Updated: Nov 20, 2020
By Taylor Kawate Oxnard Buddhist Temple
Twelve years. Even after 12 years of being a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist, I have so many questions.
While Buddhism is fascinating, it isn’t the sutra chanting, glorious onaijin, oshoko offerings, or even the Dharma talks that keep me going to the temple (and no, it’s not my parents either). I stick with this religion because I know that deep down, at the core of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, there is a truth. I feel it. This truth is what I not only want to study, but learn about and ultimately understand — shinjin.
To be brutally honest, I feel like shinjin is a forbidden topic in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. It is almost never mentioned or explained, only hinted at or indirectly alluded to.
In the summer of 2018, I had the pleasure of attending the Buddhist Youth Retreat (BYR) pilot program. The weeklong retreat was an unforgettable experience as I made a lot of new friends and learned a lot about Buddhism. But an interesting moment during the retreat was when one of my fellow attendees mentioned the word “shinjin” in a Dharma talk. It almost came out of nowhere, even surprising the ministers. However, what could have been an interesting conversation about this mysterious “shinjin” was cut short with a blunt, “we don’t really talk about that (shinjin)”. And just like that, the word was never mentioned again.
When I go to the Oxnard Buddhist Temple every Sunday, or even when I attend Jr. YBA events or Buddhist seminars, I typically hear the same concepts being repeated. Concepts like gratitude. Mindfulness. Living in the moment. But never shinjin. However, a few years ago, our temple received a new minister — Rev. Masanori Watanabe —from Japan.
One interesting practice he introduced to our regular services was the recitation of “Gobunsho,” a letter by Rennyo Shonin. Despite being in Japanese, the English translation was always read after the original Japanese text was recited.
Among the numerous lines, one stood out. This line simply stated, “the essence of Jodo Shinshu is shinjin.” The essence. If shinjin is the essence of Jodo Shinshu, why is it not talked about more? Rather, why is it avoided?
Take karate for example. Despite all of the branching aspects of the martial art such as kata (forms), kumite (sparring), and kobudo (weapons), the essence of karate is self-defense. This essence is always explained when karate is being taught, because without the understanding of why something is being done, the meaning behind it is lost.
Without explaining that karate is for self-defense, students may be led wayward and begin thinking of karate as a sport, or viewing karate class as an exercise class. Teaching and explaining the essence, the purpose, of something, is vital because it answers the “why.” It keeps core values alive. So why should Jodo Shinshu Buddhism be any different?
As mentioned earlier, shinjin almost seems like a taboo word in Jodo Shinshu. Whenever ministers ask if anyone has questions, shinjin is almost never mentioned, and a sense of guilt befalls upon me whenever I begin thinking of asking about it. This should not be the case — shinjin needs to be explained. Or if it should not be explained for some reason, then the reason for withholding the information should be explained. Ignorance is not bliss.
I am not asking for ministers to teach the Sangha some secret recipe to attain shinjin — I don’t think that is possible. I simply want more light to be shed on shinjin; after all, it is the essence of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.
I believe that if I, along with the entire Sangha, learned about and began to understand shinjin, it would be a major step forward in the current Jodo Shinshu scene, where it seems the essence, the core, the truth, of the religion has all but faded.