I found some nice little online books related to Jodo Shu or Japanese Pure Land Buddhism from the Hawaii mission, but I liked one in particular that covered the basics of Jodo Shu practice. This was called “Reading is Believing“.
I’ve discussed the basics of Jodo Shu Buddhism before, but I thought the venerable Rev. Urakami (who recently passed away) did a nice, succinct explanation of the Four Features and the book’s conclusion:
- Buddha Nature – All beings have the potential to become Enlightened (to become a Buddha) and reach Nirvana. There’s no magical essence or power behind this, it’s simply due to the fact that all phenomena lack a permanent nature. In a negative context, this means things are impermanent, but in a positive context this means that one can become a Buddha, because you’re not permanently stuck with bad habits and delusions.1 This is an essential teaching found in Mahayana Buddhism, of which Jodo Shu is a part.
- Law of Cause and Effect – All phenomena come into existence through other causes and conditions, and all phenomena are interrelated to one another. Thus what you do affects others, what others do affects you, and so on. Nothing exists alone, nor comes into existence on its own. We all depend on each other. This is also fundamental to Mahayana Buddhism.2
- The Dynamic Force of the Precepts – As Rev. Urakami discussed in another chapter, people cannot normally stay good and moral all the time. Sooner or later they backslide. But in Buddhism, we often practice religious and moral vows which inspire behavior that a person wouldn’t normally felt possible. By making a sincere vow before an image of the Buddha, or to others, one is endowed with a kind of spiritual strength. As stated in the Law of Cause and Effect, we do not exist alone, and cannot do anything alone without help from others.
- The Nembutsu (recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s name) – Even if one struggles with all of the above, Amitabha Buddha made a series of vows to help all beings become enlightened even if they only do so little as to recite his name. Thus the practice of the nembutsu is for anyone who feels they are hopeless, or struggling with life and Buddhist practice. As stated in various sutras, Amitabha’s light will dispel ignorance and free them from craving if one encounters it.
Buddhism has lots of numbered lists, there’s no getting around that, but I thought this succinctly summarizes what Jodo Shu and all Pure Land Buddhism is all about, as well as how it relates to Buddhism as a whole.
Namu Amida Butsu
1 Or as the famous Indian Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna, said: because everything is empty, all things are possible.
2 It’s also a reminder to be a light for others.