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Living in Amida’s Universal Vow
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Living in Amida’s Universal Vow: Essays in Shin Buddhism
Living in Amida’s Universal Vow:  Essays in Shin Buddhism
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Eastern Religion

Price:  $19.95

ISBN:  0-941532-54-2
Book Size:  6" × 9"
# of Pages:  336
Language:  English


Shin Buddhism arises from the teachings of Shinran, a profoundly compelling spiritual authority of 13th century Japan. In contrast to monastic Japanese Buddhist traditions, which attracted the more learned and aristocratic elements of Japanese society, Shinran taught men in all walks of life to find solace and strength in Amida Buddha, a compassionate aspect of the Cosmic Buddha who renounced his own enlightenment until all men are saved through his power.

These essays by leading Shin scholars and practitioners shed light on this tradition, which is largely unknown in the West. Dr. Bloom, one of the world’s foremost scholars of the tradition and an ordained Shin priest, has edited a book which illuminates this path to liberation and provides the reader with deep insight into the soul of Amida’s Universal Vow.

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Detailed Description of Living in Amida’s Universal Vow

Shin Buddhism arises from the teachings of Shinran, a profoundly compelling spiritual authority of 13th century Japan. In contrast to monastic Japanese Buddhist traditions, which attracted the more learned and aristocratic elements of Japanese society, Shinran taught men in all walks of life to find solace and strength in Amida Buddha, a compassionate aspect of the Cosmic Buddha who renounced his own enlightenment until all men are saved through his power.

Though it has been in the West for over one hundred years, Pure Land and Shin Buddhism has been little known or understood among Western peoples. This book brings together a sampling of the resources available for the study of Shin Pure Land Buddhism through a variety of essays from important and influential journals, and so contributes to a greater understanding of Buddhism in general and this school of Buddhism in particular.

These essays demonstrate to people unfamiliar with Buddhist scholarship some resources that they would otherwise probably never see. The anthology reveals the serious intellectual and spiritual character of Pure Land teaching, while also enabling the reader to gain a perspective on its very real significance for modern society. The diversity of perspectives and views shown in these pages is a mark of vital religious reflection and shows Shin’s many dimensions as a living tradition capable of giving meaning to everyday life and of inspiring commitment to the service of humanity. The title Living in Amida’s Universal Vow indicates that Buddhism is for living, and is meant to suggest the pertinence of these writings to spiritual students and seekers who are not interested in dry scholarly analyses alone.

About the Author(s)

Alfred Bloom

Rev. Dr. Alfred Bloom (1926–2017) was one of the world's foremost authorities on the study of Shin Buddhism. He taught World Religions and Buddhism at the University of Oregon and the University of Hawaii and wrote many books and articles on Shin Buddhism and spirituality in general. Prof. Bloom was Dean at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, sponsored by the Buddhist Churches of America. He was an ordained Shin priest. About Dr. Bloom, the well-known Buddhist magazine Tricycle: The Buddhist Review said: “Bloom is widely regarded as one of the most important American figures of the past five decades in the Jodo Shin school of Buddhism.”

Prof. Bloom's contributions to World Wisdom books include:

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Reviews of Living in Amida’s Universal Vow

"The number of immigrant and native-born Buddhists has grown enormously in the West in the past 50 years, with most media attention going to monastic and ascetic Zen or Tibetan traditions. The beliefs and practices of ordinary lay Buddhists is, however, little discussed. This collection of 21 scholarly essays, edited by Bloom (World religions and Buddhism, Univ. of Hawaii), is a step toward remedying our ignorance concerning, in particular, Shin Buddhism, often known as 'Pure Land' Faith, which came to the West from Japan. America now has numerous Shin temples, especially in Pacific Coast states. These essays are grouped under four topic headings: 'Modern Shin Buddhist Thinkers,' 'Interpretations of Shin Buddhism,' 'Modern Issues in Shin Thought,' and 'Historical and Comparative Perspectives.' Unlike Zen and similar ascetic methods, which stress systematic practice, Shin is faith-based, similar in some ways to Evangelical Christianity, and several essays explicitly compare the two faiths. Other essays address moral and social concerns of lay believers, e.g. family values and citizenship. Scholarly rather than casual in tone, this is recommended for academic libraries.”

- Library Journal (James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA)

"[This book] will provide material which will last a reader for a long time, demanding to be read and re-read."

- from a review in Pure Land Notes: A Journal of Pure Land Buddhism

"Shin Buddhism is the largest school of Buddhism practiced in Japan...Nevertheless, it remains relatively obscure to many American practitioners. The dean of American Pure Land Buddhism, Alfred Bloom, professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii, helps to correct this omission with Living in Amida's Universal Vow: Essays in Shin Buddhism. This impressive anthology contains works by important Shin scholars such as Suzuki, Kiyozawa Manshi, Kenneth Tanaka, and Taitetsu Unno, and includes many articles previously unavailable to the general reader....this anthology—the latest volume in World Wisdom’s Library of Perennial Philosophy—Alfred Bloom has once again made it major contribution to the study of the Pure Land way."

- Jeff Wilson, Tricycle

"Living in Amida’s Universal Vow: Essays in Shin Buddhism (World Wisdom, 2004), edited by Alfred Bloom, is a collection of essays on a distinctive form of Pure Land Buddhism based on the teachings of Japanese masters Honen (1133-1212) and Shinran (1173-1262). Altogether, they provide a valuable introduction to Shin Buddhism and explore salient issues in Shinran’s thought, such as the role of language in “hearing the name” of Amida Buddha, and the relevance of ethics of salvation is guaranteed by Amida’s vow. Leading scholars of Shin Buddhism, like Taitetsu Unno, Kenneth Tanaka and Dennis Hirota, offer theological reflections on the relevance of Shinran’s though for both contemporary and perennial issues."

- Holly Gayley, Buddhardharma:Practitioner's Quarterly


"Because the message of Shinran reflects his deep honesty concerning human existential realities, and because these are the very basis of true enlightenment, the intellectuals of our day should be attracted to his teachings."

- Rev. Koju Fujieda, retired from Fukui Medical University

"This volume is an excellent collection of both classic and contemporary essays on the Shin Buddhist tradition by noted Japanese and Western scholars."

- Duncan Ryuken Williams, Professor of East Asian Buddhism at the University of California, Irvine

“In this volume of essays, the Path of an increasingly emerging Shin Buddhism is discussed and presented from a wide range of different perspectives. It does so with a thought provoking originality and in a way that renders them existentially relevant to these critical times. The efforts of its editor, Dr. Alfred Bloom, and the respective contributors have resulted in a work that will contribute—no doubt in a pivotal way—to the growing number of Western publications on Shin Buddhism.”

- Reverend Tetsuo Unno, Minister, Buddhist Churches of America

“Reading this wonderful book, we come to understand that the Pure land is within ourselves, and that the west is not a direction. In the realm of pure faith, other-power and self-power are reconciled like the two sides of a coin. This book should help to clear up any misconceptions shin Buddhism.”

- Sojun Mel Weitsman, Berkeley Zen center

"I am greatly impressed by this excellent work by Dr. Alfred Bloom.…[He] has selected some of the most important essays from the works of modern Shin scholars, providing a glimpse of what future developments of Jodo Shinshu tradition may be like. As an historian of Japanese Buddhism, I am particularly impressed that the publication of this collection of essays, based on the solid foundations of academic studies, is possible in America after only a little more than one hundred years since Shin Buddhism arrived there. As a Shin follower living in Japan, I am deeply touched by the fact that readership within American Buddhist communities has grown so much as to demand the publication of such an excellent work."

- Zensho Asaeda, Ryukoku University, Kyoto

"Living in Amida's Universal Vow provides readers a good opportunity to learn about Pure Land Buddhism as taught by a lay tradition that claims the largest following of any Japanese sect. These essays indicate some new directions to Western Buddhism as it continues to develop as a lay practice."

- Norman Waddell, Otani University, Kyoto, Japan

"Living in Amida's Universal Vow" reveals some key aspects of the extraordinary breadth and profundity of Shin Buddhism, exemplified by a well chosen sampling of the thought of leading Shin Buddhist scholars and clergy over the past century. This book is both inspiring and thought-provoking. It presents penetrating essays, many of which have hitherto only been available in Japanese. This book provides a real contribution to the understanding of what in the West is still a relatively little-known branch of Buddhism, Jodo-Shinshu (or Shin Buddhism). Jodo-Shinshu is perhaps the most popular and widespread form of Buddhism in Japan, where it originated 800 years ago. This book presents Shin Buddhism from a truly modern and intellectually well-founded perspective. Shin Buddhism, ostensibly the "easy path" of Buddha Dharma, constitutes in reality a challenge to experience life in a fundamentally compassionate and fully authentic way. This book presents readers with the profundity of the Nembutsu path of "Deep Hearing," or responding to the call of the boundless compassion and unsurpassed wisdom of Amida Buddha's universal vow to rescue us from our lives blinded by consuming passions. It will provide insight to the educated reading public as well as a wealth of information useful not only to Buddhist students but also to students of Eastern culture and comparative religion at the collegiate and graduate levels."

- Dr. Richard St. Clair, Founder of the Boston Shinshu Buddhist Sangha

"The essays in [Living in Amida's Universal Vow] provide us with a broad and in-depth perspective of Shin Buddhism. Contributors range from those who lived a century ago to those who are very active in the present time, from Buddhist scholars to Christian theologians, and from ardent believers to critics who speak from a more detached standpoint. The essays are relatively short and highly readable Many of them were originally written in Japanese, but the English translations are of superb quality.."

- Professor Toshikazu Arai, Soai University, Osaka, Japan, and author of Lectures on Tannisho

"Shin, the Buddhism of the heart, is the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan but it is still the least known in the west. This valuable collection of previously published articles, of interest to specialists and nonspecialists alike, will help to establish Shin in the English speaking world."

- Roger Corless, Professor of Religion, Emeritus, Duke University

Table of Contents for Living in Amida’s Universal Vow



1. “The Great Path of Absolute Other Power” and “My Faith”
— KIYOZAWA MANSHI, translated with an introduction by Bando Shojun

2. The Significance of Dharmakara Bodhisattva as Earthly Savior
— SOGA RYOJIN, translated by Wayne S. Yokoyama and Hiroshi Suzuki

3. The Meaning of Salvation in the Doctrine of Pure Land Buddhism
— KANEKO DAIEI, translated and adapted by Sakamoto Hiroshi

4. Shin Buddhism


5. Centering and the World Beyond
— TAKEUCHI YOSHINORI, edited and translated by James W. Heisig

6. The Practice of Jodo-shinshu

7. Shinjin is the Eternal Now
— OMINE AKIRA, translated by David Matsumoto

8. Shinran’s Vision of Absolute Compassion

9. Religious Transformation and Language in Shinran

10. Freedom and Necessity in Shinran’s Concept of Karma
— UEDA YOSHIFUMI, translated by Dennis Hirota

11. Joy of Shinran: Rethinking the Traditional Shinshu Views on the Concept of the Stage of Truly Settled
— MURAKAMI SOKUSUI, translated by Eisho Nasu


12. Shinran and Authority in Buddhism

13. Shinran and Modern Individualism

14. Shinran and Human Dignity: Opening an Historic Horizon
— FUTABA KENKO, translated by Kenryu T. Tsuji

15. Towards a Shin Buddhist Social Ethics
— AMA TOSHIMARO, translated by Robert F. Rhodes

16. My Socialism
— TAKAGI KENMYO, translated by Robert F. Rhodes

17. Ethics in American Jodo Shinshu: Trans-ethical Responsibility


18. Shinran’s Indebtedness to T’an-luan

19. Pure Land Buddhist Hermeneutics: Honen’s Interpretation of Nembutsu

20. David, Shankara, Honen

21. Mutual Transformation of Pure Land Buddhism and Christianity
— TAKEDA RYUSEI, translated by Jan Van Bragt


Excerpts from Living in Amida’s Universal Vow

An Excerpt from the Introduction to

Living in Amida’s Universal Vow: Essays in Shin Buddhism

by the editor, Alfred Bloom

Though it has been in the West for over one hundred years, Pure Land and Shin Buddhism has been little known or understood among Western peoples. The reasons for this are varied, but with the growing availability of important scholarly studies and easily understood popular interpretations, seekers now have the opportunity to encounter the richness and depth of the tradition. It is the intention of this anthology to contribute to a greater understanding of Pure Land teaching in particular and Buddhism in general.

Since World War II a broad increase of interest in Japanese culture resulted from the occupation of Japan and the development of intimate economic relations between Japan and America. Buddhism especially gained greater respect notably with the introduction of Zen Buddhism through the efforts of Dr. D. T. Suzuki and a host of other teachers who settled in the West. In addition, the dispersion of Tibetan Buddhism and the visibility of the Dalai Lama throughout Western countries has also been a very significant factor in the growth of interest in Buddhism. The Vietnam War brought a focus on Buddhist monks who resisted the war, sacrificing themselves by self immolation. Thich Nhat Hanh, a noted Zen monk, carried the message of peace to the West. Programs in Buddhism and Asian cultures were established in many universities and colleges.

Widespread religious ferment in Western society has been expressed in movements designated as New Age Spirituality. These newly arisen religious groups attract individuals who have become increasingly dissatisfied or disillusioned with their traditional faiths. Seeking alternative paths for dealing with their personal problems and understanding life, they often turn to one of the many forms of Buddhism.

Despite the renewed interest in religion, the significance of Pure Land teaching and appreciation of its spiritual character as an important approach to understanding human existence have lagged behind other traditions such as Zen, Tibetan, and Theravadan forms of Buddhist teaching and meditation. Pure Land faith appears as a popular, other-worldly path, mainly concerned with death and afterlife and lacking in such features as meditation and social awareness.

Closely identified with the Japanese-American or Canadian communities, Pure Land Buddhism appears to some people as an exclusively Japanese religion without realizing that it is a universal faith open to all peoples. However, there has been an increase in the number of clergy whose knowledge of western culture and language enables them to build bridges of understanding between religions and cultures in their communities. In addition the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California, which is sponsored by the Shin Buddhist Churches of America, has been created to train clergy in America and to integrate Buddhism into the life of the nation through its participation in the complex of Christian seminaries, the Graduate Theological Union. The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii has established the Pacific Buddhist Academy high school and college preparatory school based on Buddhist philosophy and peace studies.

Over the years a wide variety of literature has developed with the translation of sacred texts such as The Three Pure Land Sûtras by Dr. Hisao Inagaki, and the Collected Works of Shinran, as well as more popular texts such as Dr. Taitetsu Unno’s River of Fire and River of Water and Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn into Gold, both designed to explain and interpret Pure Land and Shin Buddhist teaching in ways western people can comprehend through touchpoints in western experience and thought.

This anthology provides a sampling of the resources available for the study Shin Pure Land Buddhism through a variety of essays from important and in- fluential journals. It is common for people to look for a book to study a subject. However, there is a rich resource hidden in journals, which often sit untouched on library shelves in our universities. The journals publish papers presented at scholarly meetings or are the results of scholars’ creative research. Lay people are not generally familiar with these resources, because they do not have easy access to university libraries or hold membership in the scholarly societies that publish them.

This volume proposes to remedy the situation by offering essays by noted scholars. The anthology reveals the serious intellectual and spiritual character of the teaching, while also enabling the reader to gain a perspective on its significance for modern society. Some scholars are adherents of the teaching, while others regard it as an important object of study. Whatever their motivation, they bring to bear skills and insights which can assist us in evaluating the meaning of the teaching for ourselves personally. We can also observe various styles of presentation and theoretical perspectives, demonstrating that diversity rather than uniformity is a mark of vital religious reflection. The essays will show that Pure Land teaching has many dimensions as a living tradition, and is capable of giving meaning to everyday life, while inspiring commitment to the service of humanity.

The title Living in Amida’s Universal Vow indicates that Buddhism is for living, not merely for dying or the afterlife. Afterlife, of course, is an important concern for everyone. One of the first questions to arise in religious discussion is what happens to me when I die? However, the answer to that question brings us immediately back to this life where the quality of our spiritual life now holds implications for any life to follow. Since religious reality, however one conceives it, must be the same here and hereafter, encountering that reality now in the context of our living is an important indicator of what any future life would be.

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Shin BuddhismLiving in Amida's Universal Vow: Essays in Shin BuddhismSuzuki, D.T. Buddhism
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