An introduction to, and first walk through of, the classic Shin Buddhist text, The Tannisho

The view from my desk in the Cambridge Unitarian Church
What follows here is a lightly edited version of my message to members of the Cambridge Unitarian Church, UK, where I am lucky to be the minister. Having penned it for them, it struck me that some readers of this blog may also want to read it and, perhaps, come along to the Zoom event mentioned. You would be most welcome.  

Dear All,

It was lovely to see and talk with you all at the last Wednesday Evening Zoom Conversation. Thank you.

As promised, here are a few links to introduce you both to the text of the Tannisho and Shin Buddhism. What I am proposing is that during the next few months we talk/walk through the Tannisho chapter by chapter — i.e. one chapter every other week. Naturally, if you think it’s a rubbish idea, let me know . . . 

So, why am I suggesting we do this? 

Well, for starters, I think it’s an extraordinary text that, as Alfred Bloom’s commentary suggests (see link below), genuinely offers us accessible “strategies for modern living.” 

Secondly, as I have mentioned on a couple of occasions, there are powerful connections between our own Universalist Christian tradition and Shin Buddhism (the Buddhist tradition from out of which the Tannisho comes) and this indicates it’s a text worth exploring in some depth.

Thirdly, I think Shin Buddhism offers us a universalist religion (or religiosity) that, at least to me, is more generally accessible and amenable to the modern liberal religious mind/context than Universalist Christianity (as teachers everywhere love to say: “Discuss . . .”)

And, fourthly, and very personally, my daily study throughout the COVID-19 pandemic of this text and other Shin texts has had a profound effect upon my own religious thinking and position and has been an immense help in getting me through the pandemic so far.

It was back in 2008 that I first began properly to explore Shin Buddhism (and the Tannisho) thanks to discovering the work of the twentieth-century Japanese philosopher Tanabe Hajime. At the beginning of 2020, a couple of months before the first lockdown, I had returned to Tanabe to help me explore with the Cambridge Unitarian congregation some of the stresses and strains facing us within the modern Unitarian movement (should you wish you can read this address at this link) and so I was, shall we say, accidentally (providentially?) primed and ready to dig even more deeply than before into Shin Buddhism and the Tannisho when the lockdown happened.

In short, for some fourteen years, this text has been playing a quiet but increasingly serious part in my own developing spiritual/religious life and so it is, perhaps, about time I admitted this rather more publically than heretofore!

So here are a few links for you.

1) The Tannisho, the text with some commentary on how to read the Tannisho by Taitetsu Unno. I’d strongly advise you to read all of this before December 1st. Unno’s translation is very accessible and it remains my preferred translation.

2) The Tannisho, the text and a commentary by Alfred Bloom. I’d strongly encourage you to make sure you at least read Chapters 1 and 2 of Part Two before December 1st. Assuming you are all up for it, we’ll work through the Tannisho using Bloom’s commentary and bouncing between the translation in his book and that by Unno.

3) Below is an engaging 40-minute long interview with a contemporary Shin Buddhist minister at the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple called Rev. Jerry Hirano. During the lockdown, I checked in many times to Buddhist Church of America services/talks via YouTube and podcasts and Hirano’s engaging and gentle introduction to modern Shin Buddhism from the inside is one of the best I’ve seen. I’d certainly recommend watching this before December 1st.

4) And, lastly (for those of you with access to JSTOR anyway) here is a link to a short, personal story by Alfred Bloom about his encounter with, and then eventual adoption of Shin Buddhism. Bloom started life as a Baptist minister and much of what he says resonates with my own experience as a non-conformist, protestant minister within the Unitarian and Universalist Christian tradition. There’s no need to read this before December 1st but his personal story is such that it might provide some helpful insight into why someone like me might be suggesting to folk like you that this is a text worth checking out.

So, that's all for now except to paste below the link for the next conversation. 

I hope to see some of you then.


With the warmest of wishes as always,


Topic: Cambridge Unitarian Church Wednesday Evening Conversation

Time: Dec 1, 2021 19:15 for 19:30 London

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Meeting ID: 880 5328 2596

Passcode: 982855