The SHINRAN Manifesto: Concerning Amida Buddha #2

It is the position of many modern Shin Buddhists to deny the personhood of Amida Buddha.

I’ve said before, and say again, this is truly a lamentable divergence from the True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way that Shinran has provided us all.

We know from his writing that such divergences gave Shinran fits - because it made it impossible for the hearers of such distorted dharma to come to the same settled Shinjin (true entrusting) that would guarantee their birth in the Pure Land at the end of this life.

That’s exactly why I’m pointing out these differences for what they are - and challenging modern and post-modern Shin Buddhist clerics and teachers with the Shinran Manifesto: RETURN TO THE TRUE TEACHING OF SHINRAN, OUR TRUE TEACHER.

For example, here’s an excerpt from a tract written by a modern Shin Buddhist teacher that is now appearing on the websites of several Shin Buddhist temples:

From “What Is Amida Buddha?” by Nobuo Haneda

Amida is “a personal symbol.” In other words, Amida is “a fictional character” like Hamlet or Faust. Let me explain this definition by first discussing what Amida is not. Since “Amida” is a fictional character, he is (1) not a god (or a divine being) and (2) not a historical person.

First, Amida is not a god. Just as Hamlet symbolizes certain spiritual qualities of human beings and does not have any superhuman (or divine) meaning, “Amida” symbolizes certain spiritual qualities of human beings and does not have any superhuman (or divine) meaning.

Second, Amida is not a historical person. Just as Hamlet is a fictional character created by Shakespeare and is not a historical person, Amida is a fictional character created by ancient Indians and is not a historical person. Hamlet is supposed to be a prince of Denmark but we cannot find his name in the actual chronicle of Denmark. Similarly, there is no actual history of “Amida”; being a symbolic (fictional) figure, Amida never lived in a specific time and place.
Next, let us discuss what “Amida” is, what he symbolizes. We can say that “Amida” symbolizes two things: (1) Shakyamuni, a historical person, and (2) the Dharma or universal Buddhahood.

First, “Amida” symbolizes Shakyamuni, a historical person. Just as Strickland, the hero in Summerset Maugham’s novel The Moon and Sixpence, is a symbol of the painter Gauguin, a historical person, “Amida” can be considered a symbol of Shakyamuni, a historical person. We can say that “Amida” symbolizes the “humble and dynamic spirit” of Shakyamuni. As we have seen, Mahayanists created the concept of “Amida” in order to criticize the fossilized doctrines of Hinayanists and restore the vital spirit of Shakyamuni.

Second, “Amida” symbolizes the Dharma or universal Buddhahood. Mahayanists created the concept not only to express the vital spirit of Shakyamuni, but also to show the spiritual basis of Shakyamuni and all human beings. They wanted to show that just as Shakyamuni was awakened and liberated by the Dharma (or universal Buddhahood), all human beings are awakened and liberated by it.

So Nobuo Haneda - a sincere person, no doubt - has an opinion that Amida Buddha is a FICTIVE character. Like Hamlet, like Santa Claus, like Peanuts’ Charlie Brown, and like Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin.

The honest question that must be asked is: How does Haneda’s opinion - however sincere - line up with Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching, and Shinran’s teaching?

Why do I insist that this is the HONEST question that must be asked? Because the fundamental premise behind every post in this blog is that Shakyamuni and Shinran are the plumbline for learning and teaching Shin Buddhism.

Others may have other opinions, and assert them vigorously. I can’t “prove” that such opinions are wrong. But I can easily prove that they are not Shinran’s view - but rather lamentable divergences from his views. Such divergences as this are NOT the plain teaching of Shakyamuni and Shinran for plain people in this age of dharma decline.

I’ve said before, and say again: from Shinran’s perspective it’s CRITICAL to stay plugged in to his original content - and to identify divergences - and to reject them. Why was Shinran so adamant about that? Because he believed that for someone in his position - of being hopelessly enmeshed in his own blind passion, that there was no other way but to listen to the True Teaching about Amida Buddha, and then entrust himself completely, 100%, without reservation to Amida Buddha - his person, his promise, his work.

From Shinran’s perspective Amida’s promise - which we call his Primal Vow - is something he made because of his great compassion for us. Trying to say Amida Buddha is a fictive character - a personal symbol - is completely contrary to what Shinran says.

Both Shinran and Shakyamuni insist that Amida Buddha is an entirely separate Buddha from Shakyamuni, just as I explained HERE.

I’ll provide passages to illustrate Shinran’s clear and unambiguous views concerning the personhood of Amida Buddha, in my next blog post. Stay tuned.

Namu-Amida-Butsu. Thank you, Amida Buddha - for providing me a way to end my suffering and become a Buddha at last, at the end of this lifetime.

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