SHIN BUDDHIST WAY
Rev Jack Austin
This article first
appeared in The Middle Way, Journal of the Buddhist Society. February
Buddha is said to have preached 84,000 ways to suit that number
of types of people, and the main divisions between the various interpretations
are sometimes labelled Theravada and Mahayana. A more accurate division
would be one between the 'self-power' (jiriki) and 'other-power'
(tariki) approaches to the Dharma. One teaches reliance on one's
own efforts, whilst the other relies on the Vows of Amida Buddha.
the Larger Sukhavati Vyuha Sutra, the 18th, or Primal Vow is; 'On
my attaining Buddhahood, if the beings in the ten quarter wish to
be born in my land and say my name up to ten times, trusting in
my Vow Power, and are not so born, then may I not attain the Highest
Perfect Wisdom'. This and the other vows, made while he was still
Bhikshu Dharmakara and a disciple of the fonner Buddha Lokeshvararaja,
were made in accordance with the Mahayana ideal of perfectibility
for the sake of all beings. When the Bhikshu became the Buddha Amida,
in the timeless time when everything of eternal value happens, he
made possible the attainment of enlightenment for all beings who
accepted his help, anywhere and always.
a curious quirk of human nature, it is often harder to accept help
than to offer it to others, so we frequently say that we prefer
to do it all ourselves. There are those exceptional beings who can
successfully com-plete the so-called 'self-power' path, but they
are few and far between as we all know in our hearts. In his Essence
of Buddhism, the late Dr Suzuki said this: 'The fundamental purpose
of Buddhism is to pass beyond the world of opposites, a world built
up by intellectual distinction and emo-tional defilement, and to
realise a spiritual world of non-distinction, which involves achieving
an absolute point of view'. Some purpose, some task!
the Lankavatara Sutra, much used in Zen, we are warned: 'Words are
not the highest reality, nor is what is expressed in words the highest
reality. Why? Because the highest reality is an exalted state of
bliss, and as it cannot be entered into by mere statements regarding
it, words are not the highest reality. Mahamati, the highest reality
is to be attained by the inner realisation of noble wisdom.'
we are to rely on self-power, we must ask of what the self consists.
Buddha Shakyamuni said that we are made up of the five bundles (skandhas)
which are: form or body, sensations felt by it, perceptions derived
from these, reactions and tendencies resulting from such percep-tions,
and consciousness. All these constituents of being are in constant
flux, and even all together can hardly be said to possess the stability
or the strength to achieve the colossal purpose Dr Suzuki sununarises.
The self-powered method is referred to as jiriki, or the shodomon
(way of the sages), and even in this method the most that we can
do is to help create the conditions under which enlightenment may
we were able, by doing anything ourselves, to create enlightenment,
then it would still be a state within the realm of cause and effect,
and so could not be the highest state. In the last resort, we have
to abandon ourselves to enlightenment, and allow it to take us over,
and this is something our human pride often overlooks. In fact,
jiriki has to become tariki if we are to attain the highest perfect
enlightenment - there is no other way, and the 'self must disappear
rather than boast of its 'own' achievement.
Pride in our own achievements is the greatest obstacle, since it
not only boosts our limited ego, but also prevents enlightenment,
which is obtainable only on its demise. 'Amida will extend his arms
of help only when we realise that our self-power is of no account'.
(D T Suzuki in Shin Buddhism) But as is also pointed out a page
or so later: 'To rely on self-power is pride, and such pride is
very difficult to uproot, as is belief in self-power'.
matter-of-fact, historically-orientated Westerner may well object
that Anñda's whole story is a myth. Very often, however,
it is in myths and in poetry, in imaginative and picturesque narrative
that great truths are enshrined, since we have to go beyond the
intellect to reach truth, and beyond clinging to our own opinions
to overcome the ties of karma.
Dr Suzuki again - the man who linked Zen and Shin in his parenthood,
training, thinking and writings: 'Myth and legend and tradi-tion
- tradition may not be a good term - and poetical imagination are
actually more real than what we call factual history... .The Amida
story has more objective and spiritual reality than mere historical
truth or fact, and Amida has more metaphysical foundation than objective
historical fact. Amida is really ourselves - that is the reason
why we can accept the story of Amida so easily....'
we pay lip service to the Buddhist doctrine of anatta (Sanskrit:
anatman) we spend most of our time fostering this very ego, and
hide from the truth of its unreality by every cunning device known
to our intellect and instincts. Only the rejection of our separative
little selves can bring the release we pretend we seek. The Dhammapada
puts it this way: 'Not by learning nor by observance, nor by meditation
alone, nor by a solitary life can one obtain release. Only the destruction
of craving brings the happi-ness of release'. We can turn away from
obvious hindrances, and we can cease to cherish our own opinions.
Since we all start from different positions and differing states
of development, there must be varying ways to approach truth, like
everything else we do.
are those who can make good progress on the jiriki path, but they
are exceptional, whilst the tariki (or the Jodomon, the Path of
the Buddha Land) is available to everybody, as promised in the Primal
Vow. Of course, courage is needed in either case, since it is necessary
to make changes in our lives. A drowning man will often fight his
rescuer, whilst the man who can relax and let the powerful swimmer
who knows the currents (as svell as the undercurrents) of the place
take him along will be saved.
favourite Shin writing, the Tannisho, says: 'In believing the Original
Vow, deeds of morality are not required because there are no deeds
of morality which can surpass the Nembutsu (the Name of the Buddha);
nor should one be afraid of evils, because there are no evils powerful
enough to obstruct the way of Amida's Original Vow'. We must remember
that Sangsara IS Nirvana when seen from the standpoint of a Buddha,
and only our limited vision prevents us from realising it. Our brother
dying in starvation in an Asian village is not separate from us,
nor is the Buddha somewhere else. 'This relative world in which
we know that we live, and the more real world which lies behind
it, form a complete and undivided whole, and neither is more real
than the other', says Dr Suzuki in The Essence of Buddhism. Even
for the ordinary citizen, religious or not, this world is seen to
be an inter-connected series of provinces rather than a collection
of isolated countries and continents. The realities of the Dharma
are also part of this network.
religious organisation could possibly have any monopoly of truth,
and so no group has a 'patent' on Amida Buddha, The Buddha of Boundless
Light (Amitabha) and Endless Life (Amitayus). Shinran Shonin, who
re-stated the truths of the Three Sutrcis 800 years ago in Japan,
never claimed to found a sect, or a dynasty, and claimed no disciples
either. Some sects or temples, some monks or priests, some sages
and some fools, some 'holy' places and many rat-infested slums equally
give shelter to the presence of Amida Buddha. Whether people preserve
or oppose his teachings, sneer at or revere his truth, the Light
still shines everywhere, just as the law of karma operates whether
people 'believe' it or not.
thankfulness for the promise of release from the bonds of karma,
for the certainty of entry into Amidas Buddha Land, we say 'Namo
Amida Buddha' (Namuamidabutsu in Japanese), and enter the non-retrogressive
stage (anagamin in Pali) becoming a never-returner to this world,
out of any necessity due to karma. We may return voluntarily (genso
eko) to help others, but that is another story. We may have much
evil karma to work out, we may have disappointments and failures
to face, but we know that we shall attain Buddhahood, without fail,
if we accept the Primal Vow.
'real, true, and sincere heart and mind' of the Buddha is given
to us, and this experience of what we term Shinjin is the central
core of Shin Buddhism. It has its origin, its essence, its operation
and its culmination in the Buddha Amida. It is this certainty that
gives the person of true faith the courage to rise above seemingly
insuperable obstacles. Whether we are conventionally 'good' or reputedly
'bad', old or young, rich or poor, single or married, we can respond
to the call of Amida. Is it surprising that most Buddhists of the
Far East take the Jodomon Path? Can we afford to neglect so great
first appeared, with the Author's permission, in PLN 7, September
1996. Republished here in agreement with the compiler/editor of
the inaugurate hard copy Journal. The Author, any person or any
organisation credited, quoted or connected with this article are
cordially invited to contact me with any comments, amendments, fresh
contributions or complaints. email