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Japan: Pure Land and Jodo Buddhists

"Japan: Pure Land and Jodo Buddhists" Continued...

Issue: "Troops hunt for weapons," June 14, 2003

Shinran began calling himself Gutoku, which literally means "foolish, bald-headed old man." He recognized his total inability to free himself from bad behavior through his own power, and thought that many Buddhist practices-even recitation of the Nembutsu-could make people prideful, like Pharisees. Shinran took his emphasis on faith in Amida Buddha all the way: What's important, he said, is not meditation or particular actions, or recital of the Nembutsu even once, but faith alone. Moreover, Shinran went on to state that we do not even develop faith on our own power; Amida Buddha makes a free gift of faith to some, so that our salvation is the result of tariki (other-power) rather than jiriki (self-power).

Shinran summed up his view of our natures in a poem: "With mind of asps and scorpions vile / How can I hope to practice good? / Without His Grace, and gifts from Him, / Life will end but in repentless mood." He noted the difference between high-minded Buddhist theology and low practice, criticizing monks who "look for 'lucky days,' worship other gods on earth and in heaven, indulge in fortune-telling, and practice charms." He wrote that "two things are essential to faith. The first is to be convinced of our own sinfulness; from the bondage of evil deeds we possess no means of emancipating ourselves. The second is, therefore, to throw our helpless souls wholly upon the divine power of Amida."

Shinran's disciples became known as Jodo Shinshu ("True teaching about the Pure Land") believers. They upset the Buddhist establishment by not only minimizing the importance of meditation but opposing it, arguing that the practice gave the mind more opportunity for evil thoughts. A later Jodo Shinshu priest, Naito Kanji, argued that "when engaged in meditation, all kinds of bad thoughts arise and do not stop for a minute. Consequently our breasts are more disturbed than when we do our work in the world, and it is appropriate to compare it to tying a mountain monkey to a post."

The Pure Land faith's emphasis on Amida's virtues ignored the early Buddhist emphasis on personal karma, but all Mahayana groups, relying as they did on the work of a bodhisattva, were unorthodox in that way. Jodo Shinshu was unique in its dismissal of the kugyo-the ascetic hard practice-of other sects and its focus on the Pure Land more than on nirvana.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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