This is a simple and clear introduction to Shin Buddhism or Jodo Shinshu, a school of Japanese Buddhism founded by a priest named Shinran (1173-1263). Although the school has by far the largest number of followers in Japan led by the Honganji (East) and Hongwanji (West) Temples, and transported abroad by Japanese immigrants and became the basis of the Buddhist Churches of America, Buddhist Temples of Canada, Jodo Shinshu Brazil, and Pure Land Buddhism in Europe, it is not as well-known in the rest of the world as some other schools of Buddhism simply because of the lack of appropriate and readable pieces literature.
Without using unnecessary Buddhist jargon, this book introduces the essence of Shin Buddhism in plain everyday language both to Shin Buddhists in the English-speaking world and to non-Buddhists who wish to broaden their views on world religions. Shin Buddhism is a wide-open teaching without any elements of mysticism or secrecy. As the original teachings of Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, traveled thorough many nations and cultures for over centuries, they have become sometimes academic, sometimes mysterious, and sometimes localized by absorbing local cultures, traditions and superstitions. Shin Buddhism is an attempt to extract the true essence of Buddha’s original teachings from non-Buddhist and provisional or instrumental Buddhist teachings.
This book has the following distinctive features:
First, it maintains the use of Buddhist jargon to the minimum level. Every effort was made to use everyday language which is familiar to ordinary English speakers. This way, the reader is not expected to have any background knowledge on Buddhism. Anyone can pick up this book and read it through without getting lost in the labyrinth of Buddhist terminology.
Second, it takes a comparative approach rather than a doctrinal approach. While it is the primary purpose of this book to introduce Shin Buddhism to Shin Buddhists in English-speaking countries, it is also readable to non-Buddhists. This is clearly indicative in chapter titles: Non-Buddhist universal terms are used instead of the terms peculiar to Buddhism. Therefore, this book can be appreciated not only by Buddhists but also by students of comparative religion and anyone interested in religion.
Third, it makes frequent references to the Christian Bible, especially to the Gospels. One theme of this book is universality. It argues that long-lasting religions have certain universal aspects that are acceptable at any point in history and in any place and society. To prove this, a number of passages from the Gospels are quoted to explain certain concepts in Buddhism. The adherers of the two great religions of the world, Christianity and Buddhism, should know about each other in order to avoid calling each other pagans and even to show respect to each other. In the long run, the author hopes for this book to become a bridge between the two religions.
Fourth, the entire book is dotted with stories and analogies to make it easier to understand certain concepts. They include not only Buddhist stories but also various cultural aspects and folk traditions of Japan, as well as historical information. Hence, through this book, it is possible to glance at the Japanese culture and society as well.
Finally, at the end of each chapter, a brief summary of the chapter is presented in a dialogue. While the entire book is written in colloquial English, the dialogues serve as even simpler and clearer summaries of chapter topics. While Buddhist thoughts are often considered to be vague, mysterious, and incomprehensible, these dialogues present the thoughts in black and white to answer questions held by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists.