Buddhism Guide

In any discussion of Buddhism, we must first realize that there are many schools and sects of Buddhism. Of the many world religions, Buddhism is possibly the only one which does not declare to be the one true religion. Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha, declared there are "84,000 paths to enlightenment." "84,000" representing an infinite number of paths to the Truth. However, all the schools and sects that fall under the category of Buddhism, must begin with the life of Siddartha Gautama, who came to be known as Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni meaning, the great sage of the Shakya clan.

First and foremost, Shakyamuni Buddha was a man — a living, breathing, human being. Among the founders of religions, Shakyamuni Buddha was the only teacher who has emphasized this fact. He attributed all of his attainments to human endeavor, not divine inspiration from god or some other external factor. It is only man that has the possibility of attaining Buddhahood. As a result, we could call the Buddha, a perfect human being. It is because of his perfect "human-ness" that he has often become regarded as "super-human." Therefore, in understanding what led this human being to become the Buddha, it is necessary to understand some of his life.

The Life of Siddartha Gautama 

The Shakya clan or tribe lived in present day Nepal in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was said that his father Suddhodana was king of the Shakyas. The capital city for the Shakyas was a town called Kapilavastu. The actual place of Shakyamuni Buddha's birth is said to be in a nearby region known as Lumbini. To this day, there is a pillar, in the village of Padariya, near the border of Nepal. On this stone pillar is engraved the inscription: 

"The benevolent-faced King (Asoka), beloved by the gods, visited this place personally twenty years after his coronation and worshipped, as here the Buddha Shakyamuni was born. He ordered a stone wall to be constructed around the site and erected this stone pillar (to commemorate) the birth of the Bhagavat. He declared the village of Lumbini exempt from taxation and only required to pay one-eighth (of their yield)." 


There is some question as to the actual year of the Buddha's birth. Among scholars, there is approximately a one hundred year difference in the dates of his birth and death. Professor Hajime Nakamura considered the dates 463 BCE and 383 BCE as the years of his birth and death respectively. Therefore, for the purpose of this handbook we will go by those dates. Regardless, the fact that scholars have been able to ascertain these dates, is proof to the historical validity of the Buddha's existence. Our Jodo Shinshu tradition has held April 8, to be the birthday of Shakyamuni Buddha. We refer to it as Hanamatsuri (Flower Festival). (Refer to Buddhist Holidays) 

It was said that Shakyamuni Buddha's mother Queen Maya, had a dream of a Bodhisattva riding on the back of a six tusked elephant entering her side. After this dream, she became pregnant with the prince. Shakyamuni Buddha's mother and father had tried for many years to conceive without success. Therefore they were overjoyed at the prospect of the child's birth. 

As was the tradition of the day, Queen Maya was returning to her own home to give birth to her child. Along the way, she stopped in the garden of Lumbini. The legend says, that she gave birth, while plucking a branch from a tree. The legend says that the Earth shook in six directions and accompanying Bodhisattvas lowered the baby to the Earth. The baby then took seven steps and proclaimed, "In the heavens above and the Earth below, I alone am the world honored one." Thus he proclaimed his arrival as the Buddha. Of course, we realize that much of this is myth. What is important, is that the Buddha was born a human being, to very human parents. 

It was said that after his birth, King Suddhodana and Queen Maya were visited by a great ascetic named Asita. The parents had named their baby Siddartha meaning, 'to accomplish the objective' or 'achieve the goal.' Their family name being Gautama. Upon holding the baby, Asita began to cry. The worried parents wondered if the psychic Asita, had seen something bad in the baby's future. To the contrary, Asita had realized he was holding the future Buddha in his hands. Asita was crying at the realization he would not live long enough to witness the Buddha's enlightenment and subsequent teaching. Asita reported to the King and Queen that their son would either become a great ruler of the world or the Buddha. 


As a result of the Asita's prediction, the King shielded the young prince from the harsh realities of life. He hoped that by shielding his son from human suffering, the prince would become a great ruler of the world rather than the Buddha. Seven days after his birth, Queen Maya died. Siddartha was raised by his Mother's sister Mahapajapati. But try as he might, the King could not keep the realities of life from his son. 

The young prince had tremendous ability in all things, physical, mental and spiritual. According to the custom of the time, Siddartha was married at the very young age of sixteen, to the beautiful young princess Yasodhara. They soon had a young son, by the name of Rahula. It was said that the family had a palace for each of the seasons and lived a life of extreme luxury. 

Legends say that from time to time, the young prince ventured out of the palace to observe the life of his subjects. This is where the legends of the four gates developed. Upon leaving the first gate, he encountered an old man. Witnessing this, Siddartha began questioning the nature of aging. He stated:

In this manner I was wealthy and extremely comfortable but the following thought occurred: ‘an uneducated common man, despite the fact that he is subject to old age and cannot avoid becoming old, upon observing old age in others has thoughts of annoyance, shame and disgust. I myself, am also subject to old age and cannot avoid becoming old, yet in spite of the fact that I am subject to old age and cannot avoid becoming old, upon observing old age in another, I would be annoyed, ashamed and disgusted. This is not proper.’ And when I made this observation, the vigor of my youth vanished.

In a similar manner, Siddartha witnessed a sick man, a corpse and then an ascetic striving for enlightenment. All of these things began to trouble the sensitive prince. At the age of 29, even with a beautiful wife, young son and a life of luxury, he set out to find the answers to these questions of life. After his enlightenment the Buddha spoke of this time. "O Bhikkhu, after I truly raised the mind to seek the way still I was a young man with dark black hair and filled with the joy of youth. In this spring of my life, despite the tears shed by my parents, I shaved my head, put on robes, renounced my home and became a homeless monk." If you look at the naijin you will see the "sumi yoraku" (refer to Hondo), representing the Buddha's casting off his jewelry to begin his search. Although this would seem unimaginable for any of us to leave our family in a similar manner, this was the deep desire for Truth, that began Siddartha's quest. It may seem harsh for Siddartha to leave his child and wife during this time in his life. However, Siddartha was searching for a better way for all sentient beings. After his enlightenment as the Buddha, his son Rahula, eventually became one of his disciples, as did his wife Yasodhara. 

His Path 

The first teacher Siddartha sought was Alara Kalama. Kalama was a famous teacher, who was said to have had a deep understanding of life. He preached the state of non existence. Siddartha studied with Kalama and soon learned all that Kalama knew. Kalama asked him to take over and lead the group. However, Siddartha realized this was not the path to complete enlightenment. In the Buddhacarita it states:

At that time I thought: this Dharma does not lead to avoidance, to separation from desire, to extinction, to peace, to wisdom, to true Enlightenment, to serenity, it merely makes us attain the state of non-existence.’ Thus I ceased to value that Dharma and dissatisfied with that Dharma, I departed.

Siddartha's second teacher was the hermit Uddaka Ramaputra. Uddaka advocated the state of neither thought nor non-thought. Once again Siddartha was accepted as a student and soon gained all the wisdom that Uddaka had to offer and was asked to take over the group. Siddartha is once again quoted from the Buddhacarita. It states:

‘This Dharma does not lead to avoidance, it does not lead to separation from desire, it does not lead to extinction of serenity, it merely makes us attain the state of neither thought nor non-thought.’ Thus I ceased to value that Dharma, dissatisfied with that Dharma I departed.

After learning all that these two great teachers of his time could provide him. Siddartha continued his search. In many of the later stories concerning Shakyamuni Buddha, there are a number of teachers listed. However, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputra are documented from some of the earliest sources. Therefore, they are the most historically accurate. In his search for Truth, Siddartha learned all the major traditions of that time, emphasizing the wonder of his breakthrough once he reached enlightenment. 

After leaving these teachers, it was said that Siddartha entered a life of asceticism with five other seekers of the way. The time of his practice of asceticism varies from 6 to 7 years. There is an important quote that says Shakyamuni cultivated a mind of compassion for seven years. The importance is not in the time but in the idea of cultivating a mind of compassion. Some scholars tend to consider that the path of compassion was a relatively recent development of Mahayana Buddhism, while earlier Buddhists were much more self seeking. This quotation indicates that the ideal of compassion was indeed a central focus from Buddhism's beginnings. 

To many of us, it seems incredibly brave of Siddartha to enter the dangerous forests to begin this life of asceticism. After his enlightenment Shakyamuni commented on this question of fear. He said:

Why am I waiting for fear to come? Should I not overcome fear and terror as they approach? O’Brahmana, thus as I walked, stood, was seated or lay down, fear and terror approached me, and then as I walked, stood, was seated or lay down, I overcame fear and terror.

This is a wonderful teaching for all of us. The harder a man consciously tries to overcome fear and terror, the more it increases. Realizing that there is no escape, one can firmly reside within the midst of these feelings to overcome them. 

In time Siddartha realized that asceticism was not the right path. He had practiced asceticism to the point of near death. His complexion was gray and his body thin and weak. In the Mahasaccaka sutta Shakyamuni states:

Then it occurred to me: Tranquillity is difficult to attain with this extremely emaciated body. I shall take some nutritious food-milk gruel.

Then I consumed the milk gruel. Now at that time the five religious in my company came to me saying: ‘if the follower Gotama attains the Dharma, he will preach it to us.’ But when I ate the nutritious food-milk gruel, those five turned away from me in disgust saying; ‘the follower Gotama is avaricious and corrupt, he has abandoned his endeavors.’ 

But as I took the nutritious food and gained strength, separated from various desires, from unwholesome things, with initial and discursive thought, I reached the state of the first dhyana (meditation) created by the joy of separation.

Legends state that Siddartha accepted some rice and milk gruel from a young village girl and abandoned asceticism. Restoring his strength, he set out for Buddhagaya. During his journey, he stopped and sat under a Bodhi tree and attained enlightenment. 

From this point Siddartha will be referred to as Shakyamuni Buddha. It is also important to differentiate the two major schools of Buddhism, Mahayana and Theravada. Mahayana is the school of Buddhism where Jodo Shinshu falls under, as does most sects of Japanese Buddhism. Theravada is the other major school of Buddhism. Theravada means "path of the elders" and Mahayana means "large vehicle." The Theravada Buddhist's follow the literal teachings of Shakyamuni, whereas the Mahayana Buddhists follow the spirit of his teachings. Larger vehicle emphasizes the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism as a large vehicle to take all sentient beings to enlightenment. In comparison, the Theravada path which is often considered a solitary path. 

In recognition of this day of the day Siddartha reached enlightenment, we Jodo Shinshu Buddhist's refer to it as Bodhi day and celebrate it on December 8. However, according to the Theravada Buddhist tradition, his attainment occurred on the day of the full moon of the month of Vaiskha. This corresponds to the day of full moon in May of the solar calendar and is the reason why they commemorate this day in May. On this day Theravada Buddhist commemorate the Buddha's birth and enlightenment. As Nakamura Hajime has pointed out, "According to the Indian calendar, Vaiskha is the second month of the year, thus in Chinese translations of Buddhist texts it is frequently cited as the eighth of February. This Chinese calendar system often changed, but according to the Chou dynasty calendar, the lunar month of November was regarded as the first month; thus the eighth day of the second month became December 8. This is the tradition the Japanese inherited and the date on which they commemorate Shakyamuni's attainment. 

His Enlightenment 

It is said that after Shakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment, his initial response was one of silence. Merely sitting in this contemplative state, he enjoyed the fruits of his endeavors. 

Most legends agree on this initial response of Shakyamuni Buddha. It was probably too difficult for him to talk about his new state. Other human beings would not be able to grasp the subtlety of his realization. According to the Pali Vinaya, after his enlightenment, he sat under the Bodhi Tree for quite sometime. 

Eventually, Shakyamuni recalled individuals such as the five companions with whom he had practiced asceticism. These individuals, although still unenlightened, had the potential to have their eyes fully opened. Humanity was not hopeless, there were people who would understand the Dharma to which he had opened his own eyes. As a result, the Buddha traveled Northwest toward present day Sarnath near Benares. He crossed the Ganges Rive and arrived in Deer Park. There he met his old companions and began to explain what he had opened his eyes to. This is called "the turning of the wheel," where the Buddha began his first Dharma Talk. The content upon which his talk was based, is what we have come to know as The Four Noble Truths. 

The Four Noble Truths 

As stated at the beginning of this explanation of general Buddhism, there are many different sects of Buddhism. However, there is a common Dharma and set of underlying assumptions that guide all of the sects. Foremost of these are the Four Noble Truths. These Four Truths are at the core of the Buddha Dharma. They are clear and simple truths about the essence of life. 

The first noble truth is Dukkha 

Dukkha literally means "off the mark", "frustrating", "hard to bear." We usually hear it paraphrased as "Life is Difficult" or "Life is Suffering." The use of the word "suffering" has led to the misconception that Buddhism is a pessimistic religion. However, the key idea to this concept of Dukkha, is that there is a way to be free of this suffering. When we are talking about what is difficult in life, we must look toward the Buddhist definition of Dukkha, which presents eight types of pain. 

  1. Birth 

  2. Sickness 

  3. Old age 

  4. Death 

  5. Separation from those we love. 

  6. Having to associate with those we dislike. 

  7. Not always getting what we seek or want. 

  8. The difficulties of growing in both mind and body. 

These are descriptions of life in general, they are facts and situations each of us must confront. How we confront or live with them, determines our suffering. 

The second noble truth is Samudaya 

Samudaya means the arising or origin of Dukkha. Another way to define this, is to say, there must be a reason for this pain or frustration one feels in life. The cause of this pain is craving or desire. In Pali this is called "Tanha." We each desire things; we want to be rich, we want to be loved, we want to be with our loved ones etc. It is a never ending thirst. To see this concretely, I often think of a child before Christmas. Everything that appears on television is something they want. It seems that their desire is endless. As adults we are not really different, the stakes have merely changed. When we see that we are on this endless wheel, sometimes described as drowning in the ocean of birth and death, we cry out, "What can I do? Is there something that can help?" Buddhism is positive and optimistic in this regard. 

The third noble truth is Nirodha 

Another word for Nirodha is nirvana. It is also called "Tanhakkhaya" which translates as the extinction of thirst. To attain nirvana, we must quench or rather extinguish the thirst and desire. This means when we extinguish the thirst and desire we will attain wisdom. We will see Truth with a capital "T." How do we do this? 

The fourth noble Truth is Magga 

Magga means the Path. This is a path we can follow that will allow us to extinguish the thirst that drives us. This path is called "The Noble Eightfold Path." This path has also been called the "Middle Path." This is the path that lies between the two extremes in our search for happiness. The first extreme is to totally follow our senses for pleasure. This will not lead to true happiness. For in constantly seeking pleasure we will not see true life, which embraces suffering as a fact of life. The other extreme is the path of asceticism. If we give everything up, we will no longer crave them. As Prince Siddartha initially followed and ended up empty. He then followed the other extreme and realized it was not the answer. His nirvana was found by following the middle path. 

The Noble Eightfold Path 

These eight ways of living have also been called wholesome or "Right." I have remembered them for years by thinking, "V.T. SCLEMM." These stand for: 

  1. Right View 

  2. Right Thought 

  3. Right Speech 

  4. Right Conduct 

  5. Right Livelihood 

  6. Right Effort 

  7. Right Mindfulness 

  8. Right Meditation 

If we want to reach Nirvana we should follow this middle path. This is the basic ideal in Buddhism. If this is the ideal of reaching Nirvana, does that mean it is possible for me? This is the question that we must each ask ourselves. From this basic teaching of Buddhism, there developed a variety of paths or ways to accomplish this. One of these ways is our sect of Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu. 

Basics of Jodo Shinshu

Jodo Shinshu literally means "True Pure Land Teaching." Shinran Shonin is the founder as established by his followers. In his humble way, he never claimed to be establishing a new sect of Buddhism. Rather, he was merely stating the true purpose of Shakyamuni Buddha's life mission on Earth, which he defines in one of his poems: "The True intention of the Tathagata in coming to this world is to present the truth of the Original Vow." This is called "Shusse no hongai" in Japanese. Most sects of Buddhism make a similar claim. As an example, the Nichiren sect considers the teaching of the Lotus Sutra as being Shakyamuni's main purpose. For Jodo Shinshu followers, this mission was to awaken mankind to the Wisdom and Compassion of Amida Buddha. After Shakyamuni Buddha's death, teachers over the centuries have expounded the Buddhadharma and have transmitted the essence of the teachings of Amida Buddha. Among these are seven whom Shinran Shonin declared as the Seven Masters (Shichi Koso). They are Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu in India; Donran, Doshaku and Zendo in China; and Genshin and Honen in Japan. 

Shinran Shonin struggled for twenty years as a Tendai monk, at the monastery located on Mt. Hiei near present day Kyoto, Japan. While on Mt. Hiei, Shinran studied and practiced the prescribed Buddhist rituals of the day. It was believed that in following these rituals, one would gain enlightenment. After twenty years of study, practice and devotion, Shinran had not found a way to his spiritual freedom. 

Shinran abandoned the monastic life to search for a different way for his emancipation. He then encountered a senior monk named Honen. Honen had also studied on Mt. Hiei and abandoned the monastic life style to spread the teachings of Nembutsu. Up until this time, the Buddhist teachings were reserved for those who had left their lives as householder and taken the precepts of monks or nuns. In Honen, Shinran had found a good teacher (Zenchishiki), who would guide him on his path to realize personal salvation. 

Honen taught that it was through the 18th vow of Amida Buddha, as expressed in the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life that the path for spiritual freedom and eventual enlightenment was to be found. The 18th vow stated: "If after my obtaining Buddhahood, all the beings in the ten quarters who, with sincerity of heart hold faith and wish to be born in my country, repeating my name perhaps ten times, are not so born, may I not achieve the Highest Enlightenment. Excluded only are those who have committed the five deadly sins and those who have abused the true Dharma." As a side note, the five deadly sins are: killing your Mother, killing your Father, killing an arhat, spilling the blood of a Buddha and causing a schism in the Sangha. If we realize that each of us have committed these sins in some form, such as through thought, speech or action. We will understand this reference to the five deadly sins as a warning, rather than literal interpretation of being excluded from Amida Buddha's vow. 

Through Honen's guidance, Shinran understood that the way to his own spiritual freedom was not to be attained by his own power, but through Amida Buddha's vow power (ganriki), which promised to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment. 

The accepted date of the founding of Jodo Shinshu is 1224. This is when Shinran Shonin completed his draft of A Collection of Passages Revealing the True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way (Ken jodo shinjitsu kyo gyo sho monrui). This title is commonly abbreviated as Kyogyoshinsho (Teaching, Practice, Shinjin, Realization), a shortened form that came into use about a century after his death. Within this work he often quoted from the works of the seven masters. 

Essence of Jodo Shinshu 

The heart of the Jodo Shinshu message is that there are two kinds of Merit-transference (eko). Merit transference means to transfer one's merit towards enlightenment to another. One is the phase of going (oso-eko) and the other is the phase of returning (genso-eko). In other words, Amida Buddha, perfecting the ultimate virtues and merits necessary for the Enlightenment of all sentient beings, endows the Teaching, Practice, Faith and Enlightenment to man. This is all signified by bestowing his name "Namo Amida Butsu" for our benefit. In hearing his name "Namo Amida Butsu" in essence it is the power of Amida Buddha's vow working through us. Thus Jodo Shinshu is called the religion of "primal vow of other power" or "tariki hongan." Receiving shinjin, is the ultimate grace bestowed upon us by Amida Buddha. This may seem a little difficult to fully comprehend. Therefore, let us break down these key concepts of Jodo Shinshu. 

Amida Buddha 

Amida Buddha is often referred to as the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life. This is in reference to the word "Amida" itself. Amida is taken from the Sanskrit words Amitabha 'infinite light' and Amitayus 'infinite life'. Amida Buddha is one of the most important Buddhas in Mahayana Buddhism, mentioned in over 200 sutras. Of these sutras, there are three major Pure Land Sutras. Of these three, the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life is of utmost importance. (Refer to Doctrine for further detail.) Within this sutra is detailed the path of Dharmakara Bodhisattva who eventually became Amida Buddha. Within Shinran's Notes on the 'Essentials of Faith Alone,' he states: "Dharmakaya-as-suchness has neither color nor form; thus, the mind cannot grasp it nor words describe it. From this oneness was manifested form, called dharmakaya-as-compassion. Taking this form, the Buddha proclaimed his name as Bhiksu Dharmakara and established the forty-eight great Vows that surpass conceptual understanding." Many people confuse Amida Buddha and Shakyamuni Buddha. It is easiest if we look at there being three forms of Buddhahood. The first is the Dharmakaya, described above. The second form is dharmakaya as compassion, Amida Buddha. The third form is the historical person Siddartha Gautama, who became Shakyamuni Buddha. Another way to look at this is, Amida Buddha is the content of Shakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment. 


Nembutsu literally means "recollection or mindfulness of the Buddha" This is the translation of the Sanskrit "Buddha-anusmriti" or "Buddha-manasikara." The idea of Nembutsu has existed from the early days of Buddhism as one of the three, six or ten kinds of mindfulness. It refers to the act of devotion to, worship, praise and contemplate on the Buddha. The practice's intent was to control one's evil passions and lead one to rebirth in the heavenly realm and finally to nirvana. 

Pure Land Buddhism has also been called the path of the Nembutsu. Nembutsu is not limited to the historical Buddha, as was the original practice. In the development of Pure Land Buddhism, through the masters of China and Japan (refer to Shichi Koso) Nembutsu has come to refer to the ideal of recitation of the Name of Amida. Within the Meditation Sutra the term "Nembutsu Samadhi" can be found in the 8th and 9th contemplation. (refer to section on doctrine) The Smaller sutra also referred to as the Amida Sutra, simply mentions concentration on the Name of Amida from one to seven days as the cause of birth in the Pure land. 

Within present day Jodo Shinshu, by saying the Name of Amida Buddha, which we refer to as "Namo Amida Butsu," one entrusts one's self to Amida Buddha. Thus one enters the path of Nembutsu. Namo Amida Butsu means, "I rely upon Amida Buddha." After the initial saying of the name, meaning saying "Namo Amida Butsu" with a real and true heart, all subsequent nembutsu is a response of gratitude. 

Saying the Name 

In Jodo Shinshu all that is required is to say the name or to say "Namo Amida Butsu." In this respect, Jodo Shinshu is a Buddhist practice that anyone can follow. In fact, Jodo Shinshu was developed particularly for the layman and those who did not have time for many of the more difficult Buddhist practices. 

However, saying the Nembutsu does not mean simply reciting the words. One should say them with the realization that within these words are embodied the ultimate truth of life. The words themselves are the vow of Amida Buddha dynamically working for your benefit. As the nembutsu becomes a part of you, it is Amida Buddha working to transform your mind for his mind of true wisdom and compassion. It is an act of going beyond our self centered limitations, reacting to the primal force of Amida Buddha's power. Shinran Shonin calls this Nembutsu, "the nembutsu of tariki," that is the Nembutsu of other power. Other power refers to the power of Amida Buddha. 


Shinjin has been translated as faith/mind and a variety of other interpretations. For the most part, it is best to leave shinjin as shinjin, rather than try for a translation. I would like to refer to a book by Professor Takamaro Shigaraki in regards to this subject and I will use an excerpt from his pamphlet An Introduction to Shin Buddhism. Professor Shigariki was Professor of Shin Buddhism and President of Ryukoku University. This excerpt is entitled "On Shinjin." 

However, deeply immersed in worldly life we may be, if we continue to say the nembutsu wholeheartedly, eventually true nembutsu will be born and true shinjin will be attained. The word shinjin is different from commonly used shin'yo (confidence) and shinrai (trust). Shin'yo and shinrai refer to recognizing and relying on what is not completely certain or thoroughly known. It means non-intellectual approval of something beyond the reach of our reason and judgment. However, shinjin used in Shin Buddhism is entirely different from shin'yo and shinrai. 

Shinjin means entrusting based on thorough understanding and knowing. Shinran Shonin clarifies shinjin, "One should know that the arising of shinjin is the appearing of wisdom." Attaining shinjin means "knowing" this is the fundamental characteristic of shinjin in Shin Buddhism. However, "knowing" here does not mean "obtaining knowledge," as it is usually understood. It means becoming awakened to my own reality as a person living in illusion and filled with self-attachment, totally ignorant of the truths of dependent origination, impermanence and non-ego. However, as long as I am an ignorant being, it is impossible for me to really know my true condition. It becomes possible only when my true state is shown and made known to me through the eyes of another. Thus, "attaining Shinjin means 'knowing'" means being made to know by the Buddha's Dharma and through nembutsu that I am an ignorant being living in illusion. This is just like seeing my reflection in the mirror. Looking into the mirror is not a separate act from looking at my own figure. Likewise, understanding the Buddha's Dharma is knowing my own reality. This purely existential, non-discriminative way of knowing is no other than attaining wisdom, which is the final goal of Buddhism. Shinran Shonin called it the "wisdom of shinjin." 

Shinjin, attained in the midst of worldly life, at the same time belongs to the supra-mundane world of truth. That is why Shinran Shonin called it shinshin, or the true mind. However, in reality, we constantly contradict truth and live a life filled with falsity. In this sense, our attainment of shinjin means that what cannot possibly exist in us does exist now. Shinran Shonin described this inconceivable experience as "shinjin that has arisen from tariki (the Power of Amida's Primal Vow)" and "shinjin that has been received." 

Shinjin, being synonymous with wisdom, enables us to slough off our old selves and grow into new human beings. Thus, attaining shinjin also means "becoming." It is an establishing of a new Self, which Shinran Shonin described as "becoming a person equal to the Tathagata." However, as shinjin is based on realization that we are ignorant beings living in illusion, we cannot expect to become Buddhas in this life. That is why Shinran Shonin used the expression "equal to the Tathagata." In Shin Buddhism, we are nurtured to be persons equal to the Tathagata while remaining ordinary foolish beings. This is the goal of Shin Buddhism. Again, inasmuch as shinjin is "knowing" and "becoming," it is not only a one-time experience. In a sense, our experience of shinjin is complete each time, but in another sense, it remains incomplete with the process of "knowing" and "becoming" taking place throughout our lives. Thus, shinjin in Shin Buddhism means that while single-heartedly saying the nembutsu, we are continuously nurtured to grow into new Selves. 

Here we come to understand the meaning of salvation in Shin Buddhism. In Shin Buddhism, being saved means "crossing over," that is, going beyond this finite life and crossing over this world of "illusion." As the person of shinjin grows to be equal to the Tathagata, he develops a stout-hearted personality so that he can cross over various hindrances and sufferings in this real life. Living the single path of non-hindrance in shinjin is indeed what salvation means in Shin Buddhism. 

In this way, the path of the nembutsu as taught in Shin Buddhism directly follows the basic structure of the Buddhist path; entrusting-practice-wisdom. It is the path as explained in Tannisho "if you, entrusting yourself to the Primal Vow, say the nembutsu, you will become a Buddha." In other words, having encountered and being guided by a person of shinjin, we entrust ourselves to the teaching of Pure Land Buddhism (entrusting), exclusively choose the path of the nembutsu (practice), and finally attain the wisdom on shinjin (wisdom). This, in Shin Buddhism, the path to Buddhahood begins with taking refuge in the teaching through nembutsu and aims at attaining shinjin, again through nembutsu. This is why the Shin Buddhist path is called "the path of the nembutsu" as well as "the path of shinjin." 

Kyosho: (The essentials of Jodo Shinshu) 

Name: Jodo Shinshu Honganjiha 

Founder: Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) 

Central Object of Reverence: Amida Tathagata (Namo Amida Butsu) 


  • Sutra: Three Principal Sutras of Jodo Shinshu 

  • Larger Sutra on Infinite Life (Daikyo)

  • Sutra of Meditation on Infinite Life (Kangyo)

  • Sutra on Amida (Shokyo)

Teaching: Having entrusted ourselves to the teaching of Namo Amida Butsu, we experience joy of having received the assurance of Buddhahood. From the constant gratitude that arises within, we shall strive to live in service to the world and humanity. 

Tradition: We are a community of people joined together in the joy of a common faith in Amida Buddha. As Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, we shall seek to be mindful of our words and deeds, be responsible citizens of our society, and share with others the truth and reality of Jodo Shinshu.     Understanding fully the principle of causality, we shall not practice petitionary prayer or magic, nor shall we rely upon astrology or other superstitions. 


Three Pure Land Sutras 

  • Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Daimuryoju Kyo)

  • Sutra of Contemplation on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (Kanmuryoju Kyo, also referred to as the Meditation Sutra)

  • Smaller Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Amida Kyo, or Amida Sutra)

Shinran's Major Writings 

  • The True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way (Ken jodo shinjitsu kyogyosho monrui)

  • Passages on the Pure Land Way (Jodo Monrui Jusho)

  • Hymns of the Pure Land (Jodo Wasan)

  • Hymns of the Pure Land Masters (Koso Wasan)

  • Hymns of the Dharma-Ages (Shozomatsu Wasan)

  • Hymns in Praise of Prince Shotoku (Kotaishi Shotoku hosan)

  • Notes on Essentials of Faith Alone (Yuishinsho Mon’i)

  • Notes on Once-Calling and Many-Calling (Ichinen Tanen Mon’i)

  • Notes on the Inscriptions on Sacred Scrolls (Songo Shinzo Meimon)

  • Lamp for the Latter Ages (Mattosho)

  • A Collection of Letters (Shinran Shonin Go-Shosoku Shu)

  • A Collection of Letters (Zensho Text, Go-Shosoku Shu Zensho Bon)

  • Letters of the Tradition (Shinran Shonin Ketsumyaku Monju)

  • Gutoku's Notes (Gutsokusho)

  • Passages on the Two Aspects of The Tathagata's Directing of Virtue (Nyorai Nishu Ekomon)

  • A Collection of Passages on the Types of Birth in the Three Pure Land Sutras (Sango Ojo Monrui)

  • The Virtue of the Name of Amida Tathagata (Mida Nyorai Myogotoku)