A good article by Rev Adrian Josho Circlea, a Romanian Shin Buddhist priest
- fragment from a letter -
Why Jodo Shinshu denies and discourages the observance of Buddhist precepts? Can I observe precepts and be a Shinshu follower? Why it is said in Jodo Shinshu that “there are no precepts”?
In Jodo Shinshu we do not deny nor discourage the observance of precepts. We are not against precepts; we do not say that followers of this school should not observe precepts. What we say is that we should not think that trying to observe precepts creates personal merits or that by observing precepts we can thus add something to the salvation of Amida.
We are born in the Pure Land and become Buddhas only due to Amida’s Power, not to our own efforts in observing precepts or in doing such and such practice.
My advice is this: try to observe precepts, try your best to have a moral life, not to hurt anybody directly or indirectly, don’t steal, don’t engage in sexual misconduct, don’t lie, don’t drink intoxicants, don’t eat meat, etc, but never relate this with your attainment of Buddhahood which comes only through Amida Buddha. Your success or lack of success in observing precepts has no connection with your Enlightenment, so be relaxed in this matter. This is the difference between Jodo Shinshu and other schools.
Delete once and for all the words “personal merit” or “personal virtue” from your Buddhist vocabulary. These may have some significance in other schools but in Jodo Shinshu it has zero significance.
Shinran Shonin or any patriarch of our school never said, “kill, steal, lie, cheat your wife, etc”, but rather they intended to say: “even if you don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat your wife, etc, it doesn’t mean that you are a good person capable to attain Buddhahood by yourself.” This should be very well understood.
Also even if it is said in the sacred texts that in the last age of the Dharma precepts do no longer exist, this doesn’t mean that we should go on killing and stealing as we like. The expression, “there are no precepts” means that people living in the last age of the Dharma are no longer capable to use precepts in order to advance to Enlightenment. Thus, precepts are as good as non-existent for the last goal of Buddhist practice. I repeat, precepts are as good as non-existent for the last goal of Buddhist practice which means attainment of Buddhahood.
But still we can read in the sutras and other Buddhist books about the precepts so we can’t say they have been deleted from our written or collective memory. We can read them and see how the Buddhas wants us to behave, think and talk, so we should try to guide our lives after them as good as we can, but these trying no longer constitutes a merit or a mean to advance on the path to Enlightenment.
This is because our capacities to fully observe the precepts both in letter and spirit are so little as non-existent. Jodo Shinshu states that the minds and environment of beings living in this age distant to the physically presence of Shakyamuni is so much perverted that they cannot advance to Buddhahood by themselves using various methods of self improving until one day purity, perfect wisdom and perfect compassion is achieved.
So we can say that Jodo Shinshu doesn’t believe in the spiritual capacities of unenlightened beings. Everything these beings do in the three ways of action is poisoned by ignorance and egoism so they can’t be called pure good actions useful for attaining Buddhahood.
Attachment to our so called goodness is just another illusion among the many we inherit from the distant past.
These being said, I ask you again, please do not misunderstand the teaching of our school:
- Jodo Shinshu is not an encouragement to immorality, irresponsibility or laziness.
- Followers of this school should do all their best in leading a life based on non- harming Buddhists principles explained in the precepts.
- Jodo Shinshu only states that Enlightenment comes through Amida Buddha and is not gained by the actions of unenlightened beings
- Jodo Shinshu believes that only Buddhas have true merits that can be shared with others
In short, do your best in your everyday life to live accordingly with precepts but rely only on Amida for the attainment of Buddhahood.