How to listen like Shinran - and how NOT to

Shinran Shonin, whose distinct karma is was to be THE Dharma Master for this singular “path of the foolish”, was all about coming to a state of deep receptivity to Amida’s call - a receptivity that opens the door to the mystery of SHINJIN.

Let’s listen deeply to his words - together:

My fervent wish is this: Whether monk or lay person, when on board the ship of the great compassionate Vow, let pure shinjin be the favorable wind, and in the dark night of ignorance, let the jewel of virtue be a great torch.

Those whose minds are dark and whose understanding deficient, endeavor in this way with reverence! Those whose evils are heavy and whose karmic obstructions manifold, deeply revere this shinjin!

“Deeply revere this shinjin”, Master Shinran says. This means, seek to be a person of the SAME shinjin - the SAME true entrusting - as Master Shinran himself.

In order to do that, you need to be willing to be led by Amida Buddha himself - on a journey which may be more difficult than any you have ever taken - the journey to simple ignorance.

This house of thoughts and ideas, of beliefs and opinions, that you have built for your whole life, and for countless lives before, is a house of straw. It is the house of your own devising, your own learning, your own decision about what is and isn’t true - about what is and isn’t possible - about what is and isn’t real.

That house cannot stand. Already it is crumbling around you at the very foundations.

Or perhaps it has crumbled already, and you are experiencing the loss of all of your psychic furniture - all of your certainty about what is and is not doable in terms of bringing yourself to the end of suffering at last.

Many who call themselves Buddhists - even many who call themselves SHIN Buddhists - are living in such a house of straw. This is true today, and was true in Master Shinran’s day as well. Simply read his many letters, and you can see for yourself how quick people were to change, amend, dilute and adulterate his teaching - and how forcefully and passionately he responded to such workings - working that he ascribed to Mara the Deceiver of us all.

The three great pillars who have defined the True Pure Land Way, first Shinran’s teacher Honen, then Shinran the great Dharma Master himself, and finally Rennyo, the restorer of the moribund Shin Sangha, all explained - as if with one voice - how to listen - and how NOT to listen - to Shakyamuni Buddha and the great Pure Land Sages. Their clear and unambiguous intent was to teach us - who are lost in ignorance and delusions - how to listen with deep REVERENCE so as to become people of the same SHINJIN.

Listen again:

My fervent wish is this: Whether monk or lay person, when on board the ship of the great compassionate Vow, let pure shinjin be the favorable wind, and in the dark night of ignorance, let the jewel of virtue be a great torch.

Those whose minds are dark and whose understanding deficient, endeavor in this way with reverence! Those whose evils are heavy and whose karmic obstructions manifold, deeply revere this shinjin!

Honen, Shinran and Rennyo all taught us how to listen with deep reverence - even though our karmic obstructions are manifold. Hear them with me now. Here is Shinran’s teacher Honen, writing just before his death:

Dharma Master Honen

However well versed in the lifetime teachings of the Buddha, those who accept the Nembutsu in faith should consider themselves as illiterate, stupid persons.

Without pretensions to wisdom, they should single-heartedly recite the Nembutsu with ordinary devotees of Buddhism of little learning, whether men or women.

Many Buddhists, and in particular many who call themselves SHIN Buddhists, are singularly unwilling to consider themselves illiterate, stupid persons. That, indeed, is their fatal grasping - the grasping of intellectual pride - that keeps them from becoming people of the same SHINJIN as Shinran.

An example: a Shin Buddhist scholar, upon reading the SHIN UGLY blog, asked me, “Is it necessary to be a KNOW-NOTHING to be a person of SHINJIN?”

Dharma Master Honen’s answer - and my answer too - is YES. The fact is, even the most learned of Shin Buddhist scholars IS a know-nothing.

More than that: only a know-nothing who is willing to admit he IS a know nothing can truly be a scholar expressing Shinran’s True Teaching. One of the marks you can see that tells you he (or she) is a TRUE teachers and not a FALSE teacher is that as a true teacher he admits his karmic ignorance - freely and with the same great gratitude that I admit it. As a TRUE teacher, he shows that gratitude as Shinran instructs ALL of his students to show it: by transmitting Shinran’s dharma as accurately as possible, NOT his (or her) own personal opinions.

(I speak often about Eiken Kobai as such a scholar. If you haven’t yet gotten his books, please do. They are now available in an easy to read format on their own website,, for the benefit of anyone who wants to hear the True Teaching spoken with unmatched clarity and precision.)

The journey to simple ignorance is long and slow - and takes many, many lifetimes in which the ego rises, and is crushed - and rises again, and is crushed again. It takes a LONG TIME to say “I really am a know-nothing, and my personal opinions about the pristine dharma really are worthless”.

But finally it is done. A being comes to exhaustion after endless lifetimes of delusion and suffering. A being wants to be free at last, and knows he cannot create his own freedom. And so finally, a being opens his hands entirely - grasping no more his precious and precocious opinions, when it comes to matters about which Shakyamuni Buddha has spoken.

Finally, that being is ready to LISTEN DEEPLY…to Shinran and to the final discourse of Buddha Shakyamuni that Shinran points us all to.

Like his master Honen, Shinran too instructs how to listen - and how NOT to listen - to the dharma with the single-minded deep reverence that leads to the jewel of SHINJIN. Let’s listen to him together:

Dharma Master Shinran

You ask about “being grasped never to be abandoned.”

Shan-tao’s Hymns [on the Samadhi] of All Buddhas’ Presence states that Shakyamuni and Amida are our parents of great compassion. Using many and various compassionate means, they awaken the supreme SHINJIN (true entrusting) in us.

Thus the settling of true shinjin is the working of Shakyamuni and Amida. Persons become free of doubt about their birth because they have been grasped.

Once grasped, there should be no calculation at all. Since they dwell in the stage of non-retrogression until being born in the Pure Land, they are said to be in the stage of the truly settled.

Since true shinjin is awakened through the working of the two honored ones, Shakyamuni and Amida, it is when one is grasped that the settling of shinjin occurs. Thereafter the person abides in the stage of the truly settled until born into the Pure Land.

Other Power means above all that there must not be the slightest calculation on our part.

Could there be anything more clear, more definitive, more free of ambiguity than those statements by Master Shinran? Is there anyone who might read them, and be unable to see how he was of the same mind as his own master Honen about how to listen - and how NOT to listen - to the True Teaching?

And yet the foolishness of men - driven by their blind passions, their desire to re-calculate the calculus of Amida and Shakyamuni, the two honored ones, has persisted even since the first days of Shinran’s own awakening to SHINJIN…right up until today.

Listen again, as Shinran’s student Yuien recounts Shinran’s story about this very foolishness, when he was a young man of about 30 - first encountering the dharma as a reverent student - who listened deeply to his TRUE teacher Honen:

…in Master Honen’s day, among his many disciples there were few who were of the same shinjin as Honen, and because of this, Shinran became involved in a debate with some fellow practicers. It happened in this way.

Shinran remarked, "My shinjin and the Master’s are one.”

Seikan-bo, Nembutsu-bo, and others among his fellow practicers strongly argued, “How can your shinjin and be the same as the Master’s?”

Shinran responded, “The Master possesses vast wisdom and learning, so I would be mistaken if I claimed to be the same in those respects, but in shinjin that is the cause of birth, there is no difference whatever. The Master’s shinjin and mine are one and the same.”

The others remained skeptical, however, asking how that could be. So finally they all decided that the argument should be brought before Honen to determine which side was right.

When they presented the details of the matter, 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.

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

This is the whole point of the SHIN UGLY blog, and of Professor Kobai’s books, and Rev George Gatenby’s Notes On the Nembutsu: to encourage, goad and yes, PROVOKE others to sift out the TRUE teaching from the false - to reflect on what our dharma Masters have shared, and to listen honestly, reverently, and deeply to what is being offered.

You who are reading have been brought - after countless lifetimes of darkness - to a life where you have actually heard the words BUDDHA, SANGHA, DHARMA - and even beyond that, the words NAMU AMIDA BUTSU. You have been caused - if you are reading these words - to have heard the word SHINJIN.

But hearing is not enough. These other students of Honen heard the very same words - the same words Shinran heard. But they didn’t hear IN THE WAY Shinran heard.

  • They didn’t listen DEEPLY.
  • They didn’t complete the long journey to simple ignorance
  • They didn’t receive Honen’s words with no egoic obstruction - no intellectual hubris - no calculation whatsoever.
  • They didn’t receive the Teaching, as Honen instructs us to, as ignorant people would - with an opened heart and an opened mind.

I’m saying the same thing over and over again, I know. I am doing it only because it must be said, and said, and said again. That’s why the Dharma Masters did, and that’s why it must be repeated today. As bonbu - foolish beings - our delusions and obscurations make us impossibly thick-headed, stubborn and obstinate. It makes dharma transmission of SHINJIN “the most difficult of all difficulties”, as Shinran puts it.

Dharma Master Rennyo

Now let’s move onto Dharma Master Rennyo - known as “Rennyo the Restorer” because he brought the Shin sangha back from the brink of dharma death as the 8th Abbot. What did he do, and how did he do it?

It was simple - SO simple.

Rennyo the Great Restorer concentrated on SHIN UGLY - the simple core teaching of Shinran and Shakyamuni. He went back to the plumbline of these two primal teachers of the True Teaching of the Pure Land Way. He repeated the same simple dharma 101 discourse over and over again until FINALLY people began to really LISTEN DEEPLY - with all of their heart - and with none of the intellectual objections that BONBU egotism throws up.

Master Rennyo knew then - and we need to know NOW - that this was ALL that was necessary to restore the dying sangha. If only he would share the SHIN UGLY truth - Shin Buddhism 101 - with no hedging, and no apology - Amida Buddha himself would use his clear words as the vehicle of transmission - and that untold numbers of people would come to the same SHINJIN as Rennyo…the same SHINJIN as Shinran.

Let’s listen DEEPLY to Master Rennyo together:

All sentient beings of this Closing Third Era (the Age of Dharma Decline) must attain Faith in the Other-Power and desire rebirth in the Pure Land.

To attain this Faith, no special needs exist for intellect or genius, wealth or poverty, or virtuous “do-gooders,” male or female.

The prime objective is only to abandon all other practices and to place reliance on the True Way. Placing reliance on the True Way means the simple placement of reliance on Amida Tathágata with a singleness of heart.

Sentient beings who place reliance in this manner are enveloped without fail in Amida’s Infinite Light and are never to be discarded.

Simple in receiving - and imposing no stringent requirements - is that singular Faith which assures rebirth in the Pure Land at the very instant of its arousal.

Is it not clear - crystal clear - that the three great Dharma Masters Honen, Shinran and Rennyo are all in one accord about how to listen - and how NOT to listen? They speak this way - and I repeat what they say - for one reason. They want to encourage, cajole and yes, PROVOKE their hearers to listen DEEPLY - to listen with REVERENCE - to listen with open hands, open hearts and open minds.

Why? Because as Shinran has told us above - such DEEP LISTENING is the vehicle that Amida Buddha uses to lead us to HIS shinjin.

Those whose minds are dark and whose understanding deficient, endeavor in this way with reverence! Those whose evils are heavy and whose karmic obstructions manifold, deeply revere this shinjin!

Dharma Masters vs Divergent Teachers

And now, I want to give you an example of how NOT to listen - because a part of what is so necessary is an opportunity to “compare and contrast” - in order that we may each reflect deeply an listen to the dharma as our Dharma Masters have told us to listen, and NOT as others tell us to listen.

Here is one Shin Buddhist scholar who is not a person of the same SHINJIN as Shinran quoting another, also not of the same SHINJIN. How do I know? Because they have CONTRARY views - DIVERGENT views - WRONG views based on their own worthless personal opinons - despite Yuien’s unambiguous instruction in the Tannisho that there be NO divergences based on personal views.

Truly the words of these FALSE dharma teachers are nothing more than a delusional game of BONBU “telephone”, such as children play when a garbled message is passed from one’s child’s mouth to another’s ear. In children, it is delightful. In Shin Buddhist scholars, it is utter destruction.

Karmic destinies really and truly ARE at stake. This is not time for children’s games - and no time for intellectual hubris either:

The Shinshu scholar Soga Ryojin suggested with penetrating insight that Hozo (Bodhisasttva Dharmakara) is therefore a mythic personification of the Alaya-vijnana, or Great Storehouse Consciousness, mentioned earlier when discussing the Vijnanavada, or Yogacara, school; and that as a result of Hozo’s aeons of discipline this was converted into the Amala-vijnana at the Enlightenment of Amida Buddha.

The myths presented in the Mahayana sutras are so hyperbolical in their imaginative scope that only the most naive could believe in them literally, and it is obvious that they were never intended to be taken au pied de la letter.

And so, unlike those myths which assume a quasi-historical form, such hyperboles erect a safeguard against fundamentalism, for the mind, while fascinated, is compelled to seek their inner significance and to discover the mysterious meaning behind their symbols, while it is moved to awe and wonder by the astronomical immensities of their imagery.

It is stunning, even shocking, how men of such deep scholarship can be so fully deluded - so utterly divergent - from the men they call their own Dharma Masters.

In this example, I picked on Harold Stewart - certainly a brighter intellect than I could ever hope to be. But his dharma teaching is so tragically off the mark, when lined up against the plumbline of Shakyamuni and Shinran, and Honen and Rennyo too.

Where Honen, Shinran and Rennyo - speaking in their karmic roles as DHARMA MASTERS - tell us that open minded ignorance is the RIGHT VIEW if we are to listen deeply - Harold Stewart, and Soga Ryojin (who Stewart refers to), and countless other modernist clerics and scholars say that Shinran is WRONG.

My plainspoken advice to ANYONE reading is this: Do not listen to a word they say. They simply are NOT people of the same SHINJIN as Shinran - and therefore they will only confuse you with their intellectual self-powered ruminations - and distract you from listening to Shinran and Shakyamuni with reverence - as we have been so thoroughly instructed to do.

To shake entirely the cobwebs of modernist delusion from your thinking - if indeed you are living inside that matrix of thought - I want to close with some other passages of Shinran and others - words for you to contemplate deeply and with reverence - if you are so inclined:

Yuien writes in the Tannisho (Lamenting Divergences):

You must under no circumstances misread the sacred writings.

I have selected several important authoritative passages and appended them to this volume as a standard.

The Master (Shinran) would often say,

When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought , I realize that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone! Then how I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma.

(Paul’s note: See how Shinran states clearly his belief that Dharmakara’s was a True Bodhisattva - not a mythic figure - who took five kalpas to develop his inconceivable Dharma plan to effect your salvation, and mine!)

Reflecting once more on this expression of Shinran’s inmost thoughts, I find that it does not differ in the least from those precious words of Shan-tao:

Know yourself to be a foolish being of karmic evil caught in birth-and-death, ever sinking and ever wandering in transmigration from innumerable kalpas in the past, with never a condition that would lead to emancipation.

Thus how grateful I feel for Shinran’s words, in which he gives himself as an example in order to make us realize we are in delusion knowing nothing at all of the depths of our karmic evil or the vastness of Amida’s benevolence.

I invite you to listen deeply to Dharma Master Shinran ONE MORE TIME - as he writes:

Ah, hard to encounter, even in many lifetimes, is the decisive cause of birth, Amida’s universal Vow; and hard to realize, even in myriads of kalpas, is pure shinjin that is true and real. If you should come to realize shinjin, rejoice at the conditions from the distant past that have brought it about.

But if in this lifetime still you are entangled in a net of doubt, then unavoidably you must pass once more in the stream of birth-and-death through myriads of kalpas and countless lives.

Hear and reflect on the truth that one is grasped, never to be abandoned - the teaching of attaining birth in the Pure Land with transcendent quickness and ease; and let there be no wavering or apprehension.

How joyous I am, realizing as I humbly reflect that my heart and mind stand rooted in the Buddha-ground of the universal Vow, and that my thoughts and feelings flow within the dharma-ocean, which is beyond comprehension.

Filled with praise for what I have heard and joy in what I have attained, I gather words expressing the truth and select passages from the commentaries of the masters. In this, I am mindful solely of the unexcelled honored ones, and in particular seek thus to respond to the immense benevolence they have shown me.

Listen Like a True BONBU

To you who are reading, I say this: Death awaits. Its hour is uncertain. It is time - and past time - to open your hand, open your heart and open your mind to the True Teaching of Shinran, our True Teacher.

It is time - and past time - to end your journey from one egotistic bonbu life to another - one life filled with your own ideas and opinions to another - one life filled with delusion and obscuration to another - to one life of suffering to another, and another, and another..

It is time - and past time - to embrace the reality of simple ignorance - the truth of your life, and of mine.

Join me - and countless others - in the “KNOW NOTHING” brigade - the BONBU brigade - the group of people who simply listen to the Dharma as it has been given.

Join me - and countless others - including Dharma Master Shinran himself - who have abandoned once and for all myriad FALSE teachings and FALSE teachers, and embraced at last the singular TRUE teaching and those who teach it truly.

Diamond-like SHINJIN….adamantine SHINJIN…inconceivable SHINJIN…awaits. And that is but a prelude to the beginning of a life that is real and true - the life of a Buddha no longer bound by delusion and obscuration - no longer a slave to blind passions - no longer limited in the infinite ways in which you and I remain limited.

All you need to do is THIS: Drop the pretense, drop the intellectual arrogance, drop the appearance of wisdom.


Will you do that?

Or will you miss this karmic opportunity - and as Master Shinran explains - endure countess lifetimes of painful rebirth as you transmigrate through the six realms - before another such opportunity manifests itself in your life?

It is all summed up in gratitude, joy and certainty. In NamuAmidaButsu.


I take refuge - with countless others - as a simple and unlearned man who brings only ignorance to the mystery concerning the greatest of all the Buddhas - in Amida’s Person and his Work as Dharmakara Bodhisattva.


I take refuge - with countless others - in the Dharma - in the True Teaching of the Pure Land Way that has led me to entrust myself and my salvation entirely to Amida Buddha.


I take refuge - with countless others - in the true Sangha of those who are True Students and True Teachers - who do not distort the dharma either for fame or profit or self-aggrandizement - or any other kind of personal reason or personal gain.


Paul R

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