The Nembutsu Robe – Koan 25
The Shogun Yoriie detested the followers of the Nembutsu (recitation of the name of Amida Buddha in the formula Namu-A-mi-da-butsu), and in May 1213 he issued a decree forbidding the recitation. He ordered Yashiro Hiki to investigate travellers, and if he found any priest of the Nembutsu persuasion, to take his robe and burn it. To carry out this order, Yashiro inspected travellers at the side of Mandokoro bridge, and if he found any priest of Nembutsu, he stripped off his robe and burnt it. If he discovered he was breaking the decree banning Nembutsu, he arrested him and threw him into prison.
At this time there was in Ise a Nembutsu follower called Shonenbo (the Name-reciting priest), and he came to Kamakura and performed the recitation there. Yashiro arrested him and went to burn his robe. Shonenbo said, ‘This robe is the banner of the Three Treasures, it is the holy sign of the sangha, it is the garment of the shadow of all the Buddhas. It is the dress of honour of the Four Guardian Kings and the Eight Dragons. And especially a robe of shonen (recitation), if it has been an expression of great faith, will not burn even when thrown into a fire.’ Yashiro then told his men to throw the robe into the blazing fire. Shonenbo gave one cry of Namu-Amidabutsu, and the fire went out without burning even the edge of the robe – so it is related.
The priest Sonei approached Master Nanzan with his story, and the teacher said to him, ‘Leave this little tale which the followers of the Kamakura Pure Land sect have passed down. Right now before you, when the robe-body is thrown into the fire, how can Shonenbo save himself? Try a Nembutsu recitation! Prove it to this old teacher.’
Sonei had no words.
In the blazing fire, how can he save himself? Say something for Sonei.
This became a koan in Kamakura at the interviews of Yuho, the 30th master of Zenkoji temple.