Ninja Girl and Samurai Master (Nobunaga no Shinobi) is a short form anime series set during the warring states period of Japanese history coming from a historical fiction standpoint. In the current story arc we were recently introduced to a political, military, and Buddhist religious leader named Hongan-ji Kennyo. After his introduction, it becomes clear that he is going to become a geopolitical foe of Oda Nobunaga. In the first two episodes we meet him, though, he spends time introducing us to his faith.
Our resident non-historical character, the female Shinobi named Chidori, is asked by Nobunaga to investigate Kennyo as he is afraid Kennyo is about to make a move. She gets to his castle as he is talking about faith with the people who are crying out to him for guidance. In a stirring speech that the people really get enthralled by, Kennyo said, “Chant ‘Praise to Amida Buddha’ and give ourselves to Buddha so that we may be led to Paradise after we die. There is no need for harsh training, enlightenment, or epiphanies. All you need is to believe in Buddha and chant. Then the Buddha will save everyone, even if you’ve done evil deeds or killed many in battle.” This strikes Chidori who’s killed many, many in battle (much of which on-screen in previous episodes). This leads her to call out to Kennyo saying as such. His response was that she will be the first saved as she had the most need from Amida Buddha. Murderers like Chidori, per Kennyo, who call out to Amida Buddha will be saved first. This resonates very strongly with Chidori and with many in the audience. It resonated with me too when I heard it. But where have I heard similar theology before?
Some of the fundamental aspects of the Christian faith is that the path to heaven has been paved by Jesus. His sacrificial atonement on the cross frees us from our own sins. Through Him, we can be freed and saved. Through Christ we can enter the presence of God in Heaven. When we acknowledge Jesus by our lips and our hearts, placing our faith in Christ Jesus, any and all sinners can be saved and forgiven. The beliefs section of our site gives a good summary of the fundamentals of Christianity. In many ways, those basics appear similar – yet, where when we delve into the theology of both they truly are not.
The Buddha known as Amida is, according to Buddhist doctrine, a celestial Buddha who was awakened after various reincarnations. Amida (Amitābha) is the principal Buddha of Pure Land Buddhism which believes in ascendance into an eventual “Pure Land” or Paradise through a cycle of reincarnation and rebirth. According to Buddhist theology, Amida has infinite merit he has earned through the good deeds he completed in all his previous lives. In one life he was a Prince who cast aside his authority to become a Buddha. After he achieved enlightenment and became a Buddha, he decided that he wanted all to be welcome into spiritual enlightenment and a “Pure Land” in death. He wanted all to become enlightened. He then vowed that those who called upon his name would be able to enter into this “Pure Land.” However, life in this Pure Land is not permanent. Those who call upon Amida in life will enter the “Pure Land” upon death, however after they have learned all they can from Amida they will return to Earth for another life. They return to Earth to continue to share what they’ve learned and, hopefully, ascend themselves becoming a Buddha themselves as they work towards personal perfection. In short, Amida through a series of reincarnated lives earned power and a path into Paradise. He then shared what he learned with others in this spiritual paradise upon death. Then, upon learning what they can from Amida, they return to Earth to continue their own spiritual development.
On the other hand we have Jesus who, per Christian theology, is God. Jesus and the Father are one with each other as well as with the Holy Spirit. Jesus existed since the beginning with all spiritual authority. He did not need to earn anything; He had everything and created all things. He decided that He wanted to save His creation despite their rebellion against Him. Christ willingly decided to weaken Himself and entered Earth as a mortal. He lived among His people and taught them about love and how they can be reconciled to God. He died a sacrificial death on the cross bearing all of our sins, He washed us of our inequity in His blood. He then resurrected Himself on the third day to remind the people that He was exactly who He claimed to be. This is followed by His ascension into Heaven. Christ offered those who worship and follow Him permanent rest and freedom from sin. He offered a free gift of salvation and reconciled us to our perfect Creator. He will make us perfect.
Amida helps his followers by teaching them to live perfectly, sending them back out into the world to learn more. Jesus does all the work in perfecting us through His sacrificial death on the cross. Of course, Jesus calls us to do things (tell others about Him, love our neighbors, etc) – but our salvation is not tied to how perfect we turn ourselves into – in the Christian faith we have a Savior who is active in strengthening us. In the end, while there are definite similarities you can see in the theology of these two – they are not equivalent. Buddhism is not and will never be Christianity; Amida is not and will never be Christ.
Ninja Girl and Samurai Master (Nobunaga no Shinobi) can be streamed legally at Crunchyroll