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  • The Awareness of the Natural World in Shinjin: Shinran's Concept of Jinen
  • Dennis Hirota

Attainment of Shinjin and Truth

The primary issue regarding knowledge that Shinran (1173-1263) treats in his writings concerns the commonplace, "natural" presupposition that it is constituted by an ego-subject relating itself to stable objects in the world. From his stance within Buddhist tradition, Shinran identifies the crucial problem as the human tendency toward the reification of both sides of this dichotomy-resulting in an autonomous self and substantial things-with the consequent attachments fueling the afflictions ("blind passions") of habitual pain and conflict for oneself and others. The focus of Shinran's treatment of this basic Buddhist concern is the point of engagement with dharma or true reality. In this, he draws into the arena of religious faith the probing scrutiny of lingering attachments to self, even in the dedicated practitioner, that is fundamental to the critical attitude of Mahayana Buddhist tradition.

My aim in taking up the issue of truth in my article "Shinran and Heidegger on Truth" in The Boundaries of Knowledge in Buddhism, Christianity, and Science 1 is to suggest a way of reading Shinran that both avoids a common pitfall that Shinran himself cautions against-an engagement with Pure Land teachings that adheres to the subject-object dichotomy of ordinary awareness-and opens up his vision to resonances with contemporary western thought, particularly continental philosophy. This latter concern is not to claim that Shinran adumbrates contemporary thought or is affirmed by resemblances, but rather seeks to cast light on compelling aspects of his thought not often treated in traditional Shin scholastics. There are, therefore, both therapeutic and constructive sides in my attempt to engage Martin Heidegger's (1889-1976) thought from a perspective rooted in Shinran's Buddhism.

The pitfall in reading Shinran indicated in my article is crystallized in the assumption, prevalent in Western scholarship but also widely seen in Japan, that his Shin Buddhist path centers on a simple faith in the Pure Land teachings, with such faith understood as the subjective acceptance of the truth of doctrinal propositions. In [End Page 189] other words, it is commonly presupposed that Shin Buddhist tradition (what he terms jōdo shinshū, "the true essence of the Pure Land way") implicitly affirms the subject-object dichotomy. This difficulty is frequently compounded by formulations of the supposed tenets of belief that are heavily molded and colored by Protestant Christian notions of self, sin, eschatology, and atonement. It is impossible to take up such comparative theological issues here. 2 In a sense, I have sought in my article to circumvent a hasty assessment of conceptual equivalence by pointing out the possibility of an encompassing or prior dissonance.

Since Shinran's concept of "attaining shinjin" (true entrusting, which is also the Buddha-mind given to the practitioner) is built on the endeavor to deconstruct the reification of this dichotomy in engagement with the Pure Land Buddhist path, the unconsciousness reinstatement of it in reading his writings can lead one to a thorough but easily accomplished misconstrual of his thought. My suggestion in my article is that consideration of the analogues in Heidegger's thought can help us see all this. Such comparison also appears to present a relatively untested avenue for Buddhist-Christian conversation, particularly in view of Heidegger's early indebtedness to Luther's "theology of the cross" and the notion of the "alien work of God" as the critical stripping away of attachments to human capacities (destructio in the "Heidelberg Disputation"), and also his approach to Paul's letters to the Thessalonians in The Phenomenology of Religious Life. 3 The keystone in such interreligious conversation remains, however, not simply human fallibility as subject or culpability as agent, but the persistent challenge to the subject-object dichotomy, which may form a locus of refractory difference between the religious traditions.

The constructive side of the comparison concerns two general dimensions of Shinran's thought that are highlighted in an approach to his writings that might be called phenomenological. One includes a shift from a reading based on scriptural foundationalism and doctrinal reasoning to a dialogical reading, one attentive to Shinran's effort to...


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