Archive of Jornal Articles

Pure Land Notes. Journal of the Pure Land Buddhist Fellowship. Web version. namandabuPLN web header.gif
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The Tannisho Today
Rev Tairyu Furukawa March 1996
On Meditation
Vaughan Evans May 1995
From Blood to Rocks
Geoff Carpenter March 1996
Rev John Paraskevopoulos March 1996
The Meaning of Kikyoshiki
Hongwangi International CentreSeptember 1996
The Shin Buddhist Way
Rev Jack Austin September 1996
A Sutra of Healing and Protection
Tricycle Publications March 1996
Rules for Being Human
Unknown September 1996
September 1996 Sallea Ungar
The Importance of Self Effort
Joren MacDonald September 1997
Self Power and Other Power Play Together
David Brazier
September 1997
Faith in What?
Sep 1997 Ajahn Sumedho (summerised by Max Flisher) Sep 1997
The Myokonin
Friedrich Fenzl September 1997
Toshio Murakami September 1997


Rev Jack Austin

This article first appeared in The Middle Way, Journal of the Buddhist Society. February 1980.

Shakyamuni 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.

In 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.

By 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!

In 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.'

If 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 manifest.

If 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'.

The 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.

Quoting 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....'

Whilst 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.

There 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.

A 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.

No 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.

In 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.

The '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 an opportunity?

Namu Amida Buddha.

This article 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 me



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