Shin "modernism"

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KiwiNFLFan
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Shin "modernism"

Post by KiwiNFLFan »

Having never been to a Jodo Shinshu temple (since there are none in my country), the majority of my engagement with Jodo Shinshu has been on the internet or e-books. There are no Jodo Shinshu forums (I created one but it never got off the ground), but I did participate in the True Shin Buddhism Yahoo group, which seemed to have a fundamentalist flavour to it.

So what is this Jodo Shinshu modernism that is discussed on the abovementioned forum, Rev. Cirlea's site, etc? The impression I seem to get is that some Jodo Shinshu Buddhists do not believe that Amida and the Pure Land are real. Is this accurate?

I know that "secular Buddhism" is a thing, and it seems to be it's basically Buddhist practice (mostly meditation) to improve one's current life, with either an outright rejection of rebirth or an agnostic attitude towards it (which to me doesn't make sense). Meditation can definitely help people.

But it seems that this approach doesn't really work with Shin Buddhism. The primary aim of Shin Buddhism is to attain rebirth in Amida Buddha's Pure Land (which I understand Shinran Shonin believed to be a description/metaphor for enlightenment), and the main activity is reciting nembutsu to achieve that goal. I don't really see how this works outside of a literal Pure Land.

I'd much appreciate it if someone could fill me in on what this "Shin Buddhist modernism" that is mentioned on these sites is.
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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With a heart wandering in ignorance down this path and that, to guide me I simply say Namu-Amida-Butsu. -- Ippen

Reciting the Nembutsu and believing in birth in the Pure Land naturally give rise to the Three Minds and the Four Modes of Practice. -- Master Hōnen
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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KiwiNFLFan wrote: Mon Sep 07, 2020 11:22 pm Having never been to a Jodo Shinshu temple (since there are none in my country), the majority of my engagement with Jodo Shinshu has been on the internet or e-books. There are no Jodo Shinshu forums (I created one but it never got off the ground), but I did participate in the True Shin Buddhism Yahoo group, which seemed to have a fundamentalist flavour to it.

So what is this Jodo Shinshu modernism that is discussed on the abovementioned forum, Rev. Cirlea's site, etc? The impression I seem to get is that some Jodo Shinshu Buddhists do not believe that Amida and the Pure Land are real. Is this accurate?

I know that "secular Buddhism" is a thing, and it seems to be it's basically Buddhist practice (mostly meditation) to improve one's current life, with either an outright rejection of rebirth or an agnostic attitude towards it (which to me doesn't make sense). Meditation can definitely help people.

But it seems that this approach doesn't really work with Shin Buddhism. The primary aim of Shin Buddhism is to attain rebirth in Amida Buddha's Pure Land (which I understand Shinran Shonin believed to be a description/metaphor for enlightenment), and the main activity is reciting nembutsu to achieve that goal. I don't really see how this works outside of a literal Pure Land.

I'd much appreciate it if someone could fill me in on what this "Shin Buddhist modernism" that is mentioned on these sites is.

I'm no scholar, but I do read a bit in Shin and comparative religion. "Modernism" seems to be a mind-set that sorely afflicts (my value judgment here) contemporary religion. A product of the French Enlightenment, modernism seeks to remove all supernatural and transcendental factors from religion. An example would be Deist/rationalist President Thomas Jefferson whose "Jefferson Bible" was simply a Jefferson-mutilated "book" stripped of all references to a Sacred Transcendent. Of course (another value judgment), the spirit of the text dies along with the mutilation, through anemia, brought on by exsanguination. Leaving just a mere dry husk, suitable only for modernist minds, is left intact.

The same applies to Buddhism, which, if its original transcendental aspects are removed, becomes a mere sop, soothing to the materialist intellect (because it's been stripped of any subject that would give offense to the "hard-headed skeptic"), but essentially empty of Dharma. After diagnosing the samsaric realm as unbreakable chains of cause and effect that bind us, Shakyamuni Buddha then announced the opposite - another state, another realm, which is Unconditioned and Unborn - that is, which is samsara's opposite. This is the core Transcendental in Buddhism.

For Shin, the sacred Transcendent is known as the real Buddha, Amida/Amitabha/Amitayus Buddha. He, as a Buddha, is not a creator-god, but he functions for us in this life as savior, redeemer, and pioneer of our faith ("Shinjin"). If Amida Buddha succumbs in adherents' minds to a mere indifferent, cold, non-personal symbol, Shin will have gone down the Jeffersonian/modernist road of destruction - destruction of its dearest components.
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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Pardon me guys, I am not a pureland or Jodo Shinshu person, but some of this second hand argument seems a little specious from a general Buddhist perspective. Don't you need to distinguish between "modernism" in Pureland, and simply an understanding of doctrine that goes beyond the relative? Sure Amida is a "real Buddha", but there is more to it than that, and you can read (off the top of my head) Ippen Shonin to see that there are some traditional Pureland thinkers and sages who clearly didn't think that Amida was just a Buddha rupa hanging out in a pureland somewhere. Obviously a Buddha is not just a supra-human in a mystical realm.

So the soteriology might rely on seeing Amida as real relatively speaking, believing whole heartedly in his vows, but this does not negate Amida as Dharmakaya, for instance. That is not modernism, that is just Buddhism, of any variety. Those two things are not contradictions.

So what is the issue with this "modernism" - some out and out denial of the reality of a Buddha, something like secular Buddhism, or something else? A Buddha being more than an anthropomorphic figure is not modernism or symbolism, it's simply doctrinal based on the Three Bodies concept, that is not the same as something being a "symbol".

So what exactly does this modernism look like?
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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Johnny Dangerous wrote: Tue Sep 08, 2020 10:25 pm Pardon me guys, I am not a pureland or Jodo Shinshu person, but some of this second hand argument seems a little specious from a general Buddhist perspective. Don't you need to distinguish between "modernism" in Pureland, and simply an understanding of doctrine that goes beyond the relative? Sure Amida is a "real Buddha", but there is more to it than that, and you can read (off the top of my head) Ippen Shonin to see that there are some traditional Pureland thinkers and sages who clearly didn't think that Amida was just a Buddha rupa hanging out in a pureland somewhere. Obviously a Buddha is not just a supra-human in a mystical realm.

So the soteriology might rely on seeing Amida as real relatively speaking, believing whole heartedly in his vows, but this does not negate Amida as Dharmakaya, for instance. That is not modernism, that is just Buddhism, of any variety. Those two things are not contradictions.

So what is the issue with this "modernism" - some out and out denial of the reality of a Buddha, something like secular Buddhism, or something else? A Buddha being more than an anthropomorphic figure is not modernism or symbolism, it's simply doctrinal based on the Three Bodies concept, that is not the same as something being a "symbol".

So what exactly does this modernism look like?
Currently, my only point of reference to the Buddhalogical question is the Christological question, i.e., in mainstream Christianity, Jesus is said to represent the perfect Imago Dei, so that in a sense, to see Christ is to see a real iteration of the Godhead. At a stretch, perhaps, in Buddhalogy, Amida manifests as a "body" which is humanly perceivable and to some extent understandable - in doing this, Amida operates through "skillful means".

By extension, to see Amida is to witness a real iteration of the Dharmakaya. The Dharmakaya in its native state is unknowable, but sentient beings can experience It via Amida Buddha, who - from our point of view - emerges from the formless background of the Dharmakaya in perhaps, Christianity's Christ-Logos emerges from the unknowable Godhead. Amida Buddha is "relative" to the Dharmakaya in a similar manner as Jesus is "relative" to the Godhead. These are my best guesses, framed in my layman's language.

Regarding modernism's flaws, here are a couple essays on the topic:

https://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Ph ... encies.pdf

https://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha106.htm

https://www.arrowriver.ca/dhamma/woBeliefs.html

In my own experience, "Shin" writers who are modernists frequently identify Shin with anything and everything besides Shin - expressing vulgar New Age sentiments, "we are one with the flowers", the universe is an "energy phenomenon", and some senseis preach sermons solely about morality and virtually never about what Shinjin means as a gift from the Buddha, who is relegated to being some mere, obscure, impersonal "Power". When I watch You Tube videos from "traditional" Shin sanghas, I am usually bitterly disappointed to find very little said about Amida, Shinjin, non-retrogression, the Nembutsu and other Shin essentials. Instead, I will typically hear an "edifying" sermon about emotional survival of the pandemic or charity to others, or appreciating natural beauty - but nothing about Amida, not even how pandemic survival and charity and beauty might relate to the Amida-Dharma. Massive distraction and almost no interest in the basics.
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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In other traditions, Amida is a Samboghakaya manifestation, as far as I understand, as in any Buddha appearing in a form, since the Dharmakaya is beyond forms, etc.
steveb1 wrote: Wed Sep 09, 2020 1:02 am

In my own experience, "Shin" writers who are modernists frequently identify Shin with anything and everything besides Shin - expressing vulgar New Age sentiments, "we are one with the flowers", the universe is an "energy phenomenon", and some senseis preach sermons solely about morality and virtually never about what Shinjin means as a gift from the Buddha, who is relegated to being some mere, obscure, impersonal "Power". When I watch You Tube videos from "traditional" Shin sanghas, I am usually bitterly disappointed to find very little said about Amida, Shinjin, non-retrogression, the Nembutsu and other Shin essentials. Instead, I will typically hear an "edifying" sermon about emotional survival of the pandemic or charity to others, or appreciating natural beauty - but nothing about Amida, not even how pandemic survival and charity and beauty might relate to the Amida-Dharma. Massive distraction and almost no interest in the basics.

Ah ok, thanks for explaining. That is about the same as what you see in nonsensical strayings in other schools as well, with of course more emphasis on Other Power.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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Johnny Dangerous wrote: Wed Sep 09, 2020 1:31 am In other traditions, Amida is a Samboghakaya manifestation, as far as I understand, as in any Buddha appearing in a form, since the Dharmakaya is beyond forms, etc.
steveb1 wrote: Wed Sep 09, 2020 1:02 am

In my own experience, "Shin" writers who are modernists frequently identify Shin with anything and everything besides Shin - expressing vulgar New Age sentiments, "we are one with the flowers", the universe is an "energy phenomenon", and some senseis preach sermons solely about morality and virtually never about what Shinjin means as a gift from the Buddha, who is relegated to being some mere, obscure, impersonal "Power". When I watch You Tube videos from "traditional" Shin sanghas, I am usually bitterly disappointed to find very little said about Amida, Shinjin, non-retrogression, the Nembutsu and other Shin essentials. Instead, I will typically hear an "edifying" sermon about emotional survival of the pandemic or charity to others, or appreciating natural beauty - but nothing about Amida, not even how pandemic survival and charity and beauty might relate to the Amida-Dharma. Massive distraction and almost no interest in the basics.

Ah ok, thanks for explaining. That is about the same as what you see in nonsensical strayings in other schools as well, with of course more emphasis on Other Power.
You're very welcome!
:)
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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Johnny Dangerous wrote: Wed Sep 09, 2020 1:31 am In other traditions, Amida is a Samboghakaya manifestation, as far as I understand, as in any Buddha appearing in a form, since the Dharmakaya is beyond forms, etc.
This is true, and yet only true for one aspect of the dharmakāya. As Tanluan writes,
Tanluan wrote:All Buddhas and bodhisattvas have dharma-bodies of two dimensions; dharma-body as suchness and dharma-body as compassionate means. Dharma-body as compassionate means arises from the dharma-body as suchness, and dharma-body as suchness emerges out of dharma-body as compassionate means. These two dimensions of dharma-body differ but are not separable; they are one but cannot be regarded as identical.
The sambhoghakāya and nirmāṇakāya forms of the Buddha cannot, essentially be separate from the dharmakāya, and yet they are not identical with it, since, as you say, one has form and the other does not. In this way, we can say that Amida Buddha is the dharmakāya, and at the same time say that he has the golden form like Sumeru, the eyes like the blue lotus, the voice like the kokila, and so forth. Compassionate means cannot be wholly divorced from knowledge of suchness.
steveb1 wrote: Wed Sep 09, 2020 1:02 am In my own experience, "Shin" writers who are modernists frequently identify Shin with anything and everything besides Shin - expressing vulgar New Age sentiments, "we are one with the flowers", the universe is an "energy phenomenon", and some senseis preach sermons solely about morality and virtually never about what Shinjin means as a gift from the Buddha, who is relegated to being some mere, obscure, impersonal "Power". When I watch You Tube videos from "traditional" Shin sanghas, I am usually bitterly disappointed to find very little said about Amida, Shinjin, non-retrogression, the Nembutsu and other Shin essentials. Instead, I will typically hear an "edifying" sermon about emotional survival of the pandemic or charity to others, or appreciating natural beauty - but nothing about Amida, not even how pandemic survival and charity and beauty might relate to the Amida-Dharma. Massive distraction and almost no interest in the basics.
A large number of North American Shin "Buddhist church" sermons are essentially political commentaries with an obligatory reference to something Shin thrown in. While you don't get any of the political stuff here in Japan, you rarely (but sometimes do) hear about what matters as well—i.e. shinjin. This reminds me of what Rennyō wrote in his letter about Choshoji:
Gobunsho, 1.12 wrote:For years, the followers at the Choshoji have been seriously at variance with the Buddha-Dharma. My reason for saying this, first of all, has to do with the leader of the assembly. He thinks that to occupy the place of honor and drink before everyone else and to court the admiration of those seated around him, as well as that of others, is really the most important aspect of the Buddha-Dharma. This is certainly of no use for birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss; it appears to be just for worldly reputation.

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.
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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My teacher says that Amida is an aspect of Mind and that the Pure Land can be accessed in this very second and is not a post-mortem “place”.
This is I guess what is described as “modern” Shin teaching.
It does not dismiss the supernatural. It says that dividing phenomena into natural and supernatural is creating a false dualism.
Certainly it is the only view of Pure Land Buddhism that is useful to me.
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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Jingtoo2 wrote: Mon Oct 19, 2020 4:09 pm My teacher says that Amida is an aspect of Mind and that the Pure Land can be accessed in this very second and is not a post-mortem “place”.
This is I guess what is described as “modern” Shin teaching.
It does not dismiss the supernatural. It says that dividing phenomena into natural and supernatural is creating a false dualism.
Certainly it is the only view of Pure Land Buddhism that is useful to me.
I think if something helps someone in their daily life, without regard for the future, then it is better than nothing. The problem is when people pass this off as somehow the teaching of the Sutra, Shinran, or the other masters. We have to be honest with ourselves that it is a modern interpretation. It's kind of like humanism with Buddhist characteristics.
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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I don’t think that anyone is claiming that this is the traditional teaching. However it’s not humanism either. Humanism is based on a completely secular and materialistic view.
What modern schools of Shin are saying is that where.there is a way of going beyond birth and death which is accessible and not philosophical and need not be postponed until after the death of this present body.
I no longer accept that Amida is an actual entity out there somewhere in time and space. I realise that some other people do accept that literal interpretation and I wish them well.
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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Soga Ryojin said “ Tathagata becomes me”.
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Re: Shin "modernism"

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Jingtoo2 wrote: Wed Oct 21, 2020 3:36 am I no longer accept that Amida is an actual entity out there somewhere in time and space. I realise that some other people do accept that literal interpretation and I wish them well.
The problem is that while there is an aspect of Amitābha which is the formless Dharmakāya, there is also the form which saves beings, i.e. the Sambhogakāya. This is manifest in the Name and Form, which is in time and space—thus, without the Dharmakāya as compassionate means, you don't have the nembutsu. If we were full Buddhas we could see the Dharmakāya, but we are limited beings and so we have to rely upon a form. Your idea of Amida is just that, an idea—you understand intellectually the nature of Amida as Dharmakāya, but that will do nothing for you because that idea does not correspond to his actual essence of suchness. This is why Tanluan writes,
Tanluan wrote:What is the cause of not practicing in accord with the Dharma, or in agreement with the significance of the Name? It is due to failure to understand that the Tathagata [Amida] is a Body of Reality [Dharmakāya as Suchness] and also a Body for the Sake of Living Beings [Dharmakāya as Compassionate means, i.e. form and the Nembutsu].
Negating the manifestation of the Dharmakāya is denying the existence of the Buddha.
Shinran wrote:If one says ‚ ‘there is no Buddha’, ‘there is no Buddha Dharma’, ‘there is no Bodhisattva’ and ‘there is no Dharma for Bodhisattvas’, such views held firmly in the mind by one’s own reasoning or by listening to other’s teaching, are called, 'abusing the right Dharma.’
Tanluan quoting the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra wrote:Those who have abused the right Dharma will also fall into the Great Avici hell. When the period of one kalpa comes to an end, they will be sent to the Great Avici hell of another world. In this way, such evildoers will consecutively pass through a hundred thousand Great Avici hells.

The Buddha thus did not mention the time of their release [from the Avici hells]. This is because the transgression of abusing the right Dharma is extremely grave. Further, the right Dharma refers to the Buddha Dharma. Such ignorant persons have abused it; therefore, does it stand to reason that they should seek birth in a Buddha-land? ... Is it not contrary to reason that they would be able to attain birth?
Soga Ryōjin wrote:Those who believe in 'self-power' proudly boast, 'I am Tathagata!' Those of other Pure Land sects vainly lament this life, saying, 'The Tathagata is the Tathagata.' We [Jodo Shinshu followers] are surprised by the wonderous meaning of 'the Tathagata is me.' At the same time, we are aware that ultimately, 'I am me and not Tathagata.'
This last bolded part indicates the prior claim I made. That "Tathāgata is me" indicates Dharmakāya as suchness. That "I am me and not Tathāgata" indicates that we need to rely on the Dharmakāya as compassionate means—this means we need to rely on the Nembutsu and the form of Amida as described in the Pure Land sūtras as an upāya. If we don't believe he really exists, we have nothing to rely on and thus we are not open to the Other-Power of Amida. If you realise that this world is all illusion created by our mind due to our past karma, you should have no reason to be attached to your conception that there cannot be an actual Pure Land and actual Buddha out there as well. As they say, you cannot lift yourself up by your own bootstraps, you cannot kiss your own lips, and someone stuck in a well cannot pull himself up out of the same well.
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Re: Shin "modernism"

Post by Jingtoo2 »

It’s nice that you are concerned for me...but I will continue to practice as I can and not as I cannot.
:namaste:
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Re: Shin "modernism"

Post by KiwiNFLFan »

Jingtoo2 wrote: Mon Oct 19, 2020 4:09 pm My teacher says that Amida is an aspect of Mind and that the Pure Land can be accessed in this very second and is not a post-mortem “place”.
This is I guess what is described as “modern” Shin teaching.
It does not dismiss the supernatural. It says that dividing phenomena into natural and supernatural is creating a false dualism.
Certainly it is the only view of Pure Land Buddhism that is useful to me.
This is a typical Zen interpretation of the Pure Land - the Pure Land can be accessed here and now.
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Re: Shin "modernism"

Post by Jingtoo2 »

It may well be.But it is also the view of some Pure Land teachers 😊Not all of them western and not all of them “modernisers”.
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