Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The blast-proof Buddhist

Location:   The Upper West Side of Manhattan
Year:   1955

Shinran Shonen (1173-1263) was the founder of the True Pure Land School of Buddhism in Japan. Ordained a monk at age nine, in his twenties he became disillusioned with the increasing deification of the Shogun within Japanese society and within Japanese Buddhist practice. He joined the monk Honen, who founded the Pure Land School.Pure Land Buddhism taught that society was so corrupt that individuals necessarily had to seek spiritual intercession from a higher power to achieve Enlightenment. Both men's practice focused on chanting the Nembutsu:

Namu Amida Butsu  --- "I take refuge in the Amida Buddha."

Due to their disregard for the Shogun, both Honen and Shinran were forbidden to associate or teach.  Although they each continued to teach secretly, their long separation caused the two men to develop different approaches to the practice they taught. Shinran believed that entry to the Pure Land (Enlightenment) could be attained in life, while Honen believed that it could only be attained at life's end. Honen died in 1212, the two men never having seen each other again. 

Although Shinran always considered himself a disciple of Honen's, their followers did not, and the Pure Land School and the True Pure Land School remained distinct. Eventually, Shinran's True Pure Land Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu or Shin Buddhism) became the largest Buddhist sect in Japan, a status it retains today. 

Shin temples all have a statue of Shinran standing guard at their entrance. The Shinran figure at the doorway of the New York Buddhist Church on Riverside Drive is unique. Until 1945, the statue stood before a Shin temple in Hiroshima just over a mile from Ground Zero of the atomic bomb blast. Although the temple was utterly destroyed in the blast, the statue endured, unscathed. 

In 1955, the statue was gifted to the NYBC as, “a testimonial to the atomic bomb devastation and a symbol of lasting hope for world peace,” as its commemorative plaque reads.

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