The Dharmapada says, “Though a man should offer sacrifices for a hundred years, one moment of homage to an Arahat is of more avail.” The greatest Arahat is Buddha Shakyamuni. Buddha Shakyamuni and Buddha Amitabha are one and the same. Homage without faith is not homage: but pure, true faith is true homage. Zen tries to find the true self within one’s own mind whereas Shin finds perfect peace of mind in being embraced by Amida.
Other religions demand that we pray to God, to believe in Him and to be righteous, but Amida does not command us to do anything. They say faith in Amida is the only condition required to be saved but it is not a real condition. Faith is not ours but His. Faith is given by Him; it is the power of His Wisdom. His Vow-Power is so great that we are deprived of our own self-power or self-intention. Likewise, an enlightened Zen adept transcends relative human reasoning; therefore he is like a dead man. In this sense, both are free from subjectivity and discrimination. A Zen man finds Buddha within him, while the Shin devotee finds Buddha outside of himself. In the Absolute, the inside and outside are not distinguished; Zen finds the true self through one’s own power, while Shin finds the true self in Amida’s embrace.
To find the true Self is to abandon one’s own egoistic self. To be enlightened by oneself is to be enlightened by the light of all things. In Shin Buddhism, one can be enlightened by the light of Buddha Amitabha. His Light (or Wisdom) makes men free. Self-power and other-power come to the same point in the end. But the former is difficult because it is almost impossible for ordinary people, while the other is comparatively easy; thus is Shin is called the “Easy Path” but in reality to acquire pure faith is as difficult as to be enlightened in Zen.
Why is it so difficult to acquire the true faith in Amitabha? Because it is almost impossible for people to abandon their own subjectivity and discrimination; that is, their earthly reasoning.
The law of causation must not be forgotten because man is a moral animal. But as long as he sticks to the law he cannot be saved, nor can he be enlightened. The discrimination between good and evil is a hindrance to enlightenment, and it is also an obstacle to the salvation by faith. However, a true Buddhist is always careful of observing the moral laws.
It goes without saying that Buddha Shakyamuni became enlightened through the practice of meditation. He could because He is the eternal Buddha. He taught all his disciples to practice meditation in order to be enlightened. At the same time, He taught ordinary people to believe in Buddha Amitabha and in His Name in order to be saved. The paths are different but both lead to the same goal. To study Buddhism is like digging a deep well, or passing through a great jungle, wherein there are many thorns. But very few so-called Buddhists in Japan think of this. The Zen man does not devote himself to the practice of Zen, and the Shin man does not hear the Law earnestly until he finds the perfect peace of mind in the power and wisdom of Buddha Amitabha. Why are both Shin and Zen so difficult? Because both are the true roads to be enlightened. Enlightenment or Maha-Nirvana (Absolute Wisdom and Infinite Compassion) is likened to the moon in the sky: how can an ordinary man catch the moon? Even Buddhists do not know the difficulty of attaining the Truth. To be enlightened by Zen is absolutely impossible for ordinary people. To have pure, true faith in Amida’s vow-power is also impossible for idle individuals.