AMAZING JOURNEY – Finding A True Teacher of Shinjin
Pundarika – a rare White Lotus Flower that rose from the mud of blind passions…
All mundane foolish persons whether good or evil
Having heard and entrust in the Universal Vow of The Tathagata
The Buddha called them persons of vast excellent understanding
Who are also named by people as ‘Pundarikas’.
Rick St Clair is a moderator of the On-line Sangha, True Shin Buddhism Yahoo Group. He joined this Sangha in May 2009 after a tortuous search for a path that will free him permanently from samsara, the relentless cycle of birth, suffering and death. Having found for himself, a good teacher of True Shinjin and a great Dharma friend in Paul Roberts, they set out strongly to spread the wonderful True Pure Land Teachings of Master Shinran, acting as links to Amida Buddha’s Golden Chain. Their efforts have brought many ignorant, foolish lay seekers to Listen Deeply to The Inconceivable Dharma message of Master Shinran and to HEAR The Call of Boundless Compassion.
Since then, Rick, who is an accomplished musician, has presented many beautiful musical compositions with his videos on You Tube, gratefully showcasing the wonderful poems and teachings of Master Shinran to the world.
Sharing his Amazing Journey to JodoShinshu, Rick personally writes…
The saving light of Amida Buddha shines ceaselessly
Upon all suffering beings of the ten directions
Even on such a foolish being of evil karma as myself :
One such as this is Amida’s foremost object of compassion!
There is no greater good than the Nembutsu!
There is no evil that can overcome the Nembutsu!
Saved by the power of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow
I say the Nembutsu in heartfelt gratitude.
As a child and young adult I was never very interested in religion. I avoided going to church as much as possible, playing sick when I could get away with it. When I was a teen, I was asked (it wasn’t put as a request however) to go through confirmation in the Presbyterian Church, which I did. I learned all the Beatitudes, the names of the Old and New Testament books in correct order, and all of the Ten Commandments by memory. I was active in church as a singer, but my interest wasn’t really spiritual. I never read the Bible or any spiritual writings, just wasn’t interested. One amusing thing, though, when I was a pre-adolescent, I was awestruck by our Presbyterian minister, who was a firebrand. I dressed up like a minister and gave “sermons” imitating him in the living room of our house. But it was all just a lark.
As a college student I forgot all about religion completely until someone who was counselling me told me about Paramahansa Yogananda. Out of curiosity I sent away for lessons from the Self Realization Fellowship and practiced for a few weeks, but lost interest quickly. However, the experience did pique my interest in spirituality for the first time, and I got interested in unitarianism. I didn’t believe in the Trinity, just a divine presence, so unitarianism was a good fit for me at that time. Before long though, due to complex emotional problems stemming from an abusive childhood, I was induced into joining a religious group which turned out to be a cult. There was a lot of brainwashing, and I came to fear God as a judge, with very little hope of redemption outside of the religious group.
After 17 years of that experience, which was a terrible downward spiral, I had a spiritual crisis and walked away from the group, completely disillusioned about spirituality and religion in general. Instead I turned to psychotherapy. It was in psychotherapy that I made a lot a progress in my emotional issues, but after a few years I came to a dead end. My therapist suggested I might benefit from Buddhism, and recommended looking into the writings of Pema Chodron and the Dalai Lama. I began dabbling in Buddhism.
First, I checked out from the library some of the discourses of the Buddha from the Pali Canon. I was immediately struck by the clarity of the Buddha’s teaching, and for the first time I felt like my spiritual boat had a rudder. I read many books on Buddhism and started going to various Buddhist meetings. The emphasis was on either meditation or chanting or a combination of the two. In my previous experience in a religious cult, the practice of ritual was strongly emphasized, and I felt turned off by meditation and chanting because they reminded me of the bad experience in the cult. But now I considered the Buddha as my spiritual teacher and guide.
On my own, I took the Three Refuges. I took a three-day retreat in Tibetan Buddhism on Dependent Origination. Although the chanting bothered me a lot, the logic of the presentation of Dependent Origination convinced me that Buddhism, at least in theory, was TRUTH, was something that deserved my full attention and devotion. One of the chanting groups I went to was a Nichiren Shu organization. The emphasis was on the Lotus Sutra and chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. I was entranced with the writings in the Lotus Sutra and even set some of the verses in the sutra to music (I am a professional classical composer). But the chanting was a problem for me. Nichiren, a 13th century radical Buddhist teacher, was very opinionated and intolerant of all forms of Buddhism that did not conform to his interpretation of the Lotus Sutra. He was especially intolerant of the Pure Land sect founded by Honen Shonin, which he blamed for all the problems in Japan, political, social, and religious.
It was Nichiren’s rant against Honen in his tract Rissho Ankoku Ron that spurred my curiosity about Honen, and so I began to look into Honen and the Pure Land sect. I also started to read books about Japanese Pure Land Buddhism. Very quickly I found a book about Shinran Shonin, “Shinran’s Gospel of Pure Grace,” by Alfred Bloom. I devoured the book and was completely convinced that Master Shinran was the teacher I had unwittiingly been looking for all my life. Pure grace sounded like just what I needed – not a boatload of religious practices, but simple FAITH. So I got in touch with Alfred Bloom, studied his online course, and considered him my teacher. However, it became clear to me very quickly that there was a problem. Shinran’s “gospel of pure grace” seemed like a sure thing, but when I read the fine print in Bloom’s writings, it appeared that I needed to study very hard in order to “get” just how that “gospel” “worked”. (NB: Master Shinran wrote that NO WORKING IS TRUE WORKING, and Bloom completely missed the boat on that crucial point.) Every successive book of Bloom’s I purchased and read cover to cover, but my frustration only grew.
I thought if I started a sangha and had Shin Buddhist teachers come to teach the Dharma, then I would have answers to my questions. So I did. I organized a sangha, and we had monthly meetings for a number of years in my hometown in the Boston area. The Shin teacher who was most helpful in organizing the sangha was Taitetsu Unno, like Bloom a famous teacher and writer on Shin Buddhism. Also helpful was Rev. T. K. Nakagaki, then minister of the New York Buddhist Church. I felt with Unno and Nakagaki behind it, the sangha would be a great success. But the way Unno wanted the sangha to be set up, and Nakagaki agreed, was to have a lot of ritual – chanting, rice offering, bowing, incense – followed by a “dharma talk”. I was uncomfortable about the rituals, but I thought this was what was necessary for a “legitimate” sangha, so I went along with it.
However, the chanting was all in Japanese! I didn’t understand what we were chanting. Nobody did. Then we chanted the Nembutsu, but nobody told us what the meaning of that was. The “dharma talks” did not say anything about the meaning of Amida Buddha, the Primal Vow, Other Power, and the Pure Land. Instead, they talked about life, daily problems, and occasionally about Buddhist-related ideas, but never about the teachings of Master Shinran or Master Rennyo. Master Rennyo wrote, famously, that “In our sect, SHINJIN IS EVERYTHING.” Shinjin is the faith-mind consciousness given by Amida Buddha to any and every person who turns over their entire karmic destiny, without any doubing or doublemindedness, to the care of Amida Buddha’s Other Power. Shinjin is SALVATION IN THE PRESENT. But in the Boston sangha, the teachers NEVER talked about Shinjin. In the several years that I organized and ran the sangha, I do not recall any of the ministers EVER ONCE mentioning the concept of Shinjin, or even the WORD Shinjin.
And that is precisely why the Boston Shin sangha failed. The ministers who should have been teaching the pristine Dharma of Shakyamuni Buddha, Master Shinran and Master Rennyo were doing just the opposite, they were teaching their own ideas and cloaking it in the veneer of Shin ritual. And so the Boston Shin sangha failed. There was no interest, because there was no real teaching happening, just a lot of modernist talk and empty ritual. I had to close down the sangha when the membership dwindled down to a handful of regulars. But I didn’t fully realize at the time what the problem really was. Somewhere in my mind I knew that the teachers had failed, but I didn’t know why. The reason is that I wasn’t yet a person of Shinjin. I was still enamored by the seductive prose of Unno’s and Bloom’s books, which SOUNDED profound but really weren’t saying anything beyond their own personal opinions mixed in with western philosophy and a lip service to the Dharma Masters.
I joined an email discussion group of Shin Buddhists, and we batted around ideas, but we were all just as confused as our teachers. One day, Paul Roberts appeared on the list and started talking about the pristine Dharma taught by Master Shinran and Master Rennyo. We all thought he was crazy. I’m ashamed to say that I called him a troublemaker. Paul left under a storm of abusive posts and instead set up his own blog, the Shin Ugly Blog. I was really spiritually lost at that point. I wasn’t ready to hear Paul’s message. I was confused and in a sea of doubt and modernist disinformation.
On one occasion over the phone my teacher, Alfred Bloom, actually confided to me, “Of course, there is no Amida Buddha.” I was floored. But in a real way it was what I needed to hear. I needed to hear what he REALLY felt behind the facade of honored teacher and celebrated writer. If there is no Amida Buddha, then what are we doing here? So I went into a spiritual tailspin. I was practically on the verge of giving up on Shin Buddhism totally. I looked into all sorts of other, non-Buddhist paths, Theosophy, Kaballah, Rosicrucian, Islam, Quaker, etc., and each time felt more empty than the last. I was at the end of my rope.
However, little could I have realized at the time, my karma was ripening to receive the true teaching. But I remembered Paul’s posts on the email list. Out of sheer desperation, and feeling I had nothing left to lose, I contacted him and laid out my predicament. Right away Paul confirmed to me that Amida DOES exist, Amida is a REAL BUDDHA, and the Pure Land is a real place. In just a few emails and phone calls, with Paul’s help, I quickly came to Shinjin and jettisoned all the doubts and confusions of the modernists that I had been laboring under for twelve long and frustrating years. This whole experience, painful and protracted as it was, taught me a very profound lesson. Unless Shin Buddhism teachers are persons of Shinjin, as Paul Roberts is, the true teaching cannot be communicated. If Shin Buddhist teachers mix their own personal views as part of their lessons, the true teaching cannot be communicated. And CLEARLY, the global Shin Sangha is in a terrible state if the most prominent and famous teachers and writers are teaching modernist gobbledygook instead of the pristine true teachings of Shakyamuni, Shinran, and Rennyo.
Thanks to Paul as my mentor, I have grown into my own role as a teacher of True Shin Buddhism and am active on the Yahoo group, True Shin Buddhism. Even though I know I am still a bombu, a “spiritual idiot” as Paul likes to say, the fact that I am a person of Shinjin teaching according to the plumbline of the Dharma Masters means that I am in the sacred position of transmitting the very Dharma that has SAVED ME and assured that I will be reborn as a Buddha in Amida’s Pure Land when my life here ends. So now, when I say the Nembutsu – Namu Amida Butsu – it is not “chanting” some mechanical ritual or mantra, it is a natural, heartfelt expression of GRATITUDE to Amida Buddha for his great gift of Shinjin and his promise to me of Buddhahood in His Pure Land. I live my life naturally, without effort, calculation, or worry about my spiritual future. I have been saved by Amida Buddha for all time.
Namu Amida Butsu! – Thank You, Amida Buddha!!
Rick St Clair
By Rick St Clair on The Call Of Boundless Compassion
HOME PAGE – The Call Of Boundless Compassion
Page 2 – The Primal Vow
Page 3 – Gatha of True Faith