Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reactions to my criticism of Rev Unno's writings

Dear friends in the Dharma,

Recently, Rev Toshikazu Arai reacted to the articles published on this blog about divergences from the Jodo Shinshu teaching contained in the books of Rev Unno.

Toshikazu Arai even wrote a funny statement about my critical attitude of this scholar and Rev Shigaraki in another article, which I quote here:

"I hope that he will come to his senses as soon as possible - even for the sake of his own journey to the Pure Land."


So, do you see, my friends.... how criticizing the words of these scholars, Unno and Shigaraki, might even become an obstacle for my birth in the Pure Land!!! .....Ohhh.....sorry.... I didn't know these scholars are of the same importance as Shinran or Shakyamuni. Criticizing them is a grave offense or like slandering the right Dharma!
However, its really sad how far some people can go in venerating ordinary people, and being attached more to persons than to the Dharma….

As my time in the last period has been very limited especially due to my hard job (I work 12 hours every day) plus other Dharma activities of teaching and guidance of people who are truly interested in the Jodo Shinshu teaching, I don't have now the time and energy to answer myself to those articles written by Rev Arai, in which he defends the divergences from the true Jodo Shinshu teaching made by his teacher, Rev Unno. But I will present you two letters written by my Dharma friends Paul Roberts and Richard St. Clair (Shaku Egen) in response to them. They say exactly what I myself have in mind but don't have now the energy and time to write. Please read carefully their simple explanations calling everyone to entrust in the simple faith oriented Dharma of Jodo Shinshu.
I agree 100% with what Paul and Rick write bellow.


Toshikazu Arai: Those who are upset about the use of the term "symbol" for Amida Buddha must know that it is used mainly in academical and intellectual discussions rather than in spiritual discourses for general audiences.

Paul Roberts:
This is not an acceptable explanation for a scholar to make - if he is first and foremost a person who has taken refuge in the Triple Gem.
Further - many of us who are not academics have a broad enough intellectual background so we understand very well the modern thinking about symbols and myth. And we reject, entirely, any attempt to couch Dharma discussion of Amida Buddha in such terms.

Further - our Dharma masters explicitly tell us NOT to use soteric language and concepts when discussing the Dharma...because it would only lead to confusion. And that is exactly what has happened in the
last 50 years in the Sangha. People have become utterly confused by the kind of language you hear in texts and Dharma messages by such teachers as Unno, Shigaraki and others. It has caused many people to
DOUBT, rather than to have FAITH - and the Shin Sangha has declined precipitiously both in Japan and in the West as a result - even while other schools of Buddhism thrive.


Toshikazu Arai writes: It would make hardly any sense to non-specialists of the doctrinal studies of Jodo Shinshu.

Paul Roberts:
It makes no sense to many specialists in doctrinal studies of Jodo Shinshu either. Eiken Kobai Sensei, and Hisao Inigaki Sensei (just to name two), both reject the modernist approach to Shin Buddhism that says Amida Buddha does not really exist, that He is a fictive character, a metaphor or a myth. Both of them recognize what Master
Shinran himself recognized: That we live in a transcendental universe with countless Buddhas of Reward Body, who are working constantly to bring the rest of the sentient universe to Buddhahood.


Toshikazu Arai writes: It would be perfectly acceptable to most Jodo Shinshu followers to present Amida as a "person" or an "agent" who has supreme wisdom and compassion with which to guide sentient beings to
the Pure Land.

Paul Roberts:
It's not merely "perfectly acceptable". It is the True Teaching of the Pure Land Way, as presented by Master Shinran. Those who don't find it "perfectly acceptable" have the right to promulgate other ideas, and to start their own group.
But - they don't have the right to present such ideas as Shin Buddhist thought - because that just isn't true.


Toshikazu Arai writes: In addition, those who criticize the proposition that Amida is a religious symbol must know what the term "symbol" means. Otherwise they would be arguing based on a preconception that it is only a sign, equal to traffic signs and signs to toilets.

Paul Roberts:
Once again, there are plenty of us - both scholars and lay people in the Shin Sangha - who know exactly what Paul Tillich, Carl Jung and other modern western thinkers mean by the term SYMBOL.

We reject such thinking, when applied to Amida Buddha, as being contrary to the clear teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha, the Seven Pure Land Masters, and Master Shinran.
For example, in the Smaller Sutra (the "Amida Sutra") we read as follows:

"The Buddha [Shakyamuni] then said to the Elder Shariputra: "If you travel westward from here, passing a hundred thousand kotis of Buddha-lands, you come to the land called 'Utmost Bliss,' where there is a Buddha named Amida. He is living there now, teaching the Dharma."


Shakyamuni - who had the Buddha eye to see reality as it really is - declared that RIGHT NOW there is a Buddha of Reward Body named Amida, who is living in a place we call the Pure Land, teaching the Dharma.

What in the world would lead SOME Shin Buddhist scholars (certainly not all) to say anything other than that? It is INCORRECT. It is FALSE TEACHING. As such it needs to be addressed - just as our Dharma
masters and Yuien-Bo addressed false teaching in their day.


Frgments from a letter by Richard St. Clair (Shaku Egen) who also has a wonderful and well known website on Shinshu Dharma at

Toshikazu Arai wrote:

"I have already expressed my view on Amida Buddha as a religious symbol in my previous essay."

Richard St. Clair (Rick):
Well, we know clearly where he stands on this point. He is not a person of true faith. There seems to be little point in "debating" with him, but I did find a number of false claims in his article. One of Arai's key arguments is that the 18th vow means "born right now" in the Pure Land with attainment of Shinjin. In his version of
the Primal Vow, the sutra says "When they wish to be born in that land, they will immeidately attain
birth and abide in the stage of non-retrogression."
To interpret "immediately attain birth" as actual birth in the Pure Land is immediately clarified by the phrase "in the stage of non-retrogression." Birth in the Pure Land means BUDDHAHOOD. The stage of non-retrogression means still unenlightened in human form but GUARANTEED of birth in the Pure Land at the appropriate time, namely upon passing out of this worldly existence at death.
"Non-retrogression" is a general Mahayana term which means on the verge of enlightenment and destined to attain enlightenment, but still as yet unenlightened.

He then quotes Master Shinran:
""Upon our attainment of shinjin, immediately we are embraced in the heart of the Buddha of Immeasurable Light.... When we are thus embraced, immediately, without allowing a moment or day to pass, we
attain the stage of the truly settled. This we call attainment of birth""

What could be more clear than that? Shinran DEFINES "attainment of birth" as "the stage of the truly settled," i.e. in the state of Shinjin, non-retrogression, still in this earthly form but not actual birth in the Pure Land as a Buddha.

Toshikazu Arai says:
"However, it would be quite absurd to take some of the descriptions literally. Some examples are the enormous height of Amida Buddha menitoned in the Contemplation Sutra and the great grand antiquity of
the primordial Buddhas mentioned in the Larger Sutra. The first of the primordial Buddhas, Dipankara Tathagata is said to have appeared "in the distant past, countless, inconceivable and innumerable kalpas ago"! That would have taken place well before the Big Bang, while the direct ancestors of our species (homo Sapiens) are said to have appeared only about 200,000 years ago."

Richard St. Clair (Rick):
Arrogant materialism! A transcendent Buddha DOES have, or CAN have, enormous - even limitless - size. And, as long as he is bringing modern science into the discussion, there is no general agreement among astrophysicists that the universe, i.e. time itself, began with the big bang. Many are now saying that there has been an infinite series of big crunches followed by big bangs. Most scientists are humble enough to admit THEY DON'T KNOW FOR SURE, astrophysics is still largely in the phase of hypothesis. Heck, scientists can't say where 95% of the mass of the universe is, i.e. "dark matter". And the accelerating expansion of the universe by "dark energy" is something no one can explain, hard though they are trying to explain it. Some scientists are even saying that our vast universe is just one among an infinite number in an infinite number of dimensions. Those who think time itself began with the big bang are in a shrinking minority. Besides, the Larger Sutra doesn't say that Dharmakara was a homo sapiens! There are in the universe probably a countless number of
sentient beings in advanced civilizations, and they don't necessarily look like 20th century earth hominids! The Dharmakara story doesn't say Dharmakara lived ON EARTH or that it was the same planet we live
The Larger Sutra reads:
"The Buddha said to Ananda, "In the distant past -- innumerable,incalculable and inconceivable kalpas ago -- a Tathagata named Dipankara appeared in the world."
"The world" does not literally state "this planet called Earth."

Toshikazu Arai says:

"Shinran is clear about persons of shinjin attaining birth after death. However, he also says that attaining shinjin is the same as, or equal to, attaining birth in the Pure Land. In my understanding, when we awaken to the Primal Vow and entrust ourselves to the Vow, we are already embraced by the working of the Primal Vow. Attaining shinjin is a qualitative transformation of our life from that of a "bonbu" who is concerned with only world matters to that of a person embraced and protected by the working of the Pure Land. "

Richard St. Clair (Rick):
True to a point: in the state of Shinjin we ARE "embraced by the working of the Primal Vow," but we are not born in the actual Pure Land as Buddhas. Again Arai confuses "attainment" with "actualized".
"Attainment" means assurance, non-retrogression. It does not mean actual birth in the Pure Land. This is Basic Shinshu 101.

Toshikazu Arai says:
"One of Shinran's poems goes, "The person who says the nembutsu with joy/
Is equal to the Tathagata, the Buddha said/
The great shinjin is the Buddha-nature/

The Buddha-nature is indeed the Tathagata"
(Hymns of the Pure Land, #94).

This means that it is perfectly all right to say, "birth in the Pure Land has occurred in the awakening to shinjin
here and now" as Dr. Unno said.

Richard St. Clair (Rick):
This poem by Master Shinran, which is difficult to interpret out of context, does not literally say we are immediately born in the Pure Land with the attainment of Shinjin, thus it does not support his, and
Unno's, contention. The latter part of his statement, "The person of shinjin remains a bonbu - an unenlightened person filled with passions and desires - whose eyes are open to the Buddha's working on himself as well asl on every sentient being and whose ears are ready to hear the call of Amida Buddha. When our physical
existence comes to an end, having shed ourselves of all the defilements, we are totally emersed in the ocean of the Buddha's wisdom and compassion."
claims that we "shed ourselves of all the defilements" prior to death.
In other words, this claims that we use self-power to shed ourselves of all the defilements, and it goes directly counter to Master Shinran, who himself at age 90 still confessed to having base passions and lust for fame. The ACTUAL shedding of the defilements occurs ONLY and IMMEDIATELY when we are born in the Pure Land after death, and it happens through the power of Amida Buddha and the amazing attributes of the Pure Land.

Just a few quick observations........ I really don't want to dissect Arai's statement more than this. As I said, there is really no point arguing with someone like this. He doesn't have his basic terminology straight and can't therefore claim to have any authority on scripture.

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