Rev. Al Bloom asks: “Is It Necessary to be a Know Nothing?”

Rev. Al Bloom (of Shin Dharma Net): Your discussion sounds much like that of scholars and clerics. Why make a contrast between scholars and clerics who are trying to understand their faith and relating to the world they live in.

Is it necessary to be a know-nothing to have SHINJIN (true entrusting)?


Hi Al -

Thanks for your comment and questions.

Of course it’s not necessary to be a “know-nothing”.

What IS necessary is to hew to the plumbline of Shakyamuni and Shinran - and NOT to diverge from it.

How do I know? Because Shinran - my teacher - tells me that in clear and unambiguous language.

Shinran’s student Yuien makes Shinran’s concern known in the Tannisho - Lamenting Divergences.

Yuien writes:

For how is entrance into the single gate of easy practice possible unless we happily come to rely on a true teacher whom conditions bring us to encounter?

Let there be not the slightest distortion of the teaching of Other Power with words of an understanding based on personal views.

Here, then, I set down in small part the words spoken by the late Shinran Shonin that remain deep in my mind, solely to disperse the doubts of fellow practicers.

At the end of the same document Yuien quotes Shinran’s recounting of his teacher Honen’s words:

Master Honen said, “My SHINJIN has been given by Amida; so has that of Zenshin-bo [Shinran]. Therefore they are one and the same.

A person with a different SHINJIN will surely not go to the Pure Land to which I will go.”

With great sorrow, Yuien goes on to say the following:

Thus, it seems likely that among people of the wholehearted, single practice now also, there are those not one in SHINJIN with Shinran.

Although all of the above are repetitions of the same words, I record them here. While the dew of life life barely clings to this withered leaf of grass that I am, I can lend an ear to the uncertainties of the people who accompany me along the way and relate to them what Master Shinran said.

But I lament that after my eyes close, there will almost certainly be confusion concerning the teaching.

Yuien concludes with the exact idea that I am espousing, concerning using Shinran and Shakyamuni (and those earlier masters Shinran quotes) as the PLUMBLINE to discern whether teachers and teachings that CLAIM to be Shin Buddhism are TRUE - or FALSE:

When you are confused by people who discuss such views as those noted above, carefully read the sacred writings that accord with the late Master’s thought and that he himself used to read.

That is why I say - once again - that while it’s not necessary to be a “know-nothing”, it IS necessary is to hew to the PLUMBLINE of Shakyamuni and Shinran - and NOT to diverge from it.

That goes for laypeople - and doubly so for Shin Buddhist clerics and scholars.

Why do I say DOUBLY SO? For two reasons:

  • First, because clerics and scholars are PAID to represent Shinran - and they have a bully pulpit from which they preach and teach.
  • Second (and more importantly) because of their leadership positions in the Shin Buddhist community they influence MANY who lack either the capacity or the confidence to directly measure their teachers’ words against Shakyamuni’s and Shinran’s as Yuien suggests we do.

Whether I have the capacity is a judgment others must make for themselves. I certainly do have the confidence based on my own background to do the constructive - and often deconstructive - critique that Yuien suggests we do.

Speaking honestly, as a fairly well educated 21st century man with a background of study and praxis across multiple disciplines of metaphysics and psychology - I have no trouble doing what you ask about, Al: I can be faithful to the TRUE teaching while understanding and relating my faith to the world I live in.

It’s not hard at all, really. Why? Because I don’t try to cram the ocean of Amida’s Compassionate Dharma Teaching into the teacup of my own intellectual capacity - as too many Shin clerics and scholars clearly do.

Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow - and his work to create a unique world system that we call the Pure Land to fulfill that vow - doesn’t fit into the current faddish boxes of post-modernism, deconstructive textual based criticism, process theology - any more than it fits into watered down, new age mysticism.

Of course it doesn’t fit. Amida is a TRUE BUDDHA - and all the clerics and scholars with their divergent ideas and opinions are NOT. We might as well try to pour the ocean into a teacup.

ALL the current fads in philosophy, theology and fuzzy new age metaphysics will be gone and forgotten in a hundred years. The True Teaching of Shinran about the Infinite Compassion of Amida Buddha will remain - same as it ever was - carrying countless foolish beings in untold numbers of samsaric worlds - beings like us - across the ocean of birth and death to the far shore of full awakening.

For this reason I choose to speak plainly, even BLUNTLY, about what I see as a MAJOR problem:

As a westerner not raised in Buddhism - who has found salvation in the present and looks forward to Buddhahood at the end of this life because of the TRUE teachings of Jodo Shinshu - I DEEPLY lament the divergences from Shinran’s teaching that plague the Shin Buddhist community today.

I discuss my honest opinions about true versus false teachers and teachings HERE.

I also discuss a specific example of how a patently FALSE teaching is spreading like a MEME virus in the Shin Buddhist community right now HERE.

I will discuss ADDITIONAL examples of false teachings - as well as true teachings - in the Shin Ugly blog over time. Why? Because I want sincere seekers to KNOW the difference between the True Teaching and other teaching. Once they do, what each and all choose to believe is entirely up to them.

Why am I doing all this? Because one of the several purposes of the Shin Ugly blog is to RAISE these issues in the broader Shin Buddhist community- so they can be discussed openly by laypeople as well as clerics and scholars.

I raise these issues knowing that sounding a clarion call to return to Shinran’s plain teaching for plain people - what I call SHIN UGLY - will be unpopular with many. I also know that call will be received with gratitude by many more.

I say this, Al, knowing that it’s not my business to change the minds of those who think it stupid and ignorant to “return to Shinran’s plain teaching”. Changing foolish hearts and minds is entirely Amida’s business - not mine.

I also know that such knee-jerk reactivity means NOTHING in the long arc of countless lives of ignorance - endless rounds of rebirth and suffering and death. In that long arc, Shinran’s True Teaching means EVERYTHING.

I know my business: to leave my daughter - and whoever else wants it - a legacy of Buddha’s Truth to help her understand when she begins to hear Amida’s call, just as her sister did.

To do that takes honesty, openness, and most of all, WILLINGNESS - more than an advanced degree or a ministerial ordination.

Once again, I’m not against clerics or scholars: A Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies CAN be profoundly helpful to the community, when the knowledge and training is used in service of teaching Shinran’s truth as he intended - and distinguishing true teaching from false.

But such acquisition of knowledge is a double-edged sword: when it creates the arrogance of self-powered thinking - of some new kind of post-modern metaphysical calculus - it is profoundly HARMFUL to the Shin Buddhist community.

Why? Because such caculated self-powered thinking leads people AWAY from Shinran’s True Teaching - and thereby closes the gate of SHINJIN - of true entrusting - that lies open before us.

That was Shinran’s GREAT CONCERN in his day- and Yuien’s lament in his day, and Rennyo’s reason for writing letters in his.

And it’s my concern, and my lament, the my own reason for writing the Shin Ugly Blog, as well.

Best regards,

Paul R

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