After losing his parents, Master Shinran became aware of his Gosho no Ichidaiji (the great problem of falling into the world of suffering after death). Master Shinran spent twenty years practicing the Lotus Sutra at the Tendai Center, trying to solve this great problem.

The Lotus Sutra teaches us to keep our minds tranquil and focussed on Buddha. With these quiet and focussed minds, we need to ask Buddha for the solution to our Gosho no Ichidaiji.

Following these teachings, Master Shinran struggled to keep his mind quiet and focussed on Buddha. For twenty years, he endeavored, searching for the solution to his Gosho no Ichidaiji. However, when he discovered that his mind was the opposite of what he was trying to achieve, he was shocked; the more he tried to quiet his mind the more tumultuous it became. His anguish is reflected in his book, Tandokumon:

“Why can’t my mind be calm like the water in the lake?
The more I try to quiet my mind, the more turbulent it becomes.
Why… why can’t I see the moon of enlightenment like I can
see the moon in the sky above? The harder I try to see the
clear moon of enlightenment, the more I see the black
clouds that fill my mind.”

From Mt. Hiei, Master Shinran could see the distant Lake Biwa. With the moonlight on the water, Lake Biwa was like a mirror. Being far from the lake Master Shinran couldn’t see any waves. In the middle of this tranquil night, Master Shinran thought: “I want to have my mind quiet like the water of Lake Biwa. I want to focus only on thoughts of Buddha.”

The more he tried to calm his mind, the more turbulent it became. It was exactly the opposite of what Master Shinran expected. Unable to calm his mind and keep it quiet, Master Shinran felt powerless, impatient, and mortified. He cried.

Then, Master Shinran continued:

“The more I try to see the clear moon of enlightenment, the more I see the black clouds.”

When Master Shinran looked at the sky above, he saw the shining moon and murmured in grief: “Why can’t I see my clear mind in the same way that I can see the clear moon in the sky above?” Master Shinran was desperate because he was unable to clearly see the world after death. Thinking that he could die at any moment, Master Shinran was frightened and felt his future completely dark. He thought: “I’ve been doing practices for twenty years, and still, I can’t see the moon of enlightenment, I can’t eliminate my dark mind.” Master Shinran could not see the moon of enlightenment, because his mind was filled with black clouds. Those black clouds were evil thoughts. Master Shinran was shocked to find that his mind was filled with thoughts too horrible to share with anyone else. Those despicable thoughts obscured the moon of enlightenment. He couldn’t see any chance for his salvation.

When Master Shinran was at Mt. Hiei, the whole country was in political disorder and confusion due to the wars between the Genji and Heike clans. After continuous battles, the Genji defeated the Heike clan. The Heike were persecuted and killed. Those who managed to escape fled to Mt. Hiei.

During Master Shinran’s time, Mt. Hiei was not under government control. This mountain was Tendai property, exclusively for priests to perform practices. For this reason, samurais and women were forbidden on the mountain. Thus, Heike survivors shaved their heads, wore priests robes, and acted as if they were practitioners. During the day, they remained on the mountain, but at night, they went to Gion and Shimabara to find prostitutes and alcohol. Returning to the mountain at dawn, they spent the rest of the day talking about women and sake. In this way, the environment at Mt. Hiei was becoming worse and worse.

When Master Shinran saw those men acting like priests, he thought: “How disgusting! They may fool the eyes of humans but they cannot fool the eyes of Buddha. Even if I should be the only one, I shall strictly follow the laws of Buddhism.” With this thought in mind, Master Shinran tried to stay away from them and concentrate on his practices.

However, one day, Master Shinran made a terrible discovery. Buddhism teaches that our mental deeds are more significant than our physical or verbal deeds. The Heike survivors were breaking the rules of the Tendai Center with alcohol and women. Their transgressions were mainly physical and verbal. Although Master Shinran was obeying those rules in his physical and verbal behavior, his mind continuously entertained evil thoughts.

Heike survivors were satisfying their desires physically. Thus, they were not constantly thinking of them. On the other hand, Master Shinran was always trying to control his desires. In this way, he kept those thoughts in the forefront of his mind. Aware that Buddha considers the deeds of the mind the most significant, Master Shinran realized that he was committing the worst evil. Yet, he had been so conceited as to look down on those who were merely breaking the rules physically. Master Shinran was shocked.

His anguish is shown in the movie The Light of the World Master Shinran Part I, as follows:

“Oh! What is the matter with me? Even though I am not embracing her physically, am I not continuously embracing her in my thoughts? And yet, I’m so conceited that I feel that no one else follows the precepts as well as I. I look down on them. Their deeds reflect their thoughts. Aren’t they much more honest than I am? I try to camouflage my filthy mind in order to deceive Buddha's eyes. Indeed, I, Shinran, am the hypocrite. Oh, what should I do? How can I purge my mind of these filthy thoughts?”

At this point, Master Shinran understood Sakyamuni Buddha’s words: “With our bodies, we always practice evil; with our mouth we always say evil; with our minds we always think of evil; up to now we have not practiced a single good deed. Thus, there is no place for us to go but to the world of suffering.”
Life ends when we stop breathing. This could occur at any moment. Thus, at any moment, we will be facing the great problem of Gosho no Ichidaiji.

Crying tears of anguish, Master Shinran left the Tendai Center and desperately searched for the true master to guide him to salvation. At 29 years of age, Master Shinran met his Buddhist master, Honen Shonin, and learned about Amida Buddha’s Promise. Honen Shonin taught him the difference between the worldly passions and the dark mind. For the first time, Master Shinran knew that the root cause of suffering was not desire, anger, or ignorance, but the dark mind. Thanks to Honen Shonin’s guidance, Master Shinran had the experience of having this dark mind eliminated by Amida Buddha.

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