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The Life and Thought of Shinran Shonin: He Who Walked the Path Before Us

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  • Author: Shinshū Ōtani-ha (Higashi Honganji) Research Institute for Shin Buddhist Studies
  • Kindle Price: US$2.99
  • Published: June 22, 2015

A path exists that perhaps we’ve never known. Only when it opens before us do we realize the Path has always existed. Unless someone takes that path and tells us about it we might not even notice it. In this book, we’ll meet that person who has shown us the way. The Life and Thought of Shinran Shonin: He Who Walked the Path Before Us makes our own journey a reality.

Shinran, a Buddhist priest of medieval Japan who is regarded as the founder of Shin Buddhism, was born in 1173 and died in 1263. Ninety years is a long time to live even in today’s world. During the latter part of his life even in his eighties he wrote down many of his thoughts and experiences in the forms of long treatises as well as prose essays and verse. After his death a memorial hall was built in his honor that later was awarded temple status. His memory was exalted to the level of legend where it remained for hundreds of years.

One hundred years ago scholars and writers began to explore the historical and human side of Shinran in the process of demythologizing religion. This more warm and human Shinran is the theme of many modern books.

The present book does not intend to restore Shinran to his pedestal as a semi-legendary figure nor does it intend to present merely a humanized image of him. Indeed, the Shinran that we want to meet is the person who took the path before us. That is the real purpose of this book.

The main text of this book is a translation of the Shūso Shinran Shōnin, a textbook for temple study classes, published in 1978 by the Shinshū Ōtani-ha in Kyoto, Japan. The Shinshū Ōtani-ha, also known as Higashi Honganji, is one of the largest Shin Buddhist organizations in Japan. Since the book not only provides a good historical framework for Shinran’s life, but also presents a careful selection of quotations from Buddhist literature, including those by Shinran himself, it is a good introduction of Shin Buddhism and Shin Buddhist way of life.


A Thinking Person’s Guide to Shin Buddhism

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  • Author: Daiei Kaneko
  • Kindle Price: US$2.99
  • Published: June 22, 2015

This essay A Thinking Person’s Guide to Shin Buddhism, originally titled Shinshū no Yōshi, was written by Daiei Kaneko, one of the prominent Shin Buddhist thinkers, who laid the foundations of modern Shin Buddhist studies. With a broad background in Mahayana Buddhism and philosophy, Kaneko gives a concise but deep outline of Shin Buddhism in this essay.


A Portrait of Shinran: As Presented in Kakunyo’s Three Classical Collections

For a full description of A Portrait of Shinran series, click here.

Volume 1: Kudensho

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  • Author: Kakunyo
  • Kindle Price: US$2.99
  • Published: February 27, 2014

The Kudenshō is the first of our three-volume Portrait of Shinran. When we read it, it feels as if we are together with Shinran listening to him tell his favorite stories. These were stories he enjoyed telling his close disciples Nyoshin and Yuien over and over again. Through listening they were able to better gain their bearings on the Buddha way.

In 1331, almost seventy years after his death, these stories were compiled by his great-grandson Kakunyo (1270–1351) who wished to record them for posterity. Kudenshō is less known compared to the Tannishō. Filled with anecdotes it give us a glimpse of the essence of Shinran’s teaching. It also gives us a vivid picture of his life through the eyes of his immediate descendants.

Eight of the stories are also related to the Tannishō in some way. Kakunyo tries to clarify the controversial points of the teaching. Does our karma affect our chances for enlightenment or not? The book also serves to establish Kakunyo as the direct heir to the teaching lineage.


Volume 2: Shujisho

For a full description of A Portrait of Shinran series, click here.

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  • Author: Kakunyo
  • Kindle Price: US$2.99
  • Published: April 21, 2014

The Shūjishō is the oldest of the three collections in A Portrait of Shinran. Compiled in 1326 it is Kakunyo’s first attempt to formulate his position with regard to Shinran’s teaching. Although he was Shinran’s great grandson he had to struggle to achieve his leadership position.

It was under his tenure that the memorial hall received official temple status and official approval to use the name Honganji. Listening to the request of his key disciple Ganchi (1273–1353), Kakunyo age 57 realized it was necessary for him to make an official statement of his position on the Shin Buddhist teaching.

Poring over Shinran’s letters, writings in the Mattoshō, Sanjō Wasan, and Tannishō as well as the letters of Eshin-ni, Kakunyo drew up a concise five-point statement that he called Shūjishō. The points are as follows:

  1. Shin Buddhism rejects the idea of Amida Buddha coming to welcome the dying seeker. Instead, Shin religious life is to be centered in ordinary life, not on life’s final curtain.
  2. In Shin Buddhism the Mind of Faith is the true cause orienting us toward Birth in the Pure Land.
  3. Shin Buddhism accords special significance to the Eighteenth Vow as the Original Vow. The Eighteenth Vow is understood to equally guarantee Birth in the Pure Land to all living beings whether good or wicked through the power of the Original Vow.
  4. Shin Buddhism understands that a special relationship is maintained between the Mind of Faith, the Name, and the Light of Amida Buddha.
  5. In Shin Buddhism the cause of our going forth to Birth is perfected by the working of Other Power. The Mind of Faith matures in the course of pursuing our daily life. Kakunyo’s Shūjishō became an important cornerstone in Shin Buddhist doctrine and its tenets were upheld by succeeding generations of Shin Buddhist leaders.

Volume 3: Gaijasho

For a full description of A Portrait of Shinran series, click here.

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  • Author: Kakunyo
  • Kindle Price: US$2.99
  • Published: June 29, 2014

The Gaijashō, the last of three collections in A Portrait of Shinran, was composed in either 1336 or 1337. In 1336, the Honganji in Kyoto where Kakunyo resided was burnt down by invading armies. In that year, Ashikaga Takauji established himself as first shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate in Kyoto. Kakunyo was forced to remove to the Kuonji in Nishiyama, southwest of Kyoto. In light of these circumstances, some scholars doubt whether it was possible for him to compose the Gaijashō at this time.

In the same year 1336, Bukkōji Ryōgen also died at the hands of bandits as he made his way home to Kyoto. Ryōgen’s death upset the status of all Shinshū temples belonging to the Bukkōji branch then the largest of all Shinshū temple systems.

By contrast, the Honganji branch was a minor one under the umbrella of the Tendai school. All the same, Kakunyo’s Gaijashō opens with criticism directed at the practices of the dominant Bukkōji branch. By such documents, Kakunyo played an important role by laying down the guidelines of Shinran’s teaching that helped to ensure the steady growth of the Honganji branch in the future.

One hundred some years later, under the leadership of Rennyo, eighth leader of the Honganji, a shift in the political situation would force almost all Bukkōji temples in Kyoto to recapitulate and switch allegiance to the Honganji. While Rennyo is unilaterally praised for making the Honganji a huge institution in Japan, it is Kakunyo who took the helm to deftly guide the still fragile Honganji branch through a treacherous period of Japanese politics to produce early works that helped to define the Honganji tradition.


The Art of Listening: A Buddhist Guide to Happiness

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  • Author: Yoshikiyo Hachiya
  • Kindle Price: US$2.99
  • Published: August 10, 2014

During the past two hundred years many countries around the world opted to shift from an agricultural economy to an industrial one. This led to huge demographic shifts as people moved from rural areas to urban centers. Up to then the Buddhist religion in Japan had catered to farming communities. In the winter months when the farmers had no work preachers were regularly sent out to give sermons to large audiences. In the modern age the Buddhist religion had to adapt to changing circumstances.

In this volume we present the sermons of the Shin Buddhist preacher Hachiya Yoshikiyo (1880–1964). An active preacher during the Taishō and Shōwa periods, he is one of the many preachers who adapted the Buddhist message to the modern age.

Addressing the problems of alienation, dehumanization, and poverty that afflicted people in modern life, his talks aim to encourage people in their search for happiness. Surely they can find happiness if only they knew the starting point for their search. It is the first step that is crucial. Take the first step and the riddle of life solves itself.

In this book, Hachiya Yoshikiyo tells us we have to bring forth the heart willing to listen. It is as easy as that. But in the hectic pace of modern life, it is not easy for us to take the time to do so. No wonder we are suffering lost in alienation, dehumanization, and poverty.

The recipient of a Buddhist college education Hachiya Yoshikiyo was also a skillful writer who went on to write numerous books, some of them quite voluminous. The present book is made up of the first set of articles that he contributed to the Jōdō magazine published in Sakai, Osaka, from 1922 to 1943. His other books return to the themes of the modern search for happiness and listening as the key. There is a touch of humor in his writings even as he looks the problems of modern life in the eye.