Welcome to the Western Quarter!

This blog is devoted to the propagation of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, a 750-year-old Buddhist tradition.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pure Land Quote of the Week

"The Buddha said: 'If a man or a woman single-heartedly and exclusively recites Amida's Name for one to seven days, when his or her life is about to end, Amida Buddha will come in person to welcome him or her, thus enabling the aspirant to be born in the Western Land of Utmost Bliss.' Sakyamuni Buddha continued: 'As I see this benefit, I have spoken these words."

This a quote from The Sutra on Amitayus Buddha, one of the three Pure Land sutras which are the principle sutras of the Jodo Shin School. It is also quoted in one of the writings of the Seven Masters, Shan-tao's Kannenbomon ("The Method of Contemplation on Amida"). Pure Land Buddhists, whether of the Shinshu or another school, whether in Japan or China, take these words to heart and practice chanting Amida's Name to be born in the Pure Land.

Monday, January 11, 2010

"The Western Quarter"

The title of this blog "The Western Quarter" comes from the Inagaki English Translation of Ojoraisan, in English "Liturgy for Birth" composed by the Chinese monk Shan-tao, who lived in the 7th-century. Shan-tao is one of the "Seven Masters" of the Jodo Shinshu. These "Seven Masters" form something like a "lineage" which stretches back to Sakyamuni Buddha, and ultimately, to Amida Buddha. This is typical of Buddhist schools: a series of teachers provides a historical connection (but not necessarily a direct link, in some cases) back to the original teacher (Sakyamuni); some famous teachers of the past, such as Nagarjuna, are important in the lineage of many diverse Buddhist schools, while other teachers are important to only a few specific ones. It depends on the school. The Ojoraisan is typically chanted like a sutra, and is not regularly conducted in Shin temples outside of Japan. Prior to the time of Rennyo Shonin (15th-century CE), it was regularly conducted in Japan (also in other Pure Land traditions), but was eventually replaced by other liturgies (possibly because of its length - it may have been performed round-the-clock).

However, Ojoraisan is a very beautiful liturgy; the essence is Shan-tao's aspiration, and aspiration for others, to be born in the "Western Quarter" or the Pure Land of Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is the Buddha of the Western Quarter, in Sanskrit sukhavati, Japanese, ojodo, or Chinese, jingtu.

What is the Pure Land? This is the realm where Buddhahood may be realized, and attained by all sentient beings. This is a major tradition within Mahayana Buddhism (also if we include the Tibetan traditions), which elaborates on the realms of the Buddhas. Pure Land is possibly the most accessible of all Buddhist traditions, as it emphasizes faith in, and devotion to Amida Buddha (and the possibility of Buddhahood), but this doesn't mean it cannot be profound. There are many Mahayana sutras whose topic is solely on the Pure Land, commentaries which discuss it, and just as many rituals and practices which accompany these beliefs. It is probably beyond the scope of a blog(!) to discuss all the complexities of Pure Land Buddhism, so future posts will focus on how Jodo Shinshu interprets Pure Land teachings. Jodo Shinshu recognizes certain Pure Land sutras as particularly authoritative for its tradition, and the writings of the "Seven Masters" as of special importance. Together with the writings of Shinran Shonin, they provide the basis for the Jodo Shinshu teachings.

If you are interested in Pure Land teachings, go directly to the sources! However, there are not many books that focus on Pure Land Buddhism at your usual Borders or Barnes & Noble, unless it is a general overview-type book. In fact, there are some books that tend to neglect or even dismiss outright the Pure Land tradition because it seems too "faith-based"! Unfortunately, not many of the Pure Land sutras or writings of the Seven Masters are too readily available in English translation; you may have to try some online searching. Try Amida Net linked at the right of this blog, or the BCA Bookstore, where the Inagaki translation of Ojoraisan is available.

Namo Amida Butsu

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Hello all!

This is a new blog which will be devoted to the propagation of the teachings of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism (also known as "Shin Buddhism"), a 750-year-old Japanese Buddhist school. Jodo Shinshu, which means "The True Pure Land School," has its origins in medieval Japan, and in the East Asian Mahayana tradition, more specifically, the Pure Land tradition. While all Buddhist traditions ultimately go back to the historical Sakyamuni Buddha (or "Gotama Buddha"), the Jodo Shinshu tradition itself was founded by Shinran Shonin and kept alive by his disciples and family, up to today. While the majority of Jodo Shinshu temples are in Japan, there are also temples, and many devoted sanghas, in countries around the world, including the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.

This blog will aim to present Jodo Shinshu faithfully, and in a manner that is neither overly academic nor "dumbed down." If you are new to Buddhism, I hope this blog can answer some of your questions about this particular Buddhist tradition. If you are a long-time Shinshu follower, I also hope this blog will refresh your understanding, and that you may still learn new things! We are all newcomers to Dharma.

Since this blog will focus on Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, you may not find questions answered about other Buddhist traditions - I am ordained only in the Shinshu tradition. Although I have studied other forms of Buddhism, and visited other Buddhist temples, I am certainly not an expert on any of them. I cannot give you any advice on "which Buddhism is better" type of questions, only perhaps a personal and frank explanation of why Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is the path I "practice."

If you are familiar with my other blog, Buddhist Military Sangha, that is open to discussions of all forms of Buddhism, not only Jodo Shinshu (please visit)! Like that blog too, I will not engage in political debate here, or engage in ad hominem attacks on other teachers, or other religions. I will, however, speak out against mischaracterizations about Jodo Shinshu, in order to remove confusion or incorrect descriptions. That is also part of propagation!

I may not be posting too often, since I am going to be very busy soon with deployment, but I hope to get this blog on a good start in this Year of the Tiger. Check back soon!

Namo Amida Butsu
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