Why the Shin Sangha Is Moribund and Dying By Eiken Kobai Sensei

Introduction by Paul Roberts

Eiken Kobai Sensei is recognized as a scholar of the highest rank in the largest Shin Buddhist sect, the Nishi Hongwanji.

He is also my own personal Dharma mentor - the truly "good" teacher who helped me find my way out of confusion, to the settled Shinjin that is essential to come to the end of suffering and the beginning of Buddhahood when this life is over.

In this essay (below), Eiken reflects on what is going on in the Nishi Hongwanj today, and shows us clearly why so much of the Shin Sangha is moribund and dying.

It is a critical essay about a critical problem.  Please read it and ponder what he says.


Eiken's Essay:  Thoughts on the teaching of Doctrine within the Hongwanji-ha (Nishi Hongwanji) organisation in recent years by Rev Eiken Kobai

The 750th Memorial Service for the Venerable Master Shinran has successfully concluded, and now there is the anticipation of, “A New Beginning” for our Nishi Hongwanji organization.

Unfortunately, there were also reports such as, “‘The voice of the Nembutsu is becoming fainter with the times and I wonder if the 800th Memorial Service will be held with the same fervor as this one?’ could be heard among those who participated.” The long decline in the Nishi Hongwanji organization is something that all have noticed.

I have now passed the age of seventy, and am in the same state of mind that Yuien was when he wrote the Tannisho (Notes Lamenting Differences): “In this transient world, my body has become like last year’s grass…” and like him, would like to express my thoughts on what is most important about our organization before it is too late.

To begin with my conclusion, I believe that at the very least, scholars of our Nishi Hongwanji organization must be those whose “shinjin is settled” (shinjin ketsujo).


I began my studies at Ryukoku University during April of 1960, the year before the 700th Memorial Service for the Venerable Master Shinran was held. During the latter part of my freshman year, I joined a school club devoted to familiarizing students with being resident ministers of Jodo-Shinshu temples. The club advisor was a professor (then assistant professor) of Shinshu Studies.
Not long after joining the club, the professor made the following statement: “I don’t expect you (students) to (give Dharma Talks) in which you express joy (in being embraced by Amida’s Primal Vow).”

I thought this was an extremely strange thing for him to say because I had always thought that giving Shinshu Dharma Talks meant giving talks in which we expressed our personal joy in being within the embrace of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow.

I therefore asked the professor what he meant by his statement, and was further surprised by the great displeasure that he showed. That was when I realized that even professors of Shinshu studies do not have “settled or received shinjin.”

Later, during the latter part of the year 1978, this professor was felled by a cerebral stroke. This caused him, as he frankly confessed, to concentrate on “listening to the Dharma” but found it extremely difficult. In other words, he had been assigned to teach Shinshu at Ryukoku University and advise a club at that school even though his shinjin might not have been settled!

Further, during the latter part of 1965, when the present Buddhist educational system was being proposed, two professors criticized the teaching of “shinjin sho-in, shomyo ho-on” (shinjin is the true cause (of our birth in the Pure Land); recitation of the Nembutsu in gratitude (for that indebtedness is the result),” which is contained in Section Three of the Hongwanji Constitution (shusei).

This is clear evidence that these two professors were unable to differentiate between the Nembutsu “before (receiving) shinjin” (shinzen) and the Nembutsu “after (receiving) shinjin” (shingo). The reason they were unable to do so, of course, is because they had not experienced the gratitude of indebtedness to the Primal Vow and the Nembutsu. (The details regarding the above are given in my articles Shuso ni okeru shinjin to nembutsu (Shinjin and the Nembutsu According to The Venerable Master Shinran), in Volume 13 of Ryukoku Kyogaku, published in June, 1979; and Shuso ni okeru shinjin to nembutsu 2 (Shinjin and the Nembutsu According to The Venerable Master Shinran, Part Two), in Volume 15 of Ryukoku Kyogaku, published in June, 1980.)

Expressing doctrinal matters in keeping with the times is extremely important, of course, but just as it is impossible to lead others to receiving shinjin if you have not experienced it yourself, so must doctrinal expressions be from the point of view of “settled shinjin.” This seems so obvious that I am slightly puzzled that I even have to mention it.

At any rate, what I expressed above were the conditions regarding the lack of shinjin experience in how Shinshu was taught at Rykoku University during the 1960’s and 1970’s; unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in those conditions even today.


The Kangaku-ryo is a group of Shinshu scholars within Nishi Hongwanji whose responsibility is to maintain doctrinal correctness within the organization. These scholars are selected from the Shikyo rank of scholars, the highest rank that can be earned.

The problem that the two professors raised - namely, casting doubt on “shinjin sho-in, shomyo ho-on” - that I mentioned above, was taken up by the Kangaku-ryo during January of 1980.

During March of 198, this group of scholars decided to suspend judging whether one professor’s doubt was correct or not, and during October of that same year, decided in the case of the other professor, to suspend investigation regarding the contents of that doubt. No instructions given to either of these two professors.

I believe the basic reason these two professors criticized “shinjin sho-in, shomyo ho-on” was because of their lack of shinjin. The Head of the Kangaku-ryo’s response to the criticism by the two was, “We can speak of a ‘difference in anjin’ (i-anjin) among individuals, but we cannot say anything about ‘no anjin’ (mu-anjin)” and “shinjin cannot be known” (shin wa fukaku).”

I felt a there was something terribly wrong with such a response because, among other things, the Venerable Master Shinran wrote in a letter, “… for they have not yet attained true shinjin”*1, and made references to others using terms such as, “undetermined shinjin” (shinjin miketsujo), “not determined” (fuketsujo), and “no anjin” (mu-anjin).

Master Rennyo also wrote things such as “…(those) in whom the settled mind (anjin) is yet to be realized” (mianjin no hito)*2, and “… who have not undergone a decisive settling of faith (anjin)” (shinjin miketsujo no hito)*3 and often used terms such as “no anjin” (muanjin) and “‘not yet’ anjin” (mianjin) that express the thought of anjin (shinjin) not yet received.

Further, both the Venerable Master Shinran and Master Rennyo wrote about the joys of shinjin in many places so there cannot be anything such as “no awareness” of it.

To say, “…we cannot say anything about (the)‘no anjin’(of others)” or that “shinjin cannot be known,” clearly goes against the positions of both the Venerable Master Shinran and Master Rennyo, and I believe are the views of those without “determined (settled) shinjin” themselves.

In a work titled Koza shinshu anjin rondai (Lectures on “Topics for Discussion” in Shinshu), written by the then Head of the Kangaku-ryo, is the passage, “It can be said that originally those who were said to be heretics and those with ‘different anjin’ (ianjin) … (omitted) … could be divided into those who felt shinjin could be acquired through ‘self-centered effort’ (jiriki) and those who felt they could become enlightened while maintaining their physical bodies.” Such thinking can lead to the conclusion that there are no problems about anjin when it comes to those without “determined shinjin/anjin.” That may have been the reason for the lack of censure of the two professors previously mentioned. As already mentioned, I personally found that decision extremely questionable.
(See note at end of article.)

Criticism of the Hongwanji by the Takamori Shinran-kai organization arose just about that time.*1

I was then assigned to Nishi Hongwanji’s Dendo-in (Institute for Transmitting (the Jodo-Shinsh Teaching), now “Combined Research Center” (Sogo Kenkyu-sho) doing similar work with a slightly different charter), which was requested to counter the criticism of Reverend Takamori. I wrote an article criticizing their understanding of “stored good” (shukuzen) and “matter of greatest importance in the next life” (gosho no ichidaiji), which they were then emphasizing. This article was published in a house bulletin during December of 1979.

Although my article was intended for readers within the Hongwanji, the Shinran-kai organization began raising questions about it. I responded to their specific questions, but they would not accept answers that were not to their liking. That resulted in demonstrations against the Hongwanji Headquarters Temple, which in turn caused the Headquarters Temple administrators and the head of the Dendo-in (who was a kangaku) to form a committee to respond to Shinran-kai. I was a member of that committee.

A document in response to Shinran-kai’s criticism was completed during December of 1982. This document was titled Gendai no kyogaku mondai - hagai karano rongi ni tsuite (Doctrinal Problems Today - Criticisms from Outside (Our Hongwanji Organization)), and consisted of articles written by various members of the committee. Strangely, however, when it was published, my article was bound by itself, separate from the other articles that were included in the title given above, with no indication that my article had been written under the direction of the Head of the Kangaku-ryo or the Head of the Dendo-in. It appeared to me that if Shinran-kai continued their questioning of the Hongwanji position, responsibility for responding would be solely mine. (This intent can be discerned from a document titled Hongwanji naze kotaenu (Why Does the Hongwanji Not Respond?) published by Shinran-kai during March of 1984.)

I am heartened that many former followers of the Shinran-kai organization have studied my articles and agreed with me, leading to their leaving Shinran-kai. At least one former follower has created a Japanese blog in which he uses all of the points made in my articles in refuting Shinran-kai’s positions.

A new Kangaku-ryo has now been established but there does not seem to be any change in their position regarding “non-determination of shinjin” (shinjin fuketsujo taishitsu). The writings of the Head of this group shows absolutely no recognition of the difference in the Nembutsu “before (receiving) shinjin and after (receiving) it.”

In Issue 126 of Shinshu-gaku (Shinshu Studies), published during March of 2012, is the following:

I wonder if “conversion (receiving shinjin)” (eshin) should be considered in terms of time. The time that the “turning in” of sangan tennyu*1 takes place … (omitted) … is something that is of more concern to historians (than scholars of Shinshu doctrine), and I believe it is better to not consider it within the realm of the “practice and (the receiving of shinjin).” … (omitted) … I believe some consider that the time shinjin is received can be known, but I do not.

This is a denial of the reality of “turning in” from the 20th Vow (the Nembutsu of “self-centered effort” (jiriki) before receiving shinjin) to the 18th Vow (the Nembutsu of “Buddha-centered power” (tariki) after receiving shinjin), as well as a denial of the conviction of having received shinjin.

If those in the Nishi Hongwanji organization who are most responsible for education in Shinshu and making clear what anjin is, have this sort of understanding, I cannot hope for much light in our Buddhist denomination’s future. (I believe I was rather disrespectful of certain persons in writing the above, but this was unavoidable when I considered the future of our Buddhist denomination, and I therefore beg for tolerance regarding how I expressed myself.)

I have written other essays that considered the matters discussed above from different perspectives. Two of those articles are: Bukkyo o ikani manabu ka - shinshu-gaku no baai- (How Should We Study/Teach Buddha-dharma - With Emphasis on Jodo-Shinshu), printed in Issue 66 of Nippon bukkyo gakkai nempo; and Shin ichinen to shin no kakufu ni tsuite (On the Single Moment of Shinjin and Unawareness of Shinjin), printed in the 55-2 issue of Nippon indogaku bukkyogaku kenkyu.

(This article was written during July of 2012 and submitted to a Japanese religious newspaper. Since it was not accepted for publication, I have decided to make it public here. November 19, 2012. Eiken Kobai.)


Recently, one of the professors mentioned in this article wrote a work titled, Shinshu gudo gaku (Seeking the Truth in Shinsh Studies), published by the prestigious Buddhist publishing company, Hozokan, September, 2011. In that work, the author denies the doctrine of “shinjin sho-in, shomyo ho-on.” I can only repeat that the author’s lack of “decided shinjin” makes it impossible for him to understand the difference between the “Nembutsu before receiving shinjin” and the “Nembutsu after receiving shinjin.” In other words, he has no experience of “indebtedness to the Nembutsu” (ho-on Nembutsu).

Fortunately, in the modification to the Nishi Hongwanji organization’s constitution concerning the function of the Kangaku-ryo, there is the following addition that has never appeared before: “The Kangaku-ryo has the duty to correct the views of those who have an understanding of Jodo-Shinsh that is different from that of the Hongwanji, i.e., denying shinjin-shoin, shomyo ho-on” goes against our religious institution. I believe the addition of this clause is extremely important. (December 18, 2012)