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December 03, 2009


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Thank you for this book review! I've been attending "Japanese Buddhism" course in the university during this fall and we've discussed about shinjin and Shinran Shonin also. Jodo Shinshu tradition is so different to compared my tradition (Soto Zen) but it is really fascinating and I love to explore other traditions too as a part of my studies. It is also interesting to notice that basic principles seems to be almost same in different traditions and sects and vehicles: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and Buddhism means practicing, what ever the practice is.

Peace, my friend!

Ben Howard

Barry -

Thanks for this thoughtful review. It leaves me wondering how shinjin is related to the spirit of radical questioning that pervades the Zen Buddhist tradition. Trusting in unfolding life is one thing, trusting in a gift-giving agent another.





Thank you for the review. This sounds like a good book to buy.

As for your comments in the conclusion, it seems to me that everything is indeed gifted. I certainly can't say that I alone ever brought about very much.

Nor am I particularly convinced that I can, by myself, change much of me or the world around me. I know I'll certainly never be able to sit/think/perfect myself to Englightenment unaided.

Which is why I'm so happy with my (Korean Zen Hanmaum) practice of letting go, of entrusting, of placing everything in the hands of Buddha-nature.

This is not Japanese Pure Land of course, but I'm also fascinated by the Pure Land teachings and in my own practice see no real conflict between them.

The one thing I am sure of is that 'self-power' won't get me very far! Much better to rely on True Self, or - in other language - the working of Amida Buddha!

Namu Amitabul,



I also received this book for review some months ago, but haven't gotten to it yet. I actually brought it to my trip to read it here, but no such happening...

I agree with you regarding "trusting in a gift-giving agent." Gives it a theistic bent, and certainly a view that makes Pureland Buddhism unique. I don't know much about Pureland, so looking forward to reading the book and learning more about it.

Will keep your review in mind as I read and add to the conversation on a future post.


It would be just as much a mistake to lump all Pure Land traditions together as to lump all meditation traditions together. You would probably learn a lot talking with Ven. Heng Sure, a serious meditator who would give you a much different perspective on the notion of Pure Land.

One point that you hone in on, the difference between jiriki (自力) and tariki (他力) is one where some Shin Buddhists would go so far as to claim that Zen practice is actually defiled and ego-based (although I'm sure these guys don't believe that). I am sure that some people ascribe to the views that arise from your own "child-like understanding"—but my gut reaction is: so what?


Oh! The links didn't appear!

Ven. Heng Sure: http://paramita.typepad.com/

Dharma Realm (Shin Buddhists): http://www.dharmarealm.com/


If I can offer my two cents on your final point, from the point of view of a Shin Buddhist practitioner, it sometimes helps to see Shinran's words in the larger context of Mahayana Buddhism. When we do this, it seems to me that his take on Buddhism takes certain, basic Buddhist concepts and pushes them to the extreme.

For example, the reason that I cannot attain shinjin (or awakening for that matter) is simply because "I" don't exist. If we take the doctrine of anatman seriously, then there is nothing that "I" can do to facilitate my own awakening because, in the final analysis, that attachment to the very notion of "self" is precisely what's keeping me from coming into contact with the fundamental aspect of all reality (Amida Buddha's compassion, for Shinran; bodhicitta or Buddha nature for others).

Another way to approach the subject is to consider that there is nothing that I, as an individual, do to accomplish awakening -- or anything else for that matter. Shinran seems to be stressing the fundamental interconnectedness we have with the world around us. And this is certainly something I've heard from the Dharma Talks of many Shin Buddhist ministers here in the States. That is, we're not able to "go it alone"; no matter how long we do any "self-powered" practices, at the end of the day, the only reason we're able to accomplish anything is because of the support of teachers, friends, the community, hearing the Dharma, the very air we breath. It's at this point that we realize that it wasn't really "me" doing anything, but "us" -- despite the dualistic tone of "other power" v. "self power."

So, speaking for myself and certainly not for the world community of Shin or Pure Land Buddhists, it seems to me that Shinran is basing his teachings on some fundamental Buddhists points (anatman, interdependence, among others) and pushing them to their logical conclusion.

Lastly, it's also important to remember that a lot, and I mean a lot, gets lost in translation!

Barry Briggs

I'm unbelievably grateful for the rich and helpful comments each of you have offered. When I wrote this book review (the first such post ever on Ox Herding), I expected no one to comment - it's pretty far afield from my usual meanderings. These comments have taught me a great deal, not only about the Shin tradition, but also about the blinders that skew my perception and cognition.

As Marcus rightly pointed out, "'self-power' won't get [us] very far." Most of us probably have direct experience of this truth, perhaps earned the hard way.

Arunlikhati, I'm sorry to say that I can't grasp the point you're making in your second paragraph. I'm not familiar with the terms (jiriki and tariki), so perhaps that's the source of my confusion. The "so what?" for me comes down to one thing: Does a practice path help people awaken in this very life? If so, then I celebrate it wholeheartedly, even if I'm confused about the details.

Scott, I'm deeply thankful for your extensive comment. Thank you. I'm not a scholar of Buddha's teachings on Anatman (or much else, for that matter), but my understanding both from reading and discussion from those wiser than me is that the Buddha avoided saying both that a self exists and a self does not exist. He only claimed that there was no persistent entity that would could identify as a self.

In the Samyutta Nikaya (12.15), the Buddha tells Maha Kaccana: "Everything exists - that is one extreme. Everything doesn't exist - that is the other extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, The Tathagata teaches the dhamma by the middle way."

In my current understanding, this "middle way" cuts away nearly all conceptual framework, in favor of a profound "don't know." (Of course, the entire Zen tradition is shaped by Bodhidharma's "don't know.")

In fact, this "middle way" provides the basis for total interpenetration; without it, we would remain separate.

I hope that everyone will allow me a bit of defensiveness: the original post contains nothing about "self-powered" practice and I certainly don't view Zen as a self-powered practice tradition. Monday's post, "On Spiritual Practice," should make that clear.

Again, sincere thanks to everyone for contributing to this discussion.


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