emphasizes man's ability to develop himself through his own
inner strength and states that by his determination and constant
practice he can attain the state of enlightenment and spiritual
perfection known as Buddhahood. This reliance upon one's own
effort as the way to enlightenment is known as "self-power,"
and the philosophy of self-power forms the basis for practice
in both the Rinzai and Soto schools of Zen. However, Buddhism
includes not only the conception of self-power, but also the
conception of an "other-power," the compassionate power radiating
from the heart of Amita Buddha, the glorified Buddha of the
Great Vehicle. The philosophy of the "other-power" provides
the central conception of Pure Land Buddhism, a devotional form
of Buddhism which flourished in China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan.
But the concept of the other-power is not altogether foreign
to Zen. In Zen Buddhism there have been attempts to fuse the
concepts of self-power and other-power into a synthetic whole,
and the result of this synthesis has been very fruitful for
both theory and practice.
of self-power and other-power runs throughout the practice of
Zen in China and Vietnam, and while the two main Japanese Zen
sects, Rinzai and Soto, tend to emphasize self-power exclusively,
there is a third sect called Obaku Zen, which takes the fusion
of the two powers as its basic method of cultivation. Some scholars,
such as D. T. Suzuki, do not regard the reliance upon the "other"
as authentic Zen, but this author's viewpoint is different.
Any method which leads to the calming and purification of the
mind and the realization of our true nature can be considered
as Zen. Zen is the Japanese equivalent of the Sanskrit word
dhyana, "concentration" or "meditation." If the method of combining
self-power and other-power as practiced in the syncretic Zen
schools leads to the attainment of a concentrated mind and the
opening of enlightenment, then that method is legitimate Zen.
of self-power and other-power were both originally taught by
Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. According to the
teaching of the Buddha, every living being has a Buddha nature.
Therefore, it is within the potential of every man to realize
that Buddha nature and to become enlightened. But to reach that
state is a tremendously difficult task, calling for dauntless
courage and unflinching will power. Thus, very few people are
capable of reaching enlightenment by themselves; very few have
the required spiritual qualification. For the majority of people
it is necessary to rely upon the help of others, and here we
find the germ of the "other-power" schools. It is as if a boat
were wrecked while floating down a river. Those who are good
swimmers would be able to save themselves, but what are they
to do who cannot swim as well! They must call for help and rely
upon a better swimmer to bring them to the safety of the riverbank.
In other words, they must rely upon someone else to save them.
Similarly, while we all have the potential to become Buddhas,
very few can accomplish Buddhahood through their own unaided
striving. Most must rely upon the help of others to reach the
safe shore of enlightenment.
Zen and the Pure Land schools, practitioners rely upon the compassionate
power of Amita Buddha. This may sound rather remote from orthodox
Zen, but if we consider the matter carefully, we will find that
the difference between Obaku Zen and Pure Land Buddhism on the
one hand, and the Rinzai and Soto Zen schools on the other,
is only a difference of degree, not of kind. Practice in Rinzai
and Soto requires the Master to teach the student how to sit,
how to discipline his mind, how to work with the koan or practice
shikantaza, and he depends upon the wisdom and spiritual skill
of the Master to guide him to enlightenment.
the constant prodding of the Master, how many people would reach
satori! True, the Zen master cannot give enlightenment, but
still he stands as a hand reaching to the disciple from the
"other shore," ever ready to extend to him whatever help he
requires. Now if the Zen master is able to assist in the struggle
to reach enlightenment, then how much more help can we expect
from the Master who has reached Perfect Enlightenment, the Buddha!
The Zen master can help because he has realized a certain amount
of wisdom and compassion. And so the Buddha can provide us with
inexhaustible help because he has reached the state of perfect
wisdom and infinite compassion. Even the very existence of the
path of self-power is in a sense due to the "other-power" of
the Buddha. For it was the Buddha who in his compassion taught
the path to enlightenment and thereby made that path accessible
to mankind. The Buddha is the person who helps us by showing
us the Way, and we are the persons who work and practice it
by ourselves. That is a union of self-power and other-power.
If the self-power and other-power work together to assist each
other, then we can go anywhere, reach anywhere we wish. By fusing
these two powers in our daily practice, we can enter the gates
of enlightenment and abide in the city of Nirvana.
to the Buddha, there were in the past other Buddhas who were
his predecessors, and there will be in the future other Buddhas
who will be his successors. The Buddha who is the primary focus
of devotion in the Pure Land schools and in Obaku Zen is a Buddha
of the remote past called Amita Buddha. Many aeons ago, the
story told by Sakyamuni Buddha goes, there lived a Bodhisattva
named Dharmakara, who practiced the meditations of compassion
and loving-kindness. In his meditation he saw that all living
beings are subject to suffering, to the sorrows of birth, old
age, illness and death. Witnessing this suffering aroused in
him a great compassion, and out of this compassion he vowed
that when he attained Buddhahood he would create a special paradise
in the Western region where there would be no more suffering.
Through the power of his vow he would enable any living being
recollecting his name and calling upon his help to be reborn
in the Western paradise. Since the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, after
several long aeons of self-cultivation, did attain Perfect Enlightenment
and become the Buddha Amita, this means that his Great Vow is
now a reality. The paradise has been established and is accessible
to all who with a mind of sincere faith take refuge in the compassion
and grace of Amita Buddha.
paradise is not, however, the final goal for the Pure Land Buddhist,
not even for those who seek rebirth there. Rather, it is an
intermediary abode where the most favorable conditions for self-cultivation
have been set up and secured. While there are some men who by
practicing can reach enlightenment in this world, many find
difficult obstacles confronting them along the path. The necessity
for work, the attractions of the senses, the threat of illness
and infirmity and the gross entanglements of materiality all
stand as barriers across our path. In the Western Paradise none
of these barriers are present. Everything there is radiant,
peaceful and beautiful. No defilements can be found, for all
shines with purity. Therefore, the country of Amita Buddha is
called the Pure Land. Those who are reborn into the Pure Land
dwell in the midst of lotus flowers. They are always in the
presence of Amita Buddha and the assemblies of Bodhisattvas
presided over by the Bodhisattva Kwan-Yin, the embodiment of
universal compassion. In the midst of these pure conditions
it is easy to develop concentration and wisdom and attain Perfect
to attain rebirth in the Western Paradise is by devotion to
Amita Buddha. This devotion is expressed by reciting the sutras
that teach about Amita, by chanting His Name, by meditating
upon His Image and by calling to mind His Wisdom, Virtue and
Compassion. Those who are capable of placing single-minded faith
in the Great Vow of Amita will enter the Pure Land where they
will meet all favorable conditions for practice and never again
fall into this world of suffering. This way is called the "easy
path" (Jap. igyo) in contrast to the "difficult path" (nangyo)
of self-power. The practice of the "easy path" is very popular
in China, Vietnam, Korea and Mongolia, and also in the Pure
Land schools of Japan, the Jodoshu and the Jodoshinshu. Belief
in the "otherpower" of the Buddha also helps us to develop our
selfpower. Therefore, in the Far East a form of practice was
developed by Mahayana Buddhists which combines formal meditation
with the chanting of the Buddha's name.
method the practitioners sit before an image of the Buddha and
chant the Buddha's name, quietly and calmly, while at the same
time meditating upon the Buddha image or an internalized visualization
of the Buddha. As the mind deepens in meditation, a point is
reached where subject and object become one. No longer is the
Buddha the object and the meditator the subject, but the meditator
becomes one with the Buddha. When this happens, this is the
state of "One Mind Samadhi," and here there is no longer any
distinction between Zen and Pure Land, self-power or other-power,
wisdom or compassion, for all has become merged into the brightness
of the Infinite Light.
to a popular Buddhist belief, whenever a person aspires to become
a Buddhist, a lotus-flower blossoms in the Pure Land. When a
person becomes a Buddhist, this means that he is beginning to
practice the way of wisdom, compassion and virtue, so by the
operation of the law of cause and effect, in the perfect world
created by the compassion of Amita Buddha, a lotus flower, the
symbol of inner spiritual awakening, awaits his rebirth into
the realm of spiritual perfection. The Western paradise is called
the Pure Land because it is the land of purity, and all who
are reborn there are pure. Everything in the Pure Land teaches
the Dharma. Even the birds sing the songs of the Dharma, the
rivers hum sutras as they go flowing by and flowers blossom
in harmony with the blossoming of wisdom. In the Pure Land everything
is a stepping stone on the way to Perfect Enlightenment.
is similar to the teaching of Zen. In Zen we do not learn only
from a book or teacher, but from everything, and we do not learn
only in a temple or a meditation center, but everywhere. For
Zen is experience itself, the truth of life as it is ever flowing
by and encompassing us on all sides. So if we approach life
with an open mind, everything can be our teacher. The way of
Zen is not a withdrawal from life, but the realization of truth
in all the activities of everyday life. We can learn from our
fellow men, from the arts. This is why Zen developed the cultivation
of such arts as gardening, poetry, painting, tea ceremony and
flower arrangement -- as expressions of and keys to the attainment
of enlightenment. Zen has even found a vehicle in the martial
arts. The first supporters of Zen when it was introduced from
China to Japan were the samurai, the warrior class, who found
in Zen's emphasis on self-control and equanimity of mind a method
of discipline conducive to their own ends. Zen has also influenced
the development of techniques of self-defense like judo and
karate. The principle underlying these different applications
of Zen is that any field of activity can serve as a means for
realizing the truth of Zen. In the same way, according to the
Pure Land teaching, everything in the Paradise of Amita Buddha
is a teacher of the Dharma.
three methods of meditation practiced in the combined Zen-Pure
Land schools. The first is the chanting of the Buddha's name.
The second method is the meditation upon the form of the Buddha.
The follower chooses a particularly appealing image of the Buddha
and begins by focusing upon that image until he can picture
it clearly for himself; then he closes his eyes and tries to
visualize the form of the Buddha internally. The third method
is to meditate upon the virtues of the Buddha. The Buddha is
the embodiment of perfect wisdom and infinite compassion. Either
one or both of these virtues together may be taken as the subject
of practice. If we choose the compassion of the Buddha, we reflect
that the Buddha's compassion makes no distinction between subject
and object or between enemies and friends, but pours down upon
is different from ordinary love. Ordinary love works according
to various discriminations: we love ourselves, but not others;
our relatives, but not strangers; our friends, but not enemies.
However, the compassion of the Buddha extends equally to everyone.
Like the Buddha, we should extend our love and compassion outward
to all alike, to everyone everywhere, without making any distinctions.
Again, if we choose to meditate on the Buddha's wisdom, we imagine
the light of wisdom radiating from the figure of the Buddha
and growing larger and larger and brighter and brighter until
it merges with our own inner light. At this point we and the
Buddha become one. When this stage is reached, then this world
will become transformed into the Pure Land, this Samsara become
Nirvana, and all the bliss and purity of the Western paradise
become realized in the here and now of everyday life. Here the
Zen and Pure Land schools meet in that common center from which
they both emanate, the One Mind of Buddha, which is our own
true and permanent Essence of Mind.