NASBA Fellowship Manual

Spirit of Shin Practice

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Spirit of Shin Practice
"Simple" Sangha Model
Outreach Steps
Element I: Opening the Dharma
Element II: Go For Refuge
Element III: Meditation
Element IV: Prayer or Responsive Reading
Element V: Chanting
Element Vb: (optional ceremonies)
Element VI: Discussion
Element VII: Sharing the Merit
Element VIII: Fellowship
NASBA Site and Chapter Links

Imagine a religion without original sin, judgment, a wrathful God, a multitude of gods and saints, an eternal hell, Satan, a sense of guilt, a personality cult, idolizing a book, a blood sacrifice for atonement, a rejection of personal experience, holy wars, hypocritical rules, sexism, a cultish mindset and constantly asking for money. Luckily, a religion without all of this negative baggage does exist and is called Shin Buddhism.


Heart of Buddhism


Shin Buddhism was founded over 800 years ago in Japan by the religious reformer Shinran Shonin (1173- 1262). The Shin path is the latest branch of the greater 2,500 year old Pure Land tradition, established in India, by the historical Buddha. The word Shin means “heart” or “core,” so Shin Buddhism can mean Heart of Buddhism, but the original Japanese name of Jodo Shinshu means the “True Essence (Heart) of the Pure Land Way.”


A Brief History


Originally, in the 13th century, Shin was a lay reform movement during a decadent age of monastical spiritual materialism that focused more on power, fame and gold than the original intent of Buddhism. In those days, women, butchers, samurai, fisherman, merchants etc. were forbidden to practice the dharma. It was Shinran Shonin and others who dared to challenge the religious elites, by returning the Buddhist religion to the original intent and teachings of the Buddha who stressed universal salvation, compassion and simplicity of practice. As a result, Shin opened the gates of the Pure Land way to the suffering uneducated masses.


For a longtime after that, Shin was relegated as a minor fringe group and was even oppressed by the government and the elites. At one point, monks felt so threatened by this egalitarian movement that they even attacked and burned down Shin temples. Regardless of these set backs, during these years and beyond, the Shin movement grew in numbers appealing to the outcasts, morally weak, poor, destitute and uneducated who were attracted to its all-inclusive attitude, egalitarianism and reliance on simple daily practices.


Shin Buddhism arrived in the USA in the late 1900s with successive waves of Japanese immigrants, concentrating in Hawaii and California. However, due to the ensuing intense racism and later on being incarcerated in World War II Interment Camps in the 1940s, the Shin religion had kept a very low profile on the American landscape. Since the late 1990s, with the publication of popular Shin books like River of Fire, River of Water by Dr. Taitetsu Unno, Shin has seen an upsurge of interest across the USA and beyond. This expansion is particularly vivid in Connecticut and Massachusetts through the efforts of the Northampton Shin Sangha and the Buddhist Faith Fellowship of Connecticut.  In the 21st century, Shin has become the largest Buddhist denomination is Japan with an active membership which spans across class boundaries and is now poised to take root in the Americas.


A Buddhism for Ordinary People


Shin Buddhism is spiritual path made for busy people who have hefty work schedules and families to take care of.  As a consequence, it simplifies and spiritualizes the seemingly complex and intellectual Buddhist teachings and practices, such as the Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, chanting and meditation. It makes these teachings and practices more understandable and easier for ordinary lay people so they can experience their daily lives as a practical vehicle for inner transformation. Shin has nothing to do with believing in a deity, Higher Power or God for salvation or blindly following a creed, teaching, ritual or guru, but focuses on daily practice, open-minded reflection, and the direct and personal religious experience of the transcending mystery of life, symbolized by Amida Buddha. Through the Shin path, one’s sufferings and burdens are naturally transmuted into a source of received wisdom and compassion, by which life is lived anew as a journey within beauty, enlightenment and liberation. As a natural outcome of our practice, we are enjoined by the activity of the Great Compassion to be loving, kind and gentle to ourselves and all sentient beings.


Non-hierarchical, Egalitarian and Democratic


The Shin path focuses on the everyday spiritual life of ordinary working people and is open to all regardless of capacity, belief, moral status, age, race, gender or nationality. Following the spirit of its founder, Shinran Shonin, our American Shin community is non-hierarchical, egalitarian and democratic, that is, everyone is seen as an equal member and “fellow traveler along the path.” In the Shin religion, there are no monastics, monks on nuns, but there are teachers both ordained clergy and certified lay instructors. They are not seen as above everyone else or hold the secret keys to spiritual liberation, but are ordinary people, both men and women, who are just more learned or experienced spiritual seekers. Associate teachers, ministers and other certified teachers can marry and raise a family. Family life is not seen as a hindrance to spiritual development but as a natural function of being human. As a lay fellowship, we see ourselves fully engaged in life, participating neither in the ultimate and secular world but at the juncture of both dimensions. It is for this reason, our founder, stated, “I am neither lay nor monk.”


Worldwide Adherents


Though little known in North America until just recently, Pure Land Buddhism and the Shin path are the most widely practice form of Buddhism in Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan and Singapore. The Pure Land tradition has the largest adherents of any type of Buddhism in the world. Moreover, Shin Buddhism, a branch of Pure Land, is the world's largest Buddhist denomination with tens of millions of adherents. Furthermore there are pockets of Shin in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Singapore and Great Britain.


Due to the prolific number of books and centers focusing on Tibetan, Zen and Vipassana sects in North America, this news comes across with surprise for many Americans. We must remember that in Japan, just 2% of population practice Zen, and there are only 6 million Tibetans, and as for Vipassana, it is not even a Buddhist denomination but a meditation practice that is part of Theravada Buddhism. Here, we wish not to diminish the significance of these wonderful teachings but just to put into perspective the important role of the Pure Land tradition in the rest of the Buddhist world.


What We Believe?


Below is a brief summary in 21 points of the core beliefs and tents of our Fellowship. These basic 21 points cover such topics like the ultimate nature of reality, the significance of our Buddha, the purpose of life, basic practices, death, hell, evil, eternal life, salvation, scriptures, etc. Ultimately, these 21 points can be summed up in the belief in the one Life, compassion, love, hope and the inner potential of every human being.


1. We believe….there is only one Life, present in everybody, in everything and everywhere, manifesting in infinite forms who is the beauty and power of the cosmos.  This is not a God but is that which transcends Creator and creation and is our true nature; for this reason, the Buddha is known as the teacher of gods and humans. 


2. We believe….in universal compassion. The one Life, symbolized in our tradition as Amida, the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light, is infinite in space and time, identifies with our sufferings and joys and enjoins us to us to be compassionate and loving with others


3. We believe….in universal salvation. The one Life actively seeks to liberate all beings by embodying itself as the nembutsu-Namu-Amida-Butsu; this living nembutsu reveals itself when we are spiritually guided to believe, hear, affirm and entrust ourselves to the one Life.


4. We believe...the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni was the human manifestation of Amida Buddha who in turn is the compassionate expression of the non-conceptual ultimate dimension, known as the dharmakaya.


5. We believe….in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, as the best vehicle to touch that which is true and real, to engage in the beauty of life, and to offer a safe haven from suffering and impermanence.


6. We believe….life is a bumpy ride, but the universe is fundamentally good; it is our ego-driven life that causes most of suffering but luckily our self-centeredness can be transformed into a source of wisdom and compassion (Buddhahood). This is the Buddha’s teaching of the Four Noble Truths.


7. We believe….nothing just happens but all is the result of karma (cause and effect); this reality emphasizes individual responsibility and the universal karmic power of Amida Buddha, symbolized as the Primal Vow.


8. We believe….in the interdependence of all things, in which everything simultaneously co-arises with everything else (mutual creation) and that every form is intimately part of everything else.


9. We believe….in Other Power (grace). No one human life is wasted or abandoned but all will be transformed by the natural working of the boundless one Life.


10. We believe…every person has a natural and endowed purpose to realize enlightenment by embodying the nembutsu for sake of all beings.


11. We believe…faith is a transformative experience whose source is Life itself; it is based on confidence, trust, and noetic (intuitive) understanding and is not founded in blind belief, creeds or dogma. 


12. We believe…. spiritual rebirth is the direct result of awakening and entrusting ourselves (shinjin) to our transcending one Life.


13. We believe without severing blind passions, one attains Nirvana. Spiritual rebirth through the nembutsu allows us to live at the juncture of the historical and ultimate dimensions; this corresponds to Shinran’s statement, “I am neither monk nor layman.”


14. We believe…eternal salvation is here and now, and regardless of your race, gender, moral status, age, religion, intelligence or education, all can experience this inner reality by just awakening to and entrusting themselves in the one Life, and voicing the nembutsu.


15. We believe….the Pure Land is the realm of enlightenment (nirvana) and a concrete image of emptiness (shunyata), which is the transcending deathless and eternal dominion beyond conception, devoid of hatred, greed and ignorance.


16. We believe….death is a new beginning, in which we ascend to the Pure Land, only then do we return to this world to help all beings realize enlightenment.


17. We believe….hell is not eternal but is a temporary condition or mind-set, which many of us experience on and off on a daily basis. Evil is not a living entity but is simply the symptom of spiritual ignorance; thus, it can be transformed into compassion and wisdom.


18. We believe….our shadow side (bonpu) must be fully and honestly embraced in order to truly experience the inner transformative light; thereby, we become authentically whole, as we truly are, in the continuous interplay of light and darkness. 


19. We believe….the Threefold Pure Land Sutras, are inspired scriptures, demonstrating the true intent of the Buddha, and for us, are the best teaching to live our lives; but we are open to the entirety of the Buddha Dharma and world spirituality.


20. We believe….our community serves people and the Earth, as the historical Buddha served people and the Earth.


21. We believe…every Shin practicier should grow in the dharma, have a true engagement with Life, serve others and learn to embody the nembutsu for the sake of all beings.


Buddhist Beliefs, Practices and Experiences web site


To find out about our 13 core practices and read all about our spiritual experiences plus learn about almost everything else about our American version of Shin Buddhism, please click the below link and enter our comprehensive "Buddhist Beliefs, Practices and Experiences." web site.

Copyright 2008. Buddhist Faith Fellowship, All Rights Reserved

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