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A Vision of Shin Buddhism for Today

Changes are Already Taking Place

The revisioning of Shin Buddhist teachings as a “religion of Awakening and action” and not “of belief and inaction” has already begun.

Six Perfections

The first evidence has to do with the tradition of actively promoting the practice of Six Perfections (Paramitas) during the spring and fall equinox observances. Such a practice is nowhere to be found in Japan but has been valued in America.

One Shin priest who recognized its importance was Rev. Itsuzō Kyōgoku, who served as a minister (1919-1941) and made considerable contributions to religious education. He felt that we could better understand “Other Power” by undergoing practices found in Six Perfections, which provide the ideals to aspire as Buddhists and also serve as a mirror to awaken to the truth of our imperfect bombu nature. His books emphasized dāna, the acts of selfless giving.

‘Golden Chain’

The second example lies in the enduring popularity of the “Golden Chain,” which does not exist in Japan at all. This immensely popular expression of Shin Buddhist outlook was the creation of Rev. Dorothy Hunt in Hawaii sometime in the 1930s.

Not only does it offer a sense of interconnection and one’s place in it through an attractive imagery, but it further encourages us to take responsibility for our interactions with others, especially those who are weaker than ourselves. It also promotes wholesome actions and concludes with the wish for all beings to attain the ultimate Buddhist goal of “perfect peace.”

A Survey Result

The third evidence of the trend in the United States can be seen in a brief survey that I conducted in 2013 of Shin Buddhists, 47 lay and 17 priests.

They were asked to choose one or two of the four options to two questions. The first question was for the laypersons, who were asked, “What does Amida Buddha mean to you?”

The four options were: a) the Buddha who resides in the Western Pure Land; b) an ultimate being but differs from the Christian God; c) a symbol of wisdom and compassion; d) a personification of the working of “Life” in our everyday life.

The largest was for c) at 50 percent (39 responses); the second was for d) at 23 percent (18); the third was for b) at 18 percent (14); and the last was for a) at 9 percent (7).

Next, the ministers were asked, “How would you explain Amida to those who are new to Buddhism?” The largest was for c) at 64 percent (16 responses); the second was for d) at 36 percent (9); and the third was for a) and b) both at 0 percent. For both the lay and the ministers, c) and d) received much higher responses, which reflect an outlook that is this worldly, active, and experiential.

Social Engagement

The final example has to do with social engagement, which is also found among Shin Buddhists in Japan. However, it’s stronger in America, especially among the younger generation.

In the 1970s, the young third-generation Shin Buddhists created a BCA-wide program, the “Relevant American Buddhists” (RAB), to make Buddhism relevant to American society. Another example of an initiative that began in a Shin temple is the award-winning Project Dana, the caregiving voluntary program for the elderly in the state of Hawaii.

In 2020, the BCA Ministers Association joined in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. And this spirit has grown stronger among the younger groups, such as the Young Buddhist Editorial.

The above four examples point to a more active, this worldly, and experiential form of Shin Buddhism than in Japan.

Next: The Survival of Shin Buddhist Temples


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1 Comment

Aug 01, 2022

Solidarity with BLM after the African American attacs on Asian citizens in NY, LA, SF, and other big cities in our country... in addition the accusations of corruption in BLM leadership. I personally would not join this solidaridarity movement.

All Lives Matter !!!

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