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SHIN BUDDHIST FELLOWSHIP OF WEST HARTFORD

SHIN BUDDHIST BELIEFS AND PRACTICES

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NO ONE IS LEFT BEHIND
Buddha's compassion
The historical Buddha taught without discrimination to all people.

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Below is an outline of basic Shin Buddhist beliefs and spiritual experience as practiced by our North American Shin Buddhist Association.  

 

 
 
 

 

“Buddhist spirituality is grounded on unraveling the lost and confused self and returning to our source and then living naturally from this spiritual wellspring of wisdom and compassion.”                                             

                                                                                          --- G.R. Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

Shin Buddhism is a natural way of life and a religious path, which offers a liberal and peaceful spirituality.

 

The Shin path gives real support to you, the spiritual seeker, with proven psychological and spiritual guidance and tools that help navigate you through the challenges and blessings of the human experience. Ultimately, it guarantees to transform your inner life, in which awareness, joy, purpose, gratitude and compassion naturally manifest from your inner source. 

 

Furthermore, Shin Buddhism addresses your most important questions like, Who am I? Why do I suffer so? Where am I going? What is my purpose? What does it mean to be a human being? What is faith? Is there a personal God? How can I experience awakening? What happens after death?

 

Fellow Travelers

 

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 Shin path focuses on the everyday spiritual life of laypeople and is open to all regardless of capacity.  Following the spirit of its founder, our Shin community is egalitarian and democratic, in which everyone is seen as equal members and “fellow travelers 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 who are just more learned and experienced spiritual seekers. Shin ministers and 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 participating within the world, but not part of it.  It is for this reason, our founder, Shinran Shonin stated, “I am neither lay nor monk.”

 

Focus on Personal Experience

 

Shin Buddhism simplifies and spiritualizes the basic 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 people who work everyday and have families to care for. Shin has nothing to do with believing in a deity, higher power or God for salvation or blindly following a creed, teaching or guru, but focuses on daily practice, open-minded reflection, and direct and personal religious experience of the transcending mystery and wonder, which we consider as the only true foundation for religious authority and ultimate spiritual liberation.

 

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. It has the largest adherents of any type of Buddhism in the world.  Moreover, Shin Buddhism is the world's largest Buddhist denomination with tens of millions of adherents. Currently, it has seen an upsurge of interest in Connecticut, Massachusetts, other places in the United States and Canada. Furthermore there are pockets of Shin in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Singapore and Great Britain.

 

The Life of the Historical Buddha

 

The historical Buddha was born in the 6th century B.C.E. in northern India to a royal family and was named Prince Siddhartha Gautama. In the Shin and other Mahayana traditions, he is viewed as the incarnation or Tathagata of Amida, meaning  the "One Thus Come" from Immeasurable Life and Light. Growing up with power, wealth and fame, at  the age of twenty nine, he left his life of privilege and luxury to discover spiritual freedom from humanity’s endless suffering. Leaving behind his wife and child, he shaved his head and became an ascetic wanderer for six years, studying under the best spiritual teachers of the times. Finally, he resolved to attain Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and thus became the Buddha, the Awakened One. He is also referred to as Shakyamuni, Sage of the Shakya clan, and the King of Truth (Dharma), and the Light of the World.

 

For the next forty-five years, he taught his path of awakening in multiple ways to all regardless of race, caste, class or gender. He taught the cultivation of the mind, the practice of ethical living and wisdom. He said, "consider others as yourself," and "cease to do evil, learn to do good and purify your mind."

 

After many years teaching, one day on Mt. Vulture in Rajagrha, he finally told the Sacred Story of Amida to his disciples Ananda and Maitreya. this event was later recorded down in the scripture called The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life. On his eightieth birthday, he passed away peacefully into Parinirvana. His last words were, “... be a lamp unto yourselves, look for no other refuge. Let the truth be your map and your refuge ... work out your own salvation with diligence.” Refer to our Sacred Story below for more information.

 

Amida: The Universal Buddha

 

Amida Buddha is the heart of Shin Buddhist faith and practice. First revealed by the historical Buddha over 2,600 years ago, the name Amida is derived from the ancient Sanskrit language, Amitabha or Amitayus, which means Immeasurable Life and Light or Oneness. The word Amida is a personification or symbol for the transcendent reality and mystery, which is “unborn, uncreated and formless” also known as Dharmakaya, Nirvana, shunyata (emptiness), the One Mind, the One Life, the Great Compassion and Buddha Nature. As stated above, Amida is a personification or symbol of ultimate reality and must be understood that ultimate reality is beyond the word and idea of Amida, who is the vehicle that allows us to experience the incomprehensible reality of our true nature.

 

As the comprehensible symbol of universal truth (dharma), Amida points to the nameless active caring force or truth that surrounds and permeates us, ceaselessly working to awaken us to reality-as-it-is, Nirvana. She is considered the Great Parent offering unconditional love and universal compassion that assures spiritual liberation for all. Through this living power of love and compassion, no one is left behind to suffer.

 

Buddha is a term meaning a few things: firstly, it is any life form that has awakened to boundlessness; secondly, it is the deepest nature of all things, which is undifferentiated and selfless; and thirdly, it is our potential, reality and destiny.  

 

Amida: Different Vision of God

 

Shin Buddhism’s view on ultimate reality or God may be considered panentheistic.   The term panentheism means “all within God (theos)” but there is a big problem with this word; Buddhists don’t believe in a personal god. Instead we suggest a couple of new terms, as first coined by G.R. Lewis, that better describe our view of ultimate reality: panendharmism (all within dharma) or panenbuddhism (all within Buddha).

 

So what is panenbuddhism?  Simply put, all things are within and part of ultimate reality which is an interpenetrating and boundless unfolding web of consciousness (pure awareness), personified as Amida. However, Amida is more than the sum of all of its components.

 

Everything in life is manifested and interpenetrated with everything else and has its ultimate reality in everything. This dynamic reality is called shunyata or emptiness, in which there is no individual self or identity but all things are full of the totality, the Oneness of reality, personified as Amida Buddha. However, as stated above, Amida is more than the sum of all things. Reality is akin to a hologram that has been broken into countless pieces. Each broken bit contains the entire holographic image, and each bit cannot claim to possess the whole image nor can the sum of all the broken pieces express the entire image.  Please read on for deeper explanations.

 

The One Life

 

The holographic dimension of panenbuddhism affirms that at the deepest foundation of reality, the  lives of every being, including the reality of the galaxies, stars and worlds are not separate and solitary entities, but rather, the  undercurrent life force and consciousness that we call our individual lives is really the same Life and the same Consciousness that is manifested in all beings and things, animate and inanimate throughout the universe. In other words, your true and real self is the one Life shared by all beings and the universe. This true and real self is symbolized as Amida Buddha, which also has other expressions like Oneness, Life itself, Great Compassion, Buddha-nature, rigpa or Immeasurable Life and Light. Please, read further for an explanation.

 

                               Waves on the Ocean

 

Far from being merely a supernatural God, Amida Buddha represents the organic non-dualistic reality, which is the unfolding of life itself. Amida is often referred to as the boundless spiritual ocean of life and light, which is the all-embracing foundation of everything in the universe including our consciousness of her. All things within the cosmos may be akin to the waves on that boundless ocean. All waves are made of  the same water or h2o. Some waves are bigger and others are smaller, yet all are finite, destined to rise to a crescendo only then to fall back into the stillness of the deep waters. Likewise, we are one with Amida Buddha (the spiritual ocean)  and Amida Buddha is one with us (the waves), yet paradoxically, like the waves are to the ocean, we are different from one another.

 

This paradoxical reality of oneness/separarateness is illustrated in the Shin religious experience through the Nembutsu-namu-Amida-Butsu, in which the finite self (namu) and Universal Power (Amida Butsu) are experienced as one but at the same time each maintain their independence and remain just as they are.

 

The Organic Universe

 

The entire universe is seen as a living and unfolding organism whose components create a greater transcendent whole, personified as Amida. As illustrated above, Shin often uses the ocean as a metaphor to illustrate this living reality of pure awareness. Within this unfolding living reality there is mutual interdependence between Amida (the whole) and the universe (the components), in which both are joined in the on-going process of creation and evolution, affecting each other in the course of time. This corresponds to Buddha’s teaching of non-self, impermanence and interdependence and the Primal Vow. The following Buddhist saying illustrates this intimate and mutual interdependence, “The One is within the many and the many are within the One.”

 

               Contrasting Pantheism, Monotheism,

                                       & Atheism

    

Contrasting with Pantheism:  Pantheism strictly identifies God with nature.  On the other hand, Panenbuddhism does not say that the universe is synonymous with ultimate reality (Amida), which would be the position of pantheism; On the contrary, it maintains that there is more to Amida than the material universe; the whole is more than its components.

 

Contrasting with Monotheism I: there is no creator God or need for a creator because the cosmos is infinite and boundless in time and space; the nature of reality has neither a beginning nor end but has a circular and living dimension existing only in the timeless Now. In addition, monotheism is inherently dualistic, in which the personal God or deity is separate from its creation.  Buddhism sees reality as ultimately non-dual, holographic and unified (holistic).

 

Amida may be considered either a male or female or neither and is not a judgmental father figure. Likewise, there is no need for one good man to be sacrificed to the salvation of others; ultimate reality has already accomplished our liberation by another more compassionate means.  Nor can any person claim to be the Seal of the Prophets since this would defy the organic and evolving nature of reality. See segments on the Sacred Story, the Primal Vow and the Organic Universe.

 

Contrasting with Monotheism II: to contrast further, there is no omniscient, loving yet wrathful God or deity manipulating the destinies of all beings favoring some and condemning others. Furthermore, at the very foundation of existence, there does not exist a legalistic source of morality. Good conduct is not based on following the commandments of any deity but have their true source in shinjin, the experience of awakening . For this reason, Amida is not the final judge of all human beings, this would defeat the function of true compassion and wisdom. As a result of this good news, we have no fear of Amida Buddha because she is the unconditional and compassionate animating force of life itself that actively seeks to liberate all confused and suffering beings regardless of species, race, gender, moral behavior or belief. 

 

Contrasting with Atheism: Like atheism, Shin Buddhism rejects the idea of a supreme personal God, Higher Power or deity such as Allah, Jehovah or Yahweh but for different reasons. The distinction lies in the fact that Shin is not nihilistic but experiences a different and dynamic vision of ultimate reality. Amida, as explained above, transcends any notion of a personal creator God who is dualistic, loving yet wrathful and judgmental. Shin Buddhists believe in and many intimately experience the living non-dualistic mystery of Life itself, that is beyond the stories of ancient mythology, and human inventions and superstitions.  Likewise, Shin Buddhists rejects atheism, which is simply a negative reaction against the monotheistic god-idea and can offer nothing but a lifeless and purposeless mechanical universe. Shin offers a positive and deep spirituality but it is something completely different than the western notion of god and religion.

 

The Reality of Myth

 

All religions offer a sacred or mythical story so that ordinary people can understand that which is incomprehensible. For example, there are stories of virgin births, crucifixions, visits by angels, ascensions through heavens and resurrections. Some may dismiss myth as false or just nice little stories but in reality myth serves as the medium by which our inner deep subconscious mind interacts with our outer conscious mind and world.  Myths manifest themselves in a dreamlike manner, coming from our wisdom bodies, the human body, whose source is the ground of our biological being, the source of life.

 

One major difference between western religions and Shin Buddhism is that we (Buddhists) freely acknowledge that our sacred story as a metaphor and not historical fact. To see it as true history would be to miss the point and be a grave error. As the Buddha said, “it is the finger that points to the moon,” The finger is not the moon but indicates the direction of the moon. So many people get confused thinking that the finger is the moon (truth).

 

The Sacred Story of Buddhism

 

The Sacred Story of Shin Buddhism is a saga of great love, compassion, sacrifice and triumph. It is derived from the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life, which uses mythical language and metaphor (symbols) to convey the unexplainable nature of nirvana, the universal enlightened reality and its primordial activity, which is beyond conceptual thought. That is to say, the Sacred Story is not to be read as literal truth but as a metaphor that points to the ceaseless activity of universal compassion and the foundation of reality itself, which is ultimately our true nature. In many religions, symbols tend to be concretized into facts; God becomes a fact or religious scriptures are seen as the literal truth. However, according to Buddhism, these are just symbols to direct the mind and heart to shunyata (emptiness) which is beyond form, beyond thought and beyond comprehensibility.

 

In The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life, the historical Buddha tells Ananda, one of his chief disciples, the legendary story that took place in timeless time.  In this sacred story, there was a prince called Dharmakara, which means Storehouse of the Dharma, who like the true historical Prince Siddhartha Gautama or Shakyamuni, renounced his royal position, and became a bhikshu, a renunciant spiritual seeker. His reason for pursuing the religious life was motivated by his great compassion and deep love for all suffering beings throughout the universe and time. Due to his pure love and compassion, Dharmakara declared 48 religious vows, called collectively as the Primal Vow, in order to create a Pure Land that would liberate each and every suffering being. A Pure Land, or Sukhavati in Sanskrit, is the spiritual realm of totally free of greed, anger and delusion, which is open to all without exception. In Shin Buddhism, the Pure Land is identical with Nirvana, the abode of peace, which is not a specific place but is the transcendent realm of oneness (non-duality) being everywhere yet nowhere.

 

Over a period of billions of years, he underwent numerous practices and alas spiritually evolved to realize the mutual awakening and liberation of himself and all beings within space and time. By accomplishing his Primal Vow, the Pure Land became a reality and thus he became Amida, the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light.

 

Hence, Amida manifest herself in all quarters of the universe as the nembutsu-namu-Amida-Butsu and through her Name, she nurtures all living beings and ceaselessly works to awakened them to reclaim their spiritual inheritance of enlightenment and be spiritual reborn in the Pure Land.

 

At first, the Sacred Story may seem a little bizarre but once you begin to read the dharma, reflect on it, live the nembutsu and manifest shinjin, as the experience of awakening, more and more of the metaphors will be understood and appreciated and truly lived. Only then, will you will come to realize that this Sacred Story is actually the story of your own spiritual journey. How can this be?

 

Nembutsu: Namu-Amida-Butsu

 

To travel the Shin Buddhist path is to experience a new life in every moment. Its main practice of voicing and chanting of the nembutsu is the catalyst for living this invigorating life of awakening, love and compassion. As stated above, the source and nature of the nembutsu is Amida herself. Shinran Shonin wrote, "though we speak of Primal Vow and Nembutsu, these are not two different things. There is no Nembutsu separate from the Vow; there is no Vow separate from the Nembutsu." What does Namu-Amida-Butsu mean? Firstly, it is the Japanese version of the original Sanskrit term Namo Amitabha Buddhaya, which means “I take refuge (entrust) in the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light.” The nembutsu is Japanese for Buddha Name or Buddha Recitation.

 

The nembutsu is Amida’s essential living prayer that allows us to live a truly happy and meaningful life by transforming our confusion and suffering into our true potential as authentic human beings, and to be spiritually reborn in the Pure Land. It must be clarified that the nembutsu is not a practice to attain spiritual liberation but is the true expression of awakening and our gratitude towards Amida's gift of liberation to us and all beings.  As Shinshu Kyodan Renmei so eloquently said, “the nembutsu is not my call to the Buddha but the Buddha’s calling me.”  What do the components of Namu-Amida-Butsu mean?

 

NamuHistorical Dimension and Devotion. The namu component expresses our historical dimension of birth and death. In this linear dimension, we experience our lives as imperfect, finite and ultimately self-centered beings. Furthermore, namu signifies our directionless and confused lives, and our endless ability to cause and experience suffering.  Namu, also, conveys our devotion to the Buddha Dharma and focuses on Buddha’s compassion. Through faith, study and practice of compassion, dharma and the nembutsu, our lives will naturally improve by the innate momentum of Buddha’s karma; thereby, we gradually evolve to our potential and enabled to make our world a better place to live.

 

AmidaUltimate Dimension and Compassion. Boundless Life and Compassion is the transcendent reality beyond all duality (pair of opposites) which is beyond life and death and is the true essence of cosmos (dharma) and our deepest nature. This ultimate dimension also known in Buddhist terms as the Dharmakaya is personified as Amida, who is the living reality of immeasurable life and light. In addition, the ultimate dimension is without description, definite location and has no beginning or end, but can be experienced in the timeless now through the voicing of the nembutsu. Being one with all things, Amida corresponds to absolute compassion because she equally identifies herself with the joys and sorrows of all beings.

 

Butsu Dynamic Awakening, Love and Way of Life. Butsu is Japanese for Buddha, the living mind and essence of awakening, who is the vehicle to express our lives by bridging the separate realities of Namu and Amida. As the originator of the Primal Vow and our voicing of the nembutsu, the Buddha is the dynamic momentum that makes us realize our karmic limitations (namu) within the nurturing embrace of boundless compassion (Amida). Butsu corresponds to unconditional love and total acceptance because Buddha wishes all beings to be free from suffering and ceaselessly works to liberate them regardless of race, gender, class, intelligence, religion or moral status.

 

In addition, butsu points to a natural way of life, in which through devotion and practice, we can experience an open, free and simple lifestyle at the intersection of Namu and Amida. This way of life is marked by awakening, love, and gratitude.

 

The Nexus of the Historical and Ultimate Dimensions

 

The nembutsu is the spiritual “buzz” or “whisper” of the cosmos. It can also be seen as the calling of life itself manifesting in our hearts and minds, transforming suffering into wholesomeness. The nembutsu is the union of all opposites, in which the limited and confused self is integrated with Boundless Life and Light. In other words, it is the union of the historical and ultimate dimensions in the very here and now. With Namu-Amida-Butsu, uncertainty and death are transformed into assurance and deathlessness; in other words, the finite, frail and mortal individual awakens to the fact that she has always been fused within infinite life, which freely and totally bequeaths itself through compassion and love, which is symbolized as Amida Buddha. As a result of this profound recognition, our deep seated alienation and a sense of separation are replaced by spiritual inclusion and nurturing interconnection. Shinshu Kyodan Remei captured the feeling of this inner transformation when he wrote, “Namu-Amida-Butsu is the cry of joy, when meeting my true self.”

 

At its root, the voicing of the nembutsu is a non-dual practice, that is to say, its voicing does not just originate from our volition or ego-centered will power but is really the result of the ceaseless working of Boundless Life within us, personified as Amida Buddha. It is the natural consequence of deeply hearing the cosmic “buzz” with the entirety of one’s mind, body and speech. As Muso Kimura so nicely stated, “while in a world of voices, one transcends all voices and one hears the voice that is voiceless.”  Shinran Shonin clarified this non-dual nature of the nembutsu by saying, “although I recite the nembutsu, I am not reciting. It is Amida in me that makes me recite…” The non-dual expression of Namu-Amida-Butsu, as a appearance to spiritual liberation, sanctions us to truly fuse our lives with reality’s deepest source and consciously partake in the Pure Land, which is the realm of eternal life.  This is the completion of circle of life in which the merger of Namu (historical) with Amida (ultimate) manifests as Butsu (awakening) in the eternal now.

 

Through the ceaseless working of the nembutsu, we are transformed to live at the nexus of the historical and ultimate dimensions. As 20th century Shin Buddhist philosopher Zuiken summed it up, “the essence of the Mahayana is; without severing blind passions, one attains Nirvana.” That is the say, our foolish and fictitious selves are gradually dissolved and we are gratefully brought to the realization of the natural life, in which we are no longer bounded by our self-limitations, isolated from the past, present and future but truly seeing everything arising and blending together within the boundless interplay of the Pure Land.

 

Nembutsu and the Eucharist

 

To further clarify the nembutsu for the Western mind, let’s compare it with the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist, which is quite different from the nembutsu but shares some religious commonality with it. According to the Catholic Church, the actual living presence of Christ is within the actually wine and wafer of the Eucharist. Furthermore, this rite can only be taken at a Church service through an intermediary of an ordained priest of the Holy See. By taken the Eucharist, the worshipper is literally taken in the life and spirit of Christ.

 

The nembutsu is somewhat akin to the Eucharist, in which Namu-Amida-Butsu is experienced as the living embodiment of Amida Buddha in our minds and hearts. Unlike the Eucharist that can only be taken through official rituals, the nembutsu may be experienced at anytime or place, and has nothing to do with intermediaries. The nembutsu is the direct transmission of the sacred mind of the cosmos into our personal life experience, which gradually and unfailingly transforms us from our unseeing and self-centered foolish selves into the substance of enlightenment, full of gratitude, love and wisdom. The nembutsu is the way of partaking in the Sacred Story and the Pure Land and eternal life.

 

Furthermore, the nembutsu does not come from an external source like the Eucharist. Amida does not abide separately from us and must be literally absorb into our biological system to be experienced. On the contrary, Amida is our true nature that has always been within us and the voicing of Namu-Amida-Butsu is simply the manifestation of its full and living presence in our consciousness and life experience.

 

How Can You Experience the Nembutsu?

 

What do we need to do to experience this sacred presence? Shinran Shonin said, "Just say the nembutsu and be liberated." What did he mean? We just need to believe and then open ourselves up to Amida, aspire to realize our human potential, entrust in her Primal Vow, and deeply hear within us the divine vibration of the cosmos. This whole spiritual process culminates with shinjin, the experience of awakening, in which the nembutsu quite naturally erupts from our deepest source and inevitably our “old selves” are casted off and we are reborn into new spiritual lives. This religious experience may be experienced many times throughout one’s life. See segments on the Primal Vow, Faith and Spiritual Rebirth and the Our Central Message.

 

                      The Primal Vow: the Power of Love

 

The Primal Vow is the one of the most important terms in Shin Buddhism. It refers to the already fulfilled 48 Vows of Amida Buddha in timeless time, revealed in the Sacred Story from the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life. The Primal Vow is a metaphor expressing the primordial promise of Life itself to care for and liberate the weak, fragile and suffering, regardless of moral or economic status, race, gender, belief, intellectual capacity or species. It manifests the fulfillment of its ancient promise in the minds of human beings through the reality of conditional co-arising, the experience of shinjin and its resulting verbal response of the Nembutsu-namu-Amida-Butsu.

 

The Primal Vow as a metaphor expresses the Great Activity of the universe, the living reality of unconditional love and compassion, which completely identifies itself with the joys and sufferings of each sentient being and ceaselessly works to spiritually liberate all from their delusions and distress. This inconceivable and conscious flow of life and light is an active agent in our lives, operating through the multitude of interconnections we encounter in our life experience.

 

Buddhism refers the boundless web of interconnections as conditional co-arising, in which every thing is made and interpenetrated with  everything else and has its ultimate reality in everything. This dynamic reality is often referred to as shunyata (emptiness), in which there is no individual self or identity but all things are full of the totality, the Oneness of reality. Many consider shunyata as static or inert but as the Primal Vow it is living and seeking aspect. 

 

It must be stated that this Primal Vow  is not a supernatural power but is the natural activity of enlightenment iself, seeking to transform falsity and suffering into truth and liberation. It is part of the natural backdrop of the universe like gravity and functions throughout the countless galaxies and time, the Earth, its eco-system, our family, work, friends, pets, difficult people we meet, our minds, etc. Its integral working in our mundane everyday life is often referred to as tariki in Japanese or Other Power or Natural Power but be careful about the meaning of "Other Power." It does not mean that another force or Higher Power is in control of our lives  but instead refers that which is other than the self-centered ego. That is say, tariki is the negation of our self-centered ego designs as the major player in manipulating the natural way (tao) of existence and of the religious quest. Ultimately, we have no control in the flow of life, and must recognize and humble ourselves to the compassionate and boundless web of life and light that make our existence possible.

 

In summary, the Primal Vow is the living symbol of the nameless and intimate caring truth that lies both within us and outside of us. It is equated with the deepest part of our mind or subjectivity, which is nonetheless our True Nature or Buddha-nature. Ultimately, the Primal Vow is the activity of pure love, the life of Amida Buddha giving herself up to all sentient beings and channeling their suffering burdens to boundless life. Refer to our Shin Buddhism...Indepth page for more information.

 

Faith & Spiritual Rebirth

 

Our faith experience is based on bright faith, which is confidence, deep trust, and noetic (intuitive) experience; it is not about dark faith, which is blind faith and superstition, nor is it about believing in a set of rules, creeds or ancient dogma.  Our confidence in the nembutsu and noetic trust in Amida and in the historical Buddha naturally leads us to a profound awakening experience, called shinjin in Japanese, which is the realization of the transcending mystery of love, compassion and wisdom, personified as Amida Buddha.

 

This awakening experience and resulting spiritual rebirth originate from the Primal Vow itself.. It natually unfolds from within our deepest subconscious core at the moment when we are spiritually guided to believe, hear, affirm and entrust ourselves to the dynamic Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. Shinjin through the nembutsu is the gradual emptying of our old selves, in which a new and vibrant spiritual self is manifested and experienced. Over time, as we spiritually mature and learn to hear the sacred calling from within our bodies and environment, this primordial call of life and light will be truly heard and experienced with our minds, bodies and speech. Then and only then, the elemental voice of the Buddha will become our true voice.  

 

When the primordial voice of Amida is truly heard, the Light naturally cracks the hard shell of our self-fabricated and foolish ego, allowing us to let go and entrust in the natural flow of Life and Light; simultaneaously, the Light manifests itself in our minds and hearts, intimately manifesting itself through the voicing of the nembutsu-namu-Amida-Butsu.  Our calling out to the Amida through the nembutsu is really Amida calling us. When this occurs, it is the experience of awakening.

 

As a result of this natural process of voicing the nembutsu and experiencing shinjin, our karmic burdens are transformed into boundless life and light. Our old selves are casted off and we are spiritually born anew within the great light of wisdom and compassion. It must be noted that this shinjin experience does not happen just one time but throughout our lives it occurs muliple times as we continue on the path to spiritual maturity.  Through repeated castings offs and rebirths, we are nutured and enabled to grow into genuine human beings.

 

You might be asking who or what is this Light that awakens us? This Light is not an external power separated from us but it is who we really are; it is nonetheless our true and real self, the One Life. That is to say, we awaken and entrust ourselves to our transcending universal self (Buddha-nature), which is the one life and pure awareness of the cosmos.

 

Awakening:

My Life is Buddha’s Life

 

According to Shin Buddhism, your practice does not lead you to attain realization or liberation but is the manifestation of the enlightened life or liberation, of Amida herself. This is because, through the Primal Vow, as expressed in the Sacred Story, the enlightened reality or buddhaverse has already unconditionally created the enlightened life or spiritual liberation, for suffering beings like ourselves.  Hence, you have nothing to offer or add to your spiritual enlightenment. Just become aware of it. Be as you are! The buddhaverse accepts you as you are unconditionally.  Let Amida, the One Life, take your hands out of your eyes so you can see things as they truly are and not what you think they may be. You do not have to live in darkness and suffering anymore.

 

What is shinjin as an awakening experience? When you voice the Nembutsu-namu-Amida-Butsu, it’s the Buddha who is really voicing the Nembutsu. When you practice deep hearing, it is the Buddha who hears the rhythm of the buddhaverse. When you chant, it’s the universe calling unto itself. When you put your palms together, you are cradling the universe. When you bow with another person, it’s the countless galaxies, multitudes of worlds and beings bowing with you. When you do zazen, it is the true expression of the awakened life that is already embedded within your relative life. When you get up in the morning, it’s the Buddha who gets up in the morning etc, etc.  This is the reality of Oneness, of the intimate, non-dual and interconnected relationship with life. The working of the tariki or Natural Power, is everyday life. It is our life, it is Buddha’s life and it is your life too

 

Our Central Message  

 

The central message of Buddha tells us that we are all worthy of salvation just as we are. Whether we are saints or sinners, male or female, black or white, ignorant or wise, straight or gay, believers or non-believers, Amida, the unseen caring spiritual force surrounding and penetrating us, ceaselessly works to liberate all beings from confusion and suffering.  This is the universe's accomplished primordial promise, symbolized as the Primal Vow.  Importantly, Shin Buddhism affirms that no one is left behind to suffer endless cycles of births and deaths and that there is no final judgement, end times or eternal hell. On the contrary, due to the Primal Vow, all beings are saved, just as they are.

 

Our affirmation of universal compassion and salvation is not based on hope, which is a blind faith in the unseen and therefore is based on wishful and self-centered thinking. On the contrary, our bright faith, based on the shinjin experience which awakens us from doubt, uncertainty and spiritual blindness and assures us that though life is a bumpy ride (dukkha), the cosmos is fundamentally good (nirvana) and that our deaths are just another portal into yet a another greater journey called the Pure Land or Nirvana.

 

Our religious experience is a transforming spiritual illumination that is not blind, fearful, guilt-ridden nor judgmental because the living Buddha does not judge, condemn or anger but freely liberates all beings without exception. 

 

Our Buddhist Lifestyle

 

Our Buddhist lifestyle may be described as the daily living of simplicity, peace, gratitude, wisdom and compassion. However, we do not just decide one day to live in this special way, it is the natural result of a process of bright faith, practice and then more practice. As Sangharashita stated “commitment is primary, lifestyle is secondary.”  That is to say, effort and dedication to our practice is the only way to live an authentic Buddhist lifestyle. Through practice, the lifestyle will take care of itself. When we engage in daily practice of the nembutsu as living, naturally our lives will be transformed into the substance of shinjin, the experience of awakening.

 

First of all, our Shin lifestyle originates from our faith or Going for Refuge in the Three Jewels, which are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

 

To take refuge in the Buddha is to entrust in the living source of understanding, faith and compassion, symbolized as Amida, the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light and her historical human manifestation, Shakyamuni Buddha. One sees the historical Buddha as the greatest teacher and the embodiment of our true human potential. Ultimately, the Buddha is our true nature or universal self. Therefore, when we take refuge in the Buddha, we really take refuge in ourselves.

 

To take refuge in the Dharma is to entrust in Reality-as-it-is, the Ocean of Oneness, the Buddha’s teachings and the path of understanding, faith and compassion.

 

To take refuge in the Sangha is to entrust in the community that practices according to the Buddhist path and strives to manifest and embody Enlightenment here on Earth.

 

From this standpoint the Buddhist lifestyle takes form and further deepens through the daily practice of the Tenfold Precepts (as mentioned below). One cannot claim to follow a Buddhist lifestyle without the daily Going for Refuge in the Three Jewels and the diligent practice of the Precepts. As a consequence of our daily Going for Refuge, naturally we begin to develop our spiritual hears to heed or attune ourselves to the calling of Light and Life itself  (Amida) within our bodies and environment. To listen to this sacred calling is to place our hearts and minds in Amida or the Primal Vow and  to voice the nembutsu–namu-Amida-Butsu.  Each utterance of the nembutsu is considered the consolidation of the Noble Eightfold Path and the living embodiment of the Three Jewels erupting from our our deepest subjectivity. As we deepen our practice and its becomes part of us and is lived, we begin to cast off our old confused selves and experience a spiritual renewal or rebirth. This religious renewal then directly affects our way of thinking and behaving and transforms our environment, relationships and the world.

 

Our Buddhist lifestyle is summed up in the Shin Affirmation, written by Rennyo Shonin in 16th Century, Japan. The Shin Affirmation is recited weekly at our fellowship’s gatherings.

 

Entrusting in the Primal Vow of Buddha,

Calling out her Sacred Name,

I shall pass through the journey of life with strength and joy.

 

Living in the Light of Buddha,

Reflecting upon my imperfect self,

I shall proceed to live a life of gratitude.

 

Following the Teachings of Buddha,

Listening to the wholesome Path,

I shall share the Dharma with all.

 

Rejoicing in the compassion of Buddha,

Respecting and aiding all sentient beings,

I shall work towards the welfare of society and the world.

 

As a result, the daily Going for Refuge, practicing the Tenfold Precepts and awakening to shinjin by living the nembutsu, our Buddhist lifestyle of simplicity, peace, gratitude, love, compassion and wisdom naturally manifests itself. For more inofrmation, please refer to our Becoming a Buddhist web page on the Buddhist Faith Fellowship of Connecticut web site.

 

Simplicity: a Way of Life

 

Simplicity as way of life focuses attention on the absolute essentials and serves as an effective practice to clear the many obstructions that inhibit our deep hearing of the nembutsu: the sacred call of life. Simplicity as a Buddhist practice strips away the evitable distractions of our modern 21st century life that competes for our attention and keeps us under the torrents of the rat race, addictions, fear and unrestrained materialism. Instead, it directs us to look at what is truly important for our spiritual journey such as family, nembutsu, dharma, sangha and the Earth. Living an unadorned life helps us to be awake, free and open that further cultivates the Buddhist virtues of humility and gratitude. This does not mean that we should live in caves or huts without electricity and running water. On the contrary, it means living a comfortable and balanced life yet not under the sway of attachments or aversions such as gain or loss, praise or blame, fame or shame and happiness and hopelessness.

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Simplicity of life impels us to want or possess fewer things, appreciating more of what we have and using what we possess in the service of others. When we have fewer distractions in our lives then we can concentrate more in our inner realm and truly live the Buddha Dharma and manifest the nembutsu. At its core, simplicity is the living practice of reality as it is.

 

First Steps to Simplicity

 

How can you practice simplicity? First you must examine your life to see what worldly things or habits clutter your life and ultimately obstruct your spiritual practice. Are you running around too much? Are you trying to do too many things at once? Is your life littered with one activity after another? Do you have any time to cultivate silence and introspection? Is your busy lifestyle hampering you from practicing Buddhism? Or being with your family?  Once you ask yourself these types of questions and make an inventory of habits and lifestyle, then you can make the changes to simplify your life with the objective of enhancing your Buddhist practice. Remember simplicity is the way of life that helps us put more attention to what is happening within us so we can hear the call of life and awaken to our Buddha nature in service to others.

 

 Main Scriptures

 

The main scriptures or sutras of Shin Buddhism are the following. The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Daikyo), which teaches about the Sacred Story of Amida, the essence of the Primal Vow and the living reality of Great Compassion; The Shorter Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Shokyo), which describes the Pure Land and the human condition, and acclaims the importance of panetheistic Amida Buddha by all enlightened beings; and The Contemplation Sutra (Kangyo) which stresses the truth of human nature, the Pure Land meditations and the sacred story of Queen Vaidehi. 

 

In addition, the Fellowship holds in very high regard the scriptural works of Shinran Shonin, such as the Kyogyoshinsho,  and other Mahayana sutras like the Vimilakirti Sutra and the Lotus Sutra. Furthermore, non-buddhist scriptures like the Gospel of Thomas is held in high esteem. See our The Gospel of Thomas: the Buddhist Jesus? page and web site. CLICK BELOW to read Shin Buddhism's main scriptures and sacred writings.

 

Main Practices

 

The principle Shin Buddhist practices center on deeply hearing, (monpo) the ceaseless calling of Amida within our bodies and the environment and voicing the nembutsu-namu-Amida-Butsu. However, in order to deeply hear this sacred call, our minds and hearts need to be lucid and clear, and our internal chatting should be kept at a minimum. So, at the Fellowship, we endorse zazen or quiet sitting meditation called shikantasa and the practice of sacred chanting of the nembutsu and scriptures to assist us in this deep hearing process. 

 

When our minds are clear and lucid, the natural luminous light within us can be heard and only then we are called upon to truly place our whole heart and mind in the Primal Vow of Amida. As a result, we intuitively manifest a sincere bright faith, voicing the nembutsu - namu-Amida-Butsu, which is really the living manifestation of this light of Oneness, our true nature.

 

In addition to the above practices, our community practices the Tenfold Precepts as a deep hearing practice (see below) and observes Shojin Days once a month and on other selected dates. Please refer to our Nembutsu: namu-Amida-Butsu and Primal Vow and Tenfold Precepts segments and Shojin Observance Days pages for very detailed information.

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Ethical Living & Other Practices

 

The BFF Fellowship also endorses the Tenfold Precepts taught by the historical Buddha in the Vimalakirti Sutra and in other Buddhist scriptures, as an extension of deep hearing practice and as one of the basic foundations for our Buddhist lifestyle.

 

These Tenfold Precepts are not commandments but guidelines for an healthy lifestyle full of harmony, compassion and love. As a deep hearing practice, these wonderful Precepts are the gates by which we may learn to become truly authentic human beings. The diligent practice of these Precepts eventually arouses a deep awareness of  our foolish and self-centered nature while at the same time, we awaken to the compassionate working of the Primal Vow that accepts us regardless of our imperfections and confusion.  As a consequence, we are progessively empowered to avoid creating suffering, fear and despair and bring into being joy, understanding, and peace into our world. By practicing these Precepts, we become a channel for Eternal Love to manifest our human potential and the Pure Land (Enlightened Reality) within our suffering world.


The Tenfold Precepts are designed to purify the body, speech and mind; they include the daily practice of 1) love, 2) generosity, 3) sexual contentment, 4)  truthful speech, 5) kindly speech, 6) meaningful speech, 7) harmonious  speech, 8) tranquility, 9) compassion and 10) wisdom.

 

In Addition, our community practices Shojin Observance or Shojin-bi on the 16th of every month, on Memorial Days, the Autumn and Spring Equinox and on New Year's Day. Shojin Observance is a rededication to the Three Jewels, the Buddhist dharma and practices, and is characterized by partaking on vegan or vegetarian meals. Please refer to our Shojin Observance Days and Becoming a Buddhist web pages on the BFF of Connecticut web site for more information.

 

At our Fellowship, we perform a few Shin practices during our Sunday gatherings that serve as reminders of the Buddha Dharma and as extensions to deep hearing practice. They include our own popular Mindfulness Tea Communion in which participants pay tribute to the reality of the Oneness of Life, interdependence, impermanence and gratitude in a community setting.

 

How to Start Living the Shin Life?

 

How do you start living the Shin path? In brief, listen to Life's call within you. First, entrust in the Primal Vow, place your heart and mind on Amida or the Primal Vow, deeply hear its sacred voice from within the stillness of your heart, then affirm and entrust in this living presence, which is nonetheless your true and real self, and let Life speak to you as the Nembutsu-namu-Amida-Butsu. Then, find a Shin community and learn more about your new religion and way of life. Deepen your nembutsu practice and your shinjin and help other beings awakened to their Buddhahood.

BUDDHIST PRAYER. This web site explains the meaning and practice of Pure Land prayer. Examples are given. Sponsored by the BFF of Connecticut.

FAQ ABOUT SHIN BUDDHISM. Click and enter this interesting web site that may answer your important questions about this religion. Sponsored by the BFF of Connecticut.

DAILY SHIN BUDDHIST PRACTICES AND OBSERVANCES. Click here to enter a Shin web site that suggests a daily practice for you. Sponsored by the BFF of Connecticut.

"Music heard so deeply
It is not heard at all
And you are the music
While the music last."
 
                                                               --T.S. Eliot