Shinran and His Work, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
We now come to one of the most interesting features of the Shinshu system.
Amitābha, the Unoriginate, the Boundless in Power and in Love, the Being through Whom the worlds were made, in accordance with the operation of the Law which He Himself had given, and through which alone He manifests Himself to the world, looked down from His Abode and beheld with compassion the miseries of blind and ignorant creatures. He resolved to save them, to bring them back to Himself from their ceaseless entanglements with Life and Death, and, to do so, determined to become man and live as man among the creatures he had come to save. He emptied Himself *, therefore, of His Divinity and appeared on earth as a King's Son. He emptied Himself of His Royal State, and became a monk, and then, coming into the presence of the Buddha of his time †—Sejizai-ō-butsu (in Sanskrit, Lokes’vara Rāja), "the King-Buddha, Lord of the World," made the Vow ‡ on which the Shinshu believer
pins his faith. The Vow having been registered, long ages of expiatory labours ensued. These labours were entirely borne as man. Amitābha had emptied Himself of his glory and become Hōzō the monk. None of his contemporaries knew who it was that dwelt concealed beneath that humble form, for the Supreme had emptied Himself and veiled His glory. It was as man for man that He must work out the task of Man's Salvation.
Having accomplished that work, * He returned to where He was before, and received a Name more precious even than that which he had borne originally. Amida Nyorai, as the Japanese call him, had become Namu-Amida-Butsu. † The name signifies the import of the work accomplished. Amida is no longer merely the Infinite, the God afar off, but the Infinite that has become Finite, that has worked out man's Salvation, that has conquered death (amrita) ‡ and that remains the personified and personal object of the believer's worship and thanksgiving. It requires no great ingenuity to recognize the wonderful parallels to the Story of our Redemption as we humbly believe it.
The question arises, Is Hōzō Biku a historical personage or not? The author of Shinshu Hyakuwa is quite certain that he is. We believe in his historicity,
he says, on the sole testimony of Sakyamuni, which ought to be sufficient for us, inasmuch as it is quite as strong as the evidence that we actually have for the historicity of the early Emperors of Japan and of many Sages and Saints in Chinese and European history. (§ 42). It is true that Hōzō Biku may have been the creature of S’akyamuni's fancy: that would not necessarily imply that he had had no real existence,—for there are many creatures of the imagination that may claim a practically real and true existence. (David Copperfield, to wit, for whose historicity the Town Council of Dover has made itself responsible, by affixing to the wall of a house in the Market Square a tablet indicating the spot where David sat whilst waiting for his Aunt.) Historicity is not the sole Test of Truth, it is only a spiritual short-sightedness that would induce us to think so * (§ 43). When Hōzō lived, and when he fulfilled his Vow, we have no means of determining: the statements of the Sūtra vary between a period of ten kalpas ago and a period, still more remote, of indefinite magnitude. In things religious there are no distinctions of time, near or remote, † a thousand years are but as one day, and we must be content with a general expression that it took place at some period of remote antiquity. What is of the utmost importance for us to believe is that the
personal continuity has never been broken, that the one thread of identical personality runs through the whole series of events connected with the Redemption of Man, that as the Amida, Who, from His abode in Heaven, looked down with compassion on sinful mankind, is identical with Hōzō the monk who made his Vow to accomplish salvation so, through all the time that the Vow was in the working-out, the personal identity remained constant and unchanged. The Hōzō of the period of His Humiliation (to use a Christian term for the Buddhist # in-i) was the same as the Hōzō of the period of His Glorification # kwa-i), when, having wrought deliverance for man, He received His new name of Namu-Amida Butsu, the Infinite Being that has become finite and has worked out man's salvation (§ 45). The glorified and ascended Amida must therefore still be looked upon as a Personal Being, the distinctive personality which He assumed when He appeared on earth as Hōzō has continued with Him and has passed for ever out of this world into those spiritual realms into which Namu-Amida Butsu entered on the day on which Hōzō Biku's labours were finally accomplished (§ 46).
I believe that I have honestly set forth the teachings about Hōzō Biku, as laid down in the Shinshu Hyakuwa. I may perhaps be allowed to formulate the conclusions that I draw from a very long study of the subject.
The testimony of S’akyamuni must always be a very weighty matter, for the Indian Sage was not one that spoke lightly and rashly, but always with due deliberation and with tremendous authority.
[paragraph continues] But no other evidence than S’akyamuni's authority is alleged for the Hōzō story, and Buddhists are not all of one mind as to the genuineness of the Sutras in. which it is contained. The Southern Buddhists know nothing of the books, and there is not a shred of outside historical evidence to support the story they tell. There is, also, no gainsaying the fact that the Shinshu themselves are obliged to confess that the doctrine lay dormant for five centuries after S’akyamuni's death and never showed its face until about the end of the first, or beginning of the second, century of the Christian era, and that in regions where Christianity had already then been preached. On the other hand, however, those who reject these Scriptures, as not being genuine, bring forward no alternative supposition or theory to account for these books having come into existence. We are, therefore, constrained to admit that the only account hitherto given of the origin of these Sutras is that they are the genuine records of actual teachings of S’akyamuni. Those who reject this view have advanced no other theory to take its place.
I therefore, for the time, and until I see proof to the contrary, accept them as genuine records of S’akyamuni's teachings. The story of Hōzō Biku is true, at any rate in the sense that it is in accordance with a universally felt want of our human nature, to which it supplies an answer. It states an everlasting fact,—"so it is written, so it must needs be,"—that there is only one way in which the Redemption of Mankind can take place. God must become man, must suffer and labour as man, must conquer sin and death in man, must open the
way for man by faith. S’akyamuni, who had come forth, says Shinran, that he might preach Amida, did so with the eye of the genuine Seer, who gazes on the Eternal Verities and beholds the Present and the Future as though they were the Past,—and as he preached he framed his vision into a prophecy. To my mind there is nowhere, in the whole range of ancient religious literature, a more clear and distinct prophecy about the Person and Work of Christ, than that which is contained in the story of Hōzō Biku as I have tried to set it forth accurately and carefully from Shinshu writings.
I do not ask my readers to accept my conclusions hastily and without due consideration. I only venture to ask that the question be investigated, carefully and prayerfully, by all those, whether Christian or Buddhist, who are concerned in the religious welfare of Japan. I believe the identification which I have pointed out to be one of prime importance: it will indeed be a day of gladness when we realize that we of the East and West are children, in a very special sense, of One Father, and servants of One Lord. I do not expect any speedy recognition of the truth of what I have here brought forward. The truth can always afford to wait for recognition. And when recognized it always tends to the bettering and uplifting of the world.
77:* Dr. Anezaki reminds me that there is a similar Kenosis spoken of in the case of S’akyamuni.
77:† A list of 81 Buddhas is given, Sacred Books of the East, vol. XLIX, Description of Sukhavati p. 6. They are not Buddhas in the sense in which Amitābha is one, merely perfectly enlightened Human Teachers.
77:‡ For Amida's Vow see ibid. pp. 12–24
78:* Hōzo's life is summarized in the work already quoted pp. 24–27.
78:† Shinshu Hyakuwa, § 14, speaks of the Vow as the Chōsemujō no Hongwan, and of Amida as Dai jihi-emman no Myōhō-ō—"the mysterious spiritual king that has perfected mercy."
78:‡ In the Shingon books Amida is generally Amrita, "the One that has Immortality."
79:* The Nichiren Sect (the subject is constantly alluded to in the Nichiren Organ, the Myōshū) frequently charges the Shinshu with the absence of historical warrant for their interpretations of Buddhism.
79:† Enkin kokon no shabetsu nashi. cf. the expression in the N.T. "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."