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Koso Wasan | by Shinran

Koso Wasan | by Shinran

Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) composed three volumes of verses (wasan) in Japanese, namely - Jōdo Wasan, Koso Wasan and Shozomatsu Wasan. These songs celebrate the essence of Jōdo Shinshū (Shin Buddhism or Pure Land Buddhism). They touch upon every facet of the spiritual life, and the most enduring elements of the Pure Land path.

This is the second volume of the inspiring and guiding verses of Master Shinran named - Koso Wasan. It represents the verses dedicated to the 7 great Buddhist Masters of the past which Shinran Shonin considered the foremost Patriarchs of Pure Land Buddhism and teachers of "Faith Alone" concept propagated afterwards by Jōdo Shinshū tradition. Koso Wasan comprises the following 7 chapters:

Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva – Verses 1-10

Vasubandhu Bodhisattva – Verses 11-20

Master T'an-luan – Verses 21-54

Master Tao-ch'o – Verses 55-61

Master Shan-tao – Verses 62-87

Master Genshin – Verses 88-97

Genku (Honen) Shonin – Verses 98-119


1. Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva
Verses 1-10

Koso Wasan 1

Our teacher, Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna, abundantly praises
      the Pure Land in the west
In such works as his commentaries on the Maha Prajña Paramita Sūtra
And the Ten Bodhisattva Stages,
And urges us to practice the Nembutsu.

Koso Wasan 2

The World-honoured one foretold
That a monk named Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna
Would appear in south India and would crush
The wrong views of being and non-being.

Koso Wasan 3

Our teacher, Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna,
Clarified the unexcelled dharma of the Great Vehicle;
Having attained the stage of joy,
He wholeheartedly recommended the Nembutsu to all.

Koso Wasan 4

Mahāsattva Nāgārjuna, appeared in the world,
And distinguished the paths of difficult and easy practice;
Thus he leads us, who are wandering in transmigration,
To board the ship of the universal Vow.

Koso Wasan 5

People who hear and accept the words
Of our teacher Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna,
Should be mindful of the Primal Vow
And say the Name of Amida always.

Koso Wasan 6

Those who desire quickly to attain
The stage of non-retrogression
Should, with a heart of reverence,
Hold steadfast to and say Amida's Name.

Koso Wasan 7

The ocean of birth-and-death, of painful existence, has no bound;
Only by the ship of Amida's universal Vow
Can we, who have long been drowning,
Unfailingly be brought across it.

Koso Wasan 8

The Commentary on the Mahā Prajña Paramita Sūtra states:
The Tathagata is the supreme dharma-king;
With bodhisattvas a dharma-vassals,
The person to be deeply revered is the World-Honoured One.

Koso Wasan 9

All the bodhisattvas state:
'When we were in the causal stage,
We passed through countless kalpas
Performing the myriad good accts and practices,

Koso Wasan 10

But the attractions of affection were extremely hard to sever,
And birth-and-death was extremely difficult to exhaust.
Only by practicing the Nembutsu-samadhi,
Could we eliminate the obstructions of karmic evil and gain
      liberation.'

2. Vasubandhu Bodhisattva
Verses 11-20

Koso Wasan 11

Śākyamuni’s teachings are numerous,
But Bodhisattva Vasubandhu compassionately urges us,
Who are possessed of blind passions,
To take refuge in Amida's universal Vow.

Koso Wasan 12

The adornments of the Pure Land of peace
Are perceived only by the wisdom shared by the Buddhas.
That land is infinite, like space,
Vast and without bound.

Koso Wasan 13

Of those who encounter the power of the Primal Vow
Not one passes by in vain;
They are filled with the treasure ocean of virtues,
The defiled waters of their blind passions are not separated from it.

Koso Wasan 14

The sages of the Tathagata's pure lotus
Are born transformed from the flower of perfect enlightenment;
Thus, the aspirations of sentient beings
Are swiftly and completely fulfilled there.

Koso Wasan 15

The immovable sages, who were formally humans and devas,
Are born from the ocean of wisdom, the universal Vow;
The virtues of their mental activity are pure
And free of discrimination, like empty space.

Koso Wasan 16

Vasubandhu, author of the Treatise, took refuge
In the unhindered light with the mind that is single;
He teaches that by entrusting ourselves to the Vow's power,
We will reach the fulfilled land.

Koso Wasan 17

To take refuge, with the mind that is single,
In the Buddha of unhindered light filling the ten quarters
Is, in the words of Vasubandhu, author of the Treatise,
The mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood.

Koso Wasan 18

The mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood
Is the mind to save all sentient beings;
The mind to save all sentient beings
Is true and real shinjin, which is Amida's Benefiting of others.

Koso Wasan 19

Shinjin is the mind that is single;
The mind that is single is the diamond-like mind.
The diamond-like mind is the mind aspiring for enlightenment;
This mind is itself the Other Power.

Koso Wasan 20

On reaching the land of the Vow,
We immediately realise supreme nirvana,
And thereupon we awaken great compassion.
All this is called Amida's 'directing of virtue.'

3. Master T'an-luan
Verses 21-54

Koso Wasan 21

Our teacher, Master T'an-luan,
Through the guidance of Bodhiruchi,
Burned his scriptures on immortality, discarding them forever,
And deeply took refuge in the Pure Land.

Koso Wasan 22

Putting aside his lectures on the four treatises,
He taught Other Power, the working of the Primal Vow;
Guiding foolish beings bound by their blind passions,
He led them to enter the gate to nirvana.

Koso Wasan 23

The lord of the mundane world came to inquire
Why he aspired for the Pure Land:
'All Buddha realms throughout the ten quarters are pure;
Why do you turn to the land in the west?'

Koso Wasan 24

Master T'an-luan answered: 'Since my wisdom is shallow
And I have not yet attained the higher stages of bodhisattva-hood,
I am incapable, with my powers of mindfulness,
Of thinking equally on all lands.'

Koso Wasan 25

Neither monks nor laity
Had any place to turn for refuge;
Master T'an-luan alone resolved
To lead them to aspire for the land of happiness.

Koso Wasan 26

At the behest of the Emperor of Wei,
He lived at Ta-yen temple in Ping-chou.
Later, near the end of his life,
He moved to Fen-chou.

Koso Wasan 27

The Emperor of Wei venerated him,
Giving him the title, 'Holy Luan';
The place where he lived came to be known
As Eminent Luan's Cliff.

Koso Wasan 28

Exerting all his energy to spread
The act for birth in the Pure Land,
He lived at Hsuan-chung temple,
And in 542, moved to Yao-shan temple.

Koso Wasan 29

On reaching the age of sixty-seven, his time come,
He attained birth in the Pure Land;
There were then wondrous, auspicious occurrences,
And monks and laity all venerated and took refuge in him.

Koso Wasan 30

The emperor, wholeheartedly revering him,
Commanded that a tomb be built immediately
At the splendid site of Chin-ling,
In the Fen-chou district of Hen-hsi province.

Koso Wasan 31

Though we had the words of Bodhisattva Vasubandhu,
If Master T'an-luan had not clarified them,
How could we come to know the mind and practice
Of vast, majestic virtues, which are Other Power?

Koso Wasan 32

Knowing truly that the Primal Vow -
The perfect One Vehicle that brings about sudden attainment -
Grasps those who commit grave offences and transgressions,
We are quickly brought to realise that blind passions
    and enlightenment are not two in substance.

Koso Wasan 33

Of the five inconceivabilities taught in the sutras,
The inconceivability of the power of the Buddha-dharma
    is supreme;
The inconceivability of the power of the Buddha-dharma
Refers to Amida's universal Vow.

Koso Wasan 34

Amida has fulfilled the directing of virtue,
Which has two aspects: that for our going forth
    and that for our return.
Through these aspects of the Buddha's directing of virtue,
We are brought to realise both mind and practice.

Koso Wasan 35

The directing of virtue for our going forth is such that
When Amida's active means towards us reaches fulfilment,
We realise the shinjin and practice of the compassionate Vow;
Then birth-and-death is itself nirvana.

Koso Wasan 36

The directing of virtue for our return to this world is such that
We attain the resultant state of benefiting and guiding others;
Immediately re-entering the world of beings,
We engage in the compassionate activity that is the virtue of
    Samantabhadra.

Koso Wasan 37

Vasubandhu speaks in his Treatise, of 'the mind that is single';
Master T'an-luan, in his commentary, explains that
This is shinjin - itself Other power -
That we who are possesses of blind passions attain.

Koso Wasan 38

The unhindered light filling the ten quarters,
Shines on the beings in the darkness of ignorance,
And unfailingly brings to attainment of nirvana
The person who realises the one thought-moment of joy.

Koso Wasan 39

Through the benefit of the unhindered light,
We realise shinjin of vast, majestic virtues,
And the ice of our blind passions necessarily melts,
Immediately becoming water of enlightenment.

Koso Wasan 40

Obstructions of karmic evil turn into virtues;
It is like the relation of ice and water:
The more the ice, the more the water;
The more the obstructions, the more the virtues.

Koso Wasan 41

The ocean of the inconceivable Name does not hold unchanged
The corpses of the five grave offences and slander of the dharma;
The myriad rivers of evil acts, on entering it,
Become one in taste with the ocean water of virtues.

Koso Wasan 42

Rivers of blind passions, on entering the ocean -
The great, compassionate Vow
Of unhindered light filling the ten quarters -
Become one in taste with that sea of wisdom.

Koso Wasan 43

Being born in the Buddha-land of happiness
Is the path to the ultimate attainment of Buddhahood;
All Buddhas acclaim the Pure Land,
For birth there is the unsurpassed means.

Koso Wasan 44

T'an-luan teaches that the Buddhas adorn their
    three modes of action,
So that they are characterised by ultimate non-discrimination;
This is to heal the bodily, verbal and mental acts of beings,
Which are false and delusional.

Koso Wasan 45

T'an-luan teaches that we reach the Buddha-land of happiness
Solely with the Name - the unsurpassed gem -
And true shinjin,
For those born there follow no other way.

Koso Wasan 46

Although there are initially nine grades of beings,
Because the birth attained through Amida's pure Primal Vow
Is birth that is no-birth,
The Pure Land is free of such discrimination.

Koso Wasan 47

The Name of the Tathagata of unhindered light
And the light that is the embodiment of wisdom
Dispel the darkness of the long night of ignorance
And fulfil the aspirations of sentient beings.

Koso Wasan 48

Master T'an-luan explains
That failing to practice in accord with reality
Means first, that shinjin is not genuine in that person,
For it appears to exist at times, and not to exist in others.

Koso Wasan 49

Second, shinjin is not single
For it lacks decisiveness;
And third, shinjin is not enduring,
For it is disrupted by other thoughts.

Koso Wasan 50

The practicer should remember that these three aspects of
      [untrue] shinjin
Are established with one leading to another;
Because one's shinjin is not genuine,
It is not shinjin that is decisive.

Koso Wasan 51

Because it is not shinjin that is decisive,
Mindfulness does not endure;
Because mindfulness does not endure,
One does not realise the shinjin that is decisive.

Koso Wasan 52

Because one does not realise shinjin that is decisive,
It is not genuine; this T'an-luan teaches.
Whether practice is fully in accord with reality
Is determined solely by shinjin.

Koso Wasan 53

Having turned from the little road,
Of a myriad practices and good acts
And entered the great path of the Primal Vow,
      which is true reality,
We will quickly attain the enlightenment of nirvana.

Koso Wasan 54

King Hsiao, the Emperor of Liang,
Always faced in the direction
Of our teacher and paid homage to him,
Calling him Bodhisattva Luan.

4. Master Tao-ch'o
Verses 55-61

Koso Wasan 55

Setting aside the myriad practices of the Path of Sages,
Our teacher, Master Tao-ch'o,
Proclaims the single gate of the Pure Land way
As the only path that affords passage.

Koso Wasan 56

Setting aside his extensive work on the Nirvana Sutra,
Our teacher, Master Tao-ch'o,
Entrusted himself to Other Power - the working of
      the Primal Vow -
And urged the multitudes of the world of the five defilements
      to do so also.

Koso Wasan 57

Sentient beings of the five defilements in the last dharma-age
May perform the practices of the Path of Sages,
But not one will thereby attain realisation;
So states the World-honoured one, the master of the teaching.

Koso Wasan 58

Following the teaching of Master T'an-luan,
Master Tao-ch'o was determined
That to awaken aspiration for enlightenment and perform
      practices in this world
Is the way of self-power.

Koso Wasan 59

Wrongdoing and evil acts in this defiled world
Are like violent winds and torrential rains;
All the Buddhas, sorrowed by this,
Urge us to take refuge in the Pure Land.

Koso Wasan 60

Though we may commit evil throughout our lives,
If we say the Nembutsu always
With our hearts turned wholly to Amida,
Our obstructions fall away by the [Vow's] spontaneous working.

Koso Wasan 61

In order to guide sentient beings
Even though they commit evil all their lives,
Amida urges them to 'say the Name,'
Vowing not to attain Buddhahood 'if they are not born.'

5. Master Shan-tao
Verses 62-87

Koso Wasan 62

Manifested from the ocean-like great mind
Was Master Shan-tao;
For the sake of beings of this defiled world in the latter age,
He called on the Buddhas of the ten quarters to bear witness
      to his teaching.

Koso Wasan 63

Shan-tao appeared in the world in succeeding ages,
Manifesting himself as Fa-chao and Shao-k'ang,
And by revealing the treasury of virtues,
He fulfilled the Buddhas' fundamental intent.

Koso Wasan 64

If women did not entrust themselves to Amida's Name and Vow,
They would never become free of the five obstructions,
Even though they passed through myriads of kalpas;
How, then, would their existence as women by transformed?

Koso Wasan 65

Shakyamuni, revealing the 'essential' gate
To lead people of meditative and non-meditative practices,
And provisionally teaching the right and sundry practices,
Wholly urges us to perform the saying of the Name alone.

Koso Wasan 66

Performing auxiliary and right practices together is 'mixed praxis';
Since those who endeavour in this way
Have not attained the mind that is single,
They lack the heart that responds in gratitude to the
      Buddha's benevolence.

Koso Wasan 67

Practicers who pray for worldly benefits,
Although they may perform chiefly the saying of the
      Buddha's Name,
Are also termed people of mixed praxis;
In rejecting such practice, it is taught that not one in a
      thousand attains birth.

Koso Wasan 68

Although their meanings are not the same,
Sundry practices and mixed practices are alike;
Acts which are not the practice that leads to the Pure Land
Are all called sundry practices.

Koso Wasan 69

Master Shan-tao, calling the Buddhas to bear witness,
Led us to overturn the two minds of meditative and
      non-meditative practices;
Presenting the parable of the two rivers of greed and anger,
He ensured the safeguarding of the shinjin of the universal Vow.

Koso Wasan 70

Even when the time of the extinction of the sutras has come,
Foolish beings, by encountering the true teaching
      of the universal Vow -
The exposition of which was the fundamental intent of
      the Tathagata's appearance in the world -
Will think on Amida and attain enlightenment.

Koso Wasan 71

The inconceivable working of the power of Buddha-dharma
Is such that external hindrances and karmic fetters do not obstruct us;
Hence, the universal, Primal Vow of Amida
Is termed the 'decisive cause' of birth.

Koso Wasan 72

The mind and practice of self-power do not bring one
Into the fulfilled land established through the power of the Vow;
Hence, sages of the Mahayana and Hinayana
All entrust themselves to Amida's universal Vow.

Koso Wasan 73

When we come to know truly that we are possessed of
      blind passions,
And entrust ourselves to the power of the Primal Vow,
We will, on abandoning completely our defiled existence,
Realise the eternal bliss of dharma-nature.

Koso Wasan 74

Shakyamuni and Amida are our father and our mother,
Full of love and compassion for us;
Guiding us through various skilful means,
They bring us to awaken supreme shinjin.

Koso Wasan 75

Persons who have thoroughly realised the true mind,
Because it is the diamond-like mind,
Are equal to those who accomplish
The three grades of repentance; thus Shan-tao teaches.

Koso Wasan 76

Only with the diamond-like shinjin
Can we, living in the evil world of the five defilements,
Completely abandon birth-and-death forever
And reach the Pure Land of naturalness.

Koso Wasan 77

When the time comes,
For shinjin, indestructible as diamond, to become settled,
Amida grasps and protects us with compassionate light,
So that we part forever from birth-and-death.

Koso Wasan 78

Concerning those who have not realised true and real shinjin,
Shan-tao teaches that they 'lack one mind';
Know, therefore, that all who lack this mind that is single
Do not yet possess the threefold shinjin.

Koso Wasan 79

People who realise the true entrusting that is Amida's benefiting
      of others,
Because they are in correspondence with the Vow,
Accord with Śākyamuni’s teaching and the words of the Buddhas;
Thus, there is nothing that obstructs them.

Koso Wasan 80

Those who are free of even a moment of doubt,
Having been able to hear the Nembutsu of the Pure Land way,
Are praised as 'rare and excellent persons,'
And are ascertained to 'have realised right-mindedness.'.

Koso Wasan 81

When people are not in correspondence with the Primal Vow
Various conditions arise to trouble and confuse them.
To lose sight of shinjin in confusion
Is to 'lose right-mindedness.'

Koso Wasan 82

Since shinjin arises from the Vow,
We attain Buddhahood through the Nembutsu by the
      [Vow's] spontaneous working.
The spontaneous working is itself the fulfilled land;
Our realisation of supreme nirvana is beyond doubt.

Koso Wasan 83

The time has come when the five defilements increase;
Those who doubt and revile Amida's Vow are numerous.
Both monks and lay people despise the Nembutsu
And harm any they see engaging in it.

Koso Wasan 84

Those who revile and attack the Primal Vow
Are termed 'persons completely blind to dharma' or
        'persons lacking the seed of Buddhahood.'
Passing kalpas numerous as the particles of the great earth,
They long sink in the three evil courses.

Koso Wasan 85

Although they have been given the teaching of the path to the West,
They have obstructed themselves and obstructed others
      from accepting it,
And so for vast kalpas since the distant past,
They have spent their lives meaninglessly and in vain.

Koso Wasan 86

Had we not received the power of the universal Vow,
When can we part from this Saha world?
Reflecting deeply on the Buddha's benevolence,
Let us think on Amida always.

Koso Wasan 87

Casting off long kalpas of painful existence in this world of Saha,
We live in expectation of the Pure Land, the uncreated;
That is the power of our teacher, Shakyamuni;
Let us respond always in gratitude for his compassion
      and benevolence.

6. Master Genshin
Verses 88-97

Koso Wasan 88

Master Genshin stated:
'Originally a Buddha, I appeared in this world;
The conditions for teaching others having already run their course,
I am returning to my primal land.'

Koso Wasan 89

Our teacher Genshin earnestly set forth,
From among all the teachings of the Buddha's lifetime,
The single gateway of the Nembutsu,
And spread it among the beings of this defiled world in the
      latter age.

Koso Wasan 90

Master Genshin, who was among the assembly
That heard Shakyamuni on Vulture Peak,
Taught the difference between the fulfilled and transformed lands,
Thereby clearly setting forth the benefit of the single praxis
      over mixed.

Koso Wasan 91

Our teacher, Master Genshin,
Following the discourse of Master Huai-kan,
Quoted the Sutra of the Bodhisattva's Dwelling in the Womb
To clarify the realm of indolence and pride.

Koso Wasan 92

In praise of persons of single practice,
He teaches that not one in a thousand will fail to attain birth;
In admonition of persons who perform mixed praxis,
He states that not one in ten thousand will be born.

Koso Wasan 93

He declares that births into the fulfilled Pure Land
Are not numerous,
And teaches that sentient beings born into transformed lands
Are not few.

Koso Wasan 94

For all people - men and women of high station or low-
Saying the Name of Amida is such
That whether one is walking, standing, sitting, or reclining is
      of no concern
And time, place, and condition are not restricted.

Koso Wasan 95

My eyes being hindered by blind passions,
I cannot perceive the light that grasps me;
Yet the great compassion without tiring,
Illumines me always.

Koso Wasan 96

We who aspire for Amida's fulfilled land,
Though we differ in outward condition and conduct,
Should truly receive the Name of the Primal Vow
And never forget it, whether waking or sleeping.

Koso Wasan 97

For sentient beings of extreme evil, profound and immense,
There is no other way;
Wholeheartedly saying the Name of Amida,
We will be born in the Pure Land.

7. Genku (Honen) Shonin
Verses 98-119

Koso Wasan 98

As our teacher Genku appeared in the world
And spread the One Vehicle of the universal Vow,
Throughout the entire country of Japan
Favourable conditions for the Pure Land teaching emerged.

Koso Wasan 99

Our teacher Genku appeared
Through the power of the Light of Wisdom,
And revealing the true Pure Land way,
He taught the selected Primal Vow.

Koso Wasan 100

Though Shan-tao and Genshin urged all to enter the true
      Pure Land way,
If our teacher Genku had not spread it amongst us
On these isolated islands in this defiled age,
How could we ever have awakened to it?

Koso Wasan 101

Through countless kalpas and innumerable lives,
We did not know the strong cause of liberation;
Were it not for our teacher Genku,
This present life also would pass in vain.

Koso Wasan 102

Genku, at the age of fifteen,
Became aware of the reality of impermanence;
Manifesting a long-cherished aspiration to reject this defiled world,
He entered the path to enlightenment.

Koso Wasan 103

The supreme virtues of Genku's wisdom and practice were such
That even the teachers in the various schools of the Path of Sages
All turned to him for guidance and revered him
As master of the diamond-like precepts embodied in the one-mind.

Koso Wasan 104

When Genku was alive
He emanated a golden light,
Which the chancellor, an ordained laymen,
Saw before him.

Koso Wasan 105

It was said among the people
That the original state of our teacher Genku
Was Master Tao-ch'o,
Or again, Master Shan-tao.

Koso Wasan 106

Genku appeared as Mahāsthāmaprāpta,
And also as Amida.
Emperors and ministers venerated him, and
And the ordinary people in the capital and the countryside
      revered him.

Koso Wasan 107

The ordained retired emperor of the Jokyu era
Revered our teacher Genku;
Monks of Shakyamuni's tradition and scholars of the
      Chinese classics
All alike awakened to and entered the Pure Land way.

Koso Wasan 108

When the time came for the Buddhas' guidance through skilful means,
They appeared as Master Genku
And, teaching the supreme shinjin,
Opened the gateway to nirvana.

Koso Wasan 109

To encounter a true teacher
Is difficult even among difficult things;
There is no cause for endlessly turning in transmigration
Greater than the hindrance of doubt.

Koso Wasan 110

Genku emanated a radiance
Which he always revealed to his followers,
There is no cause for endlessly turning in transmigration
Greater than the hindrance of doubt.

Koso Wasan 111

When the moment of death approached,
Our teacher Genkû said,
'This is my third time to be born in the Pure Land;
It is especially easy to accomplish.'

Koso Wasan 112

Genku himself said, 'Formerly,
I was among the assembly on Vulture Peak;
I practiced austerities with other Shravakas,
And guided beings to the Buddhist path.'

Koso Wasan 113

Born on isolated islands scattered like millet in the sea,
He spread the teaching of the Nembutsu;
In order to guide sentient beings,
He came into this world many times

Koso Wasan 114

Amida Tathagata, manifesting form in this world,
Appeared as our teacher Genkû;
The conditions for teaching having run their course,
He returned to the Pure Land.

Koso Wasan 115

At the death of our teacher Genku,
Radiant light shone on the sky like purple clouds;
Music sounded, subtle and elegant,
And the air was fragrant with rare perfumes.

Koso Wasan 116

Monks and laypeople, men and women,
    gathered beforehand;
Ministers and nobles assembled in numbers.
Lying on his right side with head to the north,
He observed the manner of the Tathagata's passing into
    nirvana.

Koso Wasan 117

At the end of the life of our teacher, Genku,
In the second year of Kenryaku, in the year
    'water-monkey',
On the 25th day of the first month,
He returned to the Pure Land.

Koso Wasan 118

When beings of the evil world of the five defilements,
Have Faith in the Selected Original Vow,-
The inestimable, inexplicable, inconceivable
Virtue fills these followers.

  • India
  • Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna
  • Bodhisattva Vasubandhu
  • China
  • Master Donran
  • Master Doshaku
  • Master Zendo
  • Japan
  • Master Genshin
  • Master Genku

Shotoku Taishi. Born on the first day of the first month of the first year of Emperor Bidatsu. 1521st year after the passing away of the Buddha.

Koso Wasan 119

To speak of Namu-Amida-Butsu,
Its virtues are like the waters of the ocean
I have received the goodness of that purity -
May it be shared among all beings.