As part of the Center for Contemporary Shin Buddhist Studies’ mission of spreading the Dharma, the CCSBS publishes the work of notable modern Shin Buddhist scholars.
Although it is possible to approach religion from various angles, here I would like to consider it from the perspective of the nature of language. That is to say, it is in the sphere of religion that the question “What is language?” becomes a fundamental issue. Ordinarily we think that language is treated carefully in areas such as literature or poetry. The language arts give expression to all things through words, giving them preference over colors or sounds. Yet, in the language arts, words do not reach the point of being able to lay bare the deepest foundations of language. This is because literature presupposes the existence of language. In religion, by contrast, the source of language can be experienced for the first time when words become manifest in human life.In other words, religion is none other than that place where language is realized as the route of communication between human beings and that which transcends them, such as gods or buddhas.
“Return to the spirit of Shinran!” are made often and in many venues. However, if we simply return to the spirit of Shinran, we will just end up talking about things from the perspective of Shin Buddhism. In this contemporary age, that kind of limited discussion would be too narrow.It is most important that we consider Shin Buddhism from the standpoint of our return not just to the starting point of Shinshu, but to the starting point of religion itself. By so doing, our thinking about Jodo Shinshu would become flexible, supple, broad, free ,and very much alive.
Parting with a beloved person creates such painful sorrow that it seems to sever our own body.Although it is said that time heels all wounds,in reality healing the separation is not a very easy process.Our feeling of sorrow often grows deeper and deeper.Sometime we shout in our mind that we want to go back before the time of separation.Parting with our loved ones is always sad and painful. But how can we understand the grief of separation and how can we go beyond the sorrow?I would like to share my thoughts on the healing of bereavement and grief with you through the words of Shinran (1173-1262), a Buddhist teacher who lived in medieval Japan.
The Emancipation of Evil Beings: Shinran’s Reflections on Human Nature
by Naoki Nabeshima
In this study, Professor Nabeshima offers a wide-ranging and yet nuanced examination of the important issue of religious evil. He begins with a discussion of general religious and Buddhist views of good and evil, and then considers Shinran’s world view and unique perspective on good and evil, with particular emphasis on the Shin Buddhist approach to the concept of akunin shoki (evil persons are the right persons for salvation by Amida Buddha). In the second section, he illustrates the dynamics involved in Amida’s salvation of the evil person with the story of King Ajatasatru. Professor Nabeshima’s treatment of this story as a kind of case study allows him to explore both the theological and therapeutic implications of salvation. The final portion of this study looks at the importance of Shinran’s self-reflection and awareness of his own evil self. Professor Nabeshima concludes by suggesting that Shin Buddhism offers a system of ethics beyond ethics — a world beyond good and evil — that can allow beings to realize emancipation in a life of true interconnectedness.
In this essay, Prof. Yamada examine Shinran’s understanding of the Eighteenth Vow of Amida Buddha in the Larger Sutra on the Buddha of Infinite Life (Dai Muryojukyo, hereafter, the Larger Sutra). Shinran comes to realize through his unique understanding that “shinjin” (literally, faith-mind or entrusting mind) is the true cause for birth in the Pure Land and realization of buddhahood. In the Kyogyoshinsho, he explains to us why a single recitation of nembutsu and lifelong practice of nembutsu are equally virtuous. He points out that both nembutsu practices are equally virtuous because of the wonderful Name (omyogo). Our recitations of the Name are virtuous neither because of the amount of effort you put in, nor our mental calculation to recite nembutsu. The recitations of the Name are virtuous because of the virtue of the wonderful Name (omyogo) itself. The wonderful Name first reaches the minds (kokoro) of sentient beings. When it has reached the mind, that is called “shinjin.” At the “single thought moment” (ichinen) that it reaches our minds, a sentient being’s birth in the Pure Land is settled. At the moment “shinjin” is settled, the birth of a sentient being is settled. What is the most important teaching of Shinran? That can be summarized into the phrase “Shinjin is the true cause (shinjin shoin).”
My Impression Regarding Amida Belief
by Kogi Kudara
Sometimes we hear some people speaking about Amida Buddha or the Pure Land as substantial existences as if they are the same as God or heaven in Christianity. But that kind of explanation is beside the point. Amida Buddha is like a mirror that shows one’s true self in order to fulfill the supreme self (the expression of the concept of compassion in the form of the personified Buddha). The truth that Shakyamuni Buddha revealed is something beyond forms or words. This point is also reiterated by Shinran (1173 – 1262), the founder of Jodo Shinshu in Japan, who understands that Supreme Buddha is formless. We have to understand that “forms without content are meaningless, and content without form is disorder.” Living in the modern world, we should not lose the content and not be constricted by forms or formality.