Role of Buddhist Teachers in Zen and Jodo Shinshu

Here’s a video of a lecture by Professor Melissa A. Curley on “The Role of Teachers in Zen and Jodo Shinshu: On Teachers as Buddhas and Ordinary Human Beings.”

At first, Zen and Jodo Shinshu Buddhism appear to have very different ideas about how disciples view their masters. For instance, Chinese Zen master Linji famously told his students, “If you meet a Buddha, kill the buddha; if you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch.”

By contrast, Shinran told his followers his practice consisted in nothing other than entrusting himself to the word of his revered teacher.

Japanese philosopher Masako Keta argues that underneath the surface, Zen and Jodo Shinshu share an understanding of the most excellent Buddhist teachers as always also ordinary human beings. This presentation introduces Keta and explores her work focusing on the role of teachers and the aim of students in Zen and Jodo Shinshu. It reflects on the significance of Keta’s argument in how to understand the idea of “taking refuge.”

It also discusses implications Keta’s analysis has for thinking about challenging questions on the power invested in the figure of the teacher in contemporary American Buddhist communities.

Professor Curley is assistant professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University, where she teaches Buddhism, Japanese religions, comparative sacred texts, and religion and popular culture. Her first book, Pure Land, Real World: Modern Buddhism, Japanese Leftists, and the Utopian Imagination, was published by the University of Hawai’i Press. She is currently at work on a project on American Buddhist footways.

This lecture was sponsored by Higashi Honganji’s Shinshu Center of America. Recorded June 27, 2020.