Amida, Save Me!

By Rev. Ken Yamada

Jodo Shinshu uses words such as “salvation” and “save” which make me uneasy. They give Pure Land Buddhism the appearance of a Christian-like religion with Amida Buddha as savior.

Yet, Jodo Shinshu’s founder Shinran Shonin used these terms. In the Tannisho, he says:

As for me, I simply accept and entrust myself to what my revered teacher told me, “Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida”; nothing else is involved.

Continue reading “Amida, Save Me!”

Legend of the Devil Mask

Devil mask at Higashi Honganji Yoshizaki Betsuin temple, Japan

By Rev. Ken Yamada

When visiting Japan last Spring for the 800th Anniversary of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism’s founding and Shinran Shonin’s 850th Birthday, our tour group traveled to an historic site on the Japan Sea coast made famous by Rennyo Shonin.

Considered the “Second Founder of Jodo Shinshu,” Rennyo revitalized the Honganji temple and sangha, attracting legions of followers. In Yoshizaki (present-day Fukui Prefecture), he built a temple atop a hill that quickly became a lively and important religious and social hub of activity.

A large part of Rennyo’s appeal was his focus on women. Not only did they face discrimination in male dominated society, women also faced a kind of spiritual discrimination. Viewed as weak and vulnerable, ancient Buddhist teachings spoke of the near impossibility of their religious salvation. Continue reading “Legend of the Devil Mask”

Secret Shinshu


Wandering monk Kūya

Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is welcoming, open, and holds no secrets. Yet, some people follow a “secret” kind of Shinshu, off-limits to outsiders.

Such groups existed ever since Shinshu’s founder Shinran Shonin’s time. Called by various names, including “hiji bōmon” (secret dharma) and urahōmon (hidden teachings), members follow a tight-lipped tradition of closed-door gatherings, obscure rituals, evangelical-like sermons, and teachings considered heretical by major Shinshu denominations. Noted Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki reputedly as a child underwent a secret dharma ritual, following his mother, who was a member. Such groups still are active today in Japan. Continue reading “Secret Shinshu”

Mutterings of an Old Man

Rennyo Shōnin (1415-1499)

By Bishop Kenjun Kawawata

These days, my body has become “koki koki” (stiff and jittery), especially this year at 70 years old, called “koki” (古希) in Japan. Long ago, this age was considered “old” and “rare.” Yet in my head, I’m not an “old man.” I wonder, does long-life mean happiness? Continue reading “Mutterings of an Old Man”