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The Essential Shinran
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Essential Shinran, The: A Buddhist Path of True Entrusting
Essential Shinran, The: A Buddhist Path of True Entrusting
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Price:  $22.95

ISBN:  978-1-933316-21-5
Book Size:  6x9
# of Pages:  272
Language:  English


Shinran (1173-1262 C.E.) founded the Jodo Shinshu Pure Land Buddhist tradition in Japan during the Kamakura period. This movement, once set in motion, eventually became the largest Buddhist sect in Japan and spread to the West at the end of the nineteenth century. This compilation presents translations of important passages and insights from Shinran's writings.

  ForeWord Book of the Year Award 2nd Place for “Religion”  
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Detailed Description of The Essential Shinran

Shinran (1173-1262 C.E.) founded the Jodo Shinshu Pure Land Buddhist tradition in Japan during the Kamakura period. This movement, once set in motion, eventually became the largest Buddhist sect in Japan and spread to the West at the end of the nineteenth century.

Editor Alfred Bloom has put together this compilation of translations of important passages and insights from Shinran's writings, and has presented these against the background of Shinran's life and spiritual legacy. Although the book is devoted mostly to select passages of Shinran's own teachings, the editor supplies important comments and notes along the way, helping readers to better understand the great spiritual depths of Shinran's words. It is hoped that these well-chosen and well-presented selections, in such a compact book, will bring further attention in the West to Shinran, to Pure Land Buddhism, and to the Mercy of Amida, which knows no limits of place or time.

The book begins with a foreword by Ruben L.F. Habito in which Dr. Habito describes this book as a “highly accessible and reliable guide, based on original sources, to Shinran’s key ideas,” as well as giving some of his own keys to understanding Shinran and Pure Land Buddhism. Next, Dr. Bloom’ introduction explains how the book is organized and how it will be best used. It also points out the great humanity that shines through Shinran’s writings and personality.

The main part of the book is divided into three major sections: (1) Shinran’s Life and Legacy, (2) What Do We Know of Shinran in the Ancient Sources? and (3) Shinran Interprets Pure Land Teaching. (See the Table of Contents link on the main page for the book for the very detailed listing of contents.) The book concludes with a glossary, a bibliography, an index of selections, and biographical notes on Alfred Bloom and Rubin L.F. Habito.

  ForeWord Book of the Year Award 2nd Place for “Religion”  

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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Ruben Habito

Ruben Habito is a Professor of World Religions and Spirituality at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He is also Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Habito completed his doctoral studies at Tokyo University in 1978, and taught at Sophia University in Tokyo. He is the author of numerous books on Buddhism including Experiencing Buddhism: Ways of Wisdom and Compassion, Living Zen, Loving God, Healing Breath: Zen Spirituality for a Wounded Earth, Shinran to no Deai Kara (From My Encounters with Shinran) and many others in Japanese and English. He was President of the Society for Buddhist Christian Studies from 2003 to 2005, and serves as spiritual director and Teacher (Roshi) at Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas, Texas.

Prof. Ruben Habito wrote the "Foreword" in The Essential Shinran: The Buddhist Path of True Entrusting , edited by Alfred Bloom.

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Reviews of The Essential Shinran

"Edited by Alfred Bloom, one of only a few Shin Buddhist scholars based in the United States, The Essential Shinran: A Buddhist Path of True Entrusting is a selection of core writings by Shinran (1173-1262 C.E.), the founder of the of the Jodo Shinshu Pure Land tradition of Buddhism in Japan, which eventually became the largest Buddhist sect in the nation. The Essential Shinran also includes background information about Shinran's life and spiritual legacy, the better to facilitate understanding of his texts. Extensive notes reflect the copious effort to make the fundamentals of Shin Buddhism as taught by the originator accessible to readers of all backgrounds. A glossary, select bibliography, and index of selections round out this excellent "must-read" primer recommended for anyone interested understanding in the fundamentals of Shin Buddhism."
Midwest Book Review

"Guidance from the former dean of the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, CA."
Library Journal

“This volume offers annotations and transla¬tions of important writings of the monk and teacher Shinran Shonin (1173-1262), who founded the Jodo Shinshu Pure Land Buddhist tradition in Japan, during the turbulent Kamakura period. This movement, writes Bloom, became the largest Buddhist sect in Japan, spreading to the West by the end of the 19th century.”
Colloquy Alumni Quarterly, Harvard University

"The sakura bloom, the forces of nature coming together to produce that wonderful flowering throughout the land. So too this book, the forces of nature coming into play as it blossoms forth on the vast plane of history.

For the past one hundred years the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha (Nishi Hongwanji) has been closely involved in the eastward flow of Buddhism to the Western world. From the very beginning it made the conscious choice to promote Buddhist understanding by means of the printed word. Once established on American soil, its Buddhist Mission of San Francisco began to publish The Light of Dharma, 1901-1907, the first authentic Buddhist magazine published in the West. Almost a century later, this trajectory reached its highest point with the publication of the two-volume Collected Works of Shinran (CWS), under the editorship of Dr Gadjin M Nagao, in 1997. Now, ten years later, The Essential Shinran by Dr Alfred Bloom, professor emeritus, University of Hawaii, has been published. And soon a new Larger Sutra translation will be released.

In The Essential Shinran Dr Alfred Bloom makes a masterful presentation of the life and thought of Shinran. The book is a virtual feast of prime statements carefully selected from traditional Shinshu textual sources and thematically arranged to illustrate key points. The main text begins with a modern overview of Shinran's life and legacy. This is followed by over 300 selected passages from the biographical literature and from Shinshu doctrinal works, with insightful notes by the author. Each of the items quoted is consecutively numbered for ease of reference, and the original source text for each is clearly indicated.

As a compendium of Shinran's teaching, The Essential Shinran takes many of its quotations from the Collected Works of Shinran (CWS). CWS was a landmark publication that presented the complete writings of Shinran Shonin in one volume. In a sense, The Essential Shinran is an introduction to the CWS. It presents Shinran's thought in a way that makes it more easily accessible. It maps out the important points on the terrain of Shinran's thought. It brings together related statements by theme, and explains briefly the significance of these statements. All of these features are important for the first-time reader who needs a guide to show them the important points of Shinran's thought. Once this is done, there is nothing simpler to understand. But until then, what Shinran teaches can pose a formidable obstacle to the newcomer.

Students will no doubt find The Essential Shinran a welcome addition, and it may well become a favorite work for university religion courses. Students have a natural interest in religion. In the absence of any information about Shinshu or Buddhism, however, they turn to other religions or turn away from religion altogether. This book can change all that. It can reconnect students to their Buddhist roots and renew their appreciation of Shinran's teaching. Also important, it can bring new people into the field of Jodo Shinshu research. This makes it an extremely important contribution for the future of Jodo Shinshu studies in the West.

Ultimately The Essential Shinran points the reader beyond Shinran's thought as presented in CWS, to the Larger Sutra. The Larger Sutra is axial to Shinran's thought. How important this sutra is to the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha (Nishi Hongwanji) is demonstrated by the fact that the Hongwanji-ha plans to publish a new translation of the sutra in the coming year, despite the fact there are two translations in recent years. It is hoped that through reading The Essential Shinran, as well as the CWS and the new translation of the Larger Sutra, a new generation of Shinshu readers will be born who will pursue further studies of Shinran's thought, as well as studies in the Larger Sutra, not to mention the writings of Kakunyo, Zonkaku, and Rennyo.

In a note Dr Bloom writes: "Contemplation of the nembutsu opens our spiritual eyes to all-embracing reality which surrounds, permeates and is one with our limited fragment of passionate life. While we ourselves as foolish beings cannot say that we have the qualities of a Buddha, true entrusting awakens us to our true self and our potentiality to contribute positively to the world and society as bearers of compassion and wisdom which are the essence of Buddhahood" (p 183).

It was in part from a prophetic dream that he had, that Shinran found the courage and vision to marry and start an open family-oriented community based on the Pure Land Buddhist teaching. Dr Bloom's book lets Shinran tell us more about that vision informing his dream. At the same time Shinran has a message for us today living in a world of darkness and strife. His is a vision of an open community contributing positively to world society, and of living full lives and helping others to do so. This grows out of the spiritual understanding of true self which other power reveals to us in that one thought-moment we call shinjin. This, in part, is the message that Shinran can now impart to the West more effectively, through The Essential Shinran, CWS, and soon the Larger Sutra.

Interestingly enough, The Essential Shinran was written by an individual who initiated this project completely on his own. While it quotes from the CWS, this with the express permission of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, at the same time it is not a work that was solicited by the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha. It is also remarkable that there was nothing in the early life of the author that even hinted he would make the field of Shinshu studies his lifetime career. In a sense, Dr Bloom is a person who has come to the rescue completely from the outside. Nor has this been easily accomplished. Years of deep contemplative effort went into this work. His hardwon mastery of Shinran's teaching is well depicted by the vast scale on which The Essential Shinran is written. Indeed, this work was a demanding task that only a rare scholar like Dr Bloom could have achieved.

Now eighty years of age, Dr Alfred Bloom has earned himself a respected position within the Shin Buddhist community in Hawaii. As he looks back he recalls some of the events that changed his life. In 1946, as a soldier on tour of duty in Tokyo at age nineteen, he gave a talk in English to some Japanese students at which someone told him that his idea on Paul's concept of grace was "like Amida." The name Amida was new to him, but his quick mind made a mental note to find out what that meant. It was small chance events such as these that marked the beginning of a long career in Shin Buddhism. Leading an active life of retirement, his intellectual powers undiminished, Dr Bloom in recent years has published several Shinshu works of note. The present work, however, stands apart as a significant contribution to Shinshu studies in the West."
W S Yokoyama, Researcher at the Jodo Shinshu Studies and Research Center

‘Contemplation of the Nembutsu opens our spiritual eyes to all-embracing reality which surrounds, permeates and is one with our limited fragment of passionate life.’
— Alfred Bloom, The Essential Shinran, p. 183.

"Another wonderful idea from Professor Bloom! The concept of this book – the teachings of Shinran abstracted from his works and arranged by topic — excited me when I first heard of it, and reading it has been as satisfying as I had hoped.

The Collected Works of Shinran, translated and published under the auspices of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha has been available since 1997 and brings together all of Shinran’s writings plus Tannisho , attributed to Yuien-bo and The Essentials of Faith Alone by Seikaku. It is important reading for all Jodo Shinshu followers. However, no less today than in Shinran’s time, his major work, Kyogyoshinsho (A Collection of Passages Revealing the True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way) is a difficult work to digest, despite being translated into entirely readable English from its original classical Chinese (a language entirely opaque to all but a tiny elite in Shinran’s time and of course accessible only to suitably prepared scholars today). The structure of this work — Shinran’s words are interspersed between quotes from the Sutras and the teachings of the Pure Land Masters — demands close attention to follow what Shinran is teaching. Also, while I think one must read the Sutras to appreciate the authentic taste of the Dharma, it takes time and effort to learn how to appreciate and understand them. This effort is worth making, but a person new to the Pure Land teachings needs in the first instance to find out what the teachings are in as clear a way as possible.

To this end Professor Bloom has structured this book carefully. There is an introductory chapter which is a narrative of Shinran’s life and legacy. The next chapter ‘What do we know of Shinran in the ancient sources?’ brings together material from the letters of Esshin-ni, Shinran’s wife, Kakunyo’s Godensho (the earliest biography of Shinran) and other sources to give the reader as far as it can be done, a real feel for who Shinran was. This leads naturally on to the heart of the book, ‘Shinran Interprets Pure Land Teaching.’

It is in this long third chapter that Professor Bloom shows the depth of his scholarship and of his insight into the teachings of Shinran. He begins with ‘Shinran’s Self-understanding: The Human Condition’. This is the logical place to start, as an understanding of one’s self and of the human condition is the sine qua non of any serious spiritual journey. That Professor Bloom begins his presentation of Shinran’s teachings – his spiritual journey – here is indicative of the author’s spiritual insight and also of his serious didactic intent. What must follow a profound and sincere insight into the limitations of one’s own nature and of the frailty and fleetingness of human existence is either despair, or, if one encounters the Pure Land teachings - as Shinran did by meeting his teacher Honen Shonin – a relinquishment of ego driven striving leading to faith in Amida’s saving grace. Therefore the next section is ‘Shinran’s Experience of True Entrusting (Shinjin)’. As well leading the reader through the teachings in an appropriate sequence the very title of this section serves a didactic end, introducing the reader to the word or words for the core experience of the Jodo Shinshu way. I continue to waver on what to do with the word shinjin, and currently feel that sometimes it should, and sometimes it shouldn’t be translated. In this book the quotations of Shinran’s works use shinjin while the author likes to use ‘true entrusting’.

Following on from this, Professor Bloom takes the reader through the breadth and depth of Shinran’s teachings, from the beginning of insight to ‘The Goal of Religion (Genso Eko)’ – our return to this world from the Pure Land to save others, and finally to ‘The Attainment of Nirvana (Buddhahood)’. For ease of reference each excerpt of Shinran’s writings is numbered and has a short title telling the reader what it is about. Interspersed between the quotations are explanatory and contextualizing notes by the author that in themselves amount to a course in the understanding of the Jodo Shinshu teachings. There is a comprehensive glossary and an index showing where to find the selected passages in Shinran’s works.

This book then is on the surface very simple and is very easy to read, but it is actually extremely sophisticated in its construction. I commend it to all those with a serious interest in the Pure Land teachings, but it will also be of great value to students of Japanese culture and religion who may not have a specific interest in Buddhism.
Rev. Dr. Mark Healsmith, writing in, an online journal of Shin Buddhism

For those who are looking to go deeper into Shinran’s thought but are intimidated by the complexity of works like Kyogyoshinsho, The Essential Shinran is a highly useful tool, particularly for understanding how Shinran approached specific topics, such as Buddha-nature, the Pure Land, and practice. Bloom has lined up everything Shinran wrote about each topic, eliminating the need to hunt through his extensive writings for relevant passages. Thus the reader can discover, for example, the nuances of shinjin—the mind that awakens to the falsity of the ego and relies instead on power beyond the self, leading to Buddhahood. As Bloom’s quotes make clear, shinjin is neither a dogmatic adherence to faith nor a dry acknowledgment of no-self but a deeply transformative moment of overwhelming joy, leading to a fresh approach to religion through the practice of gratitude and humility.

Like The Collected Works, Bloom’s Essential Shinran has the potential to dramatically increase Western appreciation of one of the largest, yet least understood forms of Buddhism. As such, the book ranks among the most important publications on Pure Land Buddhism of the past decade, valuable to scholars and Buddhist practitioners alike.
Tricycle Magazine

Table of Contents for The Essential Shinran

The Essential Teachings of Shinran: The Path of True Entrusting

   Foreword by Ruben Habito
   Introduction by Alfred Bloom
I. Shinran’s Life (1173-1262) and Legacy
   A. Spiritual Journey
   B. Shinran’s Legacy: The Shin Path to Enlightenment

II. What Do We Know of Shinran in the Ancient Sources?
   A. From Mount Hiei to His Entry into Honen’s Community
   B. The Journey to Kanto: Shinran’s Realization of Other Power
   C. Shinran’s Account of His Spiritual Development
   D. Shinran Disowns His Eldest Son
   E. Shinran and Other Disciples of Honen
   F. Stories from Early Tradition: Kakunyo’s ( 1270-1351) Kudensho
   G. A Word from The Treatise on Correcting Error (Kakunyo’s Gaijasho)
   H. The Earliest Biography of Shinran by Kakunyo: Godensho

III. Shinran Interprets Pure Land Teaching
   A. Shinran’s Self Understanding: The Human Condition
     1. “Hell is Decidedly My Abode”: The Personal Dimension
     2. The World of Foolish Beings
     3. The Evil World of the Last Dharma Age
   B. Shinran’s Experience of True Entrusting (Shinjin)
     1. Shinran’s Unfaltering Trust
     2. The Joy in True Entrusting
     3. Shinran on His Limitations
     4. Shinran on His Death
   C. Shinran on the Meaning of True Entrusting
     1. The Scriptural Foundation
       a. Why Buddhas Appear in the World
       b. The Major Vows: The Basis of Shinran’s Teaching
       c. The Primal Vow
       d. The Larger Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life: the Supreme Truth
          i. The Significance of the Larger Sutra for Shinran
          ii. The True Intent of the Larger Sutra
          iii. The Ultimate Teaching of the “One Vehicle”
          iv. Sutras of Provisional Practice: Sutra of Contemplation, Smaller Amida Sutra
       e. Amida and [Š]âkyamuni
     2. Shinran’s Style of Interpreting Scripture: Manifest and Hidden Meanings
     3. Other-Power: The Fundamental Principle of Shinran’s Interpretation
       a. The Meaning of Other-Power
       b. Self-Power-Other-Power
       c. Uncalculating Trust
       d. No-working is true-working
       e. Shinran’s Ranking of Buddhist Teachings (Critical Classification of Teachings)
          i. The Traditional Pure Land View
          ii. Shinran’s System of “Two Pairs and Four Levels”
     4. Shinran’s Respect for Tradition: The Selected Lineage of Seven Masters
       a. Hymn of True Entrusting (Shoshinge)
       b. Hymn on the Nembutsu and True Entrusting
       c. Hymns of the Great Teachers (Koso wasan)
       d. The Parable of the White Path by Shan-tao
   D. Dimensions of Shinran’s Interpretation of True Entrusting
     1. The Status of Pure Land Teaching
     2. Amida: The Supreme Buddha
     3. Amida: The Eternal Buddha
     4. Amida: The Savior
     5. Amida and True Entrusting
     6. The Experience of True Entrusting
       a. The Nature of True Entrusting
          i. The Diamond-like True Mind
          ii. True Entrusting and Buddha-Nature
          iii. The Ultimacy of True Entrusting
          iv. Two Types of Deep Entrusting
       b. Reception of True Entrusting
       c. The Mind of True Entrusting
       d. Three Minds of the Eighteenth Vow
       e. The Unity of the Three Minds
       f. Aspiration for Birth
       g. The Status of Persons of True Entrusting
       h. Benefits of True Entrusting
       i. The Paradox of True Entrusting
       j. True Entrusting and Doubt
     7. True Entrusting and Nembutsu Practice
       a. The Name
       b. The Nembutsu as Great Practice
       c. Nembutsu as Amida’s Call
       d. Nembutsu Recitation
       e. The Nembutsu and Spiritual Transformation
       f. Nembutsu and Gratitude
   E. Shinran and the Nembutsu Way of Life: True Entrusting in the World
     1. The Universal Dharma
     2. Shinran’s Non-discriminating Dharma: Equal Companions on the Way
     3. Shinran and Women (35th Vow)
     4. Nembutsu and Peace
     5. Shinran and Prince Shotoku
     6. Sharing the Dharma: Propagation
     7. True Entrusting, the World of the Gods and Popular Religion: Rejecting Magic and Superstition
     8. Licensed Evil
     9. Polemics and Disputations
     10. The Teaching Encounters Opposition
   F. Life Fulfillment
     1. The Pure Land
     2. Assurance of Fulfillment
     3. Presentness of Salvation
       a. Equality with the Buddha
       b. Rejection of Death-bed Rites
     4. The Goal of Religion (Genso Eko)
     5. Attainment of Nirvana (Buddhahood)

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