Buddha-dharma is a teaching founded by Gotama Siddhartha, who was born a prince in the Shakya clan in ancient India some 2500 years ago.

Gotama Siddhartha sought a way of release from human suffering. After much experimentation he came to realize that the cause of his suffering was his ego-centered attachment. In other words, the source of his suffering was attachment to his base passions. With this awakening, he became the Buddha, the “enlightened one.”

From that time on, the Buddha’s teaching was transmitted to many different countries, where it adapted to the culture and differences of the people living there. Regardless of how many different countries to which the Buddha’s teaching was transmitted, however, it did not lose its basic nature.

Buddha-dharma is considered to have been introduced into Japan during 538 CE (552 CE, according to another theory), by way of China and the Korean Peninsula. Later, Japanese Buddha-dharma divided into two traditions:

  • the “self-centered effort” (jiriki) tradition in which each individual performs religious practices to attain personal enlightenment, and
  • the “Buddha-centered power” (tariki) tradition in which enlightenment is received by relying on the power of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. As recounted in Chapter One, this is the way in which the Venerable Master became enlightened.

During the twenty years from the age of nine to the age of twenty-nine, the Venerable Master spent all his time and effort performing religious practices that would cut off the base passions that he thought prevented him from becoming enlightened. The purpose of those practices was to cut off the three poisons of greed, anger, and stupidity.

The more the Venerable Master persisted in his practice, however, the more he became aware of the self in which such base passions were not only not reduced, but which actually increased. This does not mean that he was not dedicated to his practice. Rather, it points to the fact that the Venerable Master was so conscientious and looked so deeply into himself, that he could not deceive himself. Everywhere in his writings, the Venerable Master states that he was a person deeply filled with evil. We tend to see the errors or mistakes of others and are very severe with them, but we find it difficult if not impossible to see our own errors, and when we do, tend to look on them very tolerantly. This is very important to know when studying the Venerable Master’s writings and Jodo-Shinshu in general.

There are times when we humans suddenly become aware of the depths of our evil that until then we had not even thought about. I believe this is expressed very well in S?seki Natsume’s novel Kokoro. The central character in that novel was the only son in an affluent family. He was coddled and brought up in luxury. Just before reaching the age of twenty, however, both his parents passed away at almost the same time from typhoid fever. Following their deaths, the central character (who is referred to as Sensei, which means “teacher”) went to Tokyo for further schooling.