Category Archives: spirituality

Living in the Amida-Dharma

It has been said that religiously experienced people think differently because they see differently. They have a perspective on life that mere World cannot convey. Their view of life prior to religious experience changes after the experience.

The changed view of life changes our life-perspective. It causes us to see or perceive differently relative to ourformer view(s), providing light in the darkness, a wider perspective or higher prospect from which to see people, animals, and universe. Since my conversion to Jodo Shinshu/Shin Buddhism, I now see all good and bad things in a larger context of connection to the spiritually Transcendent “Other Power” of Amida Buddha.

Bad days in our lives are only to be expected because bad days are de rigueur in the Samsaric realm – and the same applies to the good days. I think it was Albert Camus who said, that despite the suffering and absurdity of life, still, “joy, too, is inevitable”. So days spent in connection with Amida Buddha and the Buddhist Dharma are days understood in a certain light, a light that illumines daily life with a new shade or tone. That’s the central core: Life lit from within by the Dharma’s immanent (“here”) presence, and by its Transcendent (“there”) existence.

Post-conversion, I have not done many new and different moral or social things, the chief reason being that Shin is not a works religion. The adherent is expected to follow the basic Buddhist moral code (but does not expect to be saved or Enlightened thereby). Amida Buddha provides Shinjin (perfect faith) and his grace alone is the factor that will spark the fulfillment of our innate Buddha Nature when we cross into the Pure Land. We do not, and cannot, do this for ourselves, or earn it as a reward. A bad day for me, consisting (say) of sickness, public humiliation, theft, assault, personal loss, affects me no differently than it would anyone else. The difference is that now I see both good and bad, suffering and joy, unfolding against a backdrop of the divine presence of Amida Buddha. It really makes all the difference in the world – at least, to my world.

In Jodo Shinshu, no “good works” are required of us – at least, if they are directed toward the goal of Enlightenment. Good works are required, however, to lighten the load of fellow suffering beings – the practice of “compassion in action”. But all kinds of people, religious and non-religious, already perform good works, whether or not in expectation of earthly or heavenly reward. What makes Shin different is that it teaches that no good work or self-effort practice can redeem us or erase our karma or “wipe out our sin” (except that there is no sin in Buddhism). Amida does all that for us.

Living in the Amida-Dharma means acknowledging our own powerlessness to save and Enlighten ourselves; it means throwing ourselves into the merciful arms of the Buddha’s Other Power; and it means “letting go and letting Amida”. Our outer lives may not change very much, but our “inner man”/”inner woman” is indelibly marked by Amida’s powerful yet gentle touch.



“You Know it’s a Myth” – But it’s True

The Christmas season typically brings out secularists and atheists who rush in to discredit and hopefully to demolish the Gospel Infancy Narratives as being “myths”. By which they mean fictive, untrue stories by turns implausible, improbable and impossible. These they identify as the biblical narratives’ “magic” star; a massacre of male infants that has never been documented; angels “on high” proclaiming a Messiah’s birth; a virginally-conceived Savior; an angel appearing to the Messiah’s mother and whispering to the father in a dream; in short, all the tales that depict heaven having commerce with earth. The present writer objects to this wave of snarky criticism for several reasons.

The first objection is the critics’ indulgence in what the late Huston Smith termed “fact fundamentalism”. Which is the notion that if something is reported, especially in religious texts, something which is materially-scientificallly doubtful or outright impossible, then it must be dismissed as a lie, because it goes against science and reason.

Things such as Jesus’s virginal conception and the guiding star, of course, would fall into this category. My objection is 1) that religious communication typically employs the language of myth, analogy, allegory and metaphor, and 2) that critics of religion are obligated to be familiar with this fact. There are, in my view, some truths and some dimensions of human experience that cannot be expressed by any other kind of language, and in any other kind of imagery. In this sense, mythological language is a “specialist language” employed by religion to get across a message that is transcendent to expression by any other form of language.

If critics wish to challenge the validity of religious mythic language on the principle (say) that no Transcendent realms or beings exist, fine. But most of them whom I have read and encountered in online discussion groups have not the slightest inkling that religious narratives like Matthew’s and Luke’s Nativity stories seek to communicate non-secular (and Transcendent) truth in language and imagery that is chiefly “archetypal” in nature. I have found that lack of this kind of information and understanding, more often than not, makes “Christmas critics” disappointing conversation partners. They do not, or will not, understand that there can be true, as well as false, myths.

So what kind of (non-scientific, non-secular) truths might be expressed in the mythic language of the Infancy Narratives?

When a holy person is said to have been born or conceived of a virgin, this might signal that the life so originated and birthed is a completely new form. A new beginning. One that is not burdened with humankind’s heavy, sordid history; one that is unfettered by the clinging vines of the Edenic “Fall”; one that has capacities for teaching, healing and/or redemption unlike those of us “commonly born”. As such a being, Jesus emerges in the Infancy Narratives, even at birth, as one marked by the Transcendent and to whom salvific expectations can validly be associated. Matthew and Luke use their Infancy stories to communicate to the reader how Jesus was the same person at his birth as he would be during his mission and after his resurrection, i.e., “Jesus Messiah, Son of God, Savior”.

Some famous Christian art portrays the Nativity as occurring in a cave wherein lies a diminutive stable, a feeding trough for animals serving as a crib for the new-borne Son of God. A cave is a gash, a hollow, an opening in the earth. The association of cave and trough or manger suggests the idea that Jesus is not only born of heaven, but also of the earth, and the animals’ presence firmly emphasizes this conceptualization. When Luke’s Gospel mentions the manger, he is referencing a prophecy that the Messiah’s own people will recognize him when he comes – Israel, in the guise of its faith-seeking shepherds, has come to pay homage to the birth of its messianic Lord. And Matthew’s Magi, too, following the beckoning star, signify that Gentiles, too, have found and revere the divine child. “…the star does not make a statement about an astronomical phenomenon, but about Jesus: his birth is about the coming of the light that draws wise men of the Gentiles to its radiance.” 1

Considering the Infancy Narratives’ symbols and imagery, and employing our capacity to think allegorically and mythically, these stories begin to emerge as disclosures of the divine, expressed in specialized language.

New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan examined Luke’s resurrection story about two pedestrians encountering a wise teacher on their way to Emmaus after Jesus’s execution. Little by little, they are driven to the conclusion that this is no ordinary traveler. He knows too much about scripture and too much about Jesus’s role as agent for God’s Kingdom on earth. Finally, the three stop to rest at an inn, where the two travelers’ uncertainty is resolved when they see the stranger – whom they now recognize as Jesus – break the dinner bread. The Messiah, hidden, unmanifest, had been traveling with them all along but was only unmistakably disclosed through his Eucharistic actions.  Crossan says of this story, “Emmaus didn’t happen. Emmaus always happens”. The divine can remain “occulted” but then emerge by way of some of the simplest commonalities of life.

Similarly, the Infancy Narratives “hide” the divinity present in Jesus under a certain common, simple, but somewhat “coded” terminology. But it doesn’t take genius-level intelligence or high level scholarship to “break the code”. It’s there to be deciphered by anyone with the requisite curiosity and enough knowledge of mythical, allegorical language to appreciate its archetypal setting and unlock its allegorical meaning. Christians might even observe, with Crossan, “Bethlehem didn’t happen. Bethlehem always happens”. For them, the Son of God is made manifest in the believer, is born into the very heart of the soul, even now, some 2,000 years after the story’s origin.

1 The First Christmas, p. 182







“Prove God!” as an Inept Question

(Cross-posted from a Diqus Forum discussion. This has been touched upon here earlier, but might legitimately bear repeating:)


Atheist Gore Vidal:

“God or what have you, is not to be found at the far end of a syllogism, no matter how brilliantly phrased.”

Philosophy, therefore, can’t disclose God (except perhaps intellectually, but then we are only left with the God or the non-God of the intellect, which is not “the real God”).

Science cannot disclose God because science only deals with matter whereas God by most standard definitions and connotations (except perhaps pantheism) is non material spirit.

This leaves personal experience, the direct apprehension of the divine or the Spirit, as happens in “gnosis”, intuition, and/or the specialized perception that occurs in mystical states and/or as a result of contemplation, prayer, and meditation.

Note that all of these latter things are private, non material, and completely subjective. Neither science, doctrine, the “rational intellect” nor philosophy can enter into this most intimate experiential field. Its contents, like the qualia, are not communicable and cannot be brought out into the external material world. For that reason, it is simply erroneous to think that they can be externalized or publicly shared and quantified.

“Prove to me that God is real!” is one of those inept questions. It’s like asking, “Prove that you love the pursuit of the good/the true/the beautiful”. At most, such things can only be suggested or hinted at. They cannot be shared. However, they are “invitational” and hinge on attainment of personal experience.

There are three steps in knowledge-acquisition:

1. The Injunction: If you want to know “X”, then DO “Y”.

If you want to know if it’s raining, then look out a window. If you want to find God, then look through the “windows” and “lenses” designed for that purpose.

2. The Experiment: Apply the Injunction; proceed along established lines; take notes.

3. The Conclusion and Peer Review: share the process and your conclusion with those who have previously, adequately performed steps 1. thru 3. This happens, for example, in the Zendo, where students submit their experiments and conclusions with those (the senseis) who have previously, adequately performed the process.

God-experience is open to all for confirmation or disconfirmation. It is not a matter of someone else being capable of, or obligated to, “prove God”.

THAT is only up to the individual who is willing to perform the three steps of knowledge-acquisition – and with the awareness that the knowledge so acquired is private, and can only be publicly “circumambulated”, not “proved”, with those who have already done the three step process.

Which makes the Conclusion in one sense open to being shared, but not to public confirmation, as with scientific/material quantification. The confirmation only comes individually, privately, and subjectively.

Thus is disclosed the folly of asking someone or anyone to “prove God”. The “proof” either comes spontaneously, or it comes at the Conclusion of the three step process. It cannot come from some other person, or from any other external source. “Only YOU can do it for yourself alone.”

Best to stop asking the question altogether.


A short coda from the Jodo Shinshu point of view:

For Shin Buddhists, Amida Buddha has saved us from the three step process as surely as He has saved us from our samsaric plight. The three step process is perhaps important to those who are still seeking. But Shin people are no longer on the seeking path. Amida has found them.


Spending A Day With God

This is posted from the Disqus discussion boards, with a few modifications, in answer to a thread inquiring about what spending a day with God would be like.  I wrote:

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From the Eastern/mystical perspective, I don’t have or believe in a creator-deity. I do have certain functional equivalents of God, as defined in the global mystical literature, i.e., God as Ultimate, Absolute, Bodhi, the Tao, the Sacred, the Ground of Being, the Dharmakaya, Buddha-Mind, Nirvana, the Unborn-the Unconditioned, Peace, Silence, etc.

From a more Western-philosophical perspective, I am a Panentheist (not Pantheist) – for whom “God” or “the Spirit” is real but is not a creator. The universe has its existence IN (“EN”) the God – or the Divinity in Which/Whom we move and live and have our being (as Luke-Acts portrays St. Paul’s panentheistic preaching).

Because my God-definition excludes the notion of God as a creator, I do not have a theological bone to pick with God for the simple, primary reason that God is not responsible for the existence, behavior, and maintenance of a universe that “He” did not create to begin with.

That is: God does not intervene with miraculous manipulations, God does not judge or condemn, God does not apologize for a universe that God had no hand in creating.

That is, I have no complaints to make, no gripes to air, but only gratefulness and gratitude.

Gratitude, but for what? For God’s unimpeded light, infinite compassion and infinite wisdom, based not on philosophy or doctrine, but rather upon personal experience.

My personal faith is that of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism (Shin Buddhism). For we “Shinners”, “God” as ultimate reality, the Unborn, the Unconditioned is expressed in-and-as Amida Buddha.

Not a creator, a judge, or an intervenor, Amida Buddha rather represents our own Buddha-Nature realized and dwelling in a perfect state called “the Pure Land”. What Amida is, we shall become, through His freely-granted gift of Shinjin, or perfect faith. A faith which is deemed “perfect” for the simple, crucial reason that we ourselves did not design it. It is the transcendent gift of Amida – “the Raft from the Other Shore” – whose sudden sharp arrival is redolent of otherworldly “fragrances of Light”, unlike the earthly light with which our physical eyes are familiar.

Moreover, there is not much of an adherent-Amida “wall of separation”. The only real difference is that while I am a deluded being led by blind passions (a “bombu”), Amida is already a celestial, primal Buddha, whose earthly adherents are – as of now, temporarily – only on the Path. But once we pass into the Pure Land state, our own Buddha-Nature will come to fruition and we ourselves will become Buddhas. We become like Amida Himself. This may sound spectacular, but it is “merely” the fulfillment of the basic Mahayanist “aspiration toward Buddhahood”.

Because of this blessed situation, I don’t really feel an insecure, pressing, or desperate need to “walk and talk” with my Absolute/”God”, for the simple reason that the Buddha and I are already united, and because ultimately I will become a Buddha myself. The walking and talking come naturally. We Shin people do not worship what we already are in potential, and we do not worship what we will become. We revere Amida Buddha for His grace and his role as life-vivifying Savior.

In this sense, Shin adherents are Amida’s “little brothers and sisters”, walking the Path set by Amida himself eons ago when he was the wandering, Dharma-seeking monk Dharmakara in a dimension that was perhaps far removed and probably quite different from our own.

Walking with my “older brother” Amida Buddha every day, I can only repeat Jodo Shinshu’s primary recitation of sheer gratitude:

“Namo Amida Buddha.”

“I take refuge in Amida Buddha.”

In that phrase resides my entire, daily interrelation on the Enlightenment Path with my Absolute,my  inspiration, my salvation and my fully-realized “elder brother”.

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“God” as Real, but not as a Creator

It seems to me that one major problem with the modern God-conversation is that God is constantly being defined as some kind of responsible world-agent – a creator. Of course, a creator – especially one who is held to be all-knowing and all-good – is ultimately responsible for “His” creation. No excuses can be offered for the putative creator’s misbehavior. And I’m not even (yet) talking about the depredations of the Biblical deity. No, the creator – as we now have “Him” – is sufficiently evil, indifferent, inept, mute and incompetent to be existentially and morally condemned under the Epicurean mandate.

However, I personally believe that “God” is real, but is not a creator, intervener, or judge.
For me – a panentheist (not pantheist) – God is much less a creator and much more the being Who and Which is spoken about in Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and by the mystics of all traditions. A silent Presence, the Tao, the Absolute, the Dharmakaya, Bodhi, the Unconditioned/the Unborn, Salvation, Light, Wisdom, etc. … a being and/or a category, that is, whose only “doing-ness” or activity is limited, and natural, to its transformative effects in sentient beings, but which is non-functional and irrelevant vis-a-vis the creation and maintenance of physical worlds, universes, things and processes.

Thus, as pertains to the world/cosmos/”life”, God is not all-mighty; in fact, God is not “mighty” at all,  the word “might” being a crude projection of gross material, physical “power” onto a spirit being.

This type of God is immune from both the Epicurean critique and the normative Western theistic view, because both base themselves on the idea of an all-powerful creator deity. They assume that, for God to be real – “for God to BE God” – God must be a creator – or “He” isn’t God , and “He” does not, or cannot, exist. But that is as silly and inept as saying that either the moon is made of green cheese, or it does not, or cannot, exist.

The conception of a non-creating God immediately releases one’s God-definition from the burden of creating a theodicy. A theodicy is an argument that claims to explain evil – and more importantly, the persistence of evil – in a cosmos that was supposedly created and is currently being maintained by an all-good, all-powerful creator deity. If we remove from our theological perspective the conception of an all-good/all-powerful creator deity, we also remove the conception of divine intervention, as well as the embarrassing necessity of needing to account for “God’s” obviously neglectful behavior.

The non-creating, non-almighty God thus cannot be blamed for the world’s evils, nor can this God be praised for the world’s goodness. There is no one – “no One” – to praise or to blame. The universe goes its own “samsaric” way without deity-influence, interference, or manipulation, while God simply, deeply, remains as the silent Presence within the depths not of matter, but rather in the perceiving souls of the sentient beings who seek divine union.

In one narrow sense, Jodo Shinshu’s Amida Buddha can be seen as a kind of functional equivalent to the non-creating but spiritually-transformative God. Buddhas are not gods or creator deities, and neither is Amida Buddha. However, if by “God” is meant an all-compassionate, all-wise, luminous, transcendent Being who saves and enlightens not by physical intervention but by sheer grace – in the form of Shinjin in Jodo Shinshu – then, surely, Amida “fits the bill”. Not a creator, not a physical intervener, not a judge, not a divine warrior or apocalyptic vengeful destroyer, not a dying-and-rising savior, Amida can be seen as the compassionate, transforming, transcendent spiritual Ultimate – a “God” for all sentient beings, who at the same time is source and spark of their future Buddhahood in Amida’s Pure Land, where those beings recognize and realize their own “godness” as Buddhas in their own right.


God as an ‘Object’ of Experience

Although it has become something of a cliche, the statement “Experience trumps faith” represents a high religio-spiritual concept.

For example, any amount of scientific knowledge about a particular brand of candy bar may “explain” the candy bar’s material facets, but it is only by tasting that we can personally, subjectively, truly, know if the candy bar is sweet. All prior assumptions, even when based on scientific knowledge of the candy’s ingredients, come under the category of “faith” or “faith-about”. That is, even exhaustive material-scientific knowledge of the candy’s ingredients may at most permit us to say that it probably will taste sweet, but only the criterion of actual tasting is the one thing that can bring the candy’s sweetness (or lack thereof)  out of the realm of mere intellection into the realm of personal experience, personal consciousness, and personal truth. Similarly, then, the proposition that spirituality is truly a “Way of Knowing” – a way of “gnosis” is, in my view, quite true and valuable for religion.  Jesus himself claimed that Eternal Life consists in “knowing” the heavenly Father and the Son whom He sent (John 17:3) – and not a matter of merely having faith in God as Something or Someone “out there”, Which can only believed-in, but not really, directly, experienced. Only by such direct experience can we taste of the manna and know that it is sweet indeed.

Philosophical proofs and evidences for the existence of God, Spirit, the human soul, etc., are not irrelevant or unimportant. But, in my view,  they ought to be secondary supports for an original, ineffable experience of Spirit. The wordless experience should come first, and its intellectual supporting structures and definitions second. Or at most, the intellectual structures might act as “lures” whose main purpose would be to lead the questioner into the ineffable experience of the divine – into prayer, contemplation, centering, or whatever name we might give the process (and its accompanying states). For instance, of what real use is faith vis-a-vis the Catholic sacrament of the Real Presence in the Eucharist? If Jesus is not, or cannot, be known in this – the most intimate of sacraments – then one wonders what the point of it is; if, in fact, this were the case, the Catholic communicant may as well just switch over to “sola fide”, Eucharist-free Protestantism. That is, one’s experience of the Real Presence had better be “Real”, and not something to merely be believed-in or believed-about!

Scholars such as Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, as well as “Great Sages” such as Ramana Maharshi, Bodhidharma, the Taoist Masters, “God (or Self-) Realized persons, and countless anonymous indigenous shamans globally, in varying ways of expressing the thought, claim that spiritualities are indeed “Paths of Knowing” and “Technologies of the Sacred”.

This kind of knowing differs from scientific and philosophical ways of knowing in that it refers the questioner inward, not to the external world (science) or to mental/intellectual considerations (philosophy), but to the human soul and its relationship, interactions, and its potential merger with God (“gnosis”). As such, these spiritualities function as “lenses” or sacraments through which God is “seen” (perceived) –  that is, known inwardly through immediate experience, whether direct or mediated. This experience, obviously, sidesteps the question of prior belief or unbelief, because its only requirement is to have an open mind, and is therefore available to believers and atheists alike, as the following hopes to illustrate.

Following the work of the American philosopher Ken Wilber, we might try to interest atheists in this “Direct Experience” approach to (spiritual) knowledge-acquisition:

1. The Injunction:  If you want to know ‘X’, then DO ‘Y’. If you want to know if Jupiter has moons, look through a telescope – if you want to know if its night time, look out a window; if you want to know about God, look through the appropriate lenses (e.g., meditation, contemplation).

2. The Experiment:  Put the Injunction to the test. Look through the lens; do the meditation. Take notes.

3. The Conclusion:  Collate and preserve all the aspects of the Experiment. Then compare notes with others – i.e., those who have already, adequately performed all the three steps. This is a form of “peer review” which places the three steps into a responsible social context.

If this three-step knowledge-acquisition process is valid, then it is one that can be carried out by believer and unbeliever alike. There is no prior “faith burden” or “unbelief burden” to come between the participant and the experiment. It is fair-minded and invitational. This “test” is open to all – and therefore, atheists, as well as believers, may consider themselves equally invited to participate.

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(Notes from a Shin perspective:)

It would seem that Jodo Shinshu adherents are at least partially exempt from this process, for the simple reason that they do not so much typically rely on a three-step process (or any other) of inquiry, but more on a non-intellectual but experiential “Calling” from Amida Buddha, issued from His Presence on “the Other Shore”. It is as if the great “Raft” from that shore has arrived at our feet … unbidden. Our mysteriously-received Faith is at once “faith-full” and experiential.

Amida’s Call has been issued and has pierced our heart with its love-laden arrow. Our only reply to this gift is to voice, verbally or mentally, our simple, sincere “Thank-You” as phrased in the Nembutsu. Amida has enabled us to sidestep the three-step inquiry, without our having to strive with its inherently self-powered methods of searching.

Namo Amida Butsu.


Materialists, the Human Soul, and Introspection

One issue I’d like to bring up is the question of how to communicate the idea of non-material reality to those who claim that matter is a universal fact of being, a stance, which by nature, cannot allow for the existence of, and evidence for, spiritual realities, entities, and “realms”.

In claiming that only matter exists, materialists let themselves off the metaphysical hook, because they a priori  dismiss evidence for non-material realities. They talk the liberal, open-minded approach – you know: “I’m open to believing if you show me the evidence”. However, since evidence for the non-material is itself non-material, the atheists cannot and will not accept such evidence. Which, in a negative sense, makes them the “winners” because they live in an air-tight dialectical bubble, where nothing from “the outside” can reach them and shatter their worldview. So, how to reach them, since there is no argumentation they will accept?

Perhaps one angle of approach would be to attempt to address the fact of their own non-materiality, i.e., their own mental functions and their subjective selves.
At first, they will no doubt protest that the self is nothing but a product of neurological function. The reply to that, I think, would be to ask them to introvert, to “look inside” not only at the fact that they are conscious, but also to examine the contents of their consciousness. At that point, it should be easy to show how utterly different mental life is from the brain – and the first thing they will discover is that they won’t find anything like a brain or a body within the field of their awareness.

The brain is a three-pound skull organ, whose purpose and functions are well-known. And none of those functions demonstrably constitutes the creation of a mind or mental contents. At best, there is only a correlation between the two, but not an identity. On principle, “Like begets like” – so the brain might perhaps beget more brain – but never a non-material, subjective self. Moreover, the brain is not “about” anything, whereas the psyche is “about” everything under the sun, including the experience of its own – non-material – contents. Therefore, to claim that brain equals mind, self, subjectivity the qualia, personhood, etc., is to commit a category error of egregious proportions.

One suggestion for mental introversion would be to have the experimenter realize that he or she is the observer – that is, in and as a non-material self, he or she can realize that the body and the myriad objects witnessed within the stream of the introverted consciousness are simply things that exist outside the observer, and are therefore not the observer him–or-herself. This will bring the realization that the observer – the soul, the self – is not material and is not part of the passing objects that stream by in front of the observing self. Rather, the observer is the non-material consciousness that merely – simply – witnesses the passing sense impressions and mental phenomena, and therefore, because it is not identifiable with such material-world phenomena, is not a material category – not a body and not a brain.

So, if materialists could be weaned from their naive “Brain equals mind” / “We ARE the brain!” perspective, simply by having them empirically discover, via introspection, that the exact opposite is the case, their materialism might weaken – and weaken to the extent that they would begin to make intellectual room for God, the Spirit, and the human soul.

I think that this hands-on, empirical, experiential approach would have at least as much success as pointing materialists to books, websites and philosophical ruminations, on the principle that experience trumps mere intellection or “belief-in”. That is, giving a person real fishing equipment to catch real fish is more pragmatic than merely telling a person about fish and how to catch them. Introspection could function as the unbeliever’s rod and reel, with the Catch being as big as their net could handle.

These considerations also seem to at least in part successfully dovetail with certain categories in Jodo Shinshu – namely the experiential reality of the non-material Transcendent as postulated by Masters Shinran and Rennyo and interpreted so well for us by scholars such as John Paraskevopoulos, D.T. Suzuki, Harold Stewart, and others. “Our” Transcendent – “our” Amida Buddha and his gift of Shinjin – are our very own experienced, unmediated reality of “the Other Shore” – from which our “Raft” of salvation has sailed to us for our benefit.