Essence of Jodo Shinshu Fall Seminar(s) Notes

by Renan Jeffereis - October 2000

In October I was fortunate enough to attend two fall seminars and a spring seminar.  The first was at the Tacoma Buddhist Temple given by Rev. Mas Kodani of the Los Angeles Senshin Buddhist Temple, the other by Rev. Tetsuo Unno at the Seattle Betsuin Temple, and the third by Professor Bhante Seelawimala from the Institute of Buddhist Studies.

Below are some notes I made at both seminars that I think you might find useful.

From the Rev. Unno Seminar:

What or who is Amida Buddha?

Visualize a mother's love to her child, then the mother can be thought of as Shakyamnui Buddha (human form), the love can be thought of at a higher plane as compassion and yet a higher plane as one-ness, then that higher plane or more universal concept of one-ness can be thought of as Amida Buddha. The statue represents a concrete form in which to remind ourselves of that concept.

What is the Pure Land?

When you come home, the relaxed non-judgemental state of mind that you are in, represents the Pure Land - a non-discriminating, non judgemental, relaxed, comfortable at-ease state of mind.

What is the essence of Jodo Shinshu?

It is deep hearing. The essence of Zen is sitting meditation. In Jodo Shinshu it is the deep hearing of the teachings. By deep hearing we mean the kind of hearing you might do in a doctor's office if he were about to tell you that your tumor is.... You listen intently with your whole being concentrated.

What does it mean to be enlightened?

The simple definition of enlightenment, is gratitude. To know you have everything you need right now and be grateful for it is to be enlightened. Looking at your dark side frees you.

From the Rev. Kodani Seminar:

Is Nirvana the same as the Pure Land?

Yes and No. Shinran says that in this life you experience the truth and awaken to it, it does not matter what happens to you when you die where the ultimate freedom from samsara (suffering) is death. That means that in this life you may experience moments of enlightement that are not permanent and so in a sense that is like the permanent state of mind at death (pure land - ultimate freedom from samsara) but yet it is only momentary (so it is not like the pure land). Shinran said that we experience moments of awakening (shinjin) in this life that make us equal to a Buddha at that moment, so we don't need to be concerned with what happens after we die (completely leave samsara -suffering and delusion) behind. Shinran also said that you don't say the nembutsu as a practice to get you Nirvana, but rather the opposite - that the truth knocks at our door, and nembutsu is an expression of gratitude for that knocking. You fleetingly experience shinjin (awakening) when you examine or listen to the truth about yourself.

What is Shinjin?

The characters, Shin means true, real, sincere, and Jin means Mind. So it means true real sincere mind. It is the awakening of the samsaric (deluded) mind to the nirvanic (awakened) mind - where we awaken to the reality of ourselves (what we are really like). For most of us, it is these moments of clarity that pass us by and we are aware of fleetingly. At each of these moments you are equal to a Buddha and it does not matter at the moment of death - you are ok. 

From Bhante's talk - Shinjin means "entrusting" in Amida Buddha.  Since the Buddha asked us to test the Dharma and not take anything on faith, how then do we reconcile Shinjin and testing the Dharma?  As we progress on the path to enlightenment, we practice the Buddhist principles and find out for ourselves if they work for us and help us improve.  If they do, then a point is reached where you can say to yourself with confidence that the Buddhist path is working and is the right path for me.  It is that confidence which allows us to project and say, I now know for sure that I can entrust in the Dharma for the rest of my journey to enlightenment.

What is salvation?

In japanese it is "sukui" which means "scooping up". The truth scoops you up. The truth is smacking you in the face every day and we ignore it. Jodo Shinshu asks you to give in (entrust yourself) to the truth so you can be free of delusions and suffering.

Why chant?

Chanting is meant to quiet the mind. It is monotonic deliberately. The sound is more important than the words. If you come to the chanting with no ego and your own sound, you add to the overall sound. If you are embarrassed by it, it means that all the more you need to chant to let go of your ego self.

The idea of quieting the mind is so that we can concentrate truly on seeing the way things really are, and appreciating what we have.

What is the Pure Land?

An ideal environment in which to understand buddhism - be your true self.

Does Buddhism have ethics or morality?

Buddhism is intrinsically free of ethics or morality, it does however take on the ethics and morality of the culture, country that it is in. It does not impose ethics or morality on a country/culture but rather, absorbs it instead.

Why say Namo Amida Butsu?

Saying the name reminds us of our world of delusion and to become awakened to it. Namo represents samsara (delusion) and amida represents nirvana (awakening). Both these concepts samsara and nirvana come together in saying the name - one cannot exist without the other - it is also expressed by the left and right hands coming together.