Unlocking Master Shinran's Message into ABC's

Shinran struggled to precisely convey the universal wonder of Amida’s Vow for all human beings in his native tongue of Japanese. But the great Vow applies to all the world, all its languages and all its peoples. Imagine the challenge to exact the same precision of this Buddhist master and convey his message just as effectively without a single nuance lost in translation.

This is just what Japanese Buddhist teacher and author Kentetsu Takamori has done with his book Unlocking Tannisho: Shinran’s Words on the Pure Land Path. With the help of English translator Juliet Winters Carpenter, the book has combined the Tannisho, a classic work of Buddhist literature, with Mr. Takamori’s expert commentary and analysis.

Attending services at the Shinran Center here in Los Angeles for three years now, I’ve seen tremendous progress in the spread of Pure Land’s teachings. Live translations have become smoother, and public meetings in English are now being held in local communities with growing numbers.

Listening to the lectures deeply is of course of fundamental importance within Buddhism. Likewise, sharing and discussing are equally as important. Our understanding is deepened by sharing the teachings. It propels us closer toward true faith.

The arrival of Unlocking Tannisho has finally provided English followers of Pure Land Buddhism a reference book with which to explore Shinran’s teachings correctly.

I was fortunate enough to join a lecture of Prof. Alfred Bloom in Honolulu, Hawaii, several weeks ago. Prof. Bloom spoke about how he learned to speak and write Japanese in World War II as a young soldier. Because of his activity in Tokyo, he stumbled upon the concept of Amida Buddha and the teachings of Buddhism as well.

It was inspirational to hear how his illustrious career as a religious scholar began, but I became fascinated when he expounded upon various sections of the Tannisho that resonated within him deeply. The most inspirational part of the Tannisho for the professor was the all-inclusive yet non-judgmental power of the Vow.

Other religions, he said, can often hold judgments about the fates of non-believers. Prof. Bloom clarified that Shinran didn’t have such a power over anyone. Shinran did not possess the ability to send people to heaven or hell or even force them into or out of their beliefs.

Another point that moved the professor was how the teachings of Shinran brought everyone together on an equal level regardless of status. Shinran defied the conventional notion that the role of a teacher is higher than those being taught. Prof. Bloom quoted the Tannisho, “I, Shinran, do not have even one disciple.” Putting the level of the master and the follower on the same level is truly something both radical and liberating, Prof. Bloom said.

Finally hearing all these insights on this rare occasion and from a native-speaker of English, I realized just how important this book had become. Discussions of faith like these can now become more common, I thought. It is truly something of wonder and something to be grateful for.

Together now as “fellow companions” and “fellow travelers” as the professor put it, we can go toward the light of Amida’s salvation... in any and every language.

by Felix Crosser

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #07 | 2011, Unlocking Master Shinran's Message into ABC's

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