Father and Son

In the spring issue of Tricycle magazine, Jeff Wilson interviews Taitetsu and and his son, Mark Unno.

Both men are ordained minsters in the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism. They are also teachers and writers. Mark Unno is a professor of Buddhism at the University of Oregon. Taitetsu Unno is a professor emeritus of religious studies at Smith College and the author of "River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Tradition of Shin Buddhism" and "Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn into Gold." Both books are have helped many people discover the riches of this major Buddhist tradition.

The Unnos help to sort out the subtle differences between the various sects and forms Buddhism takes. Here are a couple of quotes from the interview:

In Asia, laypeople generally relate to Buddhism devotionally. But in America, when laypeople engage in these traditions they most often want to relate to them solely as a yogic path, beyond devotion. The problem is that they have all of the problems that lay Buddhists have always had. Trying to force yourself into the yogic path while living with all of the distractions, complications, and follies of the lay life may not always work so well. In order to ease some of the strain on this artificial image of what a Buddhist life might be, it could be very helpful to bring in the Shin emphasis and recognition of our blind passions and our natural limitations as laypeople.


In some approaches to Buddhism, you try to get rid of emotional attachments, but not in Shin. We want to treasure the blind passions, the defilements, because they are the fertilizer for realization. It’s hard to make the passions disappear, but they can be deepened into wisdom and compassion. Some people use the word “transform,” but I don’t like it myself. The passions don’t become something else; they become more pungent. Pungent dharma. That’s Shin Buddhism.


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