JODO SHINSIHU IN AMERICAN SOCIETY
By Alfred Bloom
As Jodo Shinshu approaches the centennial commemoration of its arrival in the United States, it is necessary for us to give serious attention to our position and our prospects in American society. In order to do this, we must assess our history and explore our spiritual resources.
The future course of our development depends on understanding our history, and on a knowledge of the content of our tradition. History and tradition must be analyzed in the light of modern knowledge of religion and human development.
As background to this discussion, we must observe that we live in a highly competitive, aggressive religious environment. Spiritually, the maintenance of a vital temple life will require more determined effort to educate all levels of membership, not merely the children. All members must take up their own responsibilities to study the teachings and nurture their faith; not simply to relegate it to the responsibility of the minister.
Against this background, the first important aspect is to gain a grasp of our history. From its beginning, Jodo Shinshu was originally a laymen’s movement. It is a dobo dogyo Sangha where the term deshi or disciple has no place. The first letter in Rennyo’s collection discusses the meaning of Shinran’s declaration that he did not have even one disciple. Rennyo states:
Therefore, we should all possess the same Faith and tread the same path. Because of this, the
Shonin, with deep reverence, said that we are all brethren of the same Faith and fellow-travelers. ( Shinshu Seiten, page. 272)
It should be noted that the most successful religious movements have been laymen’s movements, because the lay person has intimate relation with his associates in all walks of life and more easily communicates the teaching to others. Dr. Lewis Lancaster has pointed out that the transmission of Buddhism over the Silk route was chiefly by merchants, together with monks.
Consequently, in our consideration of Jodo Shinshu in American society, we must focus more on the education and development of lay people, conveying to them an understanding of Shinshu history in Japan and the United States.
The second important aspect is the spiritual resources of Jodo Shinshu. Here we must take account of the background of Buddhism and the place of Jodo Shinshu in the unfolding of the