“Letters” 7

Birth-and-Death (continued)

Shin Buddhism teaches us to realise that our self-power is of no avail for the following reasons:

  1. The age is depraved;
  2. Men are corrupted;
  3. Self-power Buddhism is too difficult;
  4. Every man realises, after having practiced difficult self-power Buddhism, that it is impossible for ordinary people;
  5. All sentient beings have already been saved by Amida’s Vow-Power through His Enlightenment;
  6. As the sun has risen, there is no need to carry a lantern;
  7. Our sins (or delusions) are so deep and immense that we cannot, by any means, wipe them away;
  8. We can be saved by Amida’s Vow-Power and become fully enlightened;
  9. Human life is too short to accomplish the disciplines of difficult self-power Buddhism;

Some of the greatest scholars of the Difficult Way have converted to Other-Power Buddhism and taught others by way of their own example. However, we cannot easily cast away our self-power until we are convinced of Amida’s Vow-Power, Wisdom and Mercy.

Dr Suzuki says: “Amida extends his arms of help only when we realise that all our self-power is of no account.” But I would say: “Only when we become aware of the inconceivable Wisdom and Vow-Power, do we know that our self-power is of no account and of no avail.”

Only through His wisdom are we able to believe in His-Vow-power and in our sinfulness and ignorance. The Pure Faith of Shin Buddhists is nothing but the two phases of deep faith, that is: (1) faith in His Vow-Power; and (2) faith in one’s own sinfulness and powerlessness – the impossibility of self-power. Amida’s Wisdom or Vow-Power begets our Pure Faith which always comprises the two phases mentioned above.

T’an-luan of China used the words “self-power” and “other-power” for the first time. Now in Shin Buddhism, “self-power” means all our discriminations and subjectivities, and yet birth-and-death or delusion, and Nirvana or Bodhi, are essentially one and the same. The Wisdom that sees all delusions -including the suffering and afflictions of people – accordingly begets infinite Compassion. Wisdom and Compassion are the origin of His Vow. Amida’s Wisdom and Vow are as inconceivable, just as the Mind, Buddha and the world are also inconceivable. In the Mahayana Buddhism of Japan, the ” Four Great Vows ” are used in all sects. They are:

  • Sentient beings are innumerable: I vow to save them all;
  • Delusions are innumerable: I vow to destroy them all;
  • The teachings are innumerable: I vow to master them all;
  • The truth of Buddhism is supreme: I vow to accomplish it.

Any bodhisattva must take these ” Four Vows “. They are also called the “General Vows”. Moreover, any Buddha has his own special vows. Amida had 48 special vows. Of these, the 18th Vow is called the “King Vow”. Shin Buddhism was founded on the 18th Vow, which reads as follows (from the Larger Sukhavati-Vyuha Sutra):

“O Bagavat (Lokeshvararaja), if when I have obtained the highest and most perfect knowledge (Buddhahood), if those beings who are in the ten quarters should believe (” Faith-with-Joy “) in me with Serene Thoughts (accepting Buddha’s Truth and Sincerity) and should wish to be born in my country (with a Fervent Aspiration) and have, ten times or even once, thought of me (or repeated my Name) – if they should not be born there, then may I not attain to the highest and most perfect knowledge; barred only are those who have committed the Five Deadly Sins and who have spoken evil of the Good Law.”

The essence of the 18th Vow is: (1) Amida Buddha’s Truth and Sincerity; (2) Faith with Joy; and (3) Fervent Aspiration to be born in His Pure Land. These ” Three Minds ” are most essential. ” Faith with Joy ” is called the ” True Faith ” or the “Pure Faith”. The other two Minds are involved in ” Pure Faith “. Pure Faith in Shin Buddhism is not the outcome of our own asking, prayer or faith. It is the power of His Vow, His Wisdom and Compassion, and His Enlightenment (represented by His Name). Amidas power, therefore, becomes our Pure Faith and our Salvation (or entrance into the Pure Land).