On Other Practices

It may be asked, ‘All good practices are virtuous, and each enables one to attain birth in the Pure Land. Why is it then that the teaching of the nembutsu alone is encouraged? In answer, I would say, ‘When I now encourage everyone to practice the nembutsu, I do not mean to set aside the various other good practices. What I mean to say is that the nembutsu is not difficult to perform for either man or woman, whether high-born or low-born, and no matter when, where and under what kind of karmic condition … no practice is more accessible than the nembutsu.’

Genshin’s Ōjōyōshū on Other Practices

7 responses »

  1. Devala, the author of the ‘Discourse on the Mahāpuruṣa‘ (Sanskrit – Great or Ideal Man), wrote:

    The wise do not approve of loving-kindness without Intelligence, nor do they approve of Intelligence without loving-kindness; because one without the other prevents us from reaching the highest path.

    Why is this?

    Loving-kindness (Sanskrit – maitrī) without Intelligence (Sanskrit prajñā – also meaning wisdom) produces sentimentality and attachment, while intelligence without loving-kindness produces insensitivity and aloofness. The practice of śamatha (calm-abiding) awakens and deepens intelligence by cutting off delusion through focusing on Buddha-Nature. The practice of vipassanā (insight into the true nature of reality) awakens and deepens loving-kindness through the arising of insight into the mutual interdependence of all life (Sanskrit – pratītyasamutpāda) and acceptance of the limitations of the self.

    Nembutsu is thus a form of calm-abiding (Sanskrit – śamatha). Shinjin is thus a form of insight (Sanskrit – vipassanā). While the soteriological efficaciousness of shinjin is attained upon its first arising, true appreciation for and realization of the practical implications of the attainment of shinjin are nevertheless deepened throughout ones life as one reflects upon the reality of being grasped, never to be abandoned. This deepening of the practical implications of the interdependence of all life leads to a change in the utterance of nembutsu through the corresponding deepening of the depth of one’s gratitude for all the incalculable threads of causation that led to one’s deep hearing of the name that called.

    Dennis Hirota, in ‘Asura‘s Harp: Engagement with Language as Buddhist Path’, writes:

    In terms of the teaching, this is to live by Amida’s Name and Light. The practicer’s job of work is to hear and say the nembutsu. This is for the self and world to become manifest to the self; it is for one to come to speak what is true within ordinary words and to enact what is real within acts of daily life. The obligation of the Shin path is above all to know the self and world by the exercise of such awareness, for such knowing allows for the arising of a world of action in which the reified self is no longer absolute center.

    To be clear, we do not after the arising of shinjin go about doing what we imagine to be good, rather circumstances arise and we respond to these arising circumstances not merely from a conceptual framework of good and evil arbitrarily determined by us (which can lead to a self-righteous and self-serving concept of what is good), rather we respond to them from that emptiness of self-nature (Sanskrit – ‎śūnyatā) which is nevertheless a fullness of Buddha-Nature (Sanskrit – Mahāpuruṣa).

    Shōkū has well written:

    As soon as we realize our weakness in doing good, real goodness is performed.

    It is such self-less service that serves to anchor Buddha-Nature within the heart of the person of nembutsu faith such that even we bombu become transformation- or apparition-bodies (Sanskrit – nirmāṇakāya) of Amida within saṃsāra.

    Thus, it is recorded in the Anjin-Ketsujo-Sho:

    With Pity, Amida fixes his attention on us so that his mind-and-heart penetrates as deep as the marrow of our bones and stays there. It is like a piece of charcoal that has caught fire. We cannot pluck the fire from the burning charcoal however much we try. The embracing light of his mind-and-heart shines on us right through to the core of our flesh and bones. Even though it is contaminated with the three poisons of greed, hatred and illusion and with every other defiling passion and anxiety, there is no region of our heart that is not saturated with the Buddha’s virtue. Thus the Buddha and sentient beings constitute one body from the beginning. This state of unity is called Namu Amida Butsu.

    This self-less service that is possible as the result of our oneness with Amida is a limited reflection of the second aspect of Amida’s two-fold ‘merit transference’ (gensō ekō) – that of returning to samsara to save all beings.

    For a discussion of a different take on the traditional idea of gensō ekō, please refer to the essay by John Paraskevopoulos entitled: ‘Reflections on Genso-Eko‘, published in the online magazine, Muryoko: the Journal of Shin Buddhism.

  2. Interestingly, this is mirrored in a Taoist text, Liu I-Ming’s commentary on the Yin Fu Jing: the Yin Convergence Classic, under the phrase “Heaven has no kindness, but great kindness arises from it.

    Liu comments (from Vitality, Energy, Spirit, Thomas Cleary):

    … When the happy have no desire for freedom and are spontaneously free, when the peaceful have no desire for purity and are spontaneously pure, this is like heaven having no kindness yet having great kindness. Desireless action is spiritual.

  3. I am grateful for finding this blog. Years ago, I used to hear people talk about the movie Rashomon. It was always presented to me as being an example of how we can never really know the truth about any situation, and how all responses and perceptions are subjective. Since I have lived in Japan, and my wife is japanese, I take an interest in matters concerning Japan.When I actually saw the movie Rashomon recently with my wife, we were both astonished by the message of compassion which seemed to be key to understanding the movie. In other words, the movie was not really an intellectual connundrum to be puzzled over but rather a way of understanding deep compassion for all human beings and their differing perceptions. This compassion is also shown by the woodcutter raising the orphan who he found at the temple. In some senses, I guess we are all orphans! Thank you again.

  4. It has been a long while since I have watched Rashomon (over 30 years), so I am very grateful for the reminder to watch it again. I recently watched the The Burmese Harp again. It has flaws one can pick on, but I choose not to do so because its merits outweigh its flaws (imho).

    This talk of orphans and compassion reminds me of the term Oyasama, or Oyasan, as applied to Amida. Oya, which means ‘parent’, is not so much gender-neutral as it is gender-inclusive and expresses the boundless compassion parents have for their children.

    Shinran Shonin has written: “Sakyamuni and Amida are our father and our mother, full of love and compassion for us…”

    So, it is not so much that we actually are orphans (although we often feel bereft and adrift in this life) rather, it is more like we have simply become lost and so have come to forget our home and our parentage. Nevertheless, Oyasama is ever ready to welcome us all back home and is always calling for our return. All we need do is listen and respond.

  5. Yes thank you I am familiar with the term “Oyasama” or “Oyasan”. In Japanese, it has a very, very warm feeling or connotation.(in many ways stronger than the english term “parent”) In Japanese, parental love is closely connected with the idea of amae which means an indulgent love in which the parent allows for childrens’ mistakes , and yet still supports and loves them unconditionally. To amaete-iru means for a child to trust in that indulgent love, and it is even considered, in some contexts, for it to be wrong for a child to NOT allow himself to be indulged.(It is not considered “natural” for the child to be “too good’) The word “amae” that has a root meaning ” sweetness”…so when you refer to Amida as Oyasama, this has a powerful meaning. Thank you for this explanation it really makes an impact and a difference for me.

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