Heart of the Shin Buddhist Path - Introduction
With this text, Heart of the Shin Buddhist Path: A Life of Awakening, an important voice rejoins an ongoing discussion in the West concerning Shin Buddhist thought and practice. Takamaro Shigaraki begins this work with the simple declaration that “Shin Buddhism is a path for our attainment of buddhahood.” To some people familiar with Mahayana Buddhism this statement might appear to be an obvious one, requiring no explanation or elaboration. For Dr. Shigaraki, however, it represents an essential focal point, which when carefully examined will allow the heart and value of the Shin Buddhist teaching to become fully realized in a human life.
Shin Buddhism (Jōdo Shinshū in Japanese) is a school of Pure Land Buddhism founded by Shinran (1173–1262) in Kamakura-era Japan. In the centuries since its inception, it has become a major school of Buddhism in Japan in terms of the number of its followers, the richness of its tradition, the highly organized structure of its institutions, and its well-developed liturgy and cultural ethos. In the Hongwanji and Ōtani branches sectarian scholarship and contemporary studies of Shin Buddhism operate in parallel with one another. The classic studies of the former branch have been introduced in small part in the West, with much of it reflecting the traditional approaches adopted in orthodox thought.
Over one hundred years ago Shin Buddhism was brought to the West by immigrants from Japan, resulting in a thriving Shin Buddhist community, primarily among persons of Japanese-ancestry. In recent years the character of Western Shin Buddhism has begun to change as a growing number of non-Japanese practitioners and scholars have come to take an interest in it. Still, when compared to other forms of Buddhism that arrived after it, Shin Buddhism has remained until recent times relatively “under the radar” of both the majority population and the scholarly community in the English-speaking world. Yet that has also begun to change as the result of the discussion about Shin Buddhism that is now being carried on in both the academy and the local sangha. Dr. Shigaraki, who has been following this conversation with great interest, now offers to it his own expertise, insights, and aspirations.
According to Shinran Jōdo Shinshū is literally the “true essence of the Pure Land way” of enlightenment. It is a path of teaching, practice, and realization, which is directed to beings from Amida Buddha so that we may attain birth in the Pure Land. Dr. Shigaraki explores the implications of that path from both theoretical and practical perspectives. He explains that, as a path for our attainment of enlightenment, Shin Buddhism involves many forms of practice. In a broader sense, it also reveals a path of true humanness, a life of awakening in which we are able to encounter true reality in the midst of the emptiness and falsity of our human lives. By thus exploring the nuances and implications of the Shin Buddhist path of enlightenment, Dr. Shigaraki is able to highlight its significance in our individual and social lives today.
Takamaro Shigaraki is a Buddhist priest and scholar. He was born in 1926, the second son in the family of Reverend Chiyu Shigaraki, the resident priest of Kyōen-ji, a Jōdo Shinshū Buddhist temple in Hiroshima province. As a young man he received the tokudo ordination in the Shin Buddhist Hongwanji branch and then went on to study Buddhism at Ryūkoku University in Kyoto. After completing his undergraduate and graduate studies at that university and at the Shūgaku-in academy of the Hongwanji, he became an instructor at Ryūkoku. He was appointed to the position of professor of Shin Buddhist Studies in 1970 and became the resident priest of Kyōen-ji in 1975.
Dr. Shigaraki’s long scholastic career culminated with his being awarded the degree of Doctor of Literature (bungaku hakase). He also served as President of Ryūkoku University from 1989 to 1995. Now Professor Emeritus of Shin Buddhist Studies at Ryūkoku, he is also the Chairman of the Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai (Buddhist Promoting Foundation) in Tokyo, Japan.
Although not widely known outside of the Japanese world of religious studies, Takamaro Shigaraki is in fact one of the leading Shin Buddhist scholars in the world today. Thoroughly grounded in classic Pure Land and Shin Buddhist studies, his perspective differs greatly from the orthodox approaches of Hongwanji sectarian scholarship. For one thing, he believes it crucial that any study of the Shin Buddhist path combine academic rigor with a deep involvement of one’s religious heart, mind, and life. Thus, for him the features of the Shin Buddhist path, such as shinjin, nembutsu, the Primal Vow, or merit transference need to be examined thoroughly, using all of the objective academic tools available. And yet, he maintains, that path can never be understood truly unless, in his words, one walks out onto it “at the risk of one’s own subjectivity.” For the same reason he is able to view Amida Buddha and the Pure Land not as entity or place but as dynamic symbols or ideal spheres, which serve as the motives for authentic religious life.
Dr. Shigaraki also feels deeply that in the Western, English-speaking world Shin Buddhism must be examined in a way that differs from the orthodox perspectives to which it has been traditionally bound. He suggests that such an approach needs to be based in Mahayana Buddhist thought, or as he calls it, the “logic of the East.” Thus, he contrasts Shin Buddhist thought from that of theistic religions, which presume the existence of a transcendent god or a heavenly realm of peaceful reward. In fact, he claims, this kind of dualistic and objective interpretation of Shin Buddhism has created great misunderstanding as to its structure and purport both in Japan and in the West. As a result, its adoption and acceptance by Western Buddhist seekers has been delayed.
His works in Japanese are voluminous, ranging from his scholarly treatments of Pure Land doctrinal developments in India, China, and Japan, to groundbreaking examinations of life science and deeply personal expressions of his encounter with religious reality. His scholarly works include: Jōdokyō ni okeru shin no kenkyū [A Study of Shinjin in Pure Land Buddhism], Shinran ni okeru shin no kenkyū [A Study of Shinjin in Shinran’s Thought], Bukkyō no Seimeikan [Buddhist Life Perspectives], Kyōgyōshō Monrui Kōgi [Lectures on Passages Revealing the True Teaching and Realization], and Shigaraki Takamaro chosakushū [Collected Writings of Shigaraki Takamaro]
Dr. Shigaraki has also written a great number of works for the general readership, including Shinshū Kyōdanron [Shin Buddhist Institutional Theory], Shinshū Nyūmon [Introduction to Shin Buddhism], Gendai Shinshū Kyōgaku [Contemporary Shin Buddhist Doctrinal Studies], Anjin Ketsujōshō Kōwa [Lectures on the Anjin Ketsujōshō], Shinshū to Gendai Shakai [Shin Buddhism and Contemporary Society], Shinshū no Tai’i [The Essence of Shin Buddhism], Shinshūgaku shirizu [Shin Buddhist Studies Series], and many others.
The present text developed out of the notes of lectures that Dr. Shigaraki delivered at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in 1999. Those notes were originally published in Japanese as Shinshū no tai’i [The Essence of Shin Buddhism] in 2000. The title, Heart of the Shin Buddhist Path: A Life of Awakening, has been chosen for this English translation for a number of reasons. First, it seeks to pay reference and homage to an earlier work that introduced Dr. Shigaraki’s thoughts to the English-speaking world more than two decades ago: The Buddhist World of Awakening. The present text reflects a development and expansion of many of the themes presented in that earlier work.
Moreover, for Dr. Shigaraki, “awakening” represents the core of the Buddha’s enlightenment and Shinran’s perspective on shinjin. On the one hand, the Buddhist concept of awakening symbolizes the arising of wisdom, where one is able to see things exactly as they are through eyes that transcend the world. In that sense, the idea of awakening can be explored in an objective or descriptive manner. At the same time, awakening could be said to represent the innermost reality of an individual’s religious experience, in which one’s ego-burdened self is abandoned and one’s new self is born. In this sense, awakening represents a declaration of understanding, appreciation, and action by the religious being.
One can clearly see that Dr. Shigaraki’s approach to Shin Buddhism is both scholarly and religious (“spiritual” is the word he uses). His work, including this text, therefore finds its place among important contemporary commentaries that combine scholastic rigor and objectivity, with a deeply religious insight born of subjective practice and experience. Other noteworthy works in English are: River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Thought of Shin Buddhism and Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn into Gold by Taitetsu Unno, The Promise of Boundless Compassion: Shin Buddhism for Today by Alfred Bloom, Ocean: An Introduction to Jodo Shinshu Buddhism by Kenneth Tanaka, and Shinran: An Introduction to His Thought by Yoshifumi Ueda and Dennis Hirota.
The author’s unique perspective on Shin Buddhist thought necessitates a three-fold approach to the translation of his ideas into English.
First, some Sanskrit, Chinese, or Japanese terms have been left untranslated. Dr. Shigaraki takes the position that the rendering of certain terms into English could result in fatal misunderstandings of their underlying meanings. For instance, he feels that translating the term shinjin (信心) into English as “faith” or “belief ” would reduce a complex idea to a simplistic and dualistic concept. His treatment of the term tariki (他力), which is usually translated literally as “Other Power,” reflects a similar approach. The author criticizes this rendering, for it makes unidimensional the otherwise complex notion of “other” in Pure Land Buddhism. Furthermore, he feels, “Other Power” seems to characterize Shin Buddhism as a religion of power, rather that a religion as path. The key term nembutsu (念仏) has also not been translated.
Instead, by explaining the meaning and significance of those terms, the author seeks to offer them as new English Buddhist terms, complex in structure and meaning, while bearing a rich history and the potential for elucidating key ideas in Shin Buddhist thought in a new way to a new audience. As a consequence, in this text they have not been italicized in the main body of the text .
In contrast, another set of terms have been translated into English, for it was felt that by doing so the text would be able to benefit from terms rich in religious and theological connotation. Examples include the following: Heart and mind for kokoro (心), belief for shinrai (信頼), faith for shinkō (信仰), prayer for inori (いのり), wish or aspiration for negai or gan (願), and salvation for kyūsai (救済) or sukui (救い).
In still other cases, the translator has chosen to coin certain terms so as to bring attention to the author’s unique perspective on certain elements of the Shin Buddhist path. For instance, the term “deabsolutize” is a rendering of sōtaika suru (相対化する). It is intended to refer to the process of negating our tendency to attribute absolute value or substance to concepts that are in fact relative and limited. “Personal subjectivity” is a translation of shutaisei (主体性) and is meant to point to the deepest level of the self, which must be experienced directly. It is not the product of any conceptualized speculation, nor is it something perceived as the object of dualistic or scientific views. “Harmonious living” is a rendering of the term kyōsei (共生). It is intended to overlap in many ways with the concepts of symbiosis or conviviality, but without the biological or social limitations that those terms might possess.
Finally, this text makes frequent use of the term “evil” as a translation of the Japanese word aku (悪). In a similar vein, the word zaiaku (罪悪) is translated as evil act, while akugō (悪業) is rendered as karmic evil. The decision to employ these renderings was made with an understanding that their use is problematic and subject to possible misunderstanding. Conventionally, notions of good and evil have ethical or moral implications. Many religions, for instance, urge their followers to engage in good behavior and desist from doing evil. By contrast, the idea of evil in Shinran’s thought is quite complex and multilayered. While committing an evil act has ethical and moral implications, that is not the fundamental significance of aku in Shin Buddhism. Rather, as the author suggests, “evil” in Shinran’s thought means that any thought, word, or deed performed by an ignorant being can only lead to further suffering and delusion. We can do nothing at all to cut off our deluded passions or karmic evil, and yet within the experience of shinjin, an ignorant being can encounter true wisdom. This experience is revealed only within the paradoxical logical of Mahayana—evil karma, without being nullified or eradicated, is transformed into the highest good.
The translator hopes that his choice and usage of these terms will not interfere with the reader’s appreciation of the author’s intentions. Any confusion that might result herein is solely the fault of the translation and not of the original text.
Sincere appreciation is directed to the many people and organizations that made this translation possible. I would first like to thank Dr. Takamaro Shigaraki for entrusting his important thoughts to one who is minimally capable of expressing them in English. I would like to acknowledge the considerable efforts of Professor Mitsuya Dake of Ryūkoku University in support of Dr. Shigaraki’s lectures at the Institute of Buddhist Studies and the development of this English text. The generous guidance of Dean Richard Payne, Professor Eisho Nasu and Professor Lisa Grumbach of the Institute of Buddhist Studies was also invaluable. I would like to thank Haru Matsumune and Natalie Fisk for their tireless efforts in the proofing and editing of this text. I wish to acknowledge the support of Hōzōkan Publications of Kyoto, Japan, which produced the initial printing of this book and generously permitted this US publication of the text to take place. I would also like to thank Josh Bartok of Wisdom Publications and his staff for their skillful production of the present publication. Finally, I would like to offer heartfelt gratitude to the Yehan Numata Endowment Fund, the Buddhist Churches of America Research and Propagation Program, and the George Aratani Endowment for the IBS Center for Contemporary Shin Buddhist Studies, which were the sources of funding for Dr. Shigaraki’s lectures and the development of this text.
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© Takamaro Shigaraki; English translation © David Matsumoto, Heart of the Shin Buddhist Path (Wisdom Publications, 2013)
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