Suggested List of Readings
for Those New to Shin Buddhism
by Paul Roberts
Dharma Friends -
This is my suggested list of readings from the Collected Works of Shinran (CWS) before tackling the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho (KGSS). I've put them in the order I would recommend them.
1. Essentials of Faith Alone - This is a short, easy to understand tract by a Tendai monk named Seikaku, who was a fellow student of Shinran's teacher, Master Honen. Master Shinran personally recommended this tract, because it provides an excellent summary of the basics of the Dharma of True Shin Buddhism.
2. A Record In Lament of Divergences (Japanese title: TANNISHO) - This tract was written by Master Shinran's personal student, a lay person named Yuien-Bo, after Shinran's death. In it, Yuien-Bo recalls many things that Master Shinran taught him personally, so it is like hearing Master Shinran speaking directly to a local Sangha. Once again, it is written for a lay audience, so it is very accessible. And it makes a critical point that cannot be overstated: For the Shin Sangha to thrive, and for people to come to settled SHINJIN, there must be no divergences from the original teaching based on personal views.
3. Hymns of the Dharma Ages - These short, easy to understand hymns by Master Shinran drive home the essential point that we are living in the Age of Dharma Decline, when none of the many Dharma gates of self-power can deliver us from birth and death anymore.
4. Hymns of the Dharma Masters - One of the keys to understanding True Shin Buddhism is to recognize that it unfolded over centuries, across three separate countries. It originated in The Larger Sutra on Amida Buddha delivered by Shakyamuni Buddha on Vulture Peak in India, and then was carried through time and space by Seven Pure Land Masters (as well as many other teachers). In these short, easy to understand hymns, Master Shinran discusses the contributions of these seven Pure Land Masters in honing and clarifying the teaching.
5. Hymns of the Pure Land - These short, easy to understand hymns, along with Shakyamuni's words in The Larger Sutra, present us with a vision of Amida's Pure Land. This is essential reading in an age where false Shin teachers are telling people that the Pure Land doesn't really exist, but is only a metaphor for a state of enlightened consciousness.
6. Lamp for the Latter Ages - This is the most important collection of some of Master Shinran's pastoral letters. Once again, they are, short, very accessible and stress the basics of True Shin Buddhism.
7. Passages on the Pure Land Way - This is a wonderful tract that is often overlooked by many seekers who are trying to make sense of Master Shinran's Dharma message. It is is an abbreviated discussion that closely mirrors the much longer KGSS. Anyone who wants to eventually read the KGSS would be greatly helped by reading this tract first.
After you have read all these works, the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho will sound and feel very familiar to you when you read it. You won't feel overwhelmed by it's length, or it's voluminous quotations. (The KGSS is 90% quotes, with 10% being Master Shinran's own comments).
Please remember that the singular goal of Shin Buddhism is to come to settled SHINJIN in this life - not to be the smartest person in the room. So we want to be able to understand and evaluate Master Shinran's Dharma propositions bit by bit in the process of listening deeply - the only practice in True Shin Buddhism.
If you can afford only one purchase of a book, I would recommend the hardbound version of the Collected Works of Shinran available for $50 from the BCA Bookstore in San Francisco, with free shipping. It's a 2 volume set, with the first being the text, and the second being commentary. I don't trust the commentary myself. I think you'll do much better simply reading Master Shinran's words, hearing his thoughts again and again in his various works.
But DON'T bother with the BCA correspondence course, if they suggest it to you. It's worse than useless, because their teachers are not teaching the pristine Dharma of Master Shinran, but instead are presenting modernist divergences.