Toward the end of his life, Zen Master Hakuin [1689 -1769] took an interest in aspects of life outside the monastery walls, including social and governmental concerns. In the passage that follows, excerpted from a letter addressed in 1754 to Lord Nabeshima on the subject of the virtuous leader, he discusses the merit of reciting Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo [The Ten-Phrase Life-Prolonging Kannon Sutra].
When we met the other day I had meant to encourage you to take up the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo [Ten Phrase Life Prolonging Kannon Sutra], but our meeting was so brief that I did not have the opportunity. I therefore send it for your inspection along with this letter.
This work has been associated with wondrous miracles that have taken place in both China and Japan. Because it is so brief, I sincerely hope that you, not to speak of your close retainers and the common people as well, will recite it two or three hundred times each day. The reason lies in the testing. Give this work to those who are seriously ill or who have met with some unexpected disaster, and have them examine it for their consolation. If it is recited with sincerity, awe-inspiring miracles will without fail be accomplished. Its first advantage is that the person who recites it will be completely free from disease and will attain to long life. This applies to anyone at all. . . .
In ancient China a certain Kao-huang, a man of constant faith, was for some reason or other sentenced to be executed. Around midnight of the night before he was to die, as he was devoutly concentrating all his attentions on Kannon, the august form of the bodhisattva appeared before his eyes. He was told that if he were able to recite the Kannon Sutra a thousand times during the night his life would be spared. Kao-huang then asked: “It is already past midnight. How can I possibly recite it a thousand times by morning?” But the bodhisattva told him to recite the sutra nevertheless and gave him personal instruction.
The next morning when the executioner lifted his sword to strike off his head, the blade snapped off at the sword guard. Other swords were brought out, but three times the same thing happened. Amazed, the executioner inquired into the reasons for this. After he had been told the story in all its details, Kao-huang was pardoned. From that time on this sutra was known as the [Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo]. Ever since then people, monks or laymen, men or women, who recite this sutra in faith have had their illnesses cured or escaped from perilous disasters. In addition, those who have recited it have attained to long life. You, my lord, should when walking, standing, sitting, or reclining recite it two or three hundred times every day. The reason I say this is that if samurai, and monks as well, do not avoid disease and disaster and thereby attain to long life, they will find it difficult to bring their respective Ways to fruition.
Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo
(Ten Phrase Life Prolonging Kannon Sutra)
KAN ZE ON Kanzeon! Salutation and devotion to Buddha!
NA MU BUTSU We are one with Buddha
YO BUTSU U IN In cause and effect related to all Buddhas
YO BUTSU U EN and to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
BU PO SO EN Our True Nature is
JO RAKU GA JO Eternal, Joyous, Selfless and Pure.
CHO NEN KAN ZE ON So let us chant every morning Kanzeon, with Nen [attention]!
BO NEN KAN ZE ON Every evening Kanzeon, with Nen!
NEN NEN JU SHIN KI Nen, Nen arises from Mind.
NEN NEN FU RI SHIN Nen, Nen is no separate from Mind.
Excerpted from The Zen Master Hakuin, translated by Philip B. Yampolsky, reprinted with permission from Columbia University press.
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