Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Wasui Tatsuguchi

A Study of Shin Buddhism


Amida's in the Pure Land,
Pained with the deeds of men.
They sow and reap again and again,
Being slaves to transmigration.
Amida's in the Pure Land,
Pained with the betrayal of men.
Men who thirst are His concern,
For craving, like burning, is pain.
Amida's in the Pure Land,
Pained with the evil in men.
'Tis a bondage being perpetual,
As found in minds quite sinful.
Amida's in the Pure Land,
Waiting for men to take refuge.
Giving Buddhahood with assurance,
He waits and waits with patience.


This work is written primarily for the Shin layman. It is a reappraisal of the writer's graduation thesis for the Master of Arts in Shin Buddhism presented to the Faculty of Shin Buddhism at Ryukoku University. The writer is especially grateful to Kenju Masuyama whose patience and understanding helped him believe in Wisdom and Compassion when doubting could have been the easier way of life. He is also thankful to the members and friends of Shinshu Kyokai Mission who have been most patient and understanding in allowing him to obtain knowledge over the past twelve years. If this short presentation contributes a little to their under¬standing of Shin faith, the writer will consider the venture to have been successful.

-Wasui Tatsuguchi, Jorakudai Temple Kyoto, Japan


The purpose of this paper is to state simply the message of the All-compassionate One, the Buddha Amida, the object of faith and worship in Shin Buddhism. It is not a specialized or doctrinal presentation. Rather, it is an inquiry into the problem concerning life's meaning. It is an attempt to discover the nature of Truth, for Shin Buddhism is a quest to find meaning in a world which is basically suffering in abject wastefulness. It is a quest which stimulates initiative and spontaneity in the individual. According to Buddhism, the basic law of life is suffering. Wisdom and Compassion are the foundations of faith which are necessary elements in the lives of those seeking to order and integrate their personalities. Despite the overwhelming odds of lust, greed, anger and violence, a life of faith is possible because of the All-compassionate One.

This is the basic teaching of Shin Buddhism. To explain this in Buddhistic jargon is to confuse the facts of this spiritual Truth from the layman. Making a rational display of this spiritual and moral Truth is a temptation for the reasoning ego. This is to be avoided in this study.

Today, many do not concern themselves seriously with spiritual needs. A materialistic way of living has conditioned in many the need to be mercenary and hedonistic in socially approved methods. This is a necessary attitude ingrained in individuals by a society recruiting and training its members in terms of conspicuous wealth and consumption. However, this is not to be denied for no generation is exempt from making health and happiness its two main goals. Security, companionship, affirmation and recognition are individual goals to be achieved socially. Sex, food, sleep, shelter and adventure are not to be denied the physical organism that is our body. However, that deep inner yearning, that quest for inner serenity, that call to transcend the materiality and sensuality of mortal existence, are feelings suggesting that there is something more to the business of living. They are feelings which eventually lead the individual to make noble and dignified the animal in him.

Shin Buddhism is an attempt to answer this need. It is an attempt to fulfill man's spiritual heritage. In attempting this, Shin Buddhism realizes its sectarian position to be relative and limited. Being audacious and assertive are considered to be pitfalls which lead one to dogmatism and fanaticism. Dogmatism leads to bigotry and hypocrisy. Fanaticism leads to obsessive convictions which are disintegrating. For this reason, Shin Buddhism makes the humble reservation that its doctrines are mere theological descriptions of a dynamic Truth that is ultimately beyond words. With this recognition, it evaluates the content of religious experience; it teaches that it is another matter to experience it.

As a theological system, Shin Buddhism is an abstraction of the dynamics of faith. As a life of religious initiative, it is the awakening of faith which is basically the activity of Amida Buddha. This faith is described as a 'calling' which is the 'voice' of the All-compassionate One in the individual's heart. It is considered to be the foundations of a moving reality that gives impetus to initiative and spontaneity. In this sense, Amida, the All-compassionate One, is thought to be the ultimate state of Truth which undergirds the universe, thereby governing its eternal process of change with reason, intelligence and understanding.

They are the spiritually blind who transgress this profound coherent simple Truth, a reality being so natural it is ineffable. Those not endowed with the religious 'eye' are blind to the tireless efforts of this Truth to demonstrate and make manifest its reality. According to Shin thinking, Amida Buddha is the personification of Wisdom and Compassion and the demonstration that ultimate Truth is a merciful timeless activity that constantly strives to integrate and make coherent each sentient being's life. It remains for us who wander from and who transgress this basic Truth to learn of it and express gratitude for it by conforming to it in integrating our personalities with it, whereby, initiative and spontaneity will be ours. The experiencing of faith in Amida Buddha is consummation in terms of a well-integrated personality fully aware of the mortal and spiritual in him.

Man is a creature of reason. He is also a beast. Awareness gives man the knowledge that he will die, a characteristic which sets him distinctly apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Life, in its rudimentary forms, is based on pleasure and power. Shin Buddhism asserts that the nature of man's passions are lust and rapacity, attributes which lead to the making of sex and material things primary ends in life. As such, Shin Buddhism finds life to be a comedy, a meaningless cycle of greed, brutality, hatred and self-degradation. It is with this premise that Shin Buddhism begins its search for the best possible explanation of all experience.

Since the world knows nothing, but only assumes and takes for granted, Shin Buddhism is wary of fixed standards that uphold the 'righteous' and punishes the 'wrong'. With the realization that all judgements are the end result of conventions, the Shin Buddhist hesitates to pass final judgement, for everything is change and temporary, the basis of hypothesis and notion. It is he who fails to grasp this basic nature of experience who becomes self-complacent and manages to sound reasonable, believing himself to be free from impermanence and suffering though he is actually a part of this process.

As a preliminary definition, the writer ventures the following: 'Shin Buddhism is a way of life that seeks to reintegrate the individual into a coherent rational being by making him aware of evil as an inseparable part of his being, which in turn leads him to cooperate with and approach the ultimate nature of existence'. This means that the tragedy of life can only be understood through the realization that human nature is irrational and immoral. Being ignorant, the human being commits acts which are contradictory to the state of things as they really are. As long as he is engulfed with greed and hatred, he cannot be aware of the ultimate state of things as exemplified in the All-compassionate One. If we examine life, we cannot but help to notice that it is infested with violence and evil. However, man is a reasoning animal. Intelligence and morality are functions of the mind. The evil inherent in him must be faced unabashedly as realities of human nature. One must certainly never demean nor pervert this state of being human. Human nature must be mingled with the Compassion of Amida Buddha, which is essentially a blending of the carnal with the spiritual and the profane with the noble. This is the plain and simple message of Shin Buddhism. It is a religion leading those who follow it in becoming integrated and rational beings in this life and into Buddhas in the next. This, then, is the context in which we will study the tenets of Shin Buddhism.


The Bussetsu Daimuryojukyo, or the Larger Sutra on Infinite Life, is the basis for Shin faith and its doctrinal verification. The narrative presented here about Dharmakara the Bodhisattva who vowed to save all sentient beings and made real this Vow by becoming Amida the All-compassionate Buddha is symbolical. It has been considered to be mythical by many persons. The Pure Land he established to receive all those believing in his Name has also been rebuffed by many intelligent and responsible persons. Whether this narrative is mythical or real depends on the individual's viewpoint and moral disposition. It is up to him whether it becomes meaningful reality or a figment of imagination.

According to this religious narrative, Amida Buddha was once a Bodhisattva called Dharmakara. Once long ago, a time men find impossible to pinpoint, he is said to have appeared before the Buddha Lokeshvararaja who guided and taught him. Prior to becoming a Bodhisattva, he was a King. After hearing a sermon by Lokeshvararaja, he abandoned his kingly status and became his disciple. After praising this Buddha's many virtues, Dharmakara requested him to describe the Pure Lands of the various Buddhas in the ten-quarters of the universe. For already, he had made known his desire to save the sentient beings in the universe and had an awakening of the supreme unsurpassable mind of intelligence. In response to Dharmakara's great motivation, Lokeshvararaja explained not only the innumerable Buddha-lands with their Buddhas, but also the celestial worlds and the realms of good and evil. After hearing this exposition on the comparison of the pure and impure worlds, Dharmakara again reviewed the various Pure Lands and then vowed in worship of the great Lokeshvararaja. He retreated to a quiet secluded place and sat in profound meditation. He trained himself in the various virtues and learned and mastered them. After a period of five immeasurable kalpas, he reached the state of genuine Enlightenment. He then reviewed the tens and hundreds of billion Buddha-lands and studied the reasons for their being, whereby he finally mastered and comprehended them. Once again, he returned before Lokeshvararaja and set forth the famous Forty-eight Vows. After making known his intentions, he carried them out over an incalculable period with consecrated determined effort. In realizing them, he uttered that no matter how sinful the sentient being may be there was now a means for his salvation. Thereupon, he entered the final and culminative stage of becoming the fully and truly Enlightened One, the Buddha Amida. Since becoming this Supreme Buddha, ten immeasurable kalpas have passed and he now resides in the western-quarter of the universe. This, then, is the narrative of Dharmakara the Bodhisattva who set forth the Forty-eight Vows and in consummating them, became the Compassionate Buddha who is now waiting for all to take refuge in his Name, 'Namo-Amida-Butsu'.

Since the essence of these vows is the deliverance of the sin-ridden man, they have been called the Great Vows. Since each vow is said to hinge on the Eighteenth Vow, this Vow is called the Fundamental Vow which is used as a collective and proper noun. All of Shin doctrine centers in this Central Vow. It is the basis of Shin religious experience which is assurance of future Buddhahood. It is not only the good man but the evil man in particular that is the consideration of this great Vow. This, then, is the brief sketch of Shin Buddhism.


An ecologist once said: 'The most rational thing one can say about human behavior is that it is irrational'. Many of us do not realize how easily we flounder back and forth between pessimism and optimism. When we are satisfied and have access to the things we want, we tend to be elated. When we are dissatisfied and deprived of the things we want, we tend to be depressed. In these two attitudes, we may find the doctrine of karma to be meaningful. The doctrine of karma tends to be interpreted negatively in times of calamity; and it tends to be interpreted positively in times of prosperity. As a functional principle, karma is valid in both cases.

Some aspects of our lives are ordered and determined by karma, for we cannot control or direct forces that lie beyond the sphere of human activity. Even within the sphere of human action, we are confronted with real processes which we are incapable of altering or ordering. On the other hand, there are other aspects to our existence which we can do something about. Karma is also the basis which allows man to make choices between certain alternatives of action in his limited situation. Therefore, it is an error to assume that karma makes the nature of living a fatalistic determinism.

Man, as a creature of reason, can make certain alterations and modifications in his mode of living. Buddhism postulates that man is an ignorant being because of his past choices. Shin Buddhism goes a little further and says that man is incapable of severing the bondage to his past by himself because of his past deeds which bind him to perpetual vacillation. On the whole, Buddhism states that man is capable of delivering himself from his karmic bondage through certain prescribed methods, which are many as there are individuals. Shin Buddhism, on the other hand, states that man, by his past bondage, is an irrational being ridden with passions which disqualify him as being competent enough to work out a self-emancipation. One holds that man can exercise the power of free will as a rational being in methodologically following a prescribed mechanical course towards enlightenment. The other holds that man is irrational and ignorant and thus destined to eternal transmigration. Here, we find two contradicting sentiments as to the significance of karma. It is important to come to some kind of conclusion in order that we may understand these seemingly paradoxical opinions, both of which are based on the doctrine of karma.

Before we can clear this issue, there must be a clear understanding of karma. By karma, we mean to say that principle of process and change which makes possible the enactment of decisions and the performance of acts. Karma is an impersonal principle in the process of perpetual change which is indifferent to one's values and drives. That is to say, karma is not rational nor irrational; however, it should be noted that man in the exercising of free will may employ it irrationally or rationally. In other words, one may act in contradiction to purposes, values, and natural drives that have a coherent reason for their being. The question before us is, is there any self-initiated activity on the part of the individual which leads to emancipation or not? This is the basic problem which lies before us as we attempt to seek out the tenets of Shin Buddhism in its assertion that the only possible way to final deliverance exists in an endowment of faith that is the only valid basis for attaining Buddhahood.

The doctrine of the Other-power (tariki) has been a basis of certain unfortunate misconceptions. One such viewpoint is the misconstrued argument used by many to make rationalizations about their weaknesses of a moral nature. It goes something like this: 'Why worry? When the time comes for you to be saved, you'll be saved no matter what you do. If you can't be saved in this life, you'll be saved in the next one or the next. It's all up to the Other-power you know.' Or sometimes it takes on this variation: 'When the time comes you'll be saved anyway. It doesn't matter where you are or what you're doing. When your turn comes, you'll be saved.' Individuals who entertain such views fail to realize the true meaning of salvation by mere faith in the Other-power. In other words, it would be unnecessary to take any precautions against any sort of evil, or even acting unreasonably in the light of ascertained facts. Because, according to such a view, the Other-power, as a predetermining force, has set out with great purpose to liberate the individual, and any act to forestall or forego its actualization is to no avail. The error in this view is easily seen when we consider that it would be quite pos¬sible, under such circumstances, to commit hourly acts of evil with no remunerative effects until the appointed time to be saved arrives. It is not neces¬sary to carry further the absurd possibilities which could exist under such a misconception of karma. The magnitude of the error is self-apparent in itself.

The above type of thinking must be understood as coming from minds which are resigned to their state of human circumstances. It is a rationalization for a basis of assurance which is erroneous in that it is an apology which lacks the moral backbone to organize a coherent outlook on life. To men of sensitive hearts and penetrating minds, such views are incongruous with reason. Determinism takes on another key when we enter the physical and social sciences. The case for determinism here is not easily dismissed. For instance, the matter of heredity as demonstrated by the science of eugenics sets a strong case for biological determinism. Many of us realize the important part played by the chromosomes in determining the indi¬vidual's physical and mental capacities. Although we would like to control and direct this genetic process to our advantage, there is little that we can do about them. The anthropologists and sociologists have also demonstrated the importance of cultural background and social heritage as they mold and condition the individual to his given environment. The psychologists and psychiatrists have also made clear the resultant aptitudes, interests and temperaments arising from them. They work upon us and determine for us, whether we like it or not. Indeed, they present an overwhelming case for physical and social determinism. Physical appearance, social status and intellectual propensity appear to be an area over which man has no control.

Buddhism teaches that what one thinks, one does; and what one does, one is. On the other hand, history has demonstrated also that what men are, what men think, and what men do, are all largely determined by their representative eras. For instance, it has demonstrated that morality and religion are purely relative terms, and that what is highly improper at one time may be both proper and religious at another. The immediate environment one is dependent upon and the era one happens to be living in both exercise control over the individual's behavior and conduct. It is obvious that no one chooses the society and culture in which he learns to become a member of in terms of race, creed and class. This function of karma is beyond the sphere of manipulation. No man chose to be what he is, although he may modify himself through training and education. Being a member of the present, he cannot escape his historical situation, though he may wish he were of the past or future. He has no power to choose his father and mother who have brought him into his present circumstances.

Karma also functions in the present in a deter¬ministic sense. Whether we become a scholar or a merchant is largely a function of social and econom¬ic forces, factors over which the individual has practically no control. The social prestige and economic position of our parents in society are largely factors which are given. An individual may be capable and qualified of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of an Einstein or a Schweitzer. However, if he is born of parents who are economically insecure and socially discriminated against, his chances are slight, for social prejudice is a force which determines one's role and status in life. One would tend to think that 'equality' is an ideal myth.

On the other hand, the individual himself acquires the sentiments and prejudices of his parents and immediate associates. As he grows in the process of individuation, he acquires further the biases and values of his social peers as a participant in his community. The school system in which he acquires his knowledge also ingrains in him the existing moral and social codes of behavior and conduct of his group. They all make up the determinate nature of his growing self-awareness by directing and shaping it. They are all karmic forces operating on him, determining what he shall become upon the basis of his background and innate capacities. Hence, in view of these facts, many good minds have come to the conclusion that the various forces functioning upon us in terms of karma, are deterministic to a large extent. This interpretation gives the impression that karma is essentially fatalistic and pessimistic. If the above discussion is true, how can we say that man is free to choose between certain alternatives in a given situation? How can one say there is initiative or spontaneity in man? In view of the overwhelming evidence for karmic determinism, it may appear useless to attempt an explanation of its positive and more optimistic side.

As implied before, karma itself is a neutral but active principle and according to how one sees it, it may be made to operate negatively or positively. In spite of all the evidences for a deterministic interpretation of karma, there is still further evidence which gives a more pliable view of it. In spite of the strong mechanistic position set forth, spontaneity and initiative are just as much a part of karmic process. The ability to choose and to act accordingly, characterizes man as a creature of reason. Furthermore, there is evidence that karma produces changes of two kinds. The first is the mechanical, regular and repetitive kind, mainly the deterministic type. The second is the spontaneous, unpredictable and originative kind, mainly the positive creative kind. However, before we can proceed with this aspect of karma, we must find out why there is need to question the negative view of karmic process. Also, we must consider the evidence for the positive aspects of karmic process.

Some venture the speculation that every human thought and action are predetermined. It was agreed that the evidence for this view is overbearing; however, making absolute judgements on the basis of these facts, at this point, is to fall into the fallacy of generalization. We must be careful to distinguish between a speculation and a fact. The evidence for a complete determinism, as yet, is quite untenable.

Upon observation of the behavior in all levels of life, there is evidence that the principle of karma is not a mere mechanical cause-and-effect process. The static view of karma gives a cyclical and repetitive picture of change and process which is every-bit ordered and regular. The dynamic view of karma gives a spontaneous and evolutionary picture of change and process which is indeterminate and unpredictable. It is this latter aspect which concerns us now. Upon reflecting upon the karmic process of change, we discover that there are changes in life which cannot be accounted for on the basis of regular or physically identifiable causes and conditions. There is much we are ignorant of, but the various sciences have demonstrated certain evolutionary processes of creativity in life which indicates the presence of individuation and autonomy. It is said that these manifestations of originality cannot be accounted for solely on the basis of a mechanical-causal process of change. It we are observant, we will see that certain activities are reacting and acting in unforseen ways which defy this causal regularity of karmic process.

Let us now look to a more practical and more human explanation. In attempting to give regularity and design to our daily life, we may outline a schedule of events for the day. We may plan and work out each detail but when we try to live our day according to this outlined schedule, it is well-nigh impossible. This little example shows the discrepancy between theory and practice. We may be able to argue and prove a theory, but for all practical purposes, we may have to abandon it.

Those who fall into a complete deterministic view of karma will develop some mental illness. This is because they fail to distinguish between a theory of it from an obsession with it. People obsessed with karma as a fatal determinism are characterized with an unusual lack of initiative. This leads them to extreme timidity, excessive day-dreaming, and a feeling of complete uselessness. It is because they see no purpose in trying to order themselves with their environment with meaning, for they fail to see any reason for it. These persons need to be made aware of the dynamic and positive aspects of karma which allows for initiative, originality and spontaneity. They must be convinced that life does have significance, and that through the exercising of the power of reason, they can choose and change their selves and environment. This is the only effective cure for them. Otherwise, they will become skeptics, for they will really believe that all actions are beyond their control. If what a man thinks is already predetermined, logically, there can be no initiative or creativity. However, this belief is an impossibility in itself, which shows the impossible position of skepticism. It has been demonstrated by the social sciences that 'those who act on a belief in free will achieve verifiable results. Conversely, those who act on a belief in complete determinism become mentally ill'. Furthermore, the fact that man in his subjective experiences displays the belief that he acts freely is not to be taken lightly. It is therefore, erroneous to assume that karma is completely a fatal determinism, for psychologically speaking, we cannot dismiss the fact that man is making choices in his subjective experiences of an individual sort.

Despite the many predetermined forces acting upon the individual, we cannot dismiss the fact that there are also alternatives within a situation from which the individual may choose and act accordingly. It is true that we cannot exercise control over karma itself and therefore, we must accept what alternatives the situation affords us as influenced by perpetual change. In this sense, karma as a principle of cause-and-effect determines much of what we are to do. As such, the function of choosing certain alternatives within the given situation is determined and limited by its circumstances.

The difference which makes karma function creatively and spontaneously lies within this confine of given alternatives. It is the basis of initiative with which we take on the given that makes the difference. We said that no one chooses the situation into which he is born, nor the equipment with which he is endowed when he comes into being as an individual personality. On the one hand, karma exercises a tremendous influence over us; but, on the other, the way in which we apply ourselves in making the most out of life makes the difference whether living becomes meaningful or mean¬ingless. This crucial matter of making the right choices within the light of the best known facts, decides whether we act rationally or irrationally.

It is this initiative in man that leads him to a better way of life. It is a positive way of life in which a selection of given alternatives become consistent and coherent with purpose and meaning. It is an active way of life leading to the betterment of all life as a whole. Although alternatives may be uncontrollable by man because of their karmic design, the possibility of choosing the best of them in itself allows man to change for the better. Thus, it is important to keep this distinction clear if we are to understand the Buddhist doctrine of karma as a neutral principle operating in the field of change and process. The difference lies in its application and comprehension and not in its seemingly dictatorial effects which seem to be deterministic and fatal. Therefore, karma always presents the possibility of changing in affording alternatives to a given situation. These alternatives or circumstances afford opportunities for the individual to better his life and person. According to the choices he subjects himself to, he commits himself to their respective consequences. Hence, the element of change within karma itself is evidence that no act or consequence can be final. There is always the possibility for improve¬ment. This is what makes for the positive interpretation of karma. The responsibility lies in the individual. He must direct himself in the light of the best known facts and make the proper decisions which lead him to the active better way of life. Once decisions are made, they become important forces which act upon his being as previous choices. However, the decision itself is possible only within a field of certain alternatives. In other words, choices are self-initiated and are not necessarily predetermined courses of action. It is crucial to see that this initiative of making the right choices is a prerogative of the thinking man. It is different from a mere action-response which merely moves the organism. Man is an animal but he is also a reasoning being. He has a mind and the consequent power to discern and evaluate the world about him. He can select or reject intelligently. How he applies this gift of reason determines whether he will open new and more desirable alternatives or whether he will ruin and invalidate opportunities already available to him. This then is the Buddhist, as well as the Shin, view of karma. There are contradictions and paradoxes in the business of living. However, man is endowed with the power of reason. He can strive to develop and make coherent his life; then again, he may not.


There will be those on both sides of the controversy over Amida Buddha's existence who will see no reason for discussing the problem at all. The dogmatic believer often considers even facing the problem an act of irreverence. Similarly, the non-believer considers that the evidence against the existence of Amida Buddha is so over-whelming that to discuss the problem further is a waste of time. Whether the refusal to face the problem of Amida Buddha arises out of blind acceptance or out of dogmatic disbelief, it is a position that is both unscientific and unphilosophical. It hardly can be denied that the existence of Amida Buddha is still a much debated problem. And even within the camp of those who do believe that Amida Buddha exists there are to be found all shades and descriptions of theories in determining Amida Buddha's nature, ranging from the pantheistic view of Amida Buddha as a mystic dynamic process of value creation to the personal emotive position of a transcendent Amida Buddha.

That there is and has been throughout all recorded Buddhist history a widespread belief in the existence of Amida Buddha as fundamental spiritual reality can hardly be denied. But neither should it be overlooked that at least theoretical disbelief of it has a correspondingly lengthy history and is today a viewpoint which may be growing in strength rather than decreasing. Belief and disbelief in the existence of Amida Buddha are facts which cannot be avoided. Here, as elsewhere, the Shin Buddhist is obligated to do his best to separate himself from his own preconceptions and to investigate the total human experience with a view to giving a coherent answer. To say, 'I believe in Amida Buddha because it gives me security' or 'because I have always been taught to believe in Amida Buddha' or 'because I fear the future of man if there is no Amida Buddha', is, for the thinking Buddhist, no good basis of belief. The question of whether or not we like to believe in Amida Buddha is beside the point. Even if Amida Buddha does exist he may not correspond at all to our fond hopes concerning him. The question of whether or not we want to believe in Amida Buddha and the further question of whether we want to believe in the kind of Amida Buddha we may find to exist are both irrelevant to the rational approach.

Atheism is a very strong view in many areas of the world today. Its followers are very often careful and conscientious thinkers. Many rational minds have been unable to discover convincing evidence that Amida Buddha exists, and they value their intellectual integrity too much to delude them¬selves into a blind faith, however pleasant that may be. We as Shin Buddhists are faced with the facts of belief and disbelief in the existence of Amida Buddha. Our personal prejudices on either side of the question are not to be encouraged, but to be overcome so far as possible. In this matter, as in all others, the safest rule for the rational Shin Buddhist is that he learn the Truth and learn to like it. The problem is of pressing importance at this point because upon our answers to this problem and a number of the others stemming from it will hinge a large part of our further sectarian position.

There have been as many arguments against the existence of Amida Buddha as there have been for him. As in the case of believers, the arguments for the position of non-belief are of varying degrees of force and importance, ranging from the very weak to the very strong. Some of these are so obviously weak and irrelevant that they require no mention. Others, in terms of influence at least, are important enough to warrant some attention.

One of the better known contemporary attacks on religious belief centers around the history and sociology of religion. In this approach, it is argued that belief in a 'divine being' originated as a superstitious attempt to control supernatural forces. It is then indicated that what had so dubious an origin can certainly have no importance for man in his present enlightened state. This attack can also be made on Amida Pietism. It must be noted that there arises much error in judging the contemporary worth of religious experience by superstitious criteria of a past which had its unique meaning in its own time. Even the sciences have had their superstitious origins such as chemistry and astronomy, but this is not a basis for making them of ill-repute. Religion in its own right has its contributions to make in its long historical and social development. Its questionable beginnings should not invalidate the contributions it is making of a contemporary worth.

The sociological attack upon belief in a 'divine being' often involves the argument that since so many different peoples in so many different eras have believed in so many different ideas about a supernatural being, it is easily seen that no such being could possibly exist. If this reasoning is carried into the belief in Amida Buddha, it would seem that Shin faith would become invalidated. But such an argument is very weak and one wonders why it has been so persuasive to some minds. It would seem that the contrary would be true. There have been many theories about the nature of the cosmos, or about the cause of illnesses or about the shortest distance between two points, or even about the nature of physical reality. But to argue in any of these cases that because there are many theories about the subject, the subject does not exist, does not account with the experiences which give rise to the various theories. The belief in the existence of Amida Buddha, therefore, cannot be dismissed by arguing that numerous and diverse theories about his existence cancel one another. On the contrary, they seem to suggest it. The very persistence of the problem even through diversity of opinion seems to suggest that a genuine problem is being faced.

Another influential attack upon believing in the existence of Amida Buddha would be to brand it as psychological escapism. Herein, it is maintained that when man finds himself unable to solve his problems or even to face them alone, he takes refuge in a world of fantasy. His wish for a means to face and solve his problems gives rise to a fabrication that there is a being greater than himself who is able to solve his problems for him and who cares about him enough to do it. On such a basis is explained not only belief in the existence of Amida Buddha but also belief in the importance of human life and of the possibility of eternal life. It cannot be denied that much belief in Amida Buddha is of this nature. But it is also true that the thinking of many other persons who hold a belief in Amida Buddha essential to their outlook on life cannot be explained on this basis. Men do not seek out unpopular social causes or religious symbols in order to escape dilemma. Such beliefs as these, far from helping a person escape difficulty, get him into difficulty. But even if it were true that all belief in Amida Buddha began as escapism, that would have nothing to do with whether or not Amida Buddha exists. Contrary to much popular opinion, a man's motives are not a basis for determining whether or not he has found a coherent idea. Very often men do by chance arrive at ideas which can be verified by rational thinking. Therefore, the question of how or why men began thinking that Amida Buddha exists is irrelevant to the problem of whether or not he 'actually does exist'.

Perhaps the strongest attack upon belief in Amida Buddha is made by the thinker who maintains that through an observation of the workings of causal laws he can explain everything that is popularly attributed to the mystic Other-power concept of Shin Buddhism. It is true that many events which were formerly considered to be the workings of the Other-power (Amida Buddha) are now explainable on the basis of purely causal principles. At one time it was thought that the awakening of faith was caused by the supernatural Other-power as personified by the person of Amida Buddha. The Myokonin give outstanding examples of this kind of belief in the Other-power as a supernatural Amida Buddha who is everywhere and in everything that happens. There are still some illiterate members of present day society who tend to believe that in times of unusual occurrences, the thing to do is to find a means of appeasing or bargaining with Amida Buddha, who is believed to be able to control and eliminate the undesirable features and to increase more the desirable ones. Science and technology have found more practical means of control and production which seem to invalidate these blind acts of faith.

With more and more areas of experience previously explained mystically and now understood in terms of scientific explanations, there are some Buddhists who foresee the day when all of man's experiences will be explained rationally, and the need for religious belief in Amida Buddha eliminated. These see the universe as the result of distinguishable karmic principles; man's life as somewhat irrelevant accident upon the face of an unimportant planet; and man's future limited to the very forces which gave him his temporary being.

The thinking and writing of these rational Buddhists who would replace Amida Buddha with a rational basis of. karmic law is, indeed, impressive. It seems fair to say that in the light of the decreasing need for a mystic explanation for many areas of experience, there is a burden of proof upon Shin Buddhism to prove Amida Buddha to be a personal compassionate being in the light of present-day knowledge dealing with the phenomena of religious experience. Shin Buddhism is suffering from a tremendous cultural-lag in that it has not met the challenge of facts discovered in other areas of knowledge such as the social sciences. Since its dogmas and doctrines are geared to a sacred-rural society, much of what it possesses as a potential contribution to the secular-urban society is still obscure and ineffective. The combined forces of the sociological, psychological, mechanistic and philosophical attack upon its belief in Amida Buddha is of sufficient strength to force all believers either to abandon such belief, or to find bases of belief which are grounded in more than an emotional attachment to a dogmatic past. But before we can correctly concede the problem to the negative, we must patiently hear what may be said for the affirmative. We may be a little more ready to hear this side when we realize that, in fact, an explanation by appeal to causal-law is no explanation at all. There is nothing final about the principle of karma as causal-law. It may well be that there is nothing creative or productive about it. At best, it may be only a theoretical principle in what does occur, with no insight concerning why these patterns and not others are played out with mechanical regularity.

If we discover grounds for belief in Amida Buddha, such discoveries must come from a careful consideration of our experiences. At this point it seems legitimate to assume the validity of the contention that all man's knowledge arise in experience. And when we begin on the common level of unsophisticated experience, usually we are of the belief that there are two kinds of reality; matter (objective) and mind (subjective). The Kusha Sect treats the objective aspects of experience as real in its systematization of all things into a classification of the Seventy-five Basic Elements. The Hosso Sect stresses the subjective aspects of our experiences as having reality in the mind and classifies the elements-of phenomenon into the Hundred Basic Elements which are basically found in the mind as the repository for their diverse rudimentary forms and combinations. From these vast realms of material and mental experiences we shall have to draw our data concerning the existence and nature of Amida Buddha. Such an endeavor will require us to learn considerably more about both mind and matter than is apparent in these two Buddhist systems as new facts and insights are obtained in the social sciences.

We need to ask, 'What, exactly, is the fundamental nature of matter' and 'What, exactly, is mind?' Before me is a piece of rope which I judge to be about ten metres long and of durable tensile strength. It has a yellowish color, and is pliable and strong. I take hold of it with my hands and examine it and find it quite permanent. Certainly it seems real enough that I can with confidence tie it to a branch and swing from it. For practical purposes these facts which are apparent to my senses afford sufficient data about the nature of this piece of rope. But already, as a rational Buddhist, I have learned to distrust my senses. I am aware, for instance, that the senses do not always function perfectly. Further, I know that when the senses are functioning as well as they are able, they are still telling me only the way things appear in terms of sense impressions. The Kusha Sect is concerned merely with how things, as objective reality, exist in terms of forms with color. It attempted to interpret experience in terms of the empirical world. However, man wishes to know not merely how things appear as real things, but what they really are. The Hosso Sect developed and correlated the Seventy-five Elements into a further system of a Hundred Basic Elements in attempting to deny that all things really have form, color, substance, and permanence. These attributes are only inferences of the discerning mind, for all perceptions taken in through the physical senses are merely the individual's interpretation of physical reality as he sees them. They concluded that it is an error of judgment to conclude that these distinct impressions are permanent, solid and stable; they are not final. They are attributes of the material world which the mind has created in coping with it. They are, thus, illusory and unreal. They postulated that ail matter is reducible to highly dynamic energy, which is the 'mind' itself. This mind is that which really does the affecting and is the center of all activity. Matter, on the other hand, contains no hard, irreducible core of being. It is only the 'mind' as the ultimate repository of all things which has any real being. In it are contained the irreducible core of all designations and activities in their fundamental rudimentary states as potential reality. Hence, the mind as the center of all activity is energetic, dynamic, in constant flux and even unpredictable. Hence, matter when reduced to its fundamental form is the mind's stored energy. Matter, here, is equated to the mind. Therefore, according to this Sect, the system of all things is the active mind, wherein everything undergoes constant flux. It is in the mind that all things have their coherence and rationality. As such, the mind is designated as the 'master-controller' of all things.

From this highly philosophical description of the mind as the basis of the universe, Shin Buddhism has maintained that Amida Buddha is fundamental reality. Amida Buddha is not all contemporary existence, but Amida Buddha is the basically real, purposive and energetic basis for all that is, save the free actions of beings whom he is the foundation of. According to Shin thinking, Amida Buddha is understood to be the ground-reality of the universe, possessing all the known attributes of matter and mind. As such, Amida Buddha is not a disembodied spirit exercising some indefinable kind of authority upon a being he somehow created out of nothing. Rather, the very karmic process of the universe is Amida Buddha in action. The universe as we discern it is thought to be a part of the activity of Amida Buddha. The universe as karmic process, therefore, is neither unconscious of nor antagonistic toward values. Since values are created and sustained by karmic energy, the universe is the ultimate state of things as they really are. This is the Dharmakaya (the foundation of the universe). All of the universe is not Amida Buddha, but all of Amida Buddha is the universe. The universe is the Dharmakaya and its personal manifestation in this world of distinctions is Amida Buddha according to Shin doctrine. The Dharmakaya as the ground-reality is Mahaprajna ('Great Wisdom') and Amida Buddha as its active demonstration is Mahakaruna ('Great Compassion'). Both are inseparable as reason and love must be inseparable to be consistent and effective with purpose. As free, incoherent and erratic creatures of action, sentient beings, though originally of this fundamental reality, are no longer any functional part of true Wisdom and Compassion. However, sentient beings in co-operating with Amida Buddha as a personal spiritual reality, are not mere tools of Amida Buddha's original ultimate nature. It must be noted that Shin Buddhism does not recognize the Dharmakaya's demonstration of Amida Buddha as a reality which is stolid, irreducible and purposeless reality. Reality must be intelligent, rational, moral, dynamic and energetic if it be truly of Wisdom and Compassion.

When we recognize that Amida Buddha is a manifestation of the ground-reality of all that is, we need no longer speak of the universe as being created by something outside itself. In the very nature of the Dharmakaya, there is every prerequisite for creativity, and thus we recognize that the universe has always been self-sustained and self-created. There is no beginning, nor ending. The present is even with us full of alternatives and opportunities because of this very reality.

Shin Buddhism states further that Amida Buddha is a personal being. We may call this Buddha a person because he possesses every attribute of personality. He is self-conscious as demonstrated by the patterns of purpose he has worked out and achieved with Wisdom and Compassion. Karma rules out the element of chance and routine as explanations of Amida Buddha's Fundamental Vow, its development and consummation within the universe governed by the laws of cause-and-effect, for they are not adequate to explain them as self-conscious activity based on Wisdom and Compassion. Furthermore, Shin Buddhists contend that if this self-conscious activity be not of the very nature of reality, it is nothing more than some strange irrational procedure whereby consciousness and the power to evaluate emerge from chaos and disorder, which is nothing more than what Buddhists consider to be ignorance. That Amida Buddha exercises a large measure of rational will in this self-conscious activity to save transmigrating beings is further apparent. That the universe is a movement of Wisdom and Compassion, probing here and experimenting there, constantly moving toward an ultimately higher spiritual-moral plane, is more suggestive of a great Wisdom testing, selecting, rejecting, than it is of a rigid static mechanical process of change. The very persistence of this rational process working on the minds of men tends to suggest and warrant this conclusion. Shin doctrine further explains that spontaneity (jinen-honi) is at the very heart of this activity. The sayings of the 'historical' Shakyamuni and other gifted men give inspired descriptions of this reality as being a part of every instant and moment and across the vast measureless stretches of eternity. This is why Amida Buddha is symbolized as Eternal Light and Eternal Life. The universe as self-conscious activity is Amida Buddha who is depicted as acting with Wisdom and Compassion and moving towards the ultimate state of reality which is the Buddhahood of all sentient beings. We are given accounts of Amida Buddha as being rational, intelligent, dynamic, moral, energetic manifestation of the Dharmakaya, who has worked, is working and will be working for the ultimate deliverance of each and every being. It is in these accounts that we find the characterization of a cosmic personality Man's being is possible only in being endowed with the attributes of this personality. This fact being a prior reality makes for the assertion by Shin Buddhism that Buddhahood is an ultimate state of perfection that is promised us in our present state of finite existence. It is not something that is achieved or obtained by individual effort. Rather, it is something that is given and endowed. Shinshu emphasizes strongly that this process of believing in the ultimate state of things begins when Amida Buddha places the 'single-mind' (faith) in our hearts. The individual is but a recipient and passive agent upon which the forces of the universe work an awakening of faith, which is the discovery of things as they really are.

However, man must cooperate with Amida Buddha, though he may be a creature endowed with the rudimentary powers of reason. Although Amida Buddha may have achieved the means for salvation, it is the individual himself who must make the decision to accept it or not. Whether he accepts or not will determine whether he will become an integrated personality having access to the rational and actual nature of things as they really are. As far as the state of man is concerned, we have not only the fact that Amida Buddha must continue to struggle with man's self-made alienation, but man, by being the kind of creature he essentially is, possesses the power to thwart the intentions of Amida Buddha through his blind irrational actions. The stage has been set for his well-being. What happens from this point forward will not be in Amida Buddha's hands alone. To believe or not to believe is an alternative man must face. The consequences of this alternative is self-evident in our very lives.

We have stated that reality is a personal being whom we call Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha as a personal manifestation of the Dharmakaya is the source and the sustainer of all being and the highest value of all existence. His appearance was instrumental in demonstrating the reality which ultimately underlies all experience. Amida Buddha has been at work since times immemorial creating and sustaining values. Those which have preceded and which are indispensable in the maintenance of personality in all sentient beings are instrumental values. It has been seen that the ultimate value toward which Amida Buddha has striven is the enlightening of each being with faith. Integrated personalities, then, appear to constitute intrinsic values in the experiencing of Amida Buddha. Any act, any intent, any purpose, in which one deals with other persons as only means to selfish ends is in reality an abuse of, and blasphemy against, the Shin ideal personality that 'benefits others in the benefiting of self' (jiri-rita-emman). According to Shin Buddhism, he who despises and tramples upon this ideal runs counter to the purpose and process of the universe. Shin Buddhism asserts that without this ultimate undergirding Truth as demonstrated in Amida Buddha's Fundamental Vow, there can be no dignity and being in a person; then, man merely exists as an animal.

From the Buddhist cosmological point of view, all things in the physical universe, all thoughts awakened in the mind, and all attributes stem from the universal Buddha-mind. They are valuable in that they mold and integrate the personality. Therefore, all value-experiences of becoming aware of Amida Buddha's activity is to add to one's personality. To have a personality is to have the faculty of awareness, and to have awareness is to have the possibility of having this value-experience. A mere inanimate thing lacks this ability to be aware of a value-experience. However, the personality is an ego-center. It tends to favor exclusive values. From the standpoint of Amida Buddha's creative activity, exclusive values are contradictory ones leading to incoherence and disintegration. Therefore, he who follows an egocentric course is not coherent with the activity of Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is a value-experience which serves all persons; it is a community of persons. The sentient being is made whole through experiencing the integrative activity of faith. The isolated personality cannot partake of this intelligent, rational, moral, dynamic experience because he alienates himself from it. According to Shin Buddhism, the necessary rudiments of this experience are already in man in the form of personality which is the very basis making possible his co-operation with Amida Buddha in the establishing of personal well-being. It is man himself who may or may not choose to cooperate with Amida Buddha. Since Amida Buddha's ideal seems to be the creation of Buddhas, and since Buddhahood is the seat of all values, Buddhahood is the one truly intrinsic value. Therefore, the person is made an integrated and coherent personality not in secluding himself in egocentrism but in cooperating with the purpose and activity of Amida Buddha.

The Shin Concept of Faith

Persons who make any effort to know Amida Buddha are few in our scientific and technological era. Yet if the karmic laws within whose limitations we live are active expressions of the purpose and compassion of an ultimate reality, this indifference over the problems to relate oneself to what Amida Buddha symbolizes is an error of great importance. In considering the facts which demonstrate the ultimate basis of Amida Buddha, the Shin Buddhist cannot disregard the possibility of direct communication with this cosmic reality.

Throughout all ages, there have been sincere people who have reported that they have directly experienced Amida Buddha in their lives, such as the Myokonin, the Shin pietists. On the other hand, there have been those who have also searched for Amida Buddha and come to the sincere conclusion that such an experience is impossible when considered rationally. This contradiction faces each sincere Shin Buddhist who faces the problem of Amida Buddha's existence. How is one to know if he has experienced an awakening of Faith in having discovered Amida Buddha?

As we approach the possibility of knowing Amida Buddha it is important that our knowledge and attitudes must of necessity undergo a change. When we were discussing the inferences arising out of an experience which points toward Amida Buddha's existence, we were dealing with material in which emotive experience played no part. But when we move on into the dimension of 'knowing' Amida Buddha, we are in the area of direct intimate relationships. A relationship where the element of emotion is quite real. This fact is self-evident in our experiences with other persons.

To realize that the experiencing of Amida Buddha must involve emotion does not necessarily rule out the element of reason. Emotion is a response to effects upon our values. Contrary to popular opinion, emotion is not alien to Truth. Emotion alienated from reason makes for the lack of sufficient perseverance in understanding religious experience. This is why Shin Buddhism asserts that Compassion under the control of Wisdom makes the difference; they are two sides to the coin of ultimate reality. It is evident that in the Shin concept of faith, religious emotion is a part of the experiential data making up one's awakening of Faith.

It is quite true that the sentient being never finds Amida Buddha until he begins looking for him. It is further asserted by Buddhism as a whole that man alone is capable of this venture due to his faculty of awareness that makes him emotionally conscious of personal inadequacy. Some intelligent thinkers have pointed out that this suggests a necessary prejudice in favour of Amida Buddha. This type of thinking has led many to conclude that Buddhahood is an illusion which leads men to prejudge that self-liberation is a 'reality'. Man has the tendency to be unconcerned with anything until he is ready to face the facts with an open mind. He is irregular in his search for Amida Buddha, and this is probably why he seldom comes to realize his Buddhahood.

Shin Buddhism states that it is only when man recognizes the limitations of his own mind, the inadequacy of his puny efforts, and the evil in his own heart that he becomes willing to listen to the Other-power outside of himself. It is only when man realizes that he will die, that he is unable to acquire and sustain his dearest values and that he is of no account that he becomes humble enough to listen for the 'voice' of Amida Buddha. Though Amida Buddha is capable and ever-ready to enter into a relationship with him, in most cases he never cares enough for such a spiritual integration until some personal tragedy or dilemma jolts him loose from his self-complacency. This is usually the first step in the discovery of Amida Buddha. It is the recognition of personal inadequacy.

According to Shin teaching, this experience of finding Amida Buddha is really Amida Buddha finding

us. His influence works upon us whereby we begin to feel overwhelmed with a feeling of nothingness in being contrasted to the supreme ultimate state of Truth. In this experience, man becomes aware of his worthlessness in the presence of the ultimate value. In discovering Amida Buddha, man becomes aware of his complete 'value-less-ness' in the presence of the Other-power's perfect merit. It is important to note that Buddhists do not equate this inadequacy with any special moral wrong. Ignorance is the basis of personal inadequacy and the important thing here is to become aware of it. It is a step in being imbued with a deep humility that comes in discovering the real significance of Amida Buddha's power and insight. Unfortunately, such humility seems to come to people only after their failure to overcome their inadequacies through self-effort. As long as man remains confident in his ability to solve any situation, and so long as he is satisfied in working for short-termed goals, he will not become aware of his need to discover Amida Buddha. This is why Shin Buddhism refutes any method based on self-power so strongly. They say that Amida Buddha is not to be sought by one's own efforts, for then, he will never be found. When they say that this discovery comes to us from a Power beyond our capacities, they mean to say that awareness of personal inadequacy and its resultant humility and receptivity constitute the first step in finding Amida Buddha. In other words, discovery of Amida Buddha becomes a possibility in becoming fully aware of human limitations which makes our hearts receptive to the Other-power.

If the search for Amida Buddha ended with the recognition of personal inadequacy in the presence of his Power and Mercy, it would be a disintegrating rather than an integrating experience. Such a moral experience could serve only to leave man in despair. But, the documentary descriptions of the Myokonin demonstrate that when man becomes humble enough to hear of Amida Buddha and finds him the embodiment of Wisdom and Compassion and in possession of a great Power, there is the assurance that Amida Buddha is merciful and will lead him to final Buddhahood. The writings of Shin Buddhism do not make explicit just how Amida Buddha imparts this peace of mind to man. This experience is beyond words and somewhat intangible. Shin Buddhism explains that it is an insight we obtain concerning the attitudes and motives of the Other-power in its dealing with man. They further state that all this is suggested and explicit in the phrase Namo-Ami-da-Butsu ('I take refuge in Amida Buddha'). It is explained that in becoming related to Amida Buddha, it does not take long for the individual to understand something of His attitudes toward him, and from these attitudes to deduce the meaning of Wisdom and Compassion. Man is enabled to 'sense' that Amida Buddha is extremely concerned for him, feels kindly disposed to him, intends to make him a Buddha, and that this is the ultimate purpose of the Other-power. It does not lie so much in the words of the Eighteenth Vow, but in the somewhat intangible relationship that is established between man and Amida Buddha. All this is in the discovery of Amida Buddha. This unfolding experience gives us personal humility leading us to Amida Buddha wherein insight and power are at once manifested toward man with the greatest Compassion he has ever known. Shinran, as one who knew Amida Buddha, assured us that the relationship of Amida Buddha to man is like that of a father and mother to their children. The recognition of the foundations of Amida Buddha is the essence of the second step in coming to 'hear of' Amida Buddha and thus to know of him. Here, Amida Buddha is not to be confused with an idea of a 'guardian of men'. Some have simplified this ineffable concept of the Other-power with the view that Amida Buddha is a kindly old guardian (oyasama) who has nothing more important to do than to run about doing tender little things to win man's affection in order to maneuver him out of dilemma. Here, Shin Buddhism indicates that the Wisdom and Compassion that comes to man in an awakening of faith is not stern nor unyielding. A man of faith is still subject to the process of karma. Being still mortal and sentient, he makes mistakes that cut deeply into the heart of Amida Buddha. But, ignorance is the basis of erring and ignorance now has taken on purpose and direction in bringing about the integration of the individual's personality with the assurance of eventual Buddha-hood. The process of personality integration and eventual Buddhahood is given impetus with faith as an active agent in the process towards eventual fulfillment of ultimate Buddhahood.

However, the most valuable and most significant thing in the Wisdom and Compassion that we come to know, is the assurance that we live in a universe which is the activity of Amida Buddha who is not only powerful and wise but also loving, and that no matter what the future may hold within life as we know it now, or as it may be beyond death, all our experience was, is and will be undergirded by the Compassion of this Buddha. Such is the nature of Shin faith, the peace of mind, the quiet courage, and the unshakable conviction in the reality of the ultimate state of Truth that becomes a part of the man who discovers Amida Buddha as a personal reality.

According to Shin Buddhism, the essence of personal existence is personality integration. It is asserted that this is possible in only becoming aware of Amida Buddha's existence in that moment when faith is awakened in the primitive heart of man. It is through this religious awakening that man is enabled to achieve a sense of 'belonging' with the universe. It is to be noted that Shin Buddhism maintains that this adjustment of one's attitudes and values in becoming orientated with the Truth of Amida Buddha does not transform him into a living Buddha. Rather, it adjusts man to the business of living a good life by doing away with mental disturbances, which are really fabrications and illusions created by an ego-centric mind that have no actual foundations for their being. Faith is the one and only foundation upon which man is enabled to find a purpose greater than his own petty self-interests, a meaning beyond the mere satisfaction of his selfish physiological and psychological drives. It saves him from ego-centrism. It transforms primitive desire into universal desire. It is the light which does away with the shadows of selfish stupid mistakes and evil choices. It is the hand which lifts his head with dignity and gives him the assurance that he is related with the purpose and activity of a rational universe. His detachment now takes on a relatedness in that he begins to cooperate with cosmic purpose. He now faces the future with courage and confidence that he will be a Buddha when death, as a natural sequence to birth, terminates his limited existence. Shin doctrine maintains that all this is an endowment that comes to the man discovering Amida Buddha.

In answering the 'call' he has invested foundations for their being. Faith is the one and only foundation upon which man is enabled to find a purpose greater than his own petty self-interests, a meaning beyond the mere satisfaction of his selfish physiological and psychological drives. It saves him from ego-centrism. It transforms primitive desire into universal desire. It is the light which does away with the shadows of selfish stupid mistakes and evil choices. It is the hand which lifts his head with dignity and gives him the assurance that he is related with the purpose and activity of a rational universe. His detachment now takes on a relatedness in that he begins to cooperate with cosmic purpose. He now faces the future with courage and confidence that he will be a Buddha when death, as a natural sequence to birth, terminates his limited existence. Shin doctrine maintains that all this is an endowment that comes to the man discovering Amida Buddha. In answering the 'call' he has invested his life in the purposes which are the universe's meanings. It states that a life in terms of petty and limited interests is egocentrism, the gravest of errors that can befall man. Selfishness is the cause of suffering, for sensitiveness, dissatisfaction and frustration are its consequences. Ego-centrism is an envelope that alienates man from his universe. This envelope is a hindrance which gives rise to the ego as a self-sufficient and self-contained entity. Within this envelope, the alienated personality feels confident with the support of a world of wishful thinking. On the other hand, this envelope may cause the restricted personality to take on a cynical attitude toward the society and individuals outside of it by declaring war with them in bitterness and hatred. For this very reason, Shin Buddhism says, Amida Buddha found it necessary to endow man with faith, the active agent that punctures this ego-envelope in making him aware of his alienation and limitations.

Faith makes man aware of his weaknesses and makes him humbly search for the ultimate meaning in the universe which surrounds him. This is the supreme value of all values.

Therefore, it is Shin Buddhism's thesis that personality integration and a relatedness to a meaningful universe are the essence of achievement in an awakening of faith. Faith, as an experience of the existence of Amida Buddha, can be culminated only with an enlarged opportunity to act with spontaneity and initiative. Although we have dissected the contents of experiencing an awakening of faith, a recognition of personal inadequacy with its resultant humility and assurance of Amida Buddha's concern for all sentient beings with a culmination of this cosmic relationship with Buddhahood for all, these are all but attributes of Faith as endowed by Amida Buddha in man's heart. They are interrelated and inseparable elements which enable us to meet these requirements in our search for Amida Buddha. Once Faith is established, these exacting and time-consuming requirements become a matter of initiative and spontaneity as a natural consequence. This, then, is Shin Buddhism's concept of religious experience. To live truly, one must discover that Amida Buddha has already discovered him.

Some of the best minds have maintained that such an awakening of faith by the Other-power cannot be verified, and therefore, it should not be considered scientific. Many sociologists and psychologists have investigated the phenomena of religious experience in favor of this view. The data they have collected is impressive and very illuminating. However, there are some who ignore the problem of verifying this experience because they are convinced that such an experience cannot be understood nor explained by any rational means. This is indeed a perplexing problem for the Shin Buddhist.

From a rational point of view, all we can say about Shin religious experience is that it is an area of private facts in which Amida Buddha is experienced reality. Here we have a subjective experience which cannot be verified by empirical demonstration. It is only possible to get some idea of how this experience affects those who seem to have had it. We can observe the conduct and behavior of a man with Faith and see how often he demonstrates the ideals of the experience in his personal and social activities. We can compare these actions with the ideal claims of such an experience and determine their consistency and coherence. And on the basis of such a comparison, we are able to state, at least, whether the person with Faith is living and sustained by the awakening experience. All we can do is to investigate whether a man's actions be coherent with his claim of belief in Amida Buddha. In the final analysis, it is quite impossible to understand the purposes or the process by which a man with Faith holds onto these ideals, apart from the fact that his life is centered around in knowing Amida Buddha.

From the Shin Buddhist point of view, we can say the following about Faith as an act of knowing Amida Buddha. It makes one conscientious and creates good-will. This is essential in making values that were once meaningless real. This single act of coming to know Amida Buddha is the greatest thing that can happen to man. This experience is not only a value in itself, but it becomes the foun¬dation for all other intrinsic values which escaped one's awareness before. In order for this experience to have full effect, one must not be partial or half-way about living this life of Faith to its fullest.

Those who fail to live a full life of faith seem to be stifled by it rather than being affirmed by it. The man who has truly found Amida Buddha has found the ultimate basis that is great and powerful enough to order all his emotions and thoughts. It is when man knows Amida Buddha and is under the influence of His Power that he is enabled to live the good life which is most rational. Therefore, it is the conclusion of Shin Buddhism that the man who comes to know Amida Buddha is an integrated person full of self-realization with the confidence that he will become a Buddha after his death.

Shin Faith in a Parable

The writer has deemed it proper to conclude this study with a translation of Shan-tao's parable of the White Path Betwixt and Between the Two Rivers. This is extracted from his Sanzengi which is a work dealing with the three component qualities of Faith in being a sincere mind, a deep mind and an endowed mind desiring birth in the Pure Land. The Sanzengi is the fourth volume of the Kwangyosho a work of four volumes. In this work, Shan-tao refutes the various misconceptions about the mind of Faith as perpetuated by the various Masters before his time. Since the discussion of faith is a matter of individual opinion, various men of repute formulated their views of it as found in the Meditation Sutra (kwangyo). However, Honen and Shinran depended on Shan-tao's interpretation of Faith in bringing the Other-power concept to its full climax. To discuss this would be a dissertation in itself. The parable is our only concern here for it makes graphic the Shin concept of faith.

Though the mind of faith is dissected artificially into three parts for the sake of analysis and clarification, it must be remembered that they are essentially a singular state of mind. This is why a mind of Faith is symbolized as the White Path. Shinran viewed this Path to be the 'single-mind' which makes possible the deliverance of man. However, Shan-tao's personal view has a dual significance. The first is the interpretation that this Path is the Eighteenth Vow which makes possible the taking of refuge. The second is the view that it is the basis which makes the endowing of man with faith a reality. Although there are many complex interpretations concerning this parable, let us keep in mind what we have discussed in the foregoing pages. It is hoped that the style in which this parable was translated will be most readable and meaningful. The parable has been said to be Shin faith in a nut-shell.

The White Path Betwixt and Between the Two Rivers
[Footnotes are attached to this section only. Readers need to scroll down to access them, as they are not linked. The essay continues after this section.]

Two Rivers and a White Path

To everyone who is to be born do I speak. I will relate a parable for the sake of those seeking the Way, so that their minds with Faith may be protected. The hazards of alien, erratic and heretic notions are to be avoided with it. What then is this parable?

Facing the west, there is a person desiring to proceed a hundred thousand 'li'1. In so doing, two rivers appear suddenly headlong before him. The first is a river of fire which lies to the south. The second is a river of water which lies to the north. Each of the rivers is a hundred strides in width and is unbounded to the south and north. Each has a depth which is unfathomable. Directly before him is a White Path2 which lies betwixt and between the fire and water, being four to five inches wide. Again, this Path is a hundred strides long from the eastern-bank3 to the western-bank4. The watery waves5 pass over and immerse the Path. The fiery flames6 scorch the Path also. The waves and flames intermingle constantly to no end. Already, this person has ventured far into a vast solitary clearing.7 No one is there at all.

Lurking about are many bandits and vicious animals.8 Perceiving this person to be alone, they vie with each other in rushing to kill him. Being afraid to die, he begins to flee towards the west in haste. Headlong, he arrives before the great rivers. Whereupon, he thinks to himself with alarm:

These rivers have no borders to the south and north. Although it connects the two banks9 closely, how can I possibly cross it? There is no question as to my dying this very day! To head back directly means only that the bandits and malicious animals will draw closer. If I should try to escape by fleeing to the south or to the north, the malicious animals and poisonous insects will be sure to overtake me. In trying to cross this Path, it is certain that I will slip into either river of fire or water.

Again, he thinks to himself:

If I should head back, I am sure to die. Still, if I stay, I am sure to die. If I am to die, I would rather take my chances in crossing this Path. Ah! the path is before me now. I will cross it without slipping!

In this very moment of decision,10 he hears11 a person's voice on this eastern-bank urging:12

All you have to do is to begin crossing this Path with earnestness. You have certainly no need to fear death. If you remain here, you will certainly die!

Still again, a person from the western-bank13 calls and implores to him:

Come at once! Hold on with a steadfast, sincere determination!14 I will guide you safely. You need not fear of falling into the fire or water!

Thus, in hearing this persuasive voice here and the imploring call from there, he fixates them in mind and body;15 whereby, he begins to cross the Path with determination without fear or hesitation, having no desire whatsoever to turn back. Then, in going a step or two forward, the bandits call out after him:

Turn back! That Path is very dangerous!16 You won't be able to cross it! You will surely die!

Although this person hears these voices calling out after him, he does not look back anymore.

He promptly proceeds with single-mindedness, being completely absorbed in treading the Path.

After a while, he reaches the western-bank. The various calamities are left behind forever. He meets the Good Friend.17 There is no likely end to his rejoicing.

This is the parable. Now to annotate this illustration.

To say the 'eastern-bank' is to exemplify this fiery habitat of men. To say the 'western-bank' is to exemplify the virtuous land of Happiness.18 The illustration of intimidating bandits and malicious creatures is a metaphor designating the 'six sense-organs'19, 'the six consciousnesses'20, the 'six objects of the senses'21, 'the five aggregates'22, and the 'four elements'23. The uninhabited clearing in the marshes is an illustration showing that one does not encounter the Good Teacher24 when in the company of evil associates. The two rivers of fire and water illustrate the sentient being's greed as being engulfing and his anger as being scorching. The White Path of four to five inches lying betwixt and between, is an analogy illustrating the fact that the pure serene mind which desires for birth is awakened in the sentient being, despite his passions of greed and anger.25 As a good mind26 is humble and obscure,27 it is compared to the White Path. Furthermore, the waves immersing the Path without rest, illustrates the rapacious nature of one's thoughts, which constantly rise to contaminate the good mind28. The flames scorching the Path without rest, illustrate the malevolent nature of one's thoughts, which guts the Dharma's virtues29. The person promptly crossing the Path towards the West, is an exemplification of that instant in which one turns towards the Western-quarter with all his effort30. To hear the voice of the person on the eastern-bank which urges him to cross the Path and proceed to the west, is to depict the conditions after Shakyamuni's demise, wherein those unable to pay homage to him should seek out the Dharma, which is this very 'voice'.31 The passage: 'then, in proceeding a step or two forward, the bandits call out after him', designates those people with various intentions and interests, who, through injurious notions, intimidate one with erroneous opinions and ideas which cause one to fall into evil32. The person who calls imploringly, is an illustration showing the unwavering concern of Amida Buddha. The passages: 'after a while, he reaches the western-bank. The various calamities are left behind forever. He meets the Good Friend. There is no likely end to his rejoicing', depict the alienation of the sentient being engulfed in birth-and-death, wherein he is unable to emancipate himself from his transmigration of countless kalpas33. Upon obeying Shakyamuni's directions to proceed toward the Western-quarter, he follows it. He relies on the compassionate concern of Amida Buddha. And in obediently taking refuge in the intentions of the two Sages, he relies on the strength of their concern over him, whereby, he falters not and is not way-laid by the two rivers of water and fire. After his life comes to an end, he is born in the Other Land34. He meets and acquaints himself with the Buddha, and thereby rejoices boundlessly.


[The text of the essay continues after the footnotes.]

  1. ri: a ri is equivalent to a length of 2. 44 miles.
  2. White Path: There are many interpretations on this. It is basically faith as coming from Amida Buddha which makes possible the sentient being's deliverance from transmigration. As implied in the parable, it is the only possible way for man to escape the cycle of birth-and-death.
  3. eastern-bank: The eastern-bank is this world of birth- and-death.
  4. western-bank: The western-bank is Amida's Pure Land.
  5. watery-waves: It symbolizes man's insatiable greed.
  6. fiery flames: It symbolizes man's uncontrollable anger and hatred.
  7. solitary clearing: It represents the barrenness of this world in which men are blinded with greed and hatred.
  8. bandits and vicious animals: They represent people who degrade men with false and immoral ideas and pas¬sions that addict us to sensual living.
  9. It connects the two banks: Note that the Shin idea of this world is a continuum with the ultimate state of the universe. We have said that Amida Buddha is demonstration of ultimate Truth.
  10. moment of decision: We have discussed that once Faith sets in the mind of man, Buddhahood is a certainty. Shin considers this to be an instantaneous moment of abrupt personality integration culminating in Buddhahood.
  11. he hears: Shin Buddhism teaches that 'hearing' is 'believing'.
  12. a person's voice on this eastern-bank urging: As related later in the parable, this is Shakyamuni's voice. Only his voice is heard because he is no longer here on this earth. His 'voice' here refers to the teachings he left behind for us. It is interesting to note that Shin Buddhism considers Shakyamuni to have been an ordinary man. He was instrumental in demonstrating the reality of Amida Buddha's significance.
  13. a person from the western-bank: As stated later in the parable, this person is Amida Buddha who now resides in the Pure Land waiting for all to take refuge in Him.
  14. sincere determination: A characterization of the singularity of faith in the Other-power that is unwavering and full of confidence in Amida Buddha.
  15. He fixates them in mind and body: This means that the act of faith is at once both rational and emotional as we have discussed in the section on Shin faith.
  16. This passage refers to those ideas as expressed by individuals who would refute and invalidate the reality of the Other-power. We have amply discussed them in this study.
  17. Good Friend: This is Amida Buddha.
  18. Land of Happiness: The Pure Land of Amida Buddha.
  19. six sense-organs: The eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and brain.
  20. six consciousnesses: They are visual-awareness, auditory awareness, awareness of odors, awareness of tastes, tactile awareness and the faculty of being conscious of these awarenesses.
  21. six objects of the senses: forms with color, sounds, odors, flavors, contacts and perceptions.
  22. five aggregates: They are basically the five organs of sense as they are conformed into a single bodily unit. In other words the gross physical organism that is the human body. Hence any animal that has these rudimentary parts.
  23. four elements: water, fire, wind and earth.
  24. Good Teacher: As explained later in the parable, Shakyamuni who is no longer on earth.
  25. This is an essential passage throwing light on Shin Faith. As we have discussed in this study, the man with Faith is still a human being subject to his passions until death, whereupon he becomes a Buddha.
  26. good mind: Refers to a mind endowed with Faith by Amida Buddha.
  27. humble and obscure: As we have discussed, a man who comes to know Amida Buddha becomes humble and aware of his limitations.
  28. This passage means to say that greed fosters selfishness and selfishness in the end is disintegrating.
  29. This passage means to say that anger fosters hatred and hatred is contrary to the ultimate principles of Wisdom and Compassion.
  30. This passage shows that the individual participates and cooperates with Amida Buddha's intentions. Man is not a mere tool in the hands of the Other-power.
  31. Same as footnote 12.
  32. Same as footnote 16.
  33. A kalpa is an immeasurably long period of time.
  34. This passage implies that according to the Shin concept of religious experience, the receiving of Faith entitles one to a Buddha after death. This is expressed as 'being born in the Other Land'. Being born is equal to becoming a Buddha.


This study has not been philosophically treated, nor has it been scholarly presented. The writer has purposely refrained from making a too doctrinal utterance of Shin Faith in the hopes that the average reader would find it informing, rather than a boring repetition of static doctrine.

Throughout this study, the purpose has been to acquaint the Shin layman with the spirit of Shinran and his teaching of Faith, as revealed in his personal life and teachings. It is my personal opinion that Shinran was great because he never criticized the weaknesses of others. Rather, his personal writings reveal a man sensitive to his own limitations which were instrumental in his discovery of Amida Buddha. We find in him a deep concern not only of himself but of the other as well. He never seems to have thought himself to be better than the lowliest of persons. He considered the other to be a 'fellow-traveler' a 'fellow-seeker' of the Way. One can feel how Shinran really thought in becoming alive to what he said and wrote. Unfortunately, the writings of a great man too often lose their significance because those coming after him mummify and label his thoughts into static empty phrases. Truly, it must be the sensitive who will grasp the rational significance of Shinran's teachings and life. With the sincere hope that those in this age of refined greed and hate will derive some value in living a life with Faith, the writer ends this humble study.

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