Blogging Shinran’s Dharma - How It Feels and Why I Do It

Hi Jason -

I just wanted to let you know that I have not forgotten our conversation, nor my promise to share with you some more - both about my own life’s journey, and about my thoughts on settled SHINJIN.

Please bear with me. I find that after I have written for the blog, I sometimes need to take a break for several days, even when I know exactly what I want to talk about next.

Blogging the dharma touches the deepest places in me, in opposite directions:

  • First contemplating and sharing the True Teaching touches the places of deepest joy and gratitude - the kind of overwhelming joy and gratitude you have been experiencing through our dialogue.
  • Second, it touches places of sorrow, grief and frustration - both about the ongoing sorrow of my own personal loss (such is the depth of my own personal craving and aversion concerning it) - and (even more these days) my sense of grief and frustration about the unwillingness of the Shin Sangha in the West to go through the exact process you yourself have gone through in grappling directly and persistently with the words of Shakyamuni and Shinran.

I’m not the only one who feels that way - and it’s not particularly a function of my own personal roiling passions from my own personal loss. George Gatenby, a solid and grounded Shin teacher who has been a leader of the Shin Sangha in Australia for years, has shared with me how he feels the very same heartache and puzzlement.

Indeed in the last several entries of his “Notes on the Nembutsu”, I hear undertones of that same deep sadness in his writing. In these recent posts, George talks so movingly about the problems of doubt and duplicity in the context of Shinran’s True Teaching:

I believe that there are many in the Shin Sangha who feel just like George - and like Eiken Kobai - and like me. They see clearly what has been going on with the same eyes as Shinran or Yuien. They are frustrated and grieving in the way Shinran and Yuien were about how the dharma is getting twisted up into something else - something it was never meant to be. They know, as Shinran and Yuien knew, that karmic destinies are inevitably compromised - and precious opportunities to end suffering at last are lost - when the pristine dharma devolves into something less true than it truly IS.

It is not a matter of personal animus - but rather the recognition that the one Dharma gate that provides a sure answer to our fundamental problem of endless transmigration from suffering life to suffering life is being nailed shut - albeit inadvertantly and unconsciously - by those charged with keeping the teaching of Master Shinran pristine and sharing it with hungry hearers in our weary world.

How tragic that is!

To say this is not a witch hunt. You yourself are “Exhibit A” is coming to modernist Shin Buddhism, not finding the rest you sought there from your burden of self-powered thinking and striving to “earn your way to the other shore” as you put it.

And you are also “Exhibit B” in coming to the SHIN UGLY blog, and having an extended authentic Shin dharma dialogue with someone who, even though a layperson of little learning, nevertheless is someone of the same SHINJIN as Shinran. That dialogue was used by Amida Buddha for for powerful and precise dharma transmission of SHINJIN to you - the exact same dharma transmission that Shinran received from his dialogue with Honen, and Yuien received from his dialogue with Shinran.

So you KNOW the difference. It is the difference between DAY and NIGHT - the DAY of Amida Buddha’s simple to understand salvation in the present - or the NIGHT of our own darkness and delusion as we continue muddling around in self-powered thinking and efforting in the realms of theology, philosophy, moralism or even mysticism.

One of the major reasons for my persisting in the Shin Ugly blog is my desire to raise awareness of this difference - and the problems it has created. It is, I can tell you, very difficult to get people to even SEE it as a problem, much less consider its consequences.

Why? Because most people who are Shin Buddhists today take their left-brained intellectual cues from a small coterie of moderist Shin scholars who have been re-defining the Dharma message for so long that listeners listen deeply to THEM first - and Shinran or Shakyamuni second - just as you did until recently.

Those who listen to these modernist teachers are generally not even aware that they are being submerged in a memetic matrix of thoughts and beliefs that is entirely different from the True Teaching of Shinran our True Teacher. Not a few of them have looked at me in astonishment - with ego-defensiveness and anger - when I have pointed that out to them.

The net result of all this divergence? The Shin Sangha in the West is shrinking down to nothing - dying - even as Buddhism in the West thrives.

The old Japanese members who formed the bulk of the membership are dying off, and their children have not followed them into the Sangha. The current message - as confused and vague as it is - appeals neither to Buddhists, nor to other seekers who have abandoned their historical roots of Judeo-Christianity in search of spiritual teaching that doesn’t have a harsh and judgmental Jehovah figure at its core.

So I personally live with twin recognitions that are difficult to endure at the same time:

  • first that the words of Shakyamuni Buddha in the Larger Pure Land Sutra are TRUE - and truly able to deliver plain people beset with countless blind passions into Buddhahood at last;
  • and second that the very group of people who have been given this most wonderful of Dharma gates have decided to essentially ignore it, and substitute their own modern ideas that are so vague and non-specific that coming to simple SHINJIN becomes almost impossible for confused hearers of their tragically divergent teachings.

It is hard knowledge to live with, not just for me - but for any who have been made to know it by Amida Buddha. That is exactly why Yuien ended his letter to the sangha by saying this:

I take my brush with tear in my eyes and record this. Let the title be Tannisho- A Record in Lament of divergences [from True Shinjin].


Now, a suggestion for you to consider:

As someone newly immersed in the gift of Amida’s SHINJIN, I want to point you to Eiken Kobai. His two brief works that have been translated into English, “Understanding Jodo Shinshu” and “Misunderstandings of Master Rennyo“, are masterpieces of clear and powerful Shin dharma in full accord with the True Teaching of Shinran. (I am currently working on a project that will display them in their own website - but for now they are available on the SHIN UGLY blog.)

Eiken has FULLY immersed himself for 40 years of his life in Shinran’s thought - and has also studied the history of the Shin Sangha since the beginning. He knows what happened historically, and what is happening now. With utmost skill and full dedication, he both affirms and explains the True Teaching, and unapologetically calls divergent teachers and teachings to honest account - with no personal animus, but with humility and courage.

It is Eiken’s work that gave me the cognitive tools to recognize what I have now been able to articulate in this letter - and other letters to you and various posts on the SHIN UGLY blog. My debt of gratitude to him is beyond anything I can say.

If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to read his two books. If you have, then read them again - slowly. They will give you a deeper grounding in Shinran’s thought than you would otherwise have - and they will help you to recognize more clearly the difference between the True Teaching of Shinran, and the false teaching that adulterates the dharma too often, today.

This advice to read books that encapsulated ACCURATELY what Shinran wanted to convey was critical instruction given by Shinran in his day to those who listened deeply - and it is just as critical in ours. In his Collection of Letters Shinran writes:

Ultimately, you should read carefully and constantly such writings as Essentials of Faith Alone, On the Afterlife, and Self-power and Other Power, and not diverge from their message.

Please tell this to all people, wherever they may be.

Same as it ever was.


Your dharma friend -


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