Monday, September 7, 2009

by Rev. Josho Adrian Cirlea (Romania Jodo Shinshu Sangha)

Someone wanted the book "Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn into Gold" by Rev. Taitetsu Unno to be published and promoted in my country, and I answered with a clear and definitive "NO". Why? Because some of the passages I found in it  are not in accordance with the true Jodo Shinshu teaching we find in the canonical texts of our school. Also, as it is stated in rule number 8th of the "Rules of the Dojo" that I established for the Jodo Shinshu dojos in Romania:

"In the library of the dojo, in the Jodo Shinshu section, only the texts from the canon of our school and the books which are in accord with these texts are promoted. No book which denies the teaching presented in the canonical texts, deteriorates, modifies or adds something which is not present in these texts, is allowed in the library of the dojo; also, the authors of these books will never be promoted, translated or invited at the dojo."

I will present in this article some divergences from the true Jodo Shinshu teaching of Rev. Taitetsu Unno that I found in his book, "Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn Into Gold," and which made me refuse from now on the access of this book or any books by him in the library of Tariki Dojo, either in original copy or translation. (The same applies to Shigaraki's books).

I mention that I do not deny to anybody in my sangha the right to read this book, to like it or to be enthusiastic about it, but as an official representative of Jodo Shinshu (Hongwanji-ha branch) in Romania and responsible for the transmission of the teaching of our school, I have to be careful as to what I promote and recommend at the dojo. Thus I can't advertise and exhibit this book in the official centers and dojos I establish in my country. I do so in order that beginners, newcomers or members will not consider it to be useful for acquiring a true understanding of the Jodo Shinshu teaching.

I don't care if this action might be interpreted by some as not democratic or in any other way. I am already used to many people not wanting to see or understand the true reasons why I am so radical in my attitude of transmitting the Jodo Shinshu teaching. Yes, I think that censorship must be applied when translating or promoting books or authors in official Jodo Shinshu centers around the world, especially in this period when so few disciples actually read and guide themselves by the canonical texts of Shakyamuni and the Masters and a handful of so called modern priests or scholars modify the true teaching according to the opinions and ideas of their unenlightened minds.

I repeat, so that nobody will put again into my mouth words that I didn't say: I do not deny to anybody in my sangha the right to read this book, like it or be enthusiastic about it, and I am not a savage dictator who encourages the burning of books. I just do not promote some authors that are divergent from the Jodo Shinshu teaching we find in the canon of our school. I have nothing personal against anybody, I am not disrespectful to anybody; simply their texts are being compared with the words of sutras and commentaries of the Masters. It's just an objective comparison.

So, here are some passages from this book and the comments explaining their divergence from the true teaching of our school:


Unno: The Primal Vow of the Buddha Amida was accomplished in timeless time to liberate all beings from the darkness of ignorance. This story, contained in the Larger Sutra, begins with the forty-eight vows of the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, the Buddha-to-be, who shouldered the
burden of suffering humanity and vowed to meet every conceivable need, both material and spiritual, of sentient beings as the condition for attaining Buddhahood. When Dharmakara fulfilled all the vows and accomplished this, the result was the liberating message of NAMU-AMIDA-BUTSU. This story, couched in mytho-poetic terms, is not a story in the ordinary sense, nor is it about a happening in history that took place in some remote past and in some distant land. Rather, it is the truth of the Larger Sutra becoming realized in one’s own life and shaping one’s self-understanding. Having been confirmed and reconfirmed innumerable times by people, beyond any human recall, the story is the cumulative realization of countless human beings down through the centuries.


First, there is no such thing as "timeless time" in the true Teaching. Rather, in the Larger Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha speaks of the development of Dharmakara's life as a Bodhisattva in terms of great ages (kalpas) of time.

Such ages are incomprehensible to us, precisely because we are not Buddhas. But they are entirely comprehensible to Buddhas, who are bound by neither space nor time as we understand it.

Shakyamuni Buddha declares that Dharmakara's life story did, in fact, occur in the distant past. To make it into something else by declaring it to be mythic is a gross divergence from the plain sense of what Shakyamuni Buddha plainly declares.

Furthermore, in no sense does the story of Dharmakara in Larger Sutra becomes the story of my life as a person of SHINJIN. Dharmakara accomplished the exceedingly difficult path of the Bodhisattva over the course of countless lifetimes. As a plain person - a BONBU - I am entirely incapable of such an accomplishment, even if I was given an
infinite number of lifetimes.

Dharmakara's story - like Gotama's story - is a HEROIC story of a sentient being who uses self-power to achieve the highest pinnacle of Enlightenment by his own efforts. My story - like Master Shinran's story - is a SALVIC story of a sentient being who was entirely incapable of such heroic work, and instead simply has entrusted his karmic destiny ENTIRELY to the person and work of Amida Buddha.


Unno: The story of Dharmakara Bodhisattva is not a story in the ordinary sense, for it articulates the maturing process of a religious seeker. That is, it shapes the inner quest of the seeker as he or she engages in deep hearing, transforming the story found in the Larger
Sutra into one’s personal history.


Dharmakara's story articulates the maturing process of a religious seeker, of a HERO WHO IS CAPABLE OF FOLLOWING A SELF-POWER PATH TO MATURATION AND ULTIMATELY ENLIGHTENMENT. But its not the story of ordinary unenlightened people in this last Dharma age becoming a Buddha.

Master Shinran's story - and my story as well - articulates how someone who is INCAPABLE of such a maturing process can become a True Buddha anyway.


Unno: According to Shinran, religious awakening is the realization of timeless time in each moment of temporal activity. The ultimate dimension breaks into the historical dimension, the timeless penetrates time. In his words, “One thought-moment is time at its ultimate limit, where the realization of shinjin takes place.”


I've never read any such thing in Master Shinran's writings.

In Master Shinran's writings, the entire goal is SHINJIN - that state of true entrusting which comes as a gift of GRACE to someone who is simply willing to listen deeply to the Dharma message of True Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.

In fact, Master Shinran and Master Rennyo both explicitly tell members of the Sangha not to worry themselves about "maturing" at all - but simply to entrust their karmic destiny to Amida Buddha and say the Nembutsu of gratitude.


Unno: Saichi goes to the Pure Land here and now, and he never dies, because he manifests the Primal Vow as he lives out his karmic life on the horizontal plane.


This is one of countless example of how modernist teachers like Unno conflate the reality of the Pure Land created by Amida Buddha, with a state of consciousness. So let's clear up the confusion:

All those who entrust themselves to Amida Buddha and have faith with no doubt, IN THIS LIFE are people of the same SHINJIN as Master Shinran.

But not a one of us - including Master Shinran himself - is in the Pure Land in any sense, while he is still alive as a non-Buddha in this life, in this world. Master Shinran never EVER said such a thing.

Rather, he said that he would surely go to the Pure Land, and be transformed into a True Buddha, AFTER he ended this BONBU life - and so would everyone else who simply entrusted themselves to the person and work of Amida Buddha.

Also I invite you to read these articles "Pure Land, Nembutsu, Samsara and Nirvana - four questions" and Comments on the 15th chapter of Tannisho in which I comment more on the "here and now" misunderstanding of birth in the Pure Land.
Shinran’s statements are very clear: “Attaining Enlightenment in the coming life is the essence of the Pure Land teaching of Other Power; it is the principle actualized through the settlement of shinjin [in this life].” “According to the true essence of the Pure Land way, one entrusts oneself to the Primal Vow in this life and realizes enlightenment in the Pure Land; this is the teaching I received.”


Unno: There is no need for such a deathbed ritual, because birth in the Pure Land has occurred in the awakening to shinjin here and now.


Wrong, on two counts:

First, and most importantly, neither Master Shinran, nor his teacher Master Honen, nor Master Rennyo, nor any of the seven Pure Land masters EVER said that birth in the Pure has occurred when someone has come to the state of SHINJIN.

What Master Shinran DID say is that when someone comes to the state of SHINJIN in this life, his birth in the Pure Land in the next life is assured. This is not the Pure Land, and people of SHINJIN living here who have not yet attained Buddhahood are not, in any sense, living in the Pure Land.

A true Buddha like Shakyamuni, on the other hand, can co-locate. He can be at once here in Samsaric existence, and at the same time in the Pure Land. That's exactly what happened that day on Vulture Peak, when the monk Ananda asked Shakyamuni Buddha why he was glowing in
such an unearthly way during his meditation.

Second, The reason that there is no need for such a deathbed ritual, according to Master Honen and Master Shinran, is NOT because the person of Shinjin is already living in the Pure Land. Rather, it is because the person of SHINJIN has the ASSURANCE, because of his or her diamond-like faith, that Amida does not need to come get him at all - but rather that he will awaken in the Pure Land upon his death in this body, no matter what his state is at the moment of death.

Master Shinran writes this EXPLICITLY in his letters - Lamp of the Latter Ages.


Unno: The Shin Buddhist path is the path of my choice, a path that makes no undue demands on its followers, physical or otherwise, except one: the giving up of the ego-self.


This couldn't be more wrong.

The giving up of the ego-self is the essential work on the Path of the Sages - the Path of the Bodhisattva - or the Path of the Arhat.

But, as Master Shinran explained, over and over again, the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha is not first for the good person, but for the evil person. It is not for the person who is able to give up the ego-self (as Gotama and Dharmakara both did). Rather, it is for the person who couldn't POSSIBLY give up the ego-self no matter how many lifetimes he had to do it.

While we are certainly not permitted to engage in deliberate lawlessness, Master Shinran and Master Rennyo NEVER told people to give up their ego-selves, which necessarily include all their cravings and aversions, their blind passions, their delusions and obscurations.

They didn't ask nor expect people to do it, because (by their own testimony) they couldn't do it themselves. And it was precisely because they couldn't do it, and KNEW they couldn't do it, that they entrusted themselves and their karmic destiny to Amida Buddha - and encouraged us to do the same.

Let me be very clear: There is no doubt that the cure for our common disease is, in fact, the giving up of our ego-self. Under the Bodhi Tree, Gotama saw this, fully and finally. He indentified this ego-self, "the builder of this house", as the root problem - and somehow snuffed it out and thereby emerged as the Buddha - the great wheel turner of this age, in this Buddha-land we call Samsara.

But as the Buddha Shakyamuni, because He recognized how limited most of us are, He commended us to take refuge in Amida Buddha - because only Amida Buddha, of all the Buddhas in the entire sentient universe, is able to deliver us from the bondage of the ego-self, who cannot deliver ourselves.

This deliverance comes - as Master Shinran and Master Rennyo explained over and over again - not during this life, even if we are people of SHINJIN. Rather, it comes in the afterlife. That is why the question of the afterlife is, as Master Rennyo asserted, the single most important question any of us face.

Unno: The story of Dharmakara Bodhisattva is Reality-that-takes-form given to us as a narrative for the sake of human comprehension. Having fulfilled forty-eight vows on behalf of sentient beings, Dharmakara attains supreme enlightenment and becomes Amida Buddha, the “Buddha of unhindered light filling the ten quarters.” This story is ultimately the story of reality being realized in each person, made possible by the working of the invisible Other Power. Thus, Amida Buddha is not an objective entity but comes alive in each person’s awakening to the Name-that-calls, NAMU-AMIDA-BUTSU. That is, as limited, imperfect, vulnerable, and finite beings (namu), each of us is granted this unrepeatable life, sustained and protected by boundless compassion (amida-butsu).


Of all the tragic and destructive divergences that have ever bedeviled the international Jodo Shinshu Sangha, declaring that Amida Buddha is not an objective entity is by far the worst. It is at the very core of what is wrong with Unno's teaching - and the teaching of other like-minded modernists.

The truth of the Dharma concerning Amida Buddha has been told to us by our Dharma masters. First, Amida Buddha is the Original Buddha. And second, because we are entirely unable to understand, much less apprehend Buddha in that formless form, He has taken on a transcendental body (reward body) after completing the work of His 48 Vows, and creating His Pure Land of Bliss.



Last modified: 12 January 2010.