I have just completed reading an excellent book about the conversion of Shinran Shonin, the initiator of what would become the Jodo Shinshu or Shin Buddhist school:
Shinran’s Conversion in the Light of Paul’s Conversion, by Sadami Takayama, a member of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and teacher in the anthropology at Tokyo’s Sophia University. This book, written by a Roman Catholic cleric, is a fine example of ecumenism at its best, bringing together Shinran and Paul in a highly accurate and impartial manner.
Takayama shows that both Shinran and Paul moved into a “new horizon” through their contact with, and immersion in, a divine Transcendent, through which they died to an old self and “rose” into-and-as a new creature:
Shinran delcared himself to be a true disciple of Buddha. The same Shinran acknowledged himself sinful and unqualified…[but these two contradictory-seeming aspects] are inseparable and inter-related aspects in a person of shinjin [perfect faith]. In fact, self-awareness of one’s sinfulness and incapacity is revealed for the first time when one is wholly embraced and illuminated by the Buddha’s compassion. It can be said that both aspects, namely, awareness of the immensity of the Buddha’s compassion and awareness of one’s own sinfulness and foolishness, are manifested as an enlightenment. They are the very signs of one’s encounter with the Transcendent, who is truth itself. They arise from a single religous awakening, a true conversion. (p. 222)
Takayama goes on to compare Shinran’s double-aspected spirituality with Paul’s own sense of unworthiness coupled with a sense of chosenness/prophetic calling, grace, and providential exaltation. These aspects are essential elements in both Shinran’s and Paul’s religiosity and conversion.
The author elaborates:
…the structural similarities between the two conversions…tell us what a human being ia all about and how one can be changed by the encounter with the Transcendent. The similarities show us one’s way of life and attitude towards truth, whether in the East or in the West. There is a radical shift from human act to divine act. When one is truly touched and moved by Compassion, one is profoundly converted. It is beyond one’s imagining and calculation. One’s Lebenshorizont is entirely transformed. One cannot but give oneself up to this mystery… There is no more fear, doubt and double-mindedness in one. There is only the single way… (p. 227)
Takayama gives an interpretation of Matthew 11:25-26, where Jesus says, “I thank thee, Father…that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.”:
Here Jesus tells us that divine wisdom is not grasped by the human intellect but is revealed fully in the foolishness of man. This is precisely what is called the mystery of faith. The truth of the Gospel is always paradoxical, because it is dependent not upon self-power but upon Other Power. There is the divine Word who calls us today. There is the voice which calls for our conversion. (p. 228)
The Shin practicer will immediately recognize “human foolishness” as the key to Shinran’s, and indeed, everyone’s conversion to the way of Amida whose Other Power channels even our “bombu-ish”, samsaric self-power into His great salvific working. And the Christian will appreciate the place of the unearned gift of Grace from God as mediated through Jesus Christ.
Takayama’s book is engaging, clear, enthusiastic and affectionate towards its subjects and its two heroes, Shinran and Paul. Shinran, however, receives most of the attention, which is one reason why I am so happily recommending this treatment. The book contains explicit discussions of crucial Shin ideas like the eko of Amida and Amida’s relation to Buddhist philosophy’s Three Buddha Bodies/Trikaya doctrine. It also includes an excellent section on Shinran’s biography, his struggles, marriage, and of course his conversion.
I recently received my copy from Amazon, at which time it was the last copy, but the site said that more would be forthcoming. But as of today (15 April 2015), there are still no new copies for purchase. Interested persons are invited to keep checking Amazon or other sites in order to obtain this wonderful volume.
Shinran’s Conversion in the Light of Paul’s Conversion. Tesi Gregoriana, Serie Teologia 65. Editrice Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, Roma 2000. Gregorian University Press, Rome, Italy. ISBN: 88-7652-862-8
Gassho to those of all faiths, and of no faith.