Shin, Sect, Shinran, Faith, Pure, Land
We now look at what foreigners call "Reformed" Buddhism, which some even imagine has been borrowed from Protestant Christianity—notwithstanding that it is centuries older than the Reformation in Europe.
The Shin Shu or True Sect, though really founded on the J[=o]-d[=o] doctrines, is separate from the sect of the Pure Land. Yet, besides being called the Shin Shu, it is also spoken of as the J[=o]-d[=o] Shin Shu or the True Sect of the Pure Land. It is the extreme form of the Protestantism of Buddhism. It lays emphasis on the idea of salvation wholly through the merits of another, but it also paints in richer tints the sensuous delights of the Western Paradise. As the term Pure Land is antithetical to that of the Holy Path, so the word Shin, or True, expresses the contrary of what are termed the "temporary expedients."
While some say that we should practise good works, bring our stock of merits to maturity, and be born in the Pure Land, others say that we need only repeat the name of Amida in order to be born in the Pure Land, by the merit produced from such repetition. These doctrines concerning repetitions, however, are all considered but "temporary expedients." So also is the rigid classification, so prominent in "the old sects," of all beings or pupils into three grades. As in Islam or Calvinism, all believers stand on a level. To Shin-ran the Radical, the practices even of J[=o]-d[=o] seemed complicated and difficult, and all that appeared necessary to him was faith in the desire of Amida to bless and save. To Shinran,9 faith was the sole saving act.
To rely upon the power of the Original Prayer of Amitabha Buddha with the whole heart and give up all idea of ji-riki or self-power, is called the truth. This truth is the doctrine of this sect of Shin.10 In a word, not synergism, not faith and works, but faith only is the teaching of Shin Shu.
Shinran, the founder of this sect in Japan, was born A.D. 1173 and died in the year 1262. He was very naturally one who had been first educated in the J[=o]-d[=o] sect, then the ruling one at the imperial court in Ki[=o]to. Shall we call him a Japanese Luther, because of his insistence on salvation by faith only? He is popularly believed to have been descended from one of the Shint[=o] gods, being on his father's side the twenty-first in the line of generation. On his mother's side he was of the lineage of the Minamoto or Genji, a clan sprung from Mikados and famous during centuries for its victorious warriors. H[=o]-nen was his teacher, and like his teacher, Shinran studied at the great monastery near Ki[=o]to, learning first the doctrine of the Tendai, and then, at the age of twenty-nine, receiving from H[=o]-nen the tenets of the J[=o]-d[=o] sect. Shortly after, at thirty years of age, he began to promulgate his doctrines. Then he took a step as new to Buddhism, as was Luther's union with Katharine von Bora, to the ecclesiasticism of his time. He married a lady of the imperial court, named Tamayori, who was the daughter of the Kuambaku or premier.
Shinran thus taught by example, if not formally and by written precept, that marriage was honorable, and that celibacy was an invention of the priests not warranted by primitive Buddhism. Penance, fasting, prescribed diet, pilgrimages, isolation from society whether as hermits or in the cloister, and generally amulets and charms, are all tabooed by this sect. Monasteries imposing life-vows are unknown within its pale. Family life takes the place of monkish seclusion. Devout prayer, purity, earnestness of life and trust in Buddha himself as the only worker of perfect righteousness, are insisted upon. Morality is taught to be more important than orthodoxy.
In practice, the Shin sect even more than the J[=o]-d[=o], teaches that it is faith in Buddha, which accomplishes the salvation of the believer. Instead of waiting for death in order to come under the protection of Amida, the faithful soul is at once received into the care of the Boundlessly Compassionate. In a word, the Shin sect believes in instantaneous conversion and sanctification. Between the Roman and the Reformed soteriology of Christendom, was Melancthonism or the co[=o]perate union of the divine and the human will. So, the old Buddhism prior to Shinran taught a phase of synergism, or the union of faith and works. Shinran, in his "Reformed" Buddhism, taught the simplicity of faith.
So also in regard to the sacred writings, Shinran opposed the San-ron school and the three-grade idea. The scriptures of other sects are in Sanskrit and Chinese, which only the learned are able to read. The special writings of Shinran are in the vernacular. Three of the sutras, also, have been translated into Japanese and expressed in the kana script. Singleness of purpose characterised this sect, which was often called Monto, or followers of the gate, in reference to its unity of organization, and the opening of the way to all by Shinran and the doctrine taught by him. Yet, lest the gate might seem too broad, the Shin teachers insist that morality is as important as faith, and indeed the proof of it. The high priests of Shin Shu have ever held a high position and wielded vast influence in the religious development of the people. While the temples of other sects are built in sequestered places among the hills, those of Shin Shu are erected in the heart of cities, on the main streets, and at the centres of population,—the priests using every means within their power to induce the people to come to them. The altars are on an imposing scale of magnificence and gorgeous detail. No Roman Catholic church or cathedral can outshine the splendor of these temples, in which the way to the Western Paradise is made so clear and plain. Another name for the sect is Ikko.
After the death of Shinran, his youngest daughter and one of his grandsons erected a monastery near his tomb in the eastern suburbs of Ki[=o]to, to which the Mikado gave the title of Hon-guanji, or Monastery of the Original Vow. This was in allusion to the vow made by Amida, that he would not accept Buddhaship except under the condition that salvation be made attainable for all who should sincerely desire to be born into his kingdom, and signify their desire by invoking his name ten times.11 It is upon the passage in the sutra where this vow is recorded, that the doctrine of the sect is based. Its central idea is that man is to be saved by faith in the mercy of the boundlessly compassionate Amida, and not by works or vain repetitions. Within our own time, on November 28, 1876, the present reigning Mikado bestowed upon Shinran the posthumous title Ken-shin Dai-shi, or Great Teacher of the Revelation of Truth.
|Written By William Elliot Griffis|
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