This Easter we are having a retreat in which to transmit the text Summary of Faith and Practice. The text Summary of Faith and Practice is based upon the Ichimai Kishomon, the “One Sheet Testament”, written by Honen Shonen shortly before his death in the year 1212. It is a succinct summary of the whole Pureland teaching. So, it has become a very key text in this tradition and a wonderful thing to have.
However, in this podcast, it’s not my intention to talk about the content of the Summary or the Ichimai Kishomon, so much as to explain something of the meaning of transmitting a text or having a text transmitted to one.
If we think back to the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, many people came to see the Buddha and ask him questions about the spiritual life. When he was asked a question like this, he would give a teaching, and the disciples who were standing around listening, or more likely sitting on the floor and listening, would commit this teaching to heart. They would learn it off by rote, word for word, the whole thing. Sometimes the Buddha would even give the teaching in verse, so that it was easier to understand.
So, this was the initial transmission of a text. The disciples heard the text from the mouth of the master. They picked up the intonation, they understood thereby the importance of the text to the master. They understood how he construed it. Of course, they also experienced how he lived it in his life.
The master had the text and he transmitted it to the disciples and they committed it to heart. They learnt it. This would mean that they could carry it around with them and they had the full sense of the meaning of the text within them. When they recited the text, they would hear the voice of the master, and this was a great inspiration to them, it created a bond between the disciple and the teacher.
To have wise words in one’s heart is a great strength. This is the original meaning of mindfulness. Mindfulness was to have your mind full of such things. When one has a heart, a mind, that is full of the Dharma, then one is prepared for many situations. If you are asked to give a Dharma talk, of course you are well equipped, you have plenty at hand. When the exigencies of life arise – this circumstance, that circumstance – you have the Dharma in you. You know what the teacher would say, you know what the Dharma says and you can then make your own decision but you make it against that background, on that foundation, so that the Dharma in your heart becomes a foundation. It’s something fundamental. This is essentially the meaning of Dharma: Dharma is what is fundamental, it is that on which we rely.
So, the transmission of a text is like this, and even today it’s a good thing to learn some of the sutras, some of the Dharma by heart. Of course, we are probably not as good at it as the ancients were and sometimes, we just write it down in a little book, but even this can make it precious to us. We can hav,e perhaps, a special little book with a nice cover, in good quality paper, and write in it very carefully as we listen to the teaching transmitted by the teacher. In this way, it becomes like a little treasure, something that we keep, that is cherished, that is close to the heart, that brings a warmth and a light into our life.
This is the transmission of a text: one receives it, one heeds it, one puts it into practice and in due course it will be transmitted to others, both formally and by the way that one lives.
Namo Amida Bu