Shin Glossary

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Term Definition
Amida Buddha Amida Buddha is called The Buddha of Infinite Light and Eternal Life. Infinite Light represents wisdom illuminating the darkness of our ignorance and Eternal Life represents his compassion, for as long as there are sentient beings caught in the wheel of suffering, he will remain to bring them to his Pure Land.
Bodhicitta Literally ‘Enlightment Mind’; the aspiration to attain Enlightenment for the salvation of all beings.
Bodhisattva Literally, “a sentient being (sattva) of enlightenment (bodhi)”, who vows to attain Enlightenment for the salvation of all beings. In Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattva is expected to undergo fifty-two stages before he or she attains the final Supreme Enlightenment, the last stage of which is as close as possible to Buddhahood.
Bombu The term bombu literally means ‘ordinary beings’ who are ignorant or unenlightened in contrast to the awakened or enlightened such as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In Shin Buddhist religious philosophy we remain bombu until we attain birth in the Pure Land. Awakening to the fact we are bombu is a crucial part of the Shin Buddhist faith-experience or religious awakening, as it occurs simultaneously with our awakening to the unconditional love and compassion of Amida Buddha, who saves all beings without any discrimination whatsoever. Thus, it is through entrusting ourselves to this Original Vow of Amida Buddha that we, bombu, attain Enlightenment through birth in the Pure Land.
Chomon (1) [concentrated] hearing and listening [to the Buddha-dharma]; Sincere listening leads us to hear the Dharma and be awakened to the reality of our own existence and that of Amida Buddha; hence the famous phrase, “To hear is to entrust oneself”. (2) Chomon is also the name of a special practice (established by the 13th Head Priest of Shogyoji; Reion Takehara) which involves solitary introspection and sutra study followed by discussions with Dharma friends. This kind of chomon is often called an Introspection Session.
Dharma Doctrine, truth of Buddhism.
Dharma-kaya The formless Truth Body of a Buddha.
Encounter in Shin Buddhism Life is a series of encounters; we encounter and re-encounter one another on a daily basis. Encounter can serve as the very source of spiritual light in our lives, provided it is realised purely. To know oneself and to be awakened to oneself, and at the same time to love and respect others just as they are which is the true meaning of the phrase ‘Harmony within diversity’. When you awaken to what you are, you find yourself to be so pleased that you cannot help but love others just as they are. We arrive at this newfound situation through the spiritual light of self-awakening that breaks down the barriers that we have thrown up between ourselves and others.
Eza lit. meeting together; a faith meeting where everyone sits around the Hondo(Buddha Hall/Room) in a circle and are invited to share their impressions on a particular event or subject so as to confirm the joy of faith through mutual interaction.
Gassho The placing of the palms of the hands together in a gesture of devotion, respect and entrusting. When saying the nembutsu the juzu is held so as to encircle the joined hands.
Gautama Buddha Please go to Shakyamuni Buddha below.
Great Living Jp: daigyo. It is also translated as great practice. Great living refers to the Nembutsu. In the teaching of Shin Buddhism the Nembutsu as the devotee’s way of living is an expression of the attainment of faith in Amida Buddha. It is called ‘great’ as it is a manifestation of the working Amida Buddha rather than an act or practice that belongs to an ordinary unenlightened being.
Gyosen Taya The phrase ‘Gyosen’ in ‘Gyosen Taya’ means ‘joyous ferry boat’ and ‘Taya’ refers to ‘a Taya house’ or typical form of Shin Buddhist accommodation. The image of a ‘joyous ferry boat’ comes from a paragraph in Nagarjuna’s Discourse on the Ten Stages (Skt. dasabhumika-vibhasa), “Just as there are in the world difficult and easy paths – traveling on foot by land is full of hardship and traveling in a boat by sea is pleasant – so it is amongst the bodhisattvas.” Thus, ‘Gyosen Taya’ means a Taya house where we can enjoy a pleasant journey to the Pure Land on a ferryboat of joyous faith.
Hondo The Buddha-hall in a temple; where the Gohonzon (object of worship) is enshrined.
Hoza lit. Dharma meeting; this term is used to describe a meeting given at the temple where somebody gives a pre-prepared talk standing at the front lectern. People sit in rows facing the speaker.
Ignorance Jp: mumyo. The inability to comprehend the Buddha’s wisdom. Because of their ignorance sentient beings are unable to comprehend Amida Buddha’s wisdom and compassion and thus harbour doubts towards him and his teaching. Thus in Shin Buddhism ignorance is seen to be synonymous with doubt. Ignorance is the fundamental cause of the cycle of birth and death (Sanskrit: samsara).
Jodo Shinshu Jodo Shinshu (also known as Shin Buddhism in the West) is a school of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism founded by Shinran Shonin (1173-1262). This tradition emphasizes salvation through faith alone rather than relying on one’s own efforts to attain enlightenment. The teaching is based on the Three Pure Land Sutras – The Larger Sutra of Eternal Life, The Amida Sutra and the Meditation Sutra – the primary being the Larger Sutra in which Amida Buddha made his Original Vow to save without any discrimination all sentient beings who call his Name in true faith. The essence of this faith in Shin Buddhism lies in awakening – awakening both to one’s own karmic reality as an unenlightened being and the unconditional love of Amida Buddha. These are two aspects of the same reality: true faith. Our awakening is expressed through the act of pronouncing Amida’s Name – Namu Amida Butsu – meaning “I take refuge in Amida Buddha”, which is known in this tradition as the nembutsu. The nembutsu in this form is the ‘right act’ that ensures us of birth in the Pure Land and our subsequent Enlightenment. Pronouncing the name is therefore an expression of our gratitude to Amida, and to everyone and everything which has led us to encounter his saving Vow.
Juzu a.k.a. Nenju; A string of beads which is looped over both hands when in gassho, and otherwise held in the left hand. They form a reminder of our blind passions which are each individually embraced and transformed by the Light of Amida.
Karma Literally means ‘action’ and refers to deeds which determine the quality of subsequent experience. According to the teachings of the Buddha each person is responsible for each action he or she takes. When the notion of “wrongdoing” or “bad karma” (zaigo) is referred to, it is always with this principle in mind. Because one is responsible for everything one does, one becomes aware in the light of the Buddha that such actions, carried out selfishly, constitute “wrong-doing” or “bad karma” and should be viewed as such. When those dark, negative aspects are vanquished, illuminated by the instantaneous awakening of faith, there opens up for us that deepest spiritual dimension where we can live our lives positively, always hoping to benefit ourselves and others at the same time.
Kyogyoshinsho (KGSS) The popular, abbreviated title of Shinran Shonin’s major work which is formally called the Kenjodo Shinjitsu Kyogyosho Monrui (The True Teaching, Practice, and Realization of the Pure Land Way). Completed in 1224 it consists of a systematic presentation of the Jodo Shin teaching through the use of carefully selected quotations from the Buddhist Canon which are set alongside Shinran’s own comments. The famous Shin Buddhist hymn Shoshinge can be found at the end of the ’Shin’ (Faith) section [Chapter II].
Namu Amida Butsu Originally a Sanskrit phrase it means I take refuge in Amida Buddha. Namu-amida-butsu first occurs in the Meditation Sutra.
Nembutsu
(Nenbutsu)
To pronounce the Name of Amida Buddha or mindfullness of Amida Buddha. The Nembutsu in Shin Buddhism is to call the Name (jp: myogo)of Amida Buddha with joy and gratitude having awakened to both the Unconditional Love of Amida Buddha and the reality of one’s own karmic existence. It is recited thereafter as an expression of the gratitude, not as a form of religious practice or as a meritorious act.
Non-Retrogression Outcome of shinjin or absolute faith, entry into pure land assured.
Other Power (JP: Tariki) Central Shin Buddhist term for Amida’s saving action.
Otsutome lit. daily devotions; consists primarily of two services, morning and evening, as well as informal nembutsu recitation at any time. Otsutome is also known as gongyo or steadfast practice.
Peaceful Awareness (Anjin) Refers to ‘the awareness attained through the awakening of faith’. “Peaceful awareness” or anjin means 1) the awareness of the sad reality of one’s existence, filled with blind passions and karmic hindrances, and 2) the awareness at the same time of the Buddha’s unconditional love that saves all beings just as they are without any discrimination at all. Such peaceful awareness of salvation through the Buddha’s great compassion is gained through the experience of having the pure faith to entrust oneself absolutely to the Buddha just as one is. In other words “peaceful awareness” is the peaceful state of mind in which one is fully aware of oneself and of the Buddha, both at the same time.
Pure Land Jp: jodo. In the original Sanskrit Pure Land is Sukhavati which means ‘Land of Happiness’. Specifically it is the Pure Land of Amida Buddha. The Pure Land is the world of Enlightenment where there is no birth and no death. Thus the Pure Land is also said to be the equivalent of Nirvana. Birth in the Pure Land means certainly attaining Buddhahood.
Rennyo (1415-1499) – Rennyo was the 8th Head Priest and so-called Second Founder of the Honganji subsect of Jodo Shinshu. He inherited a Dharma movement which was suffering from persecution, decline, and disarray, and through great personal effort and hardship revived and popularised Shinran Shonin’s teachings so effectively that Shin became the largest Buddhist tradition in Japan. Arguably his greatest legacy is his collection of letters (ofumi) which are read out in services allowing us to hear his guidance everyday (English translations are available). He is also famous for repeating over and over; “Shinjin is the true cause of birth in the Pure Land; saying the Name is the response of gratitude for Amida’s benevolence.”
Shakyamuni Buddha  The founder of Buddhism. Shinran-Shonin declares himself to be his disciple. Shakyamuni Buddha is the source of knowledge of Amida Buddha and his Original Vows.
Sangha
(Samgha derived from Sanskrit original)
Originally the title of the monastic order founded by Sakyamuni Buddha, the term nowadays describes any community or grouping of Buddhist followers. The Sangha is one of the Triple Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) because it is responsible for the preservation and transmission of the teachings.
Sanrin Shoja ‘Sanrin Shoja’ literally means ‘Three Wheels Temple’, from ‘Sanrin’, ‘three wheels’, and ‘Shoja’, a ‘Buddhist temple’ or ‘vihara’. The key notion ‘three wheels’ derives from a phrase found in the Shinjikangyo (Skt. tri-mandala-parisuddhi) that states that “three wheels should be pure”. The three wheels here stand for giver, receiver and gift. This wonderful ideal from Mahayana practice is beautifully described in the poem “Three Wheels” featured in the poetry portion of the Writing Section.
Shin Buddhism Please see Jodo Shinshu above.
Shinjin Eng: Faith. Shinjin is an awakening to the two aspects of reality, namely the saving power of Amida Buddha’s Original Prayer and the nature of one’s defiled karmic existence. This awakening occurs simultaneously through the working of Other Power. This faith is called ‘true’ or ‘pure’ as it is given to us by Amida Buddha and is not self-created.
Shinran (1173-1262) – The founder of Shin Buddhism. Shinran was an ex-Tendai monk and disciple of the famous Pure Land teacher Honen. Although Shinran Shonin never attempted to found his own sect, his innovative and unique approach to the Pure Land teaching became known as the Jodo Shin (or Shin Buddhist) tradition. The wonderful characteristic of Shinran Shonin’s teaching is his deep sincerity and honesty about his own personal problems (he referred to himself as Gutoku Shinran or “Ignorant stubble-hair Shinran”), and his joyful and absolute trust in the nembutsu way. This sincerity and faith is most famously captured in a collection of his words known as the Tannisho (compiled by his disciple Yuien-bo), though he also wrote a great many of his own works such as the vast Kyogyoshinsho (a compilation of scriptural passages arranged in such a way as to clarify the Pure Land teachings) and the Wasan (Hymns)
Shokai A form of spiritual training session which was instigated at Shogyoji by the late Head Priest, Reverend Master Reion Takehara (Daigyoin-sama). During the war it was commonplace for people to evacuate or escape from the city to the countryside; an action known as Sokai. Daigyoin-sama took this secular term and altered it to give it a positive conception of confronting rather than running away from life. The two characters in the term Shokai mean respectively “letting flow” (sho) and “opening” (kai) and thus describe a period of spiritual practice designed to allow the waters of faith to flow freely both in the individual and inter-personal dimensions. As Rennyo Shonin exhorts us in the Ofumi (I.16, On Sarae No Sho): “Constantly dredge out the Channel of Faith and let the water of Amida’s Dharma flow freely”.
Shoshinge ‘Hymn on the Right Faith in the Nembutsu’ is a gatha (religious hymn or verse) composed by Shinran Shonin the founder of Shin Buddhism. It can found in his main work the Kyogyoshinsho (Collection of Passages Expounding the True Teaching, Living, Faith and Realising of the Pure Land) towards the latter part of the volume on Gyo (Living or Practice). The Shoshinge is a primary text of Shin Buddhism which contains the essentials of its religious thought from the account of Amida Buddha’s Vow to save all beings through to the teachings of the seven Pure Land Masters of India, China and Japan, who clarified and transmitted the true meaning of this Vow. It has normally been chanted in morning and evening services since the days of Rennyo Shonin who popularised its use as the main liturgical text.
Sravaka ‘Hearer’ of the Buddha’s teaching; refers to disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha who listened to his teaching and practised for their own salvation.
Supreme Enlightenment The Buddha’s Enlightenment or Wisdom which is supreme, right, impartial and perfect; the highest Enlightenment. It is from this experience of Enlightenment that the great love and compassion of the Buddha works for the salvation of all sentient beings.
Sutras The record of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching. Of the three Pure Land Sutras the Larger is the source for the Primal Vows and the Smaller for the vital importance of Other Power.
Tannisho Sole record by an immediate disciple (Yuien) of Shinran’s true teachings.
Tathagata One of the ten epithets of the Buddha meaning “One who has thus come” from the realm of True Reality or ‘Suchness’.
Taya A residence, usually in or near a temple or dojo (and often supervised by a priest), the main purpose of which is to enable those who stay there to attain faith and live their lives with pure faith. The taya system originated in Rennyo Shonin’s day but has now almost died out in Japan, with the notable exception of Shogyoji which revived the tradition in the early twentieth century.
Ten Quarters The eight points of the compass (four cardinal points and four intermediate points), the zenith and the nadir, i.e. the whole universe.
Tenrin Taya ‘Tenrin Taya’, literally ‘a turning-wheel Taya house’, means ‘a Taya house’ or typical form of Shin Buddhist accommodation, where the Buddha’s Dharma Wheel (Skt. dharama-cakra) keeps turning as it works for the salvation of all other beings. The Dharma Wheel, or Wheel of Truth, is a symbol of Buddhism and the ‘turning-wheel’ actually refers to the activity of teaching the Buddha-dharma. When the Great Dharma Wheel turns, the ‘three wheels’ – giver, receiver and gift – become one through its work of purification. See the poem “Three Wheels” found in the poetry portion of the Writing Section.
Triple Treasure The ‘Three Treasures’ of Buddhism, namely Buddha, Dharma and Samgha.
Wasan Japanese Hymns written by Shinran Shonin. There are three main collections of these hymns: Jodo Wasan -Japanese Hymns on the Pure Land, Koso Wasan – Hymns on the Patriachs of the Pure Land Tradition and the Shozomatsu Wasan – Hymns on the Periods of Right Dharma, Resemblant Dharma and Last Dharma. Rennyo Shonin established the liturgical use of the wasan and published an edition of the three collections for chanting. Since that time six of these wasan are chanted each day during the main daily services in Shin Buddhist temples.
What has been done for us Translation of the Chinese character ‘ON’. It is said that in Buddhism in general there are four kinds of ‘ON’ : 1) that of one’s parents, i.e. what has been done for us by our parents, 2) that of the king, i.e. what has been done by the king in his role as a symbol of state, 3) that of all sentient beings, meaning what has been done for one by other people or other living beings, and 4) that of the Triple Treasure (Buddha, Dharma and SaCgha), signifying what has been done for a seeker after truth by the Triple Treasure. The word ‘ON’ has also been rendered as benevolence, grace, favour, benefit, kindness, gift, indebtedness etc.