All religions have their sacred scriptures upon which their doctrines are founded. For example, Christianity has its Bible, Mohammedanism has its Koran and Brahmanism has its Vedas. The sacred scriptures of Buddhism are composed of the Sutras (kyo) the Vinayas (Ritsu) and the Abhidharmas (Ron); these three are known as the Tripitakas (Sanzo). The number of volumes comprising the Tripitakas is without parallel in any other religion.
The Sutras are the scriptures, which set down the teaching of the path from illusion to enlightenment; the Vinayas are the rules and precepts, which deal with moral acts and thoughts. Both the Sutras and the Vinayas are the actual words of the Buddha. The Abhidharmas are the commentaries on the Sutras by the Patriarchs.
Because Buddhism has been classified into the Mahayana and the Hinayana there exists the Mahayana Tripitaka and the Hinayana Tripitaka. The Pali Scriptures found in the southern countries of Ceylon, Burma and Siam are of the Hinayana Tripitaka while those which made their way into China and were translated there include both the Hinayana and the Mahayana. In China, furthermore, important commentaries by Buddhist patriarchs were added to the Tripitakas and compiled - this is called the Great Tripitaka (Daizo-kyo).
The number of volumes in the Tripitaka, which were compiled at various times, differs. For instance, according to the Catalogue of the Sutras by Chisho of China there were 1,076 books comprising 5,084 volumes; the Tripitaka in Japan comprises 3,053 books and 11,970 volumes. These books are the products of Oriental culture and are greatly treasured.
The Buddhists of Ceylon, Burma and Siam use the complete Hinayana Tripitaka; while the Buddhists of China and Japan use selected scriptures from the Tripitaka as their sacred texts because each sect has based its teachings on particular doctrines expressed in certain scriptures.
The Jodo Shin Sect has taken for its principal Sutras the Larger Sukhavati Vyuha (Dai Muryoju Kyo) and Amitayur Dhyana Sutra (Kwan Muryoju Kyo) and the Small Sukhavati Vyuka (Amida Kyo). These are called the Three Sacred Scriptures of the Jodo Shinshu. Of these three Shonin Shinran placed special emphasis on the Larger Sukhavati Vyuka.
The Seven Patriarchs
The doctrines of Amida Buddha and His Pure Land as expressed in the Three Sacred Scriptures have been elaborated upon by the numerous patriarchs of India, China and Japan. However, Shonin Shinran chose seven patriarchs from among the many whom he considered as expressing the true spirit of the Pure Land philosophy and practice. These seven are Ryuju (Nagarjuna) and Tenjin (Vasubandhu) of India, Donran (T'An Luan), Doshaku (Tao Ch'ao) and Zendo (Shantao) of China, and Genshin and Genku of Japan. Their writings have been compiled to form what is called the Sacred Writings of the Seven Patriarchs (Hichiso Shogyo) and form the basis for the doctrines of the Jodo Shinshu. The works of Shonin Shinran and Shonin Rennyo have also come to be valued as authoritative sources of Shinshu doctrines.
Larger Sukhavati Vyuka
The Larger Sukhavati Vyuha comprising two volumes is a sermon delivered by the Buddha at the Vulture's Peak (Gisha-Kussen) near Rajagriha before an assembled gathering of 2000 disciples in which He relates how all mankind will be saved through Amida Buddha. Bodhisattva Dharmakara (Hozo Bosatsu), in order to deliver all sentient beings from the suffering of this world of illusion, makde forty-eight sacred vows and worked for a long period of time (countless kalpas according to the Scripture) to bring these vows into realization. And with the completion of these vows he attained to Buddhahood and took the name of Amida. (Amitabha, Amitayus- Infinite Light, Infinite Life).
At the time the Buddha delivered this sermon His face was transfigured with joy and radiance. Ananda, his trusted disciple, noticing this unusual countenance of the Buddha, asked him the reasons. The Buddha replied that He came into the world to preach of this true teaching which shall be the means of salvation for all sentient being. Thus, Shonin Shinran called this the Sutra that the Buddha came into the world to preach especially. In the Verses of the True Faith (Shoshinge) Shonin Shinran declared: "Buddha Sakyamuni appeared in India solely to proclaim this boundless mercy of the Divine Promise."
The Amitayur Dhyana Sutra
The Amitayur Dhyana Sutra is a sermon by the Buddha given specially to the Queen Vaidehi (Idaike)(. The Buddha was delivering the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra at Mount Gridrakuta when he heard of the great tragedy that occurred in the palace of Veisali (Osha-jo). The King Bimbisara was imprisoned by her son for giving aid to the King. In her anguish she called upon the Buddha who was then preaching as mentioned above. With two disc8iples He came into the prison cell and preached to Vaidehi. This discourse is the Amitayur Dhy6ana Sutra. In it the Buddha first teaches that the means of attaining rebirth in the Pure Land of Amida is through the practice of the good with the settled mind (Jozen) and the practice of good with the unsettled mind (Sanzen). Then, finally, He taught Vaidehi that for those in the depths of suffering and sorrow only through faith in the Mercy of Amida Buddha and His Name, Namu Amida Butsu, can one attain the highest Enlightenment.
The Smaller Sukhavati Vyuha
The Smaller Sukhavati Vyuha was a discourse given to Sariputra Sharihotsu) and 1,250 disciples in the Garden of Jetavana (Gion Shoja) in Shaikoku. IN this Sutra the Buddha describes the beauty of the Pure Land, the virtues of the lord of this Pure Land, Amida, as being a Buddha of infinite Light and Infinite Life. To attain rebirth in this Pure Land the Buddha taught that the only way is by repeating the Name, Namu Amida Butsu, with firm faith. The Sutra further states that the innumerable Buddhas of the universe praised and vouched for the Truth of the Nembutsu.
Therefore, when we study the contents of the Three Sacred Scriptures and the writings and commentaries of the Seven Patriarchs. In his writings he proclaimed that salvation of all sentient beings was through faith in the Love and Mercy of Amida Buddha; that only through the repeating of the Name with faith in our hearts will we be able to attain Buddhahood, the objective of all who are seeking the Truth.