Unlocking Tannisho, Part 11

VIII

The saying of nembutsu is neither a religious practice nor a good act. Since it is practiced without any calculation, it is “non-practice.” Since it is also not a good created by my calculation, it is “non-good.” Since it is nothing but Other Power, completely free of selfpower, it is neither a religious practice nor a good act on the part of the practicer.

Explanation:

In this short, but virtuous chapter, Shinran Shonin states that the Nembutsu (or, Namu Amida Butsu) is “non-practice”, and “not a religious practice” because it contains nothing but other power faith. Let us discuss what exactly this means, and in what context.

First of all, the Nembutsu itself is neither a religious practice nor a good act, and is “non-practice”. The fact is that traditionally, all religious practices are based on self power faith no matter how you look at it. You perform religious practices with the hope of achieving salvation, or, in terms of other religions, so that you may experience a “good life” in the present and without troubles. Because you are relying on your own perceptions and strength to practice these acts, that is what makes it self power faith. The Nembutsu is the only act of right assurance that one can perform as it is devoid of all self power nature and consists only of other power. However, the Nembutsu must be performed with the mind that has attained true faith, or else it is not really the practice of the Nembutsu, but rather, just empty words.

Of course, this does not mean that one should not practice the Nembutsu before attaining other power faith, because daily practice of the Nembutsu has been taught and suggested by previous masters of Buddhism and encouraged as the “easy practice” to enlightenment and the pure land.

The Nembutsu is not necessarily a good act nor religious practice, because it is completely devoid of self power. It is an act that expresses gratitude to Amida Buddha and for saving us in the present time and granting us salvation.

Why is self power bad? The number of people constantly asking this question has been increasing lately, but I wonder why they ask this? Is it because they do not understand the true nature and difference between other power faith and self power faith, or is it because they do not understand how to get other power faith? Finally, these explanations will come to light in this article.

First of all, self power faith is not good for the following reasons. First of all, you are relying on your own power to achieve enlightenment and so the power which we all possess in terms of a spiritual nature is VERY limited compared to the supreme endless power of Amida Buddha. It is like saying you are going to break down the Empire State Building using only a small hammer whereas you need dynamite and mabe a huge wrecking ball! Secondly, since you are relying on your own perceptions, this in itself is backwards because all our perceptions are completely backwards from the true nature of things. We do things only to benefit ourselves and so the perception that you are helping others, but only really helping yourself is twisted and upside down to say the least. At the core, human beings are defiled in nature and have never possessed the true mind, and never will. For example, believing that a rabbit’s foot will bring you good luck is an example of self power faith. It makes no sense in the world or in terms of the law of cause and effect, but yet, people still continue to have faith in these useless objects. Why? The reason is because these objects have a profound psychological impact on the person to make them believe they are receiving good luck, but when they finally receive bad luck they begin to question it. So, this whole system of self power is only but temporary and flawed to say the least.

Then again, self power isn’t all that bad either. Relying on self power is only supposed to be a temporary measure until you receive other power faith. Once you realize the nature of self power, you will begin on the white path to pursuing other power faith. So, in essence, self power exists to make you see the true nature of things around you and the way that things exist. Over time, you will abandon self power faith totally and eventually be granted other power faith through the vow of Amida Buddha.

Sounds good, so how do I get this “other power” faith? This is the question that not many people seem to know the answer to. First of all, there are 5 wonders in the universe, which I will list here:

  1. The countless numbers of creatures
  2. Karma power
  3. The weather
  4. The point of enlightenment
  5. Buddhism

Of these 5 wonders, absolutely no one knows how or why they came to exist, and why they exist, and how they came to be. No science can explain this, and no philosopher can either. That is what makes them wonders of the universe.

Ok, so what has that to do with other power faith you ask? Well, the point of enlightenment, Buddhism and karma power being 2/3rds of all the wonders of the universe tells us that this is not going to be easy to explain, however, I will try my best to explain how to acquire other power faith.

First off, direct from the words of Shinran Shonin, in order to receive other power faith you need to do 3 things:

  1. You must abandon all good deeds practiced with the mind of self power
  2. You must abandon ‘Zasshu’ which is the following (practiced with the mind of self power):
    • Dokuju Shogyo: The correct act of reading the three pure land sutras.
    • Kanzatsu Shogyo: The correct act of calling to mind Amida Buddha and his pure land.
    • Raihai Shogyo: The correct act of worshipping Amida Buddha.
    • Shomyo Shogyo: The correct act of reciting the Name of Amida Buddha.
    • Sandan Kuyo Shogyo: The correct act of praising or making offerings to Amida Buddha.
  3. You must abandon self power totally.

This is a little technical as it comes directly from Buddhist doctrine, however, in order to understand the entire process, you have to understand some basic Buddhist doctrine. So, in other words, abandon all deeds practiced with the mind of self power. That is the exact way of how to attain other power faith.

That doesn’t exactly answer the question though. Yes, we are to abandon deeds we perform by self power, but how??? What is the methodology by which to accomplish this? This is, i’m afraid, an even more difficult question that even fewer know the answer to. The answer is there, however, if you stick to the basics.

First of all, you have to understand the way that karma works. Remember, I did say that all the karma you have accumulated is stored in what is called the Alaya mind. This means all the karma not only from this lifetime, but from previous lifetimes. It is also this karma which determines your fate in the present time here and now. That means where you were born, where you were raised, your personality, your tendencies, tastes and likes, etc. This also goes in accordance with the law of cause and effect as well and agrees with it.

Now, there is something else which is called Shukuzen. What this is is a measure of the bond between you and Amida Buddha. One who has a strong bond with Amida Buddha is considered to have a strong Shukuzen, while those with a weak bond with Amida Buddha have narrow Shukuzen. Think of this as an elastic band that stretches or compresses. The way that the band becomes stronger is if you listen to Buddhism and practice Buddhism. This includes the “easy practice” of the Nembutsu as suggested by Honen and other previous masters of Buddhism.

When the band is at its strongest level, you will arrive at the twofold revelation which we have discussed before on this site, and what that means is arriving at a gateway of realization that you are bound by any doubt for hell, and yet, the ship of Amida’s vow scoops you up, and you are bound without any doubt for paradise. Once you arrive at this gateway, passing through it means having achieved other power faith, and it is at that point that you receive unlimited happiness in the present time and be granted salvation in Amida’s pure land.

How long does it take? That is the question most people seem to ask, and the answer is that it can take as long as it needs to. Because this whole process of receiving other power faith relies on 2 variables, Shukuzen and Karma, these two variables are different for everyone as everyone has a different karma. You can only work with what you have, and so that is why the length of time this takes is variable. I know some people who have achieved other power faith in 10 years by strictly listening to Buddhist lectures and studying the doctrine, and yet I also know people who have attained it in a shorter time (1 or 2 years). Some people spend an entire lifetime. Like I said, it all depends on the variables you have to work with.

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