Haseo Daien of Tōzenji gave a talk which helpfully summarised the conceptual differences between Christian theology and Shinran’s thought as he sees them, with the aim of correcting potential misunderstandings by Westerners.
He did make it clear that his talk was a simplification of a complex topic, but argued that the fundamental difference lies in the dualism of Christianity against the non-dualism of Buddhism. He went on to contrast Christian faith as a matter of purely intellectual assent with the conversion of the heart implied in ‘shinjin,’ suggesting that ‘faith’ is an insufficient translation of Shinran’s term.

His reading of Christianity seemed to me to be very much a Protestant one, and I think many of his conclusions would hold if Christianity were defined by Calvin or Kierkegaard. It was not a theological position that I would recognise from my Patristic studies, however, or to which many Catholic theologians would subscribe. Any theology of the Incarnation seriously questions any notion of absolute duality between man and God, and the sacramental theology of the Catholic and Eastern churches, which stems from this insight, blurs the line of the natural and the supernatural further still. I would also question Haseo’s definition of Christian faith as a matter of mere intellectual assent, which again is true of some Protestant theology, but is not an accurate reflection of Christian thought as a whole. Last, I am always rather suspicious of labelling Christianity a ‘Western’ religion, given that its roots are Middle Eastern and it spread as far as China just as early as it reached Western Europe. These things taken together, I suppose that my critique would be that the intellectual differences are not quite as extreme or clear-cut as Haseo presented them, but of course, he was delivering a sermon rather than an academic paper, and was constrained by time.

Haseo sensei and the others at the Temple were very welcoming and have invited me back in November. I also hope to go and meet Haseo sensei again at Tōzenji.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.