Vol. 2, Issue 3

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Jodo Shinshu International<br />

Take Refuge in the<br />

True and Real Light<br />

A Buddhist Quarterly<br />

<strong>Vol</strong>ume 2, <strong>Issue</strong> 3<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> 3, Published September 2022<br />

Jodo Shinshu<br />

International<br />

A Buddhist Quarterly<br />


6 Nāgārjuna and the Easy Path to Awakening<br />

Rev. Jérôme Ducor<br />

Dr. Alfred Bloom<br />

12 Various Religious Groups in Nepal<br />

Rev. Uma Lama (Ghising)<br />

14 Commentary on Deaf and Dumb’s Nembutsu<br />

By Shogyo Gustavo Pinto<br />

18 Encountering Shinran Shonin Through a Coffeeshop Window<br />

Rev. Enrique Galvan-Alvarez (Shaku Kekai)<br />

22 The Central Concept of Buddhism: The Teaching of Interdependent<br />

Co-arising<br />

Dr. Alfred Bloom<br />

26 First Steps<br />

Rev. Melissa Opel

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> 3.<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.<br />

Enrique Galvan-Alvarez, Rev. Ai Hironaka, Rev. Uma Lama<br />

(Ghising), Minako Kamuro, Rev. Melissa Opel, Shogyo Gustavo<br />

Pinto<br />

Design & Layout: Travis Suzaka<br />

Printing: Kousaisha, Tokyo, Japan<br />

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

Image Sources: Upsplash and Wikipedia<br />

Jodo Shinshu International Office<br />

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

www.jsinternational.org<br />


“The true and real light”, this month’s phrase, appears in the second hymn of Shinran Shonin’s Hymns<br />

Based on Gathas in Praise of Amida Buddha:<br />

The Light of Wisdom exceeds all measures,<br />

And every finite living being<br />

Receives this illumination that like the dawn,<br />

So take refuge in Amida, the true and real light.<br />

As Shinran Shonin clarified in the gatha above, “the true and real light” refers to Amida Buddha.<br />

Shinran Shonin was very, very careful when he used words relating to the essence of the Pure Land<br />

teaching so he wrote footnotes on this phrase. He wrote that the Chinese character for “true” ( 眞 )<br />

means “free of falsehood and flattery” and the Chinese character for “real” ( 實 ) means “things will<br />

unfailingly reach fruition.”<br />

He lived his life with this light shining from the world of Thusness or Suchness in which all beings<br />

are privileged to exist. However, we are living our lives without realizing this light. Consequently, we<br />

live our lives with fear and doubt.<br />

Shinran Shonin tells us that this light shines on the blind and ignorant of the world. We cannot<br />

see our true conditions unless we encounter this light. This light is expressed as Namo Amida Buddha.<br />

The heart of Thusness had to appear in our realm as this calling of Amida Buddha.<br />

We often ask what we need to do to follow the Buddhist Path. Shinran Shonin’s response is that<br />

we must listen to the words of reliable teachers and masters who have gone before us.<br />

We are very fortunate that Shinran Shonin is one of our Buddhist masters whom we can visit and<br />

listen to. In this finite world, let us not waste the precious moment of life and without hesitation let us<br />

encounter the true and real light that is already being cast upon us.<br />

Namo Amida Butsu – Take Refuge in the True and Real Light.<br />

Rev. Kodo Umezu<br />

Rev. Kodo Umezu is a retired minister and former Bishop of the Buddhist Churches of<br />

America who currently serves as the President of the Jodo Shinshu International Office.


Nāgārjuna and the Easy<br />

Path to Awakening<br />

Rev. Jérôme Ducor<br />

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



Nāgārjuna (243 - ?) is the first of the Seven Eminent<br />

Masters retained by Shinran but he is also more generally<br />

recognised as the primordial master of the Greater Vehicle<br />

(Mahāyāna). The latter is the form of Buddhism that<br />

spread from India throughout the Far East, up to China,<br />

Korea and Japan, not forgetting Tibet and Mongolia.<br />

“Vehicle” designates the teachings of the Buddha that<br />

carry beings along the path from the world of suffering to<br />

the other shore, that of deliverance.<br />

The “Greater” Vehicle is so called because it considers<br />

itself as the maximalist path within Buddhism. That is to<br />

say, it does not offer beings individual deliverance from<br />

suffering alone. It claims to offer everyone the possibility<br />

of becoming a perfectly accomplished Buddha who will<br />

then be able to help all other beings to obtain deliverance<br />

in their turn.<br />

However, this path to awakening is particularly<br />

difficult. Indeed, beings are riddled with passions, those<br />

uncontrolled feelings such as the desire for what one does<br />

not have, or the hatred of what one has, which make<br />

them produce all sorts of mental constructions by which<br />

they chain themselves to the cycle of births and deaths.<br />

Passions are closely combined with ignorance of the true<br />

nature of things. That is, beings generally see the world<br />

not as it is but as they would like it to be.<br />

This explains why Buddhism, of all schools, advocates<br />

removing these obstacles on the path by accumulating<br />

merits to erase the passions on the one hand, and by<br />

acquiring wisdom to tear apart ignorance on the other.<br />

In the Greater Vehicle this self-conquest is presented<br />

as the quest of a young heroic prince building his kingdom.<br />

His journey begins with the production of the vow to<br />

become a fully accomplished Buddha in order to deliver<br />

all beings. This is called “the thought of awakening”<br />

(bodhicitta), and the one who has produced it is a<br />

“Bodhisattva”. In addition to this general vow, common<br />

to all Bodhisattvas, the candidate for awakening also<br />

formulates specific vows of his own, in order to adapt more<br />

particularly to the needs and aptitudes of the beings he<br />

wants to deliver.<br />

The rest of his cursus consists of developing a<br />

number of qualities, which are summarised in the six<br />

perfections: gift, morality, patience, energy, meditation<br />

and wisdom. This is a particularly demanding programme<br />

and is defined by precise steps. Buddhist masters have<br />

endeavoured to illuminate this complicated path.<br />

Nāgārjuna himself dealt with it in several texts, including<br />

one with the evocative title: Treatise on the analysis of the Ten<br />

Stages (Jūju bibasha ron).<br />

These “Ten Stages” appear, however, only towards<br />

the end of this path: they are preceded by forty steps and<br />

followed by two final steps before arriving at the perfect<br />

awakening itself, for a total of no less than fifty-two steps.<br />

Of the Ten Stages, the most important is the eighth<br />

stage, because from this point onwards the bodhisattva<br />

has no more effort to make, the rest of his journey being<br />

carried out by itself. This is why this stage is called “the<br />

Irreversible.”<br />

A final but impressive detail is that the entire career of<br />

the bodhisattva takes place over the staggering duration of<br />

three “incalculable” cosmic periods plus three “ordinary”<br />

cosmic periods! Access to the Irreversible Stage is itself<br />



only reached after the first two incalculable cosmic<br />

periods. These figures are truly astronomical, since one<br />

definition of the duration of an ordinary cosmic period<br />

(kalpa) says that it is longer than the time it takes an old<br />

man to level a mountain twenty-four thousand metres high<br />

by brushing it with the bottom of his silk robe once every<br />

three years!<br />

One can easily admit that the length of the bodhisattva’s<br />

journey is enough to discourage the best intentioned<br />

practitioners.<br />

Nāgārjuna himself mentions this in his Treatise on the<br />

analysis of the Ten Stages, when asked the following question:<br />

would there not be a suitable means offering an easier way<br />

to access the Irreversible Stage promptly? Nāgārjuna’s<br />

response, at first, is really not encouraging:<br />

Such talk as yours is worthy of a wimp and a coward!<br />

These are not the words of a resolute hero! And why is this<br />

so? If someone produces the vow and aspiration of perfect<br />

unsurpassable enlightenment then he must, without<br />

sparing his own life, strive energetically day and night as if<br />

he were removing fire from his head!<br />

In a second phase, however, Nāgārjuna is more<br />

conciliatory and does offer an alternative:<br />

In the Law of the Buddha there are innumerable<br />

methods. It is like the ways of this world. There are<br />

difficult ones, and there are easy ones: walking painfully<br />

by land, which is painful; or being carried by water on a<br />

ship, which is delightful.<br />

This is also true of the way of the bodhisattvas. There<br />

are some who strive to practise energetically, and there are<br />

some who, by the easy practice of the suitable means of<br />

faith, promptly attain the Irreversible Stage.<br />

Then Nāgārjuna presents this easy practice as<br />

commemorating the Buddhas of the Ten Directions by<br />

saying their names. Indeed, the Greater Vehicle asserts<br />

that there are Buddhas preaching the Law in some of<br />

the universes around us today. This is one of the most<br />

significant features of Mahāyāna compared to the<br />

Theravāda tradition. One of the earliest of the Buddha’s<br />

sermons (sūtra) to be translated into Chinese, in the 2nd<br />

century CE, the Pratyutpanna Sūtra, for example, teaches<br />

a meditative method of seeing and hearing any of these<br />

Enlightened Ones from our own world in order to receive<br />

their teaching in the absence of the Buddha Śākyamuni. It<br />

should be noted that the only Buddha mentioned by name<br />

in this sūtra is the Buddha Amida.<br />

Nāgārjuna’s treatise enumerates the names of no<br />

less than one hundred and seven of these Buddhas of the<br />

Present, the first in the list being none other than the<br />

Buddha Amitāyus (“Immeasurable-Life”), one of the two<br />

Sanskrit names of the Buddha Amida, the other one being<br />

Amitābha (“Immeasurable-Light”).<br />

Indeed, Nāgārjuna gives a prominent place to Amida,<br />

whose specific vow he even relates as follows:<br />

If anyone commemorates me by uttering my name<br />

and relies on me, he at once enters into the stage of<br />

the definitively settled and will obtain the unsurpassed<br />

perfect enlightenment.<br />

The treatise continues with a poem in thirty-two<br />

stanzas in which Nāgārjuna praises the Buddha Amida.<br />



Since all of Buddhism<br />

admits that there were<br />

Buddhas in the past, before<br />

Śākyamuni, and in the<br />

future after him, there must<br />

necessarily also be Buddhas<br />

in the present.<br />

All of the above passages are found in the ninth chapter<br />

of the Treatise on the analysis of the Ten Stages, entitled “On<br />

the Easy Practice” (Igyōbon). Though this is but one of the<br />

thirty-five chapters of this treatise, it will however play<br />

a special role in the Pure Land tradition, especially for<br />

Tanluan and Genshin, the third and fifth of the Seven<br />

Eminent Masters. Of course, Shinran himself quotes<br />

from this chapter in his major work, the Kyōgyōshinshō<br />

(“Teaching, practice, faith and realisation”).<br />

Nāgārjuna is also credited with another poem of praise<br />

to the Buddha Amida, the hymn of the Twelve Worships<br />

(Jūnirai), which is well known because it is frequently<br />

chanted in Jōdo-Shinshū services. Shinran quotes from it<br />

in one of his last, unfinished books, The Virtues of the Name of<br />

the Tathāgata Amida (‘Mida Nyorai myōgō toku).<br />

Another work of Nāgārjuna cited by Shinran in the<br />

Kyōgyōshinshō, is the Treatise on the Great Sūtra of the Perfection<br />

of Wisdom (Daichidoron). This voluminous sum of knowledge<br />

comprising ninety chapters filling one hundred Chinese<br />

scrolls is one of the most famous works of Nāgārjuna in the<br />

Far East. Contrary to what its title suggests, it is not just a<br />

commentary on a sūtra but a veritable encyclopaedia of<br />

the Greater Vehicle.<br />

It is here, for example, that we find one of the<br />

most complete justifications for the actual existence of<br />

Buddhas present in the ten directions, as opposed to<br />

certain Buddhist schools outside the Greater Vehicle.<br />

The arguments put forward by Nāgārjuna are primarily<br />

logical. First of all, the existence of these Buddhas meets<br />

a necessity based on compassion: if there is suffering<br />

in the universes of the Ten Directions, how could a<br />

Buddha not manifest himself there? In addition, since all<br />

of Buddhism admits that there were Buddhas in the past,<br />

before Śākyamuni, and in the future after him, there must<br />

necessarily also be Buddhas in the present. Nāgārjuna<br />

continues his justification with arguments of a different<br />

kind, based on faith:<br />

If the Buddhas of the Ten Directions exist and you say<br />

they do not exist, you commit an immeasurable fault.<br />

If the Buddhas of the Ten Directions do not exist and<br />

I say they do exist, I conceive of infinite Buddhas and<br />

I receive the merit for worshipping them. For, it is my<br />

good intention that causes the greatness of the merit. (...)<br />

With the physical eye, a human being cannot know<br />

them at all. But if, just through the faith of his heart,<br />

he says they do exist, his merit is infinite. (...) Common<br />

sense already makes it clear that man must, of himself,<br />

have faith in their existence. And all the more, how<br />

can there be no faith when the Buddha himself has<br />

proclaimed in the Mahāyāna that the Buddhas of the<br />

Ten Directions really exist?<br />

Neither Shinran nor any of the Chinese or Japanese<br />

masters before him ever used this kind of justification, since<br />

the existence of the Buddhas of the present is so self-evident<br />

to the followers of the Greater Vehicle. However, Shinran<br />

does quote a short extract from the Treatise on the Great Sūtra<br />

of the Perfection of Wisdom in his Kyōgyōshinshō (ch. 6, § 71). It is<br />

important because it helps to define Buddhist hermeneutics,<br />

the method of interpreting sacred texts of Buddhism.<br />

In fact, Nāgārjuna is merely recapitulating there four<br />



The analysis of the reality<br />

of things and beings<br />

around us, as well as of our<br />

own person, leads to the<br />

realisation that nothing and<br />

no one exists by itself.<br />

major rules for determining textual authority, which had<br />

already been developed before him. The first says that one<br />

should refer to the texts of the scriptures rather than to<br />

the authority of an individual, even the Buddha himself.<br />

The second is to rely on meaning rather than on the letter.<br />

The third enjoins reliance on wisdom, born from practice,<br />

rather than mere intellectual and discursive knowledge.<br />

Finally, the fourth advocates relying on the sūtras of<br />

definitive meaning rather than the others. It was these<br />

rules that enabled Buddhism to develop an extremely<br />

diverse literature of commentaries. Shinran will certainly<br />

make use of them.<br />

Finally, there is one aspect of Nāgārjuna that cannot<br />

be ignored: his philosophical dimension, which goes far<br />

beyond the framework of Buddhism and makes him one<br />

of the great thinkers of Humanity. In this respect, he is<br />

considered the founder of Mādhyamika (“Medialism”),<br />

one of the two main philosophical currents of the Greater<br />

Vehicle, the second being that of Idealism (Yogācāra). In<br />

this field, Nāgārjuna’s major work is certainly his famous<br />

Fundamental Stanzas of the Middle (Mūla madhyamaka kārikā).<br />

The whole of Buddhism can indeed be considered<br />

as a “middle way”, following the example of Śākyamuni<br />

himself, who, after having experienced the extreme of<br />

pleasures during his youth as a prince, embarked on the<br />

extreme of asceticism before finally renouncing it in order<br />

to follow a balanced path between these two and become<br />

a Buddha. However, Nāgārjuna’s Middle Way is more<br />

philosophical. It consists in keeping an equal distance<br />

between the real existence of things and beings, and their<br />

fundamental non-existence. The analysis of the reality of<br />

things and beings around us, as well as of our own person,<br />

leads to the realisation that nothing and no one exists<br />

by itself. Everything that exists is in fact a provisional<br />

assembly of multiple elements joined together by various<br />

causes and conditions, which disintegrate when the causes<br />

that brought them together are exhausted. Thus, at the<br />

moment of death, we see the decomposition of the physical<br />

body by the disintegration of the physical elements that<br />

constitute a person. The same is true of the mental<br />

elements that make up the spirit, none of which can be<br />

isolated in what would be called “a soul”. So that if beings<br />

exist, it is only to a certain extent, that which constitutes<br />

“relative truth”. But since they do not exist at all by<br />

themselves, they do not exist in “absolute truth”. In short,<br />

everything is devoid or empty of any self-substance, stable<br />

and permanent. This is universal emptiness (śūnyatā),<br />

which is at the heart of the Mādhyamika and which will<br />

be one of the favourite topics of the Chinese Chan or<br />

Japanese Zen traditions.<br />

Shinran’s teaching is intended to be practical, so<br />

that it does not offer long philosophical developments.<br />

Nevertheless, all his thought is radically marked by<br />

Mādhyamika, which deeply imbues the doctrine of the<br />

Tendai school in which he was trained for twenty years. In<br />

his Poem of the nembutsu of True Faith (Shōshinge), which is the<br />

heart of his work, Shinran relates a prediction made by<br />

the Buddha:<br />

The Tathāgata Śākyamuni, on the Mount of Laṅkā,<br />

Announced to the community: “In southern India,<br />

The great hero Nāgārjuna will appear in this world<br />



To crush entirely the view of existence and inexistence.<br />

He will proclaim the unsurpassable Dharma of the<br />

Greater Vehicle,<br />

Realise the stage of Joy and be born in the Pure Land<br />

Sukhāvatī.”<br />

Here Shinran quotes almost literally from a famous<br />

scripture, the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. By so doing he justifies the<br />

legitimacy of his own lineage, since he establishes a direct<br />

link between the Buddha Śākyamuni and Nāgārjuna, and<br />

also, through the latter, with the other six of the Seven<br />

Eminent Masters.<br />

This prediction mentions that Nāgārjuna will achieve<br />

“the stage of Joy”, that is, he will reach the first of the Ten<br />

Stages of the final part of the bodhisattva path. In Jodo-<br />

Shinshu temples, he is accordingly painted in the guise of<br />

a bodhisattva, i.e. in the garb of a young prince enthroned<br />

on a lotus, dressed in a celestial robe, adorned with various<br />

jewels, his forehead encircled by a diadem and his hands<br />

holding a long-stemmed lotus.<br />

Nāgārjuna’s life is not well known. As is often the<br />

case in India, his chronology is confused, and we are not<br />

even sure of his dates to within a century. At least it can<br />

be established that he was born into a Brahmin family in<br />

South India, converted to the Buddhism of the Greater<br />

Vehicle, and became famous enough during his lifetime to<br />

exchange letters with certain sovereigns.<br />

In addition to those already mentioned, many<br />

works are attributed to Nāgārjuna. It is not impossible<br />

that several masters with the same name succeeded one<br />

another, according to Indian custom. In China, his works<br />

were translated by Kumārajīva and his team between 404<br />

and 408 CE. These are the versions that are also used in<br />

Japan and Korea. A number of them are even preserved<br />

in Chinese only with no surviving Sanskrit version or<br />

later Tibetan translation. This is notably the case with<br />

the above-mentioned Treatise on the analysis of the Ten Stages,<br />

Treatise on the Great Sūtra of the Perfection of Wisdom and Twelve<br />

Worships. From a religious point of view, however, the<br />

question of the historicity of their author is not of interest,<br />

because of the hermeneutical criteria already mentioned.<br />


The Pure Land Writings, <strong>Vol</strong>. I: The Indian Masters (The<br />

Shin Buddhist Translation Series); Kyoto, Jodo Shinshu<br />

Hongwanji-ha, 2012: translation of the “Chapter on Easy<br />

Practice” and the Twelve Worships.<br />

Inagaki, Hisao: Nāgārjuna’s Discourse on the Ten Stages;<br />

Kyoto, Ryukoku Gakkai, 1998.<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 />



Various Religious<br />

Groups in Nepal<br />

Rev. Uma Lama (Ghising)<br />

The constitution establishes the country as a “secular state” but defines<br />

secularism as “protection of the age-old religion and culture and religious and<br />

cultural freedom.” The constitution prohibits converting persons from one<br />

religion to another and prohibits religious behavior disturbing public order<br />

or contrary to public health, decency, and morality. The law does not provide<br />

for registration or official recognition of religious organizations as religious<br />

institutions, except for Buddhist monasteries. All other religious groups must<br />

register as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or nonprofit organizations to<br />

own property or operate legally. Likewise, Hongwanji Nepal is also registered as<br />

NGO which is a non-profit organization.<br />

In Nepal, Jodo Shinshu is not only one religious organization that it derived<br />

from Japan. There are some more other religious groups which came from<br />

Japan and adapted the name as it is. Except Hongwanji Nepal, the groups that<br />

came from Japan are Nepal Eurasia Reiyukai, Soga Gakkai International,<br />

Tenrikyo, Nepal Izunome Johrei ( 浄 霊 )Center, Reiki Healing center. The two<br />

groups Nepal Izunome Johore Center and Reiki Healing Center are known as<br />



therapy centers and are more inclined towards healing<br />

through sound and hand energy. However, these groups<br />

are known as having a buddhist teaching background.<br />

Among these groups, Nepal Eurasia Reiyukai is a very<br />

well-known organization. It was established around April<br />

1977 and was called the Friendship Club. Reciting the<br />

“Saddharmapundariksutra,” which is also called the title<br />

“Namo Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo” of The Blue Sutra (a collection<br />

text from Three Fold Lotus Sutra). The basic teaching<br />

is appreciation with the slogan “Heart of Gratitude -<br />

world of Gratitude.” They emphasize that to receive the<br />

teachings of Buddha you don’t have to become a priest.<br />

So they claim the teaching is purely focused on lay people.<br />

Now more than 1.3 million members are enrolled and<br />

about 3,000 people become new members annually. Most<br />

enrolled members are from the Hindu tradition and few<br />

people are from Buddhist tradition.<br />

Furthermore, there is one more group called Nepal<br />

Soka Gakkai International (NSGI) which was officially<br />

registered as a Buddhist organization on January 1, 1993.<br />

The philosophical base of the organization’s practice<br />

is Nichiren Buddhism, which is considered a school of<br />

the Mahayana tradition. Practitioners are encouraged<br />

to practice the daily chanting of Namo-myoho-renge-kyo.<br />

They don’t charge membership dues, and no donations<br />

are accepted from non-SGI members. If anyone want<br />

to donate they ask to buy books or prayer books. There<br />

are about 1,100 members. Most of the members come<br />

from a Newari Buddhist background known as Shakya<br />

Bajracharyas. Hindus are the second largest group<br />

of members, and members with Tibetan Buddhist<br />

background are very few.<br />

The two religious groups mentioned above have<br />

similarities in social activities as Hongwanji Nepal.<br />

The social activates include constructing water tanks,<br />

organizing free health camps, ambulance service, giving<br />

computer training, organizing rickshaw project, cleaning<br />

cities program, a free service of Japanese language classes,<br />

teaching free handicraft training. They also established<br />

Eye Hospital service and Lumbini International<br />

Research Center.<br />

These are the religious groups who have been working<br />

in Nepal and propagating their own Agenda diligently.<br />

Nepal Eurasia Reiyukai and Soka Gakkai International<br />

are both Mahayana Buddhism. Both groups claim their<br />

teachings are highly geared towards lay people. The<br />

common factor in these two groups is how their both<br />

emphadize saying the name of sutra. This is an important<br />

part of their practice.<br />

When it comes to Hongwanji, most of the enrolled<br />

members are from a Tibetan Buddhist background. There<br />

are very few members who come from Hindu tradition. In<br />

Nepali society, especially in Tibetan buddhism, reciting<br />

the name of Buddha, Bodhisattva’, or Gurus is very<br />

common. Because it is the name of Amitabha buddha,<br />

saying the name (Nenbutsu) has been easy to grasp. For<br />

Jodo Shinshu still there are lot more challenges and<br />

misunderstanding because both group Nepal Eurasia<br />

Reiyukai and Soka Gakkai International have longer<br />

histories than Hongwanji Nepal. We found that most<br />

of the people assumed that Jodo Shinshu is similar to<br />

them and recite “Namo-myoho-renge-kyo.” The common<br />

misconception is that the teaching of Buddhism in Japan<br />

is Nichirenshu.<br />

About the Author<br />

Rev. Uma Lama (Ghising)<br />

Rev. Uma Lama (Ghising) is the President<br />

of the Hongwanji Buddhist Society of<br />

Nepal. She attended seminary school at<br />

Chuō Bukkyō Gakuin and earned her MA<br />

in Shin Buddhism from Ryukoku University.<br />

She is the first woman from Nepal to be<br />

ordained as a Jodo Shinshu priest.<br />



Commentary on<br />

Deaf and Dumb’s<br />

Nembutsu 1<br />

By Shogyo Gustavo Pinto<br />



“Do I contradict myself?<br />

Very well, then I contradict myself.<br />

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”<br />

“Songs of Myself,” Walt Whitman (1819 -1892)<br />

The title above is elusive. It means what it says, but not what it usually suggests.<br />

You, the reader, are being invited for a ride in the wilderness, not only in content<br />

but also in form. Let’s start at the beginning.<br />

Reverend Kodo Umezu’s kind invitation mentioned I was free to choose the<br />

theme of this essay.<br />

The Author asked himself, “Which theme? Noisy Sao Paulo. Traffic jams.<br />

Distant neighing. Autry and Whitley whistling. Insisting three times.”<br />

OK. “I’m on my way. Back in the saddle again.” Poor horse waited eleven<br />

years —and his name? “Commentary.”<br />

The text? “Deaf and Dumb’s Nembutsu” - A paper presented by me in 2011 at<br />

Otani University. That was the last IASBS Conference in which I participated.<br />

Paper remains unpublished until today.<br />

The text contained a clue to another narrative accessible only in a second reading.<br />

Time to unveil it.<br />

Never read the paper “Deaf and Dumb’s Nembutsu”? Don’t worry, dear Reader.<br />

The paragraphs that follow will provide what you need to know.<br />

The paper featured two protagonists - Lecturer and Fool. Lecturer introduces<br />

Fool to the audience. He says Fool is an incurable Fool. His only sign of<br />

intelligence is curiosity. Fool keeps annoying Lecturer for years with meaningless<br />

and naïve questions about Pure Land Buddhism.<br />

Seems all too weird? Not until you see what comes ahead. Trains are for welltravelled<br />

roads. Horses are for un-trodden paths. Let’s ride, old pal.<br />

Let’s jump straight to a phrase in the last few paragraphs of the paper:<br />

“I now regard the Fool as a kind of Master, in front of whom I bow as a humble and<br />

grateful disciple.”<br />

Lecturer’s view of the Fool is now inverted. The pestering voice that asked the<br />

annoying questions was once that of the Fool, and is now that of the master.<br />

That’s the clue. A new narrative emerges once the text is re-read through the eyes<br />

of the inverted first persona. For my Master (previously called “Fool”), upside<br />

down or upright makes no difference. For him, all the Sahāloka (illusory world) is<br />

Upaya (a skillful way to transcend illusion). In the end I was shown that I was the<br />

1. This was the title of the author’s paper written in 2011. Out of respect for the author’s editorial choices at the time the paper was written, we are referring to the original title of the paper. However, the<br />

editors of the JSIO recognize that language changes over time and that different word choices would be made had the original paper been written today.<br />



fool all along. Nothing less than the “deaf and mute’s Nembutsu” was given to<br />

me by the Master through the questions he asked me.<br />

First Lesson<br />

Through the following questions, Master was provoking me to realize I kept<br />

repeating the Nembutsu the same way a parrot repeats words: perfectly<br />

pronounced and perfectly meaningless.<br />

“There are people who are born unable to hear. How does Amida’s calling come to<br />

them?”<br />

I kept silent for a moment, when a second question came:<br />

“There are people who are born unable to learn how to speak. How do they recite the<br />

Nembutsu?”<br />

Astonished, I heard the third question:<br />

“There are people both unable to hear and unable to speak. How do they hear the calling,<br />

and how are they saved by the Vow that states one should recite Amida´s name in order to<br />

be saved?”<br />

I had no answer. He turned me mute - I became speechless.<br />

Second Lesson<br />

Master perceived my small egocentric Nembutsu. Recite here; To be saved<br />

beyond. But Master knew better: Salvation beyond; Confident Mind (Shinjin) here.<br />

To show how childish my perspective was, Master took me to his private Cape<br />

Canaveral, put me on board a rocket called Nembutsu VI, and launched it<br />

propelled by six interrogation marks.<br />

“You said that Tariki Nembutsu is the Nembutsu recited by Amida Buddha. Do you<br />

mean that Infinite Light and Life emit the same phoneme used by us? Namo Amida<br />

Butsu? Infinite Light and Life utter human language? If this is so, why did Infinite<br />

Light and Life choose to call people all over the world, including Brazilians, in a mix<br />

of a dead language and the sounds of an idiom spoken only by the inhabitants of a tiny<br />

archipelago? And even more, you said that according to the Larger Sutra the Name is<br />

praised by innumerable Buddhas in the worlds of the ten quarters. Do you mean that<br />

in the Andromeda constellation and beyond, in all known and unknown galaxies, and<br />

in uncountable invisible realms, all Buddhas repeat a Sanskrit word and a Japanese<br />

transliteration? Do you really mean it? I thought anthropomorphic projections were a<br />

specialty among some western theologians.”<br />

Master offered a glimpse of the cosmic dimension to help a fool encapsulated in<br />

the dwarfism of a mere cultural representation of the Nembutsu.<br />

Third Lesson<br />

Master’s next strategic step seemed to contradict the two preceding interventions.<br />

He urged me to choose one of the forms of Nembutsu: the six-syllable-Nembutsu<br />

or one of the longer forms. In reality he used this bait to attract me closer to a<br />

hidden jewel. To prepare me for the shorter, he took me to the longer.<br />

“Aside from the six syllables, which I already know, you mentioned a nine syllable<br />

Nembutsu, Na Mo Fu Ka Shi Gui Kou Nyo Rai, and a ten syllable Nembutsu, Ki Myou<br />

Jin Ji Pou Mu Gue Kou Nyo Rai. Sorry, but if reciting the Nembutsu with a thrusting<br />

mind is the only necessary condition for my liberation from the Saha world at the end of<br />

this life, it is your duty as a Shinshu minister to tell me in how many syllables I should<br />

recite the Nembutsu.”<br />



Master’s questioning kept me under pressure. I remained speechless. I then<br />

shared with Master the deep, transforming experience I was going through:<br />

“In 1996 my daughter was born, and later came my son. As children do, at a certain age<br />

they started trying to communicate in sounds. “Na, na, na”, they repeated. “Ma, ma,<br />

ma”, they stuttered. “Da, da, da”, they stammered.”<br />

Master responded:<br />

“Aren’t children born capable of saying a three syllable Nembutsu? Look, Sofia did this,<br />

and now Alexandre is doing the same! Namanda! Isn´t this the very first and innate<br />

Nembutsu? Come on, you useless biped with a shaved head and dressed in robes. Can´t<br />

you hear your own children reciting the Nembutsu? Your children are not different from<br />

children all over the world. All of them when trying to speak stammer these same sounds<br />

“Na, na, na!” “Ma, ma, ma!” “Da, da, da!” Hey, Shogyo, wake up! Are not these -<br />

the first phonemes that human beings pronounce - the Nembutsu? You never answer my<br />

questions and I am tired of waiting in vain. You know what? Neither six nor nine, and<br />

much less ten. I don´t know about you, I will follow these kids. I will keep on repeating<br />

the simplest, the three syllable Nembutsu. Children came from close to the Buddha, and<br />

theirs is the freshest Nembutsu. And you, bigheaded robe-enveloped mister intelligent,<br />

when death comes, how are you going to greet her? In six, nine, or ten syllables?<br />

Sorry, I suddenly realized that maybe I am misunderstanding you. Maybe you answer in<br />

silence the silent Nembutsu you hear. The [deaf and mute´s] Nembutsu resounds in the<br />

eloquence of silence. But I can´t do the same. I am a talkative guy. Gratitude arouses in<br />

me and explodes in Namanda! The Namanda appears in me just like fireworks in the sky<br />

on New Year´s Eve. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I hear the Namanda painting the night of my<br />

life with light and colors. If it is in silence that you answer the silent calling, then please<br />

forgive me, dear Shogyo. I can´t stand that tall. I belong to the proximity of childhood.<br />

Like a child I am. Namanda is all I can say.”<br />

The Master had taught me that the Nembutsu permeates life, and the calling of<br />

the Buddha-Dharma is present everywhere, in everything.<br />

In order to respect the limit of one thousand five-hundred-word, this article<br />

must be concluded. An unexpected intervention. His gentle voice whispers in<br />

my ears. “This commentary is a good introduction to the central purport of the<br />

original paper, as you indicated above.”<br />

Last, but not least, the title of the paper when read upright is “Deaf and Mute’s<br />

Namanda.”<br />

Master now sits on a surfboard, floating above the sea, which is where he<br />

lives. A wave starts forming. A wave rises. He rises with it. Smiling Master<br />

now surfs the wave to the destined beach.<br />

Fourth Lesson<br />

Master taught me that I was actually deaf to the Nembutsu until he showed my<br />

children reciting the same Nembutsu I recited when I knew not how to speak.<br />

About the Author<br />

Shogyo Gustavo Pinto<br />

Shogyo Gustavo Pinto was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, attended<br />

Catholic University in Rio, majoring in Philosophy. He received<br />

Ordenation at Nishiyama Betsuin, and now, together with Rev.<br />

Jinmyo Roberto Berta, is ahead of the Monshinji Temple in Rio.<br />



Encountering Shinran Shonin<br />

Through a Coffeeshop Window<br />

Rev. Enrique Galvan-Alvarez (Shaku Kekai)<br />



In the early summer of 2011, I visited Japan for the first<br />

time. It coincided with the rainy season ( 梅 雨 ) and I recall<br />

walking for hours from temple to temple under the warm<br />

rain. On my first visit Kyoto ( 京 都 ) I was to meet Shinran<br />

Shonin, though I would only learn about who he really<br />

was six months later. At the time, I had just finished my<br />

PhD and I was attending an academic conference in<br />

Osaka ( 大 阪 ). I used some of the time in Japan to do some<br />

sightseeing and visit Buddhist temples. I was completely<br />

ignorant about the different Japanese Buddhist traditions<br />

but since I had been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner<br />

since 2004, I was curious about discovering other forms of<br />

Buddhism.<br />

On a slightly drier day I found the time to jump on<br />

the train and visit the city of Kyoto, where I planned to<br />

visit many temples and beautiful gardens. Walking out<br />

of Kyoto station I set on a straight line north towards the<br />

Imperial Palace, along Karasuma dori ( 烏 丸 通 り). Very<br />

soon I passed Higashi Honganji ( 東 本 願 寺 ) on the left and<br />

the slogan inscribed on their banner caught my eye: ‘Now,<br />

Life is Living you’. I sensed there was a deeper truth to<br />

the phrase but I mostly just found it funny, so I took a<br />

picture and continued walking. Little did I know than not<br />

so long after I will find my spiritual home just a few blocks<br />

to the west, at the mother temple of our tradition, Nishi<br />

Hongwanji ( 西 本 願 寺 ).<br />

The walk to the old Imperial Palace was long so I<br />

stopped for a coffee at a small coffeeshop on Karasuma<br />

dori. While I sat sipping my drink and looking through the<br />

café’s interior-facing window, I noticed a small Buddhist<br />

temple that had been boxed in between huge buildings,<br />

so I decided to leave the coffeeshop and visit it. This was<br />

the Rokkakudo ( 六 角 堂 ), where Shinran Shonin ( 親 鸞 聖 人 )<br />

received, in a dream, the inspiration to go and meet his<br />

teacher Honen Shonin, but I didn’t know any of this at the<br />

time. The temple had a very intimate feeling, like a little<br />

oasis of calm in the middle of the big city with its imposing<br />

and functional architecture. I identified the gohonzon as<br />

Avalokitesvara ( 観 音 , Kannon) so I offered incense, paid<br />

my respects (in the Tibetan way) and lingered by the<br />

hexagonal hall for a few minutes. I was really taken in by<br />

the place and promised to myself that I will come back to<br />

visit it again. I remember feeling a sense of deep peace and<br />

a warmth that felt at once homely and foreign.<br />

A few months later, I found myself at a crossroads.<br />

I had been practising Tibetan Buddhism for almost<br />

a decade but I had a distinct sense that the intensive<br />

practices and retreats I had been doing were not making<br />

me any more enlightened, or helping me in my life<br />

for that matter. These doubts kept growing until they<br />

became unbearable. I had been spending a lot of time on<br />

the cushion as I completed my studies. Once I finished<br />

the PhD, I was faced with having to start building an<br />

academic career. At a more personal level, I also felt that<br />

I wanted to form relationships and travel the world, which<br />

I hadn’t had the chance to do, since most of my time was<br />

taken by my studies and Buddhist practice. Although in<br />

the Tibetan tradition I belonged to monastic ordination<br />

wasn’t really the goal, our lifestyle and commitment was<br />

similar to that of monks, involving lengthy daily practices<br />

and extended retreats a few times a year. I enjoyed the<br />

practices and learned a lot from them, but I felt strongly<br />

that my priorities were shifting as I started sensing that my<br />

commitment was becoming some sort of burden.<br />

I felt deeply conflicted. Even if I had doubts about the<br />

efficacy of practice and my ability to do it, I also felt guilty<br />

Little did I know than not<br />

so long after I will find<br />

my spiritual home just a<br />

few blocks to the west, at<br />

the mother temple of our<br />

tradition, Nishi Hongwanji.<br />



(Above) Front gate of the Rokkakudo in Kyoto, Japan.<br />

for my desire to pursue more mundane goals, which were<br />

becoming more and more important to me. At some point<br />

in the autumn of 2011 I formally left my Tibetan Sangha.<br />

At first, I thought I would leave Buddhism altogether, since<br />

I assumed that being a real Buddhist necessarily meant<br />

to devote countless hours to arduous practices. Soon I<br />

realized that it wasn’t possible for me to abandon the path.<br />

I had been involved with the Dharma since my late teens<br />

and it had become an integral part of my life. So, I was<br />

caught between a rock and a hard place. It was obvious<br />

that I couldn’t carry on practising and living like I had<br />

and yet I couldn’t entirely put Buddhism aside and focus<br />

on my career and other aspects of my life.<br />

Then I remembered my trip to Japan, where I<br />

witnessed many lay people expressing a deep sense of<br />

devotion at the temples I visited. These were presumably<br />

lay people who had jobs and families. They didn’t sit at the<br />

temple for many hours, they just came in, offered incense<br />

and spent a few quiet minutes before going back to their<br />

daily lives. However, I did sense a few times, especially in<br />

older women, a strong feeling of faith and commitment,<br />

which touched me very deeply. Perhaps this was way the<br />

way forward?<br />

By the end of the year 2011, I became immersed in<br />

looking for a suitable tradition where I could explore my<br />

worldly desires and continue developing my connection<br />

with Buddhism in a freer, gentler way. Around that time,<br />

I stumbled upon Al Bloom sensei’s website and decided to<br />

take his self-study course. It was at that point that I heard<br />

about Shinran Shonin for the first time. Learning about<br />

his experiences and his predicament, somewhat resolved<br />

at Rokkakudo, brought me great joy: the joy of feeling<br />

understood, the joy of not feeling alone.<br />



Even if I didn’t undergo the same strict disciplines as<br />

Shinran Shonin and his awareness of himself went much<br />

deeper than mine, I had the strong sense that if we had<br />

met, he would have understood my predicament. Shinran<br />

Shonin seems to have been navigating his inability to<br />

follow the demanding regime of practice of the Tendai<br />

tradition, his deepfelt commitment to the Dharma and<br />

his desire to marry. I imagine he went to Rokkakudo,<br />

a place where people visited in order to reflect and find<br />

answers to their dilemmas, to figure out which was the<br />

way forward for him. He, too, was once at a crossroads,<br />

trying to find a way to reconcile his conflicted feelings and<br />

desires. His stay at Rokkakudo seems to have borne fruit,<br />

as the dream he had towards the end of the 100 day period<br />

signalled towards a Dharma gate that he could easily<br />

follow (i.e. the teaching of Honen Shonin, 法 然 聖 人 ) and<br />

hinted that he could still walk the path to enlightenment<br />

as a married man (i.e. through the vow of the Bodhisattva<br />

Avalokiteshvara to manifest as a woman he will be<br />

intimate with and who will guide him to the Pure Land).<br />

When I realized that that first temple I visited in<br />

Japan, which had left a lasting impression on me, was<br />

the Rokkakudo, the place where Shinran Shonin had his<br />

dream, I had an intuitive sense, however superficial, that<br />

‘Life was Living Me’. Touched by Shinran Shonin’s story<br />

and under the initial guidance of Al Bloom sensei I started<br />

studying his teaching and saying the Nenbutsu ( 念 仏 ) in<br />

early 2012. Although my initial aspiration was to remain a<br />

lay Buddhist, seven years later, through various causes and<br />

conditions, I had the opportunity to receive tokudo ( 得 度 )<br />

ordination at Nishi Hongwanji.<br />

Although preparing for tokudo, sharing Shinran<br />

Shonin’s teaching in the U.K. and translating his writings<br />

into both English and Spanish often keeps me busy and<br />

it is by no means easy, in the last ten years I have never<br />

felt the oppressive sense of doubt and burden of my last<br />

days as a Tibetan practitioner. I believe this has nothing<br />

to do with the Tibetan tradition as such, which contains<br />

a plethora of wonderful skilful means, but with my<br />

attitude towards the practice. Even if I spend many hours<br />

engaging with the Jodo Shinshu teaching, and studying<br />

and practising it can be challenging at times, I feel no<br />

sense of guilt, obligation or failure. There is nothing I can<br />

fail to attain, because I have already failed and my failure<br />

is fully embraced and accepted by the compassion of<br />

Amida Buddha. For this reason, my efforts are not aimed<br />

at achieving a goal, but are an expression of gratitude for<br />

having my life enriched by Shinran Shonin’s example.<br />

Shinran Shonin’s self-understanding as neither monk<br />

nor lay ( 非 僧 非 俗 , hisou hizoku) contains a profoundly<br />

practical teaching for many of us, offering a middle way<br />

that is extremely relevant to our contemporary times.<br />

In an increasingly polarised world, the ever changing,<br />

complex and deeply honest formulation of hisou hizoku<br />

remains my source of refuge and innermost aspiration.<br />

About the Author<br />

Rev. Enrique Galvan-Alvarez (Shaku Kekai)<br />

(Above) Chohoji Temple which houses the<br />

Rokkakudo landmark in Kyoto, Japan.<br />

Rev. Enrique Galvan-Alvarez (Shaku Kekai) was ordained in 2019 at Nishi Hongwanji (Kyoto,<br />

Japan). He is originally from the Canary Islands but has lived in the United Kingdom for the last<br />

20 years, where he helps to spread the Dharma as part of the Shin Buddhist Fellowship U.K.<br />





Dr. Alfred Bloom<br />

With Buddha’s Enlightenment day and the New Year approaching, our<br />

thought is drawn to the central conception of Buddhism and the contribution<br />

of Buddhism to world thought. The central concept of Buddhism is generally<br />

termed Interdependent Co-arising or Dependent Co-origination. Most people<br />

consider Buddhism as a religion. However, it also has a highly developed<br />

tradition of philosophical thought based on the principle of cause and effect (inga)<br />

and expressed in the principle of Interdependent Co-arising.<br />

This teaching came to mind when I read a dialogue between the Dalai<br />

Lama and the Abbot of the Nishi Hongwanji, Koshin Ohtani, in a recent<br />

issue of the Bungei Shunju (1-2008). In the dialogue, the issue of Emptiness,<br />



also a very important concept in Mahayana Buddhism,<br />

came up. The Dalai Lama explained that Emptiness is<br />

based in the principle of Interdependent Co-arising. The<br />

Abbot presented the East Asian view of Emptiness as an<br />

experiential awareness, achieved through the practice of<br />

meditation in Zen or other tradition. It is essentially the<br />

experience of non-duality. Perhaps we may distinguish<br />

the views as logical in contrast to mystical. While many<br />

people may not easily experience non- duality, they can<br />

understand the logical basis of Emptiness and through<br />

reflection become aware of its contemporary meaning and<br />

importance for our lives.<br />

The Emptiness of things referred to by the Dalai<br />

Lama refers to the understanding that everything in our<br />

world is composite. All things can be analyzed into the<br />

components that make it up. The automobile is made<br />

of the various parts, wheels, engine etc. The engine, for<br />

example, can be further analyzed to its parts and the<br />

metals that make it up. The metals can be broken down<br />

to the elements, atoms, then neutrons and protons or<br />

particles that underlay our observed world. Finally the<br />

mind comes to a mystery as we are unable to penetrate the<br />

cosmic sources of the world of experience.<br />

However, the conclusion of Buddhism is that nothing<br />

possesses its own irreducible self-nature but everything<br />

depends on something else for its existence. Therefore, all<br />

things are empty, empty of intrinsic reality and intrinsic<br />

value; all existence is relational. Whatever the ultimate<br />

reality of things, it is inexpressible and inconceivable;<br />

therefore Empty. All things arise through the co-working<br />

of many causes and conditions.<br />

The understanding of the principle of Interdependent<br />

Co-arising has both religious and philosophical<br />

significance. Whether one views the process from the<br />

logical or experiential perspective they both, however, aim<br />

at the transformation of a person’s view of the world and life.<br />

The religious significance of the teaching of<br />

Interdependent Co-arising highlights the doctrine of<br />

karma which explains the basis of suffering in human<br />

existence and the world. On the positive side of Mahayana<br />

Buddhism, Interdependent Co-arising underlies the<br />

teaching of transfer of merit whereby each person shares<br />

the benefit of good deeds with others. The doctrine of<br />

karma means deed or act and explains our situation in the<br />

world, while Interdependent Co-arising motivates people<br />

to do good deeds in order to acquire merit to achieve<br />

better lives for themselves and others in the future in the<br />

process of transmigration. This teaching is reflected in<br />

the story of Dharmakara (Hozo) Bodhisattva in the Pure<br />

Land tradition. His Vows to construct a Pure Land where<br />

all beings can attain Enlightenment express the principle<br />

of interdependence. Each Vow indicates the relation of<br />

the Bodhisattava’s Enlightenment to the attainment of<br />

Enlightenment by all beings. He cannot gain it unless they<br />

all gain it together with him. We are all interconnected.<br />

The philosophical approach to the teaching of<br />

Interdependent Co-arising is also called the 12 link<br />

chain of causation. This chain analyses the existence of<br />

human or sentient beings as the result of a process of 12<br />

aspects which describe the formation of a life or can view<br />

a life through three births. This perspective is important<br />

because it provides an understanding of the process of life<br />

and rebirth or transmigration, providing a basis for values<br />

and decision- making through understanding the various<br />

conditions involved a life stream.<br />



The links are:<br />

1) Ignorance is a fundamental blindness to one’s true self<br />

and life condition. It is a lack of understanding which we<br />

call today “denial.”<br />

2) <strong>Vol</strong>itional action includes our impulses and motivations<br />

which arise from our Ignorance in the form of hatred,<br />

greed, prejudice etc.<br />

3) Consciousness which includes also the unconscious or<br />

the totality of the awareness of things. Through the many<br />

influences or seeds stored there we develop good or bad<br />

tendencies.<br />

4) Name and Form are the mental and physical aspects of<br />

our being. That is, the physical body and personality or<br />

identity<br />

5)The six sense faculties: the five physical senses and the mind.<br />

6) Contact by the senses with objects.<br />

7) Feeling or the awareness and experience of things.<br />

8) Craving is the desire, rooted in our feelings, for repeated<br />

experience just as we cannot eat just one potato chip.<br />

9) Clinging or grasping and attachment. We cannot let go.<br />

10) Becoming is the deep desire for life, reflected in our<br />

efforts at self-preservation.<br />

Ignorance is a fundamental<br />

blindness to one’s true self<br />

and life condition. It is a lack<br />

of understanding which we<br />

call today “denial.”<br />

11) Birth or rebirth.<br />

12) Old Age (Decay) and Death, the process begins at<br />

birth and becomes more evident as time –impermanenceproceeds.<br />

According to this process, we are influenced by the<br />

fundamental Ignorance and Delusions that blind us to<br />

true reality. It is our inability to see things as they truly<br />

are. We know that our senses can be deceived as in<br />

optical illusions. As a result, we develop deep feelings of<br />

hatred, greed and prejudice, essentially our basic egoism.<br />

Through our underlying consciousness and the activities<br />

of our minds and the senses, we carry out actions in<br />

the world, creating suffering or good. We cling to those<br />

things which we think benefit our egos or preserve them.<br />

Consequently we give rise to a deep desire to continue<br />

our lives (Becoming). The karma generated through this<br />

process leads to successive rebirths and cycles of birth-old<br />

age and death. All sentient beings experience this process<br />

until they find their way out of the wheel or river of births<br />

and deaths known as Samsara in Buddhist teaching.<br />

The teaching of the twelve links of Interdependent<br />

Co-arising motivates the quest for Enlightenment to<br />

realize emancipation from this process. The division into<br />

three lives: past, present and future, indicates that our<br />

spiritual bondage continues life after life in the Buddhist<br />

view of transmigration. In traditional teaching the cycles<br />

do not end with three cycles. Rather, as long as our<br />

passions and ignorance govern the character of our lives<br />

the process of suffering continues. The variety of Buddhist<br />

traditions offer paths to transcend this process and become<br />

Enlightened, attaining nirvana or Buddhahood.<br />



It also gives a sense of urgency to our individual lives.<br />

Buddhism teaches that it is a rare event to be born as a<br />

human being with the capacity to make decisions and to<br />

practice the teaching and reach liberation.<br />

The philosophical dimension of the teaching<br />

focuses attention that nothing has value in and of itself.<br />

Everything is composite and is impermanent. Everything<br />

undergoes a process of change, most evident in our own<br />

lives. Because things have no essential value, our desires<br />

and attachments cause us great pain when we encounter<br />

something we dislike or lose something we treasure. The<br />

understanding of the reality of change aids in establishing<br />

the spiritual life.<br />

More philosophically, the teaching indicates the<br />

emptiness or voidness of all things. This teaching applied<br />

to history or nature indicates that we are all conditioned,<br />

historical beings, as are our cultures and civilizations.<br />

They are not absolutes to be uncritically valued and<br />

maintained. In connect with Nature, Buddhism is<br />

compatible with science, because it understands the<br />

principle of cause and effect and the evolving nature<br />

of things. All reality is a flow whose essential quality is<br />

energy down to the smallest particle or wave in microscientific<br />

analysis or the evolution of life and the expansion<br />

of the universe in the macro- world.<br />

In social life, this principle emphasizes the<br />

interdependent nature of social relations as well as the<br />

complementarity of all life and reality. In China, the<br />

Taoist Yin-Yang symbol also expressed this principle.<br />

With the complementarity of Yin and Yang, the Yang is<br />

also in the Yin and the Yin in the Yang, shown by a small<br />

dot in respective areas. The circular form shows each<br />

dimension flowing into the other, giving rise to the many<br />

transformations of reality.<br />

Interdependence also points to the mutuality of<br />

necessary for fruitful and positive human relations. We<br />

are all interconnected. Buddhist teaching provides a<br />

foundation for social living and community, connecting<br />

the past, present and future. This process undergirds the<br />

reverence for ancestors and concern for future generations.<br />

The imagery and understanding of dependent Coarising<br />

would go far to reduce the distortions of our<br />

rampant individualism and overbearing, competitive<br />

perspective in Western society. It would also overcome the<br />

conflict image that has shaped western society. We must<br />

have an enemy and always have victory. The dualism of<br />

Western culture, good and evil, flesh and spirit are selfdefeating<br />

in the end.<br />

In conclusion, the importance of the principle<br />

of Interdependent Co-arising can be seen in various<br />

areas of application, religious, or philosophic. It is the<br />

basis of Buddhist thought. Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh<br />

has written: “All teachings of Buddhism are based on<br />

Interdependent Co-arising. If a teaching is not in accord<br />

with Interdependent Co-arising, it is not a teaching of the<br />

Buddha.” (Thich Nhat Hanh: “The Heart of the Buddha’s<br />

Teaching-The Two Truths.”)<br />

[Source: http://bschawaii.org/shindharmanet/wp-content/<br />

uploads/sites/3/2012/03/Bloom-Concept.pdf]<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 />



Rev. Melissa Opel<br />



The smell of incense is my first memory of stepping into<br />

the temple. It was a warm feeling on an already warm<br />

day—somehow different but comforting nonetheless. My<br />

wife and I had been to an Open House the week before<br />

and would later learn it was the Temple’s Obon festival<br />

held annually in July. We both had felt too uncertain<br />

to stick around for the evening’s events but agreed to<br />

come back for service the next week after speaking to a<br />

wonderfully nice volunteer and a Minister’s Assistant.<br />

Simply exploring and coming to the Temple was<br />

frightening. I had left organized religion some 10 years<br />

prior after devoting time, energy, and spirit to leading<br />

Bible studies, worship services, and even a church plant. 1<br />

During the number of years that I was involved deeply<br />

in Christianity, it became less and less of a fit for me. After<br />

coming out as lesbian with my now wife, we were asked<br />

to step down from leadership, end our relationship, and<br />

enter therapy; I was even offered a room at my Pastor’s<br />

house. Instead, we left. My wife struggled to hold on to<br />

her Christian faith, and I began addressing the questions<br />

that had been mounting and going unanswered over the<br />

years. As we attempted to find an open and affirming<br />

Christian church, I found myself more and more removed<br />

from the faith. Finally, a disagreement over dinosaurs with<br />

my father-in-law left me done. I stepped into a church<br />

once after that disagreement, and it also had painful<br />

consequences. It marked the official end of my time in that<br />

particular faith.<br />

Stepping into the Hondo for the first time, I felt<br />

nauseous, scared, and uncertain, but I didn’t have much<br />

time to understand the thoughts I was having as we were<br />

greeted immediately. 2 Once we found our seats, in the<br />

back like any good newcomer, we were greeted by several<br />

other people, and then a gay couple came over and<br />

said hello as well. I watched the men skeptically- not<br />

because they needed to be addressed with skepticism<br />

but to see how they were being treated by the rest of<br />

the people. The two guys hugged other people, were<br />

being greeted with smiles, and seemed at ease in their<br />

environment. When service started, I glanced over<br />

from time to time only to see that they sat closely and<br />

occasionally an arm would drape over a set of shoulders<br />

like many other couples. My wife, Becca, and I had never<br />

had that privilege to sit close or even to touch in front of<br />

other people in a church setting. There was a lot to take<br />

in during that first visit. The only thing familiar about the<br />

building were the cushioned pews lined neatly in front of<br />

us, and it was the one detail I could probably have done<br />

without!<br />

Trying to take it all in when coming to a new religion<br />

is difficult. You don’t mean to compare it to everything<br />

you have experienced before but you can’t really help<br />

The smell of incense is my<br />

first memory of stepping<br />

into the temple. It was a<br />

warm feeling on an already<br />

warm day—somehow<br />

different but comforting<br />

nonetheless.<br />

1. A church plant is a name given to describe what a large church would do when they grew too big to accommodate the amount of people<br />

attending or when they wished to serve an area where an evangelical denomination wasn’t present. The church would send a portion of the ]<br />

congregation’s leaders and a few members together, supported, to “plant” a new congregation and bring in unchurched followers.<br />

2. Hondo - The main hall of a Buddhist temple.<br />



yourself— you haven’t developed new perceptions and<br />

understandings yet. When the Dharma talk was given,<br />

my mind immediately thought of the sermons I grew up<br />

hearing from our Priest and then later the Pastor. The<br />

message, however, was very different. The person giving<br />

the talk spoke about impermanence and the constant<br />

changes we experience in life. It was a word I had recently<br />

heard in a counseling session and had come to over and<br />

over again reading “Living Buddha, Living Christ” as<br />

assigned to me by said therapist. But for me, what really<br />

stood out was what had occurred before the talk ever<br />

began. From the moment of entering the temple and<br />

meeting the people to the moment we began chanting,<br />

everything was a blur. I’m not sure those memories<br />

could ever be retrieved—there were just too many new<br />

things happening. When the chanting started however,<br />

something inside me stirred, and I became emotional—<br />

so much so that several tears seemed to appear out of<br />

nowhere and trickle down my face. I remember trying to<br />

When the chanting started however,<br />

something inside me stirred, and I became<br />

emotional—so much so that several tears<br />

seemed to appear out of nowhere and trickle<br />

down my face.<br />

wipe them away, hoping my wife had not seen but instead<br />

she leaned over and asked me if I was okay.<br />

When service ended, we declined heading to the<br />

basement for a snack. It was too much to take in at once,<br />

but it was promising that several people extended the<br />

invitation. This added to the feeling of being welcomed<br />

while also being able to easily leave without feeling<br />

pressured. Instead, we headed across the street to our local<br />

coffee shop and digested our experience. My wife again<br />

inquired about my tearful response, and I still couldn’t<br />

put into words what had happened. But, I was able to<br />

understand enough about myself that I knew I wanted<br />

to return and see what Buddhism was all about. At this<br />

point in our life and marriage, I think my wife would have<br />

encouraged me to join just about anything because she<br />

was worried about the way things were heading not just in<br />

my life but our marriage as well. As incentive, she offered<br />

to attend service with me three more times to continue<br />

checking it out and get comfortable going alone. Eight<br />

years later, she is the Temple’s Board President and has<br />

her own Buddhist path that she walks.<br />

In hindsight, looking back at my emotional encounter<br />

with chanting, I can finally register what I feel happened<br />

for me in that moment. In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, we<br />

discuss the embrace of Amida Buddha, the Buddha of<br />

infinite Wisdom and Compassion. In Japanese there is a<br />

term, Nyorai no chokumei, which means, “Amida Buddha<br />

is summoning us with the Name.” It is a command. But<br />

when we say “I take refuge” we might be tempted to think<br />

of ourselves doing something- and how could we not, the<br />

first word we encounter in English is I. Where this can<br />



be deceptive and lead us astray is this idea that “I” the<br />

object of this calling, this command, is doing something to<br />

help ourselves. When we hear Namo Amida Butsu, what<br />

we’re hearing is the calling of the Buddha, who resides<br />

in true reality, pointing the way and letting us know that<br />

true reality exists—that there is more than suffering and<br />

Buddhahood is available to us. We begin to awaken. The<br />

truth of reality that is manifested in the name of Amida<br />

Buddha, recognizes our limitations as human beings and<br />

calls out to us, commanding us to hear, to awaken. If we<br />

were to breakdown the two step process in this command,<br />

the Nyorai no chokumei, it would sound like “Call on me,<br />

Amida Buddha” and our response would follow “I hear<br />

you - Namo Amida Butsu.” This is true reality calling to<br />

us and taking the form of language, so we have something<br />

to hold onto and try to understand and make sense of. It’s<br />

like a rope that we hold onto in the dark sea of suffering.<br />

In that moment, that first encounter, there would<br />

be no way for me to connect and understand the calling<br />

voice—the voice of infinite wisdom and compassion<br />

guiding me to a path of awakening, free from suffering.<br />

Instead, we need to listen deeply, to feel the gentle<br />

coaxing. As I was beginning a Buddhist path, I was<br />

tempted to give up many times because it felt too hard<br />

to understand or seemed a little woo-woo. Other times, I<br />

wanted it to be harder, to be asked to do more and have a<br />

stringent list of do’s and don’ts to be guided by. But in the<br />

end, many wonderful teachers and mentors came at just<br />

the right time and in just the right way to guide me and<br />

encourage me on my path, to answer my questions with<br />

patience and honesty. This too is the call of the Buddha.<br />

About the Author<br />

Rev. Melissa Opel<br />

Rev. Melissa Opel was ordained in 2019 at<br />

Nishi Hongwanji (Kyoto, Japan). She holds<br />

an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern<br />

Washington University and is finishing<br />

her MDiv in Buddhism at the Institute of<br />

Buddhist Studies. She currently resides<br />

in Spokane, Wa where she serves the<br />

Spokane Buddhist Temple as well as works<br />

full-time in finance as a Portfolio Manager.<br />



Thank you very much for reading this issue. I hope that you are enjoying our<br />

sharing of the Joy of Jodo Shinshu teachings. I extend my appreciation to all<br />

contributors and editing committee members.<br />

The other day, at Lahaina Hongwanji Mission, a rummage sale and food<br />

sale was held for the first time since the pandemic started. One difficulty that<br />

comes with a rummage sale is cleaning up under the LAHAINA sun because<br />

the sale is held outside on the temple’s lawn. Basically, the heaviest things to<br />

carry are books and plates. Plates are lighter than books, but if we don’t repack<br />

them carefully, they may break. So, usually we insert newspapers between<br />

plates or glasses. It is quite a common thing in Japan too. It makes me recall<br />

the famous scholar Sensei, Reverend Kojun Shichiri’s (1835-1900) sharing of<br />

his thoughts; they are collected in some books. One of many essays of Shichiri<br />

Sensei is “Paper of Nembutsu.”<br />

“To keep 5 or 10 plates in place without breaking them, you<br />

must put a piece of paper between each plate. Even if you<br />

do things in this secular world, if you put a piece of paper<br />

of Nembutsu between them, you will not fail to do so. No<br />

matter how fragile the plate may be, as long as you have this<br />

Nembutsu paper, you will be fine. Insert the paper of Nembutsu<br />

in between.”<br />

So, he encouraged us to put the Nembutsu Paper in between challenging<br />

events in our secular or dualistic world, me and world, me and you. You may<br />

compare one plate to yourself and many other plates to the phenomena and<br />

people around you. Without the inserted paper, you break yourself and the other<br />

person by directly hitting each other. If you have a conflict, not only with others,<br />

but also with yourself, body and heart may be hurt. When I see terrible news, I<br />

get angry and try to get more information about it. But that only serves as fuel<br />

for my anger and flares up even more.<br />

But when that time does come, the paper of Nembutsu, uttering of<br />

Nembutsu, compassionate calling voice of Amida Buddha will shower our<br />

burning hearts; it will try to avoid breaking both sides in between. As we are all<br />

fragile like a plate, I hope that this Paper of Nembutsu–your reading this journal<br />

of Jodo Shinshu teachings–will help to protect you and others you may meet.<br />

Namo Amida Butsu.<br />

Rev. Ai Hironaka<br />

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

Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. He was born in Hiroshima,<br />

Japan and attended Ryukoku University, majoring in Shin<br />

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

Aiea Hongwanji Mission, and the Hawaii Betsuin.<br />


Jodo Shinshu International Office

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