Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Shozomatsu Wasan 106

Although monks are so in name only and keep no precepts,
Now in this defiled world of the last dharma-age
They are the equals of Shariputra and Maudgalyayana,
And we are urged to pay homage to and revere them.

Shariputra and Maudgalyayana

I am often struck by the way that a religious or philosophical movement gains its momentum and system from a disciple, rather than the founder. In the case of Shakyamuni Buddha, it was his disciple Shariputra who was essentially the founder of Buddhism as we know it. Shariputra decided what teachings of the Buddha should be preserved for posterity.

Shariputra's principles and standards could well remain the Buddha Dharma's most enduring legacy. Indeed, in life, he appears to have been an altogether remarkable person. Initially he was the follower of a non-Buddhist teacher by the name of Sanjaya. Indeed, I understand that Shariptura was actually an enlightened teacher in Sanjaya's religion, which is one of the six 'wrong paths' traditionally identified as competing with the Buddha Dharma during Shakyamuni's appearance on earth. Sanjaya's religion was a kind of listless scepticism: mistrustful of experience and empiricism.

On encountering the Buddha, Shariputra converted to the dharma, bringing all two hundred and fifty of Sanjaya's disciples with him. Within two weeks he had attained Enlightenment. He quickly became one of Shakyamuni's ten most prominent disciples, soon serving as his lieutenant, and often standing in for Shakyamuni as a teacher.

Of the the Pure Land Sutras both the Larger and the Smaller Sutras record that Shariputra was among the Elders that heard them delivered at the Vulture Peak near Rajagriha and the Jeta Grove monastery in Anathapindika's Garden, respectively. Indeed, the Buddha rather pointedly used Shariputra's name in revealing the Smaller Sutra, almost as though he was speaking directly to Shariputra.

Shariputra died about six months before the parinirvana of the Buddha. He was one of the world's great leaders and thinkers.

Great Maudgalyayana was the very antithesis of Shariputra and he represents the other, balancing, mystical stream of the Buddha Dharma. As one may imagine, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana were friends all through their childhood and adolescence. They joined Sanjaya's order together; they even converted to the Buddha Dharma together.

Maudgalyayana was well-loved and was renowned for his supernatural powers. Indeed, the Buddha Dharma's most popular and universal observance, Ullambana, which is celebrated in July or August, is attributed to the role that Maudgalyayana played in the release of his mother from the realm of hungry ghosts.

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