A PATH FOR EVERYONE
Shin Buddhism is a non-monastic tradition. The founder, Shinran Shonin (1173-1263), was one of the first monks in the Japanese Buddhist tradition to marry and raise a family, and called himself "neither monk nor lay person." Shin Buddhism is a family-friendly path that all ages can participate in together. Shin is the largest tradition of Buddhism in Japan and has been in America for over 120 years.
A NON-MONASTIC, EVERYDAY LIFE
Shinran lived as a monk for twenty years until he left the monastic tradition to follow his teacher, Honen (1133-1212). Shinran married a woman named Eshinni, and together they raised six children. As Shin became popularized, all of Japanese Buddhism changed, and today many traditions of Buddhism have married clergy.
Shin Buddhism focuses on a lay-oriented, non-monastic approach to Buddhism. This is both easier and more difficult at the same time. Although there are no monastic precepts to follow, nor arduous meditational practices to do, our everyday life becomes our “practice center.” We must struggle with work, relationships, child-rearing, caring for elderly parents, and the myriad experiences and responsibilities of our lives.
Through listening to the Dharma, the Shin Buddhist finds meaning, fulfillment, and insight in the joys and sorrows of everyday life.
RECEIVE RATHER THAN ATTAIN
Shinran had a unique insight into Buddhism. For many years, he practiced monastic Buddhism in an attempt to lessen his ego self and attain enlightenment, but to no avail. Shinran’s religious and spiritual experience was to discover that enlightenment is not something to achieve or attain, especially when the ego self is involved. The ego self is relentless in that the more one achieves, the more highly one thinks of oneself.
Shinran gave up striving for enlightenment and instead opened his heart and mind to receive the truth, the light of the Dharma, into his heart and mind.
While Buddhism is fascinating, it isn’t the sutra chanting, glorious altar (onaijin), incense offerings (oshoko), or even the dharma talks that keep me going to the temple (and no, it’s not my parents, either). I stick with this teaching because I know that deep down, at the core of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, there is a truth. I feel it.
I feel like Buddhism is something always in the back of my mind, and only under the right circumstances does it come forward to guide me. To me, Buddhism is a fundamental truth that can influence one’s way of life. We aren’t mandated a way to live or ruleset to live by as Shin Buddhists. I believe Buddhism simply provides a solution – the path we take is up to us.
THE HEART OF SHIN BUDDHISM
Shin Buddhism is a path of deep self-reflection and introspection through listening. Seeing the teachings in our everyday life, we are led to a life of gratitude and appreciation for all that sustains our life, nurtures our life, and enhances our life.
Central to Shin Buddhism is the recitation of “Namuamidabutsu,” which literally means, “I bow my head to the truth of enlightenment, wisdom and compassion.” The Shin Buddhist path is a life of listening, reciting, and coming to see Namuamidabutsu as a deep and profound truth, and not just a word or recitation.
Listening is our main practice
HEARING THE DHARMA IN OUR LIFE
Listening can mean listening to Dharma talks at the temple, but it can also mean reading and discussing the teachings, and listening to others. By listening, we come to see the teachings in our everyday life, all around us. Anyone and anything can be a teacher to us, if we have the heart and mind to listen, to learn, and to receive.
In Shin Buddhism, rather than striving to attain enlightenment, we listen to find ourselves “within enlightenment, within the heart of the Buddha, which is wisdom and compassion.”
Enlightenment expressed in one word
Namu literally means to “bow one’s head," and comes from the Indian word Namas. What are we bowing to when we say “Namuamidabutsu?” We are bowing to Amida Buddha.
Amida Buddha is not a being, a deity, or a historical person. Amida Buddha is a symbol of the contents of enlightenment, great wisdom and great compassion. We bow our head to the truth of enlightenment, saying “Namuamidabutsu,” and we come to receive that truth of wisdom and compassion into our hearts and minds.
Shin Buddhist practice is not based on belief in an uncertain better future but instead places emphasis on the present moment—a moment made possible by the causes and conditions of the past. Many take for granted the efforts that generations of humans have made, along with the interdependence of all life forms, that contribute to our being here now.
Reciting Amida’s name is like an alarm clock that says “Wake up!” to the joy of being alive each and every day. Awakening to this rare gift of life, we can accept and endure the wide spectrum of human grief and bliss and become a source of happiness for others.
Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, from his article "Shin Buddhism: A Path of Gratitude"
“Although I too am within Amida's grasp, passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see the light; Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and illumines me always.”