Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Shin Buddhism of Unno

First I’d like to indicate what is for me simpatico, before I review.

"There is never going to be a kind of spiritual welfare state. The goal for everyone is to be oneself a creator of a Pure Land, not an endless consumer of spiritual goodies." (p112 Living Ethically by Sangharakshita).

From the Dhammapada (p.44 Gil Fronsdale edition):

“Purity and impurity depend on oneself;
No one can purify another”

River of Fire, River of Water
by Taitetsu Unno is subtitled “An Introduction to the Pure Land tradition of Shin Buddhism”

My initial instinct is that I don’t want to chant a mantra to be reborn in Amitabha’s pure land, that feels too much like praying to get into heaven. But I like Blofeld’s quoting another in saying, “"All the sects are like beads on one rosary." (From Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin). So my question is what can I learn about the devotional from this tradition?

One thing I don’t like about Pure Land is mappo (as posted earlier). Even if you could prove it, and I don’t think you can, I think it has a whiff of a self-defeating idea. We can create our own pure lands.

The idea that meditation is elitist is also suspect (p.3). To say one aspect of Buddhism is superior is restrictive, reductive. Pragmatically for a person, that’s fine, but to state categorically shows a little sense of objectivity about the Buddhist tradition and the path of others. It seems true that if you focus just on mantra recitation you will develop that ability more. But restricting one’s practice to only one item of practice when there are so many feels artificial. It was a development perhaps about the rigidity of the situation in Japan at the time.

The idea that garbage is good, that you can ease into reality by just dropping all the intellectual stuff, and just being devotional is appealing. But you have to be careful not to just rewrite bad as good.

I have to admit that I prefer confrontation to consolation in spirituality.

I don’t feel the connection between the mantra and all the powers he attributes to it—that you appreciate the negatives and accept them; That you raise above your small self with “other power”. He does talk about good things, and it is good to accept yourself fully and work to grow beyond your small self. In a way this book felt like Subhuti’s withdrawn book Women, Men and Angels; It’s exquisitely argued, but I wonder why. If Pure Land eschews the elitist intellectual, than why use their language? I feel like poetry would be more persuasive. Milarepa eschews the academic lamas of his time, and so he sings songs. Feels bizarre to have a well reasoned intellectual justification of devotion. In Sangharakshita’s Ritual and Devotion, I felt like the book wasn’t intellectual, it was just persuasive.

I have to say I do like it that Buddhism appreciates it’s rebels, it’s heretics. Shinran and Honen broke with a rigid tradition, so in a way I appreciate their innovative spirit.

Here’s a good link on devotional practice from someone in the FWBO tradition:

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