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Buddhadharma : Spring 2012
SPRING 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 69 emptiness/oneness, had released itself into the hearts and minds of all—from peasants to intellectuals, and wildflow- ers to towering pines—by coming down from the mountain monastery to mingle, laugh, and cry with all suffering beings everywhere and in every time. Anyone can say the six syllables Namu Amida Butsu, but the power of Honen’s recitation is said to have been derived from the limitless compassion that comes from beyond the ego self, known as “other power,” as in “other than ego.” Atone and Hayashi state, “The transformation of nembutsu [mindfulness of buddha] from mental to vocal was made by Shan-tao in China and Honen in Japan, and they defended this dramatic change with the rationale that the recitation of the name of Amida Buddha is not only easy for everyone to perform but also possible to continue throughout life.” Honen is known not only for advo- cating the recitation of the Name throughout one’s life but also for look- ing to realization of the Pure Land of oneness in the next life. However, this does not mean that Pure Land practi- tioners are merely looking to escape the suffering of this world for a better life in the next. Rather, the goal is to live this karmically bound life meaning- fully in the embrace of boundless com- passion and to fully realize liberation in the hereafter. To better understand this it’s helpful to recall the trajectory of the life of Buddha Shakyamuni, who attained nirvana at thirty-five but lived with the residue of the karmic suffering of finite mind and body (nirvana-with-a - remainder) until he attained parinirvana in English of the writings and sayings of Genku Honen, founder of the Jodo- shu, or Pure Land School. Pure Land Buddhist practices were prominent in Japan from at least the seventh century but took a critical turn in the twelfth century. Honen (1133–1212) was one of the most learned, widely respected monks of his time, even receiving the appellation “Honen, First in Wisdom” from his contemporaries. It is said that he studied the entire Buddhist canon, consisting of thousands of works, five times over, as well as the section on Pure Land an additional three times. He served as consultant to leading monks and nuns from many different schools, and was regarded as unsurpassed in his mastery of the precepts and of medi- tation, proficient in the most difficult visualizations and impeccable in his comportment. However, at the age of forty-three, he abandoned the practices he had been doing and devoted himself solely to invoking the “Name of Amida Buddha,” expressed in the six-syllable Japanese phrase Namu Amida Butsu (Sanskrit: Namo Amitabha Buddha), meaning roughly, “I, a foolish being filled with blind passion, entrust myself to the awakening of infinite light.” According to Honen, this was the true teaching of the Mahayana, bring- ing liberation to women and men from all walks of life, and to all beings every- where. It was as if the cosmic dhar- makaya, the dharma as embodiment of Reviews (nirvana-without-a -remainder) at eighty, when he passed from earthly existence. The scope of Honen’s teachings are divided into two major categories, those written in Classical Chinese and those in Classical Japanese. Atone and Hayashi’s anthology is a translation of the latter, and includes the main Japanese anthol- ogy of Honen’s writings, correspon- dence, and recorded sayings. It also covers a wide range of genres, from philosophical treatises to letters and dialogues involving renowned monks and nuns, lay priests, noble women and men, and anonymous laity. The translations are thoroughly annotated, and there is an extensive glossary with helpful definitions. Moreover, Atone and Hayashi’s introduction outlines the textual and intellectual background of Indian and Chinese Pure Land develop- ments relevant to Honen’s work, and provide a detailed examination of Hon- en’s contributions, including capsule overviews of the works included in the present anthology. Because of the broad social net- works in which Honen circulated, these records provide an invaluable glimpse not only into Honen’s Pure Land Bud- dhism but also into the landscape of Japanese society in the twelfth and thir- teenth centuries. Turning to Cultivating Spirituality, the anthology edited by Mark L. Blum and Robert Rhodes, we find Pure Land thought unfolding in a very different social and historical context. While the rest of Asia was being colonized by Western imperial powers, Japan alone remained independent for more than three hundred years. But this came at a cost: Japan had closed its ports to the outside world and missed out on MARK UNNO is a priest in the Shin Buddhist tradition and an associate professor in Religious Studies at the University of Oregon, specializing in Classical Japanese Buddhism. He is the author of Shingon Refractions: Myoe and the Mantra of Light and editor of Buddhism and Psychotherapy Across Cultures.