Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Martin Luther seen in Shinran's teaching of the Three Vow-Gates

In Sunday’s Dharma talk I wanted to use Martin Luther’s life to illustrate the “Three Vow-Gate Transition” (sangan tennyu) found in Shinran’s teachings. When Martin Luther (1483-1546) abandoned his father’s plan for him to be a lawyer, he entered the phrase of Necessary Gate (yo-mon). With the plague taking the lives of people around him, the necessity of seeking a religious life was brought to the front of his attention by a lighting storm. Then as a monk, Luther looked for the true teachings of Christianity and was appalled by the actions of the church hierarchy (luxurious living, corruption, sale of “indulgences” – paper guarantees that donors would spend less time in purgatory) that had no relation to the words of the Bible. This phrase of True Gate (shin-mon) is important for us to sort out for ourselves what is spiritual as opposed to ego-based religious practices. I feel Luther did not make it to the final phase of the Wide-Vow Gate (gugan-mon) because in his later years he turned against the peasants (by advocating authoritarian rule) and wrote extreme diatribes against Jews.

(Picture of Luther posting his “Ninety-five Theses” – his protest against the corrupt practices of the Church.)
But for his courage and conviction in standing up against the Church (at that time all Europeans were expected to be Roman Catholic), Luther set in motion forces that eventually allowed many Christians to find their way to the Wide-Vow Gate. Not just the obvious groups such as the Unitarians and Universalists, but many individual Protestants and Catholics were free to explore their spirituality to the depth of what the Wide-Vow Gate entails – the complete embrace of all beings in the Power Beyond Self, the compassion symbolized by Amida Buddha. (To learn more about Luther, I recommend the PBS DVD.)

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