MYTHOS or REALITY? Ask Amida Buddha to Show You

My dharma friend Jason continues to dialogue with me about the True Teaching of Shinran. Here’s part of my response to his questions and comments on this whole MYTHOS question - which troubles and confuses the Shin Sangha so deeply in our day.

I’m glad I am communicating clearly. I’ve spent a lot of time making myself clear - and answering honest questions (like yours) about why I assert that the MYTHOS position is divergent from Shinran’s teaching.

And I don’t mind repeating myself, friend. In fact, repetition is a key tool for authentic dharma transmission of SHINJIN. As someone speaks the True Teaching, and someone else listens deeply, this is the process that Amida Buddha uses to remove delusions and obscurations.

My own experience, both as a hearer and a speaker, is that it takes more than one discourse. Why? Because as bonbus - REAL bonbus - we are ignorant of our ignorance - deluded about our delusions. We don’t even know what we don’t even know.

It’s ok with me that you felt exasperated. Exasperation happens to all of us, including Shinran. I’m guessing you haven’t read his letters yet. When you do, you’ll see that what exasperated him was the kind of thing the modernist Shin scholars are doing - changing his simple dharma to suit their own tastes and purposes.

Speaking bluntly, it was the one thing that REALLY ticked Shinran off. As an old man, he actually disowned his own son Zenran for misrepresenting him and his teaching. It was a moment of deep anguish and sorrow. His letter on this is so on point to the discussion that I want to print it in its entirety:

I have heard in detail what you have been saying. It is above all incomprehensible that someone called Aimin-bo has been saying that he has received a letter from [me in] Kyoto. To say that he has gotten a letter from me, although I have never met such a person, never received a letter from him, and never communicated with him, is appalling.

Further, I have never heard and do not know such statements concerning the teaching as you are making or even the terminology you use. Nevertheless, you have been telling others that I taught them to you privately one night, and so, concerning me also, the people of Hitachi and Shimotsuke are all saying that I have lied to them. Therefore, there shall no longer exist parental relations with you.

Further, it is inexpressibly shocking that you are making groundless accusations about your mother, the lay-nun. The woman of Mibu came bringing a letter that she said she received from you; she left the letter here. I have this letter of yours. In this letter as it stands, it is written that you have been deceived by your “stepmother”; it is indeed deplorable. It is a shocking falsehood to say, while she is still alive, that your mother - whom you call “stepmother” - has been deceiving you.

Further, in the letter to the woman of Mibu you make statements about your birth without knowing anything about it; these are utterly incomprehensible falsehoods. I lament this deplorable matter.

It is distressing that you have spoken such lies and that you have petitioned the Rokuhara and Kamakura magistrates concerning them. Falsehoods of this kind are worldly matters and thus may be dismissed as such. Even so, telling lies is wretched, and how much more grievous is it to mislead others regarding the great concern of birth in the land of bliss, casting the people of the nembutsu in Hitachi and Shimotsuke into confusion, and to make groundless accusations about your father.

I have heard that you likened the Eighteenth Primal Vow to a withered flower, so that all the people have abandoned it. This is truly the offense of slandering the dharma. Further, to favor the five grave offenses and to harm people by misleading them is lamentable.

The offense here of disrupting the sangha is one of the five grave offenses. To make groundless accusations about me is to murder your father; it is among the five grave offenses. I cannot fully express my grief at hearing these things. Hence, from now on there shall no longer exist parental relations with you; I cease to consider you my son. I declare this resolutely to the three treasures and the gods. It is a sorrowful thing. It rends my heart to hear that you have devoted yourself to misleading all the people of the nembutsu in Hitachi, saying that [what they have been taught] is not my true teaching. Rumors have reached as far as Kamakura that I have instructed you to denounce the people in Hitachi who say the nembutsu. It is deeply deplorable.

Accurate teaching - without divergence - was non-trivial to Shinran. It’s non-trivial to me as well.

The fact that you have such a hard time articulating - and therefore borrow words from modernist Shin scholars because you don’t have any cogent words of your own - even though you are educated - is a sure sign that something is very wrong with what you are absorbing as Dharma. It is the clearest possible sign that you have swallowed what I call “second story Shin” - the modernist version of shin buddhist teaching that has lost its grounding in the simple left-brained truth that Shinran (and others) preached and taught.

The True Teaching was delivered to peasants and illiterates for many many years - by Shinran, and by Rennyo, and by their sincere followers. The left-brained content was necessarily SIMPLE. It did not require an advanced education - either in the Japanese classical arts or the Buddhadharma - for people to grasp it thoroughly and come to settled SHINJIN.

The True Teaching is NOT something for the intellectual elite. It is something for the common man and woman. It is something for the illiterate. It is something that is so simple to understand that anyone can understand it - and repeat it to someone else.

You don’t know that because you’ve been filling your head with modernist Shin Buddhist teachers - rather than Shakyamuni and Shinran, who are the plumbline for ALL teachers and ALL teaching. Therefore you’re looking for the kind of feeling you get when you read their work - because it feels familiar and comfortable, because of your KARMA as an educated westerner - even though you can’t actually articulate very well what it is that they say.

You can’t articulate it very well because it is gobbledygook - rather than the True Teaching of Shinran.

Perhaps our dialogue will provoke you to really grapple with the left-brained CONTENT of the Larger Sutra - and (by extension) the True Teaching of Shinran.

Perhaps it will get you to sit down quietly - put aside all those modernist voices - and read the Sutra - and listen deeply.

Perhaps it will get you to reflect on whether or not Shakyamuni really sat with Ananda and the thousands of others on Vulture Peak - or not. Ask Amida Buddha to show you: Is that account MYTHOS? Or REALITY?

Perhaps it will get you to reflect on whether or not Shakyamuni’s face glowed that day in a way it never had before - or not. Ask Amida Buddha to show you: MYTHOS? Or REALITY?

Perhaps it will get you to reflect on whether Ananda really asked that initial question of Shakyamuni - or not. Ask Amida Buddha to show you: MYTHOS? Or REALITY?

And perhaps, as you listen to Shakyamuni’s answer to Ananda, it will get you to reflect on whether or not his answer was MYTHOS talk or REAL talk. Ask Amida Buddha to show you - head bowed, humbly, as a true disciple being taught by a Buddha - and he will.

As you do this kind of reflection - I invite you to look at your own mindstream. Watch how - even though you are a bonbu -hopelessly enmeshed in more delusions and obscurations than you can possibly see - you feel a compulsion to overlay YOUR matrix of mythos on this singular text you are reading.

Observe how this is your SELF - your own self-power - actually doing this overlaying - below the level of your own awareness.

And I invite you to consider that the ONLY reason you are attached to overlaying your MYTHOS perspective on Shakyamuni’s discourse - even though you are only a bonbu and he is speaking as a true Buddha - is because of your KARMA.

It has been your karma to be a (more or less) educated person, raised to be comfortable with a certain set of underlying memetic matrices: post-modernism, mythos, process theology etc - rather than the memetic matrix of an uneducated truck driver who is grounded in the meat and potatoes of everyday life.

Right now your karma is working AGAINST your liberation - not in support of it. The grip of your egotism - your self-power - is very strong here, friend.

I know what that grip is - because I too am more or less educated.

Honen - Shinran’s teacher - and one of the seven Pure Land Masters, made a remarkable statement. Here was a man who was PROFOUNDLY educated - had read the entire canon three times through (or was it five?). And yet, right before his death, he said this:

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.

I call that “truck driver dharma”. Or, if you want to go medieval, “village idiot dharma”.

Regardless of what we call it, Honen’s words - repeated by Shinran and Rennyo - are clear as can be: We just have to leave our intellectual elitism behind if we are to listen deeply.

All that Second Story Shin stuff that these modernists propagate keep people from doing just that. So instead, sincere seekers don’t have an adequate answer - FOR THEMSELVES - about what they believe - and why.

If and when a TSUNAMI OF SUFFERING comes, they are left with very little -and perhaps nothing. Second story Shin, without the grounding of the first story - Shin 101 (or SHIN UGLY as I call it) is useless - and worse than useless.

I’m glad you’re finally digging into Eiken Kobai’s books. As you read Kobai, you will hear, over and over again, Shin 101. You will hear Shinran’s perspective - with neither divergence nor deviation. And as you move from Kobai to Shinran and Shakyamuni, leaving (at least temporarily) your egocentric need to re-cast their words into YOUR terms - you will begin to get grounded in how THEY think rather than how YOU think.

I’m speaking bluntly friend. Not harshly - not judgmentally - but bluntly. If you’re a bonbu, and you KNOW it - then be a bonbu! Let go of your self-power praxis - even though there are others who would feed it. Let go of your interpretive compulsion - even though there are interpretations galore that have distracted and confused the Sangha even during the time of Shinran, and ever since. If you deeply aspire to Buddhahood, then listen to the Master on the Master’s terms - not yours.

In closing, I offer you (and everyone) this invitation: You too can join Shinran, Rennyo, Eiken Kobai, George Gatenby and countless others of the same SHINJIN - who say the same TRUE NEMBUTSU:

  • the True Nembutsu of gratitude
  • the True Nembutsu of certainty
  • the True Nembutsu of knowing that we are grasped, never to be abandoned
  • the True Nembutsu of being sure of our complete and final liberation from suffering
  • the True Nembutsu of knowing that our birth after this lifetime in the Pure Land is assured
  • the True Nembutsu of knowing that we will come at last to True Buddhahood once we are there

ALL OF IT due entirely to the REAL (not mythic) Person and REAL (not mythic) work of the REAL (not mythic) Amida Buddha.

That is why, for those of us who are hopeless bonbus, “Only Nembutsu is REAL“. So said Master Shinran, so I have come to believe, because of Amida Buddha’s REAL working in my bonbu life.


Paul R.

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