Honen or Shinran?

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Honen or Shinran?

Post by Shingyo » Mon Oct 22, 2018 7:14 pm

I need a bit of help please.

I have been quite enamored with Jodo Shin Shu and the writings of Shinran, as well as Rennyo. I kind of went all in you could say. I know that Shinran felt he wasn't really introducing anything "new" into his Pure Land teachings, yet there is seemingly a definite divide between Jodo Shu and Jodo Shin Shu.
At least that is what I am understanding when I hear people discuss the two.
This leads me to my current problem. All of Shinran's writings are easily accessible, as are those of Rennyo. Hence when I first discovered Pure Land Buddhism, I just flocked to Jodo Shin Shu. The work was available and it resonated with me.
However it has not really been so easy for me to get at the writings of Honen until recently. I just recently got a hold of his Senchaku Hongan Nembutsu Shu, and I hope to get a copy of The Promise of Amida Buddha sometime soon.
Until that happens and I can really dive into Honen's works, I want to hopefully get some input as to the REAL differences between the two. Why would someone choose one over the other? What makes Honen more appealing than Shinran or Shinran over Honen? I mean I am sure that there is not some vast gulf dividing the two, but there has to be something that draws someone to one or the other.
I have done some reading on the forum about this, but I regularly see mention of Amida being a really real Buddha in Jodo Shu and Modern Shin Buddhism is more metaphorical or whatever. I am not interested in that aspect of this discussion. I have read a LOT about that debate. I would like to move on now. Anything more about Honen or Shinran has been interesting and enlightening, but not quite what I am looking for.
Thank you in advance for any help you can give me.
Namo Amida Butsu

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Re: Honen or Shinran?

Post by Tatsuo » Tue Oct 23, 2018 4:58 am

The main reasons why I chose to follow Jodoshu and not Jodo Shinshu are its approach towards practice and the role of the self-power practices.

In Jodoshu we are trying to recite the nenbutsu every day and as often as we can to develop a deep connection with Amida Buddha. Although ten or even one nenbutsu can result in birth in the Pure Land, Jodoshu emphasizes continuous nenbutsu - just an Shantao taught. Jodoshu followers sometimes make vows to recite a minimum number of daily nenbutsu until their birth in the Pure Land.

As far as I understand it, all self-power practices are considered obsolete in Jodo Shinshu and it is taught that believers will immediately become Buddhas upon birth in the Pure Land. In contrast, Jodoshu seems to take a more 'traditional' approach towards enlightenment and the need for practice. While Honen teaches, that ordinary beings cannot master self-power practices in this life and therefore should only focus on the nenbutsu as practice, self power-practices are again picked up after birth in the Pure Land. To me this corresponds much more with Shakyamunis teachings about enlightenment being difficult to achieve and requiring lots of practice. Honen certainly did not follow the trend of his time to trivialize enlightenment by teaching students "you are already enlightened and just need to act like it" or "you will immediately become a Buddha upon birth in the Pure Land". Instead he taught an easy way to secure proper Dharma practice for everyone honest enough to see their shortcomings and imperfections. After birth we are not miraculously becoming Buddhas, but we start our practice as Bodhisattvas.
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Re: Honen or Shinran?

Post by Shingyo » Tue Oct 23, 2018 5:26 am

Thank you SO much Tatsuo!
That is the kind of response I was really hoping/waiting for. It matches with some of what I have been reading so far in the Senchaku Hongan Nembutsu Shu, in contrast with the writings of Shinran.
I admit, the more I read Honen, the more I really am swayed towards Jodo Shu. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE how Shinran writes, and while it was not penned by Shinran, the Tannisho is one of my all time favorites. My username Shingyo was chosen because of the Shoshinge that Shinran wrote.
More reading and study is definitely required on my part, but Jodo Shu definitely looks attractive to me because of everything you pointed out.
Excellent!
I look forward to more input if you or anyone else has something further to add.

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Re: Honen or Shinran?

Post by Monlam Tharchin » Tue Oct 23, 2018 6:22 am

Get Promise of Amida as soon as you can. The first 100 or so pages can be a slog, but the shorter letters opened Honen's teaching up to me. It's the book I always turn to in difficult times. Much more approachable than the Senchakushu.

The Misconceptions thread also helps to lay bare some of Honen's thought.
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Re: Honen or Shinran?

Post by Shingyo » Tue Oct 23, 2018 8:17 am

Monlam Tharchin wrote:
Tue Oct 23, 2018 6:22 am
Get Promise of Amida as soon as you can. The first 100 or so pages can be a slog, but the shorter letters opened Honen's teaching up to me. It's the book I always turn to in difficult times. Much more approachable than the Senchakushu.
I am working on getting it currently. I am quite broke currently but I believe a friend of mine is getting it for me for the holidays coming up. At least I THINK that is what I am getting...
I have heard it is a magnificent book. I am currently on chapter 7 of the Senchakushu. I must say, I am not really having many issues with it. Currently it is reading more of a defense of Jodo Shu more than anything. However I really am enjoying it and I "get" it so far.

As for the Misconceptions thread, I need to peruse that again. Thank you for the suggestion/reminder.

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Re: Honen or Shinran?

Post by Astus » Tue Oct 23, 2018 9:13 am

As I take it, the difference can be summed up like this:

Honen: faith is within nenbutsu.
Shinran: nenbutsu is within faith.

Practically, Shinran can be seen as a faithful follower of Honen, even if he used different expressions.

"In the Tannisho, Shinran expressed his Faith, saying that 'Shinran ... entrusted himself to the teaching of the Venerable Master (Honen) ---- that we are saved by Amida merely through the utterance of the Nembutsu.' Does this not contradict the above explanation on Faith and Nembutsu?
The teaching of Honen or Shan-tao was characterised by the emphasis on the Nembutsu in contrast to other sundry practices as required in different schools. However, the Nembutsu in Shan-tao's and Honen's teachings is the utterance of Amida's Name based upon true Faith. It is not the Nembutsu of self-power but it represents Amida's characteristic method of salvation as proclaimed in the Vow. Shinran used this expression, too, especially when he referred to Shan-tao's or Honen's teaching."

(A Standard of Shinshu Faith, 6.5)

A benefit of studying Honen is that he speaks directly and clearly, while Shinran seems to me more poetical, possibly because Honen wanted to establish his take on the Pure Land path, while Shinran already had something to build on.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Honen or Shinran?

Post by SonamTashi » Tue Oct 23, 2018 9:44 am

Promise of Amida is a fantastic book, and is probably one of my 2 or 3 favorite books on Pure Land Buddhism because it is so clear, profound and easy to understand. The Senchakushu is a great book as well, and I think it is probably just about as clear as Promise of Amida. In general, I find Honen to be a lot easier to understand than Shinran. Because of this, I think Shinran is frequently misunderstood and taken out of context by modern Shinshu teachings. The Tannisho, although not technically by Shinran, is a good example of both of these points. For example, "Even a good person attains birth in the Pure Land, so it goes without saying that an evil person will" is a good example of something that is counterintuitive and difficult for people to grasp. Also:
“Although I say the nembutsu, the feeling of dancing with joy is faint with me, and I have no thought of wanting to go to the Pure Land quickly. How should it be [for a person of the nembutsu]?

When I asked the master this, he answered, “I, too, have had this question, and the same thought occurs to you, Yuien-bo!

“When I reflect deeply on it, by the very fact that I do not rejoice at what should fill me with such joy that I dance in the air and dance on the earth, I realize all the more that my birth is completely settled. What suppresses the heart that that should rejoice and keeps one from rejoicing is the action of blind passions."
Shinran's logic is often quite counterintuitive and the opposite of what people normally think. So it can take a while to get used to his way of thinking.

In modern Jodo Shinshu, saying the nembutsu is often claimed to be self-power practice. This seems to be a misinterpretation of teachings like this:
The nembutsu, for its practicers, is not a practice or a good act. Since it is not preformed out of one’s own designs, it is not a practice. Since it is not good done through one’s own calculation, it is not a good act. Because it arises wholly from Other Power and is free of self-power, for the practicer, it is not a practice or a good act.
But the thing is, this never says that you shouldn't say the nembutsu or that saying the nembutsu is self-power practice. In fact, it says saying the name "arises wholly from Other Power and is free from self-power." Elswhere in the Tannisho it says:
the moment you entrust yourself thus to the Vow, so that the mind set upon saying the nembutsu arises within you, you are immediately brought to share in the benefit of being grasped by Amida, never to be abandoned.
Know that the Primal Vow of Amida makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil; only shinjin is essential.
So to Shinran, at least as he's represented in the Tannisho, Shinjin is what causes the mind to set upon saying the nembutsu. In other words, if you really have Shinjin, then you will say the nembutsu. As such, it is really quite backwards when modern Jodo Shinshu teachers and practitioners claim something like saying the nembutsu is self-power practice. Eventually the emphasis gets put on saying the nembutsu spontaneously through gratitude. This was something that I don't think I was ever able to fully appreciate.

I know you don't want to focus on Modern Jodo-Shinshu and those interpretations. I just bring this up to show how easily misunderstood Shinran is. By comparison, Honen is very simple to understand.

This is why I like Honen more (not to say I don't like Shinran). In Jodo-Shu, there is never a question of whether you should say the nembutsu. According to Honen, it would be very, very good to say the nembutsu 60,000 times per day, because saying it will eventually cause faith to arise in you and thus your rebirth in Sukhavati will be assured. But I genuinely think Shinran thought pretty much the same thing. It is just that to Shinran saying the nembutsu is a result of Shinjin and being grasped by Amida's vow, rather than the other way around. So Shinjin is really the biggest difference between Shinran and Honen. But I don't think it is really a huge difference. I think it is mainly just a different way of wording things. Honen teaches Sanjin (sincere mind, profound mind, mind which dedicates merit for rebirth in the Pure Land) and Shinran teaches Shinjin (mind of truth, reality and sincerity), and I think that they're just two words for the same thing. Shinjin just places the emphasis on saying the name being the result of Shinjin, rather than the other way around, and de-emphasizes the practitioner dedicating merits to be reborn in the Pure Land. But even this doesn't mean that Shinshu practitioners don't dedicate merit. Every Jodo-Shinshu practice ends with the chanting of the ekoku:

GAN NI SHI KU DOKU
BYO DO SE IS-SAI
DO HOTSU BO DA-I SHIN
OU JOU AN RA KU KO KU

which means:
I vow that the merit-virtue of this truth
Be shared equally with all beings.
May we together awaken the Bodhi Mind,
And be born in the realm of Serenity and Joy.
If there is any difference between the two, it is that Honen thought that saying the name would eventually result in faith (Sanjin) and rebirth, while Shinran thought that faith (Shinjin) would result in saying the name.
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Re: Honen or Shinran?

Post by Shingyo » Tue Oct 23, 2018 4:00 pm

Astus, I get what you are saying completely and I think that is a fantastic summary of the two. :smile:

SonamTashi, I can definitely agree with you about Honen being an easier read. Don't get me wrong, I fell in love with the writings of Shinran.
As for you bringing up the interpretations of Modern Jodo Shin Shu... the only reason I wanted to avoid that topic was because it tends to degenerate into debates about the whole thing of Amida being truly a real Buddha or not. While I definitely have my own stance on that, I am honestly rather sick of that discussion.

That said, what you mentioned is pertinent and am glad you brought it up.
As for Sanjin/Shinjin... I am not certain whether they are ultimately different words for the same thing (I genuinely have no clue, I need more study) but your explanation really makes sense to me.

Thank you both for some very insightful information!
I am truly glad I made this inquiry!

Namo Amida Butsu
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Re: Honen or Shinran?

Post by Admin_PC » Tue Oct 23, 2018 7:45 pm

Shingyo wrote:
Tue Oct 23, 2018 4:00 pm
As for Sanjin/Shinjin... I am not certain whether they are ultimately different words for the same thing (I genuinely have no clue, I need more study) but your explanation really makes sense to me.
Kyogyoshinsho - Chapter on Shinjin - Section on Shantao wrote: To make a selection of essential passages from the Collection of Liturgical Passages:

Second [of the three minds] is deep mind, which is true and real shinjin. One truly knows oneself to be a foolish being full of blind passions, with scant roots of good, transmigrating in the three realms and unable to emerge from this burning house. And further, one truly knows now, without so much as a single thought of doubt, that Amida’s universal Primal Vow decisively enables all to attain birth, including those who say the Name even down to ten times, or even but hear it. Hence it is called “deep mind”…

When people have been able to hear The Name of Amida Buddha, Rejoice, and attain the mind that is single, They will all attain birth in the Pure Land.
- Summarized by Shinran himself.
月影の いたらぬ里は なけれども 眺むる人の 心にぞすむ
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Re: Honen or Shinran?

Post by Shingyo » Tue Oct 23, 2018 7:55 pm

Admin_PC wrote:
Tue Oct 23, 2018 7:45 pm
Shingyo wrote:
Tue Oct 23, 2018 4:00 pm
As for Sanjin/Shinjin... I am not certain whether they are ultimately different words for the same thing (I genuinely have no clue, I need more study) but your explanation really makes sense to me.
Kyogyoshinsho - Chapter on Shinjin - Section on Shantao wrote: To make a selection of essential passages from the Collection of Liturgical Passages:

Second [of the three minds] is deep mind, which is true and real shinjin. One truly knows oneself to be a foolish being full of blind passions, with scant roots of good, transmigrating in the three realms and unable to emerge from this burning house. And further, one truly knows now, without so much as a single thought of doubt, that Amida’s universal Primal Vow decisively enables all to attain birth, including those who say the Name even down to ten times, or even but hear it. Hence it is called “deep mind”…

When people have been able to hear The Name of Amida Buddha, Rejoice, and attain the mind that is single, They will all attain birth in the Pure Land.
- Summarized by Shinran himself.
Thank you! This makes it clear. I genuinely appreciate your help. :bow:

Namo Amida Butsu
Namo Amida Butsu

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