Dr. Nobuo Haneda of the Maida Center of Buddhism
On Sunday, November 11, 2001, West Covina Buddhist Temple held the second installment of its successful Living Dharma Seminar Series with the provocative title, "Shakyamuni and Shinran; Is Jodo Shinshu Really Buddhism?" About 35 people were in attendance, some from other Southland Temples. The featured speaker was the noted Shin lecturer Dr. Nobuo Haneda, Director of the Maida Center of Buddhism in Berkeley, California. All participants were eager to hear Dr. Haneda address this key question, and judging by peoples comments afterwards, they were not disappointed.
Dr. Haneda began his talk by stating, "In Jodo Shinshu, we study the teachings of two teachers, Shakyamuni Buddha and Shinran Shonin. As you know, Shakyamuni was the founder of Buddhism and Shinran was the founder of Jodo Shinshu in 13th century Japan. The question contained in our topic today, Is Jodo Shinshu Really Buddhism?, is one I have often received. In Dharma School, teachers often talk about Shakyamunis teachings and in adult services, ministers talk about Shinrans teachings. Sometimes, their teachings seem quite different. Therefore, the question is, are their teachings the same or different?" Dr. Haneda added that, of course, there are considerable "time and space" differences, since Shakyamuni lived in 5th century B.C. India and Shinran lived in 13th century A.D. Japan. There are also considerable "term" differences; Shinran used different terms and concepts than the ones that Shakyamuni used. Thus, it is understandable why some scholars say Jodo Shinshu does not maintain the authentic teaching of Buddhism. "But I believe that, in terms of their essence, Shakyamunis and Shinrans teachings are identical. There are differences concerning the concepts, but I see no difference as far as the essence is concerned," he said.
Definition of Buddhism: The Three Dharma Marks
First, Dr. Haneda began his comparison of these teachings by defining what Buddhism is. He stated that, in Shakyamunis teaching, the Three Dharma Marks are the key universal elements. "Basically," he said, "Buddhism is very simple. There are really three basic concepts that Shakyamuni and his disciples always used to describe Buddhism...Everything Shakyamuni taught is expressed in the concepts of the Three Dharma Marks." They are:
1) the difficulty or suffering of life (Sanskrit duhkha) due to ones "friction with impermanence" (i.e., trying to "go against" this truth); this is "the sickness"
2) the truth of impermanence (Sanskrit anitya); this is "the cure"
3) selflessness (Sanskrit anatman), this is "the cured condition"
To illustrate these Three Marks, Dr. Haneda offered an outline of the major points of Shakyamunis life:
Dr. Haneda explained that the first Mark, "Difficulty," can be seen as the suffering Shakyamuni experienced due to his early "friction" with impermanence (the shocking encounters in the story of the Four Gates, and his ascetic practices). Then, Shakyamunis encountering the truth of impermanence within himself in his Bodhi tree meditation represents his encountering the second Mark, or the "cure" in Buddhism. Finally, after his awakening, Shakyamuni lived his life dynamically and creatively, which represents the third Mark, Selflessness, or the "cured condition."
"This is the framework of Buddhism," said Dr. Haneda. "There are many Buddhist traditions, but if their teachings dont fit into this framework, they are not Buddhism. And if Shinrans teachings, which includes concepts like Pure Land, Amida Buddha and Other Power, if they dont fit into this framework, then Jodo Shinshu is not Buddhism. But as I said, I believe Jodo Shinshu is Buddhism, and all Jodo Shinshu concepts can be explained within this context."
Dr. Haneda then went on to discuss Shinran Shonins teachings. He began again with an outline of Shinrans life:
Dr. Haneda continued by discussing Jodo Shinshu ideas in the framework of the Three Dharma Marks. First, there is the term "Jiriki," or self-power. "I believe this is equivalent to Shakyamunis concept of self-attachment, which represents the First Mark in Buddhism," he said. Self-attachment is the "sickness" that is the cause of our difficulty in life. To Dr. Haneda, Shinrans 20 years of self-practice on Mt. Hiei illustrate this suffering. "In other words, the self was not yet clearly seen," said Dr. Haneda. "He thought he had some ability, some consistent elements. And, the more attachment he had, the more conceited he was. Thus, self-power is the same as self-attachment."
Dr. Haneda then explained that, related to Jiriki, is another key Jodo Shinshu term, "Tariki," or "Other Power." This term is like the "opposite" of Jiriki. "However," he said, "I dont use the term other power; I prefer the term, Power Beyond the Self. This is the power that transcends the fixed, imagined self. This is the Dharma itself, the Second Mark of Buddhism, and the cure for our sickness. This Dharma, the truth of impermanence, is the only truth. This is described as the power beyond the self, self-transcending power or self-denying power. It is also the same as Amida Buddha." Dr. Haneda added that, related to the Jodo Shinshu concept of Amida Buddha is the key concept of "Hongan," which means "innermost aspiration." He stated that Hongan represents the "mind of Amida." Dr. Haneda clarified this Buddhas mind: "A Buddha is a constant seeker and learner. Nothing in Buddhahood is stagnant; it is one with the very freshness of life itself. This is what Dharma means. A Buddha embodies this dynamic truth. Amida Buddha means limitless life, continuously developing life. A Buddhas desire is to be life itself, this is the innermost aspiration."
Dr. Haneda went on to discuss the Jodo Shinshu term, Shinjin. "Shinjin," he said, "means awakening (or Bodhi in Sanskrit). In Shinran Shonins mind, this means the same thing as birth in the Pure Land, or birth in the sphere of Dharma. And, this sphere is the same as Shakyamunis Third Mark, the concept of selflessness, or the cured condition." However, Dr. Haneda pointed out that, contrary to some peoples understanding, "birth in Pure Land" does not refer to life after death. "Thats not what Shinran Shonin taught," he said. "And Shakyamuni never talked about life after death. Shakyamuni always talked about living our life fully here and now, clearly understanding the basic nature of our self...here, now. I dont see any difference in Shinran Shonins teachings. Shinjin means awakening and this awakening means birth in Pure Land." Dr. Haneda then added a crucial point, which is that this "birth" is not an "ending." "No, this is a beginning...you keep on deepening your Shinjin, you keep on repeating your birth in the Pure Land. This is The Way. Then, the Dharma keeps permeating this person, his life becomes more and more dynamic, being liberated from all attachments."
After showing how Shinran Shonins teachings fit within the context of the Shakyamunis Three Dharma Marks, Dr. Haneda pointed out that there is also a very basic similarity these two teachers share, which is their emphasis on self-examination. Dr. Haneda recalled the famous quote of Dogen, the 13th century Zen master, who had said, "Studying Buddhism means studying the self." "According to Dogen," said Dr. Haneda, "Buddhism is nothing but self-examination. Self-examination was what Shakyamuni did while meditating under the Bodhi tree, and the Three Dharma Marks were the content of his meditation. The only question he had was, What am I? All of his teachings were simply answers to this one question. We have tremendous ignorance about the Dharma, about the self, but Shakyamunis teaching, and the teaching of Shinran, tells us to clearly understand the self." Therefore, the most basic and important similarity these two teachers share is that both of them seriously examined the self. "This is the only thing they both did, and the only thing that they taught," he said. "Their teachings are answers to the question, What am I?"
Seminar participants listen as Dr. Haneda speaks
Next, Dr. Haneda moved on to the major focus of his lecture, which was a detailed discussion of the three major similarities they share. The three similarities are 1) They both renounced the traditional practices of their time, 2) Both of their awakening experiences contained two key aspects, and 3) They both led dynamic lives after awakening.
Both Shakyamuni and Shinran Renounced the Traditional Practices
Dr. Haneda said that this similarity can be seen in their actual self-examination "path" itself. Interestingly, they both considered that the traditional practices of their respective times could not lead them to liberation, so they abandoned them. Dr. Haneda identified the two types of religion in both their times: 1) practice-oriented religion, which represented the traditional path, and 2) understanding-oriented religion. He said that they both abandoned the traditional practices and focused their attention solely on self-examination, on gaining "right view." "They sought the instantaneous, immediate insight," he said. "Practices, on the other hand, are designed for gaining a goal in the future; If I do this now, then in the future..." In practice-oriented religion, the goal is in the future. "However, both Shakyamuni and Shinran moved away from that practice-oriented or future-oriented approach and they realized everything can be resolved through a flashlight insight, here and now."
To clarify the inherent problem with practice-oriented religion, Dr. Haneda related a Zen story about tile polishing:
One day, Baso, a Zen student, was doing Zazen, sitting meditation. Then, Nagaku, a Zen master, came to the place where Baso was doing Zazen. The teacher asked Baso, "What are you doing?"
Baso answered, "I am doing zazen. I am trying to become a Buddha."
Then, the Zen master Nagaku picked up a piece of clay tilea tile made of dirtand started to polish it up. Seeing this, Baso asked the teacher, "Zen master, what are you doing?"
The master answered, "I am trying to transform this clay tile into a shining mirror." The student was surprised and said, "Oh, my teacher, how could you transform a clay tile into a brightly shining mirror? How is it possible to make a mirror out of a clay tile?"
Then, the teacher immediately said, "But arent you doing the same thing? Arent you trying to transform yourself into a Buddha? If I cannot transform a tile make of dirt into a shining mirror, how could you transform yourself into a Buddha? How could you become a Buddha?"
Dr. Haneda pointed out that the practice-oriented way represents the attempt to "polish," or change the self into something better. On the other hand, the understanding-oriented way involves simply seeing the self as it is. "This is the way of self-understanding, which could also be termed insight-oriented," he said. "What the Zen master is really saying to the student is, Forget about your practice. True Zen is understanding the basic nature of the self as it is...Buddhahood means awakening to what we really are. It is not a matter of changing ourselves into something else. Dirty clay is dirty clay. Awaken to what we really are." Likewise, Dr. Haneda emphasized that the goal is not in the future. "Understand here and now what you really are."
Initially, both Shakyamuni and Shinran thought Buddhism meant they should try to become "something else" through various kinds of ascetic practices, meditation practices and by keeping precepts. They thought the goal was to become a "nice, pure being," as Dr. Haneda put it. "But they realized, no, its not the practice that is important. It is the immediate, instantaneous insight into what we are, here and now. Then, they shifted their focus. They saw that Buddhahood is not so far away. This is why I say, Buddhism is self-understanding, a religion of right view, of wisdom. Many people mistakenly think Buddhism is only a religion of practice."
He continued, "Of course, we can talk about practice or lifestyle after the awakening experience. Practice means lifestyle, and lifestyle is a very important issue. But we cannot start with a discussion of lifestyle; we must gain the right view, right understanding first. This is Buddhism. This is what the lives of Shakyamuni and Shinran teach us."
Dr. Haneda went into Shakyamunis abandonment of the traditional or practice-oriented religion of his time in more detail. He pointed out that Shakyamuni spent 6 years in ascetic practices like yoga meditation, and actually attained the highest (yogic) stage of deep samadhi (total union of mind and body). "However," said Dr. Haneda, "Shakyamuni had doubt about these practices. He sensed there was still deep self-love and attachment present. So he abandoned them and sat under the Bodhi tree. Not surprisingly, his fellow practitioners thought he was a failure; sitting under a tree was not considered a practice. But Shakyamuni was transformed just by sitting, just by gaining the instantaneous, flashlight insight. He immediately realized the tremendous reality behind his existence. He realized everything was a part of him. He felt himself being embraced by this wonderful reality."
And, concerning Shinrans similar "renunciation" of the traditional practices, Dr. Haneda pointed out that for 20 years, Shinran had engaged in all kinds of meditation practices on Mt. Hiei and had tried to keep many precepts. "He tried to transform himself into a buddha," said Dr. Haneda. However, he gradually realized the futility of those practices. "Shinran detected, like Shakyamuni, a deep self-love and self-attachment as the basis of all his practices. So he said, Im completely incapable of any religious practices. Hell is my only home. He felt like a complete failure."
"Actually," Dr. Haneda clarified, "that insight came when Shinran met his teacher Honen Shonin. We cannot understand ourselves without the guidance of our teachers. Thats an important aspect of Shinrans teaching. He had a deep understanding, but he didnt reach it all by himself. In order to know our darkness, we must encounter brightness and light. It is only through this encounter that we can know our darkness." More specifically, Dr. Haneda pointed the importance of the teacher by adding that, to Shinran, concepts like Dharma, Other Power, Amida Buddha and Hongan were not at all abstract. This is because, to Shinran, Honen Shonin embodied these concepts; Honen was Other Power, Honen was Amida Buddha, Honen was Hongan. "What do I mean by that?," Dr. Haneda asked. "I mean that Honens words, Honens teachings are what changed Shinran Shonin."
"This is a very important aspect of Jodo Shinshu," he continued. "We shouldnt make a refuge out of any human being. We must make ultimate refuge out of the Dharma alone. That was Shakyamunis teaching. And Jodo Shinshu follows the this tradition and emphasizes the Dharma alone. And the Jodo Shinshu way of talking about this is not abstract. When we encounter a living teacher, it is through listening to his words, to his teaching that we can understand the Dharma." Dr. Haneda added that Shakyamuni also placed the emphasis squarely on the Dharma, that the Dharma is the most important thing; that we must "take refuge" in the Dharma. "Dont make idols out of any human teachers. It is only the Dharma that liberates us," said Dr. Haneda. "Thus, Jodo Shinshu is following the tradition of Shakyamuni and emphasizes the importance of listening, because listening is the only way we can receive the Dharma."
And so, just as Shakyamuni became a "dropout" of Brahminism (the traditional practice-oriented religion of his time), Shinran became a "dropout" of Tendai Buddhism (the major religion of his time). As Dr. Haneda said, "Both detected inherent problems in the traditional practices, and deep rooted religious self-love. Both recognized that self-based practices could not realize selflessness." Dr. Haneda also pointed out that not long after they both abandoned these practices, and identified self-understanding as the most important issue, they both attained awakening.
Q & A #1:
At this point in the Seminar, Dr. Haneda took a question from the audience. A participant asked, "Since mind is impermanent, are there also different stages of awakening?" Dr. Haneda said that there is the initial awakening, but that this is just a beginning. The initial awakening must be deepened. "The important point here is that Shakyamuni understood the emptiness of the self," he said. "This is a very humbling experience. He recognized, How attached I am, how foolish I am; this was the content of his awakening. But he forgets about it all the time, so he has to keep deepening his insight. And in Shinrans case, though he appreciated Honens bright radiance, that experience has to be repeated because, as Shinran put it, I still have so much self-love."
Here, Dr. Haneda clarified an important point. "The awakening doesnt eliminate the problem," he said. "Dont say, Shinran recognized other power and was then liberated from self-power. Thats incorrect. He just recognized the deep-rootedness of his self-power. He had self-power before, but he wasnt aware of it. Dont think Shakyamuni became Buddha, so he didnt have any ignorance or self-attachment. No, he simply recognized the deludedness in himself."
"We are endlessly self-power oriented," Dr. Haneda continued. "But through insight, we are gaining understanding about it. However, our tendency is to think about awakening in a dualistic way. This was illustrated in the previous Zen story of trying to polish our dirty clay tile into a shining mirror. We want to become a wonderful, shining Buddha; through meditation or through saying Nembutsu, I want to become someone like that, but this is the basis of delusion. We have to eliminate our dualistic way of thinking, of contrasting purity vs. impurity, good vs. evil, unenlightened vs. enlightened. Initially, we all use this way of thinking to understand Buddhism. Shakyamuni and Shinran also thought this way initially. However, this is not what Buddhism is about. Buddhism is concerned with understanding myself as it is. This is called Shinjin; this is the flashlight insight into the deludedness that we really are."
Dr. Haneda went on, "As one Zen master put it: Buddhas are those who are awakened, but we need to ask, To what are they awakened? The Zen master would answer that Buddhas are awakened to their deludedness. Dont think Buddhas are wonderful, holy people. If you look into their mind, they have a deep insight into their deludedness. Zen master Dogen also says the same thing, that a Buddha knows the dirt inside. Therefore, dont romanticize yourself. We cannot turn the dirty clay tile into a shining mirror. Just see the deludedness, but also realize that its OK; that is what you are. This is what Shakyamuni discovered, and this is Shinrans teaching. Both made this same mistake; both had tried to eliminate the evil passions and become pure Buddhas. But Shinran said, "No, you dont have to change yourself. Just understand yourself. You are humbled and you feel sad. But thats OK. You must encounter the Dharma. Only this brightness can show you your darkness."
Another participant asked, "What is the distinguishing fact between enlightenment and awakening?" Dr. Haneda replied that he doesnt like the term "enlightenment." "Its a term D. T. Suzuki and others may have coined, but there is no such Sanskrit term," he said. "Awakening is the term we should use. Or Satori (Japanese) or Bodhi (Sanskrit). I will talk more about awakening a little later. Briefly, let me say that awakening is composed of two aspects, a negative or endarkment aspect and positive or enlightenment aspect. Thus enlightenment by itself is a misleading term. Really, endarkment is more accurate. It is unromantic because it implies that, rather than becoming wonderful beings, we must know the selfish self as it really is."
West Covina Buddhist Temple's Living Dharma Seminar 2 had a good turnout!
After enjoying a relaxed lunch together with all participants, Dr. Haneda began the afternoon session by stating, "Even though Shakyamuni and Shinran used totally different concepts and ideas, their teachings were no different; Shinrans desire was to capture the essence of Shakyamunis teaching. Shinran always respected Shakyamuni Buddha. When Shinran wrote books, he put his name in the book as Gutoku Shaku Shinran. This means Buddhas disciple by the name of bald-headed Shinran. He had tremendous respect for Shakyamuni. In his mind, he never deviated one inch from Shakyamuni Buddha. He tried to capture the essence of Shakyamuni Buddha. We say that Jodo Shinshu is the tradition founded by Shinran Shonin and actually, Shinshu means true essence. To Shinran, the Pure Land teaching is the true essence of Buddhism."
Dr. Haneda reemphasized that the most basic similarity between the two teachers is that they both focused on self-examination. "We all have difficulties in life, but what is the basic cause?," he asked. "It is because we are ignorant of our sickness. Shakyamuni and Shinran both taught that we have to understand this basic problem that exists in ourselves. Self-examination is the true essence of Buddhism and thats what Shakyamuni and Shinran experienced." Dr. Haneda also restated that both tried various difficult practices but realized practice was not the way. Attaining the immediate, flashlight insight is the way. Both renounced traditional practices and focused instead on self-understanding.
The Two Aspects of Awakening
Dr. Haneda went on to discuss the second similarity, which concerns the actual content of their awakening. First, in discussing Shakyamuni, Dr. Haneda said, "When Shakyamuni was 35, he was awakened. In this awakening experience, he recognized the impermanence or constant flow. He expressed his awakening in two famous sentences: My life is spent. The Universal work is established." But before he clarified the meaning in these statements, Dr. Haneda discussed in greater detail the crucial meaning of "self-examination" in Buddhism.
He said that the most important part of Buddhism is discovery of the truth of impermanence or Dharma. "Understanding this truth is everything in Buddhism," he said. "But the important question is, where do we discover this truth? The answer is, we have to discover this truth in ourselves, within the context of our mind. Buddhism is a religion of self-understanding, and there is nothing abstract or general about the issue of self-understanding. We have to know our specific self. We are not going to examine the human self, the people of mankind; we have to know the makeup of our own mind. Knowing this truth of impermanence outside ourselves is not so difficult. We look at trees and animals, and see that everything is moving. Even small children know things are moving and changing. All scientists know matter is in a state of flux. But that insight alone doesnt make scientists into Buddhists. The problem is, scientists dont know impermanence is the absolute reality within the context of themselves, within their mind."
He continued "The most important point in Buddhism is that Shakyamuni meditated so intensely, examined himself so intensely, that he recognized he was impermanent, his self was impermanent. That was the crucial insight. As I said, knowing impermanence is not so difficult; everybody knows it. We objectively understand things are moving and changing. The difficulty is understanding this truth in ourselves. Shakyamuni had a kind of hard time understanding it. Finally, he said, My body is impermanent, my mind is impermanent...that was his conclusion. So his insight was that, I am impermanent. That was the content of his awakening. This is the meaning implied in his statement, My life is spent. My life refers to the self he thought he had, to some kind of imagined permanent existence. But he realized he was just an ever-changing reality."
Dr. Haneda termed this realization a kind of "spiritual death," or "endarkment," and said it clearly represents a negative insight. "This negative aspect must come first," he emphasized. "Self-examination is not a comfortable process. It is a negative process. We must know the basic nature of our being. It is a humbling process. If we dont have deep insight into this first, negative aspect of Buddhahood, we are not understanding Shakyamunis teaching. We tend to idealize Buddhahood, looking at it from the outside, objectively. We talk about the wonderful qualities of Buddha; that he was wise, compassionate and humble. But we are not seeing what Buddha himself is seeing in his mind. Does Buddha say, Im a wise person? No, Buddha would say, Im an ignorant person. We say, Shakyamuni was a humble person. Do you think Shakyamuni would say, Im a humble person? Who would trust someone who says Im humble? Shakyamuni would say Im an arrogant person. I might say, Shakyamuni is a selfless person, but Shakyamuni would say, Im a self-centered person. That is the content of Buddhahood; Buddhas are those who are awakened to their negative qualities."
Dr. Haneda pointed out that throughout history, people have tended to glorify Buddhahood, and only describe the positive aspects of Buddhahood. However, to Dr. Haneda, the crucial question is, "How did Shakyamuni answer the question, What am I?" As Dr. Haneda put it, "When Shakyamuni said, I am impermanent, it was a tremendously humbling experience. He realized that all the good qualities he thought he possessed and that he cherished were not there. Instead, everything is moving and changing. In a deeply personal way, this was kind of a confession. He said, Everything in me, body and all mental elements are constantly flowing and changing according to conditions. This was a humbling insight. This is why I use the term endarkment. He discovered the ignorance and darkness in the self. His entire self was negated."
However, though it at first seems paradoxical, Dr. Haneda explained that this negative experience was also simultaneously a positive experience. This is expressed in his statement, "The universal work is established." "This means that when he saw the emptiness and changeability of his being, he simultaneously recognized that the whole universe was also manifesting this Dharma of impermanence," said Dr. Haneda. "He recognized that the whole universe was a continuous flow of life, and that everything was fresh and new. He realized that his whole being was part of this creative reality. He saw that the whole universe was a creative reality and he himself was a creative element of this creative reality. He recognized himself being embraced by this Dharma, this universal flow of life. He became one with the Dharma."
Dr. Haneda then added that the two aspects of awakening, as represented by the two seemingly contrasting statements of Shakyamuni, really refer to only one instantaneous experience. Of course, seen from the "endarkening aspect," the experience was negative, but seen from the "enlightenment aspect," it was positive and life-affirming. "Dying was being reborn; absolute negation was absolute affirmation. This was the content of his awakening," he said.
Next, Dr. Haneda compared Shinrans awakening experience to Shakyamunis. "In Shakyamunis experience, the term used is Bodhi, which means awakening," Dr Haneda pointed out. "Shinran used the term, Shinjin. Bodhi and Shinjin (or shin) have the same meaning; both mean awakening. Both refer to the flashlight insight."
"I think there is only one type of awakening in Buddhism, and I dont see any difference in their experience," he clarified. "In Shinrans awakening experience, we can also talk about two aspects. These two aspects are the deep understanding of the self and the deep understanding of the Dharma. The first aspect is negative. Like Shakyamuni, Shinran experienced spiritual death. In Buddhism, Ojo means die and reborn (o means die; jo means reborn). Both negative and positive aspects are described in this term. In a sense, dying is being reborn. These are not two experiences, but one experience. Seen from the negative aspect, the experience is negative and endarkening. Seen from the positive aspect, it is a positive, enlightening and reviving experience. A new Dharma life is received."
Dr. Haneda then discussed in greater detail the negative aspect of Shinrans awakening. Whereas Shakyamunis answer to the question, "What am I?" was, "I am impermanent," Shinrans answer was the expression, "I am evil," by which Shinran meant "My self is evil." However, Dr. Haneda explained that, though the content of their "deep understanding of self" seems different, they actually have the identical meaning. "Impermanence and evil seem to be totally different ideas, but they have the synonymous meaning," he said. "I am impermanent and I am evil are identical. This is the most important part of my lecture; we must understand the core of Shakyamunis and Shinrans Buddhism."
However, before actually discussing how these two statements are identical, Dr. Haneda first clarified the meaning of evil person. "Many people misunderstand the meaning of evil," he said. "However, Buddhism is a religion of self-understanding, and evilness is something private and personal that you discover in yourself. It has nothing to do with anything outside yourself. Terms like Hongan, Pure Land, etc., are all related to our self-knowing. These terms describe certain aspects of our self-understanding. If you think of the Pure Land as some reality outside of yourself, this is a complete misunderstanding of these concepts."
"Therefore," he said, "evilness can be discussed in two ways. We can evaluate human beings in two ways, in the social way and in the introspective or hidden (existential) way. It is important to understand that, in Jodo Shinshu, concepts of evil have nothing to do with the so-called external or social aspect. The adjective evil must only be used in the grammatical context of first person singular. Its not a matter of he is, or human beings are; its I am. This was Shinrans answer to the question What am I? Some people might say, Oh, I examined myself and Ive seen Im such a nice guy... But I think a self-examination like this is not so deep."
Dr. Haneda then related Shakyamunis statement, "I am impermanent," to Shinrans "I am evil." "Shakyamuni said, My body (form) is impermanent, He said, Sensation, conception, impulse and consciousness were impermanent. This means his body and mind were impermanent; thus his statement, I am impermanent. Furthermore, Shakyamuni realized any good ideas he had came up because of good conditions; evil ideas came up because of evil conditions. There was no consistency. In other words, he realized how unpredictable, how changeable, how whimsical his mind was; that was the subjective expression of his insight, My mind is impermanent. Doctrinally, it is called, Anatman, or selflessness."
Dr. Haneda said that in order to be able to claim we are a "good person," there must be consistency in us. But how can we claim we have consistently good qualities? "Talking about goodness is one thing, but reality is another thing," he said. "Sometimes, because of causes and conditions, I could have very nice, compassionate feelings. But, if Im hungry or angry, I could have very self-centered feelings. Reality is such that there is no consistency in our mind. We like to think we are good people, but reality is another thing. Buddhism is a teaching that talks about reality, about what we really are. Buddhism says, in order to say you are a good person, you have to be consistently good. And Shinrans saying, I am an evil person, means I cannot be consistently good. That is the meaning of his statement. And Shakyamunis statement, I am impermanent, means I am always changing and moving, my mind and body has no consistent, fixed reality. Therefore, how can I say I am a consistent person? Thus, even though Shakyamuni did not use the term good or evil, what Shinran said was no different from what Shakyamuni said," he stated. "We have to understand the nature of the mind; we cannot say our mind is pure and good."
Dr. Haneda further explained that another term Buddhism uses is "conditional causation"; that everything arises because of causes and conditions. Reality is thus a continuous flow of these causes and conditions, which are always moving and flowing. This is an analytical explanation of the Dharma of impermanence. Likewise, when we view a typical rapid-fire series of car, perfume, dogfood and sports commercials on television, the thoughts in our minds also rapidly change, depending on the commercial were watching. "Therefore, Dr. Haneda asked, "dont you think your mind is completely controlled by what you see and hear, by conditions? If we look honestly into our minds, we must admit that our mind does not have any solid, consistent basis. It is moving around based on what we see and hear. We overestimate our thinking ability. It really doesnt have any independence. It is actually moving according to what we see and hear. Conditions are determining what we are doing and thinking. This is the absolute truth Buddhism is teaching us. However, we dont see this truth in the context of our mind. If we understand that the self we cherish is nothing but conditionally created, it is a tremendously humbling experience. We cannot romanticize our minds. Our mind is not consistently good and pure. Our mind is simply reacting to our conditions. Our reacting is our thinking. This is what we have to know. This is what Shakyamuni expressed. The self that I thought had autonomy, actually has no autonomy. It is reacting, moving according to causes and conditions. That is the content of Shakyamunis insight into his self, the content of his statement, My mind is impermanent. And when Shinran said, I am evil, he was talking about the same thing. My mind just cannot be good, cannot be consistent. It is moving around because of causes and conditions, unpredictable, changeable. Shinran said, If certain conditions are there, I could do all kinds of things. This is a very famous statement. He was talking about how our mind is conditionally created. This is what his being evil means.
For further comparison, Dr. Haneda compared some famous statements concerning impermanence or evil in Buddhism.
Dr. Haneda clarified that the reason he emphasizes the negative aspect is because some Buddhist teachers, even Jodo Shinshu teachers, neglect the negative aspect. "They tend to emphasize the positive aspect all the time," he said. "They say, Amida is compassionate, he is embracing us...all major religions talk about love and compassion, but the most important, and I should say, the unique aspect of Jodo Shinshu, is that we get to that insight of compassion or embracing power, only through our self-examination. This negative process is a positive process. Again, dying is being reborn."
"We cannot ignore the negative aspect," he continued. "Some Jodo Shinshu teachers skip the first aspect. But if that is Buddhism, I dont see any difference between Christianity and Buddhism. Christians also talk about divine love and embracing. But the crucial issue is whether or not we retain our self-attachment. A self-attached person can also talk about tremendous love and compassion. But in that case, divine love and compassion are just projections of ego, or self-love, self affirmation. In that sense, it is very dangerous. There is a dualism there. But in the true Buddhist way, there is no dualism. In self-examination, we are not allowed to have this self-basis from which to talk about love and compassion. If we dont go through this difficult, negative stage, whatever love and compassion we have is not authentic."
In addition to the similarity of Shakyamuni and Shinran concerning the two aspects of their awakening experiences, Dr. Haneda also stated that though the two used different terms, the meaning of the Dharma, or truth of impermanence, is the same in Jodo Shinshu as it was to Shakyamuni. "First of all, the Dharma is the most important thing in Buddhism," he said. "It challenges us and changes our whole direction. It is sobering. In Jodo Shinshu, self-power (Jiriki) means the over-estimation of the self, and the Dharma is the power which makes us realize this mistake, this delusion." Of course, in Jodo Shinshu, the Dharma is described with different words than those that Shakyamuni used. Jodo Shinshu uses words like Amida Buddha, Other Power, Power Beyond the Self and Innermost Aspiration or Hongan. "However, these are all talking about the same things," he said. "They refer to the Dharma, the power that challenges the self."
Dr. Haneda clarified however, that Jodo Shinshu talks about this power in two different ways. In Jodo Shinshu, there are in fact, "two Buddhas," but both kinds of Buddhas represent the same truth of impermanence. One kind of Buddha is the symbolic Buddha, or Amida Buddha. "The Name" (Nembutsu), or Namu Amida Butsu, refers to this Buddha. "Namu Amida Butsu is the full name of Amida Buddha," he said. "Namu, or bowing, is part of his name. This is a symbolic way of talking about the Dharma, a symbol for us of the truth of impermanence, of the innermost aspiration we all have to be humble (Namu) and dynamic (Amida)." Dr. Haneda termed this Buddhist symbol an example of a Sambhoga-kaya Buddha.
On the other hand, he pointed out that there are historical Buddhas such as Shakyamuni and Honen. These were real people who embodied the Hongan, or innermost aspiration, in concrete, historical contexts. They, and all the Seven Patriarchs, are examples of Nirmana-kaya Buddhas. "For example, in the chemical symbol H20, we all know it symbolizes water," he said. "But water must be tasted to really know what the symbol means. Likewise, the Dharma can be expressed symbolically. This is what words like Amida Buddha and Hongan are. But they have to be actualized in historical contexts, in real people. Shakyamuni showed what Namu Amida Butsu was, what Hongan was. And, to Shinran, Honen was the concrete manifestation of Hongan. You must actually touch and hear the words of a historical person. And, just as merely learning about H2O will not quench your thirst, just intellectually understanding Buddhist concepts is not enough." Dr. Haneda pointed out that Shinran was very clear about this in particular. "If you do not contact real people, there is no way you can understand these concepts."
"Ultimately," said Dr. Haneda, "realizing the Dharma through the words of many historical Buddhas leads us, like a ferryboat, to the other shore of awakening. Then, we realize the Dharma and Amida Buddha. We become the Dharma, we become buddhas. We realize our true self, we realize Namu. In this realization, absolute negation equals absolute affirmation. All people are unconsciously aspiring to become humble students like Namu Amida Butsu. This is a bowing person who appreciates the dynamic, creative reality of Amida Buddha. And, as Shinran said, this one name is good enough if you truly understand it. This one name contains a deep understanding of the self and a deep understanding of the Dharma. This deep understanding is Shinjin...Shinjin is Namu Amida Butsu."
"Namu Amida Butsu has two aspects," he added. "All Buddhas are manifesting these two aspects. They are very humble (Namu), but also very dynamic, creative and powerful people (Amida Butsu). And actually, because absolute negation is absolute affirmation, it is clear that only the most humble people can fully appreciate this dynamic reality. Only the bowing person can see the Dharma. Namu Amida Butsu is the most important concept in Jodo Shinshu. Absolute negation is absolute affirmation. Endarkment is enlightenment, and only the self-aware and humble person can be born in the Pure Land."
The Third Similarity: Their Dynamic Life After Awakening
Dr. Haneda said that, like Shakyamuni, Shinran lived a most humble and dynamic life after his awakening, constantly deepening his appreciation of Namu Amida Butsu, of birth in Pure Land. "For Shinran, the Shinjin experience was a true beginning, a spiritual rebirth. Namu Amida Butsu had such depth, he kept on appreciating his understanding."
Furthermore, Dr. Haneda recalled that it was Shinran who talked about the "true ending." Shinran had said that the life of the person of Shinjin will most assuredly end with Pari-nirvana ("complete combustion"). "Shinran said the person of Shinjin appreciated this awakening experience everyday of their life. And that the life of a person of Shinjin is fully lived. He has finished his important business. There is no need for another life. Thus, the person who attains Shinjin, also attains Pari-nirvana at the very end of his life. His life is complete at death. Pari-nirvana means nothing needs to be realized after death; completion is at the moment of death. That is how we should live."
"And this is precisely what Shakyamuni taught," Dr. Haneda added. "Life shouldnt have another goal after dying. Shakyamuni said, I dont have any need to come back to my mothers womb. I finished my important business. I put an end to Samsara. My life is going to end with Pari-nirvana."
However, Dr. Haneda emphasized once again, that in order to have this "true ending," we must have the "true beginning," Shinjin. He quoted Shinran, who had said, "If you have Shinjin, and enjoy listening and appreciate Namu Amida Butsu, thats good enough. Everything is contained in this. Even if you die tomorrow, the goal is contained in the process of Namu Amida Butsu."
In conclusion, Dr. Haneda stated firmly that both Shakyamuni and Shinran realized that the important thing is to attain the immediate insight into the nature of the self. "You must know what you are; see yourself as it is," he said. "Gain an instantaneous insight into what you are. This is awakening; Bodhi, Shinjin...it is all here and now. Everything can be immediately resolved here, now. You dont have to create a wonderful reality or another self. Something perfect already exists, here and now. You just have to be born into it. The Pure Land is already here, now. The Dharma is already here, now. Its just that you arent aware of it. Just awaken to it. Be born into it. Its not a matter of practice. Its a matter of understanding, How am I existing? and What does it mean? In this instantaneous awareness, everything is resolved. This is Shinjin. And one expression, Namu Amida Butsu, is enough. This encompasses the essence of Buddhism. Shinran said the Larger Sutra explains the contents of this expression. You dont have to know many theories. This one name alone is good enough. This one name also contains the essence of Shakyamunis awakening."
Thus, there are many similarities between Shakyamuni and Shinran, but the most basic similarities are that they both renounced the traditional practice-oriented religions of their time, experienced the same twofold awakening and lived a humble and dynamic life after awakening.
Dr. Haneda ended his talk by stating that, even though many Jodo Shinshu followers may idolize Shinran and call him a "great founder," he did not actually create a new tradition. "He was really interpreting Shakyamunis teaching," said Dr. Haneda. "Shakyamuni had a deep insight, and throughout history, many people tried to fathom the depth of his awakening. Shinran was one of those people who really tried hard to fathom the depth of Shakyamunis insight. And Shinran came up with his own vocabulary, but he was not creating a new tradition. He was re-interpreting and explaining the true essence"Shinshu" means true essenceof what Shakyamuni taught. It is so important for us to study both Shakyamuni and Shinran. Its important to understand that Shinran was deeply respecting Shakyamuni and his predecessors like the Seven Patriarchs. Those patriarchs were guiding Shinran to Shakyamuni. Thats why Shinran honored the patriarchs. It is very important to understand that Shakyamuni and Shinran were no different in their focus. There was just one question, "What am I?"
Those who've heard Dr. Haneda in person will recognize his unique
use of the chalkboard (this shot was taken after he had clarified several
key points and related them all to each other!
Q & A #2:
In the final Q & A, a participant asked the question, "What is the difference between Pari-nirvana and Nirvana?" Dr. Haneda answered that there are two "deaths" or extinctions in Buddhism, and that the difference between the two is physical death (Pari-nirvana) vs. spiritual death (Nirvana, or awakening). "Pari means complete end, absolute (no "transmigration" or reincarnation, as in Hindu or Brahminism)," he said. "The goal is to rid oneself of the samsara mentality which leads to one needing another life. We must deeply know our ignorance, and not waste our lives pursuing endless objects of attachment. Nirvana means putting an end to this attachment through humbling self-understanding, and becoming one with the Dharma. The key point is that we dont change and lose our attachment and self-centeredness; it is simply that we see the darkness and simultaneously see the light. This is like a paradox. And remember, dont be concerned about after-death or even death itself. This is future-oriented thinking. The focus of our lives should be listening to the Dharma, living in the here-and-now, in the present moment."
Another participant then asked Dr. Haneda to clarify the "four elements" of the mind. Dr. Haneda said, "These are from Shakyamuni. He actually said there are five elements of human existence: form (physical body) and perception, conception, impulse and consciousness (all "mental" elements), and all are impermanent. They are not consistent and independent, but are the products of causes and conditions. Whatever thinking we do should be intuitive thinking, thinking with our body, experiencing and living here and now. We should not think or live in the past or in the future, which is imagined thinking. Our thinking is always like a broken watch, always lagging behind the present or racing ahead to the future. We also suffer from a universal overestimation of our thinking ability. But we cannot actually control our mind."
Next, there was the question, "Would you consider Thich Nhat Hanh a Buddha?" To this, Dr. Haneda answered, "I talked about two ways of defining Buddhahood. But I dont define Buddhahood in positive terms, by saying this person is a Buddha because hes nice, compassionate, or even ethical and socially responsible. I dont evaluate Buddhahood based on actions, which can be deceiving. People can do good works and yet still have strong self-love. Nor do I base Buddhahood on ethicsBuddhism has nothing to do with ethics. Buddhahood is a negative insight. Just admiring wonderful, compassionate people, thats not Buddhism. Instead, we must be able to identify with the negative qualities of Buddhas. We must see Buddhas subjectively, as they see themselves. The only criteria for a Buddha is how deeply are they examining their self?"
The questioner then asked, "But would you consider promoting Thich Nhat Hanhs message in order to promote Buddhism?" To this, Dr. Haneda replied, "As a Buddhist, you have only one question, "What am I?" You dont have to worry about someone else. Buddhism talks about positive things like compassion, peace, harmony, non-duality, but really, there is only one issue in Buddhism, which is self-examination, or self-negation. It is in this process that peace or oneness is realized. Dont skip the first, negative aspect! As Shakyamuni said, Life is 100% difficult...everything in me is difficult. Then investigatein myself onlywhy is my life difficult. And see that the cause of difficulty should be found in myself. Therefore, start not from the universal, but from the specific issue of my life. The cause of the difficulty is me, nobody else. As I said, many teachers, even Jodo Shinshu. teachers, skip this first aspect. They talk about Buddhism as being wonderful, compassionate, oneness, suchness, etc. But I dont think this is what Buddhism is really about. The cause of difficulty is ignorance in me. Yes, after serious examination, life can be wonderful, compassionate, but we cannot skip the negative process."
Furthermore, Dr. Haneda clarified that Buddhism is not "humanism," which really has a strong sense of self-affirmation or self-righteousness. "On the contrary," he said, "Buddhas teaching is based on self-negation. Buddhism is not concerned with social issues. Shakyamuni was not concerned with social issues; he just sat there under the Bodhi tree and meditated on himself. But in that one, flashlight insight, in seeing the true nature of his self, the whole universe was changed."
Another participant then asked Dr. Haneda to discuss further this dynamic life after awakening. Dr. Haneda said that the important thing is that you have an appreciation for the tradition, for the words of your teachers. "This appreciation gives us a feeling of joy and gratitude, and we have a focus on self-examination. We become a seeker and learner. The important thing is that we become liberated from the fixed, attached ideas we have. The Shinjin experience is nothing but the appreciation of the Dharma, of the continuous flow of life. Appreciation means we become one with this flow, this is the seekers, students spirit."
Actually, this spirit has an important place in our social life, Dr. Haneda said. "We tend to assert our own ideas, we cherish our ideas and opinions. But the Shinjin experience is so important because we become listeners, appreciators of the words of other people. And everything can help us understand ourselves. Initially, we are assertive and active. But this attitude goes through a transformation and we become a true student and seeker, a constant recipient of the words and teachings of others. We start to have a different attitude. This is the meaning of Namu Amida Butsu. This means constantly bowing to and learning from others."
"Yes, we enjoy asserting our own ideas," Dr. Haneda continued. "We are attached to our ideas and there is a certain joy in self-assertion. But there is also joy in self-negation, or in the self being challenged with humility. I think this is a deeper joy. As Shinran put it, I rejoice in what I hear, I praise what I receive. Theres a tremendous, passive joy in receiving. Real peace, harmony or oneness is realized only through our self-examination, when we become real seekers. This is the spirit of Namu."
Next, there was another question about Pari-nirvana. Dr. Haneda clarified that Jodo Shinshu is a teaching of "two attainments." "Shinran talks about present attainment, which is Shinjin, birth in Pure Land," he said. "Future attainment is Pari-nirvana, the complete ending. But these are not two separate attainments; Pari-nirvana is contained in Shinjin. As I said, in order to have the true ending of Pari-nirvana, you must have the true beginning, Shinjin."
"We are personally responsible for living our life," said Dr. Haneda. "And in Buddhism, encountering a Buddha (a teacher, as Shinran encountered Honen), listening to the Dharma, becoming part of a Sangha, this is so crucial, this is the only way we can feel that our human life has been fulfilled. Without listening to the Dharma, we cannot know ourselves. It is so important that we ask this basic question, What am I? We worry about so many things, society, family, world affairs, but we must become self-focused. Self-focused is not self-centered. Without proper understanding of the self, whatever we do will be deluded. No matter how much world peace we discuss, our efforts will be deluded. We must have Right View (the first of the Eightfold Path). Without true understanding of the self, no right action can happen."
"We have dualistic, judgmental criteria and we love ourselves. This is why we must listen to the words of our teachers. But this is so difficult." Dr. Haneda quoted Shinran, who had said, "Of all things, Shinjin is the most difficult thing." "No matter how clever we are, we cannot understand our self without listening and respecting the words of our teachers," added Dr. Haneda. "Buddhism talks about total negation of the self. And for Shinran, even though he tried for 20 years on Mt. Hiei, he had to meet his teacher, Honen, who immediately pointed out that it was Shinrans religious self-attachment which was the problem."
Dr. Haneda concluded the Seminar by emphasizing, "I really feel there is tremendous joy in deep listening to the Dharma. And, it is the only thing that can realize our transformation. Only one issue is important, and that is self-understanding. And you just keep repeating and deepening your understanding and really appreciating. There is tremendous joy in this process. We think there is a joy in self-assertion, but there is a deeper joy in receiving and listening."
West Covina Buddhist Temple would like to thank our minister, Rev. Ken Kawawata, for his guidance and support of our religious programs like the Living Dharma Semimar Series. Many thanks also go to our Temple Communications Staff, who not only helped create the topic of this Seminar and its format, but also pitched in and put together the wonderful lunch and refreshments that were enjoyed by all. A special thanks go to Staffer Mrs. Claudia Haraguchi, who worked with the Junior YBA teens to donate the professional wireless microphone system used so effectively by Dr. Haneda in his lecture. Finally of course, West Covina Buddhist Temple is deeply grateful to Dr. Haneda, who presented what will very likely prove to be a seminal lecture in our tradition.
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