Shinran and His Work, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
"What a vain prayer it is, to ask for a hundred years of life, when Amida is yours, whose Life is Everlasting!"
It is said of one of the Chinese Patriarchs of the School of Faith that, before his eyes were opened, he went every where seeking for the Elixir of Life. The celebrated Bodhiruci met him. " You are seeking," he said to him, "for a medicine that shall ensure you a hundred years of life. I can point you to something better than that." And he preached to him Faith in the Buddha of Life Eternal. It must have been this incident that inspired the little poem which I have put at the head of this chapter.
In a little Handbook of Doctrine lately published by teachers of the Jōdo Sect * and therefore identical in teaching with what the Shinshu hold, there is a
catena of passages from Sutras, as well as from later theological treatises, which bear upon Amida.
He is there described as a Being whose Length of Life is Immeasurable in Past, Present, and Future. He never had a beginning. He will never have an end, His life at this present moment fills everything. If we picture Him to ourselves, His form is such as the Japanese artists delight to paint,—colossal in stature, * with a face "as the sun shining in his strength,"—enkō no kebutsu, † the personified Buddha of Perfect Light. His Light is as immeasurable as His Life: it has had no beginning, it will have no end, it is as boundless in space as it is in time. It illuminates the Ten Quarters (jippō), which is the Buddhist equivalent for the Universe, and there is no place which it is does not reach. Wherever He is, He is king, and the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the Ten Quarters are "the Angels of His that do Him service," there is none that rendereth Him not homage.
Yet, though the Universe is not large enough to contain Him, he has a-local habitation where He may be seen by the eye of faith. He is gokuraku no aruji, "The Lord of the Paradise," and it is in Paradise that He is especially able to display His
[paragraph continues] Attribute of Mercy. Other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas may abandon a sinner in sheer despair of procuring for him a saving conversion; but Amida never despairs. A dying thief, a lower and more miserable creature, if such there be,—would be welcome in Paradise, in the place where the deadly sins (go shū no aku) can find no entrance, where the eightfold work of salvation (hachi-gedatsu) bears its perfect fruit, and where the threefold light (san-myō) of Wisdom, Compassion, and Might, is constantly shining.
It would take many long ages of constant speaking, day and night, to exhaust even one half of the attributes of Amida. We may never come to know them all; but of His great Compassion we are quite sure, for did He not become Incarnate for us in the person of a certain Hōzō Biku? That Incarnation was the visible embodiment of His Compassion: it was undertaken "for us men and for our salvation," and it is this that gives to the Believer in Salvation by Faith the assurance that Amida is no mere name, but that in Him Essence and Name are one and indivisible. * Compassion is the Heart of Buddha.
Notes to Chapter VIII.
Amida and God.
I venture to suggest that, in estimating the Buddhist conception of God, as shown in the Jōdo doctrine of Amitabha, special consideration should be given to certain statements of St. Paul. In Eph. iv. 5, he speaks of the Father as being ἐπί παντων (Transcendental), διά πάντων (Immanent), ἐν παϑιν (Indwelling). In 1. Cor. vii. 6 he speaks of Him as the Divine Substance (ἐξ ου τά πάντα), out of whom are all things, of the Son as the Divine Agent through whom (δἰ ου) all things are made, and again of the Father as the Ultimate Object (ἡμεις είς αὐτὸν) to whom we all tend. I believe that the working out of these passages would lead the Shinshuist to results which, while thoroughly in harmony with the Faith of the Church, would also be agreeable to what he believes respecting Amida.
Amida in the Shingon Sect.
Circumstances have recently led me to the study of Japanese Funeral customs. I have found a special interest in the rites of the Shingon, a sect which I believe to have in it very considerable elements of Gnosticism and Manichaeism. (See my Wheat among the Tares and Papers on the Formative Elements of Japanese Buddhism in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan). Shingon is very largely a symbolic religion, and the funeral service employed consists mainly of symbolical
manual acts (mudra), and the recitation of certain quasi-sacramental Sanskrit formulae (mantra).
When, prior to its removal to the Temple, the corpse has been placed before the temporary altar in the house on which stand the thirteen Buddhas whom the Shingon reverence, the priest commences the service with lustration, and meditation on the Three Secrets, the Three Actions, and the Three Classes of Buddhas. Then, accompanying his actions with symbolical gestures, he recites (i) a formula significant of his desire for Enlightenment, and (ii) one of meditation on the teachings of Fugen (Samantabhadra), the meaning of which I have not been able to discover, except so far that Fugen is said to have been especially concerned with teaching the Unity of the Buddha.
Next follows (iii) an invocation of Abraxas (A-ba-ra-ka-kia), the god of the Alexandrian Gnostics of the first century A.D., who is thus still worshipped in Japan. Abraxas is treated as the sum-total of the Universe, composed of atoms or particles of Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Void, (see the interesting chapter on God or Atoms in Mr. Glover's masterly work on the Development of Religious Thought in the Roman Empire during the First Century A.D.). Next follows (iv) the invocation of Five Abstract Buddhas—Amogha, Vairocana, Mahāmudra, Manipadma, Jālapravarta. These names, with the exception of the second, are practically unknown, but the same personages appear later on as the five Dhyāni Buddhas (Gochi Nyorai) of Japan. Mahāvairocana, Akshobya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Sakyamuni. (It is well known that Manes held that God was unknowable, except through his Five Manifestations or Spirits, to whom corresponded the great religious teachers of Antiquity Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Manes himself, and Moses.) This second list shows that Amitābha is one of the Five—shall we call them?—Manifestations of Abraxas, the Gnostic God. That he corresponds to God in Christ may be inferred from the analogy of Manichaeism.
Having thus invoked God, as the Shingon know him—the invisible Sum-total of the Atoms, manifested to men through his five personified attributes,—the celebrant goes on to invoke (v) Amitabha in particular, as the god that brings Immortality (The Sanskrit form in the Mantra is said to be amrita immortal), and (vi) Amitābha with his companions, Kwannon and Seishi, to come and meet the soul in its passage from this world to the next. But it is mainly Amitābha the 'conductor of souls' that is the object of worship, for the celebrant next invokes Jizō
and Fudō, (Kshitigarbha and Acaravijyāraja), the conductor of souls and the champion of the righteous, and it is not until these have been summoned to the aid of the worshippers that the celebrant at last raises his heart to the invocation of Vairocana the Great Buddha, who stands to the Shingon very much in the same position as that held by Amida in the Shinshu. I believe that we have in the Shingon and the Shinshu two distinct strains of Gnostic teaching, the one representing Alexandria and the schools of Basilides and Valentinus, the other, the heresy of the Elchesaites, and that the latter has, through Nestorian and other influences, gradually drawn nearer to Christian ideals of Faith. Other analogies will be found in the thirteen Buddhas whom the Shingon look upon as the guardians of the spirits of the dead, and the thirteen realms of the dead in Gnostic books (e.g. Pistis Sophia). Also between the baptism of the corpse as practised in Shingon, and the 'Sacrament of the Ineffable' of the Gnostics.
71:* Jōdo Seikun.
72:* I think we should remember that there are certain passages in the Old Testament which also give "anthropomorphic" descriptions of God which must evidently be taken in a figurative sense. It is interesting to compare Hippolytus, Philosophumena, Bk. ix. 462–3 (Ed. Migne), and to remember that the sect there described had its origin at the time at which, and in the locality from which, the mission started which brought the Amida Books to China.
72:† Cf. Col. i. 16. εἰκὼν του θεου του ἀορατου.
73:* These last phrases are ascribed to the Chinese Patriarch Zendō. If any of my readers will take the trouble to verify my statements by comparing them with the Japanese handbook from which I have summarized them, he will, I think, acknowledge that I have not exaggerated the similarity between the Shinshu conception of Amida and our notions of God. Dr. Haas, of Heidelberg, has pointed out to me in a recent letter that Zendō, whilst highly honoured by the Amidaists in China and Japan, never secured for any of his writings the distinction, accorded to many Chinese scholars of inferior merit, of a place p. 74 in the Tripitaka Canon. He thinks it is possibly due to a suspicion in the minds of the compilers that Zendō's teaching contained in it elements that were not genuinely Buddhist. There is a phrase fushi sōgō, "the turning of the hearts of father's and sons to each other." It is the title of a well-known Japanese treatise: but it is found in Zendō's Commentary on the Sukhāvati Vyūha. Zendō was contemporary with the arrival of the Nestorian Mission to China. He flourished about A.D. 620.