KGSS Preface: Shinran’s Joy

So much of the True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way (literally KyoGyoShinSho) is encapsulated in the few short paragraphs of Dharma Master Shinran’s preface to that document - his most important work.

I invite you to listen deeply with me as Shinran describes the reason for his his JOY - the JOY of a person of true SHINJIN - the true entrusting that is the gift of the compassionate Buddha Amida to the hungry heart:

What a joy it is that I, Gutoku Shinran, disciple of Shakyamuni, have had a rare chance to meet with the Pure Land scriptures from India and the commentaries by Chinese and Japanese masters which are difficult to meet and have been able to hear their teachings which we can only rarely hear!

Having respectfully accepted in faith the Teaching, Practice and Enlightenment of the True Pure Land Way, I deeply acknowledge the Tathagata Amida’s Benevolence. Here I rejoice over what I have heard and marvel at what I have received.

How different Shinran’s words are from the words of many of those who claim to be speaking for Shinran today. I have personally visited many Shin Buddhist websites in my own search to understand the True Teaching - and have found only a few where the so-called teachers featured on those websites talk anything like Shinran at all.

As a disciple of the True Pure Land Way, and a person who has been given the same gift of SHINJIN, I pay close attention to those teachers who DO speak like Shinran. Two TRUE teachers that I recommend without reservation are Eiken Kobai Sensei and Rev George Gatenby. Both are lifelong students of Shinran. Both are reliable guides to the correct understanding of the Dharma.

These men speak Dharma Master Shinran’s TRUTH clearly because they have been given the same wonderful gift of SHINJIN as Shinran himself. They have no wish to teach their own ideas. They are truly humble in this regard. Instead, they have dedicated themselves both to understand Shinran’s life and thought - and to teach others the Dharma they themselves have learned.

In that most basic sense, they really are links in Amida’s Golden chain.

I am grateful that I have come to know them as dharma teachers and dharma friends through the internet. Both have helped me to deepen my understanding of the True Teaching.

I listen to Eiken and George as men who have “emptied their cup” - men who have let go of their own self-generated ideas and opinions of the Dharma - men who have bowed their own heads in order to hear the True Teaching as Amida Buddha and Shakyamuni Buddha mean us ALL to hear it. They have LISTENED DEEPLY - and because they have so listened, they have HEARD.

They feel the same way that Shinran feels - in terms of their own joy - the same way that I feel. It’s the same way that any person of the same SHINJIN feels about his or her encounter with Amida’s grace - the fulfillment of all the promise of the Triple Gem - the experience of knowing that we are grasped, never to be abandoned by Amida Buddha because of his Primal Vow - and that at the end of this life we will awaken in the Pure Land and complete our long journeys - and become Buddhas at last.

I don’t mean to put either of them on a pedestal in the way so many put Buddhist teachers on a pedestal in the many paths of the Sages. They freely admit that they still are beset by blind passions just like everyone else. Nor do I mean to imply that they are the only people who are teaching the True Teaching as Shinran did.

But - in the English speaking world - such teachers who are faithful to Shinran’s though are very much the minority voice today within the Shin Sangha. Most of those who claim to teach Shinran’s teaching are teaching some kind of mish-mosh - some kind of blend of their own devising - encompassing new-age metaphysics, process theology, warmed-over western philosophy.

Let’s listen deeply to Shinran again, as he talks about his own joy.

Shinran writes that it is a joy for him to meet with the Pure Land Scriptures. In particular, he is speaking above all about the Larger Pure Land Sutra. Shinran teaches unequivocally that the reason that Shakyamuni came into the world was to deliver THIS teaching to all mankind, so that each and every sentient being could hear it and understand it - and thereby take complete and utter refuge in Amida Buddha’s sure salvation.

It’s a straightforward message - with plain content. Yet almost no one in the West is hearing that message - unless they read Eiken’s work, or George’s, or this blog - or else (the BEST idea) - read Shakyamuni and Shinran for themselves and receive their words with the same reverence.

Tragically, most so-called western Shin Buddhist teachers do not do that anymore. They have ABANDONED the Pure Land Scriptures. They have relegated Shakyamuni Buddha’s most important words to the realm of myth and allegory. They have decided (for themselves and for their hearers) that Shakyamuni’s sermon on Vulture Peak is some kind of secret code - that laypeople can’t possibly make sense of it in a direct and straightfoward way.

This is a terrible mistake - a karmic error of vast proportions. When Shinran wrote, later in the KGSS, that “because of others our faith is destroyed” this is exactly what he was referring to.

Shinran goes on to say that it is also a joy for him to have met the commentaries of various masters of the Pure Land teaching from India, China and Japan. He was speaking in utter sincerity when he said that - indeed, the KGSS is 90% quotations from Shakyamuni Buddha and those Pure Land masters, with Shinran tying everything together with his unsurpassed exposition of the True Pure Land Way.

Almost all of those who claim to be Shin Buddhist teachers in the West simply IGNORE the same teachers Shinran faithfully depends upon for his understanding! Open one of their books, or read one of their sermons, and you are more likely to hear the words of a 20th Century existential philosopher like Sartre or Camus, than from the great Nagarjuna, who Shinran quotes so extensively as one of the seven Pure Land Masters who have been links in Amida’s Golden Chain.

For the longest time, most Buddhists didn’t even KNOW about these Pure Land Masters - or the documents they had written. It was Shinran - a true student of Dharma Master Honen - who compiled and codified all of them and made them available to the world, to provide the intellectual scaffolding for his exposition of the True Pure Land Way.

But despite all his work done over 20 years to compile and codify this body of Dharma knowledge - his work had been discounted by most of the modern Shin teachers - who have “new and improved” ideas to peddle.

How terrible for the Shin Sangha this kind of self-powered calculated thinking is! How terrible for the world!

It is for this very reason that Yuien, Shinran’s student, wrote the Tannisho after his Dharma Master’s death. These kinds of divergences - by the same sorts of “teachers” - were a plague on the Sangha back then just as it is today.

Here is Yuien speaking about this. He begins The Tannisho with these words:

As I humbly reflect on the past [when the late master was alive] and the present in my foolish mind, I cannot but lament the divergences from the true shinjin that he conveyed by speaking to us directly, and I fear there are doubts and confusions in the way followers receive and transmit the teaching. For how is entrance into the single gate of easy practice possible unless we happily come to rely on a true teacher whom conditions bring us to encounter? Let there be not the slightest distortion of the teaching of Other Power with words of an understanding based on personal views.

And after he describes a number of the terrible divergences confusing the Sangha, and correcting them with the teaching he remembers personally receiving from his Dharma Master Shinran, he says this:

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.

This is how a person of the same SHINJIN as Shinran speaks and thinks - because Amida Buddha has caused him to have clear and unambiguous understanding of the importance of the sacred scriptures - just as Shinran did.

Indeed - getting back to Dharma Master Shinran’s own words - this is all a matter of one’s basic RESPECT for the teaching. Listening deeply means listening with RESPECT - emptying our cups - letting go of our own ideas - and asking Amida Buddha to reveal what is TRUE and REAL.

This is how TRUE FAITH arises in the heart and mind of anyone - rich or poor, learned or unlearned, good or evil.

Listen once more to Shinran with me:

Having respectfully accepted in faith the Teaching, Practice and Enlightenment of the True Pure Land Way, I deeply acknowledge the Tathagata Amida’s Benevolence. Here I rejoice over what I have heard and marvel at what I have received.

How about you? Have you respectfully accepted - in simple faith - the True Teaching? If not, there is no way for you to deeply acknowledge Amida Buddha’s benevolence. How can a person be grateful for something they think is a fiction - rather than the most amazing karmic act of compassion EVER?

Because that’s what Amida Buddha’s work was all about - BEFORE he became a Buddha - when he was “merely” the Bodhisattva Dharmakara. He took birth countless times, and visited countless Buddhas in countless worlds, and taught the dharma to countless beings - and finally fulfilled his karmic vows to make the most wonderful Dharma Vehicle EVER.

That’s the True Teaching. That’s the revelation of the Larger Sutra preached by Shakyamuni Buddha on Vulture Peak. Those are the words heard respectfully - in faith - by Buddha’s cousin, the monk Ananda, and thousands of others.

So I encourage you to listen like Shinran himself listened - with an open mind and an open heart. Listen deeply. Listen respectfully.

Ask Amida Buddha to show you if Shinran’s words, and the words of the Pure Land Masters before him, and the words of Shakyamuni, are TRUE and REAL. Ask Amida Buddha to give you HIS faith - HIS shinjin - his revelatory understanding of the dharma.

Only ask Amida Buddha - and he will do it.

  • He will do it because his compassion for us all is infinite.
  • He will do it because he is present here and now as the Buddha extending his reach even to you and me.
  • He will do it because his light is infinite in its reach.
  • He will do it because his life extends EVERYWHERE in the ten directions, piercing and penetrating everything - even the darkness of our own obscurations and delusions.

NamuAmidaButsu. I am grateful.

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