Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Mar 17, 2010 2:50 pm

Astus wrote:Lazy eye,

Nice you mentioned that book, it was just last weekend I finished reading it. Personally I found it very eclectic and thus confusing for those who have no knowledge of East-Asian Buddhism. Mixing the Pali scriptures with popular Mahayana sutras seems a not so good idea to me. Plus it is not just a collection of quotes but actually a rewritten version. Fairly readable but not the kind of book one should analyse it on a finer level of meaning. For that the original texts are indispensable, like the Pure Land sutras themselves. If you want a taste of the difficulty of Mind Only teaching try the Mahayanasamgraha by Asanga as an introduction.


It was actually one of the first dharma books I encountered -- it was in the drawer of my hotel room during a trip to Hawaii a few years ago. Confusing, yes, though intriguing enough to send me to the library for other resources.

And partly because of that book, I had the impression that the Pali teachings play a larger role in East Asian Buddhism than they apparently do. Although, it may be worth mentioning that some other Mahayana teachers -- notably Thich Nhat Hanh -- take a similar approach. And I get the strong impression that Chinese Buddhism sees itself as encompassing the Pali scriptures PLUS the later additions rather than an "either/or", so it would be quite natural for a Ch'an/Pure Land teacher to reference them. I wonder to what extent that is true in Shin Buddhism also.

Thank you for the suggested reading by Asanga -- I don't pretend to have even a basic understanding of Mind-Only!

LE
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Astus » Wed Mar 17, 2010 9:16 pm

Not just because the Pali Canon is not part of any East Asian collection of scriptures, but also looking into Hinayana materials is a 20th century phenomenon not done for more than a millennium. Also it's worth mentioning that one wouldn't fine a single reference in it to Amita Buddha, or even buddha-lands.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby teebee » Tue Mar 23, 2010 9:13 pm

What is wrong with divergence?

One of the many reasons I was
attracted to Buddhism many
decades ago was the lack of
dogma and acceptance of many
divergent views.

I find it very sad that there are
some Shin groups who are
becoming very dogmatic.

In Gassho,

Terry Beresford
Stepping Stones

Belief systems are like lovely stepping stones over the quicksand of ignorance and amnesia.
Each may be useful, but if you stand too long upon one, it will sink into the quicksand and
you may be trapped. So the wise course is to skip over each stone, appreciate its
usefulness and beauty, and find your way over the quicksand without getting mired in it.
(Anon)

http://buddhism.terryberesford.com/
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Andreas Ludwig » Wed Mar 24, 2010 8:14 pm

It speaks in clear words that here Amida is the same as dependent origination and not an enlightened being in a buddha-land. Thus it symbolises reality, as Bloom said. Shinjin is realising that we're bad people full of karmic delusion, but this is all dependently originated, so it is not really mine. Am I correct?


It is yours since you are the one who is suffering right now, no? ;)

Gassho

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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Astus » Wed Mar 24, 2010 9:51 pm

Here I collected the words of Shinran from the Kyogyoshinsho. I believe these express his understanding honestly and clearly, therefore they can be relied on as definite teachings. This I have done in order to show my confusion openly about the way Shin Buddhism is taught by Bloom et al. I sincerely hope that if I missed something in the writings of Shinran, someone can point out to me where he says otherwise in a similar manner I now quote him and adding my interpretation of those paragraphs.

Shinjin is the heartfelt trust in the vows of Amita buddha. Those vows explicitly contain Dharmakara bodhisattva's intention to bring about a buddha-land where people can be born via buddha-remembrance. In Shinran's words:

"When the Larger Sutra says 'hear' [in the phrase 'having heard the Name'], it means that sentient beings, having heard how the Buddha made and fulfilled the Vow, entertain no doubt. This is what is meant by 'hear.' 'Faith' [in 'rejoice in faith'] refers to Faith endowed by the Primal Vow-Power. 'Rejoice' shows the state of joy in body and mind. 'Even (once)' is the word that comprises both many and few. 'A single thought' means that one's Faith is free of double-mindedness; hence, it is called 'a single thought.' This is what [Vasubandhu] calls 'the One Mind.' The One Mind is the true cause of birth in the Pure Land of Recompense."
(Chapter on Faith)

"When I contemplate 'recompense,' I find that the accomplished land has resulted as the recompense for the Tathagata's ocean-like Vow. Hence, 'recompensed.'"
(Chapter on True Buddha and Land)

He doesn't say it is a metaphor, or an expedient means. Quite the contrary, he writes more than once that Dharmakara bodhisattva's practice was pure and his compassion all-embracing, that's how he could create such a land:

"when the Tathagata awakened compassion for all suffering ocean-like sentient beings and performed the Bodhisattva practices for inconceivable, millions and billions of kalpas, his practices in three modes of action have never been impure or untrue, even for a thought-moment or an instant. With the pure and true mind, the Tathagata perfected the complete, all-merging, unhindered, inconceivable, [604b] indescribable and ineffable supreme virtue. The Tathagata endows his Sincere Mind to the ocean-like multitudes of beings who are full of evil passions, evil karma and perverted wisdom. This is the true mind endowed by him to benefit such beings; hence, it is not mixed with doubt. The basis for the Sincere Mind is the Sacred Name of the supreme virtue."
(Chapter on True Faith)

Shinran also talks about the Pure Land as a real place, compares it with other buddha-lands and makes distinctions, as found in the sutras, about difference in birth in the Pure Land:

"Provisional birth is birth in an embryonic state, and borderland; it is birth beneath the Twin Shala trees. Immediate birth refers to birth by sudden transformation into the Recompensed Land."
(Chapter on Provisional Buddhas and Lands)

Difference because of mixed and auxiliary practices:

"These are all the karmic cause for birth in the borderland, womb-palace and the realm of sloth and pride. Therefore, even though one is born in the Land of Utmost Bliss, one is unable to see the Three Treasures, for the light of the Buddha's mind does not illumine and embrace practicers of other miscellaneous acts."
(Chapter on Provisional Buddhas and Lands)
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Namu Butsu » Thu Mar 25, 2010 6:21 pm

Astus, thank you for the quotes. Let me ask you though, since the Historical Buddha never preached the Mahayana Sutras, then do you think that someone discovered that Amida existed many eons ago as a Bodhisatva and then made a supreme vow and created a pure land before even life on earth? Just curious, I am reading never Die alone Death as Birth in Pure Land Buddhism with a lot of influence from Jodo Shu and it is interesting, but I am trying to see how such views are accepted. Not saying its a bad thing, but me as a westerner who has realized how the masses are duped with jewish-christian and Islamic propaganada of a sky deity. I just wonder if it is the same with Pure Land. I am not saying it is bad to believe in a man who became a Buddha and created a land, I am just wondering if this view can truely be accepted.

Gassho
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"Just say the nembutsu and be liberated" Shinran Shonin
"However hard it may be to bid farewell to this world, when the conditions that bind us to this saha [samsara] realm run out, we are powerless to do anything as the final hour arrives and we are swept away to that Land." -A Record in Lament of Divergences
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Astus » Thu Mar 25, 2010 7:53 pm

To say that Mahayana sutras are not from the Buddha is to deny the Great Vehicle. The misunderstanding comes from not understanding what Buddhavacana (Buddha speech) means. I recommend you reading this short treatise by Sthiramati that also discusses the question of the Bodhisattva-pitaka, i.e. the Mahayana sutras.

I understand very well when people have problems with believing in beings beyond this physical Earth-realm. But in Buddhism there have always been hells, spirits, heavens and gods. There are infinite realms throughout the cosmos, thus infinite buddhas and bodhisattvas. There is not just the land of Amita Buddha but also the lands of Medicine Buddha, Akshobya Buddha, etc. Even in the Nikayas Shakyamuni talked about buddhas of the past.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Namu Butsu » Thu Mar 25, 2010 7:58 pm

Ima check out the link right now thank you.

So Dharmakara bodhisatva must of practiced somewhere other than earth? Was he on another planet or another realm?

Namu Amida Butsu
Gasho
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"Just say the nembutsu and be liberated" Shinran Shonin
"However hard it may be to bid farewell to this world, when the conditions that bind us to this saha [samsara] realm run out, we are powerless to do anything as the final hour arrives and we are swept away to that Land." -A Record in Lament of Divergences
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Astus » Thu Mar 25, 2010 8:45 pm

I have no idea where he practised, a more educated person might be able to answer that question. But bodhisattvas travel in myriads of buddha-lands, so it may not matter that much.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Andreas Ludwig » Thu Mar 25, 2010 8:54 pm

Astus,

that's why I usually avoid these debates. I doubt that you will change your personal understanding of Amida and the Pure Land, no matter what Shinran or Alfred Bloom said about it. As I told you in the chat recently, of course Shinran was a child of his time and he had a different historical knowledge and understanding of the buddhist scriptures than we have. Nothing was known about the age of the earth or the universe, there were no ways to say when what sutra was actually written etc.. It's a fact that we have a very different knowledge today because of many scholarly works on the subject and we can say with 99,9% probability that the historical Buddha did not teach anything about what we know from the Pure Land traditions. But that doesn't matter since truth is always a truth discovered by many persons, by you and me, it's a dynamic process and it's a mistake to consider truth as a dead book on the shelf that you can read to fully understand it. For me the Pure Land sutras are books to think about, they are there to start a transformation of my views as a mere human being, not just books to read and then to 'believe' word by word as a summary of historical events.

Kenneth Tanaka said:

‘Shinran knew conceptually of the provisional nature of Dharmākara and Amida… This form or dharma-body as compassionate means was provisional in relation to the formless oneness or dharma-body as suchness, but not provisional in relation to Shinran himself on the human side. Shinran saw no other way but to humbly accept the teachings. This, I argue, led him not to be so presumptuous as to regard Amida or Pure Land only figuratively. He does not claim to comprehend “oneness” or the “mechanism” by which oneness manifested as form provisionally.


I think that's a good description of Shinrans view and standpoint and that he 'saw no other way than to humbly accept the teachings' in the form they were presented is of course based on his specific knowledge and personal understanding of this tradition in the historical context - which is a different historical context than we have today.

But - and that's the crucial point - even this didn't stop Shinran to think beyond to what the scriptures obviously say and to even alter the text to make it fit to his experience and personal insight, an insight that brought him freedom and joy.

Though Shinran employed an abundance of quotations to which he added his few comments, it is evident that he desired to present a unified theory of Pure Land teaching. The quotations he used were those that had attracted him in his wide reading. Once inserted within his system they became his own words and ideas In many cases he was able to make the passages conform to his reading because of the flexibility of Chinese grammar and the Japanese method of reading Chinese texts. Such changes are referred by scholars to his individual creative insight through which he was enabled to make significant alterations in a text in accordance with his subjective awareness of faith.(Alfred Bloom)


That proves that for Shinran the text as such was merely a vehicle for his own thinking, experience and inner transformation, a means for living spirituality aiming for liberation, not some dead monument to be used to control others and their view of 'truth'.

His understanding of Amida and the Pure Land is different to those before him and is not limited by the way they are described in the sutras. To ignore this is only possible by using some quotes here and there instead of seeing Shinrans teachings as a whole and taking into account his personality and life.

Shinran's religious experience loses intensity and drama when it is considered only as arising from contact with Buddhist teachings - for example, from the reading of a sutra or text. To the contrary, his thought gains in universal importance because it arose from a sensitized awareness of the true nature of man. Shinran did not merely contemplate ideas. Rather, he confronted himself and as a consequence, had to seek a new path. (...)
This fundamental insight manifested by Shinran was not derived simply from sacred texts and traditions, but was, perhaps, grounded in tradition in the contemplation of Nature itself and the influence of the doctrine of Primordial Enlightenment of the Tendai sect. (Alfred Bloom)


I would suggest that you ask Alfred Bloom about this, he is a very friendly person and usually answers carefully any questions he receives. There's no point that we try to convince you about a certain view we might have. Since you have problems with how Al Bloom and other 'modern shin teachers' see Shinran and his teachings the easiest way to get these problems solved is by asking him directly.

http://www.shindharmanet.com/contact.htm

Here's a short article by Ken 'O Neill that may interest you:

http://departments.colgate.edu/greatreligions/pages/buddhanet/mahayana325/purestat.txt

To say that Mahayana sutras are not from the Buddha is to deny the Great Vehicle.


No it isn't. Buddhavaccana is everything spoken true, is everything that speaks about truth and helps us to find this truth that is able to liberate us from suffering. The Mahayana Sutras are most certainly not taught directly by the historical Buddha, but they are based on his teachings and speaking about the same truth that turned Shakyamuni into the Buddha and therefore they are Buddhavaccana. To mix this up with - again - a very literal understanding and a limited awareness of the fact that Buddhism -especially Mahayana - is an ongoing dynamic process of inner transformation and truth-seeking is simply missing the point of what Buddhism actually is about.

Gassho

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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Huifeng » Fri Mar 26, 2010 11:35 am

Astus and Andreas, it seems you are both actually agreeing on what constitutes "buddha-vac".
I guess the two of you, and me too!, have heard the usual question so many times, that it is easy to assume that the other party is giving what I call the "narrow definition" of "buddha-vac".
But, fortunately, neither of you are! :smile:
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Astus » Fri Mar 26, 2010 12:45 pm

Andreas,

I've read the O'Neill article and sent a mail to Dr Bloom. What O'Neill said sounded quite like what you talked about here. But as I said, I'd like to see references to Shinran for this, if possible. Actually that's what I asked from Dr Bloom too. For while I accepted already what you've said as one of the interpretation of Shin Buddhism I still don't see it harmonising with Shinran's words. Maybe it is so, maybe not, I don't know yet. Nevertheless, it's OK with me to say that there are different versions of viewing Shin Buddhism.

Please don't take it as a fight. What you and those you refer to say about Shin Buddhism is fine by me on its own. I just want to see how that is connected to what Shinran himself said, and of course to the major picture of Mahayana.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Andreas Ludwig » Fri Mar 26, 2010 1:39 pm

Hi Astus,

I've read the O'Neill article and sent a mail to Dr Bloom. What O'Neill said sounded quite like what you talked about here. But as I said, I'd like to see references to Shinran for this, if possible. Actually that's what I asked from Dr Bloom too.


Let's know what he says.

For while I accepted already what you've said as one of the interpretation of Shin Buddhism I still don't see it harmonising with Shinran's words. Maybe it is so, maybe not, I don't know yet. Nevertheless, it's OK with me to say that there are different versions of viewing Shin Buddhism.


Of course there are and as I said before, personally I don't have any problems with a different interpretation, although for me it is similar to what your problem is: I don't think these limited interpretations do Shinrans teaching justice. What I do have a problem with though, is the usual attitude of those who have a different view because they seldom accept any other interpretation than their own. Adrian is the best example for that.

Please don't take it as a fight. What you and those you refer to say about Shin Buddhism is fine by me on its own. I just want to see how that is connected to what Shinran himself said, and of course to the major picture of Mahayana.


I don't take it as a fight and I think Al Bloom is perfectly able to answer your questions. It's only that I don't have the time to go into this (old) debate again with numerous references and quotes and discussions on the details, currently my day has simply not enough hours or so it seems.

But share Al's thoughts about it with us here :smile:

Gassho

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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Astus » Fri Mar 26, 2010 1:56 pm

Sure, I'll bring his explanation here. :thumbsup:
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Astus » Sun Apr 11, 2010 8:13 pm

Here's my correspondence with Dr. Alfred Bloom on the subject raised here.

Me:

I've leafed through the Kyogyoshinsho to find how Shinran talks about the existence of his buddha-land and Amita Buddha but I could find only that he views it just like other Pure Land thinkers before, as a recompensed land and sambhogakaya buddha resulting from the bodhisattva work and vows. On the other hand, my friend tried to explain to me that Shinran is radically different here saying that Amita Buddha is not somebody "10,000 buddha-lands to the West" (as it is generally understood in Mahayana) but rather - and about this I'm uncertain if I get it right - the nature of reality, an impersonal compassionate force of the universe, thus Other Power is not from a tathagata but the dependent existence of everything and shinjin is realising our co-dependency. Could you please enlighten me about the Shin view, possibly with some reference to Shinran's words?

Dr. Bloom:

Thank you for your inquiry. I hope that I can help you. I must say first that what I present is my personal understanding of Shinran. However, I believe that it has basis in Shinran’s writings.

With respect to the meaning of the term “reality”, you must be aware that it has a complex meaning. For some, it means and objective, independent or substantial existence apart from human consciousness. For others, it is the content of one’s consciousness as in the “consciousness only” school in Mahayana Buddhism.

In Mahayana Buddhism ultimate reality is inconceivable, beyond our conception, empty. However, it may manifest in our consciousness through visualization practice or as an awareness of trust that one has been embraced by “reality” imaged as Amida Buddha. Mahayana Buddhism holds that all beings have Buddha-nature, the potential to become Buddha. That is also an aspect of “reality.”

Shinran was trained in Tendai teaching which was greatly influenced by the Kegon teaching that we all exist within the Buddha-mind and all have the potentiality to become Buddha. While Shinran did not expect his followers to get into the complex details of Mahayana philosophy, he held that trust in Amida’s Vows manifests in our consciousness as the assurance that we have been embraced by Amida Buddha and are destined for birth in the Pure Land and Buddhahood. This trust is aroused through the working of Amida’s Vow in our life or karmic history.

Given this background we can try to address your question about the reality of Amida or as I would like to put it, Amida as our reality. In Shinran’s teaching we find three concepts of Amida. First there is the popularly understood Amida that was in the background of his teaching as an aspect of Japanese Buddhism where Pure Land teaching was pervasive in every tradition as an upaya-compassionate means to help people who could not participate in monastic practices. Birth into the Pure Land in this general tradition was through recitation of the name for karmic merit.

The second understanding of Amida is based in the story of Dharmakara in the Larger Pure Land Sutra where after aeons of practice, the Bodhisattva established the Pure Land. For Shinran the story was important because the Amida here is a Reward Body, a Buddha with beginning and no end. The Eighteenth Vow is important for Shinran, establishing the way of faith-trust and recitation of the name as expression of gratitude. According to his teaching (Notes on ‘Faith Alone’ (Yuishinshomin’I, and Jinen honi sho) Amida Buddha is the means for speaking about ultimate reality Dharmakaya, The Body of Truth.

The buddha in this perspective is on a higher spiritual plane, removed from the necessity to perform karmic acts of merit to secure birth in the Pure Land. Also Amida Buddha in this context is the direct manifestion of the Body of truth. All other Buddhas are manifestations of Amida. He is not just one among many Buddhas that people may resort to for salvation.

This leads to Shinran’s own interpretation where Amida Buddha is Reality itself as the Eternal Buddha who has no beginning and no end. Here you can refer on my web page to the essay on the Ultimacy of Amida, Shinran’s Response to Tendai.

In Mahayana Buddhism there are three levels of Buddha corresponding to the traditional three bodies of the Buddha:
The Level of Manifestation- a Buddha with a beginning and End, as is Sakyamuni and according to some interpreters, Amida who is said in the Sutra to have a lifespan of 42 kalpas before going into Nirvana.

2. The level of Reward Body or in modern terms of myth, the Buddha with a beginning and no End, as when Dharmakara becomes Amida, residing in his Pure Land.

3. The eternal Buddha, Buddha with no beginning and no End. This understanding is rooted in the Lotus sutra, Chapter 16, but Shinran applied it to Amida. Here Amida is the expression or term whereby we can speak of ultimate reality rather than just a discrete Buddha among the host of Buddhas. This was Shinran’s contribution to the development of the concept of Amida.

According to Shinran, Ultimate Amida is colorless, formless, inconceivable as the Body of truth. He is the Buddha-nature in all things. Wisdom is in the form of light, the formless form. Consequently as the working of reality, trust is aroused within us, being endowed by Amida. Faith is the realization of Buddha-nature, the goal of all Mahayana practice. All religious action, particularly Nembutsu becomes an expression of gratitude. There is no need for merit.

Thus we do not ask if Amida is real, but rather Amida is the reality of our lives as the motivating force for spiritual activity. As the universal ground of all existence, everything has Buddha-nature and is the manifestation of Amida in its particular form, benefitting our lives and all others.

In essence Amida Buddha is the symbolization of the process of interdependence. He is the reality of all relationships that nurture and promote life. Amida Buddha in the texts and as spoken about provides a focus for understanding the spirituality of all things within our experience and world.

In my personal view, this is the most real of anything real. But it is not literal, objective reality as something apart from my consciousness and life. It is my life. Amida in this view, as I would understand it, is real as an ideal is real. It is a force that influences life. Ideals have a reality though they are not objective, discrete things. They are real in our consciousness as sources of motivation. Similarly there is no such thing as society as a discrete objective reality. Society is the sum total of our relationships as the context for the principles that we live by. Society is the way we relate to others.

I am not sure this will help you in your thinking. As for the discussion on the Internet, it is important to understand that Shinran worked within the context of Mahayana philosophy and his understanding of Amida is shaped by that. I do not believe he was a literalist in the style that many people view the teaching today. Mahayana philosophy teaches the emptiness of all ideas and things, a la Nagarjuna (2nd century). This itself means that things have no reality in themselves but only in relation to other things, again interdependence. Mahayana teaching is not literalist.

The literalist trend among some interpreters of Shin Buddhism is a reflection their American cultural experience where fundamentalist Christianity, a large segment of American religion, is objectivist and literal. They are carrying this over to Buddhism. For those who wish to hold to Amida and the Pure Land as somehow literally  real, they  should also understand the reality of hells as presented in the tradition. If the Pure Land is a  discrete reality so must be the hells also which are the counterpoint or alternative to the Pure Land. If Amida is a discrete reality as they argue, then all the other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Buddhist texts have the same reality. Then the question is raised, if Amida Buddha is on the same level with   other Buddhas etc, what is the meaning of Shinran’s teaching?  Shin Buddhism is distinctive because it elevates Amida beyond popular conceptions and changed the definition  and meaning of religion not only in Japan but universally.  Religious faith is not about what you get (It is all given through the working of the Vow.) Religious faith is about what you give in the embodiment of compassion and wisdom.


Me:

After reading your mail a couple of times and your essay on Shinran's relationship with Tendai teachings I came up with the following question:

Amida Buddha is principally a dharmakaya buddha, equal to Vairocana in the Avatamsaka and Sakyamuni in the Lotus Sutra. At the same time, as a manifestation of mahakaruna Dharmakara Bodhisattva has manifested, attained anuttarasamyaksambodhi and established Sukhavati for saving all sentient beings. It appears to me that this teaching corresponds to the trikaya format, as you have also mentioned it, with the difference of Amida being the designation of both the ultimate and the relative (forming the unity of two truths in the middle way). And please correct me if I misunderstand something here, but then it comes down to the usual Mahayana setting of a buddha being manifest and unmanifest at the same time. Thus sambhogakaya Amida is as real as "earth, tiles and pebbles". Consequently a literal reading of the sutras on the Pure Land is not wrong but only the manifest level and realisation of the unmanifest happens after birth. This matches the Chinese explanation of first practising with mark to reach no-mark.

Does this meet your understanding? If not, please clarify for me at what point I go wrong.

Dr. Bloom:

I do not see any problem with what you state, except that I have problem with the term literal. I don’t think ancient people thought in those terms.  Literal, as I observe it from Christian fundamentalist thought, means objectively  existing apart from one’s consciousness, just as God is objectively real as the creator of the universe etc.  Thus they read the Bible literally meaning that what it says exists is existing independently. It is kind of  naïve realism.
 
I don’t think Buddhism takes any position like that. In fact it is clear from the Consciousness Only school that nothing exists separate from our consciousness of it. The Pure Land etc can be real within our consciousness as a means (upaya) to reach a deeper level of understanding, moving from form to formless, that is, as Shinran says in the Jinen honi sho, that Amida with form is a means (Ryo) to know the formless, colorless Dharmakaya. It does not exist by itself or for itself. Consequently, though this is wordy, Amida can be a spiritual reality within our consciousness as a spiritual guide and ideal. 
 
Also in the Middle Path school, all concepts are empty and come out of our delusory mind. It avoids substantialism, similarly to the Consciousness Only.  These philosophical perspectives underly all Mahayana schools.
 
There are other considerations, such as whatever interpretation we apply to Amida, must also apply to other Buddhas and descriptions in the many sutras. When it says that the Buddha’s tongue reached out to all the universes in the ten directions, is that to be taken literally. What would it mean? I think symbolic and metaphorical thinking as in the Sutras has spiritual meaning not metaphysical.


Me:

I guess I should clarify what I said first. I didn't propose that things are independent of one's perception (consciousness). But just because all things are mental (vijnapti) it doesn't mean they don't exist as individual causal streams. Thus we can say that there are uncountable sentient beings in the six realms just as there are immeasurable bodhisattvas and buddhas. This is not naive realism, neither idealism, nor solipsism. From this point of view I say that Amida Buddha as a sambhogakaya exists in the Pure Land just as you or me exist on Earth (Saha Land). But I'm not sure what you mean by "spiritual". If it is an equivalent of the realms realised by higher perception (abhijna) such as heavens and buddha-lands I see your point. If you meant something else, please explain.

If I caused a misunderstanding by using the word "literal" and this above clarifies what I meant I'm glad for then I believe we could see each other face to face.

Dr. Bloom:

Perhaps I was responding to the term literal from own background. I guess what I would say that we can consider anything “real” so far as it accords with the basic parameters of   Buddhist  teaching on the qualified nature of “existence. ” Certainly whatever status such  “reality” has,  it has causal impact.
 
The important thing in Buddhist teaching as I understand it is how it inspires a person to move beyond the present level of  insight to deeper levels and understanding and thereby the reduction in our egoism and attachment to  our self-concepts, our world , our ideas and beliefs.  Buddhism is about the transformation of the mind.  Upaya and perhaps provisional beliefs etc can be helps depending on ones  mental  or spiritual development. Not every one is at the same point and Buddhism is not “one size fits all.”  People respond to different forms of presentation.  If the mythology of Buddhism in its concreteness helps a person  in spiritual growth, then it is “real.” It is the role of the “Good Teacher” to draw the person on, moving beyond forms, concepts etc. which all excite the ego and become objects of attachment.  Beyond that what would be the point?
 
Shinran expresses himself in several ways.  In  human situations of grief, he consoled his followers that he would meet them in the Pure Land. In his more scholarly writings, particularly Kyogyoshinsho, birth in the Pure Land is immediate buddhahood. The attainment of faith is one’s rebirth. Since Amida Buddha as the Eternal Buddha is wisdom in the form of light, he is formless and colorless, but the context or frame in which we understand our lives; hence very “real.” The Pure Land must also be ultimately formless and colorless as Nirvana is formless, beyond conception. The Buddha and the Land are  One.
 
In our unrealized, unenlightened state, we can only talk about things in the dimension of form; consequently we do talk about Pure Land etc but not so much as place but of quality of existence, our spiritual ideal. It has the qualities of freedom, bliss, purity, ultimate fulfillment, joy, continual learning etc.
 
I do not think we disagree perhaps, though we may have different ways of expressing ourselves. Amida is the real of the real; the reality of all our relations and a motive force in our everyday life as the power of compassion and the light that highlights our own shadows. The brighter the light the sharper the shadows.
 
 As for spirituality, it is a much used and abused term today. I guess for me things are spiritual to the extent that they indicate there is always something more than what our minds can encompass. It is vague because it points to the mystery that surrounds our lives and people become spiritual when they become aware that our lives have a deeper context which we may picture to ourselves, depending on what tradition we follow and how it shapes our attitudes and values. I do not see spirituality as a divisive things, but the more spiritual we are, the more we find our kinship with all being. For me Amida which means Infinite offers the most comprehensive perspective on the mystery that grounds our  lives.


Me:

Thank you for your kind attention. My original confusion was raised by thinking that if Amida Buddha is not a real being and the whole story of Dharmakara never happened there is no basis for an effective vow to save beings and bring them to the Western Realm. Naturally there are many ways to interpret sutras, however, certain doctrines are essential for a coherent system and such a teaching is the enlightenment of Amida Buddha and the creation of Pure Land to fulfil his vows. This seemed to be questioned by your (and others) presentation of Shinran's teachings and that's why I turned to you for elucidation of the matter.

It was today morning I realised our personal approaches to the Shin Dharma are quite different, which I believe is fine. As for its doctrinal aspect it appears we may agree. To give it (hopefully) a final test I have a question regarding the teaching's practical aspect.

You've mentioned Cittamantra and Madhyamaka as essential doctrines in Mahayana. On a personal level the six paramitas are the core of the path from delusion to buddhahood. I Chinese Pure Land and Jodoshu it is understood that one perfects the bodhisattva path after being born there. I'd like to know how the practice of the paramitas explained in Shinshu.

Dr. Bloom:

Thank you for your reply.  In interpreting religious  documents, I do not believe there is one right and wrong.  We have to understand texts according to our background and  knowledge at the time.  I think it is important to discuss issues and try to find areas of consensus.
 
There are doctrines which result from religious experience and in this case Shinran. Even in his own day there were differences of opinion. It makes for historical development. Some ideas are better than others and over time become the basic viewpoint.  With the shift in cultures from Japan-in this case- to the West, new questions are being asked that were not primary in Japan. That is why scholars differ among themselves in trying to respond to the modern situation. I see myself as just one of those responses for whatever it may be worth. It may help some people but not others. In my study course I tried to develop a more or less coherent approach to Shin Buddhism using  contemporary (as far as I understand it) considerations about myth and religious  imagery.  More than the  character of the story itself, the implications and meaning for  our lives  are the most important aspects. What spiritual insight it offers. Shinran reinterpreted the scripture in some areas to reflect his own experience and   for myself, I try to follow his lead in that because it  helps me understand my own experience. It can be different for different people-even within the same tradition.
 
I should respond to your question in this letter on the 6 paramitas which are regarded with high importance in Shin Buddhism. However, they are not  advocated as the means to enlightenment, but are inspired  by the Buddha’s compassion  when one realizes that Amida’s Vows, which symbolize the compassion that surrounds our lives , are the foundation of our spiritual life.  The story of Dharmakara, his Vows and fulfillment offer us a guiding vision in living our lives, and summarized in the six paramitas.  They are guiding principles for negotiating life.
 
In earlier Pure Land teaching and as presented in the Sutras, the Pure Land is a staging area for the completion of the process to become a Buddha. Mahayana Buddhism  has an environmental theory implicit in it. That is, one cannot really achieve spiritual goals unless there is something in the environment that makes it possible. We are always involved in social relations and so, depending on our relationships, we progress in fulfilling our lives. That is why often religious teachers suggest that people seek out like-minded people in the practice of their faith. We all need reinforcement.   In Buddhist view, as presented in Mahayana, we live in the defiled realm in this world and in later teaching it was the age of the demise of the dharma-mappo when there was only teaching, but no practice or realization. It was a spiritually corrupt age.  Hence the Pure Land established by Amida  provides the impetus and attraction for people to pursue the ideals of the six paramitas and attain enlightenment and Buddhahood.  That is probably held by many people today and is a straightforward reading of the Sutra.
 
That said, Shinran reinterpreted the tradition and maintained that on reception of true entrusting in this life, we already are reborn in the Pure Land in principle. We are obviously, by our external condition, not there, but in terms of Amida’s Vows and compassion, the causes for our birth are set. People are already saved, but not aware of it until faith arises.  The moment of death is called birth into the Pure Land but for Shinran, it means the immediate attainment of Buddhahood.  There is no process to attainment in the Pure Land. In fact, according to his interpretation of the 22nd vow, rather than remaining in the Pure Land we return  to this world as bodhisattvas to work for the salvation of all beings. The ultimate goal is the salvation and Buddhahood of all beings and not simply residence in the Pure Land forever. I think I mentioned to you earlier that just to desire to go to the Pure Land because it is a place of pleasure and bliss, one does not go. That is because egoism is still the motivating factor.
 
While in our present state in life, we cannot claim to be bodhisattvas, the perception of who is the bodhisattva is the perspective of the other person whose life may be enhanced and assisted through one’s efforts—namely aspiring to fulfill the six paramitas in our lives as we are able and inspired by the vision of Amida’s unconditional compassion.  For Shinran, religion is not about getting-salvation or benefits, but about giving. Dana is the first paramita and highly stressed within the temples—and not only for money for the temple—but as the gift of our lives  to help others.
 
Unfortunately, of course, we are all foolish being-bombu- and so while we aspire to this ideal , we do not always fulfill it. We are filled with contradictions. Shinran’s teaching was aimed to reduce as far as he could the egoism that infects religion and all our lives.
 
This gets back to the paramitas as guides. They are not rules and regulation or requirements for Amida’s embrace. They result, to the degree they are realized in our actions, from our awareness of that embrace by life and reality.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Andreas Ludwig » Sun Apr 11, 2010 10:23 pm

Thank you Astus for sharing this with us. I know why I consider Al Bloom one of my major 'sources' when it comes to Shin Buddhism and that's why I said - just ask him. So... do have his answers changed your views in any way? ;)

Gassho

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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Astus » Sun Apr 11, 2010 11:00 pm

As you can see, I asked explicitly the questions raised here in order to avoid ambiguity or misunderstanding. Concluding the results is that (1) Amita Buddha is both a dharmakaya and sambhogakaya, (2) and the Pure Land exists in conformity with the Buddhist definition of reality as a buddha-land. This has been my understanding of Shinshu interpretation before and now and Dr. Bloom had no objection to it as an incorrect view or something contrary to his understanding.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Andreas Ludwig » Mon Apr 12, 2010 1:26 pm

Well, what he says is clearly not supporting any 'literalist' view and his way to see Shin Buddhism is much more focussing on the 'effect' than on the 'nature' of Amida. Also his symbolic and metaphorical understanding is certainly not in line with what Adrian and others think, which was my initial point. But anyway, good to see that your questions have been answered. I always find it great that he takes the time to answer questions in detail although I'm sure he receives a lot of them.

Gassho

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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Astus » Mon Apr 12, 2010 2:02 pm

Yes, it is impressive how he cares to reply to questions, I really appreciate it. As I've found out it a couple of years back not every teacher is like that.

Also, as you say, his replies focus on the personal and practical aspect. I think there is more difference in terms of language and perspective than philosophy between Adrian and Bloom. Otherwise I'm sure he would have replied in a different way as we've also touched the subject of literal interpretation. But I've informed him about this topic where I published our correspondence. Perhaps he may join us in this discussion.

A couple of days back I thought about the "four reliances" (Catvāri pratiśaraṇāni / 法四依) which says: "rely on nitartha and not on neyartha". Thus if Pure Land sutras are to be further explained (neyartha) they don't express the final meaning. Such is the case if we interpret it as only metaphorical, unlike teachings on emptiness and such. On the other hand, Shinran says the teaching of Amita Buddha's vows was Shakyamuni's true intention and final Dharma. What do you think?
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teachings

Postby Andreas Ludwig » Mon Apr 12, 2010 2:24 pm

Thus if Pure Land sutras are to be further explained (neyartha) they don't express the final meaning. Such is the case if we interpret it as only metaphorical, unlike teachings on emptiness and such.


I don't think we have a contradiction here. The Sutras do express their 'final meaning' truthfully, but in a form that everybody who is reading them has to change in to their very own story. I don't use terms like myth, metaphorical etc. in an absolut sense and don't consider them as an inferior way to interpret holy texts, which is what you seem to do with your 'as only metaphorical'. It's a way to translate a truth which is beyond my grasping into images and emotions I can understand and can relate to. Only if I can relate to the story via these 'tools' it will be able to transform me and my life and that's what - imho - the PL sutras are about. As Bloom said:

"More than the character of the story itself, the implications and meaning for our lives are the most important aspects"

In not using these 'tools' the holy text remains a text only, whether I 'believe' them literally or not is just a matter of personal decision then and nothing that really gets my thinking and my inner transformation going.

On the other hand, Shinran says the teaching of Amita Buddha's vows was Shakyamuni's true intention and final Dharma. What do you think?


What I already told you, that Shinran lived in a different time and had a certain historical understanding that we can not share based on what we know so far ragarding the evolution of buddhist traditions and sutras. But again, it doesn't matter whether Shinran thought that Shakyamuni actually taught about Amida or not, because the reason that one can consider the Pure Land teachings as Shakyamunis true intention is based on the nature of these teachings as expressed in Shinrans writings, not on the fact that he has taught it word by word or not. That not only goes for the Pure Land teachings but for Mahayana as a whole, what makes it Buddhavaccana is the living truth expressed in the teachings, not a dead word that was spoken at a certain time and place in history.

Gassho

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