This weekend marks the 750th anniversary (here at least) of the founder of Shin Buddhism; Shinran’s memorial. You can check out a live stream of this event and some keynote speakers here (for good blog post on someone more knowledgable about Shin Buddhism check out this post). For those that are not familiar with Shinran, he was a Tendai monk during the 11th (?) century that became disillusioned with the intensive emphasis placed upon self-reliance and…
Shinran despaired of attaining awakening through such discipline and study; he was also discouraged by the deep corruption that pervaded the mountain monastery. Years earlier, Honen Shonin (1133-1212) had descended from Mt. Hiei and begun teaching a radically new understanding of religious practice, declaring that all self-generated efforts toward enlightenment are tainted by attachments and therefore meaningless. Instead of such practice, one should just say the Nembutsu, not as a contemplative exercise or means for gaining merit, but wholly entrusting oneself to Amida’s Vow to bring all beings to enlightenment.
This practice of complete trust in the Amida Buddha’s Vow through the recitation of the Nembutsu is also incorporated into Zen practice as a suppliment to practice and sometimes, as in the case of Suzuki Shosan as a central fixture. In Bill Porter’s book “Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits” I was surprised that many hermits reported that Nembutsu practice was going hand-in-hand with zazen rather than in opposition with each other.
Sometimes viewed as “working class” Buddhism or as Christianity cloaked in Buddhism, Shin Buddhism, in my humble opinion is neither. Rather than a path of lessened ability or skill, Shin Buddhism enables practioners to focus on Tariki (Power from Outside sources, in this case the power of Amida’s Buddha’s Compassion), rather than through Jiriki (Power from our selves). I come from the school of thought that enlightenment can come from Jiriki solely but if some help is out there why not tap into it? Why attach to my own power or ability?
For me, personally, reliance on the Amida Buddha’s vow does seem similar to Christian concepts of a savior and rebirth in the Pure Land is disturbingly similar to a Christian Heaven. For me, this is besides the point. If it aids in your practice then comparisons and discriminations are worthless.
In Shinran I see a monk that was a teaching ordinary man to lead a truly compassionate and humble life without necessarily having to be a monastic or even a meditator. A working man, a poor woman or an elderly man is still active in practice. The Tanni Sho amazes me. Just like the Keisaku – it is simple, pure and can strike a deep tone.
The Vow of Amida was to free all sentient beings and for this his practice is dedicated to all those that do not sit on a cushion or do prostrations. Amida’s central theme the placement of one’s full attention and compassion in the reciting of his name. The Nembutsu embody’s the practice of monks, the actions of saints and the compassion of Buddhas. The Pure Land is not a Heaven but a place of intensive practice that is available to those that can’t spend a life of contemplation and mediation. I see it less of holy place and more of an extended sit after a life of work and compassion.
My pillars of my Buddhism is “Great Striving, Great Faith and Great Doubt”. Amida Buddha may offer that faith, Zen may offer that practice and my own skeptical mind provides the doubt.
And here is a cartoon.
I am not a Shin Buddhist nor an academic. I am a Zen practitioner and as such I understand that when I open my mouth to express the Dharma, shit will fly out. If my conceptions of Shin practice, Zen or anything else disturbs you feel free to comment. But keep in mind, when we talk Dharma we are, in essence, throwing feces in the air and calling it the moon.
I would prefer, though, that you add your own wisdom and humility to the comments and not denigrating mine.