Thursday, June 3, 2010

Shinran Shonin’s Jodo Shinshu

If you are interested in Pure Land practice, I would recommend you also study the works of Shinran. His interpretation of Pure Land Buddhism is different from other Pure Land Masters. For me, those who are into Pure Land Buddhism cannot ignore his works and commentaries. For him, you don't say the Nembutsu to take rebirth in the Pure Land, you say it only out of gratitude. For him, there is no practice. In fact, the more evil we are, the more chances for rebirth in Sukhavati. But you got to read his explanation for it. Don;t start doing evil deeds. His interpetation of the person of "shinjin" is interesting. For Shinran, the person of shinjin takes rebirth right away in Amitabha's Pure Land right here in this world.

According to Shinran, the person who has realised shinjin, attains a state equal of perfect enlightenment and will ultimately attain the supreme enlightenment. However he remains a karmically bound being until his karma is exhausted. This is mentionedd in "Notes on Once-Calling, and Many-Calling", Shinran's translation of "Ichinen-tanen mon'i". Is this similar to what I have termed "unenlightened bodhisattvas"?

Once I was determiend to practice his version of Jodo Shinshu, but then thought that it is becoming more and more similar to other religions (with Supreme God concept). But then, of course I was wrong. Now I realise even Amitabha's Vows are empty. Same as Sukhavati - empty of inherent existent. In other religions, God is not empty. God is a permanent eternal entity. This is the difference. So, when you embrace Amitabha's Vows, you are not embracing another God like the God of Christianity, etc. I really admire Shinran, and this is another of my tribute post to him.

Shinran was born into the Hino family, a minor branch of the Fujiwara clan, on April 1 (May 21 in new calender), in 1173. At The time, Japan was experiencing a tremendous social upheaval. The collapse of the social order was caused among other things by the Hogen and Heiji rebellions in 1156 and 1159. Given these harsh social conditions as a backdrop, Shinran entered the Buddhist priesthood at nine, beginning his hard practice at Mt. Hiei, at that time the authoritative center of Japanese Buddhist studies. He spent twenty years living within the monastic community of Mt. Hiei.

Things he saw while living in the monastic surroundings of Mt. Hiei convinced him that the real situation of Buddhist community at; that time was not hopeful. Most of the monks had lost any true aspiration for enlightenment and merely contended with one another for worldly fame and political supremacy. He took this situation as evidence that this was the age of the last dharma, a degenerate age, which the Buddha had predicted. In addition to such vulgar circumstances, the more earnestly Shinran devoted himself to Buddhist practices, the more keenly he felt his own disgraceful mind. He found it impossible to actualize the true mind which was a condition for attaining enlightenment.

Finding a way out of the impasse, Shinran encountered Honen-bo (1133-1212) who was teaching at Higashiyama Yoshimizu, that every one; even a evil person, could birth in the Pure Land by saying nenbutsu. Shinran, convinced that the teaching of birth through nembutsu was the only way for the foolish and ignorant being like him to attain buddhahood, abandoned the practices on Mt. Hiei at the age of twenty-nine. He became Honen's disciple and entrusted himself to the path of nembutsu. The nembutsu teaching, insisting that regardless of ones' rank and position, both the good and the evil were all saved by saying nembutsu, rapidly spread among the ordinary people, who were obliged to live in the lowest level of society. However, the established Buddhist sects stubbornly asserted that the nembutsu teaching was instigating views that ran counter to the Buddhist order and was seducing the public by spreading a false teaching. They petitioned the imperial court to prohibit the nembutsu teaching, and both Master Honen and Shinran were exiled from Kyoto in 1207. This affair is called the Jogen persecution. Shinran was stripped off his ordination as a monk and was forced to use a secular name, Yoshizane Fujii. He was then banished to Echigo (today's Niigata prefecture).

Without flinching at this hardship, Shinran considered his banishment as a good opportunity to spread nembutsu teaching to remote places. Even though monks were not allowed to marry in those days, he got married while he was in Echigo. After he was pardoned he did not return to Kyoto, but migrated to the Kanto area. Shinran spoke himself as neither monk nor worldly (layman)', for; deprived of his ordination, he could no longer be considered a monk, yet he still strongly aspired for enlightenment. He also called himself by the name foolish and short-haired (bold-headed) Shinran,' and throughout his life he showed the way by which an ordinary man could attain buddhahood. In his later years, he returned to Kyoto. He died at the age of ninety on November 28 (January 16 in new calender) in 1263. Thereafter till the present day, we call him as the Shinran Shonin, the Excellent Listener Shinran, for reminding his veracious attitude to the Dharma and himself. The thing that we can admire about Shinran's life at this time was his attempt to live his life based on religious truth instead of basing it on secular norms.

For example, when he was convinced that the great compassion of the Buddha was to save all beings; including people possessing evil passions, he abandoned his practices and studies on Mt. Hiei, to which he had devoted himself for twenty years, and chose Honen's nembutsu teaching. Even when he was exiled in the Jogen persecution, he never abandoned this belief. In his later years, he disowned his son Zenran, when Zenran taught false teachings in Kanto area, in order to obey nembutsu teaching. All these facts bear witness to his conviction regarding the correctness and importance of the nembutsu teaching. In many of his works, Shiran revealed that Jodo-shinshu, the true teaching of the Pure Land way, is in line with the fundamental principle of Buddhism. Moreover, he asserted that it should be considered the legitimate form of Buddhism.

Of all his works, The True Teaching, Practice, and Realization of the Pure Land Way (KYOGYOSHINSHO) is the most important one. In this book, he made clear the true intention of the Lager Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra, by systematically collecting many passages from sutras and masters' discourses as proof. That is why, the Jodo-shinshu sect takes the year of 1224, when this book is accomplished, as the year of the creation of the sect. Shinran also wrote many things in Japanese as well as those things written in Chinese composition.

For example, he wrote many hymns on the Pure Land, the Patriarchs and the Last Age. We also have his letters that were mailed to his disciples in Kanto area and the Tan'nisho, or Notes Lamenting Differences, which recorded Shinran's words in ordinary conversation. Since the Tan'nisho, especially, collects Shinran's own words, it transmits Shinran's thought to us as if we were hearing his teaching in his presence.

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