Self power and other power


Continuing from last weeks post on The Path of Sages and the Pure Land Path, we would like to determine whether the concepts of Jiriki and Tariki (or self-power and other-power) truly and solely epitomize those respective paths.

In Jodo Shinshu circles, much is said regarding the Pure Land Path being that of pure Other-Power—complete reliance upon the vow-power of Amida to accomplish the great work of Shinjin within us, making it possible for one to attain birth in the Pure Land at the end of this life.

The Pure Land Path of pure Other-Power is often compared to the Path of Sages which is said to be the path of personal calculation and tainted self-power—complete reliance upon one’s own will, ability and discernment to accomplish the great work of enlightenment, making it possible for one to attain Buddhahood in this very body within this lifetime.

In our humble opinion, this dichotomy has been stressed out of all due measure and has taken on a hint of dogma as opposed to being seen for what it was: a case of the skillful use of expedient means to prevent persons from seeking to enter into a path which, at the time in question, projected a distorted Dharma, encouraged worldly ambition in monks as well as elitism, nepotism and general corruption in the monasteries.

If, as we have emphasized in a previous post (Dharma and Polemics), we examine the actual cause-of-error—in this case the use of self-will and calculation in the process of loosening the bonds of attachment to the self and the tainted motivations behind our would-be ‘good’ acts—we will see that this applies to both the Path of Sages and the Pure Land Path. And if we take the recommended correction—in this case the gradual dissolution of self-willed action and the consequent mis-appropriation of ‘good’ by the self—we may well perceive the simple fact of our complete reliance upon Other-Power with the consequent realization that ‘good’ is not a characteristic attributable to the self nor is great practice an act attributable to the self. Then and only then will we have taken the true medicine in its proper measure.

Zen master Dogen has written:

The Way is fundamentally complete, perfect and all-pervasive, how could it depend upon cultivation and realization?


This is not an entirely self-power statement.

In fact, the Path of Sages, like the Pure Land Path, is not able to be fulfilled as long as one depends upon self-power. This is brought out quite well in the Sutras (though often implicitly rather than explicitly).

Pure Land Master Shan-Tao has written:

Control your mind well and do not allow it to be distracted. If it is distracted, you will lose the meditative mind and hardly accomplish the samadi.


This is not a pure Other-Power statement.

In fact, the Pure Land Path is just as incapable of being fulfilled and just as likely to be entered using self-power as is the Path of Sages. This is brought out quite well in the Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyogyosho Monrui and Tannisho, where the concept of provisional teachings is mentioned.

From this, perhaps we can see that the implied dichotomy between these two paths was not meant to be a doctrine or dogma to be rigidly adhered to by all people, in all places and for all time, so much as being an instance of the skillful and compassionate use of expedient means for a specific people, in a specific place and in a specific time.

Rather than focusing on the dichotomy of the paths (the expedient teaching), we might do better to focus on the matter of self-power and Other-Power which is the real issue in question.

All provisional (self-power) teachings, whether those of the Path of Sages or those of the Pure Land Path, eventually give way to the complete and absolute (Other-Power) teaching of Ekayana Dharma.

One response »

  1. Pingback: Your own wisdom | The Blue Lotus Cafe

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