The SHINRAN Manifesto: Concerning Shin Semiotics #2 - From Anguish to Awareness

This is the second of four posts that I am writing to answer a question posed by a dharma friend named Ray.

Ray asks why I think the view of modern Shin Buddhist scholars - that Amida Buddha is symbol and mythos rather than a real person - is such a lamentable diversion, and so harmful to the propagation of Shinran’s teaching.

These four posts are my answer to his question. This post, in particular is about my PERSONAL encounter with Shin Semiotics, and its inadequacy in dealing with the suffering in my own life experience. Subsequent posts will be less personal, and more oriented to intellectually understanding of how and why “Shin Semiotics” - including the idea that Amida Buddha is a fictive mythos and symbol - is emphatically NOT the dharma of Shinran’s True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way.

In a broader context, these posts concerning “Shin Semiotics” offer a basis for an honest discussion around what I call “The Shinran Manifesto”: the call to RETURN TO THE TRUE TEACHING OF SHINRAN, OUR TRUE TEACHER .


Hi Ray -

Here’s the first post in answering your question about why I reject Shin Semiotics as a major diversion - and a lamentable diversion - from Shinran’s True Teaching.

I offer it to you in the form of an introduction Professor Eiken Kobai asked me to write to the new release of his book, “Understanding Jodo Shinshu”. You will understand why as you read it.

It is my own very PERSONAL story - of me as a plain person who had taken refuge in Amida Buddha - on the occassion of my brother’s suicide - when I first began to look for answers that were not dependent on my own self-power practices. Why? Because I was broken by that experience, and simply could not do such practices anymore, nor make use of the Path of the Sages teachings and all the intellectual awareness that included - even though I understood them well enough.

My brother had been a junkie for 20 years - and he killed himself rather than face everyone when a social worker exposed his systematic embezzlement of my mother’s retirement savings - including her monthly social security checks - to feed his heroin habit.

Now, sixteen months later, my beautiful and beloved older daughter, my dearest friend (she was 24), valedictorian of her class, a young woman preparing to go onto graduate school in order to become a worker in the area of global conflict resolution, had succumbed to a depression, had to give up her apartment, move back into my home - where she completed her second attempt at suicide.

It is truly impossible to convey the depth of my suffering here, Ray. I’m not even going to try.

In the aftermath, in addition to going to support groups such as Survivors of Suicide and Compassionate Friends, I turned to a nationally known teacher of Shin Buddhism, looking for some dharma perspective to give ME a reason to continue living in the midst of an unbearable night that simply would not end.

So this is no intellectual debate I’m engaged in here, Ray (and all). We’re talking about life and death - literally. We’re talking about whether Shin Buddhism is just something to mess around with, or whether it really does provide the singular path to Buddhahood in this terrible age of Dharma Decline in this world of darkness - a world I was inhabiting as no one of my acquaintance ever has - and I hope ever does.

Actually, that’s not quite true. When I went to my first Survivors of Suicide meeting, on Thanksgiving Eve 2 weeks after Jessie’s death, a dozen or so told our stories as we sat in a circle. One women told us that TWO of her children had killed themselves.

OK, I thought. You win.

My point is this: anyone who hasn’t had Buddha’s profound negative epiphany - the gut-wrenching recognition that we live in a world on fire with suffering that he had as a young Prince - really isn’t prepared for this discussion. The temptation will be to use one’s intellect to create some kind of DISTANCE, simply as a self-protective measure.

So I’m going to ask you, and anyone else who cares to read the introduction to Professor Eiken Kobai’s book Understanding Jodo-Shinshu, to come to it raw, open and naked - as I have had to, because it has been the fire of hell in my own life.

And as I say, I START with this personal narrative because there is no point in talking about Shin Buddhism otherwise. But I will not end there. In the subsequent posts I will write concerning Shin Semiotics, I will move from my personal narrative to a more intellectual deconstruction -explaining exactly why (in my opinion) Shin Semiotics is NOT Shinran’s teaching - not even CLOSE.

As a man of the true SHINJIN that is the gift of Amida Buddha, Shinran contends - bluntly and directly - that this dharma gate he preaches and teaches is the ONLY path to salvation - to the end of suffering at last - to True Buddhahood - in this age of Dharma Decline.

People of the same settled Shinjin as Shinran - and therefore KNOW that Shinran’s words are true - will care deeply about the ACCURATE propagation of Shin Buddhism for the sake of all beings.

They will recognize that it is the great concern of Shinran and his true followers, such as Yuien - author of the Tannisho (LAMENTING DIVERGENCES) and Rennyo - who restored the moribund sangha and provided this pristine dharma to untold millions because he did.

Such people, of the same mind as our founding dharma teachers, will want to read that deconstruction closely - and listen deeply as they do.

For others who are not sure - but are open to learning - it will require, once again, coming to the discussion NAKED - without egotistical attachment to one’s current position - in order to be able to do the ONLY practice that Shin Buddhism has, according to Shinran.

That practice is MONPO aka listening deeply. It necessarily includes both introspection as well as doing a compare and contrast exercise by questioning openly, what they have believed, and what they have been taught by clerics and scholars - whether Shin Buddhist or otherwise.

Listening deeply to Shinran’s teaching is a whole brain activity: It involves active engagement of the LEFT brain with Shinran’s content, to understand it as a series of logical statements easy enough to explain - statements Shinran explained to many a village idiot in medieval Japan.

It also involved active engagement of the RIGHT brain, being willing to FEEL DEEPLY one’s own yearing for Buddhahood as our fundamental desire, and our sense of despair about not being able to fulfill that authentic yearning in this lifetime, or the next, or the next, or the next.

This kind of deep listening prepares the hearer for the salvation that Amida Buddha provides. it is what every TRUE teacher of Shinran’s dharma needs to teach, and every hearer of Shinran’s dharma needs to hear. Why? Because it is what SHINRAN teaches in order to bring people to settled SHINJIN -the experience of salvation in the present, and Buddhahood in the Pure Land at the end of this life.

With that background, you can find the introduction I wrote for Professor Kobai’s book. Thanks for inviting the dialogue.




Understanding Jodo Shinshu by Professor Eiken Kobai

Introduction by Paul R

If you have a personal interest in the teachings of Shinran - known as Shin Buddhism or Jodo Shinshu - you need to know about Professor Eiken Kobai.

Why? Because he is a Shin Buddhist scholar that I can recommend without reservation as a GOOD TEACHER of Shinran’s teaching.

You might ask: Is the input of a GOOD TEACHER that important to the transmission of SHINJIN - the state of TRUE ENTRUSTING that leads to rebirth in the Pure Land at the end of this life as a Buddha - and the end of suffering at last?

No, it’s CRITICAL.

That was the opinion of Rennyo, known as “Rennyo the Restorer”, because he restored Shinran’s teaching to a Shin Buddhist community that had lost it’s way.

(Read the rest of the introduction HERE).

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