RETURN TO THE TRUE TEACHING OF SHINRAN, OUR TRUE TEACHER.
That’s the SHINRAN Manifesto.
Here’s the first of several Shin Ugly Blog posts where I examine the TRUE teaching of Shinran - and the teaching of others - concerning Amida Buddha.
Here’s a question to challenge all of us in the Shin Buddhist community - clerics, scholars and laypeople alike: what did Shinran believe and teach concerning Amida Buddha?
Here’s the Shin Ugly answer - plain talk in plain English to dispel confusion and help people find the same SHINJIN (true entrusting) as Shinran:
Amida Buddha has personhood in the same way Shakyamuni Buddha does.
Like Shakyamuni Buddha, Amida Buddha had a time in his existence when he was not a Buddha.
Like Shakyamuni Buddha, Amida Buddha went through a process that took place over many lifetimes which resulted in his attaining Buddhahood.
When I say a plain person, I mean a PLAIN person - a person with a no college education, no high IQ, no background in Buddhism, no access to a local Shin Buddhist temple - no special educational background or advantage of ANY kind.
As I will show in subsequent posts by quotes from Honen, Shinran and Rennyo, those aren’t necessarily DISADVANTAGES at all - indeed, as things have unfolded over the past 800 years the great disadvantage IS, all too often, a high IQ, a sophisticated college education, a deep understanding of the many paths in the Buddha-dharma.
These plain people - these village idiots - are PRECISELY the kind of person who Shinran taught so often during his own lifetime. Because Shinran was kind enough to teach with great simplicity and clarity - plain people with hungry hearts were able to hear him and become people of the same SHINJIN - of the same true entrusting - as he.
And - by Shinran’s own words - this was the truly IMPORTANT thing - the CRITICAL thing - becoming a person of the same SHINJIN.
This was the truly IMPORTANT thing for Rennyo the Restorer, as well. 200 years after Shinran’s death, he served the confused Shin Buddhist community in the very same way: by presenting the plain teaching in plain language so that many IN THE SHIN SANGHA who aspired for Buddhahood but were utterly confused could become people of the same SHINJIN as Rennyo, and his teacher Shinran.
This is the singular purpose of the Shin Ugly blog as well: to speak SHINRAN’S TRUTH plainly - so there is NO ambiguity at all about Shinran’s TRUE teaching. Shinran’s teaching is based on WHAT Shinran believed, and WHY he believed it. To become people of the same Shinjin, we need to have the ability to believe as he did.
As I have said before in earlier posts, this was PRECISELY why Shinran’s student Yuien - as an old man - wrote the following after Shinran’s death - with tears and great concern.
Yuien begins with this in the opening of the Tannisho - Lamenting Divergences:
As I humbly reflect on the past [when the late master was alive] and the present in my foolish mind, I cannot but lament the divergences from the true shinjin that he conveyed by speaking to us directly, and I fear there are doubts and confusions in the way followers receive and transmit the teaching.
For how is entrance into the single gate of easy practice possible unless we happily come to rely on a TRUE teacher whom conditions bring us to encounter?
Let there be not the slightest distortion of the teaching of Other Power with words of an understanding based on personal views.
Here, then, I set down in small part the words spoken by the late Shinran Shonin that remain deep in my mind, solely to disperse the doubts of fellow practicers.
A LOT of repeating MUST occur. Yuien himself apologized for being repetitive as he closed the Tannisho. But it’s absolutely necessary in order to transmit Shinran’s TRUE teaching.
Why so much repeating? Because we’re ALL so shrouded in darkness, and such slow learners, and hear so poorly. That’s why, when it comes to the TRUE teaching, ALL of us - whether clerics, scholars or laypeople - need to hear it, and hear it, and hear it again - until each and every one of our divergent personal views is exposed and answered by Shinran’s TRUE teaching.
At that point we have NO MORE DOUBTS - and are ready to simply say THANK YOU AMIDA BUDDHA - for your VOW - and your WORK in creating your Pure Land of Bliss - and your promise to bring me there if only I entrust myself to you completely.
So I’m going to repeat Yuien’s statements above as a LIST. If you have ANY interest in following Shinran’s way, and listening to him as your TRUE teacher, please join me in listening deeply:
- Yuien lamented the many divergences from Shinran’s teaching arising in the Sangha.
- Yuien feared there were doubts and confusions in how followers both received and transmitted the teaching.
- Yuien feared that false teachings and teachers would make it impossible for people to find Shinran’s dharma gate of easy practice.
- Yuien insisted that there be NO distortion based on personal views. That’s a ZERO TOLERANCE policy for distortion of his TRUE teacher’s TRUE teaching.
- Yuien wrote the Tannisho for one reason, and one reason only: to disperse the doubts of fellow practioners.
Now - 800 years later - Yuien’s concerns, his fears, and his pleading directives are JUST as pertinent, JUST as accurate, JUST as important for us in our day.
SAME AS IT EVER WAS.
And that’s why anyone who is a person of of the same Shinjin - the same true entrusting - as Shinran, and is therefore concerned not just with his or her own salvation, but the salvation of others as well, needs to speak the same message to the Shin Buddhist community - particularly the clerics and scholars who have the ear of so many:
RETURN TO THE TRUE TEACHING OF SHINRAN, OUR TRUE TEACHER.
That’s the SHINRAN Manifesto. It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to Shinran, and to Yuien, and to Rennyo, and to Eiken Kobai - and to each and every person who shares the same SHINJIN.
It belongs to each and every person who cares to share the same SHINJIN with a world lost in 84,000 delusions and obscurations in an age of dharma decline - when NOTHING ELSE but Shinran’s SHINJIN will work in our lives to bring us past the darkness into which we are born and die and are born again, in endless cycles of suffering. (more on that later, in another post).
So here is what SHINRAN believed concerning Amida Buddha. I’m going to say it in plain language that can be understood by a plain person with no special educational advantages - no higher education, and no background in Buddhism whatsoever.
- SHINRAN BELIEVED believed that Shakyamuni Buddha was a real person - a sentient being who had attained Buddhahood after many lifetimes.
- The Pure Land Masters that our TRUE teacher Shinran quoted extensively as the source of his own teaching in his magnum opus, The TRUE Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way, all believed the same thing: that Shakyamuni Buddha was a real person - a sentient being who had attained Buddhahood after many lifetimes.
- Similarly, SHINRAN BELIEVED that Amida Buddha was a real person - a sentient being who had attained Buddhahood after many lifetimes.
- The Pure Land Masters that our TRUE teacher Shinran quoted extensively as the source of his own teaching in his magnum opus, The TRUE Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way, all believed the same thing: that Amida Buddha was a real person - a sentient being who had attained Buddhahood after many lifetimes.
- SHINRAN BELIEVED that before attaining Buddhahood, Shakyamuni Buddha was a prince named Gotama.
- Similarly, SHINRAN BELIEVED that before attaining Buddhahood, Amida Buddha was a king named Dharmakara.
- SHINRAN BELIEVED that Prince Gotama renounced his royal vocation to become a monk and a seeker of enlightenment.
- Similarly, SHINRAN BELIEVED that King Dharmakara renounced his royal vocation to become a monk and a seeker of enlightenment.
- SHINRAN BELIEVED that as a monk, Gotama finally emerged as a True Buddha, the one we know as Shakyamuni - the last Buddha of this world system we live in.
- Similarly, SHINRAN BELIEVED that as a monk, Dharmakara finally emerged as a True Buddha, the one we know as Amida - the Buddha of a world system we know as “The Pure Land in the West” or “The Land of Bliss”.
A plain person, with no special education - whether western or Buddhist - might reasonably ask: “Where did Shinran get these ideas, anyway”?
- Shninran knew about Shakyamuni Buddha because the story of his enlightenment and subsequent activities, preaching and teaching are revealed in the Sutras (Buddhist Scriptures).
- Similarly, Shinran knew about Amida Buddha because the story of his enlightenment and subsequent activities, preaching and teaching are revealed in the Sutras (Buddhist Scriptures).
The primary source for Shinran’s knowledge about Amida Buddha is the Larger Pure Land Sutra. Shinran teaches that this Sutra is the single most important teaching that Shakyamuni ever gave. In fact, he goes farther than that: Shinran says, very plainly, that the reason Shakyamuni Buddha appeared was to preach and teach the information contained in the Larger Pure Land Sutra.
Here he is - our TRUE teacher Shinran, in his own words:
To reveal the TRUE teaching: It is the Larger Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life.
The central idea of this sutra is that Amida, by establishing the incomparable Vows, has opened wide the dharma-storehouse, and full of compassion for small, foolish beings, selects and bestows the treasure of virtues.
[The sutra further reveals that] Sakyamuni appeared in this world and expounded the teachings of the way to enlightenment, seeking to save the multitudes of living beings by blessing them with this benefit that is true and real.
Thus, to teach the Tathagata’s Primal Vow is the true intent of this sutra; the Name of the Buddha (AMIDA) is its essence.
How is it known that [this sutra] was the great matter for which Sakyamuni appeared in the world?
The Larger Sutra states that Ananda, Buddha’s disciple, asked:
“Today, World-honored one, your sense organs are filled with gladness and serenity.
Your complexion is pure. Your radiant countenance is majestic, like a luminous mirror in which clear reflections pass unobstructed.
Your lofty features are resplendent, surpassing all words or measure.
Never before have I beheld your lineaments as sublime as they are now.
Indeed, Great Sage, I have thought to myself: Today, the World-honored one abides in the dharma most rare and wondrous.
Today, the Great Hero abides where all Buddhas abide.
Today, the World’s Eye abides in the activity of guide and teacher.
Today, the Preeminent one of the world abides in the supreme enlightenment.
Today, the Heaven-honored one puts into practice the virtue of all Tathagatas.
The Buddhas of the past, future and present all think on one another. Do not you, the present Buddha, also think on all the other Buddhas now?
Why does your commanding radiance shine forth with such brilliance?”
Then the World-honored one (Shakyamuni Buddha) said to Ananda, “Did angelic beings so instruct you that you ask this, or do you inquire of my noble appearance out of your own wisdom?”
Ananda replied to the Buddha, “No angelic being came to teach me; I ask this myself, simply from what I observe.”
The Buddha said, “Well spoken, Ananda! Your question is excellent. You ask this insightful question having summoned up deep wisdom and true and subtle powers of expression, and having turned tender thoughts to all sentient beings.
In his boundless compassion, the Tathagata is filled with commiseration for the beings of the three realms. I have appeared in the world and expounded the teachings of the way to enlightenment, seeking to save the multitudes of living beings by blessing them with the benefit that is true and real.
Rare is it to encounter and rare to behold a Tathagata, even in countless millions of kalpas. It is like the blossoming of the udumbara, which seldom occurs.
This question you now ask will bring immense benefit; it will enlighten the minds of all angelic beings and human beings.
Know, Ananda, that the perfect enlightenment of the Tathagata is immeasurable in its wisdom and vast in its guidance of beings to enlightenment. His insight knows no impediments; nothing can obstruct it.”
So that’s where our TRUE teacher Shinran got his beliefs. That’s why Shinran believed with ALL his heart and ALL his mind that Shakyamuni appeared in our world SPECIFICALLY to teach the Larger Sutra.
At the very CORE of his belief - and the cornerstone of his own teaching - was his understanding of the Personhood of Amida Buddha, which Shakyamuni goes on to explain in the rest of the Sutra. You can read more about that explanation in the blog post entitled “Who Is Amida Buddha“.
In my next post, I’m going to look at other beliefs - FALSE beliefs - concerning Amida Buddha - being propagated in the Shin Buddhist community today. It’s not a fun thing to do, by any means. To be frank, it’s a source of anguish to me to think about - and to write about. I really do understand something about Yuien’s tears as he wrote - and why he called it his LAMENTATIONS concerning divergences.
But - anguish or not - it needs to be done.
It needs to be done for the sake of countless people who otherwise are just going to be confused as hell about the only dharma teaching on the planet that can actually bring us OUT of hell - the hell of endless rebirths of ignorance - to the place of rebirth in the Pure Land, where we will become TRUE Buddhas at last.
To put a very personal spin on it: It needs to be done so my own daughter, and my own friends, and her friends - have something to look at that isn’t an impossible mixture of gobbledygook from any number of divergent sources.
It needs to be done so that if and when they are all ready to listen deeply, they have TRUE teaching available to listen to - even though they are plain people, with no Buddhist education whatsoever.
It just needs to be done. That’s why Shinran did it, that’s why Yuien did it, that’s why Rennyo did it. That’s why Eiken Kobai does it. And that’s why, even though I’m hardly qualified, I’m doing it too.
Just because it needs to be done.
Together with all people of the same SHINJIN - the same true entrusting - as our true teacher Shinran, I too take refuge in the Person, in the Vow, and in the work of Amida Buddha, accomplished over a great span of time, so that I could find an end to this endless cycle of suffering rebirths.