Shoku (證空)

Shoku (or Nishiyama, 1177 - December 31, 1247) was the founder of the Seizan Jodo sect, Seizan Zenrin-ji School of the Jodo sect and Seizan Fukakusa School of the Jodo sect. He was a leading disciple of Honen and initially named himself as Gedatsu-bo and later on as Zenne-bo. Shigo (posthumous name) was Miten or Ganchi kokushi.

Brief Personal History

He was born eldest son of MINAMOTO no Chikasue, Kaga no Gon no kami (Provisional Governor of Kaga Province), and adopted by Michichika KOGA of naidaijin (Minister of the Interior), who belonged to the Murakami-Genji (Minamoto clan), when he was nine years old. In 1190, when he celebrated his coming of age at 14, he became a monk as a disciple of Honen. Since then, he studied the secrets of Jodo-kyo (pure land teachings). He studied under Honen for 21 years until the demise of Honen.

He was known as a bright person who could understand everything once he saw or heard it, and in 1198 he played an important role in checking citations, called Kanmon, in compiling Honen's "Senchaku Hongan Nenbutsu-shu" (the holy writings of the Jodo Sect) and in the following year, he gave a lecture on "Senchaku-shu" at Kanezane KUJO's residence in place of Honen.

In 1204 when Honen submitted "shichikajo kishomon" (Seven Article Pledge) to Shinsho, Tendai-zasu (head priest of the Tendai sect) and daisojo (high priest), Shoku signed the fourth, and this fact gives evidence of his important position among peer disciples.

After studying under Honen for 23 years, he attained the in-depth doctrine of Jodo-kyo and inherited Endon Bosatsu-kai Bodhisattva Precepts. From that time, he started studying, by exhortation of Honen, Tendai Learning under Ganren of Hino as well as Daimitsu (esoteric Buddhism of the Japanese Tendai Sect) under Seishun.

When Honen passed away in 1212, he moved from Higashiyama Kosaka to Kitao Ojoin (Sango-ji Temple) of Seizan Yoshimine-dera Temple, which he inherited from Jien, the Tendai-zasu and the daisojo.

From 1215, four years after the demise of Honen, until 1227, just before the Karoku Persecution, he shuttled almost everyday between Ojoin Temple, which was his base, and over 30 places around Kyoto and gave lectures on Shandao's literary works including "Kangyosho" (Commentary on the Meditation Sutra). The record of the above lectures were compiled as "Kanmon Yogi Sho" in 41 volumes and still exist.

In the Karoku Persecution in 1227, he was exempted from exile along with Shinku (Jodo sect) who was also the leading disciple of Honen. When he made a pilgrimage to Nara Taima-dera Temple in 1229, he had the honor of seeing "Kangyo mandala" (the picture describing Buddhist Heaven and Pure Land of the Kanmuryoju-kyo sutra (The Sutra of Visualization of the Buddha of Measureless Life)) and since that time, he strived for its circulation.

On February 28, 1243 at Kyoto Nishiyama, he, together with disciples, transcribed including Sanbu-kyo Sutra (three main sutras) to hold a mass and put them in the inner hollow of the statue of Raigobutsu (Amida Buddha coming to welcome the spirits of the dead) (texts found in the inner hollow of the Raigobutsu statue at Yamazaki Dainen-ji Temple). In the same year, he constructed Kangishinin Temple by the order of Emperor Gosaga and he often went to the Imperial Palace, gave lectures on Seizan-gi (or Kosaka-gi, the teachings of the Seizan school) and bestowed Bodhisattva Precepts. In 1247, he wrote "Chinkanyojin" (a collection of Shoku's sermon) for Cloistered Imperial Prince Dokaku and "Nyoingosho," which was a Buddhist sermon in Japanese writing, for the empress dowager.

Knowing that his days were numbered, he gave a lecture to his disciples on the crucial points of Bosatsu-kai and "Kanmuryoju-kyo" on December 27, 1247, conducted Tendai-daishi ko (a Buddhist memorial ceremony for Tendai-daishi (or Chigi)) on December 29, gave a lecture on the core points of "Bosatsu-kai Gisho" (Commentary on the Doctrine of the Bodhisattva Precepts) for Myokan of Senyu-ji Temple on the following day, and passed away at the age of 71 on December 31 at Shirakawa Kengoin Temple while dressed in a Daie (or Kujogesa, a robe worn by Buddhist priests) after chanting "Amida Sutra" and putting the palms of his hands together as he performed nenbutsu (Buddhist invocation). Disciples entombed his body at Seizan Sanko-ji Temple and constructed the pagoda named Kadai-byo.

In 1796, he was bestowed Shigo of Ganchi kokushi by Emperor Kokaku.

Major temples constructed by Shoku are Seizan Ojoin Temple, Kangishinin Temple, Jokyoji Temple and Kengoin Temple, and so on. Shoku's portrait, known as 'Image of the thinker,' suggests that his Jodo-kyo teaching was quite philosophical.

List of Literary Works

His literary works are basically divided into two categories; practical parts and theoretical parts. The former includes "Kanmon Yogi Sho" of 41 volumes, "Kangyosho Tahitsusho" (the records of Shoku's lecture about "Kanmuryoju-kyosho" (the records of Shoku's lecture about Kanmuryoju-kyosho (or Kangyosho, Commentary on the Meditation Sutra) written by Kankyo) of 14 volumes, "Kangyosho Taii" (overview of Kanmuryoju-kyosho (or Kangyosho, Commentary on the Meditation Sutra)) of 1 volume, "Kanmon-gi Soan" (draft about the teachings of Kanmon (contemplating dharmas as void)) of 2 volumes, "Sanbu-kyo Rongiki" (summary of debating about Sanbu-kyo (three main sutras)) of 1 volume, "Sanengi" (teachings about sanen (the Three Types of Karmic Relation with Amida Buddha)) of 1 volume, "Josanryoken-gi" (literally, teachings about the mind in one's concentration and non-concentration) of 1 volume, "Godansho" (Buddhist scriptures about tariki nenbutsu (the spirituality of the other power of Buddhist invocation)) of 1 volume, "Anjinsho Furyaku Anjinsho" (literally, the scripture and the summary about obtaining peace of mind through faith or ascetic practice), "Zenne Shonin Gohogo" (the Buddhist sermon of Zenne Shonin (or Shoku)) of 1 volume, "Shiraki Nenbutsu Hogo" (the Buddhist sermon of Shiraki Nenbutsu (tariki nenbutsu (the spirituality of the other power of Buddhist invocation)) without distraction) of 1 volume, "Jutsujo" (records of dialogue between Shoku and Rensho) of 1 volume, "Chinkanyojin" of 1 volume and "Nyoingosho" of 2 volumes, and so on.

The latter includes "Taima Mandara Chuki" (annotation about Taima Mandala) of 10 volumes, "Kangyo Hiketsu-Shu" (The key points of the Kanmuryoju-kyo sutra (The Sutra of Visualization of the Buddha of Measureless Life) of 20 volumes, "Senchaku Mitsu Yoketsu" Senchaku Mitsu Yoketsu (literally, Buddhist scriptures about selecting Buddhism) of 5 volumes, "Shujuhachi-gan Yoshakusho" (literally, commentary about Forty-eight Vows) of 2 volumes, "Shugo Yoketsu" (Buddhist scriptures about ascetic practices) of 1 volume, "Taima Mandara Kushiki" (the method to serve Taima Mandala) of 1 volume and "Taima Mandara Hakko Rongisho" (eight lectures of Taima Mandala) of 1 volume, and so on. Concerning these literary works included in the category of the theoretical parts, there are two contradictory views on their authenticity.

He had many disciples and among them, Joon, Ryushin, Shonyu and Shoe were collectively called the four schools of Nishiyama because each of them founded their own schools. Other than the above, Rensho (UTSUNOMIYA Jisshin-bo) was said to have constantly followed Shoku and he compiled his mentor's lectures in "Sekigakubosho" in 2 volumes.

Waka (a traditional Japanese poem of thirty-one syllables)
With the awakening to great mercy that embraces me everyday despite my worldly desires, I will powerfully live in the present while thanking for it and repaying the indefinite debt to great mercy.

[Original Japanese]