Shin and Zen: two sides of Japanese Buddhism

Today has been a tiring day, and in frustration I removed a couple blog posts from the last 24 hours. Honestly, they weren’t great posts anyways, so it was no big loss. In any case, while on the way home, I continued reading Kosho Uchiyama’s good book Opening the Hand of Thought, a book on Soto Zen.1 The book reminded me of an article I had read by Jodo Shinshu minister, Hisao Inagaki, when he gave a talk about Nembutsu and Zen.

If you take all the schools of Japanese Buddhism and lump them together, there’s four strains of thought:

  1. Esoteric or Vajrayana Buddhism (Shingon school, and some elements of Tendai).
  2. Zen (Soto, Rinzai, Obaku schools)
  3. Pure Land (Jodo Shu, Jodo Shinshu)
  4. Lotus Sutra (Tendai, Nichren)

Unlike, say Chinese Buddhism, where these mix very frequently, Japanese Buddhism tends toward a factional approach. On paper at least, Zen guys only do Zen, Pure Land Buddhists only recite the Nembutsu, Nichiren Buddhists only recite the Odaimoku, and so on. However, Rev. Inagaki’s lecture provides an interesting view of how Zen and Pure Land Buddhism (namely Jodo Shinshu or “Shin” Buddhism) converge on many points. All of the above are Mahayana Buddhist schools, so there’s a lot of commonality under the surface, but more than that, they’re all concerned with the basic Dharma and how to put it into practice.

Toward the end, he takes up the question: which should you do? Nembutsu or Zen? I’ll let you read that part for yourself, but I think his answer is both reasonable and realistic, and ultimately benefit one on the path.

Namu Amida Butsu

1 Originally I got the idea for buying this book from some excellent blog posts by Kyoushin, Jishin and Gakko over at Echoes of the Name. :)

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8 Comments on “Shin and Zen: two sides of Japanese Buddhism”

  1. Kendall says:

    Just remember, just because you delete it, doesn’t mean it no longer exists. It’s still sitting in my Google Reader. You may not have thought it was a great post, but it wasn’t a bad one either. I’m very far from the average on that topic, on the low end, not high end :-) .

    In the future, you might want to keep a post as a draft if you’re doubting whether or not to put it out.

  2. slingword says:

    I have a serious question that may be related to this thread:

    And I would love to hear replies….

  3. Doug says:

    Kendall: Yeah, someone else already pointed out the Google Reader issue. Ah well. :) I usually do keep things in draft for some time (like this post), but occasionally I shoot from the hip. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it’s garbage.

    Slingword: Welcome to the JLR. I’ve replied your question on your blog. Best of luck.

  4. Senshin says:

    And sometimes others think your “garbage” is gold :)

  5. slingword says:

    Follow up question:
    I get that some forms of Buddhism are at least not based on some, well, nonsense, like the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
    But I’m back in the same old place here.

    Above you talk about how many different forms of Buddhism there are. But you have chosen one, or some combination of them. Why your choice?

    If it’s all just philosophy, and there is no truth to any of it, making the choice purely personal (just believe what has been handed down to you, or what feels good, or what is convenient, etc) then why even bother with just Buddhism? Why not just pick this passage of the Bible, that writing of this “expert”, and what your friends tell you that you want to hear?

    Truth is what is real. And there is only one of those. There aren’t an infinite number of possibilities, there is only one. That makes truth unique. Not just another of an endless number of possibilities of things to believe to be true when they aren’t, or things that make you feel good (or worse, sometime perverted like “my personal truth”, which is a distortion of the definition of truth).

    What do you have that is truth?
    You have some writing of opinions of how to live your life. Which is great! There are a lot of poets who do the same thing, except they don’t call themselves religions.
    A little help?

    Thanks again,

    PS. There are lots of comments on my article:
    which are interesting….

  6. Doug says:

    Senshin: Thank you. :) Of course, one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, as we say in English. I suppose it’s all empty anyways. ;)

    Slingword: Due to the details of your question, I thought it best to make a separate post on the subject. I hope it addresses some of your questions. As for your blog post, yes, I’ve enjoyed reading some of the comments. I might have shared some of them at one point, but that was a while ago.

  7. stillhere4u says:

    I think Zen can be contrasted with the modern culture of presumption. You might enjoy the short Zen tale I just posted at

  8. Doug says:

    Hello and welcome to the JLR. I’ve heard of this folk story before in various incarnations from other sources, so it’s well-known.

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