Gunmo 219

Hymn Appreciation 7

             The Root of Ho’onko

                                                                   Koju Fujieda

                              Ryokeiji Temple

According to The Collection of Shinran Shonin’s Hand-written Works, ‘The Pure Land Masters’ Hymns by Gutoku Shinran’ contains ten hymns on Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna, ten on Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, thirty-four on Master (Bodhisattva) T’an-luan, seven on Master Tao-ch’o, twenty-six on Master Shan-tao, ten on Master Genshin, and twenty on Master Genkū--- one hundred and seventeen in total.  Most masters are versed in terms of teaching and career, but remarkably in the case of T’an-luan, eleven hymns (about a third of all the hymns on him) are about his great career. Yet, the most outstanding is that all the twenty hymns on Genkū Shonin are praises of his virtuous accomplishments in his career; such is Shinran Shonin’s deep longing for his teacher.                                                                   

Our teacher Genkū appeared          
Through the power of the Light of Wisdom,                                 
And revealing the true Pure Land way,                                       
He taught the selected Primal Vow.
   --- Genkū Shonin is adored as an incarnation of Amida Buddha (the Light of Wisdom).

  Through countless kalpas and innumerable lives,   
    We did not know the strong cause of liberation;                      
Were it not for our teacher Genkū,                                         
This present life also would pass in vain.
---The encounter with Honen-bo Genkū Shonin was the very pivot of Shinran Shonin’s whole life.

  At the death of our teacher Genkū,     
Radiant light shone in the sky like purple clouds;    
Music sounded, subtle and elegant,                                 
And the air was fragrant with rare perfumes.                             
Good omens of his birth in the Pure Land are depicted. 
And the most notable is the last hymn of the Genkū section as follows:

The death of our teacher Genkū 
Came in 1212, in early spring;                                             
On the twenty-fifth day of the first month,                                      
He returned to the Pure Land.                                                 
--What a surprise that the exact date of his death is stated in a hymn! What is Shinran Shonin’s real intention? Though it may be a good epilogue of the chapter, he seems to me to be telling himself and all his teacher’s disciples never to forget their teacher’s death date and teachings.

   Incidentally, in a letter to his disciple Shoshin-bo in Kanto, Shinran Shonin mentions “the nembutsu meeting on the twenty-fifth for Honen Shonin,” which shows that all the disciples of Honen Shonin gathered to hold a nembutsu service on the twenty-fifth every month. Shinran Shonin also must have practiced it after he returned to Kyoto. 

   Honen Shonin was Shinran Shonin’s life-long teacher who converted him into the nembutsu, the saving of Amida Buddha. “Genkū is the founder of Jodo Shinshu” was Shinran’s basic standpoint. “I was luckily taught the right shinjin from my teacher, that is, ‘The Name embodying the Primal Vow is the act of true settlement and entrusting to it is the cause of birth and attainment of nirvana.’ As I was admitted as his right disciple, I only present his true teaching to you.” So saying, Shinran Shonin certainly “engraved” the date January 25 in the hymn with  his strong gratitude to Honen-bo Genkū Shonin.

   Shinran Shonin himself passed away in the nembutus on November 28, 1262 (by the lunar calendar) at the age of 90. His disciples visited his grave on the anniversary in the mind of gratitude. Later, Ven. Kakunyo wrote “Ho’onko Shiki” (Note of Gratitude), which originated a formal Ho’onko, a rigid service to express gratitude to Shinran Shonin. Ven. Zonkaku, his son, depicts in Tandoku Mon, “Never to fail, many people pay a visit to the master’s grave on the twenty-eighth, monthly and annually. Since the time of Ven. Rennyo who stressed the importance of “a week-long Ho’on Ko” in his Letter or Master’s Life, Ho’on Ko (popularly, “Honko san”) has become the yearly greatest traditional service in Jodo Shinshu schools.                                                                      

This ho’onko for Shinran Shonin has its unseen root coming from his own hymn on Honen Shonin’s death date “January 25.”  Thus I am personally impressed with the firm and thick tie of shinjin in t