Crisis of Faith

Note: an update to this post can be found here.

“These five downward-leading qualities tend to the confusion and disappearance of the true Dhamma. Which five? There is the case where the monks, nuns, male lay followers, & female lay followers live without respect, without deference, for the Teacher. They live without respect, without deference, for the Dhamma… for the Sangha… for the Training… for concentration. These are the five downward-leading qualities that tend to the confusion and disappearance of the true Dhamma.”

–The Saddhammapatirupaka Sutta (A Counterfeit of the True Dhamma, SN 16.13)


This is kind of an awkward subject to talk about, but I wanted to get this off my chest. Consider this a theological rant.

In the past few months, I’ve been studying Buddhism and Jodo Shinshu doctrine closely to prepare for a series of “Introduction to Buddhism” classes I’ve been teaching at the local temple, plus further my own training for ordination or tokudo (得度). But the more I’ve been studying, the more I am having serious questions about Jodo Shinshu. Rather than go into a long explanation why, let me contrast two books about the Pure Land and Amitabha Buddha:

  • Jodo Shinshu: A Guide,1 published by the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha Hongwanji International Center. The so-called “purple book” as Jodo Shinshu followers sometimes call it, is a kind of official handbook for both lay followers and clergy who are in training. Overall it’s a well-organized book in that it covers all the essentials of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism: history, basic teachings, sutras, holidays, temple organization, etc.
  • Finding Our True Home by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book is Thich Nhat Hanh’s somewhat idiosyncratic Zen-style interpretation of the Pure Land as a healthy sangha, though based on limited experience it tends to draw upon a broader Zen-Pure Land tradition found in mainland Asia (China, Vietnam, etc).

Anyhow, let me quote a passage from Jodo Shinshu: A Guide on the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha:

Generally speaking, in Buddha Dharma, the way to become awakened and attain Buddhhood is to accept the Buddha’s teachings and perform prescribed spiritual practices.

However, when we consider the reality of our lives, we begin to realize how difficult this is. As long as we have a physical body, delusions and problems will confront us. It has been 2,500 years since Sakyamuni Buddha appeared in this world and attained Awakening. If prescribed practices were extremely difficult to fulfill then, Awakening would be impossible to achieve in the same way now with so many expectations, distractions and conveniences in our fast-paced world.

On the surface, we may believe that we can approach ultimate Truth if we just follow the practices taught in the Buddhist tradition. But actually, the more we perform spiritual practices, the more entangled in our limitations we become. Then, the more we become aware of the depths of our unawareness, the more we realize how impotent we are to realize Awakening through our own efforts. Accordingly, although the ideal of aspiring to attain Buddhahood is very important, in reality, it is practically impossible. (pg. 66-67)

Now compare with Thich Nhat Hanh’s book:

The teachings of the Buddha are beautiful and wonderful, because they can bring happiness right at the beginning of practice. When we begin to practice breathing in to calm ourselves and breathing out with a smile, when we take steps in a leisurely and relaxed way, we already have happiness. There is no reason why we should have to wait a number of years to be happy. If we practice like that it s sure that in several years we shall be happy, but we are also happy in this moment.

That is why a lotus bud from the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha can arise and open at any time in the form of a smile, in a breath, or in a step. We can help the bud to grown and to open. We do not have to wait for the future. (pg. 45)

These passages are not like-for-like, but you can definitely notice a difference in tone in how the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical founder, are described. The Jodo Shinshu book has a more negative, almost cynical tone when describing the Buddha’s teachings, while Thich Nhat Hanh’s book is more positive.

In describing Shakyamuni’s role in Buddhism, the Jodo Shinshu book states:

In other words, Sakyamuni Buddha is the historical being who founded a spiritual teaching and taught us about Amida [Amitabha] Buddha’s liberation, and urged us to experience this Buddha’s Primal Vow….Shinran [the founder of Jodo Shinshu] reveres Sakyamuni as the human conduit for Amida’s teaching. (pg 71)

Compared with Thich Nhat Hanh:

The Buddhas of the ten directions praise the Buddha Shakyamuni [in the Amitabha Sutra] on two points. The first is that in all the difficult circumstances of this planet Earth he was able to realize full awakening and teach others the same path. The second is that he was able to teach Dharma doors which people at first find very difficult to believe. (pg. 121)

The Jodo Shinshu book seems to diminish the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, into a mere prop or vehicle for conveying the teachings of Amitabha Buddha. Meanwhile, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that the Buddhas are equal in quality and support one another, while emphasizing Shakyamuni Buddha’s role in bringing the Dharma to people.

Reading these two books side by side, I find that I tend to lean more toward Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach to Pure Land Buddhism. I find the tone of his book more inclusive and broad than the Jodo Shinshu book which somehow feels narrow, almost exclusive. Thich Nhat Hanh quotes from other sources such as the Lotus Sutra (pg 55) and Sutra on the Four Frames of Reference (pg 45), and some sutras I’ve never even heard of (pg 127). In contrast, the Jodo Shinshu book seems to assert that only the Larger Sutra on the Buddha of Infinite Life is the “true teaching” (pg. 66) of the Buddha, rendering other teachings as unnecessary.

Interestingly, both teach the notion of Amitabha Buddha as the Dharmakaya, or “Dharma-body”, the ultimate embodiment of the Dharma. Also, both see the Pure Land as a place of liberation and refuge. And yet, how they approach these teachings are drastically different. Thich Nhat Hanh’s explanation works from within the broader Buddhist tradition, including mindfulness, meditation and good conduct, while the Jodo Shinshu book has a subtly antagonistic attitude toward traditional Buddhism, while asserting that the true path lies elsewhere.2

I quoted a certain sutra from the Pali Canon at the very beginning of this post because I felt it got the heart of my unease: if dogma becomes somehow more important than the “teacher” (Shakyamuni), the “training”, etc. it just doesn’t feel right to me. I simply feel teachings such as the Pure Land and the Dharmakaya work better when they work from within the Buddhist tradition, rather than trying to overturn it.

Anyhow, I have some serious thinking to do. If I am to continue on the path toward ordination, I will be entrusted to represent the particular school I am ordained with, so I have to sincerely represent it. However, if I harbor serious doubts that I cannot reconcile, I can’t do that in good faith. That’s not fair to the temple, nor to me.

P.S. I know one might argue that the Jodo Shinshu Guide just doesn’t agree with me, and I should read book X instead, but bear in mind that the Jodo Shinshu Guide was intended as the authoritative source on the subject, and was specifically recommended as part of my training. I can’t disregard it just because there might be more agreeable books out there. Also, other Jodo Shinshu books I’ve read so far simply state the same things, but couched in different language.

1 Also available as a free PDF download from the Buddhist Churches of America website.

2 Jodo Shinshu writings frequently cite Shinran’s own example, and his personal struggles as a young monk which ultimately drove him to give up the monastic life. I can’t put myself in another person’s shoes, but somehow I feel that just because it didn’t work for one person means that we should throw out the Buddhist tradition altogether.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

34 thoughts on “Crisis of Faith”

  1. While I do like much of what Jodo Shinshu has to offer, especially in regards to gratitude, I also tend to appreciate Thich Nhat Hahn’s approach to Pure Land Buddhism. It makes sense to read the Pure Land Sutras in light of other sutras. I’m commenting mainly to follow along with this discussion. I can relate to your mixed feelings and gain from following. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wasn’t able to finish “Finding Our True Home” by Thich Naht Hanh. I don’t put much stock in that book whatsoever. I think the most concrete example of “why” is because he adds words to his “translation” of the Amitabha Sutra that aren’t in the Chinese in order establish his Zen/Thien-centric view of Pure Land teachings. I respect TNH as a teacher, but I do not follow the Zen/Thien-centric view of Pure Land teachings; which takes a certain reading of the Vimalakirti Sutra (ie ignoring certain key passages while overemphasizing others) as primary and dismisses all of the actual Pure Land sutra teachings themselves (3 main sutras, Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra, Mahasthamaprapta’s chapter in the Shurangama Sutra, and fascicle 40 of the Avatamsaka), not to mention the teachings of the Pure Land patriarchs (Nagarjuna’s chapter on easy practice, Vasubandhu’s commentary on the Larger Sutra, ShanTao, TaoCho, TanLuan, Genshin, Honen, Shinran, Rennyo, YinKuang, etc).

    I think you’ll find the Thich Thien Tam books like Buddhism of Wisdom and Faith as a happy medium between the two approaches. It touches on some of the things TNH emphasizes, while still allowing for the Shin approach. If all else fails, you can’t go wrong with the sutras themselves (Shinran didn’t get his ideas from nowhere).


    1. Yeah, I noticed his subtle changes in the translation too. I wasnt too keen on that. The official Jodo Shinshu translation actually is quite good.

      That said, it doesn’t change my particular misgivings about Jodo Shinshu’s attitude toward Shakyamuni Buddha and the somewhat antagonistic attitude it seems to have toward “traditional Buddhism”. That still bothers me.


  3. Oh I hear you. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even a good person to talk to about defending the Shin view because I view Honen as primary and only rely on Shinran for certain, more advanced aspects of practice. I have had big enough issues with the stance on Absolute Other Power (and the constant anxiety over “practice”), the teaching on the single thought moment of faith replacing any expectation for seeing Amida on one’s deathbed, and a few other aspects of Shin doctrine that I actually “jumped ship” for Jodo Shu. I just received my plaque for finishing JSCC this past week, but have been pretty much exclusively Jodo Shu in doctrine and practice for at least 6 months.

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    1. Yeah if I had to chose, I agree with some aspects of Jodo Shu more than JSS more, but even than I cant say I agree 100%. I am not against the Shinshu idea of the primacy of faith either but the particular implications that Shinran and Rennyo imply I cant agree with.


  4. Another attempt… I don’t really think the book is diminishing Shakyamuni and his teachings. Rather so do I simply think that they’re being a bit sectarian, that’s all. They seem to diminish every other path than the pure land path, and they seem to see Shakyamuni’s main (only?) purpose as having taught us about Amitabha.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if a Theravadin thought that that the main or only purpose of the Buddha was to teach the teachings found in the Pali Canon though. Does this mean that a theravadin diminishes the Buddha to be a prop for the pali canon?

    I dunno, I guess it’s very much possible that they’re diminishing Shakyamuni, from the quotes alone it feels like it could be either way.

    It doesn’t feel too weird that Jodo-shinshu doesn’t try to work from ‘within the buddhist tradition’ of mindfullness and good conduct. After all, these practises are done in an attempt to cultuvate wisdom to attain enlightenment, which is quite different from the pure land path of “return to the foolish self to be saved by Amida” (honen).

    I feel like I’m just talking gibberish though. In part I guess I don’t see that big of a contradiction between one and the other quote. my first reaction was simply that ‘Well, the purple book simply talks of that which is relevant in this context’. The purple book is negative of the path of sages and TNH is positive of it. TNH walks the path of sages, so naturally he is positive of it, while jodo-shinshu thinks lowly of the path of sages.


    1. Hi Skottniss, sorry for the late reply. I definitely agree that sectarianism is a big part of the issue. Japanese Buddhism in general gets pretty sectarian in how schools were historically organized. You see it in other sects just as you do Jodo Shinshu. Theravada Buddism too is prone to “nikaya purism” as Bhikkhu Bodhi puts it and I am sure it happens elsewhere too. Humans complicate things.

      That said, my problem is I dont agree with Shinran’s total disregard of the path of the sages. To me, the difference between both paths is artificial, a false construct.

      I didn’t really appreciate how strongly Shinran felt about this until I studied his writings more closely and it makes me pretty uncomfortable with it. Sectarianism is one problem, but wholesale denial of traditional Buddhism is something else entirely. The justifications of Dharma decline or personal faults just don’t do it for me.


  5. It’s helpful to know that the “purple book” was written by the Hongwanji and therefore necessarily must present “orthodox” teachings. When one surveys the wider field of global Shin Buddhist thought, one finds greater diversity and nuance than this one perspective.

    The orthodox perspective is that Shakyamuni’s presence in this saha world was to reveal the teachings of Amida Buddha for bonbu and akunin in the age of mappo. That’s the party line, and it’s been the party line for 700 years.

    But that doesn’t mean that one cannot wiggle around in there and come up with other theological interpretations. Which plenty of people have. And I’m sure you’ve been around long enough to know that not everyone who has tokudo (or even kaikyoshi) blindly follows what’s written in the “purple book.”

    Serving in a religious community must be about more than merely affinity with belief. One’s individual affinity with the teachings of one school or another is certainly important and may provide a foundation for service. But you’ve also got to care about the community itself, about the persons who make up that community, and know that there’s more to being a priest than parroting back what the hierarchy expects you to memorize.


    1. Right, that’s the line I took for a while, but lately now that I’m teaching Buddhism to a wider audience suddenly I am feeling the doctrinal pressure more. And it’s not that I have a differing interpretation so much as I am really starting to disagree with some of the things Shinran taught. I can try to write if off as a medieval-Japanese Buddhist viewpoint but then I risk being insincere.

      So I am wondering if I’d be better of as a sincere layperson than an insincere priest.


  6. First, I apologize in advance, I am typing this on a phone, so I hope it comes out clearly. This is an issue that I also experienced and had to find understanding in, especially while studying the Japanese schools of Jodo faith during my journey. Nichiren Shonin discusses this specifically in his many works coming from his experience within Tendai practices of the Nembutsu, which helped me in understanding the great vehicle of Buddhism. I felt the same reaction as Jodo teachers expounded to cast and throw away the Sutras and just recite the nembutsu. Ignoring that our original teacher is Shakyamuni Buddha and we are able to attain awakening in this life here and now. This hit home for me when studying and learning especially Shinshu doctrine, which felt to me to have a deep disdan for the original Buddha, this life and this world. It hit me hardest when I had an life changing experienced on the Buddha’s birthday in Japan with my teacher. At a very famous temple, Amitabha Buddha’s statue had hundreds of offerings and in the back the almost hidden and small Shayamuni Buddha statue had not one offering but the bunch I brought. Buddhists walked by not glancing or stopping to bow to the Buddha. This hit me so hard that I wept. Knowing and understanding the teachings of the Buddha such as found in Chapter 2 of the Lotus Sutra, expedients. I respect your truthfulness and courage to share with us your state of mind on your journey and how serious you take your practice. It is impossible to go into great detail on the internet, so let us have tea sometime and talk as Brothers in Buddhism, if you have time. With Gassho…


    1. Hey there. Apologies for the delay in replying.

      If this is who I think it is, I am up for tea sometime, but let me address your comments here though.

      My main concern with Nichiren isn’t his efforts to restore focus on Shakyamuni Buddha and such, but his openly hostile comments towards other Buddhist sects. I understand Nichiren was probably under a great deal of pressure, but I have read some of his letters and Nichiren doesn’t pull punches, and that concerns me too. Shinran may have felt the traditional path was fruitless, but at the same time he never openly criticized other sects.

      Also, the One Precept in Nichiren Buddhism doesn’t seem terribly different than Shinshu’s reliance on Other Power. My understanding of Nichiren is pretty limited but that is my impression.


      1. Yes, the Kamakura Era Founders have so many similarities in their anti-establishment and single approach to practice. Yes, Nichiren does not pull punches in his discourses. However, there are some very touching events in his dealing with Jodo lay believers.

        Yes, this is that person. Let us have tea. I will email you. With Gassho…


  7. You’ve just been shakabuku’d. LOL

    I guess I missed this the first time but to say either of the Jodo schools dismiss Shakyamuni is to completely misunderstand the teachings of both schools.

    Both schools teach the 3 Pure Land sutras as primary, which are treated as discourses given by Shakyamuni Buddha. Furthermore, the Shorter Sukhavati Sutra; which all Pure Land Buddhists recite, includes a whole passage praising Shakyamuni and his achievement of Supreme Perfect Awakening in this age of the 5 turbidities.

    Both schools teach ShanTao’s teaching of the “Narrow White Path Between 2 Rivers” (such as in the title of Taitetsu Unno’s “River of Fire, River of Water”). In that parable, Shakyamuni is the voice urging us to follow the path between the two rivers.

    Both schools praise Shakyamuni in their daily services.

    Both schools celebrate holidays devoted to events in Shakyamuni’s life.

    “Sakyamuni Tathagata is truly our compassionate father and mother. With a variety of compassionate means he leads us to awaken the supreme shinjin.”
    – Shinran in the Kyogyoshinsho III “Chapter on Shinjin” (Incidentally, this is the same chapter where he teaches the “Narrow White Path Between 2 Rivers”)

    In Honen’s 1 Sheet Document, Shakyamuni is mentioned just as often as Amida. In fact, at least 3 of the 8 types of selection Honen describes in his thesis, the Senchakushu, are based on *Shakayamuni’s* selection & praise of the nembutsu.


    1. Hi Eric,

      Shakabuku or not, I appreciate all the comments made thus far. Hearing a diversity of opinions on this has been been very encouraging for me and given me many helpful things to consider.

      You’re right: the The Pure Land Sutras are teachings of Shakyamuni as far as the Mahayana tradition is concerned and personally I do like the Larger Sutra for a number of reasons.

      The problem, I feel, among other things is that Shinshu seems to only pay lip-service to Shakyamuni’s teachings using Dharma Decline as an excuse not to put them into practice. Based on personal experience I find that people are not against Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings until they potentially contradict Shinran’s. Then people can defensive even when (in theory) Shakyamuni should have greater weight.

      This happens in other sects too (Shingon for example), so I am not picking on JSS here except for the fact that I am affiliated with that group and having some personal conflicts.

      Maybe I will resolve these conflicts in time, or maybe I ought to consider another path. Time will tell.


  8. “The problem, I feel, among other things is that Shinshu seems to only pay lip-service to Shakyamuni’s teachings using Dharma Decline as an excuse not to put them into practice.”

    I think I know where you’re coming from on this. But I think it’s important not to do too much projecting. Mappo was largely accepted by everyone in Japan for hundreds of years prior to Shinran. His stance on practice is not mere fatalism, it is actually part of Shinran’s method of completely letting go of any self-directed effort. “Naturalness” is one of the terms he likes to use (the concept appears throughout the Pure Land sutras – especially the Larger Sutra). Another term that shows up in Shinran’s writings is “crosswise transcendence”, pointing out that when one completely abandons self effort, a turning occurs. This is not that different than what Nagarjuna teaches regarding the path of easy practice, . It’s very similar to how the Soto practice of “Shikantaza” is “nothing but sitting” or Dogen’s talk of forgetting the self. Parallels can even be found with the Hongaku doctrine of Tendai. Hirota points out that there is a fundamental shift that occurs when following Shinran’s method:

    In short: “Believing ourselves capable of knowing and choosing good over evil, we
    value as essentially worthy our aspirations to perform good as best we can. But
    our transformation can occur only when we become free of our own devices and
    calculation, and this comes about through an awakening to our final inability to
    determine and will true good. Such self-awareness cannot arise through simple
    reflection, for the intellect alone lacks a standard by which to judge and discern
    its own profound ignorance and falsity. However, if we exert ourselves in
    seeking what is good and true in our everyday lives and in our relationships with
    others, our calculative thinking—our conviction that we can guide ourselves
    constantly and unerringly by what is good, and our resolve to make ourselves
    morally and spiritually worthy—will at some point reach a total impasse and all
    room for design and effort will vanish. Then, if we have listened to and engaged
    the Pure Land teaching in earnest, we will awaken to the unhindered light of
    wisdom that has always been present, and a conversion or turnabout will occur.
    Here, it may be said that we become evil and experience samsaric existence for
    the first time. Our intellect, will, and feelings are transformed into true wisdom
    that knows—and great compassion that grasps—karmic evil as itself.”

    It’s not as if Shinran gives carte blanche approval to commit evil either, he signed Honen’s Seven Article Pledge (Shichikajo-kishomon) which has provisions against antinomian behavior. He was also famous for saying:
    “Do not take a liking to poison just because there is an antidote.”


    “Based on personal experience I find that people are not against Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings until they potentially contradict Shinran’s. Then people can defensive even when (in theory) Shakyamuni should have greater weight.”

    Yeah, but Shakyamuni contradicts himself in every single canon that we have. He did not teach everybody the exact same thing or have them all practicing the exact same practices in any of the canons. Thus, we have the whole concept of “upaya” and 84,000 different Dharma doors. There are many ways to express the 8 fold path in daily life and they don’t all look the same.


    This is fairly advanced stuff though. The above from Shinran is the concept of the Profound Mind (2nd of the 3 Minds of Entrusting) taken to its ultimate conclusion. So I think the way it’s presented in Shin can be fairly confusing for people who are still somewhat new to Buddhism. In Shin education, there’s this jump from “General Buddhism” to “Shinran’s most intimate thoughts” without really connecting a lot of the dots in between. Converts (myself included) tend to have this motivation to verify all the teachings to make sure they check out (“Ehipassiko” or “Come and See” as it were). The steps required to get to the conclusions that Shinran’s making are a rather large leap from the simple presentations of the 8 fold path, but they are only contradictory on the surface level and not the heart of the teaching, which you’ll find if you actually do the legwork via the various sutras & commentaries. Not to be presumptuous, but I can send a reading list if you want. I mean if you read “Mindfulness in Plain English” (a Theravada meditation manual) you’ll realize that Shinran’s coming to many of the same conclusions, just by living his life rather than sitting on a cushion. One general piece of advice that may help is actually reading the sutras & the original commentaries themselves instead of reading someone’s take on the teachings. I mean, I’ve read the Senchakushu a number of times, so I know when someone says “Honen said to throw away all the sutras” I know that person is full of crap & not staying true to what Honen actually said. They are merely parroting the words of a critic who was misrepresenting his stance. The same is true for Shinran, there are a lot of people that put words in his mouth or paraphrase him in ways that imply things that he didn’t teach. I’m not sure if the purple book is an example of this, it’s been a while since I read it. You don’t have to take any of their statements regarding Mappo as stone cold fact, either. I look at statements regarding Mappo as a personal diagnosis – not a harsh judgement of the rest of the world. Instead, it becomes part and parcel of the 3 Minds of Entrusting & realizing one’s foolish nature.


    1. Hi Eric, excellent points made here (and as with everyone else, I definitely appreciate your input).

      I am not entirely sure that Mappo was a widely-accepted concept. You definitely see it in both Jodo and Nichiren teachings, and probably in the parent Tendai school, but when I read Ford’s book on Jokei a while back, he made a convincing argument that the assumption that Mappo was a widespread belief was promulgated by the very same Kamakura schools that believed in it.

      Also, you’re right: Honen and Shinran never said anything like throwing away the sutras, and Honen at least still encouraged followers to maintain the precepts. Plus, Shinran at least felt that if a person was trying to flaunt conduct because they were saved by Amida then their shinjin was in doubt (I read this recently in Shinran’s letters quite a bit).

      So, my feeling is that neither Honen nor Shinran were intentionally trying to disrespect Shakyamuni, but at least for Shinran, Shakyamuni was really just a manifestation of Amida Buddha. This is not an uncommon view at the time (Shingon advocates something similar for example), but I feel that even with good intentions this tends to diminish Shakyamuni’s role in Buddhism to a supporting actor. In the quest to find and discover the Dharmakaya, sometimes I wonder if we Buddhists (Jodo, Shingon, Nichiren, etc) lose our grounding. I definitely do not advocate Nikaya Purism because it feels dry and narrow in another sense.

      I suppose I sound kind of wishy-washy here. I think it boils down to the fact that the Buddhist tradition as a whole is pretty fascinating to me, and I hate to let go of any of it for the sake of doctrinal orthodoxy. A certain someone who’s close to me told me recently that I probably would never be 100% happy in any sect, and I suppose they are right. :p


  9. “I am not entirely sure that Mappo was a widely-accepted concept. You definitely see it in both Jodo and Nichiren teachings, and probably in the parent Tendai school, but when I read Ford’s book on Jokei a while back, he made a convincing argument that the assumption that Mappo was a widespread belief was promulgated by the very same Kamakura schools that believed in it.”

    It was an accepted part of Chinese Buddhism in the 6th & 7th centuries CE, before the concept (and even before Tendai) came to Japan:

    It appears in the writings of TaoCho. In fact, Honen’s often attributed as the author of a Mappo related quote in the Senchakushu, but he’s actually quoting TaoCho. In addition, ShanTao & Genshin both accepted Mappo. With them, you have pretty much

    I can’t really blame the Kamakura era thinkers though, even if their math was wrong. Just look at the sheer amount of tragedy that Japan underwent during Honen’s lifetime. It was probably similar to the Black Death in Europe as far as death toll & sheer carnage. If anything, the later Kamakura thinkers had it much easier than Honen did.


    “… but I feel that even with good intentions this tends to diminish Shakyamuni’s role in Buddhism to a supporting actor. In the quest to find and discover the Dharmakaya, sometimes I wonder if we Buddhists (Jodo, Shingon, Nichiren, etc) lose our grounding.”

    I think maybe part of this is down to personal preference and how one interprets passages that say that passing away into parinirvana is just an illusion manifested for the sake of teaching impermanence. I venerate Shakyamuni as part of my daily service as I said, but I also take his recommendations that he gives in the sutras. In all 3 of them he’s fairly clear on why it’s good for normal folks should aspire for Sukhavati and what it takes to get there. I focus on one Buddha, because mixing & matching gets distracting (in my case it’d probably be Amida + Medicine Buddha + Shakyamuni). As the Visualization Sutra states:

    “Seeing Amitāyus Buddha is seeing all Buddhas [in worlds] in the ten directions. Seeing all Buddhas is called the Thinking-of-Buddhas Samādhi. Doing this visualization is called visualizing the bodies of all Buddhas. By visualizing the bodies of all Buddhas, one sees the Buddha mind. The Buddha mind is [the mind of] great lovingkindness and compassion. With unconditional lovingkindness, Buddhas accept all sentient beings. Those who do this visualization, after death, will be reborn, in a future life, before Buddhas and will achieve the Endurance in the Realization of the No Birth of Dharmas.”

    So no, Shakyamuni would not be left out by any stretch of the imagination.


    “I suppose I sound kind of wishy-washy here. I think it boils down to the fact that the Buddhist tradition as a whole is pretty fascinating to me, and I hate to let go of any of it for the sake of doctrinal orthodoxy. A certain someone who’s close to me told me recently that I probably would never be 100% happy in any sect, and I suppose they are right. :p”

    There’s probably some truth to this, and I’m probably in the same boat. I think Jodo Shu is a little more flexible for that kind of stuff – which is kind of why I’ve gone that route. I know Honen says to “return to our foolish selves” which can seem slightly anti-intellectual. He was more about being humble though, there’s a quote in his One Sheet Document where he says:

    “Even if those who believe in the nembutsu study the teaching which Shakyamuni taught his whole life, they should not put on any airs and should sincerely practice the nembutsu, just as an illiterate fool, a nun or one who is ignorant of Buddhism.”

    So in that sense, I feel like it leaves me the freedom to study what I want. Currently working my way through everything by Vasubandhu. I don’t think there’s such a harsh dividing line between meditative and recitative nembutsu either and that reading the sutras can also be an act of meditative nembutsu without realizing it. Surely Honen wouldn’t have a problem with any of his followers reading ShanTao’s instructions in the Kannenbomon (Methods for Visualizing Amida).

    About the only thing that I don’t do that a more syncretic Mahayana practitioner (such as mainland asian Pure Landers) might do is Zazen… and vegetarianism… but I don’t really feel that either are particularly necessary – especially not if one receives Nembutsu Samadhi.


  10. *Note: 3rd paragraph should be

    “It appears in the writings of TaoCho. In fact, Honen’s often attributed as the author of a Mappo related quote in the Senchakushu, but he’s actually quoting TaoCho. In addition, ShanTao & Genshin both accepted Mappo. With them, you have pretty much the primary east Asian masters that Honen based his doctrines on.”


  11. I’ll just ‘ignore’ the recent discussion, kind of.

    Well, I kind of agree with both you and Shinran. I respect people who walk other paths – perhaps they’re walking unneccesarily difficult paths, but that’s the path they chose, and it’s certainly not bad. Maybe difficult and long, but so what? If that’s what they like, then go ahead.

    I kind of feel like, I agree with the stance of ‘concious effort making things worse’, atleast for myself that seems to be very much the case. I kind of see these standpoints from a perspective of mostly being relevant to practitioners of the pure land way though. I mean, I don’t really feel like going over to reddit, on /r/buddhism and start yelling at people “You’re making things worse by conciously striving for Awakening!!!”. Of course, if it’s relevant I’ll gladly recommend people to read the pure land sutras or to practice nembutsu 😉
    If they want to walk the path of sages, that’s their choice. It’s long and difficult, but it’s not like they’ll be ‘damned forever’ for doing it. Also, there are probably some who are more adept at walking the path of sages than others. Shakyamuni managed to become enlightened when there was no dharma at all, so why shouldn’t some people be able to become enligthened when there is dharma (even if it’s corrupt/lost/in the dharma-ending age)? All and all I agree with the shinshu view on this matter, but yeah…

    I spend way too much time thinking about this… I can’t even put down into words what I think anyway. Thanks.


  12. When we take refuge in the Pure Land of Amida
    We take refuge in all the Buddhas.
    To praise the one Buddha, Amida, with the mind that is single
    Is to praise all the unhindered ones.
    -Wasan 48, Hymns of the Pure Land, by Gutoku Shinran


    1. From chapter 5 of the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta (DN16 of the Pali Canon):

      Then the Blessed One said to Ven. Ananda, “Ananda, the twin sal-trees are in full bloom, even though it’s not the flowering season. They shower, strew, & sprinkle on the Tathagata’s body in homage to him. Heavenly coral-tree blossoms are falling from the sky… Heavenly sandalwood powder is falling from the sky… Heavenly music is playing in the sky… Heavenly songs are sung in the sky, in homage to the Tathagata. But it is not to this extent that a Tathagata is worshipped, honored, respected, venerated, or paid homage to. Rather, the monk, nun, male lay follower, or female lay follower who keeps practicing the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma, who keeps practicing masterfully, who lives in accordance with the Dhamma: that is the person who worships, honors, respects, venerates, & pays homage to the Tathagata with the highest homage.

      and from the Larger Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (trans. Rev. Inagaki):

      The Buddha said to the Bodhisattva Maitreya and to devas and humans,
      “I have told you the truth about people of the world. Such being their mode
      of life, they are unable to enter on the Way. Therefore, you should think
      deeply and try to avoid various evil acts; choose the good and diligently
      practice it. A life of addiction to desires or a life of pomp and vainglory
      cannot last long. All must part; there is nothing you can truly enjoy. Since
      you have encountered a Buddha in this world, you should assiduously
      practice the Way. Anyone who sincerely desires birth in the Land of Peace
      and Bliss is able to attain purity of wisdom and supremacy in virtue. You
      should not follow the urges of passions, break the precepts, or fall behind
      others in the practice of the Way.
      If you have doubts and are not clear about
      my teaching, ask me, the Buddha, about anything and I shall explain it to


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