Jinen and Shizen, 自然, by Reverend Professor Toshikawasu Arai

Reverend Professor Toshikawasu Arai visited Salinas on August 9, 2015 and gave a lecture at Salinas' first Furutani Memorial Lecture series.

Jinen and Shizen, 自然

When I gave a Dharma lecture at the Buddhist Temple of Salinas, CA, I failed to communicate with the lady who asked about the difference between “jinen” and “shizen.” She was a local resident of Japanese ancestry and was puzzled by the word “jinen” that I used in explaining the working of Amida Buddha. When I wrote the Chinese letters for jinen on the board, she read it confidently “shizen.” There was a language problem—I was not able to completely switch to Japanese at that time because some participants in the lecture were obviously of non-Japanese origin. In retrospect, I should have explained it in Japanese thoroughly and then repeated my explanation in English afterwards. In any case, the following is my answer.

Both “jinen” and “shizen” are expressed with the same Chinese letters 自然. However, “shizen” means what we call nature—a state of being on the earth and in the universe before any human intervention—with trees, grass, rocks, rivers, ocean, mountains, winds, storms, stars, galaxies, and so on. Actually humans are part of nature, but we tend to regard nature as a totality of objects for our exploitation. In fact, we would have to live like apes and monkeys if we wanted to live in complete harmony with nature. In this sense, humans and nature are in a state of conflict.

On the other hand, “jinen” was originally a Taoist word borrowed by Buddhists in China. In Taoism, it meant “spontaneously becoming so.” When Buddhists borrowed it, it came to mean the Buddha’s working to guide sentient beings to the Buddha path. Jinen surpasses all human calculations and efforts and is beyond human cognizance. Shinran made it even clearer by interpreting it to mean “causing us to become so.” In other words, it is another expression of “tariki,” or “the power that causes us to walk the Buddha path before we are aware of it.” Jinen is, therefore, synonymous with the power of the Primal Vow. “Shizen,” or nature, can exist without the existence of humans, or without “me,” but “jinen” is used by a person who has awakened to the working of the Primal Vow on him that has guided him/her to the Buddha path without his/her awareness,. In a plainer expression, it can be said, “Previously, I lived without the knowledge of the Dharma and without any reverence to the Buddha. I even looked down upon priests for their socially unproductive lives. Now I realize the Buddha had already known myself in such a state and with many different means has guided me to awaken to the Buddha’s Primal Vow. How grateful I am for the Buddha’s benevolence.”







What is Shinjin? Essay by Reverend Professor Toshikawasu Arai

Reverend Professor Toshikawasu Arai visited Salinas on August 9, 2015 and gave a lecture at Salinas' first Furutani Memorial Lecture series.

What Is Shinjin?

I visited the Buddhist Temple of Salinas on August 9, and gave a Dharma message in English and Japanese and a lecture followed by a Q & A session. I would like to thank Rev. and Mrs. Orai Fujikawa and the members of the temple for their hospitality and kindness.

When we had a question-and-answer session, a lady asked me, “What is shinjin?” I had not expected this question partly because I thought I had been talking about shinjin and nembutsu in my lecture, and partly because I was not sure what kind of answer would be appropriate to her needs. I thought if she was serious about that question, I should meet her and discuss this matter face to face. In any case, if she had not found the answer for that question, she should really hurry and find the answer. 

In any case, I would like to add the following to what I said at that time.

Shinjin is, literally, “trusting heart.” What do we trust in? Most simply put, we trust in the Buddha, we trust in the Dharma (the Buddha’s teaching), and we trust in the Sangha (a body of Buddhist practicers). The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha are combined and called the three treasures of Buddhism. These three are not separate. The Buddha lives in the Dharma and the Dharma is studied and propagated by the body of its followers. If you entrust yourself to any one of the three, you will have taken refuge in all the three. Honen, for example, entered the Buddha path through his encounter with Shan-tao’s teaching of the exclusive practice of the nembutsu. Shinran entered the Buddha path through his encounter with Honen and his teaching. What is important is that it was the Shan-tao’s teaching that gave rise to shinjin in the heart of Honen. The same thing can be said about Honen and Shinran. 

Shinjin, or the entrusting heart, is always given by the Buddha, Dharma or Sangha, but not created by the practicer. You might attend the service regularly, but you might not have attained shinjin because your attendance at services might have been just a habitual or social matter. You have to think how the teaching as explained in Dharma messages relates to you. Only then the teaching will make sense to you and before you realize, you will rejoice at the newly growing shinjin within you.










What is Eitaikyo?

Eitaikyo literally means "Perpetual Sutra Chanting." Eitaikyo is a Japanese Buddhist observance. The Chinese character, "Ei" contains the ideograph for a river with many tributaries that flow out of it. This represents the continuous flowing of a river, leading to the ocean. It represents something perpetual, something continuous. The character “Dai” (which in this case is pronounced “Tai”) refers to a period of time or a generation. It is an ideograph with the radicals for person and for a stake or post. It means a place or period of history. “Kyo” is the character for chanting of sutras.

Eitaikyo represents for each of us, the continuing flow of the generations upon generations, which have allowed us to hear the teachings of the sutras.

Every temple, including the Buddhist Temple of Salinas, has an Eitaikyo Fund. The Eitaikyo fund is a separate fund from the temple’s other funds, set aside for use by the temple in special circumstances. It is a fund that is not to be used for the general upkeep and day-to-day expenses of the temple. The purpose of the fund is to have assets available to the temple for the upkeep and the restoration of the onajin (altar area), the place where people come to reflect and give appreciation to Amida Buddha and also to express appreciation to all the people and circumstances of the past that have led us to where we are today.

The Eitaikyo list is a compilation of members and families that have contributed to the Temple’s Eitaikyo fund in memory of their deceased family members. In keeping with the special status of the fund, a record is kept in a special book which is placed on the onaijin in a place of honor.

In gassho....


OBON  - A Gathering of Joy -

Rev. George T. Matsubayashi, Rimban of Los Angeles Betsuin

The Obon season is here once again.  How sad and lonely we were when our dads and moms completed their earthly lives and physically left us behind.  How are our children going to take it when the time comes for our earthly lives to come to an end?  Although it was difficult for us without them physically by our sides, our parents left us with a strong and affirmative belief to keep going.  Even though their lives and ours are physically separated, we are, in reality, in complete oneness in the Name of Namo Amida Butsu.  We can never be separated no matter how conditions change.   It is at this Obon season that I am given the opportunity to reflect upon all these thoughts - thoughts in regard to the direction and destination of my life.  During this Obon season, let us truly reflect upon our deceased loved ones and ourselves.  Let us look into the values and the significance of their lives and ours.

Several years ago, I joined a young family in observing the funeral services in memory of their beloved father who passed away at the age of 77 after a prolonged illness.  The father had suffered a massive stroke six years earlier.  His whole body, except his left hand, was paralyzed.  The five children and their families truly took very good care of him for six long years.  When I visited the father, I always came home with a real sense of admiration and gratitude for the way the children took care of him.  The most impressive and beautiful experience I was given through my association with this particular family came when we were all gathered to observe the cremation service.  After all friends had paid their last respects, the five children came forward and put their hands together in Gassho while the eldest son said to his father, “Thank you, Father.  You must have suffered a lot for a long time… but please help us…  We need your guidance and help from now on… more than ever… Thanks, DAD!”

Termination of their father’s physical life does not mean total separation from him.  No matter how much outside conditions change, even if separation from loved ones which people call death occurs, their father’s life continues to live within his children’s lives.  It is very sad, but such a realization becomes true to us when such a crucial experience of life and death becomes a reality.  Even upon hearing the Compassionate Vow of Amida Buddha that transcends this sentient world, we common mortals who flounder in this world of birth and death do not give up our life of basic passions.  Yet, our minds and hearts will abide joyfully in the Pure Land. 

Obon is also traditionally called “Kangi-e - A Gathering of Joy.”  It can be interpreted as “joy of getting together” or “joy of reunion.”  In Jodo Shinshu it is meant to reaffirm ourselves in the belief that our life in reality is not going to be terminated in this short earthly life, but that we will be born in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha and will become completely one with the Buddha.  In this realm, our deceased loved ones, with  Infinite Life and Wisdom in the Light of Amida Buddha, will go back and forth between the Pure Land and this world to guide is in finding the right direction of our life.  During the Obon season, I sincerely hope that we will all take the time to reflect upon our lives and realize how wonderful and how fortunate we are to be able to live in the Light and Wisdom of Amida Buddha and our departed ones.  Gassho

Reprinted in July 2002 White Path



Fuji Matsuri Gotan-e Service commemorates the birthday of Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, born on May 21, 1173 in Kyoto, Japan.  Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism.  Mahayana Buddhism is one of the two major Buddhist schools which has spread from India to China and Japan.

A famous Buddhist scholar, Dr. Daisetz T. Suzuki, once said that “The Japanese may not have offered very many original ideas to world thought or world culture, but in Shin (Shinshu Buddhism) we find a major contribution the Japanese can make to the outside world and all the other Buddhist schools…  Of all the development Mahayana Buddhism has achieved in the Far East, the most remarkable one is the Shin (Shinshu Buddhism) teaching of the Pure Land (Jodo) school.  It is remarkable chiefly because geographically its birthplace is Japan and historically it is the latest evolution of Pure Land Mahayana, and therefore the highest point it has reached.”

The Pure Land or Jodo idea grew first in India, then developed in China during the Tang dynasty in the 6th and 7th centuries.  During the Kamakura period in Japan in the 12th and 13th centuries, Shinran founded the Jodo Shinshu or Pure Land Buddhism for the ordinary people.  Buddhism has existed in Japan since it was first introduced there in the middle of the 6th century.  At that time, Buddhism was somewhat of an aristocratic religion.  The Buddhist monasteries were restricted to the noble people and isolated from the ordinary people.  Shinran had a profound understanding of human natures and the needs of ordinary people.

The Bodhisattva ideal is one of the most important characteristics of Mahayana Buddhism.  The principal teaching of the Bodhisattva is to work for others as one’s own benefits.  Thus, the Bodhisattva’s happiness is a by-product of the joy and compassion in selfless working for others similar to what a parent does for his or her own child.  It is living as the beneficiaries of the great work of others.  Shinran taught us that Amida Buddha is always embracing each one of us with his great compassion and wisdom.  This is the function of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.  As the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, his Primal Vow was set up and he stated, “When I attain enlightenment but all beings do not attain enlightenment, may I not attain the highest enlightenment.”  The Primal Vow assured us that all beings will be led to enlightenment when we have entrusted in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.

Shinran emphasized that the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha does not discriminate against anyone because of social or physical conditions or life-style.  He stated his writing that “When I carefully consider the Primal Vow which Amida Buddha brought forth, I find that it was only for me, Shinran, alone!  How gracious is the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha who resolved to save me!”  Shinran assured us a true way to enlightenment is the way of Nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu. 

As time went on after Shinran passed away, his real character and teaching were truly recognized in Japan.  Jodo Shinshu Buddhism became one of the largest Buddhist denominations in Japan.  In 1876, six hundred thirteen years after Shinran’s death, the Emperor Meiji of Japan honored him with the special title of “Kenshin Daishi” meaning “The Great Teacher who has revealed the Truth.”  Let us all express our appreciation to Shinran Shonin’s dedicated religious guidance and celebrate his 828th birthday! 

Rev. Hoshu Y. Matsubayashi, Ed.D. (May White Path, 2001)