Honen Shonin has been one of the ancestral teachers most important to me. I love his humanity. He talks about how he learnt Buddhism and learnt that pure contempation depended upon pure moral conduct and that wisdom depended on pure contemplation. he reflected on his own life and saw that even though he had had a first class monastic education in the best dharma centre in his country, had had ample time and space to practice and access to excellent facilities, there was not a single precept that he had managed to keep consistently, not a single contemplative exercise that he had mastered in the way described in the texts. furthermore, he asked himself, if that was true of himself, how could it be for ordinary people who had not had the advantages that he had had? what hope was there for the fisherman, the shop-keeper, the farmer or the soldier?

In despair over this all important question, Honen discovered the work of Shan Tao, a Chinese master from several centuries earlier. Shan Tao offered a solution which was to call upon the Buddhas, especially Amitabha Buddha, for help. Admitting that we need help is enormously freeing. Recognising that the Buddhas are wiser than we are cuts through our dilemma. This is a practice for ignorant beings - one does not need to know the ontological status of Amitabha or the precise mechanism by which spiritual help comes to us. Virtually all cultures throughout history have had some such notion dressed up in different clothing. When we call out and express the deep longing in the human heart, we place ourselves in concert with great sages and humble practitioners of innumerable different creeds throughout history. We also affirm the special qualities that the Buddhas bring into this world - peace, harmony, patience, reconciliation and grace.

Honen then spent the rest of his life reaching out to people and sharing with them the inspiration that he had received. He became a great propagator of the Dharma in japan, just as Shan Tao had been in China. He was able to be so primarily, i imagine, because he had accepted his own human nature and so was able to accept that of others.

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  • Great!, Thank you so much David :)

  • Regarding Honen, a useful resource is the Jodo Shu Research Institute website.

  • I feel quite attracted and interested in Honen as you describe him. I would like to know if there is some reading or book to read about his experience of faith and life .I find him very inspiring. Thank you David

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