On Doshu

Whenever I read out On Pilgrimage in the Snow, a letter by Rennyo Shonin (1415-1499), it reminds me of Doshu (?-1516), one of Rennyo Shonin’s disciples, who is also known as a Myokonin. Amongst Shin Buddhist followers those particularly rich in faith and goodness are called Myokonin. Their faith is extremely pure.

On Pilgrimage in the Snow was written on 8th February 1473, two years after Rennyo Shonin had established a temple on a hill known as Yoshizaki in Hokuriku District. He had moved from Kyoto to Omi and again from Omi to Yoshizaki in order to escape the repeated attacks of militant soldier monks on the Mt. Hiei. Within a few years of moving to Yoshizaki, Rennyo Shonin had become so popular and his teaching had spread so rapidly, that huge numbers of people would come flocking to Yoshizaki to attend the meetings he held there.

February is the coldest month in Japan and Hokuriku District is famous for the heavy falls of snow. In winter the snow lies several meters deep and in some areas people go in and out through doors at first floor level.

Although it is by no means certain whether Doshu was already present amongst those followers who had gathered at Yoshizaki on the day the letter was written, Doshu was actually brought up in that same district and did become a pious Pure Land Buddhist through his encounter with Rennyo Shonin. He is also said to have served as an escort-guard to Rennyo Shonin for a certain length of time. There is no doubt that, as a seeker after truth, possessed of excellent and persevering mental ability, he worked for Rennyo with utmost spiritual devotion. Doshu’s relation to Rennyo Shonin is a very good example of the relationship between master and disciple in Shin Buddhism.

Of his life we know very little except through a number of historical documents: The Rennyo Shonin Goichidaiki Kikigaki (The Record of Rennyo Shonin’s Words and Deeds throughout his Lifetime), Articles 45, 131, 192 and 281, a part of The Shujinki (The Collection of Dust) and The Resolutions Made on 24th December, 1st Year of Bunki. These records that are believed to have been made by his contemporaries are very important for finding out about Doshu. In particular the last document, The Resolutions Made on 24th December, 1st Year of Bunki, usually known as Doshu’s Twenty-One Resolutions, is invaluable because it was written by himself. It gives us a glimpse of his spiritual life. As I wasn’t very happy with the English version of the document found in The Japanese Spirituality by D. T. Suzuki (translated into English by Prof. Norman Waddell), I have retranslated it for today’s talk.

Firstly I would like to introduce you to Articles 45, 131, 192 and 281 of The Rennyo Shonin Goichidaiki Kikigaki and to make a few comments on them as we go along.

Article 45

Doshu of Akao said, “As a matter of daily concern, you should never neglect the morning service at the family altar, you should make monthly visits to the nearest temple to worship the School’s Founder, Shinran; and each year you should make a pilgrimage to the Head Temple [in Kyoto].” On hearing what he had said, Reverend Ennyo declared, “How remarkable for him to have spoken like that!”

Doshu died in 1516 but the date of his birth is unknown. He was born in Etchu (now called Toyama prefecture) in a small village named Akao near the upper reaches of the Sho River. Akao is now part of the World Heritage, Shirogamisanchi, comprising several villages with traditional thatched houses. To reach Akao one must travel a distance of over twenty miles after leaving Joga-hana, a dangerous journey through valleys and high mountains. Nowadays we can go there by bus. In olden times, however, the mountain path was so dangerous that the slightest misstep would have meant a lethal fall. There was at least one particularly dangerous gully one had to negotiate using a box and ropes. In winter the region lies under more than 20 feet of snow and a trip between Akao and the Honganji Branch Temple at Jogahana would literally have been at risk of life and limb.

According to The Shujinki Doshu would travel from time to time to the Head Temple in Kyoto or to the other temples in his country, usually spending very little time at home. He would go to see Rennyo Shonin two or three times a year. Whenever he visited Rennyo Shonin, he stayed with him for a few months, enjoying discussions about faith with him and also attending to him as an escort-guard. When he went back to his own country, he often visited his friends at various temples.

One evening Doshu arrived in Kyoto to see Rennyo Shonin, and found him sitting in a room without any light. Whilst seated outside the room, Doshu received a very warm greeting from the Master. Shonin was actually delighted to have Doshu visit his place and declared, “You are most welcome to Kyoto.” As soon as Doshu heard these words, the room shone with light. Doshu thought at first it was moonlight entering the room but then found that the light was issuing from his Master’s body. In a while the light was gone. Then he gazed at the features of Rennyo Shonin. If nothing else this story from The Shujinki indicates how much Doshu revered Rennyo Shonin. Rennyo Shonin was to him an embodiment of Amida Buddha.

According to the legend of Gyotokuji Temple, whilst Rennyo Shonin was staying in the Branch Temple at Jogahana, Doshu would visit him every day travelling twenty miles from Akao. One day, however, apparently due to a heavy snowstorm Doshu had difficulty in arriving in time for the service. Rennyo Shonin turned to the people around him, saying “Please, wait for him to arrive. He will definitely appear.” After a while Doshu did arrive, frozen and covered in snow. Then they rang the bell to start the service. What a beautiful story it is of the relationship between these two! It defies description.

Article 131

Doshu said, “Though I keep hearing one particular word, I always feel as grateful as if I were hearing it for the very first time.”

What Rennyo Shonin states in Article 130 seems to be related to Article 131.

Article 130

Rennyo Shonin said, “After attaining faith you should feel each thing as new and fresh, even though you might have heard the same thing many times before. Usually people wish for something completely new and different. However, no matter how many times you hear some-thing, it should be heard in a way that is as fresh and as new as if it were being heard for the very first time.”

These two items illustrate something important about spiritual life, showing how with the Myokonin spirituality is always fresh and new. A man of pure faith is not attached to anything from the self-centred world, but is always open to what is happening to him. Because he knows how to free himself from attachment, in his spiritual life each thing is always experienced as if for the very first time. No matter how many times he encounters something, it is always fresh and new.

Article 192

It would be very shameful to think that an order given by our Master might be impossible to achieve. You should consider anything possible if it is Master’s order. If it is feasible for an ordinary person [filled with blind passions] to become a Buddha, how can anything else remain impossible? Therefore Doshu once said he would fill Lake Biwa up with mud with his own hands if ordered to do so by Master (Rennyo).

Article 281

When Doshu begged Rennyo Shonin to give him some written instruction, Rennyo Shonin said, “You may lose a letter, but if you hold faith in your heart it can never be lost.” Nevertheless, the following year he did accede to Doshu’s request.”

Concerning this article, let me quote another beautiful story from D. T. Suzuki’s Japanese Spirituality:

He took great pains to collect the Ofumi (Gobunsho, “Honorable Letters”), letters written by Rennyo to his followers. This was not merely because he wished them for his own sake, to help him attain faith, he wanted them to show to the villagers of Akao as well, to help instruct them in the Way. Number 281 in Rennyo’s Goichidaiki Kikigaki states: “Doshu, begging Rennyo to give him some written instruction, was told: ‘You may lose a letter, but faith kept in the heart can never be lost.’ Nevertheless, the following year he acceded to Doshu’s request.”

The next story tells how once, while he was setting out for Kyoto, his wife asked that he obtain from Rennyo some instruction for her concerning the acquiring of faith. After a long and arduous return trip from Kyoto, before even stopping to take off his straw sandals, he produced a piece of paper on which was written the six letters, Namuamidabutsu. This brought a look of some disappointment from his wife, who had ob-viously expected something more detailed. Seeing her reaction, and still without having taken off his footwear, he said, “All right,” and set off for Kyoto once again, many miles, days, and hardships distant. Though he had that very moment returned from a more than ten day trip through the mountains, he began the same journey once more. I think this story – even if only legendary – enables us to understand the extent of Doshu’s purity and honesty, such that hardship and privation could make no inroad.
Japanese Spirituality by D. T. Suzuki, pp.170-171

Now, as I come towards the end, I would like to introduce to you The Resolutions Made on 24th December, 1st Year of Bunki (1501), usually known as Doshu’s Twenty-One Resolutions. This is a marvellous piece of writing that will surely give you an insight into the essence of his religious experience.

The Resolutions Made on 24th December, 1st Year of Bunki

  1. Do not be neglectful as long as you live of the One Great Matter of Rebirth [in the Pure Land].
  2. If anything other than the Buddha Dharma enters deeply into your heart, consider it shameful and renounce it immediately.
  3. When you find yourself out of spirits and self-indulgent, you should break free of such a selfish frame of mind and move forward.
  4. If you are hoping for some unfair, selfish gain from your relation to the Buddha Dharma, you should consider it shameful and immediately and without any hesitation withdraw your hands and relinquish all connections with it.
  5. Hold no favouritism in your heart. Do no harm to others out of favouritism.
  6. Being aware that you are always being watched [by the Buddha], you should give up all your evil thoughts even when no one is watching you.
  7. You must deeply believe and highly respect the Buddha Dharma, be thoroughly humble yourself and behave [in the light of the Buddha].
  8. It is deeply shameful to consider trying to get others to give you an important position on the strength of the Buddha Dharma. Should such an intention cross your mind, remember that the only reason for having faith in the Buddha Dharma is to help you attain the One Great Matter of Rebirth [in the Pure Land] on this occasion, and relinquish all such thoughts.
  9. If you find yourself in some quarter where evil is being committed, leave [immediately] without arguing whether it’s right or wrong.
  10. The very thought that you are watching how wretched I am brings me the deepest sadness and pain. Though I am well aware you have for-given me for all my former actions, the fact that you know my inner state of mind is cause for utter shame, making me realise my extreme ignorance and sorrow. When I consider that my heart was anchored in wretchedness in the previous world and that it still is so now, I am at a loss for words to express how wretched I am. Even if I chanced to meet you, I would feel what a wretched heart was mine. Oh, wondrous compassion! I have lived up until today solely begging your forgiveness for my prior transgression. I am coming to you entrusting myself to your teaching.
  11. If you are still alive today or tomorrow and you become lazy with regard to the Dharma, you must consider it shameful, break free of your laziness of mind and behave [in the light of the Buddha].
  12. If your heart does not fill with a sense of wonderment you should consider it shameful and irreverent, and resolve that, though you starve or freeze to death in this present life, you will now attain the One Great Matter of Rebirth [in the Pure Land]. Considering that this will be the fulfilment of your desire from beginningless time, do investigate yourself resolutely, with a critical mind, in order to recover your sense of wonder as soon as possible. If even then the sense of wonderment is missing, consider that you are probably being punished [by the Buddha]; break free of your laziness of mind and praise the Dharma in the presence of fellow devotees, because these acts will lead you at least to a sense of wonderment.
  13. You must not fall into the worst mistake of being self-indulgent. Do not sleep away your life in vain, failing to consider the One Great Matter.
  14. Do not use the fact that you do not have any good friends as an excuse [for your laziness]. When you meet members of your family, though they themselves may not be conscious of the Dharma, behave towards them as well as possible, and ask them first of all what they think about the One Great Matter. Preserving a sense of wonderment in your heart, behave yourself [in the light of the Buddha Dharma].
  15. Bear in mind fully that the matters of the dojo (temple or training house) are of great importance.
  16. You must not harbour thoughts of hate or revenge toward those who hate you.
  17. You must simply cherish the One Great Matter deep in your heart. Don’t be negligent of it. You should follow the corrections proffered by your fellow-believers.
  18. Do not become attached to anything! Oh, my mind! Just hold deep in your heart this One Great Matter!
  19. The reason why I am writing like this is because my heart is so ignorant and full of shame. If I talk about my mind in this way, therefore, and make resolutions, I hope something will be forthcoming. I will not fail over and over again to follow the corrections of others.
  20. I do hope you will pour your special compassion over me, to keep me from going astray and to correct what is in my heart. Nothing else.
  21. Oh, this wretched heart! If I am able to attain the One Great Matter I will not count my life as of any importance. Wherever I am ordered to go I will go. I will even resolve to journey to China or India in search of the Dharma. As long as I hold to this resolve, it is easy, isn’t it, to follow your teaching unreservedly and behave [in the light of the Buddha]? Again, my heart! Life lasts but a moment. You will not be here long. Don’t mind starving or freezing to death. Never be neglectful of the One Great Matter. My heart! Do not go against these [twenty-one] resolutions. Investigate yourself with a critical mind, and behave [in the light of the Buddha] to the very end. Never breaching the laws and rules of society, feel inwardly the splendour of the one thought [faith], be grateful for it, and outwardly act with deep humility toward others. I ask you, my heart!


I am afraid I have no time to talk about the document in detail, but there is one important point that I would like to refer to in this context. The point is that we should not interpret this kind of religious document from a so-called objective viewpoint. If you depend on objective observation, the document will lose its integrity and become fragmentised. The speaker, Doshu, is talking to himself from beginning to end. All the words are addressed to himself using the word “you.” To use the terminology of Martin Buber’s philosophy, every part of the document is spoken not by the Primordial Word “I-It” but by the Primordial Word “I-Thou.” Many misinterpretations found in the previous English version are connected to a lack of awareness of the difference between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship. In other words, we should interpret the text with subjectivity, not with objectivity. Subjectivity, or inwardness, is the truth, by which I mean so-called objective knowledge is not certain. We should be aware of the uncertainty of such an approach.

Finally I would like to say that Doshu is always facing Rennyo Shonin, and hence Amida Buddha, because Rennyo Shonin is Amida Buddha to Doshu. Especially in the context of Resolution 10, one who is addressed as “you” can be Amida and also Rennyo Shonin at the same time. If you read the text with this point in mind, the whole document will sound more profound. The date of The Twenty-One Resolutions shows that it was written, two years and nine months after the death of his Master, on the evening of the monthly memorial service to him.

Thank you.
Kemmyo Taira Sato