Buddhist Priest Shinran
One of the most influential Buddhist monks in the Japanese history is Shinran (1173 - 1263).
Shinran was born at the end of the era of the old imperial regime and worked hard through the beginning of the samurai era.
Buddhism in Japan had been under protection of the imperial court since the religion was first introduced into Japan in the 6th century or before. But along with the fall of the imperial regime (actually aristocracy) and the start of the rule by the samurai sword, Japan came to have new types of Buddhist factions. They all concentrated on preaching teachings of the Buddha through adaption to the need of the general public, though Buddhism had been mostly possessed and studied by noble people before. Buddhism had been used to enhance authority of the imperial court as it had been thought to be a higher level of philosophy or a cultural product imported from China, the then most advanced empire in East Asia.
The era of the first samurai regime in the Japanese history is called the Kamakura Period, since the samurais who took over power built their capital in Kamakura, 70 km west of Tokyo, though the emperor and other noble class members stayed in Kyoto with their ritualistic authority. All through the subsequent samurai eras that continued for 700 years, Japan had virtually two capitals: the imperial capital Kyoto and the samurai regime's capital, such as Kamakura and Edo (Tokyo).
The Kamakura Period produced some unique leading Buddhist monks who became founders of new Buddhist schools. One of them was Shinran.
Once Max Weber studied the history of the Japanese Buddhism to find that old Buddhist schools strongly connected to the imperial courts were a kind of Catholic while those new schools of Buddhists were a kind of protestant. So, the teaching by Shinran was radical.
Shinran taught mainly:
"One cannot reach a state of goodness or righteousness only through his effort."
"Anybody can be saved by praying to Amida Buddha or reciting Namu Amida Butsu."
"Amida Buddha saves especially those who cannot be excellent in their practices of Buddhism."
Put simply, Shinran said that the poorer or the more foolish one was in line with a value system in conventional Buddhism, the more probably he would be saved by Amida Buddha, since anybody could not satisfy the very high standard the Buddha had basically requested.
Shinran thought that everyone was evil. But when he realized that he was evil, he could find a chance to be saved by Amida Buddha. If one thought that he was good enough to be praised by Amida Buddha, his arrogance would be hated by Amida. A bad man was in a different phase from a self-judged good man in terms of his religious status; hence he could be saved through a different path than a selfish good man. And such a path to salvation of the soul of a bad man is more blessed that the path of such a good man to any salvation.
Finally, it is important to know that the Japanese public had been familiar with the same teaching as what Christians in Europe learnt from the Bible since the start of the samurai era in the 12th century.
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Luk 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.