A Buddhist Doctrine
The Path, September, 1888
There are twelve principal Buddhist sects in Japan. These are: Ku-Sha-Shiu, Jo-Jitsu-Shiu, Ris-Shiu, Ho-so-Shiu, San Ron-Shiu, Ke-Gon-Shiu, Ten-Dai-Shiu, Shin-Gon-Shiu, Jo-Do-Shiu, Zen-Shiu, Shin-Shiu, and Nichi-Ren-Shiu. It is of a tenet of the Shin-Shiu that I propose to speak. The student can learn much of the others by consulting the works of Mr. Bunyiu Nanjio, M.A., and other authorities.
The last four of those mentioned may be called the modern ones. Gen-Ku founded the Jo-Do in 1174 A.D.; the Zen-Shiu was started by Ei-Sai in 1191 A.D.; the Shin-Shiu was founded in 1224 A.D. by Shin-Ran; and in 1253 A.D., Nichi-Ren established that one named for him. This last is more frequently called by the founder’s name because, although he adopted what is called the Saddharmapundarika as the principal Sutra of it, he altered the substance of the doctrine. For that reason it is called, paraphrastically, “Nichi-Ren’s Saddharmapundarika sect.”
The essential difference between the Shin-Shiu and the others may be seen by placing its doctrine and that of the Zen-Shiu side by side. In the latter the disciple is to see the nature of Buddha by his own thought, free from the influence of the eighty-four thousand different doctrines, while the Shin-Shiu teaches that we attain salvation “by the power of another,” who is Amita Buddha.
The Zen-Shiu is said to have originated from the incident, well known to Buddhists, of Gotama Buddha’s taking from the heavenly king a flower of golden color and holding it in his hand in silence. The disciples could not understand the meaning of this, except Mahakasyapa, who, although he knew, only smiled and remained also silent. Thereupon Buddha said to him, “I have the wonderful thought of Nirvana.” This was called “the doctrine of thought transmitted by thought.” Ananda received it from Kasyapa, and so on down a long list of patriarchs in the church. The twenty-eighth patriarch, Bodhidharma, a king’s son, crossed over into China. In that country he attempted to teach the Emperor the secret of the doctrine, but the pupil could not understand it, and Bodhidharma entered a monastery where he pursued the practice of sitting in meditation gazing at a wall for nine years, after which he gained disciples. He was called “the wall-gazing Brahmana.” A later devotee in 729 A.D. came from China to Japan and established a form of the doctrine of Zen-Shiu. In this school, as distinguished from the Shin-Shiu, the disciple exercises his own thought independent of doctrine, while in the latter a doctrine is relied upon. The words of the Indian poem Bhagavad-Gita may be profitably remembered here, where it says that “he who pursues the unmanifested path has a more difficult task [than any other] to perform.” 1
The other sects, except the Shin-Shiu, have various doctrines for the attainment of the end in view, but the followers of the Shin-Shiu declare that all these are “expedients.” They do not exclude the Zen-Shiu, although it would appear perhaps to the aggressive mind of the Englishman or American that to tell a man he can attain Nirvana by his own power is not laying a mere expedient before him.
It is because of these doctrines of expediency in other sects that the Shin-Shiu call themselves “the True Sect of Buddhists.”
The doctrine of the sect is also called by them “the Doctrine of the Pure Land.” The pure land referred to is the Land of Amida Buddha [Amitabha]: the object is to be born into that land, that is, to obtain salvation. It has been other wise stated in this manner:
“Among those who follow the doctrine of the Pure Land, there are several different systems of teaching, which are as follows:—’Some say that we should practise various good works, bring our stock of merits to maturity, and be born in the Pure Land. Others say that we should repeat only the name of Amitabha Buddha in order to be born in his Pure Land, by the merit produced from such repetition.’ These doctrines are all considered as yet the temporary expedients. To rely upon the power of the original prayer of Amitabha Buddha with the whole heart and give up all idea of Ji-Riki or ‘self-power’ is called the truth. This truth is the doctrine of this sect.” 2
The eighteenth of the forty-eight prayers of Amita Buddha is the prayer referred to. It is: “If any of living beings of the ten regions who have believed in me with true thoughts and desire to be born in my country, and have even to ten times repeated the thought of my name, should not be born there, then may I not obtain the perfect knowledge.” This prayer was made by him because of his great desire to deliver all beings from suffering. It was a prayer which he first uttered long before he himself obtained salvation, but he continued for ages after that to work to the end that he might be able to make the prayer of force and value to any one who should use it. It follows, of course, that he accomplished his desire, and the Shin-Shiu sect accordingly claims that this prayer or vow has a peculiar effect of its own, and has strength to enable whoever uses it to reach salvation.
The claims made for this prayer are in accordance with certain views that are held in the East about the force that resides in the vows of a wise or great saint. They are said to have an actual dynamic effect upon the minds and hearts of all persons who shall use them, even after the saint has died. It is claimed that the power has to do with magnetism. And it is said by the followers of Shin-Shiu that, when one begins to repeat and rely upon the prayer of Amita Buddha, he at once connects himself with the whole body of real believers, and as well with the power of Amita himself.
In its essence the doctrine is one of salvation by faith, but at the same time the sect does not claim—as the Christian does for his dogma—that there is no other way to be saved. They admit that a person may be saved “by his own power”—if he has the requisite strength to hold out—, but they think that in general men have not the power to resist evil for a time sufficient to permit the accomplishment of the result; and they assert that besides the lack of strength there will be doubt, for, “Faith by one’s own power cannot afford rest to the heart. It is said, ‘Shall I surely attain salvation or shall I not?’ and thus what is called faith is in reality doubt,” but “Faith by the power of another affords rest to the heart. It is said:—’I am born by the power of that vow; I shall certainly attain salvation.’ There is not the smallest doubt in the heart.” Another Sutra says: “Those who follow the method of ‘self power’ believe in many other Buddhas; those who follow the method of ‘another’s power’ believe only in the one Buddha, as a faithful servant does not serve two masters.”
In a compilation made by direction of the Eastern Hongwanji of Japan it is said “The appellations ‘true’ and ‘popular’ are an important matter. Our sect terms the attaining of the rest of the heart the True System; the observation of the relations of life the Popular System. Our sect has granted the permission to marry. Hence the five relations of life necessarily exist. Where the five relations of life exist, the duties involved in them must be observed. This is termed ‘the popular system.’
“It is said in the Sutra: ‘The living beings in the ten regions, be they householders or houseless.’ . . . Shall the holy path be different for them? Although the sins of the unenlightened be many, if these are contrasted with the power of the vow they are not as the millet seed to the ocean. . . . The sins of the unenlightened are heavy; if you precipitate them on the three worlds they inevitably sink; but if you place them on the ship of the vow they assuredly become light. The merit of living beings is full of leaks. Mida’s land of reward has no
leaks. With the merit which is full of leaks you cannot be born into the land where there are no leaks.”
From a later part of the same compilation:—”Our Founder said: ‘brothers within the four seas.’ Faith by the power of another proceeds from Mida. Thus Mida is father and mother; all within the four seas are brothers. The Chinese call foreigners barbarians; foreigners call China uncivilized. Both, we consider, are wrong. Those who do not observe the relations of life are the barbarians, without distinction of ‘home’ or ‘foreign.’ Throughout all that the heaven covers, wherever sun and moon shine, what is there that we shall call barbarian or uncivilized? When the heart is wide as heaven and earth, the discourse clear as sun and moon, then first is attained the equitable and just. Between heaven and earth there is no one to be disassociated, no spot not to be reached. The kindly relations of intercourse make the friend; two persons the same mind; their spirit is as disseparated gold. One country the same mind; as a golden bowl without defect. All countries the same mind; then first is attained the perfect equitability. The foundation of the same mind is the calling to remembrance of the one Buddha.”. . .
“Zendo has said: ‘We are truly like this: unenlightened we are subject to the evil of birth and death; for long Kalpas we revolve, sinking and floating in the sea of existence; there seems no cause of escape.’ . .. But He, Amida Buddha, long kalpas ago putting forth a heart of great compassion, planning through five kalpas, having accomplished the long kalpas, perfected his vow.”
Hence we find the sect without spells or supplications for the avoiding of trouble. They hold that the trouble and misery of our life are due to causes originated either in long past existence or in the present incarnation. These last are to be carefully avoided, and the “popular system” gives the various rules to follow. But the causes that lie rooted in prior incarnations cannot be provided for in any way. This stored-up Karma it is useless to regret or try to avoid. It will have its course. But we must submit cheerfully, knowing that, by relying on the power of Buddha’s sublime vow and by joining right practice to it, in time all Karma, good and bad, will be exhausted. Hence there are no spells, talismans, or supplications used by the Shin-Shiu. All its followers must follow and imitate the Buddha in his great love and compassion, and they hold that, if this were the practice in every part of the world, harmony would prevail and prosperity come to all with peace and joy.
1. See Bhagavad-Gita.—[Ed.]
2. 12 Japanese Buddhist Sects, by Bunyiu Nanjio.