Finger, Text, and Moon: Dennis Hirota and Iwasaki Tsuneo

  • 1 University of Pennsylvania,, Philadelphia, United States of America


Dennis Hirota is a modern master of Shin Buddhism who for several decades has explicated the role of natural language in fostering Buddhist awakening. At the core of his oeuvre is the claim that Shin Buddhism’s founder, Shinran Shonin (1173-1263), accepted the earlier Mahayana teaching of nondual awareness as a necessary condition for awakening. Shinran’s unique contribution was to insist that ordinary persons were, as a matter of historical circumstance, incapable of the disciplines required to arrive at non-dual awareness. It was just this circumstance that the historical Buddha foresaw when he taught the Larger Pure Land Sutra, in which the mind of the Buddha Amida, perfect wisdom and compassion, became available to ordinary people who call his Name in joyful sincerity. This is a difficult teaching of “non-practice” that embraces many subtleties. As a heuristic to ease the way into Shinran as Hirota presents him, this paper introduces a painting by the modern Japanese scientist and artist, Iwasaki Tsuneo. This is not a “Shin painting,” but certainly a “Mahayana painting” that connects the aspiration of an ordinary person to ultimate truth through the text of the Heart Sutra, arguably the quintessential Buddhist teaching of non-dual awareness.

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