Thursday, May 21, 2020

A simple analogy between Vajrayana and Jodo Shinshu to help undecided practitioners

I know some people who come from a Vajrayana background and their thinking is still influenced by  Vajrayana terms and concepts but who sincerely wish to follow Jodo Shinshu.
For them I am going to make a short analogy between the two traditions to help them have an easy transition. Please listen carefully.

As you may know, in Vajrayana you cannot successfully practice without empowerment. When you receive empowerment from a realized Master you become connected with and blessed by an uninterrupted lineage of transmission which starts with a Buddha and continues with a series of Enlightened Masters. Then your practice can be successful if you are serious and put all your efforts into it. Without this empowerment and connection, your practice will not lead to realization. Also, once empowerment was given you must follow a samaya, that is, a specific set of rules and practices. However, breaking this samaya without repairing it will lead to birth in Vajra Hell.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Nembutsu vs mantras and dharanis related with Amida

Amida Buddha image
at the altar of Amidaji temple
Question: Can we chant various mantras or dharanis associated with Amida Buddha/Amitabha from the esoteric schools instead of His Name? 

Answer: In His Primal Vow (18th Vow) Amida Buddha exclusively mentioned the saying of His Name (Nembutsu), so we only say His Name. As no mantras or dharanis are mentioned there, we do not recite them. From the myriads of practices, related or not related with Him, Amida chose His Name, so we must be in accord with His wish. I explained this aspect in more detail here (click to read).

Being a Buddha, He knows better why He only chose the Nembutsu in His Primal Vow, so we should not busy our minds with something that goes beyond our limited capacities, but follow His command and say His Name exclusively. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Stop using Zen Masters explanations when referring to Amida Buddha - an example

Question: Zen Master Kodo Sawaki said: „Amitabha (Amida) doesn’t exist because I believe he exists. Amitabha Buddha exists without being concerned whether I believe in him or not. Regardless what I think or believe, Amitabha is the whole heaven and earth. Being pulled by Amitabha’s original vow that is the absolute reality, I function through my own body, speech, and mind as all-pervading self. This is being a Buddha—a great being, a truly mature person.” How do you comment on this?

Answer: I saw that passage about Amida Buddha from Kodo Sawaki, a respected Zen master, quoted many  times, like a big thing by Pure Land followers who are not careful to what they share with others. At first sight, it's a good teaching, but at a careful examination, we can see it’s nothing else but a Zen interpretation and NOT in accord with the Jodo Shinshu teaching.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Nembutsu does not work because of us

 - fragment from a letter to a friend - 

When you say the Name of Amida, do not think this saying (nembutsu) works because of you, like the often you do it or the more concentrated you are when you say it, the better it is. The Name has nothing to do with you and so, it is not a tool for your unenlightened mind to manipulate and generate birth in the Pure Land. The Name is the manifestation of Amida and it works because of Amida. While other Pure Land schools focus on the person saying the Name and are busy with teaching their followers to have a good state of mind when saying it, our Jodo Shinshu school focuses on Amida and His Power to save. Here we just let Amida save us. When we, Jodo Shinshu followers, say the Name, we simply express this faith and we say, „thank you, Amida Buddha”.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Our path is simple

In this life we say exclusively the nembutsu of faith in Amida, wishing to be born in his Pure Land after death. In the exact moment we entrust to Amida, we enter the stage of non-retrogression, that is, no matter what happens to us, we are assured of birth in the Pure Land. Just like all rivers flow to the ocean, all beings who entrust to Amida will inevitably be born in his Pure Land after death. Once we put our faith in Amida, nothing constitutes an obstacle to birth there, not even our evil karma. This is why the stage is called, non-retrogression.

Then, when we die, we actually go to the Pure Land, and attain Buddhahood. Once Buddhahood is attained, we return to this world of birth and death, in various forms, to endlessly help all beings, including those with whom we are karmically related. All these happen because of Amida’s Power. The deluded power of the self has no role to play in our salvation and the salvation of others.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Don't play smart in samsara

Don’t play smart with words and ideas that are beyond your level of understanding. Until you attain Buddhahood in the Pure Land, don’t speak too much about non-duality, oneness, „samsara is nirvana”, or other things not strictly related with faith (shinjin). Here and now you should just entrust in Amida and postpone the solving of such difficult matters for when you are born in the Pure Land. You’ll have enough time to dwell in ultimate Dharmakaya once you attain Buddhahood there, but here and now, while still living in your samsaric body, please be sure you are established in faith. 
Simple faith in Amida is the decisive step to perfect Enlightenment. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Do not rely on your 'spiritual evolution'

Your spiritual evolution is an illusion. What you think you obtained now, you can lose in the next moment.  The ego cannot evolve; all he really does is to constantly adapt himself to various coarse or refined attachments. From material pleasures to spiritual satisfaction and false Nirvanas, the possibilities of deceit are endless to those who rely on personal power. 

In contrast to other paths, the nembutsu of faith is not a mantra for personal evolution, but a surrender of your ego to supreme Enlightenment in the form and Name of Amida Buddha. Even if we remain ego-centered in our daily lives until death and rebirth in the Enlightened realm of Amida Buddha, this ego is no more a basis for the Path to Enlightenment.

Namo Amida Butsu - we entrust not in our unenlightened ego, but in Amida Buddha, the Enlightened One of Great Mercy.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My kind of inter-faith dialogue

As far as I am concerned, I am against that kind of interfaith dialogue which is so much in style nowadays, and which is mostly based on indoctrination like, “we are all the same”, “all religions are the same”, “let’s unite all religions”, and so on.

Let it be clear from the start: we respect each other, but we are different and we follow different religious paths.

Friday, June 20, 2014

We cannot mix Nembutsu with Zazen

In zazen, one simply dwells in awareness and lets go to any thought that appears in one’s mind. Even if the thought of Amida and of saying His Name appears, the Zen practitioner will simply let it go; he does not reject it, but also does not embrace it, either. However, this attitude is not in accord with the teaching of our school, where we “cling to Amida’s sleeves’, take refuge in Amida, and say His Name in faith. So, a true Jodo Shinshu follower who entrusts to Amida cannot engage in the practice of zazen, because in the very moment he refuses to say the nembutsu, or lets go to the thought on Amida, he in fact, abandons the Pure Land path. Similarly, in the very moment a Zen practitioner takes refuge in Amida and says the nembutsu of faith, he abandons the Zen path or the Zen attitude of mind.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Again, on the "here and now" slogan

- fragment from a letter to a friend -

You say that the nembutsu of faith is too much related with death and afterlife and that you prefer something for the „here and now”. But this separation is only an illusion. In truth, death is not separated from the „here and now” as breath which comes out might not be followed by the breath which comes in.
In the „here and now” you can lose everything; in the „here and now” you or your loved ones can stop breathing, in the „here and now” you may suddenly find yourself in the afterlife, losing this human form, the chance of listening the Amida Dharma and receive faith. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

On the „here and now” slogan

Unenlightened beings never dwell in the „here and now”, but only dream in the „here and now”. They move, they live, they die and are born again in the „here and now” dream and slavery of samsara. Without rebirth in the Enlightened realm of Amida,  ordinary beings cannot hope for true awakening.

- Related article: Again on the "here and now" slogan -

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

No zazen here for this ignorant man

Zen practitioners say that zazen is the posture of the Buddha. It is being the Buddha.
I agree with them and exactly because it is so, I prefer to sit in zazen after I’m born in the Pure Land. As a Buddha in the Pure Land, zazen will be natural, while here in samsara is just an imitation. Here, for this ignorant man, only nembutsu of faith is true and real.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

It is difficult...

"Most difficult of all difficulties is to hear this sutra [the Larger Sutra on Amida Buddha’s salvation], have faith in it with joy and hold fast to it. Nothing is more difficult than this.”
 -Shakyamuni  Buddha in the Larger Sutra on Amida Buddha –

“It is difficult to meet true teachers
And difficult for them to instruct.
It is difficult to hear the teaching well,
And more difficult still to accept it.”
Shinran Shonin

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Concentrate exclusively on Amida Buddha

“With your whole heart look forward expectantly to birth in the Pure Land, worship and bear in mind the Buddha of Infinite Light, and don’t think about anything else, nor perform any other spiritual practices.” Honen Shonin[1]

All we need to do for our attainment of Buddhahood in the Pure Land is mentioned in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha: to say the Name in faith and wish to be born there. Nothing else. No meditation practices, no this or that special virtue, just entrust to Amida, say his Name and wish to be born in his Pure Land.
The essentials of our tradition are just these three conditions, which are comprised in shinjin or faith in Amida. If you have genuine faith in Amida, then you naturally say his Name and wish to be born in his Land after death. It is as simple as that. Also, in order to have faith in Amida, you need to accept that he is a real and living Buddha, and in order to wish to be born in his Land you also need to accept that thisland is true and real. I think that everybody, even illiterate people, can understand this simple logic.

Now please, pay attention: to say the Name of Amida, and not of other Buddhas or religious figures outside Buddhism, to have faith in Amida and wish to be born in his Pure Land, not in the land of other Buddhas! This is extremely important.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Letter to a non-Jodo Shinshu friend about modern heresies and respect for all Buddhist schools

This short letter was sent by me to a Buddhist friend who is not a Jodo Shinshu follower and who asked me about my “uncompromising attitude” in teaching Amida Dharma. I decided to post the letter here because it might be useful to others.

Dear M,

I really have no problem with various interpretations of Amida Buddha and his Pure Land if these are made from the perspective of other Buddhist schools. I do not mind if, for example, in many Zen circles from China and Japan, there is a clear rejection of faith in Amida as a real and living Buddha and of his Pure Land to be attained afterdeath. I also have no problem if somebody from Shingon claims that Amida resides only in one’s heart. This is because I accept that those who express such views are practicing a different Dharma gate than the Pure Land gate of Jodo Shinshu. But, as Honen Shonin said, we should clearly show the difference between the teaching of our school and other schools, and do not mix them:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Pure Land in the teaching of Jodo Shinshu

Chih-i (538-597), the founding master of the Tendai Buddhist school in China, advocated the idea that the Pure Land „exists in one’s mind”, which was later transmitted to Japan. This can be found in the Vimalakirti sutra, a teaching belonging to a diferent Dharma gate than that of the Pure Land, and in which it is said that if one’s mind is pure then the land appears pure by virtue of the purity of the mind. Essentially speaking, the Pure Land was understood by many Tendai masters of the past as existing only in one’s mind. Chih-i even spoke of Amida Buddha and his Pure Land as  elements of one’s consciousness to be realized in the mind.
Nowadays, many followers and so called teachers of our school take this idea and integrate it in various ways in their own interpretation of the Jodo Shinshu teaching without knowing or without wanting to accept that such ideas are against the Pure Land teaching advocated by our Founding Masters.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Honen Shonin on Amida Buddha

Honen Shonin (1133-1212)

In the Dialogue on One Hundred Forty-Five Topics, Honen Shonin said:

„Although there is one Amida Buddha, his teachings have different interpretations. The Shingon school teaches that Amida Buddha resides in one’s own heart; they do not admit his existence outside of one’s heart. The Pure Land school, however, teaches that Bodhisattva Dharmakara realized Buddhahood and became Amida Buddha and now resides in the west[1]. These two viwepoints reflect great differences between the two schools”.

The words of Master Honen are very clear for those who have a sincere wish to understand who Amida really is and repent for spreading wrong views.
I especially chose this quote to show that any presentation of Amida Buddha as being a metaphor, a myth, a symbol of one’s own Enlightened nature or one’s own heart and mind, etc, is not in accord with the Pure Land teaching of Honen and his Dharma heir, Shinran Shonin. The right view that a follower of our school should have about Amida Buddha and teach it to others is the one presented by Shakyamuni in the Larger Sutra: Amida is a real and living Buddha who resides in his Pure Land of the west (a manifestation of his vows to save all beings).  Because Amida is not something inside our heart or mind His Pure Land too, is not inside us, not „here and now” and not „our own pure mind”as some might say.

Because Amida is a real and living Buddha outside of us, His Pure Land too, is a real place outside us, unenlightened beings, who can never have a pure mind and heart. In our own heart and mind there is nothing else than illusion so we cannot say that Amida Buddha or his Pure Land is to be sought there.

There are great differences in interpreting Amida between our Pure Land school and other Buddhist schools based on personal power. But if we consider ourselves disciples of Honen and Shinran Shonin we should discard the latter and take refuge in the living Amida Buddha of the western Pure Land.
Only upon birth in the Pure Land, when we become Buddhas, we’ll understand fully the ultimate nature of all things and the Pure Land.

[1] The Pure Land of Amida Buddha is sometimes called the Pure Land of the west. See my article „The reason for the western location of the Pure Land and its wonderful description in the sutras”.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The effect is simmilar to the cause – difference between the Path of self power and the Pure Land Path

“Amida's mind is full of true compassion
And His light completely encloses the whole universe.

Making it possible for those attached to forms to attain birth in His land with ease."
Master Shan-tao, Ojoraisan

The effect is similar to the cause, so when the cause and origin of your practice is your unenlightened personality, the effect is delusion. Similarly, when the cause and origin of your practice is Amida Buddha, the effect is always Enlightenment and Buddhahood.
This should be very well understood.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Jodo Shinshu – the only effective path in this last Dharma age

-based on some verses in the Shozomatsu wasan-
(my speech at the last spring meeting in Jiko-ji temple (Antwerp, Belgium)

Buddhism has spread a lot in Europe in the last fifty years and this is indeed, very fortunate. But in this spreading and in the image that Buddhism has in the West a very important element is missing or is not so well understood. Too many voices are heard in Western Buddhism that support some already established preconceptions like: “Buddhism is a path of Liberation by oneself” and “Buddha is only a teacher or the finger showing the moon”, etc. The established image of a Buddhist is a forever calm and smiling Buddhist monk or practitioner, following a path of self liberation and improvement. This for many is Buddhism, but for Shinran, this is exactly what Buddhism is no more…
His life story and teaching shows another aspect of Buddhism which he considers it to be the real Buddhism: the true Pure Land Teaching or Jodo Shinshu in which Amida Buddha is not the finger showing the moon, but a Savior, - in fact, the best Savior of all the three worlds, with Shakyamuni being His messenger, guiding sentient beings to entrust in Amida. What a dramatic difference in the vision of what the Dharma truly is between Master Shinran and all other schools of self power Buddhism!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Entering the Jodo Shinshu path

Entering the Jodo Shinshu path is like becoming a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and recognizing: “Hello, my name is Josho and I am an alcoholic”.

Jodo Shinshu doesn’t state something like: “My name is Josho and I can become a Buddha”, but “my name is Josho and I am full of blind passions, incapable to heal myself”.

While in other Buddhist schools, an important matter is the recognition of the possibility of every being to become a Buddha in this life like Shakyamuni, the Jodo Shinshu path begins with the sense of failure. When you are 100% convinced that you cannot attain Buddhahood in this life, then you are ready for the Jodo Shinshu path. As long as you still harbor in your mind the smallest thought of personal merit or “maybe I can” kind of things, you cannot see and enter the Dharma gate of birth in Amida Buddha’s Pure Land.

Amida Buddha’s Pure Land is like a country where everybody can emigrate without the least requirement: no visas, no special capacities, nor any other qualities. As Shinran said:

“This is the way of easy practice to be followed by those of inferior capacity; it is the teaching that makes no distinction between the good and the evil.”

Thus, the Jodo Shinshu sangha is like an “idiot’s club” or alcoholics anonymous, in comparison with the nice and good Buddhists, who believe they are always calm and ready to become Enlightened and the same with Shakyamuni.

If you hope to find here some interesting quotes about detachment or how capable people are for goodness, virtues and any kind of spiritual realizations, then this is not the place for you. But if you recognize yourself more and more in the group of spiritual alcoholics or those incapable of any important practice which leads to perfection here and now, in the middle of sufferings and miseries of any kind, then this teaching would be of much help, and I wish to you a warm “welcome to the club!”

I repeat, Jodo Shinshu starts with the sense of failure….

NEW poems by Gansen John Welch