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  • Is purple the official color of Jodo Shinshu Buddhists?

    Hi Wyatt, your question is harder than it looks! The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that there are various branches of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. The Buddhist Churches of America is an overseas district of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, or Nishi Hongwanji as it is also known. I will assume that this is what you are asking about.

    One of my informants tells me that “Yes, purple has been designated the ‘official’ color for Hongwanji. There is a very specific hue of purple that is used.”

    But why? This is what I haven’t figured out. One person that I asked said that, “In ancient Japan, around the 6th century I think, purple was the color for the top government rank. (This is an influence from the Chinese government system.) Since then, purple means something noble or superior in Japan.” Purple is certainly used by many Buddhist schools – it is not restricted to Jodo Shinshu.

    But to me this doesn’t answer the question for Nishi Hongwanji specifically. My guess is that it is the color of the wisteria flower, which as you may know is one of the official crests, or mon, of the school. This crest is known as the “Kujo Sagarifuji no Mon,” and was granted to Nishi Hongwanji during the Meiji period (late-19th century). More information about the crests of the Nishi Hongwanji can be found in the excellent book “Traditions of Jodoshinshu Hongwanji-ha” by Masao Kodani and Russell Hamada.

    I should also point out that the purple color and the wisteria crest are not the only symbols. The Hongwanji also has a vermilion flag with a white mark at the center as its official flag.

    This “Ask Sensei” turned out to more like “Stump Sensei”! But that’s fine – it was a nice challenge and it’s good to ask questions about things that we may take for granted.
    Rev. Harry Bridge

  • Do you celebrate Christmas?

    Most American Buddhists celebrate Christmas as a national holiday that promotes charity and goodwill. While we do not put up nativities (display of the birth of Jesus), most put up Christmas trees and exchange gifts, especially when children are involved… the openness of Buddhism encourages us to look beyond form to see the spirit behind rituals. The spirit of sharing, giving, and appreciation is deeply cherished in Buddhism.

  • What's the significance of the wisteria symbol on the web page?

    Just as Buddhism has its many symbols, such as Dharma Wheel and Lotus flower, the Nishi Hongwanji school of Jodo Shinshu is recognized by the Wisteria crest.It was once a family crest of the Kujo family, a great patron of Nishi Hongwanji. It was offered to the Hongwanji during the Meiji era and it has since been the official crest of the Jodoshinshu Hongwanji-ha and the Ohtani family, the direct blood line of our founder Shinran Shonin.Symbolically, the wisteria exemplifies a humble attitude, in that it hangs its head down modestly despite its beauty.

  • How is Jodo Shinshu Buddhism different from other sects of Buddhism?

    Buddhism has become a complex religion since its formation over 2,500 years ago with the enlightenment of Sakyamuni Buddha. It is complex because since the Buddha’s time, many schools developed their own unique path to enlightenment, based on different sutras and teachers. Jodo Shinshu is one of these many schools. It is a teaching developed by Shinran Shonin (1173 – 1262) that is based on the Three Pure Land Sutras and the original teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha. Thus, general Buddhism and Jodo Shinshu are not two different teachings. One of the special attributes of Jodo Shinshu is that it emphasizes practicing the Buddha-dharma (teachings) in everyday life, rather than through special practices that are removed from daily life. As Shin Buddhists we learn to appreciate awareness of the compassion of Amida Buddha in everything we encounter. If we understand this, we can explain Shinshu through various means: not only through the life of Sakyamuni Buddha and parables and scriptures, but also through current events and our own daily happenings.

  • Does the statue of Amida Buddha represent an idol?

    The statue would be an idol if we believed the statue itself possessed magical power. It does not. Therefore, we do not worship or pray to the statue for personal favors. The statue can help to evoke deeply religious feelings in us. The statue leans slightly forward, and reminds us of the dynamic cosmic caring that is always actively working to embrace and awaken us.

  • If we say the Nembutsu and do not violate the Five Deadly Sins, we gain entrance into Amida Buddha's Pureland. What about the people who do not say the Nembutsu but have not violated the Five Deadly Sins? Do they gain entrance to Amida's Pureland even though they have never called out his Name?

    Thank you for the question and it is a good one. First, the Name, Namo Amida Butsu, is not a prayer, self-willed calculation or something we say out of our own will and convenience. Through our sincere and true entrusting in the Truth of Life, Amida Buddha, we awaken to wisdom and compassion and out of this awakening we spontaneously come to say the Name. Although we say the Name three times in service or before and after the meal, the true Name is a natural response of our gratitude to Amida Buddha. So, as we go through life we hope that the Name you say will be natural and spontaneous. Perhaps the voicing of the Name may not be necessary for those who have a sincere and true entrusting heart and aspiration for the Pure Land.In the Larger Sutra, the chapter of The cause of birth into the Pure Land states: Amida’s saving power is available here and now, and no one is excluded from his salvation. But unless one is awakened to it, this power is as good as nonexistent. For those who are deeply attached to themselves and their ways of living in Samsara, it is extremely difficult to aspire to the Pure Land. Sensei

  • I've begun to chant Namo Amitabha. I love Shinran writings and I'd like to practice in Jodo Shinshu. But if I follow Jodo Shinshu practice,is it the same if I chant Namo Amitabha or I must chant Namu Amida Butsu? Thanks a lot.

    The practice of saying the Name Namo Amida Buddha is unique to Jodo Shinshu because the Name contains the entire practice of our teachings. The term means to rely upon, to entrust upon the Awakened Being of Immeasurable Wisdom and Immeasurable Compassion. Amida Buddha is both Wisdom (Amitabha) and Compassion Amitayus. So when you chant Namo Amida Buddha you are expressing both Amitabha and Amitayus.Sensei

  • When I hear Other Power, I am confused. Is it Amida? Is it external?

    Other Power is the power of Amida Buddha’s wisdom-compassion bringing all beings to enlightenment so what we hear is the ultimate truth of life that liberates us from this world of samsara. It is said that this is the working of the vow that was made by Amida Buddha to save all beings in this world. It is without discrimination and condition so when we hear his truth with the utmost entrusting then we experience religious awakening.

  • Who were the Seven Patriarchs?

    Seven Patriarchs of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism are:
    1. Nagarjuna (Ryuju) from India
    2. Vasubandu (Tenjin) from India
    3. T’an-Luan (Donran) from China
    4. Tao-Cho (Doshaku) from China
    5. Shan Tao (Zendo) from China
    6. Genshin from Japan
    7. Genku (Honen) from Japan

  • 1. Does Jodoshinshu prohibit the worship of Shinto deities or other Buddhas and Boddhisattvas (such as Kanzeon-bosatsu) besides the Amida Buddha? 2. Also, what is the preferred reference of the Amida Buddha? Lord Amida, Amida Buddha, Amida-nyorai, Amida-butsu, Amida-sama? 3. Does it really matter, as long as we know of that all-encompassing compassion, and of the Nembutsu? 4. I am sorry to overload you with questions, but there are no Buddhists (that I know of) in our area that I could ask. My deepest thanks, and I humbly bow to you.

    1. If you are a sincere Jodo Shinshu Buddhist then there is no need to worship any other religious ideals or figure because the benefits received from Amida Buddha will encompass everything you need religiously. Kannon Bosatsu is an attendant of Amida Buddha who symbolizes compassion so embracing Amida Buddha means that we also embrace Kannon Bosatsu.
    2. Lord Amida is not proper because it does have Christian reference. Amida is addressed and known in many ways: Amida Nyorai, Amida Butsu, Amida Sama (all Japanese) Amida Tathagatha, Amida Buddha, etc.
    3. No it does not. This should be your personal preference.
    4. We’re happy to answer any question anytime so please continue to contact us.
    Rev. F. Usuki

  • Should we maintain an altar in the home for private worship? If so, what do we need to erect an altar, or butsudan? This is an important question to me, as there are no temples I would say within several hundred miles.

    The family home altar (Obutsudan) has a rich history and provides a private place for Buddhist observance. It also offers a continued place of devotion outside of temple. Butsudans can be purchased or ordered from BCA – Buddhist Churches of America or other similar stores. Some are very simple and others are elaborate and also costly. You may set up a place of observance with only a Myogo scroll (Namo Amida Butsu)or pictorial of Amida Buddha with incense burner, candles holder and flowers vase. Or if you do purchase or adopt a Butsudan, the most important object of worship is Myogo, or pictorial of Amida or a statue. You can find out more about Butsudan by purchasing a book, (Traditions of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-Ha) at The Hongwanji Place in Los Angeles (213) 680-0364.If you need further information please contact us again. Gassho, Rev. F. Usuki

  • I am considering conversion to Jodo Shinshu as the BCA has presented it. How should I go about this? What should I study? How should I practice daily reverence for the Infinitely Compassionate Amida-Nyorai? Once more, I bow humbly and thank you for your answers.

    I’m sure you have already looked into Jodo Shinshu Buddhism and have been impressed by its teachings. If there is a Jodo Shinshu Temple nearby it would be the best place for you to make further inquiry and also attend regular service and possibly a study class. You can also obtain many different books by going to BCA – Buddhist Churches of America bookstore (415)776-5600, or BCA Website. The website also offers many directory of other possible sites and places of interest. The conversion to becoming a Buddhist or to a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist is a personal endeavor but becoming a member of a temple and actively participating in its weekly service and events should satisfy your own convictions. To be a Buddhist is a life-long endeavor and I sincerely hope that you will enjoy what it has to offer and you will benefit greatly. If you would like to give us your contact information, we can have our BCA Outreach Committee contact you, they deal with individuals exploring JodoShinshu Buddhism who’ve live in outlying areas far from a Temple.
    Gassho. Rev. F. Usuki

  • I have converted to Buddhism from Christianity, but my family does not support my decision and will not allow me to meditate or even read books on the subject. How can i continue to learn, if i cannot practice?

    You are facing one of the most difficult situation in life but you can practice patience and compassion during this time and consider also the difficulty your family must be facing as well. Religion is a life-long process and commitment just as important as your family. I hope through patience you can discuss how Buddhism is changing your life with your family and come to mutual understanding of your choice. It is also important to maintain respect for your family faith and all religion. Being mindful of these things is also Buddhist practice. I’m sure you will be skillful in finding this understanding with your family so you can openly begin to study and practice Buddhism without regret and anxiety. My Best Wishes and Gassho, Rev. F. Usuki

  • Gassho, unfortunately there is no real opportunity to ask a sensei about the Jodo-shin-shu, thats why i ask this way. Is it common to recite the nembutsu for other beings, like close friends or pets who died? Is this of any help for them?

    Thank you for your inquiry and we appreciate your question. ‘Gassho’ or reciting the Nembutsu is an expression of our gratitude to Amida Buddha for his wisdom and compassion to save all of us from this difficult world. In doing so, we also become mindful of all creatures and beings on this earth. It is not necessarily an expression of prayer and we do not use it to help the dying or the dead. We use it personally during many difficult circumstances as we become more conscious of those life that we lost or are suffering. Nembutsu also helps us to realize that each life in which we come in contact are grateful encounters and it helps us appreciate our own life during such times. Gassho, Sensei

  • Is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo more powerful than nembutsu? Do we need to die first before gaining enlightment? How can one guarantee that western paradise exists?

    1. I can not tell you if there is any one superior chanting or faith. You will have to go to each specific temple or church and ask the question. As for Nembutsu, we do not chant Namu Amida Butsu as a mean of prayer, to gain material or spiritual benefit, or because Buddha is a superior being. Namu Amida Butsu is an expression of gratitude for our existence on this earth that is guided by Amida’s wisdom and compassion. It is with our sincere humility that we are able to find the deepest understanding of our existence in this world which is shared with all beings. We hope that all Buddhist schools share this compassion. 2. Jodo Shinshu Buddhism teaches that awakening to the truth of life can be achieved in this lifetime and we can continually practice and live it with gratitude and humility. But complete nirvana or full enlightenment cannot be achieved in this life because we are still attached to the physical body and mind of ignorance and karmic limitations. 3. The Pure Land is transcendent in nature and fundamentally it stands for aspects of the awakened state of mind that we can guarantee in this life in this earth. Those who have attained this awakened mind live joyfully with peace of mind and a great heart while in this world, the Pure Land.

  • In YBA our head advisor wants to be in control all the time. Most of the time she doesn't give us the opprotunity to make decisions, and she assumes that because we're only in high school that we're irresponsible and aren't capable of leading YBA. This is a group for the youth, not for her or really any other adults. If we make a mistake then it's ours to take responsibility for, that's how one learns best. So, is there a way to kindly say back off with out hurting any feelings?

    Answer: From various YAC members

    “All BCA organizations are volunteer based so we have many different types of people assigned to them. So we must try to understand and cooperate as best as we can. This means that we must also be very compassionate. But when serious issues like this comes up then we must decide to deal with it directly by expressing to her your concerns and hopefully, both sides can work it out amiably. We know that everyone is sincere in their concern for the welfare of YBA so we think you can work this out. Please keep us posted (no need to mention names).”

    “If possible, I think you should have a direct conversations with the advisor and be sincere, honest, and straight to the point as you have just expressed. I would approach it from the aspect that you would like the YBA to start taking more responsibilities and using that as learning opportunities. Whatever you do, do not get into a dialogue about personality characteristics. Try to stay “professional”. Good luck.”

    “Not knowing the specifics of the case, maybe the you could discuss it with your parents, who can open a discussion with the advisor(s) and members. I wouldn’t go over anyone’s head. Once you hurt someone’s feelings it’s impossible to go back.”

    “One of the objectives of YBA is to develop Leaders and leadership amongst the members, if indeed your Advisor is not allowing that to occur, then talk to a parent or Minister. A lot of times they do not know what is going on. The parents and Minister could discuss what they want for their kids in relation to the philosophy of YBA – and if the Advisor is inhibiting Leadership development – it might take third party mediation to resolve.”

  • I have a friend who keeps asking me how to describe Jodo-Shinshu Buddhism, but I can never really put it into words. I know how to live it, but not how to literate it to others clearly. So if someone came up to you and asked, What's ur religion all about anyways? what would you say?

    Seems like it should be easy enough to answer, huh? But even as a minister, I used to dread being asked this question. I have had time to think about it though (and I’ve been asked many times!), so I will try and give a few suggestions.

    One simple answer is that we follow the teachings of the Buddha. This probably isn’t sufficient in itself, since someone asking this question probably doesn’t know anything about the teachings of Buddhism. But it does indirectly show that Buddhism isn’t necessarily about belief or faith. And maybe it will interest the person asking so that they will want to know more.

    If they want you to go into more detail about what those teachings are, then your own knowledge of Buddhism comes in. I would probably say something along the following lines: We try and live our lives in accord with basic Buddhist teachings like impermanence and interconnectedness. Impermanence teaches us the truth that nothing lasts forever and no one lives forever. Knowing this, we can begin to change the way we view the world and the way we live our lives. Interconnectedness teaches that all things are interrelated, often in ways that we don’t necessarily expect or understand. By becoming more aware of those interrelationships, we can start to overcome our self-centeredness and learn to appreciate all the causes and conditions that have brought me to this very moment.

    So far so good? I would also add another basic concept, compassion. The Buddha was said to have perfect compassion, and to have dedicated his life to teaching and helping others. As Buddhists, we look at this compassion as a model for our own lives. Kindness, friendliness, and helping others is how Buddhists live and what we do.

    This is already too long, but I feel like I need to add something about Jodo Shinshu in particular. To me, Shin Buddhism asks us to look at compassion from another perspective – it’s not only my compassion towards others, but I also become aware of the compassion that the Buddha – in other words, the universe – has towards me. When I begin to become aware of this compassion that grasps me, my life begins to change – rather than having to deliberately think about how I act, or not thinking about it at all, I begin to manifest those things spontaneously. Of course, I still need to take responsibility for my actions, and be mindful of how I am behaving, but I also begin to see how difficult this is and how I often don’t live up to the Buddhist ideal. But it’s OK, I will try again. Namo Amida Butsu.

    Of course, these are only some of the possible answers. It might be a good idea to talk about an experience you had yourself, maybe Buddhism helped you through something difficult in your life. You could also talk about what a service is like, or even invite them! Finally, it’s important to remember that this question can’t be answered in one or two minutes, or even an hour! But hopefully if the person asking is respectful and genuinely interested, they will want to learn more, or at the very least have a little more insight into what Buddhism has to do with what makes you the person that you are.

  • How do you know when you are enlightened? Can you feel something, do you just know it, etc?

    Interesting question! There are so many ways to go about trying to answer, and probably just as many answers. Each school or branch of Buddhism would take a different approach, and we can’t get into that here, so I will try and answer from a Jodo Shinshu perspective

    Jodo Shinshu is a school of Mahayana Buddhism, and in Mahayana the ultimate goal is to become a bodhisattva, with the intention of attaining Buddhahood so that one can then compassionately help other beings freely, without the bondage of karma and ignorance. Traditionally, this is thought to take many, many lifetimes of difficult practice.

    In Shinshu, instead of striving to attain enlightenment, the path consists of reflecting on and recognizing how far one falls from the pure path of bodhisattva practice. The term “bombu” or “foolish being” is used to describe the human condition. It would seem hopeless for such a person to attain enlightenment, and it is understood that a foolish being is unable to attain awakening by their own effort. However, the flip side is that we rely on the Amida Buddha, and by reciting the Name – Namo Amida Butsu – and reflecting on our own shortcomings, we awaken to the fact that we are embraced by Amida Buddha’s compassion. This is known as “shinjin” or “entrusting.” Although there are various interpretations, it is my understanding that this embrace transforms us, so that we are no longer blindly caught in ignorance, but instead are shown another way, towards compassion and the Buddha path. However, we are still foolish beings – in Shinshu, Buddhahood doesn’t occur until death when one is born in the Pure Land. But that’s a whole ‘nother article…

    Maybe I haven’t answered the question. To look at it from another point of view, if you aren’t sure that you’re enlightened, then chances are that you aren’t. Traditionally, when Shakyamuni Buddha was awakened, he became omniscient, able to know all things, including his past lives and the karma of others. The Buddha is certainly portrayed as being aware that he had become enlightened. Some Buddhist traditions actually warn against mistaking spiritual experiences for enlightenment – it can be a trap that actually leads one into delusion rather than away from it.

    Ultimately, I would say that in Shinshu it is important to understand what enlightenment entails, as well as the path towards it, whether it is the Six Paramitas, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Nembutsu, etc. In our own lives, we want to deepen our understanding of the Buddha and the Dharma, to try and put the Buddha’s teachings into practice, but we also need to be reflect on ourselves, on our thoughts, words, and deeds, being honest and seeing ourselves as we are.