Jodo Shinshu

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Jōdo Shinshū (淨土眞宗 "True Pure Land School"), also known as Shin Buddhism, is a branch of Pure Land Buddhism derived from the teachings of the Japanese ex-Tendai monk Shinran.

Shinran originally practiced as a low-status monk, in a Tendai nembutsu worship hall, for twenty years. Then, just one-year before finishing the basic Tendai course of practice, he left the temple on Mount Hiei in disillusionment over his capacity for spiritual practice and also widespread monastic corruption. Following a vision Shinran sought out and studied with Hōnen (1133-1212), founder of the Jōdo sect and another Tendai drop-out, who taught the exclusive and single practice of saying the name of Amida Buddha. Six years later Hōnen and several of his disciples, including Shinran, were split up and exiled to different parts of Japan. Shinran then spent many years traveling throughout Japan and preaching to the peasant class, who found Shin Buddhism to be attractive due to its non-exclusivity and openness (see Ikko-ikki). Later in life he settled down and devoted his efforts towards writing. Although Shinran always considered himself a disciple of Hōnen, in exile his religious thought diverged from and developed differently to that of this teacher. Consequently after Shinran's death his family and followers ultimately started a process of institutionalisation which eventually led to the Jōdo Shinshū becoming an independent sect.

Shinran's thought was strongly influenced by the doctrine of mappō (末法), or the decline of the Dharma (the Buddhist teachings). Shinran saw the age he was living in as being in a degenerate age where beings cannot hope to be able to extricate themselves from the cycle of birth and death through their own power, or jiriki (自力). For Shinran, all conscious efforts towards achieving enlightenment and realizing the Bodhisattva ideal were contrived and rooted in selfish ignorance; inauthentic in nature, for humans of this age and beyond are so deeply rooted in karmic evil as to be incapable not only of attainment but also of the truly altruistic compassion that is requisite in becoming a Bodhisattva. It should be noted however that many commentators feel that Shinran's understanding of mappō is highly psychological and subjective, rather than eschatological, though this is a point of some controversy.

Due to his conciousness of human limitation, Shinran advocates reliance on tariki (他力) (Other Power) -- the power of Amida Buddha's limitless and infinite compassion made manifest in Amida Buddha's Primal Vow -- in order to attain liberation. Shin Buddhism can therefore be understood as a "practiceless practice," for there are no specific acts to be performed such as in the "Path of Sages" (the other Buddhist schools of the time that advocated 'jiriki' ('self-power').

Accordingly within Jōdo Shinshū the nembutsu (念佛): Namu Amida Butsu (南無阿弥陀仏) ("Hail to Amida Buddha") chanting practice common within the other Pure Land schools is seen in a new light. The nembutsu becomes understood as an act that expresses gratitude to Amida Buddha -- furthermore, it is evoked in the practitioner through the power of Amida's unobstructed compassion. In Shin Buddhism, the nembutsu is not considered a practice, nor does it generate karmic merit.

The goal of the Shin path, or at least the practicer's present life, is the attainment of shinjin (信心 True Entrusting) in the Other Power of Amida. To achieve shinjin is to unite one's mind with Amida through the total renunciation of self effort in attaining enlightenment; to take refuge entirely in Other Power. Shinjin arises from jinen (自然 naturalness, spontaneous working of the Vow) and cannot be achieved solely through conscious effort. Shinjin develops over time through "deep hearing" of Amida's call of the nembutsu. Jinen also describes the way of naturalness whereby Amida's infinite light illumines and transforms the deeply rooted karmic evil of countless rebirths into good karma. It is of note that such evil karma is not destroyed but rather transformed: Shin stays within the Mahayana tradition's understanding of sunyata, or non-duality / emptiness, and understands that samsara and Nirvana are not separate. Once the practicer's mind is united with Amida and Buddha Nature gifted to the practicer through shinjin, the practicer attains the state of non-retrogression, whereupon after his death he will achieve instantaneous and effortless enlightenment. He will then return to the world as a Bodhisattva, that he may work towards the salvation of all beings.

Jōdo Shinshū itself has many sub-sects which tend to be either independent, based on Shinran's family lineage or around places he lived. The largest branch is the Hongwanji-ha sect. This sub-sect is further divided into two types, Hongwanji-ha Hongwanji, shortly called Honpa Hongwanji (or more commonly, Nishi-Hongwanji) and Daiha Hongwanji, or Otani Hongwanji, more commonly referred to as Higashi-Hongwanji. None of these can be broken down further, and Nishi is the larger of the two. In the United States the Nishi-Hongwanji operates as the Buddhist Churches of America.

Excepting certain Jōdo Shinshū inspired New Religious Movements the various sub-sects hardly differ on doctrinal matters but have a wide variety of liturgical styles.

External links

  • Mahayana Buddhist Sutras in English ( a good starting place since it has links to several different translations for each of the important texts.
  • Shinran Works ( The collected works of Shinran, including the Kyōgōshinshō.
  • Shin Dharma Net ( A major resource for Shin Buddhism in English, affiliated with the Nishi-Hongwanji and based from a temple in Hawaii.
  • Shoshinge, "Hymn of True Faith and the Nembutsu" ( An excerpt of verse from the Kyogyoshinsho that also serves as a summary of Shin Buddhism and its history. Also present is the original Japanese script and its romanization.
  • Buddhist Churches of America ( basic information, shopping for Shin Buddhist ritual implements, and links to various Shin churches in America.
  • Ekoji Buddhist Temple ( Jodo Shinshu Buddhism of the Nishi Hongwanji tradition in Northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
  • ( Journal of Shin Buddhism
  • Institute of Buddhist Studies: ( Seminary and Graduate Schoolde:Jodo Shinshu



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