The Shinran Manifesto: Concerning Shin Semiotics #4 - Shinran’s Deliberately Simple-Minded Dharma

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

Ray asks why I think that “Shin Semiotics” - 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.

In particular, he cited the ideas of modernist theologian Karen Armstrong’s thought as a set of tools for understanding Shinran’s dharma teaching for people of our day.

These four posts are my answer to his question.

This post, in particular, gives my answer to the question about whether Shinran ’s teaching is some kind of Buddhist fundamentalism - and compares his approach to the Dharma with the approach of modern Shin Buddhist scholars - and by extension, Karen Armstrong - a modernist theologian from the Western tradition.

This post also shows what I believe to be Shinran’s perspective (as well as Honen’s, Yuien’s and Rennyo’s) - that ALL Path of the Sages approaches, INCLUDING the Shin Semiotics approach are fundamentally misguided when it comes to Shinran’s central concern for us all: becoming people of SHINJIN - True Entrusting.

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 .

Finally, for anyone else who may be reading along, all my letters to Ray can be found on the Shin Ugly Blog under the category “Concerning Shin Semiotics”.


Paul R.


Hi Ray –

Here’s my fourth, and final letter answering your comments concerning the Karen Armstrong approach to Shinran’s teaching.

In my last letter, I spoke about Karen Armstrong’s ideas – both in general, and as a tool for examining Buddha-Dharma, generally.

My basic points were these:

Armstrong’s views are simply a modernist belief matrix – no more or less “true” than the fundamentalist belief matrices she feels are “false”, because they are pre-rational.

Her identification of fundamentalists and their belief matrices as the essential cause of religious conflict is naïve. It’s like saying that money is the root of all evil. What Jesus actually said (just to go afield, for a bit) is that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.

Jesus’ idea, rather than Armstrong’s, recognizes that emotional attachment is the real problem. As such, it is congruent with the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha who teaches clearly that it is our egotistical attachment to our religious positions that causes suffering – whether ours or others. THAT is the root cause of religious wars - not our positions themselves (whether fundamentalist or post-modern).

You and I can have different positions (as we do right now) and remain able to remain in thoughtful dialogue anyway. We can agree to disagree without suffering – or causing suffering – for one another.

As Shin Buddhists however, we both recognize the “bonbu” factor in our lives – and the lives of all of us. It is one of the fundamental ideas that Shinran articulates: that we live in the age of MAPPO – the age of Dharma Decline – when even the most dedicated Buddhists just can’t become Buddhas, no matter what we do. If we are hearing Shinran at all, we recognize that our blind passion – our BONNO – isn’t just a PERSONAL issue – it is an issue for the planet – among those who do their best to achieve enlightenment.

And it doesn’t matter really – again listening deeply to Shinran – whether seekers of enlightenment use pre-modern or post-modern ways of thinking, Buddhist or non-Buddhist. Enlightenment – the TRUE end of suffering at last – escapes the dedicated seeker just as much as it escapes the person who doesn’t care about enlightenment at all.

Truly Shinran is speaking with great profundity about the broad human condition when he declares, “Hell is my only home”.

I also mentioned, in my last letter, that Armstrong’s approach is really not new at all. It is simply a non-Buddhist version of an approach that has been a part of the 84,000 paths of the Sages for many centuries.

Because of that I think it much more relevant to address your questions/comments about my reaction to Armstrong in THAT context – as a Path of the Sages kind of teaching - rather addressing the particulars of her Mythos/Logos construction.

In my view our dialogue is about this VAST gulf – the gulf between 84,000 Paths of the Sages on one side – and this very singular – and for many Buddhists apparently UN-buddhist Path of the Foolish on the other.

A fairly learned dharma acquaintance, who identifies herself as a Pure Land Buddhist but has never encountered Shinran first hand, nailed that difference, inadvertantly, in a recent email conversation: She challenged my description of Shinran’s radical thought by saying that Buddhism is, after all, “a culture of self-cultivation”.

And for those 84,000 Paths of the Sages she is absolutely correct. In fact, for anyone “raised” in those paths, Shinran’s radical declaration of his own utter helplessness sounds WEIRD – very UN-Buddhist, indeed.

That’s why the KyoGyoShinShu is Shinran’s great Apologia – his defense to other Buddhists – his answer to Path of Sages scholars and clerics who thought (as did Nichiren) that Shinran’s teaching was NONSENSE, not Buddha-dharma.

In the KGSS, Shinran provides the broader Sangha with a clear sense of this “hidden” dharma that goes all the way back to Shakyamuni – and yet is built on the idea that the traditional Buddhist culture of self-cultivation is a hopeless task for us in this age of MAPPO - of Dharma Decline.

So, in this final letter I am going to build on these ideas.

  • I will address directly WHY I believe this modernist and post-modernist approach to Shin Buddhism a lamentable divergence from what Shinran is teaching. To do this I will use the true story of a modernist Shin Buddhist scholar who “hit the wall” with his Path of the Sages approach to Jodo Shinshu.
  • Building on that singular example, I will address WHY I believe that returning to his teaching as a Sangha is critical for doing the ONLY work that the SANGHA is given to do: preaching the DHARMA that can lead someone to become a BUDDHA.
  • And - most importantly - I will address WHY Shinran and Honen and Yuien and Rennyo thought that it was CRITICAL to take the simple, foolish way of hearing literally as the first step to hearing DEEPLY - rather than taking the complex way of hearing as a modernist does.

Raising these issues, and fleshing them out over time, is one of my primary motivations for writing the Shin Ugly Blog, for introducing Professor Eiken Kobai to the western Shin Sangha, and for having this dialogue with you – and others who are willing.

Please understand though – when I offer my blunt opinion that modernist and post-modernist Jodo Shinshu teaching is full of lamentable diversions, I am not staking out a position on the moral high ground. I come to you, Ray, as an equal.

Both you and I (and everyone) are Buddhas underneath all our common delusions and obscurations. Both you and I are burdened down with karmic problems from a shrouded past that we can’t even see with any clarity. Both you and I are BONBUS.

And that is my perspective on ALL of us who might enter into or observe this discussion – or any other dharma discussion.

Having said that, it doesn’t mean that the discussion is worthless, that we can’t have it, or that we SHOULDN’T have it. We can, and we should. In fact, I believe there is really no discussion more important in the entire world. Because the ramifications of having – or not having – this discussion go way beyond the bounds of this lifetime.

Honen, Shinran, Yuien and Rennyo ALL knew they were in the same boat as us as BONBUS, and that didn’t stop them from this discussion. So – in my view - it shouldn’t stop us either.

Knowing we ARE bonbus should – in my opinion – make us MORE willing rather than less to hold our positions with an open mind, an open heart, and an open hand.

In other words, I want to LISTEN to you if you have a different opinion than I do on these critical questions. I want to CONSIDER your opinion seriously, and not casually – and respond accordingly. I believe I am walking my talk in writing to you publicly, and thoughtfully – and that you are walking the same in writing me.


OK…on to the meat of this letter.

I want to start with a story – a true story - that was told me by Ken (Professor Kobai’s translator) just last week. It struck me that it was a very important story to frame this letter once I heard it. I am paraphrasing Ken’s words as closely as I can as I repeat it to you.

It takes place in Japan, shortly after the end of World War II – and concerns a well known Shin scholar. I don’t recall the scholar’s name, although Ken mentioned it, so I’ll call him Dr. John Smith, for the narrative’s sake.

Dr. Smith was well known for his scholarly exposition that the Pure Land is just a concept rather than a real place in spacetime. No doubt any number of the scholars we hear from in the Shin sangha today derive their understanding from him and others like him.

Dr. Smith himself was a second son – and very aware of the diminished role that a second son had in the traditional family structure. So after he married and had two daughters, although he loved them both, he had a particular fondness and attachment to his younger daughter because he related to her so deeply, as she too was a second child.

His younger daughter got sick – and living as they did in a devastated country without much of a medical infrastructure at that time, there was little help for her. And so one night she died.

Dr. Smith was utterly devastated.

His older daughter talked with him after her sister’s death. She asked her father where her sister was. Dr. Smith replied, mechanically and woodenly, that the younger daughter had gone to the Pure Land. His daughter then asked if there would be a school in the Pure Land, so that her sister would still be able to study and learn.

Dr. Smith thought for a bit and said finally that yes, in the Pure Land no doubt there would be a school for her to attend and learn in. In the Pure Land everything we could ever want or need was available simply by thinking of it; everything was there for us – except for SUFFERING.

His daughter, replied, I’d like to go there to be with her. But since Mommy and you are so sad, I will stay here to make you both happy again.

In that moment, Dr. Smith had a profound epiphany.

He realized that even though he had spent his lifetime teaching that The Pure Land was only a concept – in this moment of terrible suffering he NEEDED it to exist. In fact, the only thing that was keeping his profound grief from driving him to madness was the hope that the True Teaching of Shinran and Shakyamuni was, in fact, TRUE - in opposition to what he had taught so well for so long.

This is how great his attachment to his daughter was – as he was now finding out – much to his own amazement.

Of course, Dr. Smith still had the intellectual training and capacity to TEACH the Path of the Sages teaching. He still understood the logical progression of thought that he had been famous for to demonstrate that the Pure Land was a conceptual construct rather than a real place.

But he was startled to realize that when it came to being “in extremis” – in a moment of profound suffering – such teaching simply couldn’t bear the weight of his own anguish.

He saw, finally, that this was not adequate dharma medicine for a bonbu such as him - for the deep sickness of his heart – the raging fire of his mind.

At the risk of using what has become something of a cliché in the wake of the recent global event – what occurred for Dr. Smith was a TSUNAMI of suffering. His sense of being a man standing on solid ground – in his study, or his library, or in his classroom – had been WASHED AWAY entirely by the reality of death.

Not his own death – or the possiblity of it – but the death of that child to whom he was more deeply attached than to anything or anyone else in the whole world.

Precisely because his attachment to that child was essentially infinite, his suffering was infinite as well.

When his other daughter spoke those words in her innocence, they were spoken with the kind of pre-rational consciousness that Armstrong (and modern Shin scholars) discount.

Though she spoke with the simple faith of a child – it was as though Dr. Smith were hearing from a great Bodhisattva speaking as a link in Amida’s Golden Chain.

The words of this child were a dharma sword that cut through the chains of his cool intellectualism that had burned to a crisp in the fiery hell of suffering. Now they were fetters no more.

Now he was – at last - in the place of complete and utter dependence on the True teaching that IS the singular thought moment – the beginning of Diamondlike SHINJIN.

It is this thought moment that is the very heart of Shinran’s dharma – from our side of the table. It is this thought moment that puts us in the “rightly established group” of those who are “grasped, never to be abandoned”, and who will therefore escape the endless karmic cycle of birth and death at the end of this life.

In this thought moment of authentic recognition that we have NOTHING, the stage is set for any and all of us to listen deeply to – and lean our weight entirely upon – Shakyamuni’s and Shinran’s teaching about the Person, Vow and Work of Amida Buddha.

In that one thought moment of NO DOUBT, the spark goes across the gap – the infinite merit of Amida Buddha is transferred to us who have little or no merit – and we are sealed for rebirth in the Pure Land and Buddhahood at last. The implacable karmic cycle of merit based rebirth into the six realms where non-Buddhas are re-born is broken, at last.

True Nembutsu – the Nembutsu of simple gratitude – simply emerges from our mouth as we see it in gratitude, even through our tears – and sometimes IN SPITE of all that we have learned and absorbed in our brains about Buddhism, and philosophy and theology and anything else.


And now, Ray – I turn to the rhetorical question that I asked in my last letter: was Shinran just some kind of pre-rational fundamentalist NUT? Or (by extension, in answer to several people’s declaration) am I?

The answer to that question is an unequivocal NO. Shinran was NOT a pre-rational fundamentalist – and neither am I. Let me unpack that right here, right now:

I’ll begin with Shinran’s teacher Honen – the man Shinran called his master.

Honen was surely one of the great dharma scholars of his day. It is said that he actually read the complete canon of Buddhist Sutra’s five times – a prodigious feat by any measure.

At the very end of his life, a few days before his death, he composed a summation of all he had come to understand – all he had committed himself to preach and teach – and all that he had said to his disciples – including of course his disciple Shinran. It was his “One Sheet Document”, and includes this remarkable statement:

Even if those who believe in the nembutsu study the teaching which Shakyamuni taught his whole life, they should not put on any airs and should sincerely practice the nembutsu, just as an illiterate fool, a nun or one who is ignorant of Buddhism.

Here is Honen, a man who has throroughly PENETRATED the Path of the Sages approach – deliberately and consciously – not as a pre-rationalist - abandoning ENTIRELY – and counselling his students to do the same.

This theme of taking a foolish person’s ignorant approach to listening deeply – the approach of the Path of the Foolish rather than any of the 84,000 approaches (including Armstrong’s) in the Path of the Sages is something that Shinran picks up as Honen’s true student - and carries through all his teaching, when he instructs people on the Nembutsu.

Shinran too is a person of great learning, and long cultivation on the Paths of the Sages, with 20 years in the monastery at Mt. Hiei. Shinran says, just like Honen – that we should discard such intellectual sophistication and listen with “no calculation whatsover”, over and over again. In the passage below, not even “the slightest particle of calculation”, echoing the WILLFUL simplicity of approach advocated by his master Honen.

It is stated in the Seventeenth Vow, “If [the Buddhas] do not praise and say my Name,” and in the Eighteenth Vow, “If [beings] truly realize shinjin and yet are not born, may I not attain Buddhahood.”

Since both the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Vows are true, how can the Vow of the stage of the truly settled be meaningless?

Because persons of shinjin dwell in the same stage as Maitreya, who will attain Buddhahood after one lifetime, it is certain that they are grasped, never to be abandoned.

Hence, what we call Other Power means that there is no room for the slightest particle of calculation on the part of the practicer. For this reason, it is said that no working is true working.

The great master [Honen] said, “Beyond this, nothing need to be said. Simply entrust yourself to the Buddha.”

One of my favorite passages in Shinran’s writing is when he is responding to some of his students (he said he had no disciples) who wished to make the arduous journey to visit him personally. Why, he asked, do you want to put yourselves through such hardship? What, he asked, do you expect to find once you arrive? Do you think, he asked, that I will have anything else to teach you other than what you have learned already from my letters and those who have taught you face to face? I have NOTHING ELSE, he declared. If you want something else, then go to the monastery I left on Mt. Hiei where you can get all the special teachings and practice you could want.

Another of my favorite passages concerns his description of the time he spent as Honen’s assistant, and what it was Honen and he were trying to do in transmitting this unique dharma of the Path of the Foolish:

You have been explaining to people that one attains birth through the Tathagata’s working; it is in no way otherwise.

What I have been saying to all of you from many years past has not changed. Simply achieve your birth, firmly avoiding all scholarly debate.

I recall hearing the late Master Honen say, “Persons of the Pure Land tradition attain birth in the Pure Land by becoming their foolish selves.

Moreover, I remember him smile and say, as he watched humble people of no intellectual pretensions coming to visit him, “Without doubt their birth is settled.”

And I heard him say after a visit by a man brilliant in letters and debating, “I really wonder about his birth.” To this day these things come to mind.

Each of you should attain your birth without being misled by people and without faltering in shinjin.

However, the practicer in whom shinjin has not become settled will continue to drift, even without being misled by anyone, for he does not abide among the truly settled.

Please relay what I have written here to the others.

Of course, Ray, I am no scholar. Nevertheless, as a simple layperson with a background in the dharma I am capable of hearing Shinran clearly enough. The number of passages in all of Shinran’s works, and the works of those he points all of us towards – such as Genshin’s “Essentials of Faith Alone” contain so many passages like this.

ALL of them give this same message of DELIBERATELY avoiding an approach of mental sophistication when we listen deeply to the Dharma Gate of Jodo Shinshu. Clearly, that is NOT what is happening among clerics and scholars in the Western Shin Sangha today.

I am committed to showing this by using specific examples on the Shin Ugly Blog. It is the SPECIFIC comparisons, rather than vague generalities, that make the essential “compare and contrast” exercise CLEAR. This clarity is necessary for people to see the two different approaches - Shinran’s and the modernists’ - for what they are.

From the pen of Yuien, we only have one document, The Tannisho – Lamenting Divergences. This document was largely ignored by Shin Buddhists until fairly recently – but the whole thrust of it is the same: to warn the Shin sangha not to get involved with the many and varied divergent approaches and ideas which had sprouted up, even during Shinran’s lifetime.

Ironically, those who popularized the Tannisho were leaders in actually introducing many of the modernist divergences into the sangha - as they reacted to some of the extant corruption in the orthodox leadership.

A layperson rather than a scholar, Yuien writes with moving simplicity – and with great concern – warning the sangha about the tendency to add to, detract from, or make different in any way the dharma as he had been taught it by Shinran for so many years.

Finally I mention Rennyo the Restorer – the Eighth Abbot – who came to his office to find the Shin sangha moribund. Rennyo was a great practitioner of what has come to be called “Pareto’s Rule” – better known as the 80/20 Rule – applicable in so many areas of life – and none more important than in the accurate transmission of the dharma of Jodo Shinshu.

He swept away the cobwebs of two centuries of dead scholarship and clericalism – and re-kindled the Sangha by concentrating on the essentials of Shinran’s teaching for laypeople – once again laying aside all the intellectual pretensions of the scholarly approach. Rennyo was all about getting back to the basics – the simple teaching that ANYONE could understand – whether literate or not, Buddhist or not. He walked from town to town, and from temple to temple, discussing the basics over and over again – knowing how difficult it is to LISTEN DEEPLY to the simplicity of the Easy Path.

He stayed in each temple until people had become SETTLED in SHINJIN. People actually lived communally around the temples because they were HUNGRY for this pure dharma that GUARANTEES that this is the last lifetime of suffering for any of us who will accept the salvation Amida Buddha offers.

Here’s a part of one of Rennyo’s letters, along with my notes on the Shin Ugly Blog, that illustrates this EXACT same approach to the Dharma of Shin Buddhism advocated by both Honen and Shinran.

Rennyo: All sentient beings of this Closing Third Era (the Age of Dharma Decline) must attain Faith in the Other-Power and desire rebirth in the Pure Land.

Paul’s notes: Rennyo asserts boldly that there is simply no other viable way to end suffering in this age of Dharma Decline. All must become people of faith in in the Other-Power of Amida Buddha. All must yearn for rebirth in Amida’s Pure Land at the end of this life.

Rennyo: To attain this Faith, no special needs exist for intellect or genius, wealth or poverty, or virtuous “do-gooders,” male or female.

Paul’s notes: Here’s one way to discern if the teaching you’re hearing is authentic Shin Ugly teaching - the plain teaching for plain people that Shinran and Honen and Rennyo offered the entire world.

I call this quality control check “the village idiot test”. It’s based on the ideas Rennyo talks about right here:

  • If it’s too intellectual, clearly the average village idiot won’t understand it. For Shin Ugly teaching, Rennyo says, you just don’t need to be the sharpest knife in the drawer.
  • If it requires massive amounts of time and energy, because you’re either independently wealthy, or you’ve left normal life to take some vow of poverty in a monastery, the average village idiot can’t do it. Shin Ugly is made for the average village idiot who is too busy - who has to do mundane work every day just to put bread on the table for him or herself, and the family.
  • If it requires yet one more obsessive self-improvement program - to deal on your own with your blind passion - to become, as Rennyo says, a “virtuous do-gooder” - the average village idiot will fail miserably. Shin Buddhism is designed for average village idiots who can’t succeed at these metaphysical makeovers - who can’t change deep down inside - who can’t get rid of their blind passion - no matter WHAT.

The bottom line: Whatever the teacher and the teaching are about, if the average village idiot can’t understand it, nor apply it, in the course of a mundane and often harried life, it may not be the authentic Shin Ugly teaching.

The simplicity of the teaching was CRITICAL to the vocation that Honen, Shinran and Rennyo had to teach and preach this final teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Why? Because many who listened to them were people who had not been considered worthy of the dharma on the various Paths of the Sages - many were plain people - rough, unkempt, uncouth people - outcasts - illiterate - people who didn’t clean up real well - people at the bottom of the barrel of a very stratified society.

These plain people knew how plain they really were. They simply couldn’t pretend to put on intellectual, moral or spiritual airs. When told by good teachers of Shin dharma like Rennyo that they were not capable of transcending their blind passions in the Age of Dharma Decline - they neither gave their teachers an argument - nor took it as a blow to their self-esteem. They simply acknowledged this truth - as the truth of their lives.


To sum up, Ray – the dharma that you have apparently absorbed – whether you take a Karen Armstrong set of tools, or the more traditional set of tools like Dr. Smith our Shin scholar above - is NOT the same dharma that our seminal dharma teachers taught.

It is up to you to decide whether or not that is a good thing – or a bad thing. One person asserted to me that it is a good thing - even a NECESSARY thing - with this reasoning: “We need visionary thinkers like Hisao Inagaki or Al Bloom or Taitetsu Unno to guide us through the doctrinal pitfalls of living in a religiously plural world. Relying simply on the words of Shinran, who could not have conceived of the world in which we live, is dangerous and delusional”.

While I respect his right to make such statements, I couldn’t disagree more.

  • I don’t need visionary thinkers – I need Amida’s Primal Vow.
  • There are no doctrinal pitfalls of living in a religiously plural world - he just THINKS there are.
  • Relying on the words of Shinran is neither dangerous nor delusional – he just THINKS it is. I KNOW that it is JUST such reliance that allows me to be led by Amida Buddha to the diamondlike SHINJIN that was the purpose of every word Shinran ever wrote.
  • We don’t need a modernist approach because Honen, Shinran and Rennyo lived in a different time and place – and thus lacked our sophisticated tools for thinking. Our sophisticated tools for thinking have been borrowed (consciously or not) from the unsurpassable wisdom of Buddha himself, expressed in the many and various sutras that define the Path of the Sages - which Honen and Shinran knew intimately.
  • We don’t need a modernist approach because Honen and Shinran didn’t know what it was to live in a religiously pluralistic environment – as we do – and therefore their presentation was necessarily naïve where our is (or should be) sophisticated. On the contrary, they lived in a VERY pluralistic religious environment – a FRACTIOUS and indeed DANGEROUS environment. In that environment they suffered banishment and their fellow Nembutsu practitioners were put to death.for teaching as they did.

No – Honen and Shinran (and Yuien and Rennyo) insisted on simplicity in listening for one reason – and one reason only: EFFICACY.

When I use the word EFFICACY I mean: what REALLY works to come to the END of suffering at last. THAT – and only that – is the bottom line – despite our tendencies to complexify over and over again the singular reason for the sangha to preach and teach the dharma in this age – or ANY age.

When I use the word EFFICACY I mean: It is not that the many and various approaches of the 84,000 Paths of the Sages – like Dr. Smith’s exposition that the Pure Land is a concept are WRONG. They are simply WRONG FOR US because we are BONBUS who can’t use them properly. Therefore these approaches leave us subject to the inexorable rule of karma – an endless series of lives of rebirth in the six realms - where ultimately - as Shinran says - hell is our only home.

Why is the modernist and post-modernist approach to Shin Buddhism so harmful to the sangha as a whole? Because such an approach leaves us unsettled rather than settled, and not even knowing how unsettled we are – just as Dr. Smith the modernist Shin Dharma teacher found himself unsettled when the worst possible tragedy struck in his life.

The cool approach that is characterisic of the many and various paths of the Sages simply fails us during such a time - once life puts the blowtorch upside our heads. Being the bonbus we truly are, we’re just not able to respond to such suffering as Buddha responded – and indeed any number of his non-retrogressing followers responded. The sublime coolness – the nibbana - born of profound and unshakable detachment is entirely beyond plain people like us in this age of dharma decline.

We’re just not like that - and the power of Buddha’s Buddhafield just isn’t what it was in the first dharma age to give us the assistance we need to enable us to become that cool – that detached – that serene - in the face of suffering.

Instead, we’re all like fish on the end of a hook lodged in our guts: we simply can’t detach ourselves from our many and varied cravings and aversions – including (and for many of us ESPECIALLY) from our cravings and aversions concerning those we love most in this world.

Even though this is the TRUTH, we remain blind to it. We’re blind to our own passions - our BONNO - until the mysterious wheel turns in such a way as to take away what we crave, or force us to endure what we are averse to.

Until then, we can’t even see how terribly attached EACH and ALL of us really are.

The monk Dharmakara DID see – and so did the Buddha Shakyamuni who told us of him. Knowing THIS about US provoked that great compassion that was the great bodhisattvic motivation of Dharmakara. He dedicated himself, contemplated and worked (so Shakyamuni and Shinran both tell us) for 5 immense ages to complete his work and fulfill his vows so that we might have an Easy path to Buddhahood at last. And of course, he become Amida Buddha in that process – so I have been told, and so I believe.

He did it for people like us who can’t do a THING to save ourselves – and that includes THINKING our way out of our terrible karmic nightmare by fleeing to modernist and post-modernist thinking – and the conceptual thinking of the paths of the Sages – whether we call ourselves Shin Buddhists, or not.

We can’t do a THING – including think smart thoughts – to get out of our karmic jam. We’re all just bonbus, after all.

Does that mean that someone who has a modernist or post-modernist apprach to Shin Buddhism can’t become a person of settled Shinjin? Of course I couldn’t possibly say such a thing. Amida Buddha’s Vow power is mysterious beyond my comprehension.

But here is what I CAN say – and what I DO say: Every one of these major current divergences which I documented recently progressively diminishes our CORPORATE ability as a sangha to both HEAR the dharma that leads us to SETTLED SHINJIN – and SHARE the dharma so that others can come to settled Shinjin as well.

(I’ve listed NINE such divergences here)

That’s why from the mouth of Yuien – and the heart of Shinran – comes the plea to the sangha: let there be NO divergences based on personal views.

These men – with more wisdom and understanding than their modern counterparts - KNEW that all these divergences just screw up the dharma and make it NEEDLESSLY OBSCURE – and thereby keep people who are otherwise ready to hear strapped to the terrible wheel of birth and death.

That’s why I challenge the modern teachers and scholars with what I call “The Shinran Manifesto” - RETURN TO THE TRUE TEACHING OF SHINRAN, OUR TRUE TEACHER.


To close:

I believe that as part of MONPO – of deep hearing – there are some very simple and very profound questions that modernist and post-moderist Shin Buddhist teachers and students might ask.

Specifically, WHY do you feel the need to move AWAY from Shinran – whether towards Buddhist Path of the Sages Teaching, or towards the non-buddhist teachings of the many and varied philosophies of the west, in order to make Shinran palatable – or even understandable?

Where is the issue – in your own thinking, Ray – that makes the “plain and simple” approach not workable for you? What gets in the way? Where is the core of the doubt about what Shinran says, in the literal way in which he clearly says it, and clearly intends it to be heard?

I’d be TRULY interested to explore your answers – or anyone’s answers – to those questions.

I’d certainly be willing to continue the dialogue with you – or anyone - around those questions.

Indeed, the whole point for my long answer to your question around Karen Armstrong has been to clear a path so we can actually have THIS dialogue as a follow up to the one we have had up until now – if you are willing to stay in dialogue with me.

Because of my own personal journey on the path, which began in the early 1970’s, I have a strong suspicion as to what at least a PART of the answer might be – and indeed why you find in Armstrong such an appealing voice and a useful set of tools for your approach to Shinran up until now.

But rather than explore further in that direction right now, I want to give you time to respond this as well as to my previous letters.

Your dharma friend,


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