If we’re going to speak of orthodoxy of the Mahayana, and the True Teaching of the Pure Land Way (Jodo Shinshu aka True Shin Buddhism) it is very important to say this: there is nothing that makes one body or manifestation of a Buddha any more or less absolute than another. The truth is, living as plain people in the Age of Dharma Decline, we have no direct experience of what absoluteness might be like from a Buddha’s perspective – or even the perspective of a Bodhisattva who has reached the stage of non-retrogression.
I stress this point because of the tendency today, among many Shin Buddhist teachers, as well as among other Buddhist teachers, to subtly or overtly lessen or devalue the reality of Amida Buddha in his transcendental form (Sambhogakaya Buddha Body). Ask a bunch of Shin Buddhists at a conference about this, and youll get all sorts of answers that diverge wildly from the basic truths taught by Master Shinran. And, unfortunately, that is just as true for some teachers who claim to be disciples of Master Honen rather than Master Shinran, as well.
Of course, this isn’t true of ALL Shin Buddhist teachers. When I first met Eiken Kobai Sensei, I questioned him closely about the reality of Amida Buddha from his own perspective. I became satisfied that his own perspective was exactly the same as Master Shinran’s, Master Rennyo’s, and Master Honen’s – and ALL the Pure Land Masters who form the backbone of our Dharma school.
And I know there are other Shin teachers who are of the exact same mind.
But I also know that MANY Shin Buddhist scholars – and their students – have a very uncomfortable relationship with the BASICS of Shin Dharma. They have trouble accepting the plain sense of the discourse of the Larger Sutra – so they’ve been taught to avoid it, and to talk instead in terms that leave the whole question of transcendental Buddha figures like Amida Buddha aside.
Said in Buddhist technical language – they cannot accept the reality of SAMBHOGAKAYA – the idea that there are countless real, true, individuated Buddha figures in transcendental form reigning over countless Buddha-lands, emitting countless Buddha-fields – even though this is precisely what Shakyamuni teaches everyone that fateful day on Vulture Peak, as described in the Larger Sutra.
So instead, they retreat into esoteric discussions about DHARMAKAYA – the non-dual Buddha body of ultimate reality.