Dharma Challenge to a Dharma Friend

Yueheng responded to my last post Two Year Anniversary with this comment:

I would like to humbly point out here that Shinran never indicated that his teachings were, to quote your words, “the ONLY dharma that can take people to the end-game”. While he was alive, Shinran classified the existing schools of Buddhism into the schools of transcendence, which promises swift results and schools that are departing which require lengthy practice with a further subdivision of lengthwise and crosswise. Shinran classified Shingon and Tendai as “lengthwise transcendence” and the Yogachara School as “departing lengthwise”. The Pure Land school naturally came under “crosswise transcendence”.

The point of this example is that if Shinran had thought that his teachings was the only true teaching, why would he have bothered to classify the other schools? While Shinran certainly thought that the nembutsu was the most appropriate dharma for this age, but he never adopted a “my way — the only way” stance.

Here is my response to Yueheng:

In the closing words of his great work, the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Shu (”The True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way”), Dharma Master Shinran wrote movingly and personally about his early days as a true student of Dharma Master Honen (Genku):

I, Gutoku Shinran, disciple of Sakyamuni, discarded sundry practices and took refuge in the Primal Vow in 1201. In 1205 Master Genku, out of his benevolence, granted me permission to copy his Passages on the Nembutsu Selected in the Primal Vow. In the same year, on the fourteenth day of the fourth month, the master inscribed [the copy] in his own hand with an inside title, “Passages on the Nembutsu Selected in the Primal Vow,” with the words, “Namu-amida-butsu: as the act that leads to birth in the Pure Land, the nembutsu is taken to be fundamental,” and with [the name he had bestowed on me,] “Shakku, disciple of Sakyamuni.” That day, my request to borrow his portrait was granted, and I made a copy. During that same year, on the twenty-ninth day of the seventh intercalary month, the master inscribed my copy of the portrait with “Namu-amida-butsu” and with a passage expressing the true teaching:

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters say my Name as few as ten times and yet are not born, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment. The Buddha has now actually attained Buddhahood. Know that the momentous Primal Vow is not in vain, and that when sentient beings say the Name, they unfailingly attain birth.”

Further, since my name “Shakku” had been changed in accord with a revelation in a dream, on the same day he wrote the characters of my new name [Zenshin] in his own hand. At that time, the master was seventy-three years of age.

Passages on the Nembutsu Selected in the Primal Vow was compiled at the request of the Chancellor, an ordained layman (Lord Tsukinowa Kanezane, Buddhist name Ensho). The crucial elements of the true essence of the Pure Land way and the inner significance of the nembutsu have been gathered into this work, which is easily understood by those who read it. It is a truly luminous writing, rare and excellent a treasured scripture, supreme and profound.

Over the days and years, myriads of people received the master’s teaching, but whether they were closely associated with him or remained more distant, very few gained the opportunity to read and copy this book. Nevertheless, I was in fact able to copy it and to paint his portrait. This was the virtue of practicing the right act alone, and the manifestation of the decisive settlement of birth.

Thus, suppressing tears of both sorrow and joy, I record the circumstances that have resulted [in my compilation of this work].

How joyous I am, my heart and mind being rooted in the Buddha-ground of the universal Vow, and my thoughts and feelings flowing within the dharma-ocean, which is beyond comprehension! I am deeply aware of the Tathagata’s immense compassion, and I sincerely revere the benevolent care behind the master’ teaching activity. My joy grows even fuller, my gratitude and indebtedness ever more compelling.

Therefore, I have selected [passages expressing] the core of the Pure Land way and gathered here its essentials. Mindful solely of the profundity of the Buddha’s benevolence, I pay no heed to the derision of others. May those who see and hear this work be brought - either through the cause of reverently embracing the teaching or through the condition of [others’] doubt and slander of it - to manifest shinjin within the power of the Vow and reveal the incomparable fruit of enlightenment in the land of peace.

I am repeating Shinran’s words here to make this point: Many people listened to Honen. A few listened deeply - and thus became people of the same SHINJIN as their dharma master. Shinran was one of those who did, and here he recounts the early days of his own experience as Honen’s true student.

A confirming set of details comes from Yuien’s Tannisho, where he recounts Shinran’s discussion of his time as Honen’s student.

Every one of the assertions (Yuien’s lamentable divergences) discussed above appears to arise out of divergences from shinjin. As the late Master (Shinran) 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.

We see from these passages that Shinran listened DEEPLY to what his teacher Honen (Genku) was saying. Honen acknowledged this publicly, as Shinran recounts.

Listening DEEPLY is the only thing we are given to do. That means listening to the logical intellectual CONTENT, with our HEARTS as well as our minds. Amida Buddha does EVERYTHING on behalf of someone who listens deeply to bring him or her to the same settled SHINJIN as our Dharma Teacher Shinran.

Because Yueheng, you are not an illiterate peasant, but a highly educated person who claims to be interested in Shinran’s thought, I challenge you - as a dharma friend - to do no less than Shinran did with his teacher Honen.

Pay CLOSE ATTENTION to what Shinran actually says. Listen DEEPLY.

Specifically - go back to Shinran’s complete works (available online at www.shinranworks.com if you don’t have a hard copy) and take the time and make the effort to read (or re-read) every word. As you do, forget about anything and everything you have heard from anyone else who claims to be a Shin Buddhist teacher.

Keep a pencil and paper handy, so you can note where you find relevant passages of Shinran’s thought.

  1. Start with the Kyo Gyo Shin Shu. Be on the lookout for Shinran’s own words, giving his own opinion on the subject at hand.
  2. After you have gone through the KGSS, go through his letters.
  3. After that, read all of his Wasan (Hymns).
  4. And then read the tract he recommended so widely and wrote an extensive commentary upon: “Essentials of Faith Alone”.
  5. And then, finish up with Yuien’s Tannisho - “Lamenting Divergences”.

In your reading, be continually looking and listening for Shinran’s own teaching: What does he say about whether or not there is any other way for us to end our suffering - to get to the endgame - to become Buddhas at last - in this age in which we live?

After you have done that Yueheng - with ALL due diligence - I’ll be glad to pick up this discussion with you.

To save some time, perhaps, you could use many of the posts in the Shin Ugly Blog as a “cheat sheet”. I have addressed your question directly - and repeatedly - in many posts written for the sake of those who are new to Shin Buddhism, or simply confused.

But it would be much better for you - and a mark of your sincerity as a true student of Shinran - to take a week, or a month, and really plow through the writings of our Dharma Master, rather than read the results of my own plowing through.

Most people who claim to speak for Shinran will simply not do what I am challenging Yueheng to do.

Because they do not immerse themselves in Shinran’s teaching, but depart for other sources of information and perspective, they have no little or no grounding in what Shinran actually says. Unfortunately, this is true for clerics and scholars within the Shin Sangha right now - who then present their many and varied personal opinions to laypeople as though they were Shinran’s True Teaching - when they are not.

Responding to Yueheng’s misreading of my assertions concerning scholarship: Make no mistake about my position - I am NOT against scholarship. I am against DISHONEST scholarship that distorts Shinran’s plain and straightforward intent in support of some other agenda.

For example, right now a prominent Shin Buddhist scholar - a former President of a Shin University in Japan - is asserting, along with a current leader of the Shin Sangha in America, that Shinran encouraged the Shin Sangha to practice meditation, and practiced it himself.

This is - to speak bluntly - an outright lie.

Those who speak such dharma lies to the Sangha are accountable for their speaking - just as Shinran held his own son Zenran accountable for speaking lies about the dharma to the Sangha.

Anyone who is willing to read through Shinran’s writings will find that my words are true. Shinran abandoned meditation - and ALL sundry practices - ENTIRELY upon taking refuge in Amida Buddha as a true student of Dharma Master Honen. Shinran unequivocally taught others to do the same, if they were taking refuge as he had taken refuge. No amount of scholarly sophistry can explain away what our Dharma Master so plainly stated. His words are recorded - and available on the internet - for anyone to read for him or herself.

Contrast this DISHONEST scholarship with the kind of HONEST scholarship exemplified by Professor Eiken Kobai, and Reverend George Gatenby. I’m not going to try to fathom whether every word Eiken and George speak is 100% correct. As a plain layperson without their extensive background of dharma study I’m not capable of that level of critical analysis. But what I will attest to is that both of them do everything they can to understand Shinran on Shinran’s terms - and explain what Shinran says without polluting Shinran’s thought with their own personal views.

These men are HUMBLE, HONEST students of Shinran FIRST - and scholars SECOND. Therefore, they are TRUE teachers of Shinran’s TRUE teaching - men worthy of listening to, and learning from.

We need more HONEST scholars like that in the Shin Sangha - speaking out clearly - distinguishing between TRUE and FALSE when it comes to the Dharma - helping the rest of us who are not so educated as they are to understand the content of Shinran’s work so we can become people of the same SHINJIN.

That was always and ever Shinran’s own purpose as an HONEST scholar in teaching the learned and ignorant alike.

So Yueheng, I look forward to hearing from you again - AFTER you have gone back to the source - to look more deeply at what Shinran has to say on this matter.

My words of exhortation to you to go back and read, or re-read, the sacred passages are entirely in accord with what Yuien said in the closing words of his Tannisho to ALL of us:

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.

  • In the scriptures in general, the true and real and the accommodated and provisional are mixed.
  • That we abandon the accommodated and take up the real, set aside the provisional and adopt the true is the Master’s fundamental intent.
  • 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.

As you read Shinran’s writing, note how he abandons the accommodated and takes up the real.

Note how Shinran sets aside the provisional and adopts the true.

And note how Shinran labors so that you and I do not misread the sacred writings.

After you have actually done due diligence - the work of re-reading Shinran’s complete writings with a view towards checking your own thoughts against Shinran’s words - THEN I will happily talk further with you.

THEN, if you STILL believe that the comments you wrote above reflect the mind of our Dharma Master, I will be more than willing to have a serious and friendly dharma discussion with you here on the Shin Ugly Blog.

THEN, I will be happy to look at the Master’s teaching, and review passage after passage in which he asserts what I previously declared: that in this age of Dharma Decline, the singular Dharma Gate of True Entrusting in the Person and Work of Amida Buddha is our ONLY hope of escaping endless rounds of yet more suffering birth and death in the six realms - and finding True Buddhahood at last.

THEN, if you STILL disagree, your disagreement will be with Shinran - and not with me.

And that’s ok with me. It’s not my job to convince you - or anybody - of anything. It’s just my job to bear witness to that which is TRUE and REAL by explaining what Shinran says as clearly and as plainly as I possibly can - and point out where others are mangling his words for their own ends.

Amida Buddha does all the work, leading each and all to finally abandon everything else, and take true refuge in him - and him alone.


Paul R.

WordPress database error: [Table 'netpaul.wp_comments' doesn't exist]
SELECT * FROM wp_comments WHERE comment_post_ID = '157' AND comment_approved = '1' ORDER BY comment_date

Leave a Reply