Shinran Shonen - Shin Buddhism’s Dharma Master

Anyone who’s been following the blog knows that it has one purpose: to be a vehicle for Shinran Shonen’s Dharma teaching.

After he met his teacher Honen, the rest of Shinran’s life was dedicated to sharing the revelation that Amida Buddha had given to him. He called it SHINJIN - sometimes translated as FAITH, sometimes translated as TRUE ENTRUSTING.

Whatever word you use, Shinran was not a mincer of words, nor a code-talker. On the contrary, his calling as a Dharma Teacher was to speak PLAINLY. He offered plain talk, for plain people, about suffering - and also the END of suffering.

The Dharma of Shinran was - and still is - a radical departure from anything and everything else in the 84,000 paths of Buddhism. By age 30, Shinran was convinced - and remained convinced for the next 60 years of his long life - that this was the ONLY way for us to come to the end of suffering at last.

Shinran was also convinced - alone among Dharma Masters - that anything we might do to try to bring us closer to our own enlightenment would only drive us away. Everything he taught was predicated on one fundamental proposal: we are unable to shake off our chains of delusion, and cannot free ourselves from our blind passions. More than that we don’t even know what we don’t even know. We are KNOW-NOTHINGS, and DO-NOTHINGS - when it comes to the fundamental business of life itself.

Stark words - words that arouse the innate egotism of foolish beings who aren’t yet comfortable with that diagnosis of our condition.

But to those who already KNOW this is the truth of their own life - however they have become convinced - these words are not harsh, but sweet. They cause us to understand that only by Amida Buddha’s revelation can we hope to even ATTAIN to SHINJIN - the mind of faith that assures our birth in Amida Buddha’s Pure Land at the end of this lifetime.

It goes without saying that Buddhists of the other 84,000 paths of the sages - whether Hinayana, Mahayana, or Vajrayana - don’t believe Shinran. They think he’s really deluded about the dharma. Someone said as much to me the other day.

Modernist and Post-modernist Buddhists reject Shinran’s words as quaint - and those who take his words at face value as hopelessly snared in “Shinranism”. Unfortunately for the Sangha, that’s the position of a lot of the clerics and scholars who dominate the Shin institutions today, as well as the position of people who are creating their own hybrids - mixtures of Shin, Zen, process theology, mythos thinking and whatever else they care to toss into the mix.

For all these people Shinran is someone to be read - and then promptly forgotten, or deconstructed.

In the face of all this, Honen, Shinran, Yuien, Rennyo - and true students from that day until this one are given one task - with two parts.

The FIRST part is to preach and teach the True Teaching of Shinran Shonen as clearly as possible. The Shin Sangha has often failed at that task. That failure has inevitably led to Sangha decline.

And so that is the FIRST part of the task for me, as author of the Shin Ugly blog - just as it is the FIRST task for my dharma mentors - Professor Eiken Kobai and Reverend George Gatenby.

The SECOND part is to point out and refute false teaching for the sake of everyone in the Sangha who wants to hear Amida Buddha’s and Shakyamuni Buddha’s TRUE TEACHING - clearly and without confusion.

That is the SECOND task for me - and of course for my dharma mentors Eiken and George as well.

And of course - ALL of us are simply following in the footsteps of our common Dharma Master Shinran to the best of our ability.

I said all that to introduce a new phase in the Shin Ugly Blog. I’m going to focus my writing on Shinran’s great work - his magnum opus - the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Shu, “The True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way”. Why? So together we can listen deeply - and long and hard - at what our Dharma Master says - and compare it to what others are saying, too.

To be honest, it’s a little bit daunting. I am not a scholar - and not even a very well informed lay person. I don’t have a lot of secondary material I can draw on, other than Yuien’s Tannisho, and the Letters of Rennyo. Of course, I could draw upon Eiken and George’s dharma teaching - and I probably will, somewhat.

But the most important thing is to declare plainly what Shinran said.

Here is my sincere suggestion to you. As I go through the KGSS, simply read his words with an open mind and empty hands. Put aside what you THINK you know. Lay down your well honed intellectual opinions - if you have them. Forget - just for a bit - all the STUFF you’ve read - about the Dharma - about life itself - and simply be open to listening deeply.

As you listen, ask Amida Buddha to direct your thoughts. Ask Amida Buddha to show you if Shinran’s words are TRUE and REAL, or half-true and mythological.

If only you will lay aside INDOLENCE and PRIDE (to use Shinran’s terms) - and simply ask Amida Buddha - he will show you - and you too will become a person of the same SHINJIN as Shinran himself.

How can I be sure Amida Buddha will meet you in this way - if only you are willing to LISTEN DEEPLY?

Because his light - and his life - penetrate EVERYWHERE, in a way that no other Buddha’s light does. Shakyamuni Buddha is gone - and his energetic influence has waned. Maitreya will not arrive in this samsaric realm for many ages.

The Buddha who is present - right here right now - is Amida Buddha.

Here is a wonderful portrait of Shinran I found on the net. It looks very much like a Van Gogh - the rough strokes, the intense color. It is Shinran as I picture him - a real flesh and blood human being who was both BONBU and DHARMA MASTER - who knew the darkness of his own mind the whole of his life - and knew also the reality of Amida’s Light piercing the darkness.

Shinran Shonen

Here is a man who fought for the truth on behalf of his generation - and our as well - not with sword, but with a DHARMA SWORD.

Because HE was faithful to the dharma message, this is MY last lifetime as suffering being. He showed me HOW to take refuge completely, and WHY nothing else would do but diamondlike faith.

Shinran explained what it meant to entrust myself utterly to the person and work of Amida Buddha - just as he himself did. And so I too entrusted myself. And I also explained Shinran’s plain talk to my beloved daughter and dear friend Jessie. She was karmically ready to listen deeply - and so she took refuge and said Nembutsu as well.

Because SHINRAN was faithful to the dharma message, death itself could not hold my beloved daughter and friend Jessie. She has completed her journey - and manifested herself multiple times.

I will see her there, in the Pure Land, at the end of this life - because Shinran was faithful to the call of Amida Buddha in his life.

How can you know Shinran was faithful and Amida Buddha is true and real? Only ask Amida Buddha. He will show you.

So…with the next post, I will begin the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Shu. It is time - and past time - for what I call THE SHINRAN MANIFESTO:

Return to the True Teaching of Shinran, Our True Teacher.


Paul R.

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