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Jodo Shinshu International<br />

The Promise<br />

of Boundless<br />

Compassion<br />

A Buddhist Quarterly<br />

<strong>Vol</strong>ume 2, <strong>Issue</strong> 2<br />



Sharing with the world the deep and humbling joy of awakening to<br />

Amida Buddha’s Universal Aspiration that enables each and every<br />

person to live a spiritually fulfilled life.<br />


This mission statement was articulated to convey a number of overarching<br />

themes and goals that this founding committee wanted to share with its readers<br />

through this quarterly journal. By introducing first-hand accounts of people<br />

who have experienced the warmth of Amida Buddha’s embracing Compassion,<br />

readers can be inspired by the message of Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo<br />

Shinshu Buddhism.<br />

Through these religious experiences and accounts from people around the<br />

world, it is our hope to spread the message of Amida Buddha’s Great Aspiration<br />

for all beings—despite race, color, creed, or any other divisions among us—to<br />

awaken to a life of spiritual fulfillment. When we awaken to this message of<br />

Amida’s universal embracement, each person can live in the here and now,<br />

with a sense of profound self-reflection, joy, and hope that will lead one to live<br />

in deepest gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence.<br />

We are excited to be a part of a movement that will spread a message of<br />

unity and hope through Amida Buddha’s universal solidarity.<br />

Namo Amida Butsu.

<strong>Vol</strong>ume 2, <strong>Issue</strong> 2, Published June 2022<br />

Jodo Shinshu<br />

International<br />

A Buddhist Quarterly<br />


6 The Foundation of Shinran’s Faith: Supremacy of the Vow in the Tannisho<br />

Dr. Alfred Bloom<br />

12 Shinran’s Sources<br />

Rev. Jérôme Ducor<br />

16 Why Shin Buddhism? (Part Four)<br />

Rev. John Paraskevopoulos<br />

20 Simply Acceptance: Interview with Sheera Tamura<br />

Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji<br />

24 The Present Condition of Jodo Shinshu in Nepal<br />

Rev. Uma Lama (Ghising)

Jodo Shinshu International is published quarterly by the<br />

Jodo Shinshu International Office, a not-for-profit religious<br />

corporation.<br />

<strong>Vol</strong>ume 2, <strong>Issue</strong> 2.<br />

Content copyright © 2022 Jodo Shinshu International Office.<br />

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in<br />

any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including<br />

photocopy, recording, or any information storage or retrieval<br />

system, without written permission.<br />

Editors-in-Chief: Rev. Kodo Umezu, Rev. Ai Hironaka<br />

Committee: Rev. Yuika Hasebe, Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji<br />

Contributors: Dr. Alfred Bloom, Rev. Jérôme Ducor, Rev. Ai<br />

Hironaka, Rev. Uma Lama (Ghising), Minako Kamuro, Rev.<br />

Dr. Takashi Miyaji, Rev. John Paraskevopoulos, Sheera Tamura<br />

Design & Layout: Travis Suzaka<br />

Printing: Kousaisha, Tokyo, Japan<br />

Support: Rev. Kiyonobu Kuwahara, Madeline Kubo<br />


Looking back at the earth, one astronaut said, “We do not see any borders from space.” Here on<br />

earth, we humans create borders where there are no boundaries, claiming “this is mine, not yours,”<br />

and so, inevitably, there are conflicts. As a result, many vulnerable people are forced to weep and<br />

tremble in fear. How sorrowful and pitiful this is.<br />

But in Amida Buddha’s Pure Land there is no conflict, there are no such things as good or bad<br />

values. It is the world of Enlightenment, of Nondiscrimination. Before becoming Amida Buddha,<br />

the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, had long contemplated the welcoming of all sentient beings into the<br />

Pure Land without any discrimination. This is “ 五 劫 思 惟 Gokoshiyui,” the “Five kalpas of profound<br />

thought,” which is the calligraphy of this quarterly journal. Some say that a kalpa is equal to 4.32<br />

billion years, it is beyond our imagination, we cannot conceive of how incredibly long five kalpas is.<br />

The length of this time expresses how difficult it is to save all sentient beings. And it is<br />

proportional to the depth of our personal desires. Namo Amida Butsu is makes us aware that it is hard<br />

to be saved, and therefore it calls out that we are the aim of Amida Buddha’s salvation.<br />

In the current conditions of conflict, which prevail in the world today, we say “Get rid of anything<br />

that I don’t like’’ and “Let me get what I want at all costs.” We can see that the essence of human<br />

beings has not changed since the time when the Bodhisattva Dharmakara was thinking about it. Even<br />

if we seek peace, if it is peace based on human ego (self-centeredness), or peace that is convenient for<br />

one individual, culture, or nation, it will create new conflicts in the process of seeking peace<br />

Because of this era, I think it is important for the Wisdom and Compassion of Amida Buddha to<br />

spread among the people’s hearts and minds. This Wisdom and Compassion always reminds us of the<br />

depth and richness of each moment of life, which arises as we live together with people of different<br />

values and ideas.<br />

Namo Amida Butsu.<br />

Rev. Ai Hironaka<br />

Jodo Shinshu International Office<br />

1710 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94109, USA<br />

www.jsinternational.org<br />

Rev. Ai Hironaka is the resident minister of Lahaina Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii.<br />

He was born in Hiroshima, Japan and attended Ryukoku University, majoring in Shin<br />

Buddhism. He was previously assigned to the Hilo Betsuin, Aiea Hongwanji Mission,<br />

and the Hawaii Betsuin.

Introduction<br />


The Foundation<br />

of Shinran’s Faith:<br />

Supremacy of the Vow in the Tannisho<br />

By Dr. Alfred Bloom<br />

As the background to my discussion of the “Tannisho,” I<br />

want to comment on my experience with Shin Buddhism.<br />

It will perhaps give some perspective on my interpretation<br />

of “Tannisho” as well as other Buddhist texts. To begin<br />

with, I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian<br />

environment. I was a Baptist. In my teenage years, I<br />

became an ardent believer. During the war I joined the<br />

army and had the opportunity to study Japanese. At the<br />

end of the war I went to Japan in the army of occupation<br />

and was active in a Christian group of GIs.<br />

We went to churches to give talks and help the youth<br />

learn English so they could get jobs with the army and<br />

also to save their souls. On one occasion, as I was speaking<br />

the minister of the church compared my idea of Christian<br />

grace with Amida. I was shocked when I heard it, since I<br />

had been taught that Christianity was absolutely unique.<br />

There could be nothing like it.<br />

I returned from the army and went to seminary.<br />

However, many questions had been raised in my mind.<br />

I gradually came to understand that the fundamentalist<br />

interpretation of Christianity was wrong and that<br />

there were many more religious alternatives than just<br />

Christianity. After going to two seminaries, I went to<br />

Harvard Divinity School where I was again able to take<br />

up the study of Japanese and learn more about Buddhism.<br />

At that time, I got hold of a copy of Yamamoto<br />

Kosho’s “Shinshu Seiten” and discovered that Shinran<br />

should be the focus of my study. I received a Fulbright<br />

scholarship and went to Japan for research. Eventually,<br />

I completed my thesis and published the text “Shinran’s<br />

Gospel of Pure Grace.” The title reflects the issue I had<br />



been trying to solve since those army experiences. It was<br />

my attempt to inform students of religion of the depth<br />

and significance of Shinran’s teaching, which had not<br />

been explored earlier in an academic fashion. Within the<br />

last year, after 25 years, the book has gone out of print.<br />

Nevertheless, it has fulfilled its task of making Shinran<br />

known and now more scholars are taking up the study<br />

of exploring the Shin tradition and publishing many<br />

important works.<br />

In the course of my explorations, I encountered the<br />

“Tannisho” and against the background of my own<br />

religious experience and training found it a remarkable<br />

and deeply significant text for the understanding, not<br />

only of Shin Buddhism, but of religion in general. It was<br />

because of my interest in the “Tannisho” that I was able<br />

to develop a series of radio talks sponsored by the Moiliili<br />

Hongwanji temple in Honolulu, Hawaii, which eventually<br />

became the small volume: “Tannisho: Resource for<br />

Modern Living.”<br />

While I was studying the book, I had an encounter<br />

with a Japanese actor, Morishige Hisaya. You may be<br />

familiar with him. I was at a dinner party. When I was<br />

introduced as a University professor and student of Shin<br />

Buddhism, he commented that he understood the Psalms<br />

of the Old Testament but he could not understand the<br />

“Tannisho.” As a more humorous retort, I responded that<br />

I understood the “Tannisho” but I could not understand<br />

the Psalms.<br />

As I reflected on the exchange later, I began to realize<br />

that there was a significant point in our conversation. He<br />

had read the Psalms without anyone telling him that they<br />

were profound expressions of religious faith. He simply<br />

read the texts and reacted to their evident meaning as<br />

he encountered the ideas. However, people for centuries<br />

have been told that the “Tannisho” is very profound text.<br />

When you tell someone that a book is profound, they will<br />

naturally assume that they cannot understand it and thus<br />

never read it. Or, if they read it, they will not be able to<br />

respond to the meaning because they assume they do not<br />

understand what they read.<br />

Interestingly enough, Rennyo Shonin assumed<br />

that people would understand it when they read it.<br />

Consequently, he warned his followers not to read the<br />

“Tannisho” until they were 40 years of age. That is,<br />

too old to implement its religious perspective. As we<br />

shall see, the “Tannisho” is a text of spiritual liberation.<br />

Through the use of Pure Land teaching based in Shinran’s<br />

understanding of shinjin or endowed trust, there is a<br />

liberating spirit that pervades the text.<br />

The ideal of spiritual liberation offered by this work<br />

has made it enormously attractive and meaningful to<br />

many modern Japanese seeking a basis for their lives.<br />

Most notably, Kiyozawa Manshi made the book famous<br />

in modern times when he rediscovered it after centuries<br />

of obscurity. Kiyozawa ranked the “Tannisho” with<br />

the words of Epictetus, the Greek stoic philosopher, and<br />

the Buddhist Agamas, that is, the ancient Theravada<br />

Buddhist Sutras. His emphasis was on liberation from<br />

the self. However, the liberation from the self enables the<br />

person to be firm and tranquil amidst the turbulence and<br />

upheaval of the surrounding world. While not seeking,<br />

necessarily, to change the external world directly, the<br />

world transforms as the self transforms. Kiyozawa, in his<br />

own way attempted to bring about religious reform and<br />

the revitalization of Shinshu in the Meiji era. If taken<br />

seriously, it can also assist in revitalizing our own Sangha.<br />



As a result of Kiyozawa’s efforts, the “Tannisho”<br />

became widely known as a religious classic in the Shin<br />

tradition. Since that time it has become a literary and<br />

religious classic beyond the boundaries of the Shin sect.<br />

It has been translated into many western languages<br />

and, in effect, taken on a life of its own. Nevertheless, it<br />

is not as widely known or studied in our own temples. I<br />

encountered a temple president some years ago who said<br />

he had never heard of it, despite years of activity in the<br />

temple.<br />

While it is not possible to go through the book<br />

in detail here or to deal exhaustively with Shinran’s<br />

teaching, I have developed several topics which I believe<br />

focus attention on some important issues for religious<br />

faith arising from the text. In this initial discussion, I<br />

want to consider the Primal Vow as the foundation of<br />

Shinran’s religious experience and thought. In the second<br />

presentation, I will discuss the deeply personal character<br />

of Shinran’s approach to religion. Subsequently, we<br />

will look at the “Tannisho” as a manifesto of spiritual<br />

Amida’s Primal Vow does not discriminate<br />

between the young and old, good and evil;<br />

true entrusting alone is essential.<br />

liberation and finally the relevance of the “Tannisho.” In<br />

this segment of our study I will summarize the religious<br />

perspective or style of life of the “Tannisho” which is the<br />

basis for its modern significance.<br />

I. The Inconceivable Primal Vows<br />

The “Tannisho” opens with a clear statement of the<br />

foundation for spiritual liberation through the Primal Vow<br />

of Amida Buddha. It states:<br />

When the thought of saying the Nembutsu emerges<br />

decisively from within, having entrusted ourselves to<br />

the inconceivable power of Amida’s vow which saves<br />

us, enabling us to be born in the Pure Land, in that<br />

very moment we receive the ultimate benefit of being<br />

grasped never to be abandoned.<br />

Amida’s Primal Vow does not discriminate between<br />

the young and old, good and evil; true entrusting<br />

alone is essential. The reason is that the Vow is directed<br />

to the being burdened with the weight of karmic evil<br />

and burning with the flames of blind passion.<br />

Thus entrusting ourselves to the Primal Vow, no other<br />

form of good is necessary, for there is no good that<br />

surpasses the Nembutsu. And evil need not be feared,<br />

for there is no evil which can obstruct the working of<br />

Amida’s Primal Vow.<br />

(“Tannisho: A Shin Buddhist Classic,” Taitetsu Unno,<br />

trans., Honolulu: Buddhist Study Center Press, 1984, p. 5).<br />



This passage, with its flowing, lyrical style, is an eloquent<br />

statement of the very foundation of Shinran’s teaching.<br />

Though we speak of the Nembutsu as the central idea of<br />

Shinshu, the Nembutsu is rooted in the Vow. Not enough<br />

attention is paid to the understanding of the Vow as the<br />

symbol and expression of the nature of spiritual reality.<br />

When Shinran recounted his experience of faith through<br />

his teacher Honen, he exclaimed: “How Joyous I am,<br />

my heart and mind being rooted in the Buddha-ground<br />

of the Universal Vow, and my thoughts and feelings<br />

flowing within the dharma-ocean, which is beyond<br />

comprehension” (Shin Buddhism Translation Series,<br />

“The True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the<br />

Pure Land Way,” <strong>Vol</strong>ume IV, Transformed Land, p. 616).<br />

In the preface to the “Shoshinge” in the “Kyogyoshinsho,”<br />

Shinran states:<br />

The Vow on which true and real practice is based is<br />

the Vow that all Buddhas say the Name. The Vow<br />

on which true and real shinjin is based is the Vow of<br />

sincere mind and trust. These are the practice and<br />

shinjin of the selected Primal Vow....The Buddha and<br />

land are the fulfilled Buddha and fulfilled land. All<br />

of this is none other than the ocean of true reality or<br />

suchness, the inconceivable Vow” (Shin Buddhism<br />

Translation Series, Ibid., I, p. 159).<br />

For Shinran, all of spiritual reality is the expression of the<br />

Primal Vow. If we put this into modern terms, Shinran<br />

is indicating for us that history is moved by a spiritual<br />

dynamic, profound aspiration in which all beings seek a<br />

higher realization and fulfillment of their lives. The Vows<br />

are a power in things working for growth and creativity,<br />

and for the transcendence of all limitations. Shinran<br />

expressed this dynamic reality in the terms of Pure Land<br />

teaching. The Vows represent aspects of the nature of<br />

Amida Buddha as the Buddha of Eternal life and Infinite<br />

Light (some mention can be made of the central Vows<br />

in Shinran’s thought: 12,13,17,18,11,22; and for his own<br />

experience, 19, 20).<br />

Consequently, when Yuienbo, the compiler of the<br />

“Tannisho,” arranged the quotations from Shinran that<br />

he remembered, it is important that he prefaced them with<br />

the recognition of the supremacy of the Primal Vow. It is<br />

only through our constant awareness of the power of the<br />

Vow in our lives that we can avoid the deviations or errors<br />

which Yuienbo was attempting to correct within the early<br />

Shin sangha. Briefly, let us consider this opening passage:<br />

When the thought of saying the Nembutsu emerges<br />

decisively from within, having entrusted ourselves to<br />

the inconceivable power of Amida’s vow which saves<br />

us, enabling us to be born in the Pure Land, in that<br />

very moment we receive the ultimate benefit of being<br />

grasped never to be abandoned.<br />

This passage tells us that even before we actually recite the<br />

Nembutsu verbally, the inconceivable power of the Vow<br />

stirs our faith, and we are embraced in that moment by<br />

the Buddha’s compassion. We will never be abandoned or<br />

rejected. The assurance we have of final enlightenment<br />

comes not from our feeble and unsteady, wavering minds<br />

and hearts, but from the Buddha whose nature and<br />

purpose is to bring all beings to enlightenment.<br />



And evil need not be feared,<br />

for there is no evil which<br />

can obstruct the working of<br />

Amida’s Primal Vow.<br />

This affirmation is extremely important when we<br />

survey the religious world. Most religions establish criteria<br />

and requirements that must be fulfilled in order to attain<br />

salvation. The degree of perfection demanded leaves<br />

the majority of people doomed. It is the unconditional<br />

compassion of Amida working in his Vow that brings<br />

about our deliverance or final enlightenment not what<br />

we do for ourselves. Understanding this perspective<br />

transforms the nature of our religious life and the way<br />

we relate to people. Knowing that the source of our<br />

deliverance is in the Vow, we cannot be self-righteous or<br />

put on an air of superiority. This is the basis of the dogyodobo<br />

horizontal community that characterizes Shinran’s<br />

relations to his disciples.<br />

Amida’s Primal Vow does not discriminate between<br />

the young and old, good and evil; true entrusting<br />

alone is essential. The reason is that the Vow is<br />

directed to the being burdened with the weight of<br />

karmic evil and burning with the flames of blind<br />

passion.<br />

The second segment of this passage makes three important<br />

points. The first is the universality of the Vow. In this<br />

context he focuses on age and moral qualifications.<br />

However, in the Faith <strong>Vol</strong>ume of the “Kyogyoshinsho”<br />

he indicates that the Great Sea of Faith transcends age,<br />

sex, economics, intellect, religion, morality, mode of<br />

enlightenment, number of Nembutsu, or any human<br />

distinction that may be invoked as a criteria to evaluate<br />

another person’s faith. Shinran gives us the clearest<br />

rejection of the judgmental attitude that tends to afflict<br />

religious people and encourage hypocrisy.<br />

The second issue is that entrusting alone is essential.<br />

This is the central feature of Shinran’s teaching that<br />

has made it famous over the centuries and distinctive<br />

among Buddhist schools. Generally speaking, traditional<br />

Buddhism in all its various forms has focused on practice<br />

as the essential way to enlightenment, and particularly<br />

meditation in some form, though also teaching the<br />

preliminary character or importance of faith.<br />

For Shinran, prior to all aspects of practice is the<br />

character of the human spirit and mind. That is, what<br />

people think they are doing and with what attitude their<br />

actions are performed determines the character of their<br />

religious perspective. If they think that religious actions<br />

are based in their own ability to achieve good, they<br />

misunderstand the power of the ego and ego-delusion<br />

which leads to cloaking egoism in the guise of religious<br />

effort. Faith-awareness makes it clear that whatever good<br />

we do, has its root in the working of universal compassion.<br />

Thus entrusting ourselves to the Primal Vow, no other<br />

form of good is necessary, for there is no good that<br />

surpasses the Nembutsu. And evil need not be feared,<br />

for there is no evil which can obstruct the working of<br />

Amida’s Primal Vow.<br />

Shinran declares the total supremacy of the Primal Vow.<br />

He states that “no other form of good is needed.” Nothing<br />

is superior to the Nembutsu. This affirmation correlates to<br />

the section “Tannisho” VIII where Shinran states that the<br />

Nembutsu “is neither a religious practice nor a good deed.<br />

Since it is practiced without my calculation, it is ‘nonpractice.’<br />

Since it is not a good created by my calculation,<br />

it is ‘non-good.’ Since it is nothing but Other Power,<br />



completely separated from self-power, it is neither a religious<br />

practice nor a good act on the part of the practicer.”<br />

Here we should understand that for Shinran the<br />

Nembutsu, as the conscious manifestation of shinjin,<br />

endowed trust, arises spontaneously and freely. It is<br />

without hakarai which indicates deliberateness,<br />

calculation, devising. Hakarai is something done with<br />

ego intention and therefore, being the kind of people<br />

we are with raging passions and ego interest, all actions<br />

become self-serving. Religion for Shinran could never be<br />

obligatory or done merely for social reasons.<br />

With the grounding in the Vow religious faith<br />

becomes the natural expression of the human spirit,which<br />

recognizes that there is something greater that embraces<br />

our lives and gives them meaning and value. The value<br />

and meaning of human existence is symbolized in Amida’s<br />

Vows as the life of the universe realizing itself in the<br />

dynamic life of nature and the yearning for spiritual<br />

fulfillment in human life.<br />

Just as there is no good that surpasses the Nembutsu<br />

as the requirement for enlightenment, there is no evil<br />

that can obstruct or hinder the fulfillment of the Vow in<br />

bringing us to enlightenment. It is possible to view the<br />

supremacy of the Vow in external or internal dimensions.<br />

Externally, it suggests that no matter what opposition<br />

followers of the Nembutsu may face, those opponents<br />

cannot finally overcome the faith. Shinran himself faced<br />

such challenges when he was exiled along with other<br />

followers of Honen. Pure Land teaching was persecuted<br />

for many years in Japan until it became a recognized<br />

and accepted faith among all the other Buddhist schools.<br />

While we do not face overt persecution, the cultural<br />

environment within which we live threatens to undermine<br />

religious commitment through ongoing secularization<br />

and the allure of the material culture we have created<br />

which makes religion merely a colorful decoration or<br />

condiment to the salad of life.<br />

Internally, no evil can obstruct the Vow or<br />

Nembutsu, and no evil need be feared suggests that<br />

we are never too evil to be embraced by the Buddha’s<br />

compassion. There were people in Shinran’s day, who by<br />

profession or other reasons, were continually committing<br />

acts defined as sinful and impure in traditional<br />

Buddhism. It was virtually impossible for such people<br />

to receive the assurance that they would ultimately be<br />

delivered. Warriors, prostitutes, butchers, merchants,<br />

hunters were all in professions which traded on human<br />

passions and created karma. The message of Pure Land<br />

teaching, and particularly Shinran, declared that there<br />

was hope for all. No one would be left out, because the<br />

Buddha’s Vow had been fulfilled.<br />

In the “Kyogyoshinsho,” Shinran illustrated<br />

this fact by recounting the story of Prince Ajatasatru<br />

who had committed what was the unforgivable sin in<br />

bringing about his father, King Bimbisara’s death. He<br />

symbolized the lowest, despicable evil. Yet, through the<br />

Buddha’s compassion even he would eventually attain<br />

Buddhahood. This hope liberates the human spirit to live<br />

creatively and meaningfully in this world of suffering in<br />

the spirit of gratitude and compassion for all beings.<br />

In this opening passage, therefore, Shinran offers an<br />

important alternative among the plurality of religious<br />

paths in our time and an inspiring vision of universal<br />

compassion that inspires hope, courage and commitment.<br />

We must take this vision seriously for our individual lives,<br />

as well as that of our sangha.<br />

About the Author<br />

Dr. Alfred Bloom<br />

Dr. Alfred Bloom (1926-2017) was one<br />

of the world’s foremost authorities on<br />

the study of Shin Buddhism and left a<br />

rich legacy for Buddhist seekers in the<br />

West. He completed his doctoral studies<br />

at Harvard in 1963 with a dissertation<br />

on Shinran’s life and thought. Especially<br />

remembered among his many books and<br />

articles are his commentaries on Tannisho<br />

and Shoshinge, as well as The Promise of<br />

Boundless Compassion.<br />



Shinran’s Sources<br />

Rev. Jérôme Ducor<br />

Buddhism is one of the three world religions with a<br />

universal vocation. Along with Christianity and Islam,<br />

it claims to have a message that is addressed to all of<br />

humanity. However, it differs substantially from the other<br />

two religions on several points. For example, it refutes the<br />

idea of a sovereign, judging and creating god. Another<br />

major difference is that Buddhism no longer exists in its<br />

country of origin. Born in India around the 5th century<br />

BC, it disappeared from there following a slow decay that<br />

ended with its elimination during the Muslim conquests in<br />

the Indian subcontinent, as evidenced by the destruction<br />

of the Buddhist universities of Nālandā and Vikramaśilā<br />

in the late 12th century AD.<br />

Another particularity of Buddhism is that it spread<br />

peacefully, carried by its missionaries to the whole of Asia,<br />

but only to Asia. Over the centuries, it spread further<br />

and further eastwards, as far as Japan and Indonesia,<br />

without ever crossing westwards to the Mediterranean<br />

basin. Paradoxically, the very first Western knowledge<br />

of Buddhism came from Christian missionaries in the<br />

16th century. However, the real discovery of Buddhism<br />

by the West came in the 19th century, not through the<br />

action of Asian Buddhist missionaries but through western<br />

philology. At that time, European scholars discovered the<br />

links between the four canonical languages of Buddhism:<br />

Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese and Tibetan. Only then could<br />

the translations of the sūtras, i.e. the texts preserving the<br />

sermons of the Buddha Śākyamuni, begin.<br />

Author’s Note: My sincere thanks to Dr. Heleven Loveday for checking my English.<br />



It is here that the paradox becomes stronger for most<br />

specialists in these languages have oriented their work<br />

towards the reconstruction of what would have been the<br />

“original” teaching of the Buddha. Still, there is another<br />

essential difference between Buddhism and the other<br />

two universal religions. Unlike Christianity and Islam,<br />

almost nothing is known about the first three centuries<br />

of Buddhism. Its teachings only began to be written<br />

down at the turn of the Christian era: first in Sanskrit on<br />

the Indian subcontinent and in Pali on the island of Sri<br />

Lanka, and then translated from Sanskrit into Chinese,<br />

and later from Sanskrit into Tibetan. So that Western<br />

Buddhist studies first consisted of comparisons of all these<br />

sources in an attempt to identify a common background<br />

that would have constituted the “original teaching” of<br />

the historical Buddha in India, the country from which it<br />

had disappeared.<br />

From this perspective, anything outside the Indian<br />

context was virtually discarded. Worse still, the idea<br />

spread that the further away from the Buddha’s India in<br />

time and geography certain forms of Buddhism were,<br />

the more decadent they were. For example, Chinese<br />

Buddhism was said to have been distorted by Taoism,<br />

especially in Chan (Zen). Similarly, Japanese Buddhism is<br />

said to have degenerated into a monotheism because of the<br />

Pure Land tradition.<br />

This bias, which fortunately began to disappear<br />

some forty years ago, completely ignored the successive<br />

contributions of dozens of great commentators who,<br />

throughout the Far East, composed texts of great value,<br />

some of which are even monuments of human thought in<br />

the same way as their Indian counterparts.<br />

The perspective of a Japanese disciple of the Buddha<br />

is obviously quite different. For him or her, the passage<br />

of Buddhism from India via China to the Japanese<br />

archipelago does not constitute a degeneration but, on<br />

the contrary, an exponential enrichment that culminates<br />

in Japan. This awareness of being the custodian of such<br />

a treasure is illustrated in particular by a work by a<br />

contemporary of Shinran, the monk Gyōnen (1240-1321),<br />

who composed a three-volume memoir: The Circumstances<br />

of the Transmission of the Law of the Buddha in the Three<br />

Countries (Sangoku buppō denzū engi).<br />

Shinran (1173-1263) obviously fits perfectly into this<br />

context. Original as it may be, his thought, with his<br />

interpretation of the Buddhist teachings, did not arise<br />

spontaneously from nowhere. It is the fruit of a long<br />

maturation of his reading of the texts and his listening to<br />

the masters he frequented, as well as the trials that marked<br />

his life.<br />

It is not known which masters may have influenced<br />

him during the twenty or so years he spent in the Tendai<br />

school, on Mount Hiei northeast of Kyōto, before his<br />

decisive encounter with Hōnen (1133-1212), the founder of<br />

the Pure Land school (Jōdoshū). Shinran himself would<br />

claim that he was merely passing on the legacy of his<br />

master Hōnen. But his own teaching proved sufficiently<br />

original that he is retroactively considered the founder<br />

of a school in its own right, the True Pure Land school<br />

(Jōdo-Shinshū).<br />



What is called a “school” in Sino-Japanese Buddhism<br />

must meet certain precise criteria. The subject may seem<br />

somewhat technical, but it deserves to be addressed for<br />

it is some of these criteria that allow us to grasp both the<br />

richness of Shinran’s sources and the originality of his<br />

own thought.<br />

The first of these criteria is that of the text or set of<br />

texts on which a school is based. Hōnen relied primarily<br />

on the Sūtras of the Pure Land Trilogy (Jōdo-Sambukyō), which<br />

includes the Sūtra of the Buddha Immeasurable-Life, the Sūtra of<br />

Contemplations on the Buddha Immeasurable-Life and the Sūtra<br />

of Amida.<br />

Shinran kept the same texts but gave them a different<br />

degree of importance between themselves. For him,<br />

the most fundamental of all is the Sūtra of the Buddha<br />

Immeasurable-Life, as this sets out the vows of the Buddha.<br />

However, many other texts are also used by Shinran.<br />

This can be seen in his seminal work, entitled<br />

“Teaching, Practice, Faith and Realisation” (Kyō-gyō-shinshō).<br />

This six-volume work is a vast anthology of quotations<br />

covering over sixty texts. In addition to some fifteen other<br />

sūtras, it includes the works of almost thirty masters of the<br />

Three Countries: three of them are Indian, twenty are<br />

Chinese and three are Japanese; to which should be added<br />

three Koreans, who at the time were not distinguished<br />

from the Chinese masters. Not all of these authors<br />

belong to the Pure Land tradition, since there are also<br />

representatives of the Mādhyamika, Chan (Zen), Tiantai<br />

(Tendai) and Discipline (Ritsu) schools.<br />

It should be noted that a characteristic of Shinran’s<br />

sources is that they span a period of ten centuries: from the<br />

archaic era of Chinese translations of some of these sūtras<br />

in the 2nd century CE, to the contemporary period of<br />

For [Shinran], the most fundamental of all is the Sūtra of the Buddha<br />

Immeasurable-Life, as this sets out the vows of the Buddha.<br />

Shinran himself for some Chinese masters, not to mention<br />

Hōnen, his personal teacher. Another feature is that all<br />

these texts are written in Chinese, the classical language<br />

of Far Eastern Buddhism. This allows Shinran to move<br />

seamlessly from one source to another, regardless of their<br />

date or country of origin.<br />

However, of all these masters, Shinran relied especially<br />

on a selection of seven of them. These are the Indians<br />

Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu, the Chinese Tanluan,<br />

Daochuo and Shandao, and the Japanese Genshin and<br />

Hōnen, who are referred to collectively as the “Seven<br />

Eminent Masters” (Shichi Kōsō). Nowhere does Shinran<br />

explain this choice, but the importance of these seven<br />

masters is especially evident in his Poem of True Faith<br />

(Shōshinge) as well as in his Japanese Hymns on the Eminent<br />

Masters (Kōsō wasan).<br />

Shinran’s list is partly based on the one defined by<br />

his master Hōnen. The latter had selected five masters,<br />

all Chinese: Tanluan, Daochuo, Shandao, Huaigan and<br />

Shaokang.<br />

Huaigan was a disciple of Shandao, but Hōnen<br />

himself acknowledged that his interpretations contradicted<br />

those of his master on many points. As for Shaokang, who<br />

was considered a reincarnation of Shandao, he did not<br />



leave any strictly doctrinal work but was rather recognized<br />

for his popular liturgical innovations. Thus pruned of<br />

Huaigan and Shaokang, the list of the Five Patriarchs<br />

of the Pure Land only includes Tanluan, Daochuo and<br />

Shandao for Shinran.<br />

Of these, Hōnen declared that he “relied entirely on<br />

Master Shandao alone”. In fact, Hōnen’s founding of the<br />

Pure Land School was even intended to do nothing more<br />

than give independence to Shandao’s teaching, which<br />

holds in three main points:<br />

1°<br />

2°<br />

3°<br />

birth in the Pure Land of Amida is an achievement of<br />

the highest order;<br />

the most ordinary beings can nevertheless be born there;<br />

the practice that enables them to realise this<br />

apparently contradictory goal lies in the vocal<br />

nembutsu alone, i.e. the pronunciation of the name of<br />

the Buddha Amida, which is both easy and excellent,<br />

because of the merits of this Buddha synthesised in<br />

his name according to his vows.<br />

This equation is essential: it characterizes what Hōnen<br />

calls “the Shandao tradition” to distinguish it from the<br />

interpretations of the Pure Land held by other schools<br />

of Buddhism.<br />

Shandao had had Daochuo as his master, from whom<br />

Hōnen retains in particular the division of all Buddhist<br />

teachings into the “method of the Way of the Saints” and<br />

the “method of the Pure Land”.<br />

As for Tanluan, of whom Hōnen seems to have<br />

known little more than the very beginning of his famous<br />

Commentary on Vasubandhu’s Treatise on the Pure Land, his<br />

entire work will be of capital importance for Shinran. It<br />

is, moreover, on the basis of Tanluan that Shinran added<br />

the two Indian masters Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu to<br />

his list, for Tanluan’s Commentary opens with an important<br />

reference to Nāgārjuna’s definition of the “easy practice”<br />

of faith as distinct from the “difficult practices”. This<br />

association of Vasubandhu and Tanluan by Shinran<br />

is reflected in his very name : “Shin” in “Shinran” is<br />

the second character of Vasubandhu’s Chinese name,<br />

which is pronounced “Seshin” in Japanese, while “ran”<br />

is the second character of Tanluan’s name, pronounced<br />

“Donran” in Japanese.<br />

Finally, as for the two Japanese masters in Shinran’s<br />

list, Genshin was the one whose work allowed Honen to<br />

rediscover Shandao; Shinran would also draw from it<br />

doctrinal notions important enough to include Genshin in<br />

his list. Finally, Hōnen fits in quite naturally as Shinran’s<br />

personal teacher.<br />

In a forthcoming series of articles, we shall examine in<br />

more detail the teachings of each of the Seven Eminent<br />

Masters who constitute one of the main sources of<br />

Shinran’s teaching. In this way, an attempt will be made to<br />

appreciate what Shinran has inherited from these masters<br />

and what his personal spiritual deepening has contributed<br />

specifically to the True Pure Land school.<br />

About the Author<br />

Rev. Jérôme Ducor<br />

Rev. Jérôme Ducor is the minister in<br />

charge of the Shingyôji temple (Geneva).<br />

He has been teaching Buddhism at<br />

McGill (Montreal) and at the universities<br />

of Geneva and Lausanne, besides being<br />

the curator of the Asia Department at<br />

the Geneva Museum. He is the author of<br />

various Buddhist publications, including<br />

a translation of Tanluan’s Commentary<br />

and his own book, Shinran and Pure Land<br />

Buddhism.<br />


The practice of Dharma consists in having kindness, generosity,<br />

truthfulness, purity, gentleness and goodness increase among the people.<br />


– King Aśoka<br />

Why Shin<br />

Buddhism?<br />


By Rev. John Paraskevopoulos<br />

In the final part to this series of short essays, we will explore<br />

how Shinran’s vision of reality is applicable to us in everyday life<br />

and the way in which its teachings can enrich our existence—<br />

even when our daily circumstances are fraught and distressing.<br />

In doing so, it should become clear as to what Jōdo Shinshū<br />

isn’t, as much as what it is, given the host of misconceptions<br />

that often plague it.<br />

It has frequently been remarked that Shinran’s outlook on<br />

the world was quite severe and that he tended to neglect social<br />

issues. Indeed, the Pure Land tradition, as a whole, has been<br />

accused of not being sufficiently concerned with the problems<br />

of this life. This is hardly a fair or accurate criticism but, in any<br />

case, Rennyō would retort that we’re nowhere near concerned<br />

enough about the more important matter of the next life either.<br />

In the Dhammapada, we are reminded to:<br />

Overcome anger by peacefulness; overcome evil by good.<br />

Overcome the mean by generosity; and the person who<br />

lies by truth.<br />



Even in our Pure Land scriptures, we find plain wise advice<br />

regarding how to treat others:<br />

People of the world, parents and children, brothers and<br />

sisters, husbands and wives, and other family members<br />

and kinsmen, should respect and love each other,<br />

refraining from hatred and envy. They should share<br />

things with others, and not be greedy and miserly, always<br />

speak friendly words with a pleasing smile, and not hurt<br />

each other.<br />

(Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life)<br />

Of course, there is nothing remarkable or original about such<br />

guidance but this doesn’t make it any easier for us to put into<br />

practice! Needless to say, Shinran would concur with these<br />

sentiments. However, his solution to the predicament of our<br />

human condition was to neither ignore manifestly obvious<br />

cases of injustice nor to rush out and hastily ‘change the world’<br />

on a whim. Rather, it was to first transform our own hearts<br />

and minds, without which no amount of worldly activism will<br />

make any enduring difference. In one of his letters, he states:<br />

Formerly you were drunk with the wine of ignorance<br />

and had a liking only for the three poisons of greed,<br />

anger and folly but, since you have begun to hear of the<br />

Buddha’s Vow, you have awakened from the drunkenness<br />

of ignorance, gradually rejected the three poisons and<br />

have come to prefer, at all times, the medicine of Amida<br />

Buddha.<br />

Notice that Shinran suggests that it’s only through a living<br />

encounter with the Dharma that we can undergo a shift in<br />

our habitual orientation. In other words, we assume a new<br />

way of being in the world that is determined by something<br />

other than the darkness of our disordered desires (bonnō).<br />

This requires the intrusion into our hearts of the timeless,<br />

which doesn’t have its origin in our thoughts, feelings or<br />

ego. Elsewhere, Shinran says:<br />

When people’s trust in the Buddha has grown deep,<br />

they…seek to stop doing wrong as their hearts moves<br />

them—although earlier they gave thought to such things<br />

and committed them as their minds dictated.<br />

That which makes us want to manifest good will and concern<br />

towards others is none other than the working of the Primal<br />

Vow that seeks the liberation of all beings. This spiritual force<br />

is the embodiment of pure unconditional benevolence which<br />

is given to us when we entrust in it. It ought to be clear that<br />

we cannot bring about this virtuous attainment ourselves<br />

(and then proudly take credit for it) if we’re really honest<br />

about our limitations. Hōnen once remarked:<br />

Upon introspection, I realize that I have not observed a<br />

single Buddhist precept or succeeded in the practice of<br />

meditation…In addition, the mind of the common man<br />

is easily distracted, confused, vacillating and unable to<br />

concentrate…Without the sword of undefiled wisdom,<br />

how will we extricate ourselves from the fetters of karma<br />

and harmful passions?<br />

This is our reality as bombu, ordinary people who flounder<br />

in the ocean of samsāra. How can we expect to ‘reform’<br />

others, whom we may regard as stupid or wicked, when<br />

we haven’t got our own house in order, being full of<br />



Without wisdom, we are lost and blind. In such a state, we become<br />

slaves to our binding desires, severed from what is ‘true and real’. This<br />

can only create subjective distortions of reality in which we project our<br />

fears in a posture of denial.<br />

unacknowledged hatred ourselves? In the torrid culture<br />

wars that are tearing apart societies at the moment, how<br />

many of the self-proclaimed ‘virtuous’ can sincerely claim<br />

they’ve observed the following injunction in a true spirit of<br />

compassion towards those with whom they disagree?<br />

For hate is not conquered by hate; hate is conquered by<br />

love. This is the law eternal. (Dhammapada)<br />

And let us not forget that compassion doesn’t mean just pity<br />

(which is often condescending) but the capacity to ‘suffer with’<br />

others in their anguish and adversity. Before doing anything<br />

else, we need to take refuge in the unhindered light and life<br />

that is Amida, so that we may be given the Buddha-mind<br />

necessary to ‘dispel the long night of ignorance’ as Shinran<br />

describes our plight. This is shinjin and the deeper reality that<br />

sustains it which, according to Reverend Wasui Tatsuguchi<br />

(b.1930), is:<br />

The one and only foundation upon which we are enabled<br />

to find a purpose greater than our own petty self-interests,<br />

a meaning beyond the mere satisfaction of our selfish<br />

physiological and psychological drives. It is that which<br />

saves us from ego-centrism. It transforms primitive desire<br />

into a desire that is universal.<br />

Without wisdom, we are lost and blind. In such a state, we<br />

become slaves to our binding desires, severed from what is<br />

‘true and real’. This can only create subjective distortions of<br />

reality in which we project our fears in a posture of denial.<br />

Such spiritual myopia imposes—often violently—our<br />

benighted views onto others; beliefs that are no less toxic<br />

than those we deem to be ‘heretical’ or politically incorrect,<br />

especially when they’re fuelled by anger and hostility. The<br />

Australian Shin poet Harold Stewart (1916-1995) made the<br />

following astute observation:<br />

The ultimate aim of Buddhist doctrine and method is to<br />

enable us to transcend our humanity, not wallow in it.<br />

For sufficient unto our own egotistical self and ignorant of<br />

our innate Buddha-nature, we remain trivial and pitiful<br />

things…The conscious effort to be good or do good, is<br />

foredoomed to failure because, no matter how cleverly<br />

disguised by mankind’s talent for personal deception<br />

or public hypocrisy, it is really motivated by the vested<br />

interests of the self and inadvertently betrays a lack of<br />

faith in any power higher than the human.<br />

It is very important to understand this point. A society<br />

populated by flawed and confused human beings, who are<br />

usually lacking in self-awareness, can never be transformed<br />

into a paradise of saints. Stewart goes on to say that:<br />



Buddhism does not share modern Western man’s restless<br />

and aggressive attitude of self-assertion, an extroverted<br />

optimism scarcely supported by the actual conditions of<br />

worldly existence.<br />

This is echoed by Marco Pallis (1895-1989), the Anglo-Greek<br />

scholar of Tibetan Buddhism who became drawn to Jōdo<br />

Shinshū towards the end of his life:<br />

The pathetic hope, fostered by the mystique of ‘progress’,<br />

that by a successive accumulation of human contrivances,<br />

samsāra itself will somehow be, if not abolished,<br />

permanently tilted in a comfortable direction is as<br />

incompatible with Buddhist realism as with historical<br />

probability.<br />

It is crucial, therefore, that we begin to put first things first.<br />

What we need is an objective light to be cast into our hearts<br />

so that the stormy clouds of resentment, greed and delusion no<br />

longer impede our vision of the bright blue sky of truth. This<br />

is not to say that our bonnō is eliminated; indeed, it becomes<br />

even more vivid because we see our reckless passions for<br />

what they really are when exposed to us by Amida’s working.<br />

This realization needs to be faced unflinchingly. Even<br />

though the encounter with our ‘shadow’ self can be very<br />

confronting, it need not be dispiriting or melancholy.<br />

Paradoxically, it’s also an occasion of deep joy as we come<br />

to appreciate that the awareness that makes us see what<br />

we really are as unillumined beings—in all our potential<br />

malice and cruelty—is the same insight which reveals that<br />

we’re ‘always grasped, never to be abandoned’ despite our<br />

wayward and unruly natures.<br />

Rennyō says that this leads to a happiness that makes<br />

one ‘dance with joy’; an elation, he tells us, that is more<br />

than we can bear because it’s accompanied by a faith that’s<br />

indestructible like a diamond (kongōshin), along with the<br />

unshakable confidence that one has joined the ranks of<br />

those who are assured of attaining Nirvāna.<br />

Any good that we wish to do in the world will be a<br />

natural expression of the mind given to us by the Buddha.<br />

Our efforts to embody this joy in our relations with others<br />

may often fall short of perfection but our motivation will,<br />

spontaneously and without calculation (hakarai), be infallibly<br />

grounded in a desire to help others in a spirit of good will,<br />

kindness and concern. This is what Shōkū (1177-1247), a<br />

follower of the Seizan school of Jōdo Shū, meant when he said:<br />

As soon as we realise our weakness in doing good, real<br />

goodness is performed.<br />

In the end, we cannot divorce an aspiration for the sacred<br />

from our altruistic impulses. They form a bond that is<br />

mutually sustaining, which ensures an integrated life of<br />

moral wellbeing and spiritual health. In the words of Myōzen<br />

(1167-1242), another follower of Hōnen:<br />

You may not go to great lengths to aid others but, if you<br />

truly aspire to part from samsāric existence, there is<br />

certain to be appropriate benefit for every other being.<br />

About the Author<br />

Rev. John Paraskevopoulos<br />

Rev. John Paraskevopoulos is a<br />

Jodo Shinshu priest from Australia.<br />

His publications include Call of the<br />

Infinite, The Fragrance of Light, and<br />

Immeasurable Life.<br />


Sheera: Hi, my name is Sheera Tamura and I currently go<br />

to Seattle University. Next year, I will pursue a Master’s<br />

degree at the University of Washington studying social<br />

work. Currently, I’m an intern for a nonprofit organization<br />

called Asian Counseling and Referral Service, where I<br />

co-facilitate a youth program called “Pathways to Our<br />

Future.” We help immigrant and refugee high school<br />

students who are primarily of Chinese American descent,<br />

learn about professional job skills and civic engagement.<br />

Growing up, I wasn’t particularly raised Buddhist. My<br />

mother and grandparents are Buddhist. I actually went<br />

to a Christian Elementary School, Catholic Middle<br />

School, and then a Buddhist High School called Pacific<br />

Buddhist Academy. I was exposed to different religious<br />

traditions. Eventually, my mom told me that she wanted<br />

me to choose my own path and find a religion that I can<br />

live by. At Pacific Buddhist Academy, I learned about<br />

the Buddhist teachings and got more involved with the<br />

temple community in Hawai’i. That’s when I really chose<br />

Buddhism to influence my lifestyle.<br />

Miyaji: What got you interested in Buddhism?<br />

Simply<br />

Acceptance<br />

Interview with Sheera Tamura<br />

Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji<br />

Sheera: It was the community; being able to learn about<br />

the lessons of the Buddha but also being able to implement<br />

what I learned into community service. For example,<br />

I really appreciate the aspect of dana, or selfless giving.<br />

Through our youth groups, we would go out and do beach<br />

cleanups, or various service projects not only with the<br />

temple community, but with other communities as well.<br />

(Left) 2018 Pacific Buddhist Academy Hawai’i’ Island Gratitude Tour<br />

acknowledgments. Hilo Hongwanji.<br />



Miyaji: Is there an aspect of the temple that you really enjoy?<br />

Sheera: What I really like is just being able to be the<br />

next generation of preserving the temple and the history.<br />

The different generations who come to the temple are<br />

connected by Buddhism, but at the same time, I think<br />

times are progressing. Values within the generations of this<br />

community are changing. The new generation can really<br />

find comfort in learning from the older generations, but<br />

also begin to build their own pathway. One example is the<br />

issue of Black Lives Matter. That might not be something<br />

that the older generation would be able to identify with<br />

strongly, but I think the younger generation is much more<br />

keen about this issue.<br />

Miyaji: Is there something a Jodo Shinshu minister said that<br />

really stuck with you?<br />

Sheera: Well, I’m adopted from China. When moving to<br />

the mainland, it made me really reflect upon my identity<br />

being a Chinese Japanese American. The commonly used<br />

Buddhist and Japanese phrase “okagesama de (through all<br />

of the causes and conditions)” really comes to mind. As an<br />

adoptee there were times when I didn’t feel like I belonged<br />

in certain spaces. It’s kind like not feeling whole within<br />

certain spaces. However, Buddhism really allowed me to<br />

recognize that people will accept me for who I am, with<br />

all of my flaws, challenges, as well as times of happiness.<br />

When Buddhists say, “My suffering is your suffering, my<br />

happiness is your happiness,” I really take that to heart<br />

because that reminds me that, in the end, we’re all really<br />

interconnected with each other and that we all really rely<br />

on each other.<br />

For example, many of my cousins were Christian.<br />

I remember, during Thanksgiving, my mom would ask<br />

me to say a prayer for our whole family. I never knew<br />

what to say. As a Buddhist, do I say, “Dear God,”? But<br />

in the end, this made me realize that, in a way, religion<br />

is not something that has to be rigidly defined. It can<br />

just be there to support each other, and allow us to<br />

have gratitude. I think this way of thinking comes from<br />

Buddhism.<br />

Miyaji: I think that’s really interesting. Many times people get<br />

hung up on labels and concepts, where they say, “truth has<br />

got to be like this, it has to speak in this way. The savior has<br />

to look this way!” However, that kind of thinking can create<br />

a lot of animosity between groups of people. Have you ever<br />

been told that you’re going to hell?<br />

Sheera: I was told that if I don’t believe in God, then I<br />

may never reach heaven. Or if I do something bad, all I<br />

have to do is pray and ask God to forgive me. Actually,<br />

I think that’s what drew me away from Christianity.<br />

Because with Buddhism, there’s simply acceptance. For<br />

me, it’s important to accept and really reflect upon one’s<br />

mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that I should forget<br />

those mistakes. When one reflects upon one’s mistakes, it<br />

allows that person to grow. Buddhism just felt much more<br />

personal to me and much more authentic.<br />

Miyaji: Actually, in Pure Land Buddhism, too, historically<br />

there was this understanding that if one says the sacred<br />

name “Namo Amida Butsu” enough times, an individual<br />

can wipe away evil karma. But our founder, Shinran Shonin,<br />

explains that is not the significance of saying the name.<br />

(Above) 2018 Pacific Buddhist Academy<br />

Baccalaureate Service with my parents<br />

(Sheree Tamura and Melvin Tanaka) and<br />

Bishop Eric Matsumoto and past Kyodan<br />

President, Pieper Toyama.<br />

(Above) 2019 Seattle Betsuin Senior YBA<br />

College Night.<br />



Instead, the sacred Name simply allows one to recognize<br />

and be reflective of one’s actions, and to see that the self<br />

is not a perfect being. That is what the Nembutsu teaching<br />

allows one to do. It gives a person the strength to be able to<br />

reflect on oneself in a truly honest way.<br />

Are there any Buddhist principles that might inform you<br />

and how you deal with your line of work, or what you want<br />

to do in your career?<br />

Sheera: Something that has really helped me within my<br />

line of work is being able to listen more, being able to give<br />

space to other people to share their thoughts. I think we<br />

live in a world right now where it’s so easy to talk. It’s very<br />

easy to impose one’s view onto others. But a part of being or<br />

feeling included is also receiving. Buddhism really allowed<br />

me to take a step back and humble myself, in a sense, so<br />

that I’m able to listen as much as I’m able to contribute.<br />

Miyaji: I agree, I think that’s a really important point. Many<br />

people are just waiting for their turn to speak, they’re not<br />

really listening to the other person. Buddhism does get us<br />

to see that other people should have their input and that<br />

it is important to have the balance of give-and-take in any<br />

relationship.<br />

Sheera: Yes. You’re never going to really understand<br />

somebody’s suffering if you don’t take a step back to listen.<br />

Listening is so important to me, and I think Buddhism<br />

really influenced that.<br />

(Top left) Nishi Hongwanji. Kyoto, Japan.<br />

(Top right) Hawaii Federation of the Junior<br />

Young Buddhist Association (Jr. YBA) 61st<br />

Statewide Convention in Hilo, Hawaii.<br />



Miyaji: If there was someone who was interested about<br />

Buddhism, and they don’t know anything about it, what’s<br />

one of the things that you would tell them that you found to<br />

be beneficial in this religion?<br />

Sheera: Buddhism feels like a lifestyle to me. I may not<br />

go to temple every week, but that doesn’t mean I’m less<br />

of a Buddhist than somebody who does go to temple<br />

every week. This teaching really allows one to take the<br />

teachings and what I learned at my own pace. It shows<br />

up in one’s day-to-day life. It isn’t the case that one feels<br />

like a Buddhist only in the temple. It’s how one embodies<br />

the values and teachings when interacting with others,<br />

through compassion and empathy, that reveals this<br />

religion in a person. That is something I would tell the<br />

person who is interested in Buddhism.<br />

Miyaji: Is there a question you might want to ask a minister?<br />

Buddhism doesn’t give one a laundry list of things that one<br />

must or must not do in order to be a “good Buddhist.” This<br />

religion does not say that you have to vote in this way or<br />

that in the next election. It will not say that everyone must<br />

be pro-life or pro-choice. Instead, Buddhism will ask the<br />

question, “What do you think you need to be in order to live<br />

according to the principle of absolute truth”?<br />

But we must keep in mind, where there is the freedom<br />

to choose for oneself, there is at the same time, the<br />

responsibility that one must bear in the decisions that the<br />

individual makes. In order to be a Buddhist, one has to find<br />

his or her ethics. “What is the proper way for me to live as a<br />

Buddhist”? This is something that each and every Buddhist<br />

has to figure out for him or herself. This religion is not going<br />

to shove a specific way of life down your throat. Finally,<br />

Buddhism tells us through the principle of karma that the<br />

freedom to choose and the responsibility for those actions<br />

go hand-in-hand.<br />

About the Author<br />

Sheera: In light of what is going on in the news right<br />

now, I wonder what is Buddhism’s take on abortion and<br />

women’s rights?<br />

Miyaji: Yes, that just came up on the news about the<br />

Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade possibly being overturned.<br />

Well, I can’t claim that what I am about to say is what all<br />

Buddhists think. There is definitely not a consensus as far as<br />

the Buddhist position on this issue. But I think that a women<br />

should have the right to make a decision that best fits her<br />

situation.<br />

I don’t think Buddhism will go to the extent of taking a<br />

stance on one side or the other, that is, pro-life or pro-choice.<br />

But that’s where the individual has the freedom to decide.<br />

Sheera: I think this religion gives you that freedom to<br />

choose what is the right decision for you to make.<br />

Miyaji: Indeed. I think it should be a matter of choice for the<br />

woman to decide for herself what she needs to do. This is a<br />

difficult decision. However, she should know that whatever<br />

decision she makes, both her and her child are embraced in<br />

the light of Amida Buddha’s Great Compassion, regardless<br />

of what course of action was to be taken. This is something<br />

that we as Jodo Shinshu Buddhists must not forget when<br />

faced with this difficult discussion.<br />

Sheera: I think Buddhism is so powerful, it’s message<br />

is so real. Whatever path we may take, we are always<br />

supported and embraced by the Buddha.<br />

Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji<br />

Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji is an assistant<br />

professor for the Institute of Buddhist<br />

Studies in Berkeley, California and<br />

a Kaikyoshi minister of the Buddhist<br />

Churches of America.<br />



The Present Condition<br />

of Jodo Shinshu in Nepal<br />

Rev. Uma Lama (Ghising)<br />

Nepal is known as the homeland of Shakyamuni Buddha but the largest<br />

religion is not Buddhism. It is the second largest religion. According to the<br />

census in 2001, 10.74% of the population practiced Buddhism, but decreased<br />

to 9% by 2011. Though most people in Nepal are Hindu, Buddhist influences<br />

are pervasive in most aspects of Nepali culture. Nepalese people who practice<br />

Buddhism are mainly from Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups like Sherpas,<br />

Tamangs and Bhotia people from the mountain areas along the border with<br />

Tibet. In many areas, Hinduism has absorbed Buddhism to a large extent, but<br />

the two religions have many shared deities and temples.<br />


Now, as you may know, Nepal has become an<br />

attractive place for Tibetan and Western Buddhists to<br />

study Buddhism. Before Western people were fascinated<br />

with Himalayan Buddhism more than the locals, so it<br />

was kind of centered towards western people. For local<br />

lay people it was very difficult to have an opportunity to<br />

hear Buddhism, but over the last few years things have<br />

been changing. Renowned Tibetan Buddhist masters are<br />

offering initiations, conducting seminars and teaching<br />

sessions focusing local inhabitants. Slowly, the teaching<br />

has been spreading to them. We can find serious local<br />

Dharma practitioners participating in these initiations<br />

and seminars very actively. Recently, reading Tibetan<br />

dharma texts is very popular among the elderly who did<br />

not attend school. People are much aware of preserving<br />

Buddhist culture and taking part in building monasteries<br />

and reading dharma text. There are said to be over<br />

1,200 Buddhist temples in Nepal, some going back as<br />

far as 2,000 years. In addition to the Kathmandu Valley,<br />

monasteries can be found in many of the mountain districts<br />

that border Tibet to the north and India to the east.<br />

For those interested in learning about Buddhism,<br />

there are numerous monasteries and institutions.<br />

Currently, Vipasana meditation offers a 10-day silent<br />

retreat which is gaining popularity. Yoga, meditation,<br />

reiki, and short courses in Buddhism are also available.<br />

In this situation it is very challenging for us help people<br />

understand the Jodo Shinshu teaching because it is very<br />

new to Nepalese people. We are still in our first 16 years<br />

of introducing Jodo Shinshu. During these 16 years of<br />

tenure, eight people have become Jodo Shinshu ministers.<br />

The majority of ministers are female from Nepal. Three<br />

of them are male and two of them are Indian. When it<br />

comes to registered members, there are more than 500<br />

in total. All the people who became registered members<br />

of our temples came from connections through learning<br />

Japanese language and social work. Because it began with<br />

language learning and social work, most of the members<br />

are young. We were not able to capture the attention of<br />

elderly people, but have now begun to provide our temple<br />

as a retreat center for those Tibetan Lama’s who don’t<br />

have a permanent place. Once a month they organize<br />

meditation and we collaborate with them to organize<br />

Buddhist ceremonies such as Buddha Jayanti (Vesak<br />

Day). By doing this we have created the opportunity to<br />

introduce Jodo Shinshu to more people. We hope these<br />

activities will teach people about Jodo Shinshu temples<br />

and that the lay-people oriented nature of Jodo Shinshu<br />

can be helpful to them.<br />

Gassho.<br />

About the Author<br />

Rev. Uma Lama (Ghising)<br />

Rev. Uma Lama (Ghising) is the President of the Hongwanji Buddhist Society<br />

of Nepal. She attended seminary school at Chuō Bukkyō Gakuin and earned<br />

her MA in Shin Buddhism from Ryukoku University. She is the first woman<br />

from Nepal to be ordained as a Jodo Shinshu priest.<br />

People are much aware of<br />

preserving Buddhist culture<br />

and taking part in building<br />

monasteries and reading<br />

Dharma text.<br />



Thank you very much for reading the fourth issue of the Jodo Shinshu<br />

International Quarterly Journal. I would also like to express my deepest<br />

appreciation to the contributors for this journal.<br />

I am not sure if you noticed, but beginning from the second issue there was<br />

a change of paper quality and size compared to the first issue. For the first issue,<br />

we used a printing company based in the United States, and for the second<br />

issue, we used a company based in Japan. The United States is one of only a few<br />

countries that do not use the global standard measurement which is known as<br />

the metric system. Because of this, the US standard of measurement is different<br />

from the majority of the world, yet I have heard that many people in the US feel<br />

that the world should convert to the US standard.<br />

I think this is like the way we live today. Each individual has one’s own<br />

standard for everything. It is very difficult for us to acknowledge and accept<br />

others’ standards.<br />

Prince Shotoku (574-622), who is regarded as the founding father of<br />

Buddhism in Japan, said in the Seventeen Article Code of Conduct for the<br />

Government Officials as follows.<br />

“You shall be free of anger, as well as wrath. You shall not be angry at<br />

another who is different from you. Each person has their own mind, and<br />

each mind has its own way.<br />

What another person thinks to be right, I may think to be wrong. What I<br />

think to be right, another may think to be wrong.<br />

But I am not a saint; the other person is no fool. We are both just common<br />

mortals. How can we tell what is really right or wrong?<br />

Both the other person and I are sometimes wise and sometimes foolish, just<br />

as an earring loop is endless.<br />

Therefore, you should reflect upon your own faults, even when another<br />

becomes furious with you. You should consult with others, even when you<br />

think you are right.”<br />

(A free rendering)<br />

As I reflect on this, I realize it is so true that each of us has a strong<br />

attachment to our own thoughts and views. Each of us is trying to do<br />

“something good” to make this world a better place. However, we do not have<br />

outside eyes to see our own limitations and follies. Prince Shotoku, being guided<br />

by the Buddha’s teachings, was able to understand the conditions of people,<br />

so he strongly urged everyone to take refuge in the Three Treasures, Buddha,<br />

Dharma and Sangha.<br />

I hope that through reading this journal, you will also be guided by<br />

Buddha’s teachings and will be inspired to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma,<br />

and Sangha. I hope this gives you an opportunity to find out how the True<br />

Essence of the Pure Land Way, known as Jodo Shinshu, can be the light in each<br />

of our lives.<br />

Rev. Kodo Umezu<br />

Rev. Kodo Umezu is a retired minister and former Bishop of<br />

the Buddhist Churches of America who currently serves as the<br />

President of the Jodo Shinshu International Office.<br />



Jodo Shinshu International Office

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