Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Priscila S. Kuperman

Nembutsu: Some ideas for an ethics of Other Power

It is usually said that the secularization of contemporary society challenges the traditional faiths in their ability to enhance the quality of our modern life.

It seems to me that a crisis of perception and values creates an evident unbalancing in the social and economic situation wordwide, producing conflicts - not just in politics, but also in personal lives - at emotional and mental levels. In this context, we see a weakening of the support for traditional faiths.

Globalization has the characteristic of being a historical reality, which exalts the value of the economic order over such features of social life as those in family relationships and in religion. Individualism has become deeper and the experience of identity, in this late modern era, seems to be an effort to construct or to conquer an ever-changing personality. The human subject gradually loses his unity and depth, and fragmented by personal circumstances, finds multifaceted support in casual associations.

This system drives economic order to produce ephemeral goods and jobs but, on the other hand, it does its best to awaken the desire for possessions, which is emblematic for a society whose principles are based on consumption. Furthermore, there is a need (in order to sustain the consumer culture) to boost desire and satiety.

In order to distinguish between those who just want to consume and those who really want to experience life in its depth, we must quickly search for an inner sense of our life and stop the dizzy spin of the wheel of desire.

Besides everything that should be done in the realm of politics, and it must be done urgently, I am sure that Amida's Vow has the power to trigger consciousness. We know that Buddhism, even if it is not an essentially prescriptive ethical system, is able to establish precepts and disciplines, which are capable of operating in a definitive transformation in the quality of consciousness and, consequently, in one's behaviour.

Buddhism for me is an all-encompassing religious system capable offering, to globalized world citizens, motives to engage themselves in a common struggle to secure the welfare of all beings, especially those called 'second-class citizens', I mean, those progressively dispossessed of their most elementary rights, and so, from their human dignity. But we also know that even those who live decently generally are drowned in an unsolved anxiety, aiming to equal the coming-to-be and the coming-to-have.

Professor Alfred Bloom (1) tells us that Shinran Shonin said that ethical action is an aspect of spiritual or religious responsibility and responds to the compassion that one has experienced one’s self. He believes that Shin Buddhism - the Pure Land faith - can assist in value formation, and establish priorities for behaviour. Those who experience a true faith can be more sensitive and open to individual needs and circumstances, and able to share insights, rather than seek the predominance of their viewpoint.

The impregnation of Dharma, the all-inclusive vision of Amida's compassion as it illuminated Shinran's own passion-ridden ego, provides a basis for the contribution of Shin Buddhism to the contemporary dialogue, to work in our world and lives, and lead us to gain a deeper sense of life-meaning, in an otherwise absurd world of despair. In such a context, religious faith enables us to retain our sense of human worth, so that, in respecting ourselves, we are able to respect other people. Recognizing the dignity of other selves is, equally, to awaken to the irreplaceable nature of our own life.

The Dharma frees us from attachment and, thus, from suffering, leading us to overcome unconscious prejudices, which are established by the mental pattern which qualifies classifies a life based on the usual dualities, such as masculine/feminine, youth/age, intelligence/stupidity, wealth/poverty, culture/ignorance, and so forth.

The logic of salvation means departing from this dualistic world for a world where all dichotomous conflicts have been resolved, called the Pure Land. But considering that our dualist world is real for us, the Pure Land should also be real just co-existing and co-interacting with the dualistic world. It means that the Dharma Nature, as Oneness, appeared in the form of Dharma Body as Expedient Means, so it is not separate from reality, as we perceive it. Amida Buddha as the Tathagata of Unhindered Light is just the working of the non-dualist world in this dualistic world.

Dr. Toshikazu Arai (op.cit.) tells us that Nembutsu is the form of the ultimate truth called the Dharma Body as the Dharma Nature, in such a way that we can say that Pure Land is not separate from the sensitive world.

As Buddha said, we live in a "burning house", and I think that it is basically because we live in a world governed by jiriki, self power, in mental attitudes and political acts just leaded by the ego.

Shinran used the term hakarai to describe a characteristic of human personality that means 'calculating' or 'acting intentionally', of which we have, in contemporary society, thousands of examples, as inappropriate practices of reason, even when it is supposed to be enough to determine the Good (2).

To stop this cycle, we need a tariki, other power, attitude: the surrender into listening to the Dharma. By that means, the Truthful Mind can be awakened, in order to catch the deep sense of Original Vow of Amida Buddha.

Dharma reality does not hide itself, but it is not easily visible to our heated day-to-day, mundane way of seeing things. We need to keep in touch with the (Dharma) Knowledge, reading it and listening to it, to find out each day that new reality, in order that the steps on the Path may be done naturally with Shinjin awakening, in such a way as to enable us to feel the pure joy of being reborn in the Pure Land. In spite of our limited capacities, if we do it sincerely - and devotionally - everybody will be saved.

The Reverend Thomas Moser quotes Jamjamg Khyentse, a Tibetan Lama, who said, "Modern industrial society is a fanatical religion" (3). That is, maybe, the best image for the displacement of traditional faiths from religion's worldly scenario. In this globalized world, where merchandizing worth is the motivation to individual and collective action, displacing the great social causes, and strengthen jiriki, the Self Power, we have the ideal historical conditions to observe the following among Shinran's statements, illustrated by the Reverend Dr. Inagaki in his text (4):

The Nembutsu promised in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha
Is difficult for evil people who have wrong views and are arrogant
To receive and retain with Joyful Faith;
Of all difficulties nothing is more difficult than that.

But we know that Nembutsu reaches everyone who humbly responds to his call. The Kyogyoshinsho, Chapter on True Practice, presents many passages showing the efficacy and the supreme merit of the Nembutsu, and just a thought focused, in communication with the Buddha, possible by his boundless Mind Power, is able to turn our evil karma into Amida's merit.

Contemporary scientists state that the nature of the universe is a paradox. Likewise, we can see that, for instance, thinking about Nembutsu: no other Buddhist practice is easier, but for those who are misled by wrong teachings, and believe so much in their own power, nothing is more difficult than accept the Other Power.

Shinran calls wrong-viewed and arrogant people 'evil' in the sense that they reject the right Dharma and the law of karma and so take the path of degeneration and destruction (5). But we know that all of us are wrong-viewed unless we encounter Amida, the embodiment of the right Dharma, Light of Great Compassion.

Because we are by nature self-centered, and our frame of thought is naturally constructed on the blind belief in the ego and its supposed power - the primordial example of ignorance, it reveals itself through our inability to see reality as it is, and craving our insatiable desires for what does not belong to us (6). Buddhism teaches its followers to become truly aware that our ego-centered desires (bonno) are just the cause of our suffering. For it, there is no supreme judge, no monotheist God, that decides our destinies; the wisdom of Buddha guides us to take our first step to freedom - salvation - by knowing our true selves, for we are the only ones who are responsible for what we are or what we will be or do.

When we hear and ponder on the Dharma, we realize that Amitayus, Buddha's Life, is all-pervasive. When Buddha's light, Amithaba, opens our eyes to this ultimate reality, we feel endowed with the Nembutsu-Faith, and all our delusory mental constructs disappear.

Mindfulness is exercised for in our mind. Shin Buddhism," as religion, is not an individual desire, but a basic manifestation of life in the individual...and finally religion means to realize the true character of our life and truly live it (7). And respecting that we live in a world governed by jiriki, all the more should we ponder of this: "...the teaching of Buddha - today more than ever before - is a tremendous opportunity for humanity as a whole. It opens up the way to overcome our inherent patterns of behaviour and realize our true nature".

Shinran based on Amida's Eighteenth Vow, clarified that the Nembutsu "I' say, is the manifestation of my entrusting - shinjin - to the Buddha, while the entrusting itself is the result of the Buddha's compassionate work to save sentient beings - Amida's merit transference, meaning a disapproval of practicer's self effort nembutsu (8). It seems that Amida's call may show contemporary people how to make the distress wheel of desires loose its force, experiencing the Pure Land at the hurricane's eye. As the poet T.S. Eliot says,

"The still point of the turning world
that is neither flesh nor fleshless
neither arrest nor movement
And do not call it fixity
Where past and future are gathered.
Except fot the point, the still point
There would be no dance
And there is only dance".

(T.S.Eliot, The Wasteland)

1-BLOOM, Alfred, Shin Buddhism in Modern Culture, IBS, California, 1990.
3-MOSER, Rever. Jotoku Thomas, European Shin Buddhist Conference 1988.
4-INAGAKI, Hisao, THE WAY OF NEMBUTSU-FAITH, Horai Association, Kioto, 1996.
6-Arai, Toshikazu, Jodo Shinshu as a Mahayana Bodhisattva Path, Soai College, Osaka, Japan
7-Prof. Omine, Hoonko Celebrations ,1977, quoted by Rever. Jotoku Thomas Moser, op.cit.
8- Shozomatsu Wasan # 39, translated by Arai, T., op. Cit.

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