The SHINRAN Manifesto: Concerning Shin Mysticism

My goal of completing one straightforward exposition before beginning another sometimes gets diverted by people’s sincere questions and comments.

Right now, for example, I’m having a dialogue with a dharma friend named Ray, to answer his question about why I think Shin Semiotics - the idea that Amida Buddha is simply Mythos and Symbol rather than a real Buddha like Shakyamuni - is a major and lamentable diversion from Shinran’s True Teaching.

That dialogue is getting a bit diverted because he asked me a question about a book called Coffinman - the bio and Shin Buddhist ruminations of a Japanese mortician.

His question - as you will see below, provide me a chance to unpack an examination I was preparing to begin later, but will enter into now, in order to respond to him.

In it I discuss why simply talking about the mystical right brained experience of light and life - Shin Mysticism - is not, by itself, an adequate expression of Shinran’s True Teaching.

This is all part of the clarion call of The SHINRAN Manifesto, which encourages Shin Buddhists, whether Japanese, American, or otherwise, whether clerics, scholars or laypeople, to RETURN TO THE TRUE TEACHING OF SHINRAN, OUR TRUE TEACHER.

I explain why having a mystical experience is neither necessary nor sufficient to experience Amida’s gift of settled Shinjin - the gift of True Entrusting that puts us in the rightly established group of those who will assuredly take their next birth in Amida’s Pure Land, and complete at last their own journey to Buddhahood.

I am among that group. I say that with neither boasting nor pride nor uncertainty. My ability to say that is a gift - pure and simple - of Amida Buddha. All I have done is listen deeply, with my left brain and my right brain - my head and my heart - to Shinran’s True Teaching.

Why, and how, do I know that I am among those who have unshakable assurance, what Shinran calls DIAMOND-LIKE SHINJIN?

I know because I have entrusted myself entirely - without reservation - to the person, work and word (VOW) of Amida Buddha - in spite of all my blind passions, my endless cravings and aversions, my egotism - ALL my karmic baggage as a plain person.

Even through my tears - which continue to this day, just because I have such craving for my daughter’s presence, and such terrible aversion to the memory of her lying dead on a gurney, face grey, a tube stuck down her throat - I KNOW.

Despite my blind passions tht manifest as the anguish of a father who was also her best friend, I KNOW - therefore I have gratitude in my worst moments of great darkness.

Why do I have such gratitude? Because I KNOW that this is IT - the last time I will be born as a non-Buddha, into a life of ignorance, vulnerable to the fire of suffering.

This is IT - last stop on the karma train.

This is IT. Finally, I am grasped, never to be abandoned again to rebirth based on my own merit, or lack of merit.

This is IT, whether or not I ever feel “good” again, in the way I once did.

This is IT, because I’m held by Amida Buddha - and Amida Buddha simply won’t let go, no matter WHAT.

This is IT. Nothing else matters - not my thoughts, not my feelings, not my ability or inability to be a good Buddhist.

This recognition - and this gratitude - is ONLY something that a person of settled Shinjin - the same true entrusting as Shinran, as Honen, as Yuien, can actually KNOW with no doubt whatsoever.

It has nothing to do with the butterfly of mystical sensibility or feeling, which may never land on my head again in this life. It has everything to do with having NO DOUBT.

Having NO DOUBT whatsoever - gratitude for my salvation simply arises as Nembutsu coming our of my mouth. It’s not work, it’s not effort, it’s not recitation, it’s not meditation, it’s not any practice whatsoever. It’s just gratitude.

Namu-Amida-Butsu. Thank you Amida Buddha.


There is a lot of material, at this point, in these blog posts that explains everything I have just said. If you are not yet SURE that this is your last lifetime as a non-Buddha - or that it COULD be your last lifetime as a non-Buddha - I invite you to simply start at the beginning and read it all. Or, if you prefer, read it by category, or by month.

If you’re not sure what the difference is between Shinran’s teaching and all the other teachings that make up Buddhism, then read the posts in the section called “for Shin Newbies”, or the section called “The Easy Path To Buddhahood”.

Listen deeply. Sit with Shinran, and Honen, and Yuien and Rennyo. It is the will of the two Buddhas, Shakyamuni and Amida, that you be able to hear clearly, and come at last to the same settled SHINJIN, the same TRUE ENTRUSTING, that will assure your next birth is NOT a birth into suffering ever again.

Why is it the will of Shakyamuni Buddha and Amida Buddha? Because, as Buddhas, they are beings of infinite compassion as well as infinite wisdom. Therefore they understand our common predicament - our utter inability in this age of Dharma Decline to actually complete our own journey to Buddhahood by anything and everything we might TRY to do.

They see, with full clarity and great compassion, that we are strapped, each and all, to the terrible karmic wheel of rebirth, and that we simply can’t get off.

So Shakyamuni points us, each and all, to Amida Buddha, who has made a way in this age of Dharma Decline, to get off the terrible wheel of suffering at last.

Namu-Amida-Butsu. Thank you, Amida Buddha.


Here’s Ray’s question:

hi paul,

just wanted to acknowledge your 2 posts. as requested, i shall wait until you have posted all your responses before replying.

have you read “coffinman”? interesting book which i have just finished. will need to read the last quarter again slowly. :-)

all the best


Hi Ray -

Thanks for the acknowledgement. I really do appreciate it, and am working on the next post now. It will probably take me several days.

Yes I read Coffinman - shortly after it was first published and someone mentioned it on another list.

Among other things, it paints a very sad and difficult picture of the effects of divergence on the Shin sangha in Japan, where it has turned into terrible gobbledygook - a funeral religion (to use Coffinman’s terms) all mixed up with Shinto and local folk religion and superstition.

That’s been the effect on the common people - while in the Shin Buddist elite of clerics and scholars in Japan, Shinran’s dharma has gotten all mixed up with multiple varieties of western thought: marxism (bigtime!), existentialism, post-modern philosophies of one sort or another, western process theology, etc.

This is exactly why Kobai is writing his precise and accurate explanations of Shinran’s thought, and Rennyo’s -which I can’t recommend too highly.

Kobai’s translator Ken told me last time we talked that when young Japanese people begin to feel the stirrings to awaken, they turn to Evangelical Christianity, as well as many cults, because they consider Buddhism a dead religion! You can, perhaps, see why Shinran’s student Yuien dipped his brush in tears as he wrote the Tannisho - Lamenting Divergences.

So as I answer your question about why Shin Semiotics is not Shinran’s teaching, and what the effects are, karmically, of diverging, and why Yuien, and his teacher Shinran, so lamented these divergences and spoke out continually against them, I have a deepening understanding of the karmic reasons behind all this, in this age of dharma decline.

It’s difficult to cram it all into one post, or even two - but Ken has confirmed for me everything that I thought had been going on, once I had this big AHA! I wrote about in my intro to Kobai’s book - about the difference between modern Shinshu and Shinran’s original dharma.

Before I started the Shin Ugly Blog I knew my perspectives -and my plain talking about them - would be emotionally provocative for some people who have simply been “raised in the modernist matrices of Shin Semiotics, Shin Existentialism, Shin Mysticism, etc, etc, etc.

But I felt, and I feel, that it was necessary to do anyway - because I KNOW that so many people are confused by the mish-mash Shin Buddhism has devolved into - and encountering a true teacher in Eiken Kobai simply confirmed my own perceptions and understanding.

As I said before, I’m not doing this for egotistical reasons - but to leave my remaining daughtera a legacy for her own life - so that she has the priceless opportunity to change her karmic destiny by entrusting herself simply and fully to Amida’s Person, Work and Vow, just as Honen, Shinran, Yuien and Rennyo teach.

She knows what I am doing, and why I am doing it. And she also knows what happened to her older sister AFTER her death. You can read that story HERE.

So when Shin Buddhists get upset, I don’t take it seriously enough to stop sharing Shinran’s True Teaching, and pointing out the differencesl. Rather, I invite those who are upset to do the work of looking deeply at the causes of their own reactivity, and then - with that out of the way, be willing to sit - as you sit - with the CONTENT of what I say - and Kobai says, and Ken says - and others say who have not much voice in this dialogue, though it reflects their gut perspective (as they have told me privately and here on the Shin Ugly Blog).

At that point, we can ALL consider it, as we listen deeply together.

As I have said to you - and to all - my intention is not to convince, because that’s Amida Buddha’s work, not mine.

Rather, my intention is to help us ALL out of our unconscious memetic matrices - the water in which the fish swims, without even being aware of its presence - so we can each and all listen clearly and deeply to Shinran as our true teacher - regardless of our backgrounds - whether we’re 18th generation Shin Buddhists of Japaense descent with an M.Div or a Ph.D. - or simple laypeople - or highly educated and sophisticated Westerners with an aversion to fundamentalism of one sort or another.

That necessarily requires that we wheel up our memetic matrices - and the matrices of our modern day teachers - to the matrix of thoughts and beliefs that Honen, Shinran, Yuien and Rennyo share in their many writings.

Only good things can come from such a deep dialogue, where we bring both our heads and our hearts openly to it - and to one another.

Once again, Ray - I am very grateful for your willingness to do exactly this with me.

Circling back to the beginning of your note above: The last quarter of Coffinman is a good illustration of how people who have a karmic propensity towards mysticism PREFER to approach Shin Buddhism. I understand that well, because that was my own karmic propensity too. It’s also the approach that you get in DT Suzuki’s work “Buddha of Infinite Light”.

That approach is a very right-brained approach: non-linear, non-verbal, feeling as opposed to thinking - as are the mystic approaches to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.

It’s the approach of numinous luminosity, and there is certainly nothing wrong with it, per se.

The problem of such an approach is when it is divorced entirely from the foundational understanding of Shinran’s left-brained teachings that he himself insisted were CRITICAL for settled Shinjin.

When that happens, Shin devolves into just another variant of new-age mysticism - depending entirely upon a FELT sense of light and life.

It’s like having a second story house hanging in mid-air, but no ground level to support it.

It’s very much the kind of thing you USED to see in Zen -until Brian Victoria published “Zen at War” and “Zen War Stories” - and the Japanese Zen Sangha leaders had to apologize for their sanghas teaching brutality to the Japanese Army because they were overcome with what is called “emptiness sickness” - where the idea of emptiness becomes an excuse for leaving our common humanity and raping Nanking as an act of aesthetics - like pouring tea or arranging flowers.

I don’t say this to disparage Zen. This is the insoluble problem for ALL of us. Truly Shinran was right when he said to Yuien that given the right circumstances any of us could easily become mass murderers. We’re so sunk in the quagmire of endless delusions and blind passion that we don’t even know what we don’t even know.

Once upon a time, I was very able to approach both the Buddha-dharma, and non-dharma paths, in such a “second story” fashion. I’ve had many profound moments - moments of “oceanic experience” to use William James’ term from “The Varieties of Religious Experience”. It is, in fact, part of the Path of the Sages approach - and it requires that we be able to DO something to flip our brains into that kind of state of luminosity.

The problem was, when the first suicide happened (my brother), my capacity to do that - to experience via various meditative and non-meditative practices such numinous luminosity - was entirely broken. I couldn’t get the metaphysical car out of the driveway - no matter what I did. Nothing worked. I couldn’t even START the car. I couldn’t even find the keys to start the car.

THAT is when I encountered Shinran. Even though it was a horrible experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, it provided me the exact kind of utter burnout that he, and his teacher Honen, had experienced in their own life. To borrow Bob Dylan’s phrase, EVERYTHING WAS BROKEN.

The reality Ray, is that everything IS broken - and for a lot of people, that means they simply can’t approximate the moments of numinous luminosity that Coffinman (and you, I imagine) can.

In other words, there are many people who have lived their whole lives in the exact same kind of utter inability around samadhi, sartori, or whatever - the same experience of “no can do” that I have fallen into, in my personal journey into hell.

Perhaps they are paranoid schizophrenics, or have a profound personality disorder.

Perhaps they were repeatedly abused as childnen, physically, psychologically or sexually - and now have terrible Post-traumatic stress syndrome as adults.

Or perhaps they simply have some kind of biological brain malfunction.

For whatever reason, they just can’t do the right-brained THANG. They just can’t FEEL Amida like that.

What do you, as a Shin Buddhist, have to offer such people -whether the profoundly broken, or just your average John or Jane - who just don’t GET mysticism - who make up the VAST majority of any population, in any time and place, in this samsaric world in this age of dharma decline?

Just as crucial, what do you, as a Shin Buddhist, have to say to explain to anyone who’s NOT a Shin Buddhist, and IS a mystic (whether Buddhist or otherwise), about what the uniqueness of Shinran’s teaching really is?

My great “advantage” over you here - and I say this with no hubris - is that I have lived in the world in which you live - both intellectually and metaphysically - and also, because of my karmic circumstances, been FORCED to live in the world in which Shinran lived: the world of a Buddhist burnout - a world of utter desperation and despair into which I fell after many years of self-powered “progress” on the path of awakening, both as a self-powered Path of the Sages Buddhist, and in explorations in a number of other pathways before that.

For that reason I can both appreciate your approach to the dharma, and also explain cogently and clearly why it is insufficient and incomplete as the True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way.

Does that mean I am saying you should abandon your intuitive mystical approach? Not at all.

Rather I am saying: be open to the fact that it is not sustainable as a dharma vehicle to share the dharma as Shinran and Rennyo did, if indeed you have the same fundamental bodhisattvic impulses (as I imagine you do).

That bodhisattvic impulse has two components: to both re-awaken a dying Shin sangha - and then being able to offer Shinran’s True Teaching to the rest of this samsaric world.

Even more, I assert - as did Shinran and the others - that right brained Shin Mysticism alone, without the left-brained factual truth (so Shakyamuni says) of who Amida Buddha is, and what Vows he made for us who cannot save ourselves, and how he fulfilled them, is not sufficient to lead most if not all to SETTLED Shinjin - which is Shinran’s concern, ever and always.

I’m talking, Ray, about Shinran’s full monty: left AND right-brained dharma that can transform bonbus into Buddhas regardless of how deeply we remain enmeshed in karmic debt, or how broken we are in how many ways.

I’m talking about dharma that can TRULY provide the end of suffering at last - whether we have the capacity for mysticism or not - to offer a lost world, drowning in endless rebirth in the six realms.

Until my next post, then…

Best as ever -


WordPress database error: [Table 'netpaul.wp_comments' doesn't exist]
SELECT * FROM wp_comments WHERE comment_post_ID = '84' AND comment_approved = '1' ORDER BY comment_date

Leave a Reply