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Shinran and His Work
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Pages (PDF): 119
Publication Date: 1910
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The Reverend Arthur Lloyd spent many years in Japan as a missionary and scholar. He extensively studied the Pure Land school of Buddhism, particularly the Shinshu sect founded by Shinran Shonen. This book centers around Lloyd's translation of the 'Shoshinge' or Hymn of True Faith, followed by extended commentary on the text which illuminates many aspects of Shinshu belief and practice.
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The Shinshu claims to be a Buddhistic sect.—Buddhism, as a religion, presupposes no creator, only a Law of Cause and Effect which has always worked inexorably as far as human thought can carry us backwards, a Law through the operations of which all the worlds comprising the universe have been evolved out of the original chaos of matter (Jap. Shinnyo Skt. Būtatathāta), and brought to their present state of growth, decay, or ruin.
The Founder of Buddhism is the Buddha S’akyamuni whose death may be placed about the year 480 B. C. The religion reached Japan, officially, by way of Central Asia, China, and Corea, about the middle of the sixth century A.D. About a thousand years had thus elapsed from the Nirvāna of S’akyamuni to the time when Buddhism first reached these shores. In the course of these centuries it had become one of the most stupendous systems of religious teaching that the world has ever seen. Its sacred books numbered over six thousand volumes: the articles in its creed were described as being 81,000 in number, and the whole system was aptly compared to an immense pharmacopœa, in which were to be found drugs and prescriptions for every one of the spiritual troubles of mankind (including toothache and the teething of children). No physician ever came across all human diseases in the course of his practice, or had occasion to try all drugs: no religious teacher ever had to deal with all forms of ignorance and sin, or to provide remedies suitable for each case. The utmost that any teacher of Buddhism can do is to draw from this vast storehouse a few doctrines that seem most suitable for the wants of those with whom he has to deal, and to formulate for himself a particularized system which may lie wholly within the confines of Buddhism, and yet scarcely touch any one of the sister systems formulated, within the Buddhist sphere, by other minds.
Hence, almost from the very commencement, Buddhism has been a religion with many (and occasionally diametrically opposite) doctrines, erected, from time to time, into conflicting sects and denominations.
We may pass over the Indian and Chinese sects, which have now none but an antiquarian value. All that has come in the way of denominationalism from India to Japan is the division into the three vehicles, or yānas as they are called. Shinshu claims to belong to the last and truest of these, to the Real Mahāyāna, which has satisfactorily solved the problem of making the personal experience of the individual believer serve for the salvation of others.
Again, if we contemplate the Supreme, whether by that we mean an individual personal God or an impersonal principle, we shall at once recognize, as indispensible attributes, the existence in Him (or It) of Mercy and Wisdom. The Supreme without these two attributes is unthinkable to the mind of civilized man. Moreover, Mercy and Wisdom are not merely attributes of God, they are also avenues by which we can approach Him. Buddhism professes to have two gates by which we may touch the Supreme, the Gate of Wisdom, and the Gate of Mercy. It professes philosophical teachings whereby man is taught to know, see, understand, all the Wisdom that there is in the Supreme; it has also a Gate of Mercy, through which the Mercy and Love of the Supreme flows into man's heart to soften and purify it. The Shinshu teaches its disciples to enter Heaven by the Gate of Mercy. It is pietistic rather than philosophical.
But there are two ways of entering even at the Gate of Mercy. We may try to enter in on the strength of our own merits, and claim the clemency of Heaven as a reward for the good deeds and holy actions that we have done ourselves This is known in Japanese as shōdō, the "holy path," and is the path generally taught by Buddhist sects. But Buddhism (in Japan at any rate) speaks also of another way by which the gate may be entered. It tells of a Saviour who has entered for us, who has smoothed the path, and prepared the mansion, and now calls us to the Paradise of Bliss. This is called in Jōdo mon, the Gate that leads to Paradise, and it is to this Gate that the Shinshu believer is taught to direct his footsteps.
Again, a man may enter the Gate that leads to Paradise by faith in the Saviour who calls him to come that way, and yet find room in his heart to give worship and reverence to other Buddhas, Saints, and deities. Other Jōdo sects may do this, but the Shinshuist knows (or professes to know) no Saviour but Amida, whom alone he worships with his whole heart. Similarly, a man may say; "It is true that I am saved by faith, but my faith in Amida cannot set me free from obedience to the wise rules laid down by S’akyamuni for the guidance of his disciples." So he abstains from meat and worldly amusements, abjures marriage and lives in a monastery. "But," says the Shinshuist, in reply, "the Truth is not so. If I am saved by Faith, the Law becomes of none effect. If Amida saves me through His merits only, then my actions come to be of infinitely small importance, Neither what I eat, nor my attitude towards marriage, nor anything of this kind can possibly affect my eternal salvation." So the Shinshu believer, clerical or lay, lives as a citizen of the world, eats as his neighbours eat, marries like them and rears up children, and says that the home and not the monastery is the focus of the religious life.
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