A Refutation of Exclusive-Nembutsu Pure Land Buddhism

Note: long-winded post. Sorry for anyone not interested in the topic. Felt like getting this off my chest. :p

Lately, as I have been able to enjoy a small break in life, work and so on, I delved into some books I haven’t finished reading in a long while, including an excellent study on the life of Hossō Buddhist scholar, Jōkei. The book, titled Jokei and Buddhist Devotion in Early Medieval Japan by James L. Ford, is both a biography, but also a critical look at the late Heian, early Kamakura periods from a Buddhist perspective, and an effort to shed new light on this oft-studied and oft-misunderstood period.

In a way, I feel like I am betraying friends I have had the privilege of encountering over the years who are devout Jodo Shu and Shinshu Buddhists, but at the same time, I think Buddhism should be able to stand on its own two feet and take the acid test of criticism sometimes.1 To my friends on the Pure Land path, please forgive this post. It is not a personal attack, and I know many people in Jodo Shu and Jodo Shinshu who are admirable Buddhists in their own right. It’s just that while reading Ford’s book, I really felt he hit the nail on the head with certain things about Honen and Shinran’s teachings that made me uneasy, particularly the “exclusive” Pure Land approach that orthodox Jodo Shu and Jodo Shinshu followers adopt. Until recently though, I couldn’t quite articulate it myself.

This uneasiness came about back when I first started reading Rev. Tagawa’s book on Yogacara Buddhism, and on my recent trip to Kyoto and Nara, this old uneasiness arose in me moreso as I stood at the feet of great temples such in Kyoto and Nara. When I stood in the Treasure House of Kofukuji, beheld all the amazing artwork there, and the vast corpus of teachings they represented, I knew something was still amiss in my Buddhist path and it’s been gnawing on my mind for a while now.

Jōkei is best known as a sharp critic of Hōnen and the exclusive Pure Land movement, or senju nembutsu (専修念仏). As such, he was the primary author in 1205 of the Kōfukuji Sōjō (興福寺奏状), or the “Kofukuji Petition” to the Emperor which sought to suppress the “exclusive nembutsu” Pure Land school started by Honen. History has not been kind to Jokei, and Professor Ford argues that the study of Kamakura Buddhism is flawed because of some underlying biases and assumptions about “old” vs. “new” Buddhism. Meiji-era and later studies tend to apply a kind of “Buddhist revolution” to Honen and Shinran, and paint traditional Buddhist sects as elitist or oppressive. Sometimes, parallels between Shinran and Martin Luther have been drawn in scholarly circles, though more modern research has refuted this analogy as superficial at best.

A while back, after reading Dr. Richard Payne’s collection of essays on the subject of Kamakura-era Buddhism, I started to question these assumptions, but more so after reading Ford’s book. He explores the Petition toward the last-half of the book and Jokei’s relationship with Honen to show how history has normally written about the incident, and carefully dissects it to show another viewpoint. In essence, he argues that Jokei’s criticism of Honen isn’t an “old-guard” or “elitist” perspective, but more accurately reflects a “normative” Buddhist doctrinal stance.

Ford explores at length about the content of Jokei’s Kofukuji Petition and its nine articles faulting the new senju nembutsu (専修念仏) or “exclusive nembutsu” movement, which are Ford summarizes in four points (I am quoting verbatim here):

  1. [According to Jokei,] Honen abandoned all traditional Buddhist practices other than verbal recitation of the nembutsu.
  2. Honen rejected the importance of karmic causality and moral behavior in pursuit of birth in the Pure Land.
  3. Honen false appropriated and misinterpreted Shan-tao with respect to nembutsu practice.
  4. Honen’s teachings had negative social and political implications.

To bolster his stance in the Petition, Jokei uses the same textual sources as Honen to demonstrate that Honen only selectively drew certain teachings from Chinese Pure Land patriarchs, Shan-Tao, Tao-ch’o and T’an-luan to prove his beliefs concerning the verbal nembutsu, while ignoring the whole of their teachings and writings, which included a more comprehensive Pure Land Buddhist path. Ford then turns to modern scholars to show that in China, the nembutsu (nian-fo) was never seen as a verbal-only practice even in Shan-tao’s time, but was interpreted as a well-developed meditation system. This is reflected even in modern day Chinese Buddhist writings, such as those of the late Ven. Yin-Shun.

As Ford then concludes:

Thus Jōkei’s claim that the Pure Land schools had no precedence in China is probably true. All in all, Jōkei’s critique of Honen’s construction of an independent Pure Land sect based on exclusive practice of the oral nembutsu is generally well grounded both doctrinally and historically. (pg. 178)

Jokei’s accusation that Honen abandoned the karmic law of causality and undermined the Buddhist teachings for upholding moral conduct, also weighs heavily. Jokei asserts the traditional Buddhist view2 of time as infinite, and that people are responsible for their own karma and the pursuit of wisdom. From Jokei’s perspective, one’s poor conduct can forestall one’s rebirth in the Pure Land, or reduce the conditions of rebirth itself. He notes the Nine Grades of Rebirth in the Contemplation of Amitabha Sutra, but I am personally also reminded of the proviso in Amida Buddha’s 18th Vow in the Immeasurable Life Sutra:

Excluded, however, are those who commit the five gravest offences and abuse the right Dharma.

Or Shakyamuni’s admonition in the Immeasurable Life Sutra:

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 you.”

One’s poor conduct doesn’t prevent the Vow of Amitabha Buddha from being fulfilled, but delayed and hindered for a time, Jokei argues. Either way, Jokei reinforces a traditional Buddhist view of the importance of karmic causality as central to Buddhism, inline with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha himself in countless, countless, countless sutras. As evinced elsewhere in the book, Jokei like many Buddhists believes in the power of Amitabha and his Vows to bring people to the Pure Land, but also asserts that one is still responsible for their karma, so one has to meet Amitabha Buddha half-way in a sense. Jokei’s many sermons and devotions to Kannon, Maitreya and others show that he often advocated this “middle” approach between devotion and personal practice/responsibility and Ford argues that this was the normative approach to Buddhism taken through out Asian Buddhist history. Indeed, in Jokei’s words describing himself:

[My opinion] is not like the doubt of scholars concerning nature and marks, nor is it like the single-minded faith of people in the world. (pg. 179)

Meanwhile, later Ford shows how Jokei by contrast:

…represents a ‘middle-way’ between the extremes of ‘self-power’ and ‘other-power.’ He was not unique in this respect, since this perspective, though perhaps unarticulated, predominated within traditional Buddhism — despite the rhetorical efforts of figures like Honen and Shinran to paint the established schools as jiriki (self-power) extremists. (pg. 202)”.

But nevertheless, Ford shows how modern scholars in Japan and in the West have skewed this view of history with the belief that the politics of medieval Japan were reactionary, and stifling Buddhism in Japan at the time, leading to the Pure Land movement. Here, I quote Ford directly (emphasis added):

Hōnen’s response to the apparent social inequity and underlying monastic/lay tension — always a feature of Buddhism — was, in effect, to abolish the traditional lay-monastic framework. I am not convinced that he meant to destroy the system, particularly given his devotion to the monastic life, but the effect of his message, as revealed in the Senchakushū, was to undermine the practices and doctrines that sustained the monastic ideal. Pronouncing them obsolete because of the limitations of the age, he concluded that salvation was no longer contingent upon precept adherence, meditative practice, or diligent effort toward realization. Realization was now deemed a secondary goal, since it could not be attained in this world; it could only be attained in Amida’s Pure Land. Although others before Hōnen had devised “simple” practices to address the needs of lay practitioners and lessen the tension noted above, an implicit contradiction remained. If these practices could deliver as promised, why go through the arduous training of a monk? The monastic ideal could be interpreted as an ever-present source of doubt with respect to the efficacy of the “simple” practices. Hōnen can be seen, at least in terms of effect, as one who address this doubt directly, but Shinran appears much more explicitly conscious of this issue. (pg. 183)

Ford then adds:

We certainly cannot fault Hōnen and Shinran for creatively adapting these well-established labels [self-power/other-power, “easy” and “difficult” practices] for their own proselytizing ends. However, we must dismiss these sectarian rhetorical categories as legitimate analytical categories in the study of Kamakura Buddhism. (pg. 202)

Summing up here, I think Ford gets at two critical points here. First, in mainland Asia, historically Pure Land teachings have never been divided along exclusive or sectarian lines, and such was even the case for early medieval Japanese Buddhism:

Scholars generally agree that the tradition of the Pure Land in China represented more of a “scriptural tradition” than a “doctrinal school” and that people of many different schools practiced the nien-fo [nembutsu]. Thus, Jōkei’s claim that the Pure Land schools had no precedence in China is probably true.

A sectarian, exclusive Pure Land Buddhism quite literally did not arise until Honen and later Shinran’s time. Ford is right in crediting them with adapting teaching to suit a need, and I write this with a heavy heart because I actually like both Honen and Shinran, but I agree that the effect, perhaps unintended, was to foster a kind of narrow sectarianism that didn’t exist in Pure Land Buddhist teachings and practices before. I guess it was the sign of the times.

And yet in the modern world, there are many Buddhists in Asia, Japan and the mainland, who are devoted to Amitabha Buddha and still follow traditional Buddhist practices in some form or another. Such people have not forgotten the important balance of sila (moral conduct), samadhi (practice) and paññā (wisdom) even as they strive for rebirth in the Pure Land. Indeed the late Ven. Yin-Shun in his book The Way to Buddhahood, taught a comprehensive approach not unlike that which Shan-tao and Tao-ch’o offered many centuries ago:

The chanting of “Amitabha Buddha” should also be accompanied by prostrations, praise, repententance, the making of sincere requests, rejoicing, and the transference of merit. According to the five sequences in the “Jing tu lun” (Pure Land Treatise),3 one should start with prostrations and praise and then move into practicing cessation [meditation], contemplation [more meditation], and skillful means. One can thereby quickly reach the stage of not retreating from the supreme bodhi. As Nāgārjuna’s Śāstra puts it “those aiming for the stage of avivartin [non-retrogression] should not just be mindful, chant names and prostrate.

It’s a well-established trend, and works for many people in the world, but only in Japan is there a separate trend toward exclusivity and the idea of traditional Buddhism being invalidated. The sense of Dharma Decline so critical to Japanese Pure Land in today’s climate seems like a subjective anachronism now, and difficult to base a doctrine on with so great a diversity of sanghas and teachings in the world.

Second, what I believe to be the stronger refutation of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism as traditionally practiced in Jodo Shinshu and Jodo Shu is summed up in the following passage which deals with the issue of hōben (方便) or “expedient means” (again, emphasis added):

Both in his religious practice and, specifically, the Sōjō, Jōkei’s articulation of the normative voice of inclusivism and diversity within Buddhism is again instructive. The content of this vision of Buddhism, grounded in the tradition’s emphasis on karmic causality, appears almost boundless at times. Hōnen’s exclusive claims of efficacy, resonating with much of the contemporary Tendai hongaku discourse and effectively undermining the moral implications of karma and its ramifications for Buddhist soteriolology, was a wholesale rejection of Buddhist tradition. It invalidated not only the devotion to the variety of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that manifest different qualities of wisdom and compassion but also the importance of various kinds of ascetic practices, long the centerpiece of monastic life. In short, Hōnen’s teaching “delocated” Buddhist sacrality from its traditional broad manifestations — temporal and spatial — to one single exclusive manifestation. (pg. 203)

Again, I think back to my experiences in Nara, Japan in particular. At Todaiji alone, I saw six or seven temples on the temple grounds devoted to various figures of Buddhism. The plurality was amazing, and welcoming in a way. It felt inclusive, not exclusive, and there was no sense of guilt in praying to Jizo Bodhisattva, or the Lotus Sutra, one might feel in a Jodo Shinshu temple for example.4 While there, if all I wanted to do was see Kannon, I could do so, but if I wanted to see other figures too, no problem. In other words, the broad, inclusive nature of Nara-style Buddhism allows Buddhists to offer as much or as little devotion to their heart’s content. No need to worry about doctrinal clashes or implicit guilt.

Thus, my faith in Amitabha Buddha and the Pure Land is no less than it once was, but Ford’s and Jokei’s writings and my experiences in Nara and Kyoto remind me that Buddhism is strongest in diversity, and later Kamakura schools of Buddhism have a tendency toward exclusivity. Japanese Pure Land Buddhists, along with some Zen and Nichiren Buddhists, argue that exclusive approach is simpler and more accessible, but given what other Buddhists faiths I’ve seen, I believe the exclusive approach is ironically less simple and less accessible by virtue of their exclusivity. Too much rationalization, cutting off, and justification while the rest of the Buddhist world quietly hums along to a relatively consistent tune, even with all its own faults.

The inclusive approach exemplified by Jokei, and Ford’s argument that it’s the normative Buddhist approach for most of the Buddhist world, allows considerable flexibility to follow an approach that works for you, without having to deny other paths as too difficult, elitist or only valid during a “better era” of Buddhism. Just follow which aspect you tend to have a karmic connection toward, whether it be Amitabha Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, Kannon, zazen, tantra, or some combination.

First and foremost, I guess I consider myself a Mahayana Buddhist and second a Pure Land follower, not the other way around. So, what does this mean for me? I think I already know the answer, but I’m holding off for now to think further. Jokei’s “middle of the road” approach to Buddhist devotion and practice, and inclusiveness, provides a lot of inspiration right now, along with my experiences in Japan, and I hope to explore this more as time goes on.

Namo Shaka Nyorai
Namo Amida Butsu

P.S. More regarding the critical role karmic causality plays in Buddhism from Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu

P.P.S. More on the subject of inclusiveness/exclusiveness in Pure Land Buddhism.

1 This would normally be the time to bring up the classic Kalama Sutta text, an awesome, though often quoted out of context in Buddhist writings. Instead, I’ll encourage you to read it yourself in full. It really is one of the best sutras in Buddhism. :)

2 Exemplified in the Yogacara/Hossō school in particular amongst the Nara Buddhist schools, and in opposition to Tendai “hongaku” or “innate enlightenment” teachings, and Shingon teachings regarding the “womb of Buddhahood”. It was one of the most tense and long-standing doctrinal feuds in Japanese Buddhism all the way until after Jokei’s time when some reconciliation was made. Ford does not elaborate on how this was done.

3 To be precise the Pure Land Treatise is: 淨土論, Ching-t’u-lun (Wade-Giles) or Jìngtǔ lùn (Pinyin), composed by Jiacai (迦才, ca.620-680).

4 Some Shinshu Buddhists I’ve met have explained it’s OK, as long as it’s an expression of gratitude but again there’s that subtle “if” in there.

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About Doug

A Buddhist, father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
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17 Responses to A Refutation of Exclusive-Nembutsu Pure Land Buddhism

  1. Ron says:

    Very good post! I too have followed Jodo Shinshu for some years now, but kept feeling something was amiss. This is certainly not to “trash” Jodo Shinshu at all, just saying that I never felt quite “right” during all those years. For some reason, the passage from the Dhammapada kept coming to my mind, “Buddhas only show the way..”. To my mind, that passage implies that we have to put in some effort ourselves. So I have also been looking into Chinese Pure Land practices and noticed quite a large difference. I see the effort, such as meditation, prostrations, repentance, transfer of merit and so on alongside nien-fo.

    Thank you for this post! You have provided information here that has cleared a lot of things for me in my mind. I have felt for so long that I was sitting on the fence so to speak, wondering where to go from here. I now feel I have that answer.

  2. Rory says:

    Doug amazing post;
    Reading about Jokei was very important for me. I only really did so due to your blog.
    we can love Pure Land, I know I do, but inclusiveness is normal Buddhism! I’m happy right now going to a local Fo Guang temple where there is Shaka butsu, Jizo, praise to Amida & exhortations to live by precepts. It’s all very balanced. And Saturday I’ll be meeting with a bunch of practitioners to chant nembutsu for an hour. Only it’s Namo Amitufo:)

  3. Kyōshin says:

    Dear Doug, Thanks for your sincere and detailed post.

    Regarding the point in your post about Honen and Shinran’s usage of the textual tradition I think my recent post on mysticism is relevant. I don’t think that you would deny the sincerity of these masters, they weren’t out to fool people, and Honen’s learning was famously vast so we can assume that they weren’t trying to fool people or take liberties. The only explanation is that they were re-drawing existing ‘maps’ of religious practice and experience to demonstrate their own insights. So the tension between Jokei and Honen may well be the one we see throughout all religious traditions; a divide between those who choose to place their reliance on the orthodox tradition and those who trust more in the experential.

    I would be the first to agree that the scholastic rhetoric of Jodo Shinshu, particularly with regards to ‘self-power and other-power’ (a dichotomy that is actually rarely referenced in my home sangha ), can be an obstacle for people. In practice though, at least in my experience, the Jodo Shinshu tradition on the ground is far more catholic (as in broad or universal) than people might realise from simply reading about the tradition. We observe regular shojin days (which share a spirit with uposatha days), do work practice called sagyo (like samu in Zen), often do seated meditation, sutra study, and so on. As for the five gates mentioned in the “Jing tu lun” these are all practiced within otsutome (even if we consider these as practices given to us by Amida, as an extension of nembutsu as it were)!

    I don’t assume that the Jodo Shinshu path is for everyone and in my experience of it on the ground it is not a tradition that denigrates other paths nor the sincere efforts or aspirations of Buddhist devotees. Having said that I think the idea of exclusive practice is important but for a much deeper reason than touched on in the forgoing. Then we’ve had this discussion before haven’t we :-)

    I’m off on retreat in a few hours so I’ll have to respond to any follow up dialogue next week. All the best, K

  4. scott says:

    Hi Doug,

    This is a great post. It raises some questions and I’m feeling the urge to prod you to read more of these stuffy academic tomes.

    I wonder, though, where does this “guilt” you speak of comes from? From Buddhism? I’ve felt guilty myself as a Buddhist from time to time (but for different reasons than the ones you mention above), and I wonder if that guilt is a reaction to something in Buddhism, something in me, or something else entirely.

    If you’re interested in pursuing more of this historical stuff, I recommend you look into that period of Japanese history between the Kamakura and the Meiji era. No one ever does, and a lot of these issues (the sectarian nature of Japanese Buddhism, the exclusivity, etc.) are the result of more than merely doctrinal arguments between Honen et al in the Kamakura or the reaction to modernity that characterizes the Meiji. Helen Baroni has a couple of books on an Obaku Zen monk and her work details a lot of these inter-sectarian debates. And they’re a good read! And if you haven’t read it, James Keetalar’s Of Heretics and Martyrs is a must read.

    Thanks for the post.

  5. Doug says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Ron: Glad to help. Also glad to see it’s not just me. :-)

    Rory: And ironically your comment is what compelled me
    to finish the book. :-)

    Kyoushin Hope your retreat goes well. Three Wheels Sangha strikes as being a lot more open and liberal than the Shinshu sanghas I’ve seen and been a part of. :-)

    Scott Guilt comes from being in a conservative community, and trying to reconcile experiences in Japan and here. As for book suggestions, thanks. Always appreciate new suggestions.

  6. nathan says:

    I seem to be running into a lot of discussions about “exclusiveness” in various Buddhist sects/groups. A recent post I did about Soka Gakkai elicited a few comments that felt overly self assured in their assessment/condemnation of SGI. The point I was trying to make with that post is that there is a element of exclusiveness that floats through us all to some extent, no matter how open our particular “Buddhism” appears to be. Zen communities here in the U.S. pride themselves on being open, supportive, and inclusive, and yet I’ve heard teachers slam Theravadin teachings and practitioners too many times to belief that we Zennies are free of the exclusivity trap.

    Another thing to consider is that whenever someone, or a group of someones innovates, as was the case with Dogen, Nichiren, and Honen in 12th and 13th century Japan, there is tendency to see these innovations as better than everything previous. Not always, but pretty often. I don’t think this excuses the sometimes blatant refusal to value other paths, but it does point to the motivation to make “legitimate” the new approach. I suppose then it’s up to the following generations to decide what to do with the legacy left by the founders.

  7. Mark says:

    I still really appreciate the Buddhism of the Kamakura reformers. As much as I admire the broader approach of Tendai Buddhism (or Chinese or Tibetan Buddhism), it seems like it would be very difficult to do without the guidance of a teacher.

    Then again, my experience with Kamakura Buddhism is with Nichiren and Zen; neither one really eschews things like keeping the precepts or other broader Mahayana practices (although you almost certainly won’t catch a Nichiren Buddhist chanting the Nembutsu); Jodo & Shin Buddhism seem more narrowly focused on “other power.” I can see how that might seem confining.

  8. Doug says:

    Hi Mark and Nathan,

    Apologies on the late reply:

    Mark: I think the issue for me is not one of difficulty, but flexibility and inclusiveness. My experiences have been rather confining in Pure Land so far, as well as with Western Zen, so yes confining is an apt term.

    Nathan Welcome to the JLR. Yes, people do like to play up their own founders as a matter of legitimacy, and due to historiography, we’ve often neglected “classic” Japanese Buddhism in favor of the newer sects simply because they’re old and replaced with more streamlined models. Having a sample of Nara Buddhism only briefly, I like what’s there, for what it’s worth.

  9. Marcus says:

    Hi Doug,

    “Just follow which aspect you tend to have a karmic connection toward, whether it be Amitabha Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, Kannon, zazen, tantra, or some combination.”

    Yes, yes, and yes! As you know, I live in Thailand, attend a Korean Seon temple, have a devotional practice to the Bodhisattva of Compassion, see the precepts as being of vast importance, and love Pure Land Buddhism too (my partner is Jodo-shinshu) – to choose an exclusive practice would, for me, be to deny vaste swathes of my experience and karmic connections.

    Thank you so much for a wonderful and fascinating post,

    All beings, one Buddha-nature,
    Praise to Amida Buddha,
    Praise to the Bodhisattva of Compassion!

    Marcus

  10. Doug says:

    Hi Marcus, glad you liked it. The diversity of Buddhism I think is its strength, not its sectarianism. I am all for specialization, but when it becomes exclusivism, I have a problem with it. :-/

  11. My expirience with enlightement points definitly away from each gobetween dogmatism pretending wordfully to “better the animal”.
    The most buddhist I have meet, are so addicted to the right country club membership trip himself, that they insit into knowing that one “had not the right inside”who shares his own authentic being .The retroflecting omnipotence participation bonus shows in quiet pompous finger pointing behaviours, like in other bigot/doctrine tribes. Obviously, buddhism is one more procrastination tool/moralin carrot infront of the donkey nose, instead of real selfawareness/here&now selfaccptance. And, yes, enlightement is natural, even to a non buddhist neighbour.
    Live with it, maybe buddhism is the distraction from the real thing.

  12. Doug says:

    Hello Antiphon and welcome to the JLR!

  13. Thank you Doug for your welcome,

    Each too well greased machine needs a gritty sand corn,
    I feel myself in the “non tradition” of the old Tao freaks or guys like:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ikky%C5%AB

    What a sleepy, sleepy world!

  14. Tan says:

    Dear all,

    I can understand the feelings expressed by Dough over the exclusiveness of jodoshinshu and jodoshu teachings.

    Yes, some new to japanese pureland schools can find certain aspects dogmatic and inflexible.

    As a Jodoshinshu buddhist from a Chinese and tibetan buddhist background, what I can say are as follows

    1) The exclusiveness of jodoshinshu and honen stems mainly out of a desire to teach something simple and yet most effective for the masses who were illiterate, poor and unable to devote time for traditional practices. Furthermore, many were engaged in occupations that were seen as non-buddhist (fishing, farming, hunting, professional soliders etc). This meant that such people were excluded from traditional practices.

    2) The idea that certain practices are superior over others is common in traditional buddhist teachings of many schools. For example, Kukai uses doctrinal text to propose that the shingon teachings are superior over other schools. The same goes for tendai, kegon and other schools.
    The idea of the Dharma ending age rendering certain practices less effective or not relevant is also common in many buddhist schools as well.
    In this sense, Shinran and Honen are not writing works that are totally radical in those days.

    3) The elitist aspect of older schools is a common trait even up to meiji era. Most of the scholar monks were from distinguished backgrounds. This was the general trend even in other buddhist countries such as Tibet.

    4) The reason why shinshu revers Amida exclusively is because sentient beings tend to be unfocused and the folk religions often revere the many bodhisattvas with a motive for worldly benefits (good harvest, timely rain etc). While there is nothing inherently wrong with prayers for worldly benefits, from the buddhist perspective, it deters people from understanding buddhist doctrines and sometimes encourages folk and superstitious practices.

    Before I converted to shinshu, I used to petition the various buddhas, bodhisattvas for all kinds of needs. Eg, Medicine buddha for healing from sickness etc. It was not satisfying as one’s faith became based on not whether we revere the buddha for his wisdom but rather for his ability to give benefits. There are also more and more chinese pureland temples who also decided to stick exclusively to Amitabha practice and remove many unrelated liturgy and practices.

    Amida shares a common dharmakaya body with all other buddhas. Thus revering him alone is in no way neglecting any other buddhas or bodhisattvas. This can be attested by the Amida sutra whereby the buddhas of 6 directions praise shakyamuni and Amida buddha.

    5) At the end of the day, it is up to individual to decide if Jodoshinshu teachings suit him/her. (refer to tannisho) However, after trying out many different doctrines, I think I still enjoy the simplicity of Jodoshinshu.

    I hope this helps

  15. Doug M says:

    Hello Tan, and welcome to the JLR.

    As someone who converted away from Jodoshinshu Buddhism, I can say that I used to believe everything you said above, because I heard it all too. However, I encourage you to read Professor Ford’s book, and study Jokei’s refutation of the “exclusive-Nembutsu” practice. Ford’s argument is right: many of the explanations have remained unchallenged in Japanese religious history for too long, and get passed on to lay followers who don’t know better.

    For many people, Buddhism is a way to pray for good things in life, but that is a problem of the individual or popular-culture, not the religion. People pray for selfish things in every religion. It doesn’t justify Jodoshinshu’s uniqueness compared to other sects, and its exclusiveness, like the exclusiveness sometimes found in Zen, is in my opinion more of a hindrance than help. If you don’t believe me, study the Buddha’s own teachings, for example the last half of the Immeasurable Life Sutra (a Pure Land text), the Pali Canon, etc, and see that he advocated a well-rounded approach to the Buddhist path, not an exclusive one.

    Likewise, with the notion of Dharma-decline, this is more of a cultural phenomenon than a doctrinal one. Medieval Buddhists in Japan had calculated the birth of the Buddha too far back and assumed they were already living in the days of Dharma Decline, but this is very subjective. If you look at noble teachers today, the Dharma has declined no less than it did 800 years ago.

    Also, regarding such things as superstition in Asian religion, Professor Yao has good thoughts with regard to what comprises religion in Chinese, as I quoted in this later post.

    Again, I already left the Jodoshinshu sect months ago and have no desire to return, nor endorse it in this blog either.

  16. michael482 says:

    I’m getting to this discussion rather late, but I agree with you. I do like the Shin teachings, but do not go along with how they are generally presented. I’ll stick to a nonsectarian approach, while still following teachers such as Shinran, Akegarasu, and Kubose. I have a hard time with the dualistic way that many Shin Buddhists adhere to. Thanks for posting! If I may ask, as this is a few years after you posted, do you still feel this way?

  17. Doug says:

    Hi Michael482,

    You’re not the first person to ask. I feel I should clarify. First and foremost, I should clarify to myself! ;)

    My opinion is kind of mixed now, but thanks for asking. I’ll write about it soon.

Comments are closed.