Temples to honor Shin founder

By Alfred Bloom, Honolulu Star Bulletin, Oct 18, 2008

Honolulu, Hawaii (USA) -- Starting this year, the Honpa Hongwanji Mission and Shin Buddhist temples everywhere will mark the 750th anniversary of the founder Shinran's death in Japan in 1262 at the age of 90 years. Culminating in 2011, various programs and projects highlighting the anniversary will be held within the Shin community.

Despite being in Hawaii for more than a century, the Pure Land teachings of Shinran are unfamiliar to most people. As a popular religion, Pure Land teaching is frequently viewed as a religion offering otherworldly salvation through birth into the Pure Land of Amida Buddha. It expresses a natural concern for afterlife common to all religions of "salvation."

There is a deeper view derived from Shinran's teachings and reflection on life itself, focusing religious concern on this life. To encounter the truth of life through trust or faith in Amida Buddha's Vows determines our final fulfillment from that moment. According to Shinran, we are embraced by the Buddha, here and now, never to be abandoned. There is no concern for the last moment before death, which is important in general Buddhist tradition.

Consequently, Shinran's teaching has been called a religion of perfect freedom beyond the dualistic, moralistic thought of good and evil of traditional religion. Shinran's spiritual liberation begins now with our reception of trust in Amida Buddha's Vow of universal salvation.

Several implications follow from trusting faith.

1. Shinran's understanding of himself and human life enables us to be released from our ego-bondage through realistic self-insight. We are not saints, but by recognizing the depth of our passions and ignorance, how defiled we are in the light of Buddhist ideals, our self-righteous delusions and egocentric preoccupations are exposed. There opens the way of interdependent, mutual and positive human and spiritual relations.

2. Freed from ego-bondage through the embrace of Amida Buddha, we are released from religious fears. The fear of retribution dissipates in this life. Trust in the all-compassionate Amida Buddha transcends the angry spirits ("bachi-atari") who afflict people in this life. There is no fear for the afterlife of rebirth in the six paths of transmigration taught in the traditional Buddhist teaching.

3. We are also freed from social fears by Shinran's teaching. The new community he created is based on the principle of equality before Amida Buddha. Each person is an equal companion in true entrusting. Shinran gave human dignity and respect to the exploited and oppressed peasants who rallied to the cause of Shin Buddhism.

4. Finally, there is intellectual liberation because Shinran's teaching frees the mind for inquiry and search. While he was clear on where he stood, he never coerced his followers spiritually. Rather his perspective was, "It is up to you to decide what you will believe." He was not the owner or possessor of another's faith, in contrast to spiritual leaders or systems that demand submission from their disciples.

Shinran's message is like the refreshing rain in the desert of spiritual aridity. It is the soothing, lyrical song amid the babel of competing and harsh static of contemporary religious claims to truth.

Alfred Bloom is an emeritus professor of religion with the University of Hawaii.

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