On Studying Other Buddhist Teachings

A Conversation on the Yahoo! group, "True Shin Buddhism"

Thomas writes: This then raises another question, in listening to the Dharma of all schools of Buddhism (which I do and enjoy), aren't we swayed unintentionally to practice self-power?


Paul writes:  Well, I can't speak for anyone else's personal experience here, Tom.

But speaking for myself, once I received SHINJIN, I just lost interest in other paths altogether, both within Buddhism and without.

For example, it used to be meaningful to me to read the various Buddhist magazines available at the local bookstore.  Here in the US we have Tricycle, Shambhala Sun, and Bodhidharma.  I'm just not interested in them anymore.  It's not that I feel like I shouldn't, or I can't read them.  I do still browse them once in a while, just like I might browse a magazine about computers, or motorcycles, or whatever.  But I'm not spiritually drawn to their endless discussions about how to meditate, how to deal with problems meditating, etc. etc. etc.

I'm also not particularly interested in their profiles of various teachers and their various teachings.  As good as they might sound, and as charismatic as they might be, and as many students as they might have - I'm convinced that they're following a path to a dead end...that ultimately their teachings will not really work, either for their students or even for themselves.

And I have the same sorts of feelings about the new teachings that are always coming forward from new teachers who end up being celebrities on Oprah, or whatever.  I used to be very interested in hearing what they had to say, hoping to glean the next nugget of wisdom, and make the next incremental improvement in my spiritual life.

I'm just not interested in any of it anymore.  It has no draw for me, because I know (once again) that the promises of these teachings are all, ultimately, empty promises.

I'm not saying that all of these teachers are liars and frauds.  Some are, but many are not.  Many are very sincere, and yearn for full enlightenment, just as I do.  I just don't think that their self-power methods will bring them to the goal we all share.

And - to be clear about it - I am NOT trying to discourage you (or anyone) from actually using any of the methods of these teachers in order to get some temporary relief from some of the suffering we experience in life.  If (for example) you are anxiety prone, and doing some basic breathing meditation reduces your anxiety and makes it more manageable, I wouldn't tell you not to do it.  It you can control your anxiety that way, rather than (say) with a pill, there's nothing wrong with that as a life strategy.

But (again, speaking personally), I have PERSONAL experience of just how limited these methods are, in terms of their capacity to help me through my deepest periods of darkness.   They weren't helpful for me at all.  So it was my own PERSONAL experience that led me to leave these teachers and teachings behind, and sit at the feet of Master Shinran, just as his personal experience led him to do the same, and sit at the feet of Master Honen, and Master Honen's personal experience led him to do the same, and sit at the feet of the earlier Pure Land masters.

That is why, for me, I resonate deeply with Master Shinran's statement, "ONLY THE NEMBUTSU IS REAL".

I've come to think, as he thought, that everything else is unreal, false, inverted, perverted, polluted by our egotism...however you want to describe it.  And that includes all these teachers, and all their many self-power teachings.

The problem is not the teachings themselves.  As Master Rennyo explained it, the teachings come from Shakyamuni Buddha, and so there's nothing wrong with them, per se.  But they are definitely not the right teachings for me - because I'm just a BOMBU - a plain person - living in the age of MAPPO (Age of Dharma Decline).

And in this age of MAPPO, these teachings are simply not available to us, in any true and real way.

That's what Master Shinran is talking about, as he begins his HYMNS OF THE DHARMA AGES:


In 1257, on the night of the ninth day of the second month,
during the hour of the tiger, I was told in a dream:

Entrust yourself to Amida's Primal Vow.
Through the benefit of being grasped, never to be abandoned,
All who entrust themselves to the Primal Vow
Attain the supreme enlightenment.


And then, he continues by saying this:


It is now more than two thousand years
Since the passing of Sakyamuni Tathagata.
The right and semblance ages have already closed;
So lament, disciples of later times!

Now, amid the five defilements in the last dharma-age,
Sentient beings are incapable of practice and realization;
Hence the teachings that Sakyamuni left behind
Have all passed into the naga's palace.


Again, Thomas, I cannot speak for anyone else - but I have come to KNOW that this is, in fact, the TRUTH.

The many and various teachings of the Path of the Sages are simply not available to us in a meaningful, true and real way.  Sure, the skeleton of the teachings are there, and sure, people can study them, and even practice them.  But no matter how much people study and practice, they just cannot attain what Master Shinran calls "the supreme enlightenment".

And (again speaking personally), I've come to the point in my own journey where THAT is what is really important to me.

It's not that I don't want to be incrementally happier, or calmer, or wiser or more compassionate.  But - to borrow the thought from Nagarjuna, the first of the Seven Pure Land Masters:  Why should I make such a huge and sustained effort for such a small and meager and (worst of all) temporary reward?

So (once again, for me) the attraction to self-power Buddhism just isn't there the way it once was.  It doesn't speak to me.  It doesn't draw me.

Only the Nembutsu is real.

These days, when I think about PRACTICE, I don't think about my practice, or the practice of some famous (or not so famous) Buddhist teacher.  I don't even think about the practice of Gotama, which led him to become Shakyamuni Buddha.

I think about the practice of Dharmakara Bodhisattva, perfected over many, many lifetimes - perfect practice, done to completion, and therefore able to be done perfectly for ME.

I don't even think about practice.  I have no practice.  But Amida's perfect practice has brought me to non-retrogression - to SHINJIN - and will bring me to Buddhahood very, very soon.

Again, I don't want to speak for anyone else.  But that's the reality for me.

I live my little life, stumbling along as best as I can.  I entrust myself and my karmic destiny entirely to Amida.  And I am grateful for his salvation, and so I say NAMU AMIDA BUTSU - THANK YOU AMIDA BUDDHA.




Rick writes:  Excellent answer, Paul, thank you. My personal experience is the same.

I too, once I received SHINJIN, lost ALL interest in the self-power schools of Buddhism and their core sutras and commentaries. I lost ALL interest in self-power and modernist teachers no matter how many followers they have or books they have written. The dozens of books I own by these teachers just sit on my bookshelves gathering dust.

Yes, Master Shinran said, "Only the Nembutsu is Real." I come to that realization over and over, as I see this entire reality we call samsara full of falsehood, egotism, and delusion, an ubiquitous and grotesque dance between the Maras and the monkey-minds of the bombus. Amida's Other Power is the only way to freedom from that dance and to eternal blessed nirvana.

We truly are in the Age of Declining Dharma where none of the self-power practices, no matter how sincerely practiced, can bring anyone to full enlightenment. This is why I turned to Amida Buddha and His assurance that I will become a Buddha, at long last, when I am reborn in His Pure Land at my life's end.

Yes, there are things of beauty in this life, and I recognize them, but I also see them as transitory, IMPERMANENT. Among other things, I love classical music. I love Japanese poetry, art and literature. They are uplifting to me. But I do not place my existential trust in them. I only trust Amida's Primal Vow which saves me and all who entrust themselves to Him/It.

Often, when I see people absorbed in delusional religions or materialism, I ache for them, I want them to share what I have come to experience, SHINJIN. I have to content myself that they will at some point in their karmic future come to accept Amida's Call, since Amida works constantly and tirelessly to bring ALL beings to enlightenment, BUDDHAHOOD.

I find consolation that when I become a Buddha in a few years from now (that sounds so amazing when I say it!!), I will have such unbounded joy in nirvana and such empowerment as a transcendent Buddha that I will no longer ache for them, I will use my powers of Buddhahood and will joyously assist countless beings leading them toward SHINJIN and salvation by Amida Buddha.

As a Buddha on Amida's team, I will join in the ultimate fulfillment of that great Bodhisattva Vow, "Beings are numberless, I vow to save them all."

Namu Amida Butsu!
Thank You, Amida Buddha!




Thomas writes:  I still enjoy reading and studying the Theravada approach to Buddhism.  I discover many great ideas in this practice.  I enjoy the Shambhala Sun to see what thinking is going on in Buddhism and what people are doing.  I guess that I may me quite a distance from Shinjin even though I recite the nembutsu daily and believe totally in Amida.

I am still apparently confused but feel very comfortable in what I do.


Paul writes:

Hi Thomas -

Being a BOMBU and not a Buddha, I can never say for certain whether someone has received Amida's gift of Shinjin yet, or not. 

It's clear that if someone has any doubt about his (or her) salvation, he has not yet received Amida's gift.  But if someone is sure that he is saved by Amida, and will become a person at the end of this lifetime - to me (with my BOMBU eyes) that looks like a person of SHINJIN.

The fact that I don't enjoy reading general Buddhist materials anymore, and you still do, doesn't indicate to me that I'm a person of Shinjin, and you are not.

What Master Shinran and Master Rennyo are always trying to do in their teaching is wean us off of any dependence we might have on self-power Buddhism in order to attain enlightenment.  If you're not depending on any self-power practices to attain enlightenment, and know only Amida can bring you to the Pure Land and make you a Buddha, and you're depending on Him to do that, then it seems to me like you're listening deeply and hearing the teaching and responding to it.

If, as you continue on day by day, you find yourself having some sort of questions or doubts about your salvation, then you'll know because Amida will show them to you.  His light illuminates our darkness - and it is a loving, accepting light - not a harsh and judgmental light.

And if that happens to you (or any of us) then all we need to do is share our questions and doubts (once again) and allow others to help us to understand the Dharma better than we did before. 

Before Shinjin...we listen deeply.

After Shinjin...we listen deeply.

Truly that's all we can do.




Rick writes:

Hi Thomas,

There is great truth in the Theravada canon. It is the foundation of all schools of Buddhism which were to follow. If that weren't the case, then the great Mahayana Pure Land masters, Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu, would not have dedicated so many earlier years of study and comment on the so-called Pali Canon.

So you will find a lot in the Theravada canon that is true. It is in the Theravada that we find the nature of reality first powerfully defined by Shakyamuni Buddha. The descriptions of Nirvana (i.e. "nibbana"), the twelve-links of dependent causation, insights into emptiness and certain precious suttas like the Metta Sutta and Kalama Sutta, the latter which is so important about listening to the Buddha within, these are all great.

You will find that everything we teach here in this Yahoo! group is ultimately based upon the rock-solid foundation of the Theravada teachings, but of course it goes so much FURTHER, as we will discover was Shakyamuni's intention as His teaching evolved over the 45 years of his ministry while in His physical body on earth.

The difference that Paul and I are talking about, I believe, is the distinction between Theravada *study* and Theravada *practice.* The Theravada teachings as a *practice* were for Buddha Shakyamuni's immediate circle of monks and nuns, and as a *practice* brought many of His followers to enlightenment. The same goes for the followers of Shakyamuni for the first five hundred years or so following his parinirvana.

However, Shakyamuni knew that it would not be possible for Dharma practicers of the future ages to attain enlightenment by using the Theravada teachings, since the energy of His buddha-field waned over the centuries. We know this to be the three periods of Dharma, the Right Dharma Age (the first 500 years when Shakyamuni's buddha-field was still strong), the Semblance Dharma Age (when only a few could reach enlightenment through practicing self power Buddhism), and the Declining Dharma Age (which we're now in, the period in which all but the Pure Land teachings will bring one to Buddhahood through birth in Amida's Pure Land).

This is why the Buddha gave the Mahayana teachings, which opened the prospect of Buddhahood to ALL sentient beings, and finally, the great Larger Sutra on Amida Buddha, which He predicted would outlast ALL of the other of His teachings by a hundred years, way into the far distant future.

So Shakyamuni Buddha Himself considered His teachings on Amida Buddha and the Pure Land to be the HIGHEST and ESSENTIAL teaching for all future times, including the times in which we live now.

So when we talk about LISTENING DEEPLY as our *practice* we are specifically advocating listening to the Buddha within to discern which teachings are PROVISIONAL and which teachings are ESSENTIAL.

It was Master Shinran's teaching that the Pure Land Gate was the ESSENTIAL teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. He himself listened deeply to the Dharma from the very beginning of his Dharma practice as a Tendai monk. He practiced Tendai self-power Buddhism for 20 years in the most austere and severe conditions on Mount Hiei.

It was when he found himself to be completely incapable of overcoming his own blind passions that he left the monastery feeling himself to be a miserable Dharma-failure, and came down from Mount Hiei and sought out Master Honen, and with Master Honen as a good teacher he became a person of SHINJIN and the first great proponent of TRUE SHIN BUDDHISM which we are teaching here on this yahoo group.

So really there is nothing "wrong" with reading and studying the Theravada Canon as a part of Listening Deeply.

When I say I have lost interest in studying that body of Shakyamuni's teachings and commentaries I only mean that I find ultimate truth and meaning for ME as a bombu in the Mappo Age in the Pure Land teachings of Shakyamuni, as especially fully articulated by Master Shinran and Master Rennyo.

Thus I no longer NEED to go back into the Theravada teachings or earlier Mahayana teachings, because the Pure Land Gate TRANSCENDS all other Dharma teachings and gates by advocating complete reliance upon Amida Buddha's OTHER POWER as opposed to the self-power of all previous of Shakyamuni's teachings. After years of listening deeply, I have found the True Shin Buddhist teachings to satisfy ALL my needs, karmically, spiritually, emotionally, and existentially.

Of course, you can study anything you want! But there is no substitute for listening deeply to the Buddha within, which, through Amida Buddha's Other Power, will ultimately reveal the truth that truly leads to liberation, enlightenment, and eternal Buddhahood through Amida's Other Power. For some that revelation will come quickly, for some it will take many years, and for some it will take many lifetimes, but Amida Buddha will ultimately save ALL beings as expressed in his Great Vows.

If there is anything above that is unclear, please ask for clarification and I or Paul will do our best to answer any further questions.