Salvation in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is enlightenment. Enlightenment is the mutual unfolding of Amida Buddha in us, and us in Amida. Amida issues the salvific call, and from within us, makes the reply. Thus, Amida’s grace is all-sufficient for our salvation; Amida’s “Other Power” vitiates our “Self Power.” We are by nature incapable of attaining salvation. We can, of course, deepen our awareness of the Call through meditation and a practice specific to Shin called “Deep listening.” But beyond these considerations, Shin is mute concerning the issues raised in other traditions by the role of mystical experience as a means of spiritual gnosis.
Central to most religious groups, at least in their origins, is the achievement, entering into, nondual consciousness, or divine union mysticism. This is the kind of mysticism found in Jesus when he declared “The Father and I are One” and “When you see me, you see the Father;” when the Buddha entered the nondual state of Nirvana, when a shaman becomes a vehicle for the Spirit, when one of the early Sufis, gesturing to his garments, stated “There is no one inside this cloak but God.” Sometimes this is conceived as union with a personal deity, or with an impersonal spirit, or some kind of ultimate reality. The essential factor is a nondual awareness that is directly expressed in and by this experience. Yet it is exactly this very primary, basic feature that is missing in Shin.
Shin claims that Amida is the life and light of the universe. Amida is at once Amitayus, Infinite Life, and Amithabha, Infinite Light. Moreover, Amida’s Light is called “unimpeded.” As such, Amida and Amida’s attributes are panentheistic, to apply a theistic term to a nontheistic religion. Panentheism sees the divine as being “here” (immanent) and “more than here” (transcendent). These are exactly Amida’s attributes. Amida is beyond the cosmos, yet permeates it.
This being the case, it is almost de rigeur that Amida’s infinite light and life ought to be experienced globally, historically and cross-culturally. If Amida’s relation to reality is truly panetheistic, or better phrased, panendharmic or panenbuddhistic, then it is almost demanded that Amida, too, should be experienced in a nondual or divine union mysticism. Again, though, Shin makes no such claim.
One would think that Amida’s universality would lend itself to these other religious manifestations. For instance, it might be said – from a certain perspective – that Jesus was an expression of Amida, as exemplified in his compassion and his claims that a merciful “Suchness” abides in the world. Or it might be said that the nondual experiences of mystics, Eastern and Western, are valid encounters with Amida – Amida’s Voidness, Amida’s Non-Existence, Amida’s Compassion, Amida’s non-segregation from our enlightened selves, etc.
If Shin eschews these, the bedrock mysticism of so many other traditions, its universality would seem to be an incorrect claim. Does Shin really ask its adherents to turn a blind eye to the obvious truth, holiness, harmony, and pragmatic workability of those other traditions at whose center nonduality lies? Surely, if Amida is a universally present divine factor, then those who have claimed to encounter a universally present divine factor should be listened to and their testimony examined in the light of Shin’s panendharmic principles. To fail to do so would isolate Shin, as well as make it an anomaly in the most negative sense of the word.