The Dharma of “All Done”

I began this blog for ONE very compelling reason.

There is a profound need for Shinran’s teaching to be shared in English - in it’s original form, with it’s original intent and meaning.

Specifically, there was (and still is) a need for people who can and will bear witness to what Shakyamuni Buddha teaches in the Larger Pure Land Sutra.  Shinran himself said that to deliver this Sutra was the reason that Shakyamuni came into the world.

More specifically still, there was a need, and there still is, to declare to the Shin Buddhist community, to other Buddhists, and to non-Buddhists alike that the vision of the Larger Pure Land Sutra is in fact REALITY - and not merely mythos, allegory or mysticism.

Here’s what I mean by that:

First, Amida Buddha is a REAL Buddha, a historic person who completed great practices as a Bodhisattva named Dharmakara, and finally emerged as Amida Buddha.  This is the clear teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha (our historical Buddha) in the Sutra.  It was the clear teaching of Shinran - the Master teacher of Shin Buddhism (also known as Jodo Shinshu).

Here’s what Amida Buddha is NOT:  

  • He is not merely a symbol
  • He is not merely a myth
  • He is not merely an existential state of awareness
  • He is not merely an impersonal abstraction.

Unfortunately, this second kind of idea - a weak and watered down version of the dharma of Shinran - is what is being taught by the current crop of modern Shin Buddhist teachers in the West - including men like Nobuo Haneda and Teitetsu Unno.

Here is Unno, for example:

Amida Buddha is the timeless content of enlightenment realized by the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. Amida means boundless compassion and immeasurable wisdom. Immeasurable wisdom sees into the fragility of human life, and boundless compassion is moved by this insight to actively embrace all live into the timeless fulfillment of truth…

Amida Buddha is in the depth of my exstential awareness. Without my awareness, there is no Amida Buddha. A famous Shin-shu work repeats, “When the faithful awakens to faith, for the first time a Buddha is born.” This, of course, is the realization of man.

From the side of Amida Buddha, he has been with me from the beginningless beginning, striving to awaken me from the blind forces of my karma which cause the agitations of my life. Amida Buddha will not rest until the ripening of favorable conditions brings to fruition my awareness of my karmic and transforms my whole being into the substance of enlightenment.

When the ultimate concern of Amida Buddha for this blind self is realized in my existential awareness, then I am at the very heart of living peace. From this center flows forth the name of Amida, Namu Amida Butsu, recited as the prayer of my gratitude. A new sense of being and a fresh source of strength are provided me as the basis of a creative morality and action, for wherever the name is recited, there he is.


Here is Haneda:

Amida is “a personal symbol.” In other words, Amida is “a fictional character” like Hamlet or Faust. Let me explain this definition by first discussing what Amida is not. Since “Amida” is a fictional character, he is (1) not a god (or a divine being) and (2) not a historical person.

First, Amida is not a god. Just as Hamlet symbolizes certain spiritual qualities of human beings and does not have any superhuman (or divine) meaning, “Amida” symbolizes certain spiritual qualities of human beings and does not have any superhuman (or divine) meaning.

Second, Amida is not a historical person. Just as Hamlet is a fictional character created by Shakespeare and is not a historical person, Amida is a fictional character created by ancient Indians and is not a historical person. Hamlet is supposed to be a prince of Denmark but we cannot find his name in the actual chronicle of Denmark. Similarly, there is no actual history of “Amida”; being a symbolic (fictional) figure, Amida never lived in a specific time and place.

Next, let us discuss what “Amida” is, what he symbolizes. We can say that “Amida” symbolizes two things: (1) Shakyamuni, a historical person, and (2) the Dharma or universal Buddhahood.

First, “Amida” symbolizes Shakyamuni, a historical person. Just as Strickland, the hero in Summerset Maugham’s novel The Moon and Sixpence, is a symbol of the painter Gauguin, a historical person, “Amida” can be considered a symbol of Shakyamuni, a historical person. We can say that “Amida” symbolizes the “humble and dynamic spirit” of Shakyamuni. As we have seen, Mahayanists created the concept of “Amida” in order to criticize the fossilized doctrines of Hinayanists and restore the vital spirit of Shakyamuni.

Second, “Amida” symbolizes the Dharma or universal Buddhahood. Mahayanists created the concept not only to express the vital spirit of Shakyamuni, but also to show the spiritual basis of Shakyamuni and all human beings. They wanted to show that just as Shakyamuni was awakened and liberated by the Dharma (or universal Buddhahood), all human beings are awakened and liberated by it.


Now, compare those modernist and post-modernist views with the reality experienced by Shakyamuni’s disciple Ananda, and thousands of others on Vulture Peak, on the day Shakyamuni Buddha gave the most profound dharma teaching of his entire career:

Ananda stood up, rearranged his robes, assumed the correct posture, faced westward, and, demonstrating his sincere reverence, joined his palms together, prostrated himself on the ground and worshipped Amitayus.

Then he said to the Buddha Shakyamuni, “World-Honored One, I wish to see that Buddha, his Land of Peace and Bliss, and its hosts of bodhisattvas and shravakas.

As soon as Ananda had said this, Amida Buddha emitted a great light, which illuminated all the Buddha-lands. The Encircling Adamantine Mountains, Mount Sumeru, together with large and small mountains, and everything else shone with the same (golden) color.

That light was like the flood at the end of the period of cosmic change that fills the whole world, when myriads of things are submerged, and as far as the eye can see, there is nothing but a vast expanse of water.

Even so was the flood of light emanating from Amitayus (Amida Buddha).

All the lights of shravakas and bodhisattvas were outshone and surpassed, and only the Buddha’s light remained shining bright and glorious.

At that time Ananda saw the splendor and majesty of Amitayus (Amida Buddha) resembling Mount Sumeru, which rises above the whole world.

There was no place which was not illuminated by the light emanating from his body of glory. The four groups of followers of the Buddha (Shakyamuni) in the assembly saw all this at the same time. Likewise, those of the Pure Land saw everything in this world.

Then the Buddha (Shakyamuni) said to Ananda and the Bodhisattva Maitreya, Have you seen that land filled with excellent and glorious manifestations, all spontaneously produced, from the ground to the Heaven of Pure Abode?

Ananda replied, Yes, I have.

The Buddha asked, Have you also heard the great voice of Amitayus expound the Dharma to all the worlds, guiding sentient beings to the Way of the Buddha?

Ananda replied, Yes, I have.

OK. The difference is clear. As plain as the nose on your face. We’re faced with two COMPLETELY different visions and conceptual frameworks about who Amida Buddha is - and of course, what Shin Buddhism is - and is not - about.

  • One set of ideas - the ideas of the modern intellectual teachers - are hard to understand - but can be more or less discussed with others who have a liberal arts college education.
  • The other set of ideas - the ideas of Shakyamuni, and the framework of transcendent vision AND hearing that was given to Ananda on Vulture Peak - is totally beyond anything that we can fit in our small human brains. Paradoxically, it can be understood by someone who is totally illiterate - as many of Shinran’s hearers were.

Which is TRUE? Which is REAL? Which forms the basis for SHINJIN - the true entrusting that was the mark of Honen’s teaching to Shinran, and then Shinran’s teaching to the whold world - as the Dharma Master of this singular dharma for the age of dharma decline?

Here’s the TRUE and REAL answer:

  • The TRUE and REAL teaching is the one that asserts and accepts the vision given by Shakyamuni - and the vision received by his disciple Ananda, and thousands of others.
  • That is WHY Shakyamuni taught what he did, when he did.
  • That is why Amida Buddha manifested himself in radiant effulgent light from his Pure Land to our defiled one - countless light years apart.
  • The TRUE and REAL teaching, is in fact, a SUPERNATURAL teaching. Take it - or leave it. So said Shinran, and so I say as well.
  • The TRUE and REAL teaching is not something to argue about. It’s something to declare. That’s what Shinran does - and that’s what any true student of Shinran will do as well.
  • The TRUE and REAL teaching begins where Buddha himself begins: with the recognition that our problem of suffering is not only huge and distressing in THIS life - but that it follows us inexorably from life to life to life.

Here is Shakyamuni Buddha speaking in his own words, in the Larger Pure Land Sutra, about this terrible problem we all have - a problem that follows us past the unknowable borderland of death itself:

Because they are spiritually defiled, deeply troubled and confused, people indulge their passions. Hence, many are ignorant of the Way, and few realize it. Everyone is restlessly busy, having nothing upon which to rely.

Whether moral or corrupt, of high or low rank, rich or poor, noble or base, all are preoccupied with their own work. They entertain venomous thoughts, creating a widespread and dismal atmosphere of malevolence. Subversive activities are planned, contrary to the universal law and the wishes of the people.

Injustice and vice inevitably follow and are allowed to run their course unchecked until evil karma accumulates to the limit.

Before they expect their lives to end, people meet sudden death and fall into evil realms, where they will suffer excruciating torments for many lives. They will not be able to escape for many thousands of kotis of kalpas. How indescribably painful! How pitiable that is!

Buddha doesn’t say this in judgement. He’s not the Calvinist preacher Jonathan Edwards, thundering out his “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God”.

No - Buddha is simply speaking as THE AWAKENED ONE - The One Who KNOWS. He is the one who saw and penetrated the full mystery of karma - and recognized the effects of karma on each and every human life.

The modernist Shin Buddhist teachers with their intellectual dumbing down of the dharma have NO CURE for this fundamental human DIS-EASE - the disease of having an impossibly large and incurable karmic burden.

And neither do any other Buddhist teachers of the 84,000 paths of the sages - which call upon human beings to cultivate Buddhahood by means of various precepts, practices and good deeds.

In this age of dharma decline, we are each and all carrying an immense and overwhelming burden - a burden impossible to transcend.

Only when we begin to listen deeply to The True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way - as articulated by Shakyamuni and Shinran - do we finally find a path out of the hell of endless transmigration from one sorrowful life to another.

In fact, that is - literally - the ONLY thing we can do. Amida Buddha himself must do EVERYTHING else - to cause us to hear Him - and to understand the REALITY of his Person and His Work.

How humbling to the human ego this is! No chanting, no ritual, no meditations, no good works will do. Only listening deeply will allow us to escape the burden of our own karma - and the certainty of yet another birth - or another million births - as a non-Buddha.

Here’s a recent example from a person who initially read the blog with the mindset of a Shin Buddhist modernist. He thought I was a little cracked in the head, I think. When he first discovered the blog, he found it - in his words - REPUGNANT.

I discovered it for the first time about six weeks ago, and found it absolutely repugnant. (I was one of those who wanted Amida and the Pure Land to be only symbols.)

Your presentation of Shinran and the Sutras has challenged me very personally and very directly in a very sensitive place - my religious faith.

But something (certainly not me) continued to draw him. Here’s what happened next - again, in his own words:

For some reason, the first few times I visited your blog, I never saw or read the “Jessie Checks In” post–which is strange, because you’ve got links to it everywhere. Anyway, I did read enough of your posts to learn about your daughter’s tragic death–and to decide that your “brand” of Shin wasn’t for me.

“My brand of Shin” is the same brand of Shin as taught by Shakyamuni Buddha and Master Shinran. And that is the point - it isn’t MINE at all. It’s Shinran’s - as opposed to the “new and improved” brand of Shin being taught all over the Western Shin Sangha by modernist teachers like the ones I mentioned above.

Listen to what happened next, as that same something continued to work in my dharma friend’s life:

But for some reason, over a month after I’d stricken your blog address from my “favorites” list, I revisited SHIN UGLY blog. I saw the “Jessie checks in” link and read the post.

Then the “something” that is working in his life for “some reason” makes itself manifest:

That was the moment that Amida used to turn my heart around; I swear, you could have knocked me over with a feather as I read about Jamie’s experience of Jessie’s manifestation…

It was then that I began to seriously question my previous assumptions about Shinran’s dharma. It was then that I first began to consider the possibility that the Pure Land was true IN THE WAY that the sutras and Shinran presented it.

There are still many things that I question/don’t understand about Shinran’s dharma. But these have become porous to the degree that they no longer hinder the spontaneous welling up of gratitude and joy whenever I remember Amida’s compassionate vows.

I no longer have any doubt that, for reasons I can’t comprehend or articulate, I’ve been embraced–NEVER to be abandoned.

For the first time in my life, I’m not trying to “earn” my way to the other shore.

Paul, you’ve been a huge part of this…and I suppose, by extension, has your daughter. I rejoice with you that she has ended her journey in samsara and is working together with Amida to bring us all to the realm of full awakening, transcendent wisdom and unhindered compassion..

Namu Amida Butsu!

Are you listening? Can you hear it? Can you isten deeply with me to that TRUE NEMBUTSU - the Nembutsu of Gratitude - that spontaneously comes, not by my friend’s trying - but by Amida Buddha’s working in his life?

That is it. The beginning, the middle and the end of Shiran’s True Teaching. The dharma for village idiots preached by Shinran and Rennyo - incomparable because it depends entirely upon the infinite karmic merit and Vow Power of Amida Buddha - and not even a little bit on us foolish and confused human beings.

Are you listening? Can you hear it? Can you hear the UNMISTAKABLE sound of INCONCEIVALBLE SHINJIN - of True Entrusting - that is the gift of Amida Buddha Himself, given to a person - regardless of how good or how evil - who simply listened deeply for one-thought moment as my dharma friend did?

Can you hear? Can you hear how this has NOTHING to do with modernist ideas, fictive characters, mythos, symbol or any of the other natterings of those who simply have not accepted that the reality that Shakyamuni Buddha speaks about in the Larger Pure Land Sutra is…


I encourage you to keep listening - even if you are not sure - even if you find my words “repugnant” as my dharma friend did not very long ago.

Keep listening - because I am about to share four more stories just like the story I shared in the post Jessie Checks In.

I’m sharing them for one reason - so that somehow you too can eventually be “knocked over by a feather” - the feather of recognition of the supernatural REALITY - the feather of the TRUTH - the feather of the TRUE TEACHING of Shiran, our True Teacher, concerning suffering and the end of suffering, at last.

I’ve got one more thing to share before I end this post. It’s about my friend, specifically about his DEATH:

When he dies - as he surely will - there is absolutely NO question about what will happen next to him. He’s all done.

  • He’s all done with his endless transmigration from life to life.
  • He’s all done with with living in delusion.
  • He’s all done being subject to blind passion.
  • He’s all done being subject to sickness of mind or body.
  • He’s all done with growing old once again.
  • He’s all done with burying his friends and family, and weeping bitter tears.
  • He’s all done with anything less than perfection itself.
  • He’s all done with searching for NIRVANA, for ENLIGHTENMENT, for AWAKENING.

He’s DONE. He’s coming - at the end of this life - to the end of suffering at last. He’s going to move on to the Pure Land because of Amida’s Vow, where he will quickly become a Buddha, by the power of that same Vow. And he KNOWS it.

That’s why his heart is bursting with joy and gratitude. That’s why he’s leaving EVERYTHING concerning his salvation in this life and the next - to Amida Buddha.

That’s why he says the True Nembutsu - the Nembutsu of simple gratitude.

  • Just like Honen.
  • Just like Shinran.
  • Just like Yuien.
  • Just like Rennyo.
  • Just like Eiken Kobai.
  • Just like George Gatenby.
  • Just like countless others.
  • Just like me.

Everything becoming NamuAmidaButsu - listening simply - listening deeply - simply taking refuge in the Person and Work of Amida Buddha.

Same as it ever was.

Paul R.

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