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Buddhadharma : Spring 2015
72 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2015 and capacities of the average person, with no secret doctrines to learn, no elite practices to master, no required rituals for accessing buddhahood, and no spiritual hierarchy between begin- ners and longtime practitioners. Founded in the thirteenth century by the revolutionary monk Shinran, Jodo Shinshu relies on Amida Buddha, who compassionately embraces all beings with the light of infinite wisdom and leads them to buddhahood through rebirth in a nirvanic realm known as the Pure Land; Shin Buddhists express their gratitude for this liberation by chanting Amida Buddha’s name. The Pure Land is equally accessible to all, and Amida has a special concern for those who are labeled evil or worthless by society. Nothing is hidden, the pro- ponents of Jodo Shinshu say, and no one is set apart. Or so the story goes. For tens of millions of Japanese practitioners, this is Jodo Shinshu. But as Chilson docu- ments, there is another side to Shin Bud- dhism, a side that contradicts many of these ideas yet can make compelling claims to inclusion in the Shin family. Spread out across the landscape of Japan are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of covert Shin Buddhist groups that prac- tice a hidden Buddhism. While diverse among themselves, they share a com- mon experience of hiding their practices from outsiders, even other Shin Bud- dhists, and a conviction that their way represents a truer interpretation of Shin- ran’s teachings than that of their public cousins. Information on these groups has been difficult to come by, for obvi- ous reasons, but with Chilson’s combi- nation of extensive historical research and rare long-term ethnographic obser- vation, a more complete and compelling picture of these covert Shin Buddhists is finally available. In exploring the reasons why these groups came to be secret, Chilson finds two probable causes. The first was the persecution of those practicing Shin Buddhism, which with its large lay- oriented power base was often seen as a threat by established Buddhist sects such as the Tendai School and by those with connections to the ruling elites. In the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, for example, regional leaders issued rules against the practice of Shin Buddhism. When Shin Buddhists were discovered, they were typically arrested and taken to a Zen temple, where they were forced to convert. Ordinary prac- titioners could often escape with a fine, while Shin leaders faced harsher punish- ments, including torture, banishment, or execution. To escape detection, Shin Buddhists resorted to practicing their religion in secret, meeting in caves, on boats, or traveling to other districts. They hid images of Amida Buddha in closets, walls, and other inconspicuous places and gathered late at night. Over time, this led to many groups becom- ing cut off from the public Shin insti- tutions and developing on their own. No longer under the scrutiny of both the general public and the priests of the large Jodo Shinshu organizations, these covert Shin Buddhists evolved in new and sometimes surprising directions. Another way that groups have become secret is by intentionally hid- ing their practices from the Shin institu- tions themselves, because they adhere to an esoteric interpretation of Jodo Shinshu that incorporates practices and doctrines viewed as heretical by the mainstream temples. In these cases, the mainstream Shin Buddhists are them- selves seen as the potentially oppressive forces, and there have been times when the priests of the public institutions have initiated or assisted attempts to ferret out such hidden groups. Some secret Jodo Shinshu groups have sought a measure of protection by affiliating themselves with a public institution and appearing to be mem- bers of a non-Shin religion. Followers of the covert Shin tradition of Kirishi- mako, for instance, publically associate with the Kirishimako Shrine and have blended Shinto doctrines and practices with their pursuit of Jodo Shinshu. Members of Urahomon, another secret Jodo Shinshu group, have gone even further, becoming ordained priests in a Tendai lineage and even devoting them- selves to a non-Shin saint. Yet when questioned by Chilson, they readily admit that all of this is cover, and they consider themselves to be Shin. Chilson makes an interesting obser- vation with regard to the dilemma that secrecy presents: covert Shin groups must hide themselves to maintain their practices, yet they must recruit new followers or they will die out. This isn’t a problem for overt esoteric reli- gions, which proclaim the presence of their secrets. But truly hidden groups must work out elaborate methods for vetting and recruiting new members. Every person approached by the group is a potential whistle-blower who may betray them to outsiders; every person not approached is a lost opportunity and perhaps someone whose spiritual fate is imperiled by exclusion (since covert groups believe they have special revieWs secrecy's poWer by clark chilson university of hawaii press, 2014 242 pages; $42