I’d like to make a comment about something I wrote in my last post, something (wait for it…) hyperbolic. In pointing your attention to Prof. Toshikazu Aria’s blog, Echo of the Dharma, I made an off-hand remark about his being involved in a sort of “Dharma War” with Josho Adrian Cirlea. I am probably overstating the issue.
As far as I can tell, there are (largely academic or scholastic) disagreements among what we may call “modernist” Shin Buddhist thinkers who downplay certain aspects of strict Shin doctrine and up-play the symbolic or psychological or purely spiritual aspects of the tradition. This tendency among modernist Buddhist thinkers is nothing new; David McMahan in his The Making of Buddhist Modernism discusses at length the characteristics of Buddhist modernism, among them the trend of “psychologizing” traditional Buddhist cosmology. Shin modernists will quickly downplay the supposed reality of Amida’s Pure Land and cast the experience of birth in said land as a psychological or purely spiritual experience, not a literal one. This is something that a host of Buddhist modernists have done since Anagarika Dhamrapala and D.T. Suzuki at the turn of the last century right on down to, oh, just about every prominent Buddhist who writes for an English-speaking audience today and has had their work published in the so-called mainstream Buddhist press.
So, it’s not surprising that there would be modernists in the Shin school. And it should not be surprising that where there are modernists there are traditionalists folks who are more conservative in their beliefs and are reluctant to change or reinterpret centuries-old doctrines, practices or rituals to suit the whims of contemporary practitioners who, no doubt, will be easily distracted by the next shiny thing coming out of Cupertino. Religion, for the traditionalist, is the last bastion of stability in a constantly changing world. So let’s not go changing anything.