A Standard of Shinshu Faith
Ryosetsu Fujiwara

Preparatory Knowledge of Shinshu

1. What is 'Jodo Shinshu'?

'Jodo Shinshu' is the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha as it was handed down through the religious understanding of Shinran. Shinran lived in Japan from 1173 to 1262.

2. Are there other names for 'Jodo Shinshu'?

'Jodo Shinshu' is abbreviated to 'Shinshu' in Japanese. In English it is often referred to as 'Shin Buddhism' or 'Shin' for short.

3. For what sort of people was Shinshu taught?

Shinshu is a universal teaching for all mankind. However, the chief concern of this teaching is with the spiritually ignorant and with the wrong-minded. It is not primarily concerned with gifted and holy sages.

4. Is Shinshu a separate religion or is it a form of Buddhism?

The teachings of Shakyamuni are divided into Mahayana (the Great Vehicle) and Hinayana (the Small Vehicle). Shinshu is a Mahayana teaching, and is certainly included within Buddhism.

5. Why do you include Shinshu within Mahayana?

'Mahayana' means Great Teaching or Vehicle which carries countless multitudes from Samsara to Enlightenment. Shinshu enables all sentient beings to attain Nirvana and work for the benefit of others; thus, it is a teaching identical with the principles of Mahayana.

6. Are there other systematisations which indicate the relation of Shinshu to Shakyamuni's teachings?

Tao-cho, the fourth of the Seven Dharma Masters of Shinshu, classified Buddhism into the 'Sacred Path School' (Shodo-mon) and the 'Pure Land School (Jodo-mon). Shinshu is included in the latter school. This is because Shinshu claims that perfect Enlightenment for its adherents can only be expected in the Pure Land, and that Birth into the Pure Land is attained through the Awakening of Faith by the Other Power (Tariki). The sacred Path School teaches one how to attain Enlightenment in this life by one's own power. Thus the Sacred Path School corresponds to the 'Self Power School.'

7. Is Shinshu an 'Other Power' school, then?

Yes, Shinshu can be called an 'Other Power' school because it teaches that only through the 'Other power' can we ordinary people attain Nirvana. This was emphasised first by T'an-luan, the third Dharma Master of Shinshu.

8. What is meant by 'Other Power'?

Shinran defined 'Other Power' as the 'Power of the Tathagata's Vow.' Only Amida's compassionate Vow can lead us to the Awakening of Faith and then to Enlightenment. If we think we did something virtuous by our own power, we are attached to our ego. This is clearly contrary to the Buddhist teaching of 'Non-attachment,' 'Egolessness,' or 'Naturalness.'

9. Is Shinshu meaningful today?

As long as we ordinary people exist, Shinshu is meaningful. Shinshu was taught not for monks and nuns, but rather for the layman. Amida is not concerned with the sages who can transcend the secular life and attain Nirvana by their own power; these teachings are concerned with those who are bound by burning human passions and burdened with numerous worldly sufferings. The whole world around us is suffering from the crisis caused by this bottomless ego. In the unrest and turmoil of the present world, we feel all the more that Shinshu is, because of the simplicity of practice as well as the excellence of the doctrine, the most immediate way to find the eternal, unhindered peace of mind.

10. Who is the first master who called this teaching 'Shinshu' or 'Jodo Shinshu'?

Shan-tao, the fifth Dharma Master, used the term 'Shinshu' in his writing; and Honen, the seventh Dharma Master, who exclusively succeeded Shan-tao, organised his followers under the name of 'Jodoshu.' But it is Shinran himself who called this stream of Nembutsu 'Jodo Shinshu.'

11. What did Shinran mean by 'Jodo Shinshu'?

Literally 'Jodo' means 'Pure Land'; 'Shin' means 'true' and 'shu' means 'essence,' 'teaching,' or 'sect.' He meant 'True Teaching of the Pure Land School' or 'True Teaching of the Pure Land School.'

12. Then is it not the name of the sect founded by Shinran?

Not originally. Shinran himself only used this name for the 'True Teaching' transmitted to him from Honen Shonin. His intention in writing the Kyogyoshinsho was solely to clarify the essence of this teaching. Therefore, he had no idea of founding a new sect. He whole-heartedly respected Honen Shonin as the teacher and founder of 'Jodo-Shinshu,' However, this self-effacing attitude of Shinran brought about more respect among his followers, and spontaneously a new order came into existence. Thus those followers began to regard him as their founder and call the new order 'Jodo Shinshu.'

13. Since Shinran did not think of himself as a founder, how did his later followers set the year of the founding of 'Jodo Shinshu' as new denomination?

They gradually came to claim 1224 (The 1st Year of Gennin in the reign of Emperor Gohorikawa) as the year of the start of 'Jodo Shinshu.' In this year Shinran is assumed to have completed his main work, Kyogyoshinsho, in which he used the term, 'Jodo Shinshu' and revealed the Truth of this teaching.

14. In the process of the transmission of Shinshu, what is the standard to judge whether a certain view is orthodox or not?

Broadly speaking, the standard should be the Shinshu Scriptures such as the Three Basic Sutras, Commentaries of Seven Dharma Masters, the Founder's writings and statements of the succeeding Dharma Masters of the Hongwanji. But the fundamental canon is the Larger Sutra and Shinran's own writings.

15. Are there some special points which we should notice in spreading Shinshu teachings?

Yes, for the better understanding of Shinshu and for the prevention of unorthodox faith, the Nishi Hongwanji selected a certain number of special topics for discussion of Doctrine and of Faith. The latter, including 30 topics, is called 'Anjin Rondai' or 'Topics for Discussion on Faith.' The original is not so easy to understand because of its classical terminology and expressions. So the writer has tried to sum up the main points of these topics and rearranged them with the hope that it would become a helpful guide for those voluntarily working for the spreading of Shinshu in the West.

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