The Importance of the Modern Shin Teachers for the North American Me

Rev. Patti Nakai
Resident Minister, The Buddhist Temple of Chicago

The great majority of people in North America who identify themselves as Shin Buddhists were introduced to the teachings of Shinran Shōnin by the Jōdo Shinshū Hongwanji-ha (Nishi Hongwanji). I am one of those who came into Buddhism through that tradition. Most of the books available around the time I began my study were produced by them, and I benefitted from studying the translations of original works they produced. But without any commentaries or explanations, it was extremely difficult to make sense of those teachings. There was just too much there in the English translations that just didn’t make much sense – Jōdo Shinshū seemed to be a belief system for feudal-age Japan and not for those of us educated in Western science and philosophy.

At the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, I was fortunate to learn from ministers who were inspired by the great modern Shin teachers of Shinshū Ōtani-ha (Higashi Honganji): Kiyozawa Manshi, Soga Ryōjin, Kaneko Daiei, Yasuda Rijin, et al. All of those modern teachers bring the teachings of Shinran Shōnin to life through the language and concepts of the 20th century world. The modern Shin teachers are all well-versed in Buddhist studies and show the connection to the historical Buddha’s teachings and various schools of Buddhism. They also bring Jōdo Shinshū into dialogue with the philosophies and religions of the West.

In my studies at Ōtani University in Kyoto, the commentaries of Soga and Kaneko were often referenced in my classes and were especially helpful in reading the Kyōgyōshinshō. One time I attended the “housewives” discussion group at Sō-ō-gakusha led by Mrs. Yasuda and some Ōtani graduate students. We were reading a Soga commentary on the Tannishō and the ladies all told me, “Yes, the text is difficult but it’s much more meaningful to read than those pamphlets for laypeople that Honzan tries to sell us.” I think many North Americans will feel the same way – once they start reading the words of the modern Shin teachers, they will savor the depth of the nenbutsu teachings more so than any “easy-to-read” pamphlet directed at laypeople.

To have the works of the modern Shin teachers translated in current-day English would be welcomed by North Americans – first by the ministers and scholars, but over time more and more people will appreciate these presentations of the nenbutsu teachings. This will be because increasing numbers of Jōdo Shinshū followers will be “converts” – those from a different or no religious upbringing. The writings of the modern Shin teachers will lead them to a deeper understanding of the nenbutsu teachings and also give them a framework that will help them in discussing Jōdo Shinshū with other Buddhists and followers of various Western religions and philosophies.

It would be a significant contribution to the spread of Shin Buddhism for the Shinshu Center of America to publish these translations at this time.

 

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