What is a myokonin?

The Pure Land tradition emphasizes humility, gratitude, and faith, and this is reflected in its spiritual ideal: the myokonin, a person of simple faith and devotion. It literally means a person of bright light, in other words, one radiant with faith. Typically myokonin may be unsophisticated people whose actions, though not always in accord with common sense, manifest a deep understanding of other-power. Here are some examples:

Oshimo, an eight-year-old shopkeeper’s daughter, had great faith in the dharma. When an earthquake stuck, everyone ran out of their houses and gathered outside the village—everyone except for Oshimo, who sat in front of the house shrine, saying nembutsu. “Why did you not run for safety?” the villagers asked. “I would rather die close to the Buddha than out in the street,” she said.

The myokonin Jiroemon, a groom, recited the nembutsu at all times. On one occasion this enraged a samurai who told him to go into the yard where he would come and behead him, expecting that Jiroemon would run away and he would be free of the annoying chanter. However, Jiroemon went calmly into the yard and there recited nembutsu. The samurai came and raised his sword but Jiroemon seemed calm and unafraid. The samurai threw down his sword and confessed that hearing the nembutsu enraged him because he had once been a nembutsu practitioner but had given up on account of his sinful life. However, this encounter with Jiroemon and the latter’s calm confidence restored the samurai’s faith and the two became firm friends despite their difference of social status. We see how faith gives fearlessness, transcends social categories, and can provide a basis for deep friendship in unexpected circumstances.

The myokonin Seikuro, a poor and elderly laborer, was summoned to a distant town. The journey on foot was long and hard, but he did not complain. When they came to a river his companion said, “I hate wading rivers like this; it must be awful for you, old man.” Seikuro said, “It’s no trouble. If Amida only saved those who could cross such a river ten times, I would fail, but when I think of how Amida saves me without requiring anything, I would not mind crossing several rivers.” Many were inspired when the companion later recounted this story at their destination. We see that when much is demanded of us we find it hard to give, but when we realize that we are receiving great blessings we become naturally generous and willing.


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