It has been a dream for some time to publish an introductory level book on Jodo-Shinshu (or Shin, Shinshu or Pure Land School), one of the largest Buddhist schools with a one-hundred-year-old history in North America. I first began writing this for Jodo-Shinshu Buddhists, but as the project evolved I felt compelled to make it accessible to a wider readership.

I have kept explanations simple, concise, direct, and readable for everyone, including high school students. The question and answer format stems from my initial goal of offering a set of guidelines for Jodo-Shinshu Buddhists. Because of this format, the language takes on an informal and colloquial character. The questions are intended to reflect many of the frequently asked questions. (For a list of main questions, see Index A.) The interlocutor can be anyone the reader wishes to imagine as his or her partner.

From the outset, I wish to state that I have a great respect for the Western religions. I intend neither criticism nor negative portrayal of any faith. I do not intend for readers to take my evaluations of Buddhism as an automatic criticism of other religions. This is not a seesaw, where an elevation of one religion equals a putdown of another.

Dialogue with people from other faiths has always reaffirmed my respect and esteem for their traditions. I strongly believe in the importance of interfaith dialogue, which I have supported in my professional career through teaching dialogue courses with Christianity and Judaism. Our increasingly pluralistic communities demand mutual understanding and transformation for our survival. As an American Buddhist, I hope my fellow North Americans will embrace a greater understanding for a tradition that, despite its shorter history on this continent, is now part of the religious fabric of this nation.

The content is an expression of my personal understanding and appreciation of the Jodo-Shinshu Buddhist tradition, and does not claim to represent any institution or its official doctrinal position. I have tried to live up to the long-held practice of being faithful to the tradition (dento) which putting forth my own appreciation (kosho). This project has, if anything, helped me to clarify my own understanding. I hope that readers will find it fruitful.

I owe much to numerous individuals who provided encouragement along the way. I am deeply grateful to the following persons for their valuable suggestions through the early drafts: Diane Ames, Barry Barankin, Stephen Browning, Anne Carlson, Kelsi Cell, Pastor Hajime Fujii, Karen Fujii, Steven Gasner, Walter Hashimoto, Ann Ishikawa, Ken Kaji, Andrew Kobayashi, Anastasia McGhee, Debbie Malone, Mary Ann Miyao, Brian Nagata, Paul Nagy, Kiyo Inada, Margie Oishi, Dale Schellenger, Catherine Shaw, Calvin Steimetz, Edward Thompson, Clifford Tokumaru, John Wardell and Margaret Yam. It is always reassuring to receive support and professional input from Jodo-Shinshu priests. I cherish the efforts made by Reverends Don Castro, Russell Hamada, Ron Kobata, Harold Oda, Kanya Okamoto, and Dennis Shinseki.

I am especially indebted to Sharon Winters for her careful editorial suggestions and to Barbara Harrison for the arduous task of typing the original draft. To Dr. Roy Mayhugh, words are insufficient to adequately convey my deep appreciation for his enthusiastic and professional support in the editing of the text. I wish to express my appreciation to Rev. Bob Oshita and the approximately eighty members of the study class of the Sacramento Betsuin Buddhist Church who embraced my book project with enthusiasm, constructive criticism and true caring.

The support for the publication of this book has been enormous. The book is endorsed by the following organizations affiliated with the Buddhist Churches of America: Bay District Ministers’ Association, Bay District Buddhist Education Committee, and the Buddhist Education Committee of the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church. I am, further, pleased that this book is included among the projects supported by the Propagation and Research Committee of the B.C.A Ministers’ Association.

Finally, this project could not have been realized without the generous funding from the Sunao Kikunaga Scholarship, the Sudhana Memorial Fund, the Federation of Dharma School Teachers’ League and the Rev. G. Kono Memorial Scholarship Fund. I am indebted to the donors of the Rev. Yoshitaka Tamai Professorial Chair, the members of the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church, and the Institute of Buddhist Studies for the professional positions that afforded me the opportunity to complete this book.


Abbreviations and Conventions

B.C.E. Before the Common Era = B.C.
ca. circa; about; around.
C.E. Common Era = A.D.
Letters Letters of Shinran (Mattosho).
Kyoto: Hongwanji International Center, 1978.
Pure Land Inagaki, Hisao. The Three Pure Land Sutras.
Kyoto: Nagata Bunshodo, 1994.
Tannisho Unno, Taisetsu, trans. Tannisho: A Shin Buddhist Classic.
Honolulu: Buddhist Study Center Press, 1984.
Teachings The True Teachings, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way (Kyogyoshinsho).
Volunes I-IV Kyoto: Hongwanji International Center, 1983-90.