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