Violence and Nonviolence in Shinran by Dennis Hirota

Abstract: This article examines the Pure Land Buddhist thinker Shinran (1173–1263), from whose teachings the Shin Buddhist tradition emerged. Shinran’s ideas provide an alternative model for considering moral judgments and issues related to violence. Since Shinran viewed violence as a mode of human action, the author asks how violence, whether inflicted or suffered, is to be understood by Shin Buddhists. This article further discusses how practitioners engaging the Pure Land path might deal with it, and the relevance of Shinran’s understanding here and now. This line of inquiry expands to consider how Shinran’s approach relates to norms used in modern discussions of violence. It scrutinizes the double structure of ethical awareness, discussing in particular how usual judgments of good and evil action can be contextualized and relativized. In the section dedicated to defusing the violence of ignorance, the author introduces Shinran’s nonviolent, nonconfrontational response, and analyzes how Shinran recasts the Buddhist stories of Ajata´satru and A ¯ ngulim ˙ ala in relation to ¯ his understanding of the “five grave offenses”—specifically murder and near matricide—usually understood as excluding practitioners from the benefits of Amida Buddha’s Vows. The author shows that Shinran focuses on saving even the evil, not solely the worthy, thus rejecting the exclusion provision of the Eighteenth Vow.


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Dobbins, James. 2002. Jodo Shinsh ̄ u: Shin Buddhism in Medieval Japan ̄ . Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Hirota, Dennis. 1982. Tannisho A Primer: A Record of the Words of Shinran Set Down in Lamentation over Departures ̄
from his Teaching. Kyoto: Ryukoku University, p. 44.
Hirota, Dennis. 1989. Plain Words on the Pure Land Way: Sayings of the Wandering Monks of Medieval Japan. Kyoto:
Ryukoku University, p. 49.
Hirota, Dennis. 1997. The Collected Works of Shinran. Kyoto: Jodo Shinsh ̄ u Hongwangji-Ha, vol. I, p. 424. ̄
Taylor, Charles. 2011. Perils of Moralism. In Dilemmas and Connections: Selected Essays. Cambridge: Belknap Press
of Harvard University Press, p. 347.

© 2018 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (

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Cover image: “File:Non violence sculpture by carl fredrik reutersward malmo sweden.jpg” by Francois Polito is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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