Thank your for your kind reply and correction. I'm not trying to tell who is a real Shin follower and who is not. Sorry if my language wasn't appropriate.
No problem, it wasn't so much your language but the simple fact that I often receive emails from people whom I recommended some books by Bloom, Unno and others. Then they come across Adrian or Paul ranting about the 'false teachers' and are left behind highly confused. As I previously said, a red rag for me when I read these names.
To me Shin as presented by Adrian sounded sensible and more in line with common (non-Shin) Pure Land thought.
The latter is not a surprise because your impression is right. Adrian is much more in line with 'traditional' Pure Land thought than with Shinran.
And if that is a minority view what he says I'd still like to understand the other version.
The matter is a bit more complicated, because I won't say that Adrians views are those of a minority in Shinshu. Part of the problem is the fact that Shinshu today is often much more in line with Honens ideas than with those of Shinran. Rev. George Gatenby told me that to his knowledge only very few Shin Buddhists ever read what Shinran wrote. They go to their temple, listen to the Dharma talks and usually have a very basic understanding of things. I already mentioned Rennyo and as I said he was not only the driving force that made Jodo Shinshu a mass movement and established the Hongwanji as a powerful political institution in Japan, he was also responsible for an interpretation of Shinrans teachings that changed some of Shinrans ideas into something different. Discussions have been going on for a long time and there are still debates on how close Rennyo actually is to Shinran, but in my opinion (and I'm not alone with this view) Rennyo actually distorted Shinrans teachings.
He went back to the ideas of Honen and didn't understand how far beyond the traditional views Shinran went with his views. Shinrans focus was the experience of Shinjin in the here and now, that is the key of spiritual life and awakening for him - enlightenment is part of the process started by the realisation of Shinjin, but in fact it doesn't play any big role. Not because it's unimportant, but because it's the natural flow of things in Shinrans view once you are grasped by Amida. Shinran was strictly opposed against every attempt to connect spiritual life with anxiety and fear and therefore denied the belief of his time that the deathbed rites are important and that one has to be always on the edge because death can happen every minute. The latter aspect is the reason that in the Jodo Shu the nembutsu is constantly chanted because one doesn't want to die when the mind is busy with something else - since that might lead to a different place than the Pure Land in the afterlife.
All these thoughts are foreign to Shinran and he clearly said, there's no need for either constant chanting nor any fear of your last hour and his focus was this life, not the afterlife. Rennyo's main concern was again the afterlife and he brought back the fear that one perhaps didn't do enough to be prepared for the hour X. He summed Shinrans teachings up to 'Amida please save me' and simplified Shinran in his many letters (used as a propagation tool) to his followers because he thought it not possible to teach them in a different manner. He also told them to treat the Letters as the Dharma directly taught by Amida Buddha and his person was an important part of the Shinshu movement because he could even excommunicate followers and that was understood as excluding them from the Pure Land.
Here's what Al Bloom says about Rennyo:
In historical retrospect, it is clear that Rennyo laid the foundation for the popular spread of Shinshu by presenting the teaching in ways which the common man could grasp, just as Shinran himself had done. In this popularization, however, some of the subtlety of Shinran's own thought was perhaps reduced in favor of clear and concrete belief. Sometimes, in meeting a particular crisis, decisions are made which at the time hold yet unknown implications for the future. Rennyo appears to have forwarded the developing ecclesiasticism and centrality of hereditary abbacy through his own charisma. While on one side he warned against the tendency of Zenchishiki-danomi (dependence on a teacher) as a means to assure people of their salvation, his own charisma created such a dependency on himself and his successors. Thus, after Rennyo, zenchishiki-danomi, still a negative term in its implications, comes to refer to reliance on teachers other than the abbot.
Similarly, in the struggle to restrain the tendencies to antinomianism and ridicule of the gods and Buddhas, Rennyo also counseled obeying the laws of the state. He urged followers not to express contempt for traditional religions. He established regulations to control Honganji and aided in the transformation of Pure Land faith from an individual quest of salvation (as it had been for Shinran), to a group-oriented faith. Through his close relation to the peasants in various regions, Rennyo caused them to band together as local groups. This tendency to sectarian feeling and communality was strengthened through the struggles in the Ikko-ikki wars (known as peasant revolts).
Through all of these various developments under Rennyo Shonin, the Honganji gradually became a firmly structured, virtually authoritarian movement which subordinated the individual to the group, cultivated a paternalism on the part of the leadership, and encouraged a dependency and ardency on the part of the follower. After Rennyo, the Ikko-ikki wars (which have the appearance of defense of the "faith", or anti-feudalism) increased with the result that the community transformed from one of nurturing trust to one of feudalistic character. To that extent, it departed from Shinran to a point from which it could not return. The ko turned into gumi -- an organization for warfare. Sect egoism grew. The anomalous belief was implanted in Shin followers that one could vindicate one's rebirth only by exposing himself to the danger of giving his life in bloodshed. This transformation in the character of Honganji took place in the period of Shonyo, during the Temmon period -- 1532-55. The Ikko-ikki struggles were the turning point.
There were many levels in the feudal structure of the Shin order, Honganji-Ikkashu (one family group), also Daibozu, Matsuji, Dojo, and Monto respectively, chief priest, branch temple, practice or worship center, and follower. There was a structure to meet external threat, and internally there developed the centrality of the head with power of excommunication, which threatened the future destiny of the believer. There were strong religious sanctions which could execute a person spiritually but which also were tantamount to physical execution, since individuals excommunicated from the village lost their right to live. It is remarkable that the systematization of Honganji with such strong internal sanctions, could be so very tolerant to outside groups. In effect, in that period, Honganji externally taught Shinran, but in its internal promulgation was non-Shinran.
Official Jodo Shinshu today is much more in line with Honen than with Shinran and that is true for the temples in Japan as well as for the temples of the BCA in the USA. That's why I'm 'independent' so to say and there are other groups who try to get back to Shinran instead of just copying a Japanese tradition deeply rooted in culture and history of this country. Sure, without Rennyo I doubt that we would know about Shinran since it was the fact that Hongwanji became such a powerful organization that the teachings and writings could survive but unfortunately this thankfulness of todays Shinshu has made Rennyo much more important than Shinran. It has become an orthodox doctrine without the freedom Shinran brought back to the individual.
Dr. Taitesu Unno states:
Since the orthodox Shin teaching has stressed the working of absolute Other-power exclusively, any exploration of the individual to attain such an awareness has been rejected as a self-power deviation. The label of heterodoxy (ianjin) has been used to cut off any meaningful discussion of the personal quest.
The stress on absolute Other-power, the exclusive emphasis on faith, the discouragement of any questioning, the appeal to human feelings and so on all contribute to the anti-intellectualism contained in traditional Shin discourse. Shin Buddhism today has become an authoritarian religion, rejecting all forms of independent thinking and questioning.
So we have to differentiate two aspects here. Adrian and all the other fundis are very close to official Shinshu as it is taught in the temples in Japan and the BCA in the USA. It's not so close to academic study in the Shinshu universities as someone told me, because there Shinrans works are studied and then it becomes quite clear how far away official doctrines are sometimes from what he actually taught. But both, the official Shinshu we have today and those who propagate a 'True Shin Buddhism' (itself of course a nonsense term since Jodo Shinhsu means True Pure Land sect, so what they are teaching is a True True Pure Land Sect...but it fits to their understanding that some are always 'truer' than others) are not representing the spirit and the teachings of Shinran they way he taught them. So the majority is probably in line with what Adrian says, who knows, I didn't count the members of these two 'factions'. But we are not talking about the Hongwanji, but about Shinran and therefore Adrian and Paul and whoever it is who tries to tell us what 'correct belief' is, is dead wrong since they are not following Shinran and his attitude.
By understanding I mean to have it explained in agreement with general Mahayana teachings, like transference of merit, buddha-lands, three bodies, dependent origination, etc.
That certainly is way beyond the possibility to be discussed fully in a thread like this here and I would say you better read some books on these subjects first. Or start with Alfred Blooms online course:
My other idea was once that Shinran turned Pure Land teachings into something very lofty, like as you said, dropping all self-centred effort, leaving mental proliferation (calculation) behind, and so on. In that case it resembles Zen a lot, or even more extreme.
At least Soto Zen, yes.
But that I find so contrary to the emphasis on unenlightened wicked nature and the concept of nenbutsu being a path for all. If it is such a radical no-effort, no-method teaching, I can only imagine that it is a way of very very few people. And thus it would belong to the Path of Sages and not the easy path of Pure Land. See now what I'm perplexed about?
I can see that, yes. The problem in Shinrans teaching is and always has been that there's no way to 'achieve' Shinjin since it's a gift. Shinran was well aware of this:
For evil sentient beings of wrong views and arrogance,
The nembutsu that embodies Amida's Primal Vow
Is hard to accept in SHINJIN;
This most difficult of difficulties, nothing surpasses it.
So it remains a sort of 'mystical experience' and we don't know why some people experience it and others don't. We can only be open to the possibility that it also might happen to us.
In this way, one can see that the initiative for seeking enlightenment can only come from Enlightenment itself. Strictly speaking, our limited egos can contribute nothing to this process because they are ultimately insubstantial and unreal - 'empty' of self-being and thus incapable of generating light out of darkness. All we can really do, under these circumstances, is to maintain mindfulness of Amida's Dharma through monpo, or 'hearing' (Skt. sruta-maya-jnana). This calls for an attitude of receptivity whereby we remain open to the influence and blessings of the Infinite Light shining from both within and without. Of course, such a degree of receptivity presupposes favourably appropriate karmic conditions but one can never know whether such conditions exist in advance of our actually striving to conform to that which we acknowledge to be the truth. Once we are able to accept, admittedly after much struggle and travail, the Primal Vow into our lives, we leave ourselves open to its complete embrace which serves to guide us through the stormy ocean of samsara towards the blissful shores of the Land of Light wherein all the 'ice' of our doubts, anxieties and shortcomings are finally transformed into the soothing waters of emancipation. [http://www.nembutsu.info/aof2.htm