What are the Jodo Shinshu writings?

Sacred Scriptures


Freely adapted from “An Outline of Buddhism” (1954), a pamphlet written by Rev. Takashi Tsuji while he was a minister of the Buddhist Churches of Canada.


Sutra on The Buddha of Infinite Life – The Larger Sukhavati Vyuha Sutra (Jp. Bussetsu Muryoju kyo)


This sutra records a discourse delivered by Shakyamuni at the Mount of Holy Vulture in Rajagriha.


In it, Shakyamuni speaks of Hozo Bosatsu (Bodhisattva Dharmakara) who makes 48 Vows, all of them for the benefit of all sentient beings. For a countless number of years, Hozo Bosatsu meditates and works for a realization of a Buddha Land perfect in every sense, where all beings can be reborn. He becomes Amida Buddha – the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life.


The Sutra of Contemplation on The Buddha of Infinite Life – Amitayur Dhyana Sutra (Jp. Bussetsu Kanmuryoju kyo)


The Buddha teaches to Queen Vaidehi, who is thrown in jail by her own son. Shakyamuni teaches that for those in the depths of suffering and sorrow, only Faith in the Compassion of Amida can save her. While the Larger Sukhavati Vyuha Sutra teaches the ideal of rebirth into the Pure Land through Faith, the Amitayur Dhyana Sutra shows a practical application of that ideal by an individual, Queen Vaidehi, who finds salvation through Faith.


The Samaller Sutra on Amida (Buddha) – Smaller Sukhavati Vyuha Sutra (Jp. Bussetsu Amida Kyo)


This sutra is a summary of the larger sutra. It speaks of the indescribable beauty of the Pure Land and extols the virtues of Amida.


Shinran Shonin’s Major Writings


The True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way Kyogyoshinsho (Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyogyosho Monrui)


Freely adapted from the liner notes of “Kyo Gyo Shin Sho”, Ryokoku Translation Series V, (Ryukoku University: Kyoto, 1966).


This is Shinran’s magnum opus. It is a voluminous work written in kambun; a classical Chinese style recognized by the Japanese scholars of his time. The work shows the process of actualizing Amida Buddha’s salvic activity. Through The Sutra on The Buddha of Infinite Life, we are made aware of Amida’s Name (Namoamidabutsu), which embodies Amida Buddha’s spiritual virtues. When we are made aware of the depths of Amida’s Compassion, we are assured of realizing enlightenment and our recitation of Namoamidabutsu, becomes a response in grateful acknowledgement of this awareness.


The text not only represents an apex of the Pure Land tradition, which originated in India and has developed in China and Japan, but it also gives us a comprehensive picture of Buddhism from the viewpoint of Amida’s Vow to save all sentient beings. It also contains, in verse form, a concise lineage of the Jodo Shinshu Teaching, the Shoshinge, which we chant regularly at our temples.


The Hymns – The Wasan


Freely adapted from the liner notes of “Jodo Wasan”, Ryokoku Translation Series IV, (Ryukoku University: Kyoto, 1965).


Although intensely concerned with spreading awareness of Amida’s Vow amongst the scholars of his time, Shinran Shonin was also concerned with making the teaching available to the common person. For this reason, Shinran Shonin composed more than 500 devotional poems in three collections in the Japanese language.


While his religious philosophy is detailed in his texts, Shinran Shonin’s Hymns express his overflowing religious sentiment and aspiration to convey the joy of faith and appreciation of the Dharma to his fellow human beings. The Wasan, which are softened hymns of praise, present the essence of abstruse and intricate Jodo Shinshu teachings in plain, simple words. Probably intended by Shinran to be recited, or sung, the Wasan have played a vital role in disseminating the Shinshu teaching and faith to ordinary people in the everyday world.


The Hymns on the Pure Land – The Jodo Wasan


Freely adapted from the liner notes of “Jodo Wasan”, Ryokoku Translation Series IV, (Ryukoku University: Kyoto, 1965).


Although they are primarily appreciated for their beauty, the hymns in this collection are essentially doctrinal in nature. They explain the transcendental existence of Amida Buddha and his Pure Land, which are in themselves Truth itself, as well as the teaching of salvation which flows out of them. The Hymns of the Pure Land praise the ineffable glories of Amida, the Pure Land and the Name of Amida (Nembutsu). Expounding the import of the Pure Land Sutras (see Sacred Scriptures above), they caution against doubt and encourage faith in the universal Compassionate Vow of Amida.


The Hymns of the Pure Land Masters – The Koso Wasan


Freely adapted from the liner notes of “The Koso Wasan”, Ryokoku Translation Series VI, (Ryukoku University: Kyoto, 1974).


There moves throughout the history of Buddhism a spirit of profound reverence for the past masters who transmitted and illuminated the teachings. It is this spirit that animates The Hymns of the Pure Land Masters, where Shinran speaks of the teachers who guided him to his experience of the Buddha Dharma. Shinran believed that there were seven pivotal teachers who were instrumental in bringing the Pure Land teaching to him. In translation we call them The Seven Patriarchs. Two, Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu, were from India; three, Donran (Ch. T’an-luan), Doshaku (Ch. Tao-ch’o) and Zendo (Ch. Shan-tao), were from China; and two, Genshin and Genku were from Japan. Taken together they trace a lineage for the Pure Land teachings back to the historical Buddha in India.  Although set in a simple hymn form, the Hymns on the Patriarchs arose out of the religious maturity of Shinran’s later years, so that they trace with great clarity the contours of Shin Buddhism to the bedrock of the original Buddhist teachings.


Hymns of the Dharma Ages – The Shozomatsu Wasan


Freely adapted from the liner notes of “Shozomatsu Wasan”, Ryokoku Translation Series VII, (Ryukoku University: Kyoto, 1980).


The Hymns of the Dharma Ages were written when Shinran Shonin was eighty-five. As such, they reflect the culmination of his understanding of the Nembutsu teaching. These hymns, which were later used by Shin Buddhist followers in their daily worship, clearly indicate Shinran Shonin’s intent to reveal the Pure Land teaching to ordinary people in an age when difficult and austere religious practices had lost their effectiveness* (See note below). In them, he laments the degeneration of the Dharma and his appreciation of the Nembutsu teaching; ideas which we have seen in his other works, but which here are presented in the heightened form of song.


*  The Dharma-ages is a view of history as it relates to the efficacy of Buddhist practice. The idea of practice as deteriorating over time can be traced back to India in a collection of miscellaneous and short sutras, Samyutta-nikaya (Jp. Zoagon-gyo). At that time there were two divisions; the Age of right Dharma and the Age of Semblance Dharma. In Chinese Buddhism it became three ages with differing time periods depending on which tradition we find it in. The Three Dharma-ages are 1) the Right Dharma-age; when teaching, practice and attainment exist, 2) the Semblance Dharma-age; when teaching and practice exist, but attainment of enlightenment in this world cannot be attained, and 3) the Last Dharma-age; when the teaching still exists, but beings have degenerated to the point where we are no longer capable of practice and, accordingly, attainment of enlightenment is out of the question.
Regarding the length of time; the Right Dharma-age lasted for 500 years after the historical Buddha’s death, the Semblance Dharm-age lasted for 1,000 years after the Right Dharma-age and the Last Dharma-age lasts for 10,000 years after the Semblance Dharma-age. This view of the Dharma-ages is common to pretty much all Japanese Buddhist schools and it has a very strong influence on Honen and Shinran.


Rennyo Shonin’s Letters – Gobunsho


Freely adapted from “Letters of Renny


o: A Translation of Rennyo’s Gobunsho”, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, (Hongwanji International Center: Kyoto, 2000).


Rennyo Shonin is the 8th Abbot of our lineage. Like Shinran, Rennyo was very concerned with bringing the Nembutsu teachings to everyone. He standardized liturgy and instituted the practice of holding a morning and evening service in front of one’s home altar. He also produced letters which were to be read out loud at all Jodo Shinshu gatherings. The letters emphasized main points of Shinshu doctrine and gave the common person, who was illiterate in that time period, access to the teachings.


The total number of surviving letters is 266. The first was written at the age of 47 years and the last was written when Rennyo was 84 years old. Over time, the number of letters continually read at Shinshu gatherings was reduced to 33.