Jesus Prayer and the Nembutsu Author(s): Taitetsu Unno Reviewed work(s): Source: Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol

. 22 (2002), pp. 93-99 Published by: University of Hawai'i Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 21/12/2011 16:51
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and JesusPrayer the Nembutsu
TaitetsuUnno SmithCollege
in As a Shin Buddhistof the PureLandtradition,I find the practiceof JesusPrayer EasternOrthodox Christianityfascinating,becauseso much of it resonateswith
my own experience in the saying of Nembutsu or the

BUTSU. 1 One callson the Name of Jesus,and the otheron the Name of Amida,the

Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Life. Both may be called the "Way of the
Name."2 Some appreciation of the Jesus Prayer may help us understand the depth

of Nembutsu experience,for the similarities striking,but thereare also fundaare mentaldifferences. We beginwith fourdefinitionsof prayer givenby the OrthodoxscholarKallisas 3 tos Ware. The firstmay be calledexternalprayer, which includessome form of verfor favorsto be granted.Secondis prayer God, includingpetitions ballyaddressing understood God.Herethereis only silence,negatingall dissimplyasstanding before cursiveactivities.In both of these casesthe focus is on the human and not on the divine. In Buddhisttermsthese two forms of prayerare dualistic,the subjectstanding apartfromthe objectand the act centeredon the humansubject.In PureLandlanIn guageboth areactsof self-power. the caseof Nembutsuit mayalsobeginas a selfbut it must be superseded. Trueprayer, we shallsee, is nondualistic as act, generated with the initiativecoming from the side of the divine. In PureLandtermsit is the manifestation the workingof Other Power. of Buddhistmeditativepracticemay also begin in a dualisticmode with personal benefitsas the goal, but ultimatelyit becomesa nondualisticexperience, whereby so conceptualdistinctionsof subjectand object disappear, that a deeperrealityis 4 realized. The Soto Zen teacherKoshoUchiyamasums up this awareness: In our zazen,it is precisely the point whereour small,foolish self remains at or that immeasurable naturallife beyond unsatisfied, completelybewildered, the thoughtof the self functions.It is precisely the point wherewe become at completelylost that life operatesand the powerof Buddhais realized. The thirdand fourthdefinitions prayer, of basedon SaintGregory Sinai,highlight of the core experience JesusPrayer. thirdsense of prayer, in The to according Ware,is

22 Buddhist-Christian Studies (2002). ? by Universityof Hawai'iPress.All rightsreserved.

TAITETSU UNNO an inneract. In his words,"True innerprayeris to stop talkingand to listen to the wordless voice of God within our heart;it is to ceasedoing thingson our own, and 5 to enterinto the actionof God." Here,silenceis not meresilencebut the openness to hearthe wordless voice of God.The initiativecomesfromthe divine:"Ihavebeen crucifiedwith Christand I no longerlive, but Christlives in me" (Gal. 2:20) and I "He must becomegreater, must becomeless"(John 3:30). as Fourthis prayer "the not manifestation Baptism," baptismas a ritualact but of as the embodyingof the divine.This is the stateof gracethat is brought"tothe point of full spiritual when we experience feel the and and perception consciousawareness of the Spiritdirectlyand immediately."6 activity the These two connotationsof prayermay be helpfulin understanding writings 7 of Shinran,the founderof Shin Buddhism, who livedin thirteenth-century Japan. of traThe Englishtranslations his works,comingfroman entirelydifferent cultural To sometimes dition andwrittenin an alienlanguage, defyeasycomprehension. take one importantexample,Shinranstatesat the beginningof the Chapterof Practice in his majoropus, translated "True of as and Practice, Realization the Pure Teaching, LandWay," follows:8 as The greatpracticeis to say the Name of the Tathagata unhinderedlight. of This practice,embodyingall good acts and possessingall roots of virtue, is oceanof perfectand most rapidin bringingthem to fullness.It is the treasure virtuesthat is suchnessof true reality.For this reason,it is calledgreatpractice. This practicearisesfrom the Vow of greatcompassion. the becomesclear. Keepingin mind theJesusPrayer, meaningof thispronouncement or The sayingof Nembutsu,the Name of Tathagata Buddha,is neithera petitionary act nor the resultof human calculation(hakarai). Rather,"thispracticearisesfrom the Vowof greatcompassion." That is, the sourceof recitative Nembutsuis suggested by the adjective "great," denotingthe Buddhaof Immeasurable Lightand Life,whose or to "practice" activityenablesthe small-minded set asidethe ego-selfeven for the moment.Thus, greatpracticemeansthe salvificact of the Buddhacoming through in the intoning of Nembutsu. in Sinceit is the Buddha's activitybeingbroughtto realization a person,eachsaybringsto fullness"allgood actsand all rootsof virtue." ing of the Name immediately of or metaIn generalBuddhismthis is the realization suchness(tathata) truereality, The oceanof virtues." revolutionary nature here phorically expressed as the "treasure of Shinran's teaching made this realizationavailableto anyone who invokes the Name. It changed the course of JapaneseBuddhism,for it meant that all those excludedfrom the Buddhistmonasticpath in the thirteenthcentury could now achieveliberation freedom.Heretofore and excludedwerehunters,butchers,fisherand merchants, women of all classes. men, peasants, the In sum, the sayingof Nembutsuis basically callingfromthe BuddhaAmida. A the Hence, I translate Nembutsuas the Name-that-calls. lay Buddhistexpressed 9 this as follows:

JESUS PRAYERAND THE NEMBUTSU Althoughthe voice that calls

is mine,

It is the voice of Oya-samacallingme, "Comeas you are!" is to Oya-sama a termof intimacywhen referring one'smotheror fatherand in some It to casesboth parents together. is interesting note that D. T. Suzuki,who firsttranslated Shinran's opus into English,renderedthe originalterm for Amida Buddha's 1 Primal Vow (purvapranidhanaSanskrit, hongan Japanese) "Prayer."While in or in as it of Vow as idiosyncratic, conveysthe ultimatesignificance the Primal linguistically the deep prayer that all beings,regardless class,gender,occupation,or moralculof and mayattainliberation freedomfromkarmicbondage.He also translated pability, not as the usual"practice" as "Living." Prayer boundlesscompassion The of but gyo enfoldsus in our everyday thus,Livingitselfwherewe contendwith our ego-self life; becomesthe basicpracticefor Shin Buddhists. to what Now, the ultimate goalof Orthodoxprayer, according Ware,is to "Become thatworkswithin are," not simplyon the humanlevelbut by discovering you grace each person.The purposeof Nembutsupracticeis also to become trulyhuman by

such that a finite being (NAMU)-limited, imperfect,

and fallible,vulnerable mortal-realizes itselfwithin the bosom of boundlesscompassion (AMIDA-BUTSU). Such a life, characterized by humility, gratitude and quiet

confidence,is broughtto realityin the sayingof Nembutsu.Saichi,a Myokoninthose rareand simplebut profoundShin faithfuls-expressed it thusly:12 When you catcha cold, you can'tstop coughing. Saichihas caughtthe cold of BuddhaDharmaand can'tstop coughing, coughingNamu-amida-butsu The appealand effectiveness JesusPrayer, of to according the Orthodoxtradition,is ascribedto four factors: and flexibility, simplicity completeness, powerof Name as and spiritual of persistent Here againwe see comparable such, discipline repetition. points made about the sayingof Nembutsuwith the exceptionof the fourth,spiritual discipline. who firstestablished independent an PureLandSchool Honen, Shinran's teacher,
in 1175 C.E., advocated Nembutsu practice as an alternative to the complex, rigor-

ous practices his own TendaiBuddhism,to which he had devotedhis whole life. of He proclaimed two qualitiesof Nembutsuas responding the spiritualhungerof to his time: extremesimplicityand unequalled superiority. Simplicitybecausethe sayanywhere, time, by anyone;and superiority any ing of Nembutsucould be practiced becausethe attainment supremeenlightenment already of has been accomplished by the workingof the Primal Vow.In experiential termsthatwhich is simple,in contrast to surfacecomplexity, cuts deep, deep into the depth of life itself.In so doing it also to embraceall of life, animateand inanimate. expandsendlessly


TAITETSU UNNO The PureLandteachers understood Vownot simplyas the deepwish that also the all beingsattainsupremeenlightenment alsoas containingthe powerto makeit but In an actuality. fact,the Name or Nembutsucontainsthe forty-eight Vowsof Amida fulfilledas the culminationand completionof the bodhisattva ideal.13As such, the Name itselfis the Buddhaincarnate ourworld;it hasno objective in referent beyond it. Thus the preferred of Shin devotionalworshipis not the statueor paintobject
ing of Amida Buddha but the Name,

written on a scroll and

placedon the altar. Regardingspiritualdiscipline,recitativeNembutsu was considereda religious down throughthe centuries since the beginningof PureLandBuddhismin practice the firstcenturyC.E. in India, but it was rejectedas a self-poweractivityby Shinran.Instead,he sawthe Nembutsuas evidenceof the workingof Amidain the heart and mind of a personhereand now.Thus, a singleutterance the Name would be of sufficient;in fact, just the thought of such a voicing would suffice.In his words, "When the thought of saying the Nembutsu erupts from deep within, having entrustedourselvesto the inconceivablepower of Amidas vow which saves us, at enablingus to be bornin the PureLand,we receive thatverymomentthe ultimate 4 benefitof being graspedneverto be abandoned." Repetitionas a spiritualdisciis unnecessary is becausethe decisivemoment of spiritual pline awakening a matter of hereand now.The JesusPrayer has a similaremphasis, it encourages also yet repetition and, for the monks,the trainingof the body,includingbreathing exercises.15 The hereand now is basic,because Primal the Vowof Amidabreaks throughcontime at everyinstant.This is ventional,lineartime.The timelesspenetrates through called the one-thoughtmoment of spiritualawakening.In the words of Shinran, is "One thought-moment time at its ultimatelimit, wherethe realization shinjin of takesplace."16 is the awakeningto the PrimalVow becomingmanifestin Shinjin This one-thought one'slife, wherebyall doubtsvanishand true entrustingappears. momentis vocalized the sayingof Name,pouringout spontaneously a totaland as by with the workingof boundlesscompassion. joyful compliance Orthodoxprayer warnsagainst visualimages,visions,or forms,as enticecreating The mentsto delusion.17 full powerof the JesusPrayer felt when one abandons is all Shin Buddhismalso negatesvisualvisualconceptsand simplyfeels God'spresence. in izationof anyform,althoughit wascommonpractice the long historyof the Pure Landmovementin India,China, Korean,and Japanpriorto Shinran. Suchpractices, example,areitemizedin the Contemplation for Sutra,one of the threemain scriptures PureLandBuddhism,compiledaroundthe fourthcentury of in Asiaor China.18 These practices includethirteenmethods C.E. probably Central of contemplation,centeredon the setting sun, water,earth,jeweledtrees,jeweled ponds,jeweledpavilions, jeweleddais,all in the PureLand,Buddhaimages,Amida, and Avalokitesvara, Mahasthamaprapta, so on. Althoughtheseformsof visualizations must havebeen practiced varioustimes, PureLandmasters at agreedthat they were to preliminaries its ultimatemessagenoted at the veryend:A singlesayingof Nemeven to a personon the deathbed. salvationand enlightenment butsuassures is one's The consequenceof JesusPrayer said to be twofold:First,it transforms

JESUS PRAYERAND THE NEMBUTSU and with the world,which is seen as being infusedwith God'spresence; relationship In is with otherpeople.19 brief,JesusPrayer second,it changesa person's relationship The two arealsofound in which is also the casein Shin Buddhism. world-affirming, with a different another Ichitaro, sensitivity. livingthe Nembutsu,althoughexpressed states:"The Landof Blissis found everywhere. a vegetableleaf, On On Myokonin, a bladeof grass.On a sardine. Without sayingwhethera thing is good or bad, if you sensethe workingof Amidain and on eachthing, this is the truthfreedof the good and bad of things.All good and badarethe productsof one'sthoughts."20 When we see a thing and judge it as good or bad, we arebasingour view on a self-centered When we see the worldin the light of boundless humanperspective. the compassion, Landof Blissor PureLandcan be found everywhere. Suchan awareness makesus keenlysensitivenot only to otherhumanbeingsbut to all living things. Thus, Ichitaroon anotheroccasionremarks: "Trueentrusting meansthat you'reable to trulyrelateto anotherbeing. Not only humanbeingsbut with plantsandanimals. Eventhosethingsthatcannotspeak,you're to heartheir able Such feelings.Namu-amida-butsu."21 a worldviewis basedon the Buddhistunderand that one standingof the vast networkof interconnectedness interdependence comes to acknowledge becomingliberated in from the ego-self. In spiteof the striking in and fundamenparallels Nembutsupractice JesusPrayer, tal differences exist reflecting respective the historiesof Buddhismand Christianity. the is of Amongthem, perhaps most important the treatment sin, evil, blindpassion, and darkness, ignorance(avidya). TheArtofPrayer: Orthodox An an for sourcebook JesusPrayer, Anthology, excellent devotesa majorsection underscoring cleavagebetweengood and evil passions, the graceand sin, God and Satan,life and death,the latterto be "hated,trampledon, This such as in the followingpassage: rejected."22 dualityis repeatedly emphasized, "Sinis now drivenout from its strongholdand goodnesstakesits place,while the of and 'Grace sin do not dwelltogetherin the and strength sin is shattered dispersed. mind,'saysSt. Diadochos,'butbeforebaptismgraceincitesthe soulto goodnessfrom to without,whileSatanlurksin its depth,endeavouring barallthe doorsof righteousnessin the mind;fromthe verymomentthatwe arerebornthe devilremains outside and gracedwellswithin."'23 don'tknow how this relatesto Romans5:20, "Where I sin increased, all simuliustus graceabounded the more,"andMartinLuther's etpeccator,but it presentsa sharpcontrastto Shinran,who sees the raisond'etreof boundlesscompassion be the transformation evil into good, sin into virtue,deathinto to of life.To negateevil, sin, anddeathmeansto denya partof one'sreality; affirm to them transformation meansto makeone'slife completeand whole. through This transformation the negativeinto the positiveis summedup in the phrase of "bitsof rubblearetransformed gold."Shinran's into favoritemetaphorfor transfor24 mation is that of ice into water: Throughthe benefitof the unhindered light, We realizeshinjinof vast, majesticvirtues, And the ice of our blind passionsnecessarily melts. waterof enlightenment. Immediately becoming



Obstructions of karmic evil turn into virtues; It is like the relation of ice and water; The more the ice, the more the water; The more the obstructions, the more the virtues. The philosophical basis of this transformation is rooted in the Buddhist worldview that sees impermanence, flux, and change as elemental and all phenomenal reality as devoid or empty of enduring essence (sunyata).Yet human ignorance is such that we cling to things and trap ourselves in anger,jealousy, fear, insecurities, addictions. But this foolish being undergoes transformation into its opposite, a process inherent in nature itself, called "made to become so" by itself and for itself. According to Shinran, "'To be made to become so' means that without the practicer'scalculation in any way whatsoever, all his past, present, and future evil karma is transformed into the highest good. To be transformed means the evil karma without being nullified and eradicated is made into the highest good, just as all river waters, upon entering the This transformation results spongreat ocean, immediately become ocean water."25 from the working of Other Power that is beyond conceptual understandtaneously ing. It should not be confused with the power of positive thinking or some form of creative therapy. The challenge to Shin Buddhists is to awaken to this compassionate working of the Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Life not by strenuous repetition of the Name but by awakening to its origin and import for oneself. This requires effort and dedication to a process called deep hearing (monpo), which consists of four aspects that are interrelated and interconnected. First is receptivity to the teaching of the Namethat-calls. Second is unfolding awarenessof its truth in one's life, consisting of its two aspects: boundless compassion and karmic bondage. Third is the growing sensitivity to the interplay of light and darkness, boundless compassion and blind passion, expanding horizon and diminishing self-enclosure. Fourth is awakening to the call of Amida that works a miraculous transformation-negative into positive, darknessinto luminosity, and blind passion into the very content of supreme enlightenment.

1. For Jesus Prayer,see The Wayof the Pilgrim, tr. R. M. French (New York: Harper, 2nd ed., 1954) and for the Nembutsu, see the author's Tannisho:A Shin Buddhist Classic (Honolulu: Buddhist Study Center Press, 2nd rev. ed., 1996), pp. 61-62. 2. On the Invocation of the Name of esus by a Monk of the Eastern Church (London: Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, no date), p. i. 3. Ware, "The Power of the Name: The Function of the Jesus Prayer,"CrossCurrents,Vol. XXIV, No. 2-3 (Summer-Fall, 1974), pp. 184-203. See also Foreword by Kallistos Ware, TheJesusPrayer (Crestwood, NY: St. Valdimir's Seminary Press, 1987) and TheArt of Prayer: An OrthodoxAnthology, compiled by Igunen Chariton (London: Faber and Faber, 1966). 4. Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought:Approachto Zen (New York: Penguin, 1993), p. 61. 5. Ware, p. 185. 6. Ibid., p. 186.

7. The Collected WorksofShinran, trs. Dennis Hirota, et al. (Kyoto: Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, 1997), Vol. I and II (hereafter CW I and II). 8.CWI, p. 13.


ed. 9. Dharma Treasures: Pioneers, Tatsuo from Hawaiis Shin Buddhist SpiritualInsights
Muneto (Honolulu: Buddhist Study Center, 1997), p. 35.

The the 10. See TheKyogyoshinsho: Collection Passages Teaching, of Expounding True Living,
Faith, and Realization of the Pure Land (Kyoto: Shinshu Otani-ha, 1973). 11. Ware, p. 186. 12. Myokonin Asahara Saichi shu (Collected Poems of Saishi the Myokonin), ed. D. T. Suzuki (Tokyo: Shunjusha, 1967), p. 147. 13. For the forty-eight vows, see the translation from the Chinese by Luis Gomez, The

of Landof Bliss:TheParadise oftheBuddha Light ofMeasureless (Honolulu:University Hawai'i
Press; and Kyoto: Higashi Honganji Shinshu Otani-ha, 1996). 14. Tannisho:A Shin Buddhist Classic,tr. Taitetsu Unno (Honolulu: Buddhist Study Center Press, 1996), p. 4. 15. In Shin Buddhism the natural rhythm of the body, including proper breathing, is realized by virtue of the thirty-third Vow of Amida, which ensures suppleness, flexibility, and openness of the body and mind. 16. CW I, p. 474. 17. The Art of Prayer,pp. 100-101. 18. For this sutra, see English translation by Hisao Inagaki, The Three Pure Land Sutras (Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Research and Publication, 1995). 19. Ware, pp. 199-200. 20. Tetsuo Unno, JodoshinshuBuddhism (South San Francisco: Heian International, 1980), p. 12.

An to 21. Quoted in my Riverof Fire,Riverof Water: Introduction thePureLandTradition
of Shin Buddhism (New York: Doubleday, 1998), p. 121.

22. TheArt of Prayer, 140. p. 23. TheArt of Prayer, 172. p.
24. CW I, p. 371. 25. CW I, p. 453.

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