Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

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Tatsuo
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Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by Tatsuo »

On the blog of Amidaji in Calopăr, Romania, I found that the resident priest Rev. Josho Adrian Cirlea recently declared to establish his own "Amidaji" branch of Jodo Shinshu (http://amida-ji-retreat-temple-romania. ... u-and.html). What will happen now? Will he be excommunicated and will his temple cease to be an official Jodo Shinshu temple?

The teacher seems to not only learn towards radicalism (which he did before), but now also seems to seek isolation of himself and his followers as pure minority fighting against a corrupt majority under his leadership. I wonder about the responses from Nishi Honganji and other mainstream Jodo Shinshu groups. Do other groups warn about joining Amidaji?

Edit: Since this is probably a controversial topic, please keep it respectful. I know almost nothing about this group, so please do not see this post as a statement for or against this group. I only want to learn more about this development.

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steveb1
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by steveb1 »

It's the age-old issue of when reform becomes "heresy". Cirlea writes:

"I and my Dharma friends at Amidaji think we need to organize ourselves separately due to the unquestioning attitude of present-day leadership of Nishi Hongwanji and Hongwanji International Center towards various wrong views and worldly ideologies"

I stand with Cirlea on his conception of the purity of basic Shin doctrine - e.g., Amida being an actual Buddha, not a a mere symbol of a more or less mindless, mechanistic process of our journey to enlightenment, and not just a symbol of us acquiring an "enlightened mind" here and now. So very many supposedly "Shin" books today do promote the false view of Amida being symbolic of some vague cosmic force, not an actual Buddha-realm agent, and spread Shin way too thinly, mixing and matching it with our "oneness with the flowers" and other New Age doggerel.

On the other hand, Cirlea also thinks of his Amida-Ji temple as "growing out" of Honwanji - which is surely what other "heretics" also typically state, e.g., Martin Luther, who at least, at first, thought he was merely reforming Christianity, and reacted with some consternation over other Reformationists who were splintering the Church, even in Luther's lifetime, into warring "true versions" of Christianity.

I think we need further, detailed posts from Cirlea in order to discern if he's only a reformer, or if he is actually breaking from the Shin "lineage" in order to promulgate heretical views. I'm willing to give him benefit of the doubt until he specifically crosses the line from Shin to not-Shin.
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Tatsuo
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by Tatsuo »

I agree, that in Pure Land Buddhism, Amida Buddha was always seen as an actual Buddha and that the interpretation of him as a symbol is flawed. I have no idea why this interpretation is currently being debated in Western Pure Land Buddhism and if there is really a majority supporting this idea. However, I don't that that it is the right way of dealing with new interpretations, when traditionalists are leaving their tradition to start something new.

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Steel
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by Steel »

I wish him all these best with his new school. He teaches nothing but orthodox shin buddhism and has always been an outspoken critic of new age modernist mumbo jumbo interpretations.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by steveb1 »

Tatsuo wrote: Tue Sep 08, 2020 5:27 am I agree, that in Pure Land Buddhism, Amida Buddha was always seen as an actual Buddha and that the interpretation of him as a symbol is flawed. I have no idea why this interpretation is currently being debated in Western Pure Land Buddhism and if there is really a majority supporting this idea. However, I don't that that it is the right way of dealing with new interpretations, when traditionalists are leaving their tradition to start something new.
Thanks for sharing your insights...this is a difficult time for Shin, just as it's a difficult time for the world...
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by steveb1 »

Steel wrote: Tue Sep 08, 2020 7:21 pm I wish him all these best with his new school. He teaches nothing but orthodox shin buddhism and has always been an outspoken critic of new age modernist mumbo jumbo interpretations.
Yes, I think Rev. Cirlea would be the last one to (excuse me!) screw the doctrinal pooch as regards authentic Shin. If anything, he's overzealous about keeping it pure and accurate. It's the "traditionalists" in the large organizations who have abandoned traditional teaching for modernism, materialism-reductionism, and New Age "feel good" platitudes. In my opinion, of course.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by Zhen Li »

What I understand about it is essentially Rev. Cirlea was asking Honganji-ha and the Honganji International Centre to say something regarding the reality of Amida, and denounce those who deny his existence, and they did not reply.

My opinion is that the problem is less to do with his doctrinal stance, which was affirmed by the Monshu in 2013 who reaffirmed that the Pure Land is not something in this life but is attained after death, but rather with him going ahead with denunciations of prominent priests without the go-ahead of Honganji-ha. In other words, Honganji-ha recognises people like Unno as being divergent, but does not want to cause conflict within the sangha by naming and shaming individuals. It seems like such a denunciation would inevitably lead to people like Unno breaking off and making some kind of modernist Shin sect, but who knows.

In 2010 Rev. Cirlea was organising the European Shin conference in Romania, but at that time he criticised Unno's unorthodox views. Subsequently he was asked to remove his comments about Unno from his blog by some priests, which he refused to do. Priests in Europe wrote to Honganji-ha and the International Centre and said they would not come because Rev. Cirlea will turn it into a confrontation. The German Jodo Shinshu Association also formally expelled him at that time for ruining the reputation of "renowned scholars."

Essentially, he is not really a reformer and he is not breaking off with shinshu or Honganji-ha teachings. But recognising that Honganji-ha won't stand up for its own teachings at the moment, the best way to do that is to be independent. I support his stance and I think it is a brave action to take. Eventually Honganji-ha will have to deal with these divergences, if not to name heretics, at least to continually reaffirm the basics of Shinran's thought.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by KiwiNFLFan »

steveb1 wrote: Mon Sep 07, 2020 6:50 pm On the other hand, Cirlea also thinks of his Amida-Ji temple as "growing out" of Honwanji - which is surely what other "heretics" also typically state, e.g., Martin Luther, who at least, at first, thought he was merely reforming Christianity, and reacted with some consternation over other Reformationists who were splintering the Church, even in Luther's lifetime, into warring "true versions" of Christianity.
I would see him more as a Marcel Lefebvre rather than a Martin Luther. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was a French Catholic archbishop who started a group he named the Society of St Pius X to teach the traditional, pre-1960s Catholic faith and offer the old Latin Mass (after the Second Vatican Council in the 60s, the Catholic church became less strict, such as no longer claiming exclusivity). There was tension between his group and the Pope, and in 1988 he illicitly consecrated 4 bishops, resulting in his excommunication along with his 4 new bishops. While the excommunications have since been lifted, the group is in a sticky situation with the Vatican and believes that they are teaching the true Catholic faith, as opposed to the Vatican, whom they see as teaching error.

I know Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh has stated that fundamentalism in any form, even Buddhist fundamentalism, is bad.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by Zhen Li »

KiwiNFLFan wrote: Sat Sep 26, 2020 5:32 amI know Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh has stated that fundamentalism in any form, even Buddhist fundamentalism, is bad.
Let's not bad-mouth other traditions, no matter how new. Fundamentalism is a term that is only generally used with groups one disagrees with.

From one perspective Rev Cirlea does not permit views of people who deny Amida in his library or websites—but this is generally the case throughout Buddhist sects. Theravadans don't promote Mahāyāna. This forum does not allow Shugden. If you are the master of the Sangha, you control the dialogue, that's normal and we accept it until it includes us.

From the Amida-ji perspective, they were excluded from Honganji-ha fora, expelled by the Germans, and refused a platform to open a dialogue. If Honganji-ha is closing the door for dialogue on these matters of fundamental importance for Jodo Shinshu followers, then they are equally as fundamentalist. For the record, I am not saying they are fundamentalist, I am just showing how the claim is meaningless in this situation and depends entirely on perspective. I can understand the reticence to entertain Rev Cirlea's concerns if it is to avoid a division in the Sangha or to isolate very prominent teachers—but again, in the past, people whose views were clearly heterodox, such as the Sangowakuran in the Nishi case, or the Dobokai in the Higashi case, were confronted. Were this any point in past eras, Rev Cirlea's opinion would be the majority opinion and Unno et al. would be driven out or made to recant.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in my opinion, is the opposite to the extreme of fundamentalism. His insistence that you can be a Christian or Muslim and a Buddhist is encouraging lack of focus, and he also teaches the Pure Land as being attained in this life. I think his writings have inspired lots of people so I generally wouldn't criticise him, but I would never recommend his writings to beginners because they're completely unorthodox and modernist.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

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Zhen Li wrote: Sat Sep 26, 2020 12:16 pm Thich Nhat Hanh, in my opinion, is the opposite to the extreme of fundamentalism. His insistence that you can be a Christian or Muslim and a Buddhist is encouraging lack of focus, and he also teaches the Pure Land as being attained in this life. I think his writings have inspired lots of people so I generally wouldn't criticise him, but I would never recommend his writings to beginners because they're completely unorthodox and modernist.
You should learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh. Those who have been serious students in his lineage would be able to tell you that when he says you can be Christian and Buddhist or that the pure land is in this life, he is doing so only to attract Westerners to the dharma. His actual teachings are 100% traditional Vietnamese Buddhism. The Dalai Lama takes a similar approach with Westerners, but his actual teachings are similarly 100% traditional. I have talked to several practitioners in his lineage about this, and they all say the same thing. His approach with Westerners is entirely meant to attract people to the dharma and nothing more. Once you actually start practicing in his lineage, it is a 100% traditional approach.

You can read (and listen) more about this here.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by SonamTashi »

I'm not a Shin Buddhist, but I did study it for a while, and read most of Shinran's and Rennyo's writings. Here is (imo) the issue with Rev. Cirlea:

Doctrinally, he is probably one of the most accurate and truest to the teachings of Shinran. Too many Shin teachers today take a modernist and watered down approach. However, he is alarmingly exclusionary, and he sometimes veers into the territory of libel and slander of other Buddhist teachers and traditions. This is perhaps the most extreme incident of what I'm talking about. I just cannot support someone who goes so far as to call Thich Nhat Hanh a false teacher. This is absolutely preposterous and a terrible thing for Rev. Cirlea to say. It shows that he hasn't actually taken the time to learn about Thich Nhat Hanh. As I mentioned in my comment above this one, Thich Nhat Hanh takes a specific approach with Westerners to attract Westerners to the dharma, but it is entirely a skillful means to attract people to the teachings. If you actually become a serious student in his lineage, you will see that he is entirely traditional.

It would be one thing if Rev. Cirlea simply said that Thich Nhat Hanh does not reflect the Shin teachings. But that would be a pointless thing to say, as Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist, not a Shin teacher. But going so far as to call TNH a false teacher is dangerous and harmful. Although this is an extreme example, it is representative of the exclusionary approach that Rev. Cirlea takes.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by Zhen Li »

If there is anything to be taken away from this conversation, I think it is that we really have to be more skilful with our words. On the one hand, respecting those who have differences from us or appear to even teach false Dharma (whether or not they do in fact), on the other hand, using skilful devices to teach, which can appear to distort the Dharma from certain perspectives, need to be used carefully, in moderation, or not at all.

I do not have textual or quote-based evidence to confirm that TNH rejects watered down traditional Dharma and in fact teaches traditional Dharma. I can only go on what I have seen and read. I think a degree of skilful wording is fine if you clarify original meanings at some point (which is what the Lotus Sutra is all about), but when it is constant and on-going, it is starting to get to be a serious issue.

Anyway, that is a different matter to the topic of Amidaji's independence, which is more about people who sincerely disbelieve in Amitābha and the teachings of Shinran being allowed to function as ordained members of Honganji-ha.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by KiwiNFLFan »

If there is anything to be taken away from this conversation, I think it is that we really have to be more skilful with our words.
I agree.

In the article that Zhen Li quoted, Rev. Cirlea wrote:
One should stop any non-Buddhist religious activities after taking refuge in the Three Jewels. If one prays to other non-buddhist divine figures, engages in non-buddhist practices and has non-buddhist religious teachers from whom he receives teachings and instructions, that person breaks the Refuge vows and from then on he or she can no longer be considered a Buddhist.
Is this actual Buddhist teaching, or fundamentalism? I know some Japanese Buddhists also pray to Shinto gods, and Thai Buddhists pray to Hindu gods as well as local spirits. My understanding was that this was okay as long as you didn't regard them as higher than Buddhas (i.e. the gods are higher than us humans but not as great as fully enlightened Buddhas).
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Zhen Li
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

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KiwiNFLFan wrote: Mon Sep 28, 2020 4:08 am Is this actual Buddhist teaching, or fundamentalism? I know some Japanese Buddhists also pray to Shinto gods, and Thai Buddhists pray to Hindu gods as well as local spirits. My understanding was that this was okay as long as you didn't regard them as higher than Buddhas (i.e. the gods are higher than us humans but not as great as fully enlightened Buddhas).
Before the Meiji restoration, essentially Shinto and Buddhism were entirely integrated. One can say the same about Hindu deities in Buddhist shrines in India and Nepal, etc. In fact, my house has a Shinto shrine. This is certainly a divergence on my part. Honganji is the only sect that does not feature shrines to gods, fortune telling, or omikujis. I think to some Japanese it can appear drier than the other sects for this reason.

My understanding is that if you are taking refuge in the Buddha, you are admitting that he has resolved your "matter of the afterlife." In Shinto, you are not really relying on gods to save you or worshipping them as supreme, rather you are trapping them in a shrine (particularly symbolised by the use of shimenawa rope in front of the shrine) and by providing them with the means of life (salt, rice, water, sake, sasaki leaves) they will be made to work for you. It is kind of the opposite. Although you are expected to be humble and respect kami as powerful beings, if you follow the history of the way in which they are worshipped, it has always been for human benefit. In a way, you can think of the emperor as imprisoned and forced to work for the benefit of the nation. In Hinduism this is not always the case, particularly in smarta understanding, but in Tantra there is very much the idea of trapping gods and getting them to do your will. This is not taking refuge in my opinion.

Household shrines, kamidana, moreover, are always temporarily borrowing a kami from a main shrine—so after a year you have to return the ofuda which has the spirit of the kami back to the shrine you received it from. I think this is different from setting up a new shrine. You are kind of borrowing some of the power from the main shrine to make it work for you in your house. I have only been to one Jodo Shinshu minister's house in Japan, and he did have a rather large kamidana near the butsudan. I'll ask him his opinion of this when I see him again.

However, just going through the works of Shinran, I did get the following impressions:
1. Honen taught: While we should not use fortune telling or non-Buddhist ways, we should never despise or slander them. (Lamp for the Latter Ages, Letter 2).

2. Do not despise or neglect the gods. People of Shinjin are protected by all gods. They should not be neglected—they do not abandon people of Shinjin. Even more so, do not neglect buddhas and bodhisattvas or thinking slightingly of them—one who does so does not have Shinjin. (A Collection of Letters, Letter 4)

3. Nirvana Sutra: Do not take refuge in gods if you have taken refuge in the Buddha.

4. Pratyutpanna Samadhi: Do not serve or worship gods, enshrine spirits, or observe lucky days. (KGSS VI. 83)

5. Avatamsaka: Do not use divination. (KGSS VI. 94)

6. Brahmajala: Do not worship the king, parents, relatives, or spirits. (KGSS VI. 102)

There many other examples, particularly in KGSS VI.

So, I think Rev. Cirlea is not incorrect in that the activities he is describing (praying to other gods or doing worship for them (i.e. for spiritual benefit or welfare presumably), or having spiritual teachers who teach a path other than refuge in the Buddha) are indeed betraying that one does not fully trust that the Buddha has solved one's spiritual affairs. If one respects kami or other deities, with the understanding that regardless of what one does, if you have Shinjin they will still protect you, then there is no problem. If, rather, you think they are going to bring you further down the Path to Buddhahood, or that your welfare depends on your worship of them, and you proceed to worship them with such an understanding, then that would be a doubt in your refuge and violating refuge vows.

But this is quite a subtle matter, so it is hard to say whether Rev. Cirlea is contradicting points 1 or 2. In my mind, you have to balance not taking refuge in the gods with not neglecting them and continuing to respect them. Every house has spirits, every tree has spirits (this is even in the Pali Canon), rivers and lakes have nāgas, so we have to treat them kindly like a family member—but just as you do not worship your parents as your "refuge," you should not worship the gods as your "refuge." It's rather about showing respect and care.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by steveb1 »

... Coming late here (as is my not-so-venerable habit) ... but I would like to recommend Rev Cirlea's book, The Meaning of Faith and Nembutsu in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.

The book is honestly self-revelatory of Cirlea's true views, which he expresses directly, and more indirectly through his teaching on Shin.

Toward the end he carries on a sometimes intense question-and-answer format in which he makes it extremely plain as to which views are Shin; which views can be encompassed within Shin; and which views Shin cannot, by nature, incorporate. It can be ordered at:



Happy reading to all interested parties.
:)
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by Kein25 »

What may also explain this are the homophobic and transphobic views he is promoting in his temple which are clearly not aligned with the current inclusive views of the Honganji-ha in Japan and the West :
http://amida-ji-retreat-temple-romania. ... es-at.html
http://amida-ji-retreat-temple-romania. ... ch-of.html
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

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Kein25 wrote: Sun Oct 25, 2020 1:42 pm What may also explain this are the homophobic and transphobic views he is promoting in his temple which are clearly not aligned with the current inclusive views of the Honganji-ha in Japan and the West :
http://amida-ji-retreat-temple-romania. ... es-at.html
http://amida-ji-retreat-temple-romania. ... ch-of.html
As the cart wheel follows the horses hooves, a conservative and fundamentalist view of any religion, including Buddhism, will always be followed by a conservative view of society, gender roles, and sexuality. It is true of Southern Baptists in Alabama and it’s true of some Shin groups.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

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I have to agree that these are some what less defensible moves made by Cirlea and are not quite in line with the trend of separation between politics and religion in the Hongwanji which with Rennyo as expressed in his letter "On Norms of Conduct:"
[D]o not slight the provincial military governors and local land stewards, claiming that you have attained faith; meet your public obligations in full without fail. Further, do not belittle the various kami and buddhas and bodhisattvas, for they are all encompassed within the six characters “na-mu- a-mi-da-butsu.” Besides this, in particular, take the laws of the state as your outer aspect, store other-power faith deep in your hearts...
This also goes back to the principle expressed by Shinran that we should avoid outward shows of religiosity—this creates conflict between the state, society, and the saṅgha. Outwardly we should not be at odds with society or the laws of the state in a way that would draw unwanted attention or turn people away due to things that are irrelevant to their ability to attain shinjin. People may be coming from different political backgrounds, left or right, and may equally attain shinjin—I think after someone attains a degree of faith in the Dharma, political activities tend to take second place to the Dharma, as one realises that they necessarily deal with temporary states of affairs that will disappear and return in our future lives if we do not attain Buddhahood—this, then should always be our priority.

Equally so, the kind political dialogue, particularly of the social-justice variety, as found in the BCA are equally as divisive and will drive away many conservatives. We should just focus on shinjin and the writings and practices of the tradition—that there are many Shin saṅghas where discussion of shinjin is absent are a truly lamentable states of affairs and remind one of Rennyō's letters:
Now, what is the purpose of monthly meetings in our sect?
Laypeople, lacking wisdom, spend their days and nights in vain; their lives pass by meaninglessly, and, in the end, they fall into the three evil paths. The meetings are occasions when, even if only once a month, just those who practice the nenbutsu should at least gather in the meeting place and discuss their own faith and the faith of others. Recently, however, because matters of faith are never discussed in terms of right and wrong, the situation is deplorable beyond words.
In conclusion, there must definitely be discussions of faith from now on among those at the meetings. For this is how we are to attain birth in the true and real Land of Utmost Bliss.
Temples and ministers have no ability in Jōdo Shinshū doctrine to have authority over matters of good or evil, again Rennyō wrote
And so, by giving himself as an example, the Master’s words were meant to awaken us to our twofold ignorance: we are deluded as to the depth of our transgressions and unaware of the breadth of Amida’s beneficence. For others as well as myself speak only of good and evil without heeding the beneficence of Amida. As Shinran said:

I am completely ignorant of good and evil. If I could know what good was as totally as Amida does, then I could claim to know good; and if I knew evil as totally as Amida does, then I could claim to know evil. But I must confess that we are all ordinary beings beset by defiling passions and that everything in our world is as transient as a burning house. All things are illusory and delusive and have no truth in them. The nenbutsu alone is true.

Indeed, I myself as well as others speak only of idle things, of which the most regrettable is that when we discuss among ourselves or explain to others the meaning of faith, some impute to the Master words that he did not utter, merely to silence their opponents and put an end to the discussion. This is most deplorable, and we should be careful to discriminate in this regard.
Reputation is of course important, but the whole upholding of precepts by Shin ministers that Cirlea is advocating is really quite unusual from a Shin perspective. While he speaks with great clarity and wisdom when it comes to matters of doctrine, these matters of discipline and morality are somewhat at odds with the tradition—the same is easily said of BCA diversions. We just need to restore a middle-way. I think it is easy to go too far and end up missing the mark and going overboard.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by KiwiNFLFan »

One thing I noticed is that Rev. Cirlea seems to quote from a number of different Buddhist sources. I remember in one of his books, he was talking about sexual misconduct, and he quoted Lama Je Tsongkhapa! Lama Tsongkhapa was born 94 years after Shinran Shonin passed away, and I wouldn't imagine there was a lot of contact between Japan and Tibet until recently.

My impression was that Shin Buddhism focused on the Three Pure Land Sutras and the writings of Shinran Shonin.
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Re: Amidaji and Rev. Cirlea going independent

Post by Zhen Li »

KiwiNFLFan wrote: Sun Oct 25, 2020 9:41 pm One thing I noticed is that Rev. Cirlea seems to quote from a number of different Buddhist sources. I remember in one of his books, he was talking about sexual misconduct, and he quoted Lama Je Tsongkhapa! Lama Tsongkhapa was born 94 years after Shinran Shonin passed away, and I wouldn't imagine there was a lot of contact between Japan and Tibet until recently.

My impression was that Shin Buddhism focused on the Three Pure Land Sutras and the writings of Shinran Shonin.
I'm currently going through his book on Buddha-nature. His reliance upon Tsongkhapa, Dolpopa, Taranatha, Asanga, and so forth appears to be done in relation to their writings on Buddha-nature. These writers have elaborated more thoroughly the nature of Buddha-nature as taught in the Tathāgatagarbha literature than has been done in East Asian sects. The main concern seems to be with the misuse of this doctrine. For instance, many Shin ministers, particularly in the west, have been claiming that since we have Buddha-nature, we can attain birth into the Pure Land in this life or other metaphorical interpretations—but our current saṃsāric existence is not the same as Buddhahood, despite having the seed for it.
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