Saturday, September 4, 2010

Methods for the visualisation of Amida and shinjin (a question and answer)

“I was reading about the practice described in the Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra and I was really impressed by the idea of experiencing the presence of Amida Nyorai and the other Buddhas. I also read that this sutra contains one of the earliest mentions of Amida Tathagata so I would like to ask you about such practices.

It is true for me that some times I feel my faith becoming strong and settled in my mind while some other times it becomes weaker so there is still work for me till I experience true and pure shinjin in Amida Nyorai and the Vow.

My question is, whether practices like that mentioned in the sutra above are allowed to practitioners of the Jodo Shinshu sect. The Contemplation Sutra which I have not yet studied is said to contain ways to visualise Amida and in Chinese Pure Land school this kind of visualisations was widespread among priests and monks. Is it ok if someone tries to visualise Amida in addition to chanting the nembutsu (I do not mean chanting as a way to gain merit but having in mind the Shinshu doctrine that it is an expression of gratitude for Amida's Power of salvation)?

Are visualizations of Amida Nyorai and the 90 days practice in Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra examples of reliance on jiriki? In my opinion, such practices could be useful in strengthening the experience of shinjin and I do believe that the results of these visualizations and practices are made visible to us by the Other Power and not our personal power. I mean, isn't it Amida who makes the visions possible to us? A man of shinjin for example, could practice visualization methods to have a look of Amida Tathagata and his attendants.

If I keep in my mind that the visualisations are a gift of the Other Power and are experienced only with the help of the Other Power, could I for example, visualise Amida and the Pure Land?”

A Jodo Shinshu follower can do any practice he wants if by that practice he doesn’t think he adds something to the salvation of Amida. If one has firm faith in Amida Buddha and thinks that only through the Power of Amida he is born in the Pure Land and becomes a Buddha then he can not deviate no matter he sometimes does some meditation or visualisations.

But if one thinks that by practicing a certain meditation or visualisation he is gaining merits, improves his chances of being born in the Pure Land or even thinks that he improves his shinjin, then this is not in accord with the Jodo Shinshu teaching.

In Jodo Shinshu faith is something very simple. It’s just to entrust in Amida.
If it helps you, maybe you can say this to yourself: “From now on I rely exclusively on Amida for my birth in the Pure Land and attainment of Buddhahood. No matter what other thoughts arise in my mind or fears or doubts, I leave them alone and rely exclusively on Amida Buddha.”
Do not try to create a special state of faith in your mind, and don’t work on that special state of faith. Just rely on Amida in a simple manner and let other thoughts, fears or doubts arise and leave your mind. Listen again and again to the Dharma as explained by Shinran Shonin. Listening the Dharma makes us opened to Amida and ready for shinjin.

There are many sutras and sacred texts about Amida Buddha, and many interpretations, but Shinran’s view is unique among all. In Tannisho, Yuien-bo encouraged us to adhere ONLY to Shinran’s explanations of the sutras. In the sutras, he said, “the true and real and the accommodated and provisional are mixed.”And he continued, “that we abandon the accommodated and take up the real, set aside the provisional and adopt the true is the Master's fundamental intent. You must under no circumstances misread the sacred writings.”

This means that the teaching about Amida’s salvation is presented in various ways depending on the sutras. Some sutras encourage people to practice visualisations, others to keep precepts and do good deeds in addition to aspiring for birth in the Pure Land, others to recite the Name with right concentration, while the Larger Amida Sutra (Bussestsu Muryoju Kyo), which Shinran considered it to be the most important sutra preached by Shakyamuni, presents the Primal Vow in which only saying of the Name in faith is all that matters. No other requirements or other practices like visualisation or meditation and precepts are mentioned in the Primal Vow (18th Vow).

What does this mean? It means, according to Shinran, that the methods related to visualisations presented in some sutras are only provisional methods for those still incapable to rely exclusively on Amida Buddha in accordance with the Primal Vow. They are not direct means of entering the Pure Land, but practicing such methods shows a lack of shinjin and an attachment to one’s own power. Such methods practiced without shinjin can lead only to the Border Land and not the true Pure Land where one becomes immediately a Buddha.

But one who has received shinjin in his heart and knows surely that he is born in the Pure Land only by faith in Amida and through Amida’s Power, he may enjoy such visualisations if he wishes because he knows that success or lack of any success in visualisation does not add something to the salvation of Amida. We can say that he tries visualisations for fun.

You can also give it a try if you are in the situation of the person described above. Only the person described above is not going against Jodo Shinshu teaching if he practices visualisation. This is simply because he received shinjin – a simple, not complicated faith in Amida Buddha.
But if something like transference of merit is involved in the technical description of that visualisation, you as one who knows that you have no merits, should pass that part.

Of course, in the end, any success of Amida’s visualisation is due only to Amida’s Power and influence. You said: “I do believe that the results of these visualizations and practices are made visible to us by the Other Power and not our personal power.”
Yes, this is true, but those without faith and who rely on their own power do not realize this and because they cling to their so called realisations and not on the Power of Amida they are not born directly into the true Pure Land but in the borderland of the Pure Land.

But I also do not deny that after seeing Amida with their own eyes, some self-power practitioners might become aware that it is only Amida’s working who does all things and end up relying exclusively on Other Power. So, I am not against visualisations but against the wrong attitude of mind that does the visualisations. The presence of shinjin or lack of shinjin (simple faith) is all that matters.

It is very important to know that shinjin does not become stronger through visualisations and does not depend on visualisations. It is an error to think that shinjin is the product of a successful visualisation or it is strengthened by it. Shinjin is just the simple entrusting to Amida that comes after hearing and accepting the Primal Vow in which only faith and nembutsu of faith is mentioned. In its ultimate sense it is the gift of Amida and is not dependent or strengthened by any visualisation.

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