Nembutsu and Zen

by Zuio Inagaki
For the 7th Biennial Conference of the International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies =
Banquet speech at Pagoda Hotel, Honolulu – August 23, 1995

May I first greet you with a big Aloha!

It is my great honor and pleasure to address you tonight to conclude the banquet at the end of the three-day IASBS Conference. As we have just had more than enough food and drink, my speech will perhaps induce a comfortable samadhi. If it does, my objective is half accomplished.

The reason for choosing the title, “Nembutsu and Zen”, was simply that, when the Conference Program organizers asked me in May to become a banquet speaker, I was compiling a book entitled “Nembutsu and Zen”. I must confess that without thinking too much about the content of the speech itself, I gave the same title to it. Later I regretted that I could have chosen a less provocative and less challenging title.

If I am allowed to speak a few words to introduce this book, which will be published very soon, it is primarily a reproduction of my father’s sayings relevant to this subject. Like the previous publication of his work, Anjin: Zuiken’s Sayings, which I hope many of you have read, I have chosen and reproduced fifty of his sayings in the original Japanese calligraphy and added romanized transcriptions and translations. I have also supplied an appendix, which consists of Passages of Reference and a Glossary.

My father was a Shinshu follower and published books and articles as well as delivered many lectures and sermons. Besides Shin Buddhism, he extensively studied other Mahayana teachings, and especially liked to read Zen writings, such as Rinzairoku (The Record of Lin-chi), Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate), Hekiganroku (The Blue Cliff Record), and Shobogenzo (The Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma). He even gave lectures on those texts to various groups of interested people.

Since I grew up observing his way of studying Buddhism, I never entertained any biased view against Zen, although it took me a long time before I understood in my own way the essential affinity or differences between Shin and Zen. My father’s writings have frequent references to Zen, and when asked to do calligraphy with a brush, he often chose famous phrases from the Zen texts, such as “mu” 無 (nothingness), “mushin” 無心 (no mind), “hogejaku” 放下著 (give it up; put it down), and “koboku ryugin” 枯木龍吟 (a dragon’s roaring in a dead tree). Sometimes his calligraphy was as big as a tatami-mat. In spite of his interest in Zen, I don’t remember ever having seen him practicing zazen in the lotus posture. In that sense, he was not a practicing Zen man, but I believe his understanding of Zen was deeper than that of ordinary practicers.

While studying Shin, my interest in Zen and other Mahayana thought grew in my mind. My amateurish studies of various Buddhist texts when young came to be expanded and deepened as I enrolled in the Graduate School of Ryukoku University.

My knowledge of Shin and experience of shinjin had already convinced me that Shinran’s teaching of the Other-Power Faith was the only way for my own salvation and for the salvation of most others. This conviction hasn’t changed in any way over the years, but in my twenties I felt the necessity of learning more about other schools of Mahayana thought, not as teachings different from Shin, but as teachings contained in Shin. A great Shin master in the Edo period advised that we should not study the Three Pure Land sutras as contained in the Tripitaka, but study them as containing the whole of the Buddha’s teaching. For me, to study other Mahayana teachings through books was not enough; it would be like – as a Zen master would say – scratching your itchy foot over the shoe. I needed experience. Before long, I found myself knocking at the gate of a Zen temple in Kobe. Near where my parents used to live before I was born, there is a prestigious Zen temple called Shofukuji; the then abbot was the famous roshi, Yamada Mumon, who later became the chief abbot of Myoshinji and the President of Hanazono University. Mumon Roshi was also my father’s friend.

I participated in several sesshin. At the first sesshin I was received in a private interview with Mumon Roshi, in which he gave me the famous koan on “Mu”. This is a story of a Chinese Zen master Chao-chou (Joshu). One day a monk asked Chao-chou whether a dog had the Buddha-nature. Chao-chou replied, “Mu”. The meaning of “mu” is significant; it does not simply mean “No”. Mumon Roshi told me to concentrate on this koan. As I now recollect, concentration spontaneously led me to explore the mysterious contents of shinjin. Even the effort to sit cross-legged and concentrate on the koan appeared to be naturally made by Amida’s Power.

This was my first serious encounter with Zen. My small experience at that time convinced me that Zen is a truly wonderful teaching but is not the most practicable and effective method of salvation for everybody. I realized then that if Zen were to be practiced in the tariki way, it would be ideal.

I should not keep telling you about myself endlessly. Since this is the first time I have ever told anybody about my Zen experience, I wanted to refresh my memory. An old man likes to reminisce about his past, and I may already be becoming an old man.

As you all well know, D.T. Suzuki was a great exponent of both Zen and Shin. His contribution to the spread of Zen in the West was inestimable; at the same time, he introduced Shin to the West by writing books and articles on it and translating Shin texts. It is no exaggeration to say that he popularized Zen and created the Zen boom throughout the world during the postwar period. His books on Zen have been widely read by men and women with or without an academic background. His deep insight and persuasive discourses have awakened the Bodhi-mind in thousands of people and led them to the Buddhist Path.

A quick analysis of D.T. Suzuki’s Zen and Nembutsu thought seems necessary before I go deeper into the theme of my own choice. His father was a follower of Rinzai Zen and his mother was a Shin devotee belonging to a rather unorthodox group that emphasized mystical experience. D.T. Suzuki’s propensity toward mysticism must have come from his mother. It is widely admitted that his Zen is strongly characterized by Shin, and his interpretation of Shin has a tinge of Zen. For many of us who are, by and large, trained to think in sectarian terms, Zen and Shin are clearly distinguishable approaches, but for D.T. Suzuki, by his innate spirituality, there was no such rigid distinction. For this reason, he has been criticized by some fundamentalist Zen and Shin exponents, but the happy unity of Zen and Shin in his personality has had a lasting influence on serious thinkers and practicers of Buddhism. Among those who are present here, I believe many have been strongly inspired by his books at some stage of their spiritual pilgrimage. Whether his interpretation of Shin is orthodox or not, his books and articles on Shin are still widely read and will remain an important source of inspiration for many ages to come. The atmosphere he had created has become so widespread that we cannot ignore D.T. Suzuki when we address people of today about Jodoshinshu. This means that we can no longer explain and discuss Shin only in the context of Jodoshinshu. Zen is bound to come into our perspective when we present Shin in the modern context.

Some years ago, I bought a book which appeared interesting because its title suggested Zen in everyday life. I read on and on, but I found nothing related to Zen, and so I was disappointed. The title of the book was: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I feel Zen is very much abused and commercialized. The title of my speech could have been “Zen and Nembutsu” if I had wanted to sell it in the popular market. Please note the word order: “Nembutsu and Zen”, with the emphasis on the Nembutsu.

Let us go back to the days of Shinran Shonin to see what the situation of Buddhism was then. Zen had not yet been firmly established in Japan. Eisai (1141-1215) went to China and brought home a type of Rinzai Zen (Oryu-ha 黄龍), but in the face of strong attacks from the monks of Mt. Hiei, his temple in Kyoto, Kenninji, was made a center of Tendai and Esoteric Buddhism as well as Zen. When Dogen (1200-1253) brought back to Japan the Soto tradition in 1227, he was twenty-seven years of age, while Shinran was already fifty-four years old. I have been told that among the treasures of Hoonji Temple in Tokyo, whose chief priest is Prof. Shojun Bando, there is a hossu (fly whisk) presented to Shinran by Dogen, in return for which Shinran is said to have presented his juzu to Dogen. I would be most curious to know what sort of dialogue took place between the two masters, if they really had met. The fact was that Zen flourished mostly after Shinran. If he had lived in late Kamakura period and was strongly exposed to Zen, what would he have done? Also, if he lived today when Zen is popular throughout the world, would he try Zen? These are hypothetical questions, which I am tempted to ask myself.

Before I compare Nembutsu and Zen further, I feel it necessary to mention a Tendai samadhi practice, which Shinran encountered in his formative years. In the village south of Kyoto where Shinran was born, there is still a temple named Hokaiji, which houses a wonderful sitting statue of Amida built in the middle of the 11th century. Shinran, even as a boy, must have visited this temple almost every day, hearing monks chant sutras and watching them circumambulate the hall while concentrating on Amida and reciting his Name without interruption, because this hall was designed for the Constant Walking Samadhi (Jogyo-zanmai 常行三昧). When he went up Mt. Hiei to study, he was assigned to the Jogyodo Hall, where he presumably practiced this samadhi with diligence.

In Shinran’s classification of the Buddhist teachings (kyohan 教判), Zen and Tendai are rated as the vertical ways for quick deliverance (vertical transcendence; shucho 竪超) along with Shingon and Kegon. Although the Tendai teaching proper, in Shinran’s view, is a superior way of deliverance like Zen, Shingon and Kegon, it is difficult to practice. But those “vertical” systems of practice can be converted to “horizontal” or “crosswise” teachings in the Pure Land system, if the aspirants convert their minds and seek their birth in the Pure Land by transferring the merits of their practice towards it in accord with the Contemplation Sutra, or in accord with the design of the Nineteenth Vow. The Constant Walking Samadhi, which I believe Shinran practiced on Mt. Hiei, has a dual function: a Tendai practice and a Pure Land practice. In fact, this samadhi unifies Tendai and Pure Land. The sutra from which the Constant Walking Samadhi originates is one of the oldest Mahayana scriptures in India and China. It is called Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra, and is translated as the “Sutra on the Samadhi of Being in the Presence of All Buddhas.” According to this sutra, one who concentrates on Amida from seven days to three months can visualize him and all the other Buddhas.

The Pratyutpanna Samadhi was not only practiced in China and Japan by Tendai followers, but was widely practiced in India as well. The first of the seven masters of Shin tradition, Nagarjuna, strongly recommended this samadhi as an effective way of securing the State of Non-retrogression, for by successfully visualizing Amida and all the other Buddhas in this samadhi, one is born into the Tathagata Family and will eventually attain Buddhahood. The founder of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism, Hui-yuan or Eon of Mt. Lu (334-416), enthusiastically practiced the Pratyutpanna Samadhi with a hundred and twenty-two devotees. Shan-tao or Zendo (613-681), the Fifth Master, is said to have had the first experience of visualizing Amida by practicing the Pratyutpanna Samadhi. Although Shan-tao was a great exponent of the Contemplation Sutra, it would be fair to say that he used this sutra to enrich and systematize his initial experience of the Pratyutpanna Samadhi. I hasten to add that the Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra was at the basis of the Contemplation Sutra when the latter was compiled probably in Central Asia. Some key terms and expressions in the Contemplation Sutra come from the Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra, and also in the Contemplation Sutra the Nembutsu Samadhi is equated with the Pratyutpanna Samadhi.

There is another important reason for my rather lengthy discussion on the Pratyutpanna Samadhi. A Chinese Zen monk of the Sung dynasty, named Yun-ch’i Chu-hung (Unsei Shuko 雲棲珠宏)(1535-1615), who recommended a combined practice of Zen and Nembutsu, wrote a well-known book, entitled Zenkan sakushin (禅関策進 “Incentives for Breaking Zen Barriers”), in which he quotes from the Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra to urge Pure Land aspirants to practice diligently for three months in accordance with this sutra until they attain the Pratyutpanna Samadhi. Thus, in Chu-hung’s Zen-Nembutsu system, the Pratyutpanna Samadhi is highly recommended

If we look back at the history of Buddhism in China, we note that the Nembutsu was a dominant force from the sixth century. It was practiced as a non-meditative vocal practice as well as a meditative visualization practice. From the late T’ang period the Nembutsu came to be practiced in Zen monasteries as well. A well-known Zen monk, Yung-ming Yen-shou (Eimei Enju 永明延寿)(904-975 or 976), was a strong advocate of the combined practice of Zen and Nembutsu. In his remarks we read:

“Nine out of ten of those who practice Zen but do not practice the
Pure Land method take wrong paths.”
“Without Zen but following the Pure Land Path, ten thousand
practicers of ten thousand meritorious actions are to be born
(in the Pure Land).”
“Those who practice both Zen and the Pure Land method are the
strongest, like tigers with horns.”

This syncretic tendency became widespread and had a lasting influence on later generations. Today, in Vietnam and in overseas Chinese communities, including Taiwan, the Nembutsu and Zen are happily united. In Japan this type of Zen, called Obaku, was transmitted by Ingen in 1682, but did not enjoy much popularity except among Chinese residents.

I previously mentioned Chu-hung’s Incentives for Breaking Zen Barriers. This book was highly valued by Hakuin, a great Zen master of Japan (1685-1768), but he took only a half of Chu-hung’s advice and cast aside the Nembutsu that is encouraged in the same book. Much earlier, Dogen, too, was averse to the Nembutsu; he compared it to the croaking of frogs in the rice field and rejected its efficacy for attaining Enlightenment. In the tradition of Japanese Zen, it seems, the authentic teaching is to practice zazen exclusively without repeating the Nembutsu or mixing zazen with other methods. My advice to Zen practicers at this point is that they do both zazen and the Nembutsu; but unreflective zazen or mere vocal Nembutsu does not bring them nearer to satori.

Contemporary Zen masters in Japan appear to be drawn to the Nembutsu. Many years ago I attended a lecture meeting by Yamada Mumon Roshi, which was full of references to the Tannisho. Kobori Roshi of Daitokuji, Kyoto, was a great Zen master, who on his deathbed recited the Nembutsu and recommended it to his disciples. Rev. Sakakibara Tokuso, an Obaku Zen monk in Kyoto, was a serious devotee of the Nembutsu; he used the Tannisho for daily services. While reading it, he would shed tears of gratitude. I met him once a long time ago, and was deeply impressed by his sincere devotion to Amida.

How is Zen accepted by Shin followers? It is now an open secret that some Jodoshinshu ministers adopt Zen in their ministerial programs. Some advocate other types of meditation. These are very unusual phenomena, unheard of in the 800-year history of Jodoshinshu. The general tendency seems to be that more and more Shin followers will show interest in Zen just as there will be more and more Zen monks who recite the Nembutsu.

The above discussion is rather an external observation, which may fit my title, “Nembutsu and Zen”, but is far from satisfactory if the essential difference or relationship is to be clarified. Suppose we change the title to “Shinjin and satori”. Then we can go deeper into the problem and discuss the whole matter from the inside. You will perhaps accept that the Nembutsu and shinjin are not exactly the same and, similarly, zazen and satori are not the same. Nembutsu and zazen are forms of Buddhist practice, whereas shinjin and satori are states of spiritual awakening. Not all who recite the Nembutsu have shinjin, and not all who practice zazen are awakened in satori. But those who have shinjin all recite the Nembutsu, and all who have attained satori regularly sit in zazen. Then how can we attain shinjin and how can we realize satori? It is true that recitation of the Nembutsu does not immediately lead to shinjin and that one or two sessions of zazen do not bring about satori. But I wish to assure you that the Nembutsu is the only way, through which shinjin will arise, and that satori will eventually come to one who sits in zazen. In both cases, concentration is a prerequisite. Lifelong practice of Nembutsu or zazen without deep concentration is fruitless, but if they are practiced diligently with utmost efforts, a short period of practice may bring about the total conversion of mind and a new spiritual horizon will then open up before you.
It is often asked whether shinjin and satori are the same or different experiences. My answer is: they are different but not unrelated. Let me first clarify the basic differences. Shinjin is awakening to Amida’s Wisdom, Compassion and Power, while satori is awakening to your inherent Wisdom, Compassion and Power. In other words, shinjin is awakening to Amida’s Mind, and satori is realization of your Buddha-nature. Even if you have attained shinjin, you are not yet a Buddha; you have to wait until your body of karma is relinquished at death in order to become a Buddha by fully manifesting your Buddha-nature, as stated in Shinran’s Kyogyoshinsho, Chapter on True Buddha and Buddha-land. Here Shinran says that delusory and defiled sentient beings cannot see their Buddha-nature in this world because it is covered by evil passions, but, he continues, upon reaching the Land of Peace and Bliss, we shall unfailingly manifest our Buddha-nature owing to Amida’s merit-transference through the Power of his Vow.

In his writings, Shinran refers to shinjin as the Buddha-nature. So it follows that shinjin and satori are closely related. If satori is the total realization of the Buddha-nature with mind and body, shinjin is acceptance of the Buddha-nature in action through Amida’s Name. Since Amida has brought our Buddha-nature to full maturity and attained Buddhahood, our Buddha-nature has been fully realized in his Buddhahood. When we hear his Name and through it receive all that Amida is, we also receive our fully developed Buddha-nature. This is the tariki way of realizing the Buddha-nature, and is the quickest way of attaining Buddhahood.

Next, among other topics relevant to Nembutsu and Zen, I wish to expound the tri-kaya, or three bodies of the Buddha. It is accepted that shinjin is established in relation to Amida, the Sambhogakaya Buddha, whereas satori is realization of the Dharmakaya. If you have seen Amida in a dream or a dream-like state as in a near-death experience, that is Amida’s Nirmanakaya. Again, if you have visualized Amida in the Pratyutpanna Samadhi or in accord with the Contemplation Sutra, that is still Amida’s Nirmanakaya, according to Shinran’s interpretation. In his view, the Sambhogakaya Buddha Amida has limitless dimensions and an everlasting life-span, and his land is one of boundless Light. Amida’s forms described in the Contemplation Sutra and others as having limited, though astronomical, dimensions are Amida’s Nirmanakaya manifestations. The real Sambhogakaya Amida that is limitless is, in essence, identical with the Dharmakaya. Shinran especially liked to use the ten-character name, “Kimyo jinjippo mugeko nyorai” (Homage to the Tathagata of Unhindered Light Shining throughout the Ten Directions), which was first applied to Amida by Vasubandhu. Even though distinctions are made between the three Buddha-bodies, they are not rigid differences separating one from the others; in the actual experience of shinjin, the three bodies are merged into one Person of Great Compassion, which can be most appropriately described as “Oyasama” (Parent). To give you an illustration, “Mum,””Mummy,””Ma” or “Mother” is an expression of the unity of mother and child. You do not subject your mother to logical analysis, do you? Such an objective analysis, whether in biological or psychological terms, does not apply here. In the same way, when we call Amida “Oyasama,” we do not discuss whether he is a Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya or Nirmanakaya.

I have touched on several areas relating to Nembutsu and Zen, but there seems to be one outstanding question: Should zazen be adopted by Shin followers? For those who are still vacillating between jiriki and tariki, zazen and other practices may be necessary along with the Nembutsu. Zazen does not lead to shinjin unless its aim is turned to union with Amida. Sitting, walking or other types of meditation, with the mind concentrated on Amida, including the Pratyutpanna Samadhi, can become a cause of birth in the Pure Land. If you constantly practice such a meditation, you may visualize Amida and his Pure Land and/ or perceive Amida’s coming to receive you at the time of death, as stated in the Contemplation Sutra. In the same way, dedication to the Nembutsu throughout your life may enable you to see Amida on your deathbed, in accord with the Amida Sutra. Even though it is for the sake of ensuring birth in the Transformed Land, diligent practice of meditative or non-meditative good is certainly better than doing nothing and vainly hoping for Amida’s salvation.

Next, after shinjin is established, is zazen still recommended? If you have been doing zazen for many years and, by chance, awakened to Amida’s Great Compassion, it would be difficult to change your life-style immediately. You can carry on your meditation to enrich your experience of shinjin. We should remember that zazen is the basic posture of all Buddhas and that when born in the Pure Land we all assume this posture and become Buddhas. Isn’t zazen more appropriate than, for instance, standing on your head in Yoga training?

But if you have no experience of zazen, I would not recommend it. Attainment of shinjin is a lifelong work, toward which all your effort should be directed. You won’t have time to try other methods. If you have shinjin, that’s enough. If you have Namu Amida Butsu, that’s enough. There is no need to seek satori in this life. Among other things, if improperly practiced, zazen does more harm than good. I must warn you that doing zazen after drinking a lot of sake is detrimental to your health, to say the least.

Before closing, I would like to quote my father’s saying from his forthcoming book, Nembutsu and Zen:

“Sonomama no hotoke no oose arukara wa
tsuneni konomama itsumo konomama”
(Since the Buddha tells us to be as we are,
Always I am just as I am.)

But I must hasten to add that he used to put this koan-like question to us:

“You say, ‘konomama’ (just as I am),
But there are a hundred thousand kinds of konomama;
Is yours the true konomama?”

Thank you.