Amida can use us in mysterious ways...

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Dharma Flower
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Amida can use us in mysterious ways...

Post by Dharma Flower » Mon Jan 02, 2017 5:36 am

Alfred Bloom and Tai Unno usually write books for the general reader looking for a Buddhist book at Barnes and Noble, not for those seriously interested in a deeper understanding of Shinran's teachings.

Their reluctance to teach that Amida is a real Buddha is due to their belief, however misguided it might be, that Westerners new to Buddhism won't be able to understand it or accept it. This is much like how D. T. Suzuki, though privately a Shin Buddhist, hesitated to teach Western audiences regarding Amida and the Pure Land, and only did so when catering it to Western tastes.

Despite their tendency to water down Shinran's teachings for the sake of a popular audience, I do have at least one good thing to say about each of them. Starting with Suzuki, he was one of the first to translate the Kyogyoshinsho into the English language, a work which was dear to his heart.

Tai Unno was one of the first to translate the Tannisho into the English language. Because of that translation, myself and many others came to trust in Amida alone for our future Buddhahood, rather than our own self-power.

And Alfred Bloom did a great job in the Essential Shinran of compiling Shinran's writings into an easily digestible format, while providing very little of his own commentary. It wasn't until after reading The Essential Shinran, and seeing Shinran's original teachings for myself, that I came to believe Amida is a real Buddha.

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Re: Amida can use us in mysterious ways...

Post by Dharma Flower » Tue Jan 03, 2017 1:30 am

Another thing to keep in mind is that D. T. Suzuki is often quoted out of context. In Buddha of Infinite Light, Suzuki refers to Amida in passing as our inmost self, but in the same book, he more frequently refers to Amida as a personal being outside our own minds, in whose name alone we depend on for our enlightenment.

While Suzuki pointed out that certain features in the Pure Land sutras are cultural accretions, such as lotus blossoms the size of carriage wheels, he nonetheless frequently refers to Amida as if he's a real Buddha. Shinran made the same distinction between the provisional descriptions of Amida's and the Pure Land's visual appearance as described in the sutras and what they are in reality.

Suzuki's understanding of Amida was popular in the Higashi Honganji at the time, that Amida is both a real Buddha and our true self, based on passages in the writings of Shinran, such as the heart with shinjin is always in the Pure Land. While Suzuki is often quoted out of context by those who deny that Amida is a real Buddha, that may not be what he believed in his heart.

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janpeterotto
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Re: Amida can use us in mysterious ways...

Post by janpeterotto » Wed Jan 04, 2017 1:41 pm

Nice reflections, and important too. While practising zen in the 70's I stumbled over Suzukis thin book Shin Buddhism (London 1970) and was stupefied at first. Then a good teacher at Uppsala University told me a lot about Amitabha as a real Buddha, when I hammered him with my questions. He called it "Indian buddhist bhakti faith". I came to study how the Indian faith in Amitabha was changed i China early on as sutras were translated and modified to suit the new culture with spells and charms and superstitions. Much was lost there, but Amida can use us in mysterious ways, as you say -- I think of Shinran and Rennyo in Japan, restoring faith.

I find that popularizing or simplifying, is not generically a bad thing -- as I work with Rennyos letters right now I see how simplifying and shortening really brings home the centrality of the faith in Amitabha. That is what i found in Suzuki and in Bloom, especially his "Strategies for modern living" and most of all "Shin Buddhism in Modern Culture" which Al Bloom early on put online. That online study course was remarkable ! I often go back to it. Often Blooms interpretation has great relevance for our times like this: "There will be much contemporary resistance to this type of perspective (Shinrans) which focuses on the weakness and limitations we have in modern America. Several years ago in Japan there was a controversy in the Diet (the Japanese National Assembly) when one leader said Japan must be Jiriki and not Tariki. Tariki, said the proponents of self power, is a sign of weakness. In America, likewise, we have strong emphasis on individal initiative and power."
Al Bloom is my best teacher ever in the appliance of the faith in the real Amitabha, I would say.

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Re: Amida can use us in mysterious ways...

Post by Dharma Flower » Thu Jan 05, 2017 4:46 am

janpeterotto wrote: I find that popularizing or simplifying, is not generically a bad thing -- as I work with Rennyos letters right now I see how simplifying and shortening really brings home the centrality of the faith in Amitabha. That is what i found in Suzuki and in Bloom, especially his "Strategies for modern living" and most of all "Shin Buddhism in Modern Culture" which Al Bloom early on put online.
I think that popularizing is a good thing, and that reaching a wider audience is a good thing, though I am not sure if teaching that Amida isn't a real Buddha is an effective strategy.

There have been many Christian books on the New York Times best-seller list, but none of them claimed that Jesus never historically existed, and is instead merely a symbol for the Christ-consciousness in our minds.

I am not going to judge what's in Unno's or Bloom's heart, but the average person looking for religion seems to want something substantive they can cling to which gives their life meaning, and I am not sure if denying the literal existence of Amida Buddha really accomplishes that.

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Re: Amida can use us in mysterious ways...

Post by byrneklay » Mon Jan 09, 2017 7:22 am

Pretty much this whole tradition is gently correcting mistakes. It is good that we can identify mistakes. Especially when those mistakes are our own. There are many ways to understand and misunderstand Amitabha regardless of how he is presented. I had a lot of trouble with Amitabha is a real Buddha for a while. The samboghakaya concept eventually helped me erase my doubts in tandem with some personal experiences and encounters. People are all very very different and Amitabha is open to all without exception.

There are many people, especially younger people, who are very interested in Buddhism but are terrified of believing something superstitious. At first glance the Pure Land path can certainly look this way. It did to me for a long time. But my karma eventually proved otherwise. The Pure Land paths emphasis on humility, patience, and earnestness are some of our best tools for teaching and listening to the Dharma.

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Re: Amida can use us in mysterious ways...

Post by Dharma Flower » Sat Feb 11, 2017 10:48 am

I do not believe that Alfred Bloom, Tai Unno, etc. are deceivers and I wouldn't call them "modernists" either. These are people who are clearly well-versed in the writings of Shinran and in the broader Mahayana tradition as well, and who use this knowledge in presenting their views.

It's clear from the writings of Shinran he understood Amida to be more than a literal flesh and blood Buddha, Dharma-body itself, and the Pure Land to be the realm of Nirvana, rather than a distant, geographic place.

These are things that all Shin Buddhists, at a base level, can agree on, regardless of how literalistically they interpret the sutras, especially since Shinran often went beyond the literal reading of the sutras.

People should not quarrel with each other, and not insist on such dualistic, and potentially hurtful, ways of thinking, seeing some people as "modernist" and others as backward "traditionalists." There are 84,000 paths to enlightenment.

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