The Vast Gulf between True and False Teaching

There is a vast gulf between the true teaching of a true teacher, and the divergent teaching being offered to many westerners today in the name of Shinran.

One of the core reasons I write the Shin Ugly Blog is to make people who are interested in the True Pure Land Way of Dharma Master Shinran MORE aware of just how vast that gulf really is.

Why? Because the only practice in Shin Buddhism is to listen deeply - with the left brain for logical content, and with the right brain for deep feeling - to the teaching of a TRUE teacher.

The speaking and the hearing of True Teaching is Amida Buddha’s designated vehicle for the dharma transmission that leads to SHINJIN - the true entrusting that seals each and every one for birth in the Pure Land, and the end of suffering at last, at the end of this life.

Because there is simply no other way to exit the endless rounds of birth and death, with lives of suffering one after the other, true and honest transmission of Dharma Master Shinran’s teaching is CRITICAL in this age of Dharma Decline.

Shinran made this SINGULAR point for 60 years - beginning with his first days as a student of Dharma Master Honen. True teachers of the same true teaching make the very same point today.

That people who are seriously seeking the end of suffering may understand, I do my best to present the same on this blog. Part of how I do that is by presenting a “compare and contrast” between those who are accurate teachers of Shinran’s teaching - and those who teach radically different ideas - even though they call themselves students and teachers of Shin Buddhism, too.

People can teach whatever they wish - but let them simply be honest, and not distort the teaching of Shinran, or call their divergent teaching Shinran’s teaching. It’s too important - from Shinran’s perspective, and not just mine - to allow such confusion to go undetected, and unanswered.

For those who have left Shinran behind and are now teaching something else - that is, of course, their right. I don’t begrudge them their opinions. But I don’t want them to mis-label themselves as True Teachers of Shinran’s True Teaching - and thereby confuse to those who are ignorant and hungry, and easily persuaded by lofty words and ideas.

Why? Because karmic destinies are at stake.

Here are two brief excerpts from two people who both claim to speak the Dharma of Amida Buddha as students of Dharma Master Shinran. One is Teitetsu Unno, and the other is George Gatenby. Both have had the honorific of “reverend” bestowed upon them by one of the Shin sects - but their dharma statements are completely opposite to one another. One is a true teacher of Shinran’s true teaching - and the other is not.

Teitetsu Unno writes:

Amida Buddha is in the depth of my exstential awareness. Without my awareness, there is no Amida Buddha.

A famous Shin-shu work repeats, When the faithful awakens to faith, for the first time a Buddha is born.

This, of course, is the realization of man.

It may be the realization of man, but it DEFINITELY isn’t the realization of Dharma Master Shinran!

George Gatenby, on the other hand, explains Shinran’s realization ACCURATELY:

Amida Buddha is an objective entity, who is not integral to our core reality.

Shinran accepted the idea that Amida Buddha dwells in his Pure Land, which transcends samsara.

The gulf between our reality and that of Amida Buddha is bridged by the Nembutsu; by the fact that Amida Buddha is ‘light (wisdom), which fills the ten directions’.

The ‘wisdom that fills all things’ has its source in the Pure Land, not in us.

The bottom line is this: George Gatenby is a person of the SAME shinjin - the SAME true entrusting - as Dharma Master Shinran. Teitetsu Unno is not - he is a person of some DIFFERENT sort of SHINJIN.

This is a challenge that has existed for as long as the True Teaching of the Pure Land Way has been shared. Yuien wrote The Tannisho - Lamenting Divergences - specifically to alert the Shin Buddhist community to this challenge. In it he urged his readers to return to the True Teaching of Shinran, their true teacher - and let go of false teaching from all other teachers.

In writing the Tannisho, Yuien deliberately recounted an incident Shinran had told him about, during his dharma apprenticeship under Dharma Master Honen. Yuien did this to explain that not everybody who said they were people of SHINJIN is in fact entrusting Amida in the way Shinran did as a true student of Honen’s True Teaching.

Let’s listen deeply together - with left brain for content, and right brain for deep feeling - to Yuien, the plainspoken lay student of Dharma Master Shinran:

Every one of the assertions discussed above appears to arise out of divergences from shinjin.

As the late Master once related, 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.

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.

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.

And 200 years later, Dharma Master Rennyo did the same.

This work - of explaining the True Teaching - and of urging people in the Sangha to let go of false teaching and return to the True Teaching - is no different today than it was 800 years ago. It remains the PRIMARY work of those who are true teachers and true students of Dharma Master Shinran - whether scholar, cleric or layperson.

Those of the same SHINJIN as Shinran know that there is no other work on the planet that is more important - because there is no other raft that will bring us to the other shore - the far shore of full awakening - anymore.

Those of the same SHINJIN as Shinran know that whatever else we might do in our attempts to be of some small service to others, there is nothing that compares with giving someone the INFINITE gift of accurate, patient and persistent exposure to the precious dharma of Shakyamuni and Shinran.

And even though those of us who share that dharma are ourselves burdened down with endless cravings and aversions, countless blind passions, unknowable delusions and obscurations - yet it is through our speaking and writing that others get to hear - just as it was through others’ speaking and writing that we got to hear.

Any teacher who - like Unno - teaches that somehow we are the measure of objective reality and that Amida Buddha exists only because we exist is not yet hearing the dharma the Shinran spoke - even though he might have a lifetime of study - and saying Nembutsu.

He is not speaking Shinran’s teaching - but simply speaking the metaphysical narcissism that dominates the teaching of many paths both within Buddhism and without in this age of Dharma Decline.

As Shakyamuni Buddha answered Ananda’s question 2500 years ago on Vulture Peak - Amida Buddha has a physical existence in a part of spacetime totally outside of our own reach - and even our own view. Because we do not yet have Buddha-eyes, we cannot even SEE what Shakyamuni Buddha saw. What foolishness - and what hubris - it is for modernist Shin Buddhist teachers to discount what they cannot possibly know!

Our lack of ability to see what Buddha saw does not mean his words were less than true. They were true when he spoke them on Vulture Peak- and they are true today - and they will remain true after you and I have both ended this present life we are living.

Amida Buddha is ALIVE - and beyond the demon of impermanence - in a way that you and I are NOT.

And somehow - SOMEHOW - you have been brought to THIS moment - a moment when we are sharing, even though we are foolish beings, this most profound and final of dharma teachings - the only dharma teaching that can lead you and I to a full and final freedom at the end of this life we are living.

In this moment - this very moment - Amida Buddha is pulling back the veil of unknowing that clouds our eyes. In THIS moment he is offering us a FREE RIDE to the far shore of full awakening. In THIS moment he is offering to cancel ENTIRELY our karmic debt, and ascribe his karmic merit - acquired over endless ages of perfect praxis as the Bodhisattva Dharmakara. In THIS moment, that karmic merit - the merit of a Bodhisattva about to become a Buddha - is being offered to YOU…just as it was offered to Honen, to Shinran, to Yuien, to Rennyo - and to me.

Only one thing is necessary: you must become a KNOW-NOTHING, who lets EVERYTHING go, in order that you may LISTEN DEEPLY, at long last.

Perhaps you are willing to be a KNOW-NOTHING, and yet have a great hunger for dharma teaching that is more rich and more complex than anything I can share on the Shin Ugly Blog. Believe me, I won’t take offense at that. I am only a layperson of little scholarly understanding. So if you hunger for a richer dharma meal than I can provide, I want to refer you to George Gatenby’s wonderful Shin Buddhist site, Notes On the Nembutsu.

In particular, I highly recomment that you read a recent teaching article of his which I have quoted above. In it, George clearly and carefully distinguishes between modernist divergent Shin Buddhist teaching, and the TRUE teaching of Shinran, our TRUE teacher. He accurately points out that so much of what modern Buddhist teachers are saying is just warmed over Theosophy with a bit of wabi-sabi (Japanese flavoring). Sadly - TRAGICALLY - it has litle or nothing to do with Shinran’s teaching at all.

Click HERE to read the article now. Allow the implications of what George is saying to speak DEEPLY to you. His writing is real treasure trove of TRUE TEACHING. He is a TRUE TEACHER of Master Shinran’s dharma. His words will NOT lead you astray.

Thanks so much George - for being a clear and cogent voice of Shin Dharma to the English speaking world in a time when there are so few real voices speaking Shinran’s words to the Shin Buddhist community - and those spiritual pilgrims who come in hungry and leave confused.







I take refuge - not in the confused and self-indulgent words of man - but the words that come out of the mouth of ALL the Buddhas - words given by Amida Buddha to Dharma Master Shinran for us who are lost in this age of Dharma Decline. Let’s listen to him one more time, very deeply - with open hearts and open minds:

Fearing that sentient beings might not accept the teaching of the one Buddha, Sakyamuni, the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters all together with the same intent and at the same time extend their tongues and, covering all the great triple-thousandfold worlds, preach these true and sincere words:

Sentient beings, each of you should accept what Sakyamuni has taught, has praised, has given witness to!

It is certain beyond any doubt that when foolish beings - regardless of whether their evil or merit is great or small, or the period of time long or short - just single-heartedly practice the saying of the Name of Amida alone, for up to one hundred years or down to even one or seven days, they unfailingly attain birth.

Thus, what one Buddha teaches, ALL Buddhas give witness to. This is known as “establishing SHINJIN (true entrusting) through the Buddha.”

(Shinran writes this in KGSS IV:47)

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