI of Tannisho—
13 What Happens When We Are Saved by Amida? —Clarification of Section VII of Tannisho—
14 The Great Faith and the Great Practice—Clarification of Section VIII of Tannisho—
15 “No Desire to Dance in Joy”: Shinran's Lack of Joy Is Only Half the Story—Clarification of Section IX of Tannisho—
16 What Is “Namu Amida Butsu”? —Clarification of Section X of Tannisho—
17 The Reality of Self-Power and the Ocean of Other-Power Faith—Clarification of the Epilogue of Tannisho (1 of 2)—
18 The Universal Purpose of Life—Clarification of the Epilogue of Tannisho (2 of 2)—
Map of Places That Appear in the Text
Timeline of the Development of Pure Land Buddhism
Japanese Text of Tannisho
In spring of 1944, at the age of sixteen, I volunteered to join the Japanese Imperial Naval Air Service and was trained as a fighter pilot. Months before the end of the Pacific War, still a teenager, I watched as one after another of my comrades took off in an airplane loaded with explosives and just enough fuel for a one-way trip. Their orders were to crash their planes into allied warships and aircraft carriers in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to win an unwinnable war.
The treatment meted out to kamikaze pilots in training was cruel and brutal. We were constantly beaten, trained only to obey and die. We were brainwashed, told that to give up our lives was a great honor and that through our sacrifice we would not only save our sacred nation and serve the emperor but be granted immortality. Still too young to make the list, I knew it was only a matter of time before my turn came—yet deep down I prayed to live, as did my comrades. All of the doomed pilots tried to find meaning in that desperate situation. I well remember that as their only companion on that final flight, many chose to take along the book Tannisho and the message of Shinran.
After the war, my life fortunately spared, I turned my attention to that small book and its great teachings. My encounter with them transformed my life and filled me with renewed purpose. I still grow hot with anger when I think of how my friends and I were deceived, instilled with the idea that throwing away our lives was somehow beautiful. Yet I am grateful beyond words to have been granted the happiness of knowing the truth. I have dedicated my life to deepening my understanding of, and sharing with others, the same undying principles that were a ray of bright hope to those youths setting off on their dark and hopeless journeys.
Sixty-five years have gone by since Japan's defeat. With the collapse of the old Imperial Japan and the advent of a new era, the nation went through a time of wholesale physical and spiritual reconstruction. New values replaced the old ones. The emperor was not a god at all, it turned out, but a mere human being. Japanese people were not divine or special, either, but brothers and sisters of the whole human race with freedom to choose for themselves how to live and, more importantly, find out why to live. Instead of resigning themselves to bleak fate, they could sow the seeds of future happiness. With these ideas as a mainstay—ideas rooted in the teachings of Shinran—Japan rose from the rubble and found courage to go on.
Shinran's ideas are truly liberating. He pointed out that to attain enduring happiness is the purpose of life, and that such happiness can be attained while we are yet alive. He preached the absolute equality of all people and the infinite preciousness of a single human life. This truth became the mainstay of the Japanese spirit in the postwar era, underlying contemporary Japanese political, economic, and educational systems, as well as other cultural fields. This connection helps to explain Shinran's steady rise in prominence since the war. Even though he lived over seven hundred and fifty years ago, in 1995 a popular television show dedicated an entire program to Shinran as the historical figure who was studied, discussed, and admired more than any other during the twentieth century in Japan.
Interest in Tannisho continues to grow. Many postwar writers, thinkers, and newsmakers have focused on studying its philosophy, and until very recently as many as ten commentaries were published each year. The sheer number of commentaries on this amazing book tells us both how beloved it is and how mysterious.
What is the source of Tannisho's mesmerizing appeal? Why do the words of Shinran go on captivating readers' minds and hearts? Let me briefly explain the background of this treasure from the late thirteenth century.
"Even a good person can be born in the Pure Land; how much more so an evil person!" These unforgettable words are from Section III of Tannisho. The book is filled with similarly haunting statements and challenging concepts. Yuien (1222–89), one of Shinran's leading disciples, is believed to be the author. The title, which means "Lamenting the Deviations," refers to Yuien's sorrow about common misrepresentations of Shinran's core teachings and his determination to set the record straight.
Chronologically, Tannisho falls squarely between two other widely read gems of medieval Buddhist literature: An Account of My Hut, a contemplative essay on the transiency of life written in 1212 by reclusive monk Kamo no Chomei (ca. 1155–1216), and Essays in Idleness, a collection of musings on a variety of topics by priest and scholar Kenko (d. 1352?). Of the three, Tannisho is particularly renowned for a literary style of such beauty and economy that many people have been inspired to commit the entire work to memory.
Strange as it may seem, despite its iconic status Tannisho has been widely known for less than a century. Five hundred years ago, the book was put under seal after the priest Rennyo forbade readers from showing it indiscriminately to the uninitiated.
Then even Shinran scholars and followers grew wary of the book, and very few people knew of its existence until it happened to come under renewed scrutiny in the late nineteenth century. Today Tannisho is inseparably connected with the teachings of Shinran and is considered an apt introduction to his thought. It continues to provide spiritual comfort and strength for countless readers, just as it did for my comrades long ago.
Just as Rennyo foretold, however, Tannisho has proved a two-edged sword. For example, the passage quoted above, with its assertion that salvation belongs "all the more so [to] an evil person," inspired some to proclaim early on that since Amida loves evildoers, the more evil we do, the better! Shinran's teachings thus came under fire for "creating evildoers." Even today, Shinran scholars, not to mention ordinary readers, are prone to make fundamental errors of interpretation. As Rennyo well knew, the core truths of Tannisho often prove elusive to those without proper guidance.
The peril of approaching Tannisho unaided is real. Intended originally as a hidden treasure for the inner few, in the hands of the wrong reader the book is like a razor, capable of inflicting grievous harm. The only way to prevent an outcome of bitter regret for oneself and others is to read Tannisho armed with a full understanding of Shinran's thought.
Tannisho commentaries abound. Regrettably, they tend to offer freewheeling interpretations that emphasize the authors' personal experiences and beliefs. In Unlocking Tannisho, I have drawn on Shinran's magnum opus, Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment—which he continued to rewrite and polish throughout his life—as well as many other of his works in an effort to see Tannisho in its original light and so clarify its true meaning. I believe that relying on Shinran's own words is the best way—the only way—to get to the bottom of this crucially important text.
Now through this English-language version of my translation and commentary, Tannisho embarks on yet another journey. I am grateful to Juliet Carpenter and many others for their unstinting labors in helping to bring Shinran's words to readers around the world. The opportunity to engage in dialogue about Tannisho with readers is something I look forward to very much. Everyone's comments and criticisms are sincerely welcome.