Jokaku-bo Kosai (1163-1247)
The Single Calling
On Mt. Hiei,
there used to be a great scholar named Shoge-bo. He had a young
premature death so deeply impressed upon him the instability of all
he grew tired of all social connections. So in his thirty-sixth year in
renounced the world entirely and became a disciple of Honen under the
Now Kosai looked at the Pure Land teaching from the standpoint of the Tendai school in which he had been trained, and thus his teaching was influenced by the doctrine of innate enlightenment (hongaku). He regarded Amida as having two personalities: one is the “fundamental” or “original”, and the other is the “incarnate” personality. The Amida who attained perfect enlightenment ten kalpas ago is called the “incarnate” Amida. The “fundamental” Amida is that original intelligence which is without beginning and is the same as the buddha-nature (bussho) which is innate in us all. He felt that it is enough if one just hears this truth. So, under this conviction, there is no need to call upon the sacred name many times - just once is enough. This is what he called the “single calling” teaching (ichinen-gi). Now Honen contended that this was quite against Shan-tao’s ideas and very much in error. But Kosai wouldn’t accept this and continued to insist on his own views until Honen could no longer keep him as his disciple. So he expelled him from the community after the The Seven Article Pledge (Shichikajo kishomon) was written in response to the Genkyu Oppression during the winter of 1204.
The Spread of the Single Calling and Honen’s Rebuke
Motochika, the Minister of War, who had become a devout believer in Honen's teaching, also came under Kosai’s influence. Learning that Motochika never failed to repeat the sacred name fifty thousand times a day. Kosai tried to convince him of the “single calling” teaching and criticized him for his frequent repetitions. This led to their exchanging questions and answers back and forth several times. Finally, Motochika wrote a letter to Honen explaining Kosai’s views as: “apparently accepting that anyone, monastics included, who is devoted to the nembutsu may have no hesitation about getting married"; and that, "It is next to impossible for a person to attain ojo by his own efforts. So after one has adopted the teaching of emancipation by faith alone, it’s definitely useless for them to repeat the nembutsu a large number of times."
Honen in reply wrote: “I think I understand the meaning of your letter. I can see from the attached note the present state of your faith, and I am really pleased that it’s not in any way different from my own. It is being said these days that it is totally useless to repeat the nembutsu many times and that once is enough. But this subject is barely worth discussing. Has the person who says such things - and in saying so is a long way off from the sutras and the commentaries - has he himself already attained enlightenment? This is surely very doubtful. Moreover, it is said that for the person who believes in the Original Vow, it doesn’t matter at all whether one breaks the precepts or not. This also doesn’t deserve any answer. Something like this can be found nowhere except in heretical Buddhism. Aren’t those who talk such nonsense in these days basically devils, making a sham of the nembutsu? This is all I can say on the subject at present."
Now some disciples of Kosai were trying to establish the “single calling” teaching in the province of Echigo in Niigata on the northwest coast of Japan. Komyo-bo, a disciple of Honen and a follower of Ryukan’s teaching of “many callings” (tannen-gi), thought this teaching was absurd and wrote a letter to Honen. To this Honen sent the following reply: "The teaching of ojo by a ‘single calling’ has spread through the whole capital. The thing is too preposterous to spend words on and is hardly worth a reply. In short, it comes from a misconception of the meaning of the passage in the Sutra of Immeasurable Life which says, ‘calling once upon the sacred name with a joyous and believing heart,' and also from the passage in Shan-tao’s Commentary, 'One can definitely attain ojo, only on the condition that one has no doubts, by ten repetitions of the nembutsu or even one, or by as many as possible one’s whole life through.' Those who have this misconception settle down into a mischievous delusion. In the original, the words ‘one’s whole life through' are emphatic. But we have a lot of dull and ignorant people in these days, who persist in saying that it’s enough to call upon the sacred name ten times or even once. They entirely ignore what is meant by the expression, 'one’s whole life through.' This is a totally shameless way of practice.”
"Now it is true that Amida Buddha in his great compassion, shown in the Original Vow, will come to welcome those who repeat the nembutsu ten times or even once. Believing that there is no merit comparable with this, we should to do it all our lives long without ceasing. There are plenty of passages which prove this clearly, and there is no need of producing them here or saying anything about them. But when people with these deluded opinions are opposed, they will doubtless say in reply, ‘I believe in the ‘single calling,' but by this I don’t mean that the person is not to call on the sacred name any more at all after that one time.' Well, this seems all right enough, yet such a person's mind is not yet got rid of delusion. So after the first calling, he does not call any more. Then he says that we must believe that 'single calling' is enough for the removal of the ten transgressions (ju-aku) and the five grevious acts (gogyakuzai), and so how much the more in the case of other minor offences. Even though they should call on the sacred name many times, people who hold to such ideas certainly are not in harmony with the mind of Amida Buddha. Where can you find anything like this in any sutra or text, or in the teaching of any Buddhist scholars? This is the talk of people who belong to a lazy, immoral, and deluded community, who want to practice foolishness to their heart's content. Such people are Buddhist heretics. They are like parasites in the heart of a lion. I wonder if they have just simply lost their minds under the influence of bad spirits, and so get in the way of many persons' ojo. We should definitely avoid such people. It is impossible here to write further details."
As a result of Komyo-bo's letter, Honen decided to issue a written instruction in prohibition of this “single calling” teaching which runs as follows: “There are in these days a set of nembutsu followers who are both ignorant themselves and lead others astray. They have not yet come to understand the system of teaching of our school, and they are not even familiar with the technical terms of the Dharma. They are without devotion to the way. They are looking for their own personal advantage, and so with false words, they confuse people's minds with delusive thoughts. In this way, they are planning for their own livelihood with no thought of the punishment for their actions which await them in the world to come. As an excuse for their own do-nothing teaching, they spread about the false principle of 'single calling'. On top of that they start a new teaching of no calling at all. So they lose the small merit of even the single calling. They cut off the little root of good they have and further aggravate their already heavy bad karma. In order to indulge themselves in the momentary pleasures of various desires, they do not avoid the terrible karma that will keep them in the three unfortunate realms throughout endless kalpas. They say, ‘Those who put your trust in Amida's Vow don’t need to be ashamed of committing the five grievous offences (gogyakuzai), and so go ahead and do them to your heart's content. Don’t wear the monastic robes, just put on ordinary clothes. Don’t stop from eating meat or indulging in sex. Eat as much red meat and chicken as you like, etc.’ Kukai, the great founder of the Shingon school, used to say about those who are in the lowest of all mental states that they are like lambs and sheep which live only for food and sex. Now these people definitely belong to this degenerate community, don’t they? They belong to the lowest of the ten mental stages in which people are found and are destined to transmigrate through the three unfortunate realms. Shouldn’t we feel for these people? Not only are they opposed to the teachings of all the other schools, but they have broken from the practice of the nembutsu too. They encourage people to be shamefully lazy in practice, and they would have the monks themselves throw away the precepts and go back to the secular life entirely. We have never had such delusion in our country before. This must be the work of devils. It means the destruction of the Dharma of the buddhas and the perversion of the people.”
“They go on talking such falsehoods as the following: 'Honen Shonin's repetition of the nembutsu seventy thousand times a day is only an accommodation to the outside public. The real inner truth is something different which people don’t know about. If you only knew in your heart what Amida's Vow was, you would certainly attain ojo in the Land of Perfect Bliss. Here is where the Pure Land practice is entirely satisfying. What is the need then over and above this of even a single repetition of the nembutsu? Once when Honen was talking with twenty of his disciples in his room on the secret teachings which he himself held, the superficial among them were so stupid they couldn’t understand him. But five clever ones among them got the deep meaning of his teaching, and I am one of them. This then is that secret view which he personally holds. He doesn’t transmit it very readily to others, but chooses those to whom he communicates it.'”
"If this rumor is correct, then the whole thing is a fabrication. Out of pity for those who may be misled by this, I hereby take my oath that if I have by speaking or writing in any such way as to falsely conceal my views, may the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha now look down upon me, and may I lose all the merit that I have gained from my seventy thousand daily repetitions of the nembutsu. Even a follower of the 'perfect' teaching of the Tendai who has been meditating upon ultimate reality cannot attain the knowledge of the non-existence of all things until he has completed the six perfections (paramita). No matter what teaching is involved, who can realize what they seek without some form of discipline? So those that are caught in this net of doubt still might get free and might cut their way out of the forest of delusion. With honest hearts, they might escape from the iron castle of future misery and ascend the golden stands in the Pure Land by abandoning this. I now communicate my thoughts by letter to you in your far-away northern province. Apply your mind strenuously to the study of the sacred scriptures. Though mountains, rivers and clouds may separate us from each other by many thousands of miles, our mutual affinity for the way of the buddhas will definitely bring us together at last. I have so many things to say to you that I can’t possibly tell you all by letter. Nineteenth day of the sixth month of 1209. Signed Honen."
Because of Kosai's radical position, as well as the fact that his ichinen doctrine won many supporters both inside and outside the community of Honen's followers, he became the chief target of the older schools attacks on the nembutsu movement. Even among Honen's disciples, some, such as Bencho and his disciple Ryochu who succeeded to the Chinzei lineage of the Pure Land sect, criticized Kosai's teachings as heretical. Thus today it is hard to gain an accurate idea of his teachings as only two of his works, the Keishi kasho ruiju and the Gengibun, have survived. Kosai established his base on the island of Shikoku, south of present day Osaka.
The text has been edited and adapted from the Pictorial Biography of Honen Shonin (Honen Shonin gyojoezu), also known as the Forty-eight Fascicle Biography (Shijuhachikan-den) with reference to the translation made by Harper Havelock Coates and Ryugaku Ishizuka entitled Honen the Buddhist Saint: His Life and Teaching. Kyoto: Chion-in, 1925.
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