This is Part One of Part Seventeen of the commentary on Summary of Faith and Practice. Part Seventeen will be in four parts.
Text: encompasses the three minds
Part One: Background
In this teaching I would like to explain the meaning of the ‘three minds’ 三心 sanjin. The three minds are explained originally in the commentary upon the Contemplation Sutra written by Shan Tao in the seventh century. Shan Tao was the greatest teacher and populariser of Pureland Buddhism in China. He was an erudite, humble and artistic monk and is regarded as a great saint. He painted many icons of the Pure Land of Amida Buddha and these became objects of worship all over China. He also wrote deeply meaningful commentaries upon Buddhist texts. In particular he wrote a commentary upon the Contemplation Sutra.
The Contemplation Sutra is one of the three texts most revered in Pureland Buddhism. The sutra has three parts. The first part is a history that sets the scene, detailing the troubles of Queen Videhi. The second part reveals a vision of the Pure Land as revealed by Buddha to the queen to console her in her troubles and the third part details the nine grades of people who enter such a paradise.
Shan Tao’s commentary advanced what, at the time, seemed a radical interpretation of the third part of the sutra. Until then the nine grades had been taken as a ladder or ascending pathway that the practitioner had to climb in order to reach the highest grade. Shan Tao, however, said that the reason for inclusion of the nine grades in the sutra was to make clear that even those of the lowest grade were not abandoned. They too enter the Pure Land. they too shall ultimately enter nirvana.
Shan Tao lived in the seventh century in China. Honen lived in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Japan. Honen was deeply concerned to find a path of salvation for all, not merely the highly accomplished. When he read Shan Tao’s commentary he experiences a great revelation. This completely changed his life. In 1175 he ‘descended from the mountain’ and went forth into the world and it is from his teaching in the years that followed until his death in 1212 that Pureland as we know it derives.
Honen always held Shan Tao in great esteem and saw him as an incarnation of Amida Buddha. Honen is often himself seen as an incarnation of Tai Shih Chi who is, in a certain sense, Amida’s right hand assistant.
In his Commentary, Shan Tao explains the meaning of the teaching in various ways and one of the most important is by means of the doctrine of the three minds. The three minds are
Utterly Sincere Mind (至誠心) shijoshin
Profound Mind (深心) jinshin, and
Mind that vows to transfer merit (廻向発願心) ekohotsuganshin
To be continued...