Sunday, May 21, 2006

Jonathan Watts

Jonathan Watts

My personal understanding is to speak of self-power as not one's own practices aimed at gaining enlightenment or Birth in the Pure Land but any practices/activities that are done for selfish reasons or that further develop notions of self - i.e. a spiritual practice or spiritual attainments that are clung to like a kind of spiritual materialism. And thus Other-Power is not just the power of Amida Buddha, but the power of not-self (anatman) and the way of being that embodies this. But that's my own idea.

Honen's Conceptions of Other Power (tariki) and Self Power (jiriki)Self power refers to the way of seeking to attain enlightenment by the power of one's own practice, while Other power refers to relying on help received from Amida Buddha.

Honen, in the Senchakushu and in other places, explained that there are four meanings to the term other power. (Todo, 120-141)1. Self power and Other power can be used in order to explain the Gateway of the Holy Path (shodomon) and the Gateway of the Pure Land (jodomon), the former being the path for holy people who practice strictly during their lifetime and attain enlightenment before dying, the latter being the path of ordinary human beings striving for salvation after death.

What is operative in the terms Holy Path and Pure Land Path is thus the realm where people attain salvation. The Holy Path is the path of the few who attain it in this life and on their own. The Pure Land Path is the path of the many who need the help of Amida Buddha to attain it after death. (SHZ. 472)2. Other power, according to Honen, can also explain the power of Amida Buddha's Original Vows (hongan). In order to illustrate the notion of Other power, Honen used the metaphor of a boat which can bear a heavy boulder to a distant shore.

He explained that we can reach the other shore after life, if we rely on Amida Buddha through the nembutsu, just as the boulder rests in the hold of the strong boat. (SHZ. 637-639, 558)3.In Honen's view, Self power and Other power can also refer to the difference in attitude among practitioners. Other power refers to the action of the mind which believes that it will receive Amida Buddha's salvation.

There are two possible hazards to this interpretation of Self power and Other power. On one hand, the person who relies too much on their own personal strength fails to be open to Amida Buddha's help, and on the other hand, the person who completely despairs of their own capacity fails to help him or herself. According to Honen, it is the person who believes in their own strength and who also puts their whole heart into their religious practices that will receive the help of Amida Buddha. As for Other power, he explained that it consisted in the earnest asking of Amida Buddha's help. (SHZ. 630-631, 684-685)4.

Self power and Other power can also be understood as two types of the nembutsu. Self power refers to the utmost personal concentration put into the recitation of the nembutsu, while Other power refers to the earnestness with which Amida Buddha's help is being asked. According to Honen, one is mistaken to believe that it is the number of times the nembutsu is recited that counts for salvation. He insisted that, even with a small number of recitations, it is the strength of one's conviction in reciting the nembutsu which is called Self power. Even with a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand or even a million recitations, it is not the impressive number but the earnestness with which one supplicates Amida Buddha for help which is called Other power. (SHZ. 811)

Honen's disciples furthered their research into Self power and Other power and made a further distinction: they differentiated between the full practice of Other power and the insufficient kind of Other power. The former is the kind of Other power recitation invoking Amida Buddha's help filled with true Other power concentration. The latter is when people practice the Self power recitation with some Self power oncentration.

References: Todo Kyoshun, Honen shonin kenkyu (Tokyo: Sankibo, 1983).Copyright(c) by 1996-2000 Jodo Shu Research Institute

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