Ok, perhaps I should have avoided to take part in this thread at all since I know these old debates too well from several fora, conversations and mailing lists and I know those who want to see Amida as an entity somewhere 'out there' won't change their views about it anyway. But I'll try and give my opinion about it:
If it is not so clear to you my friend, then take up Jodo shinshu and apply the Nembutsu. Not in a sense of self power but in the sense of saying the nembutsu for being grasped.
That won't be possible since according to Shinrans teachings you can't 'apply' the nembutsu to have some effects. The effect of being grasped is there first and the nembutsu is what follows naturally - not the other way round. You can not 'decide' whether to say the nembutsu 'in the sense of self-power' or to say it 'in the sense of saying it for being grasped' - such a decision would be made based on the usual ego calculation and therefore the decison as such is futile, at least when it comes to realizing shinjin. That's why I think that Shinshu is not for everybody, one should go and try any other method of becoming enlightened or whatever one may call this goal and see how far one can come. One should try as hard as possible, because only when you give all and fail completely you can understand what Shinran was about when he said 'Since I am incapable of any practice whatsoever, hell would definitely be my dwelling' and 'only the Nembutsu is real.' Otherwise it's just a 'doctrine' to discuss and a personal decision to agree or disagree with it. It's absolutely pointless.
I'm not on a crusade either, so if you can reply to what I presented here as my unprofessional understanding of Shinran's thought I'd happily change my mind.
What I meant with 'afaik you are not a Shin Buddhist' was, that you perhaps haven't read enough of Shinrans writings to actually see the difference between his teachings and all other Pure Land traditions (including Honens). That you said "The Pure Land is not the end but a special environment to attain liberation. Amita Buddha is not a god but a perfectly enlightened being" is clearly a sign that you don't know about these - important - differences. The Pure Land is not an environment to attain something, it's Nirvana. Amida Buddha is not just an enlightened being among others, s/he is reality in the most absolute sense.
Adrians and Paul Roberts ranting and raving about what they consider 'false teachers' is a red rag for me, so my reply may sound harsher than it is meant to be. But it has nothing to do with what Shinran was about and is the ultimate anti-thesis to his compassionate way to bring the end of suffering to all beings. They split the Shin community in 'true shin buddhists' and 'other shin buddhists' based on their own limited understanding, i.e. based on their very own ego. They insult many respected Shin teachers and try to form a christian-like fundamentalist book religion. That also explains their interest in Rennyo who was the first to 're-interpret' Shinrans teachings so they could be used to form a mass movement and a powerful institution. So you say you are not joining their crusade - but you join them nevertheless, or so it seems:
What surprised me is that he was the first I saw addressing strange tendencies among Shin believers. He made a collection of articles addressing this issue: Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu Teaching
Based on my little experience with modern Shin teachings I think he speaks the truth. I've been perplexed before on how Shin Buddhists don't accept a really existing buddha-land of Amita Buddha. Now it seems clear
You are saying that your experience with 'modern Shin teachings' is limited, so how can you agree with what Adrian says? How can you decide what's a 'strange tendency' in Shinshu? And btw what is 'modern shin teaching'? Modern vs true Shin teaching like Adrian thinks? Modern ideas in opposition to the 'right faith'? Divergences from the Jodo Shinshu teachings? How can you decide what's a divergence when your knowledge is limited? By just trusting that Adrian is right? I mean you are saying it explicitly: he is speaking the 'truth'...how can you know? Why have you been perplexed by what Shin Buddhists (how many do you know?) don't accept? Perhaps what you expect to see accepted is not part of what Shin Buddhists care to accept? Who's the judge here? You in your limited experience and knowledge about Shinrans teachings or Adrian, who is fighting his very own fight for what he considers 'True Shin Buddhism'?
Can you perhaps see now what I meant? I would be a bit more cautious to align yourself with Adrian here...
My problem has been with Shin Buddhism as described by some that if shinjin equalled attaining non-retrogression - the realisation of no-birth of dharmas - in the here and now instead of meaning an assured birth in the Pure Land and consequently attaining enlightenment, it'd be in direct contradiction with not just Honen but generally Mahayana.
I don't actually understand your point here, why are you talking about attaining the state of non-retrogression as in opposition to an assured birth in the Pure Land? Shinjin is the experience of being grasped never to be abandoned and yes it is attaining the stage of the truly settled, or non-retrogression on the path to enlightenment. Both aspects are connected in the most closely way. Receiving Shinjin means to experience the joy of being grasped by the Power of the Vow in the here and now - and 'birth in the Pure Land ' or enlightenment, will unfailingly be brought about naturally because of this being grasped by Amida. Shinjin is the realisation that 'from the very beginning one is made to become so', that enlightenment is the natural implication of being grasped by the reality of Amida. There's no either or situation here, it's two sides of the same coin.
But if it is simply an assured birth then a real Amita Buddha and a real Pure Land is necessary. Or it might be that my logic here is faulty somewhere.
I don't see any logic here, faulty or not. Again the Pure Land is not a location but the state of enlightenment, Nirvana itself. Nirvana is real or otherwise we wouldn't be talking about Buddhism here. Amida is real or we couldn't talk about the experience of being grasped by 'his' saving power in our life. All this confusion on your side is based on the fact that you have a clear picture in mind how things have to be, to 'work' properly. That is nothing more than 'Hakarai', the ongoing calculation based on the ego structure of human nature. Amida though is ultimate reality experienced as compassion in your very own life without any caculation getting in the way. To get rid of what we think ultimate reality is, or how things are is the necessary step here. To expect that ultimate reality is exactly like what we can imagine is limiting reality to what we as foolish beings can grasp (which is not really that much I'm afraid) and is reinstating the ego as the ultimate judgement tool again. And the Dharma is trying to dethrone this judgement tool and allow us to see things as they are - not to see them as we are...
It seems to me more emotional-poetic than logical-descriptive
Jodo Shinshu is an emotional-poetic way to enlightenment and because you expect a totally different approach it perhaps is not what fits into your understanding. Shinran didn't start with the scriptures and then devoloped an experience based on a certain kind of 'logic'. He had an experience in his life that transformed him completely and he then developed a certain kind of understanding of his experience. This understanding he tried to integrate then with the traditional scriptures of the Pure Land tradition. For him his experience was the inner meaning, the true meaning of the Pure Land teachings and why he said there are two levels of truth expressed in the scriptures: the hidden and manifest meanings.
And that is why any fundamentalist reading of the 'holy scriptures' and any 'you have to believe it all literally' is actually an anti-shinran attitude. Shinran re-interpreted an existing tradition and their scriptures based on his personal awakening to the saving power of unlimited compassion and he wasn't even shy to read the scriptures in a way they would fit to that experience. Shinran wasn't about a dead book religion, he wasn't even about religion at all if that simply means a set of doctrines made 'to believe' so you can say 'you are a true believer and you are not' - which is what Adrian and Paul Roberts try to do. Shinran brought back the fire of personal experience into Buddhism and he said to his followers that they don't need temples, priests, golden sculptures or be afraid of their afterlife because they are not able to hold the precepts etc.. And now we have some folks running around telling us we have to believe it 'this way and not the other'? No matter what your experience is with the living reality of Amida? Just believe it the way it is written?
It was the Shin priest Kenneth O'Neill who rightly said:
My interests do not lie with orthodoxy for its own sake; my allegiance lies with the spirit of free expression and interpretation exemplified by our founder, Shinran Shonin.
I see the confusion Adrian is causing in many of those who are interested in Shinrans teachings and I had my discussions with him. I know how frantic and aggressive he can become if one doesn't follow his 'true shin buddhism' and I am impatient of such an 'holier than thou' attitude. Btw I completely agree with Prof. Dr. Alfred Bloom that one doesn't have to be a know-nothing when following Shinran, although some try to make us think so - and to believe 'Kalpas ago' (even before there was an earth) there was human being named Dharmakara who then became a being of light in a 'land in the west' where we can now join him after death is simply isulting my intelligence. If others can believe that, fine, more power to them, but don't go around and tell others that is mandatory to experience the liberating power of the vow. You may not do so, but Adrian and his friends do.
And Shinran was quite clear about the trans-historic nature of Amida:
Amida, the Buddha existing from the eternal past,
Pitying the common fools [in the world] of the five defilements,
Appeared in the Castle of Gaya
Manifesting Himself as Shakyamuni Buddha. (Jodo Wasan 88)
Amida as a reality has always been Buddha, there was no point in 'history' when he wasn't Buddha, no matter what the Sutras say. And this eternal Buddha reality manifested as the historical Buddha. So there's no need to think that the historical Buddha actually taught about Amida and a Pure Land (of which we have no evidence at all and it is highly unlikely) to see the connection between them. Amida is Buddha nature manifested in Sakyamuni and in ourself if we are able to realize it. Amida as understood by Shinran is made absolute and transcending history - and our calculation!
What I'm asking is a clear technical outline of the method of realising ultimate reality
And what Namu Butsu tried to explain is that you won't get that 'clear technical outline of a method' because there's none. In Shinshu we don't have a tool to produce Shinjin, full entrustment. Shinjin might happen to you if you are able to get rid of such ideas. Enlightenment can't be forced to happen, it can't be produced, there's no method to use. Giving up self-effort actually means to give up any calculation how to produce it - one could say, when it has become meaningless it might happen all the faster. That's why Shinran said Shinjin is a gift, a grace to receive - there's absolutely no way to make it appear. And as long as you think there's something you can do about it, you are closing the door to Amidas call.
It's like Hisao Inagaki said:
Again, Faith is joy; it is joyful acceptance of Amida's saving Power. Amida approaches us in the form of Namuamidabutsu, and when this is received in our hearts, it becomes Faith. In other words, the Sacred Name is all that Amida is, and Faith, too, is Amida himself.
Amida has been called the ultimate point of reference and I think that's in fact what 'he' is in Shinrans teachings. Or as Shin'ichi Hisamatsu said:
In my opinion, Buddha in Buddhism must have a fundamentally atheistic character. According to the essential Buddhist way of thinking, the theistic Buddha expounded in Buddhist scriptures must be a provisional one secondary in importance to the Buddha having ultimate significance.
Giving up any calculation also means to be open to reality as such and not sticking to our own ideas and views. Not to be able to look 'behind' the myth of Amida (a myth is not a lie btw...) is to close our eyes to this reality because we are afraid it could be greater than what we are able to understand.