Shin, or Pure Land, Buddhism is the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan. It emphasizes the ritual recitation of the Nembutsu, the name of the Amitabha Buddha. Although it is less well known in the West than Zen Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism, its message of holy freedom, or naturalness, which arises when we sincerely attach ourselves to Buddha Amida’s saving will, has been a way of spiritual awakening for multitudes of ordinary Japanese since the sixth century A.D., when Buddhism first came to Japan. Combining the learning of a philosopher with the sensitivity of a poet, Kanamatsu shows us how we may unite with the Buddha-Nature even in the ordinary activities of everyday life. This inspiring book is more than an introduction to the essence of Shin Buddhism; it is a profound exploration of the relationship between man and Amida Buddha, who is pure mercy.
“For a religion to be meaningful, its practice must be accessible to any and everyone. That is, it must be personally relevant to the individual’s daily life. This truth appears to have been ingrained in the life and thought of the author of the book Naturalness. The author was born and raised in a temple belonging to the Shin Buddhist Tradition of Shinran. That is, as a youth, he was always surrounded by the Nembutsu. Ever since his early childhood, the author must have fully appreciated Shinran’s Teachings, which made clear the reality of the Nembutsu--that is, the reality of the Nembutsu as ‘the heart’ that penetrates deeply into, and reverberates there as the essential foundation of an individual’s existence and life, doing so as a ‘basal pure feeling.’
“To the author, the living Nembutsu tradition of Shin Buddhism was borne witness to by the Buddha himself; Ananda, his personal attendant; the patriarchs of the Nembutsu lineage in India, China, and Japan, up to Shinran’s Teacher, Honen; and paradoxically, to the sinful, ignorant farmer named Shoma. For the author, Shoma is a powerful example of the reality of the Nembutsu being universally and unconditionally accessible to any and everyone in a manner that is profoundly relevant to one’s everyday life.
“The author’s wife has contributed a postscript to the Japanese language version of Naturalness, in which she notes that the author had devoted his life to the study of Plato, repeatedly saying that it is important for all beings to remind themselves of their state of “not knowing”; i.e., of their fundamental ignorance. I believe this to be crucial, for in the author’s life, it is my belief that the Socratic life of “Know thyself” coincides with the spirit of the Nembutsu that is bestowed more so on those who happen to bear the burden of being sinful and ignorant.
“This book, Naturalness, without a doubt, deserves a careful and attentive reading by those who are not only concerned about their own inward state, but also by those who are concerned with the state of the world; i.e., the outward state, and the rise of the materialistic egoism of science and technology, the possibility of ecological and nuclear extinction, and--at the present moment--of terrorism. I personally feel honored to be asked to write this brief commentary, and I do so, hoping that at the very least, that my comments in no way will detract from the beautifully presented perennial message of the profound spirituality and religiosity of the Nembutsu.”
—Mokusen Miyuki, California State University at Northridge
“Shin is a unique development within the many schools and traditions of Buddhism. It combines the deep philosophical thought of Buddhism with a strong sense of devotion to the Amida Buddha. It is less known in the west and is somewhat underrepresented in Western practice of Buddhism, especially compared to Zen and Tibetan traditions. At the same time it has a special relevance to Western seekers as it has a strong devotional flavour as well as the traditional Buddhist focus on the seeking of enlightenment.
“Kenryo Kanamatsu’s Naturalness, written in 1949, is a profound introduction to the essence of Shin Buddhism. It brings together the key elements of the Shin tradition, explaining the relationship between the Amida Buddha, man’s essential true Buddha Nature, and the achievement of enlightenment. It is beautifully written, at times seeming more like poetry or perhaps a Koan than a normal text. Much can be gained from deep reflection on this work.”
—Living Traditions (online)
“Kenryo Kanamatsu elucidates the emphasis in Shin Buddhism (Jodo-shinsu) on the presence and call of Amida Buddha in the here and now. The book, first printed in Kyoto in 1956, has not been widely available in North America before now. The author, a Japanese scholar from Otani University, gives neither a history of Shin Buddhism nor a detailed analysis of a particular text. Rather, he translates the profundity of the tradition, still little understood in the West, into commonplace English using simple, poetic and striking language.”
—Buddhadharma, Winter 2002
“This paperback is one in a series from The Library of Perennial Philosophy that seeks ‘to express the inner unanimity, transforming radiance, and irreplaceable values of the great spiritual traditions.’ Naturalness: A Classic of Shin Buddhism appears as one of the selections in World Wisdom’s Spiritual Classics Series. Kenryo Kanamatsu wrote it in 1949 as an introduction to the form of Buddhism which D. Z. Suzuki called ‘Japan’s greatest contribution to the West.’
“‘We can look at our self in its two different aspects,’ the author writes. ‘The self which displays itself, and the self which transcends itself, and thereby reveals its own meaning. To display itself it tries to be big, to stand upon the pedestal of its accumulations, and to retain everything to itself. To reveal itself it gives up everything it has, thus becoming perfect like a flower that has blossomed out from the bud.’ Through intuitive insight, we awaken to the boundless compassion that is the source and sustainer of all life.
“In chapters on pure feeling, the essence of goodness, the revealer and the redeemer, the original vow, and naturalness in everyday work; Kanamatsu explains the essentials of Shin Buddhism. It has a lot in common with Christianity with its emphasis upon grace and love. Near the end, the author states: ‘Our abiding happiness is not in getting anything but in giving ourselves up to what is greater than ourselves, to the infinite ideal of perfection.’ The result is an abundant life which Kanamatsu describes as living in love and not being bound to attachments of any kind.”
—Spirituality & Practice