QUESTIONS:

  • 08:57
  •  Stephen greenberg
  • 1.What lead you to switch from Zen to Pure Land?
  • 2.How did you know you were ready to teach?
  • 3.Why did you create Amida Shu as opposed to aligning with Jodo Shu?

SHORT ANSWERS: 1. Natural progression; 2. Acknowledgement by teachers plus existence of disciples; 3. Practicality

LONG ANSWERS:
1. I trained in Zen with Kennett Roshi. She was definitely a "religious" Buddhist. She was completely out of sympathy with the secularising trend, had originally wanted to be an Episcopalian minister, deeply appreciated the transcendental and mystical aspect of Buddhism and taught Zen in terms of reliance upon the "Cosmic Buddha". She trained in Japan and the whole of Buddhism in Japan is influenced by Other Power. Tathagata in Japan is Nyorai, literally "he who comes to save us". To me, Pureland expresses what i learnt from her better than any other approach. Of course there are also still recognisably Zen elements in my style and these continue in Amida Shu.

2. Kennett Roshi recognised that I had had kensho experience. Gisho Saiko sensei asked me to bring Pureland to the West. Adachi Sensei senior told me to "be another Honen Shonin". i got the message. Furthermore, there were people wanting to practice with me. I did not feel terribly confident to begin with, but I did my best. Gradually, as the practice community has matured I have found my feet and together we have evolved something that seems to me rather wonderful in the form of a sangha community where there is palpably great love, trust, faith, commitment and willingness. The Dalai Lama was once asked when you know somebody is a teacher and he said when there are genuine disciples. I am profoundly grateful to the people who have put their trust in me and I see my role as simply to ensure, as best I can, that they thrive spiritually.

3. Doctrinally it would be difficult to put much space between Amida Shu and Jodo Shu, or even Jodo Shin Shu. The differences between the two major Japanese brands of Pureland seem rather academic if you are not Japanese. Shinran believed himself to be a true disciple of Honen. Nonetheless, new schools emerge. In our case it was largely practical. Very few Western Buddhist denominations are still attached to Japan even if they started off that way. We did not even start like that. We evolved. It is much better for the spiritual health of our community that it be self-regulating, though we remain in good spiritual friendship with our Japanese friends. The name Amida Shu came about through a conversation with the abbot of Anraku Ji temple in Japan, who started to refer to us by this term. We kept it. Organisational independence enables us to evolve more quickly and to incorporate aspects of Western culture as skilful means without changing the core message. It also means we can put the core message into blunt Western language. So, it all works better this way.

Namo Amida Bu.

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Replies to This Discussion

      Dear Dharmavidya, thank-you so much for such a thorough answer! Those questions largely came from my Sangha mates when I lead a book discussion of "Buddhism Is A Religion."Now that I am a member of Amida Shu, I also wanted to be able to answer those questions for myself in our new Sangha "Friends on the Path."Namo Amida Bu, Steve

Thanks, Steve. Hope all goes well with your sangha. Namo Amida Bu.

Stephen greenberg said:"Now that I am a member of Amida Shu, I also wanted to be able to answer those questions for myself in our new Sangha "Friends on the Path."Namo Amida Bu, Steve

Would you tell me more about kensho?

Kensho is what is also called satori. It is a form of catharsis. It can take different forms but is often a series of visionary experiences that leave one euphoric and at peace with the world. The test, however, is not the form of the experience itself but the lasting effect that it has on one's life. One can induce euphoria and visions by many means, including chemicals, but that may simply weaken rather than elevate a person's character. The equivalent in Pureland Buddhism is called shinjin. Shinjin is the awakening of faith that, again, may or might not take a dramatic form, but which, if genuine, matures into anjin. Anjin means settled faith and in many ways corresponds to the fulfilment of peaceful abiding (samattha). One of the functions of a teacher may be to confirm or disaffirm such experience, but the teacher cannot do so purely by the accompanying symptoms - one has to see whether the experience has had a lasting positive effect upon the person's life. In this respect it is similar to insights gained by other means such as psychotherapy. A person may feel wonderful at the end of a therapy session but it all have faded away in a week or some critical shift may have occurred that goes on working in a positive way for years. In Pureland, this is often called "having been seized by Amida". This phrase does convey the sense of it happening to one rather than being a personal achievement. I am reminded of the dialogue between Francis of Assisi and one of his followers in which the latter asked "Why you?" (i.e. why did God choose you?) to which he replied "Because i was the most foolish for Him."

Some schools of Buddhism equate this with "stream entry". Certainly, Buddhism is an approach that highlights "sudden awakening" as having a pivotal role. Chinul (Korean 13th century) talks about "sudden awakening, gradual cultivation". This highlights the fact that at least small awakenings are common and that what constitutes the spiritual life is really the working through of whatever awakening a person has had. Another function of a teacher, therefore, is to help people to do that. In popular books Buddhism is often presented as the quest for awakening, but strictly speaking there is no such thing. Questing by a deluded person will be deluded questing. However, awakening makes demands upon one - does one have the courage of one's true conviction? Obviously, the more dramatic the conversion was the more likely one is to be impressed enough by it to pursue it, but such breakthroughs are often not dramatic and some dramatic things are deceptive. There are lots of people in the spiritual world who have had some degree of awakening who have not really yet committed themselves to the path that they saw open before them. Time is always running out. Great teachers say: Do not leave this life having missed the opportunity.

Thank you so much for the excellent detailed answer.

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