Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

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Shaku Kenshin
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Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Shaku Kenshin » Thu Jan 03, 2019 6:04 am

A few years ago, I wrote my master thesis about late Heian Tendai Pure Land teachings, so I am familiar with the practices of jogyo zanmai and fudan nembutsu, the early Pure Land works of Ryogen, Senkan and Zenyu, Genshin's Ojoyoshu, and late Heian works that were influenced by hongaku thought, like the Kanjin ryaku yoshu or the Shinnyokan.

Although the last few years I have concentrated more on research on the different schools that sprang up from Honen's nenbutsu movement, I still have a keen interest in Tendai. One of the things I was wondering about for quite a while, is the way nenbutsu is taught to lay practitioners nowadays. I know that vocal nenbutsu is part of the lay liturgy, but I was wondering how this practice is explained to the lay practitioners.

I am sure that there is more than one answer, so I would be very interested to hear your experiences.
In this (Danish) text, Senshin Karina O'Brien describes how she struggled with some of the existing interpretations of nenbutsu practice, until she found an interpretation that fitted her understanding of Buddhism.
http://www.tendai.dk/e-sangha/nembutsu-praksis/

Jikan Anderson explains the nenbutsu as a practice to manifest Amida's enlightened qualities in ourselves in this great blog entry.
http://dctendai.blogspot.com/2010/08/ne ... e-can.html

In the case of Tendai laity in Japan, I always assumed that the nenbutsu practice would be mainly explained as a means to achieve birth in Amida's Pure Land after death, but in this text on the Japanese website of the Tendai denomination, the nenbutsu is explained in the context of the threefold contemplation in a single mind (isshin sangan), similar to the teaching we find in the Kanjin ryaku yoshu.
http://www.tendai.or.jp/houwashuu/kiji.php?nid=196

What have you been taught about the nenbutsu practice as a lay Tendai practitioner?

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Seishin » Tue Jan 15, 2019 5:36 pm

I have been taught various ways of understanding it, but my earliest teachings were from the view point of the Three Truths

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Shaku Kenshin » Fri Jan 18, 2019 12:55 am

Dear Seishin, thank you very much for your reply! May I ask if you have been taught the various understandings of the nembutsu by the same teacher or by different teachers?

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Seishin » Fri Jan 18, 2019 11:15 am

I have had two teachers. As my second teacher was my first teachers' teacher, the teaching has mostly been the same, but with more depth and further explanation... if that makes sense...

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Shaku Kenshin » Fri Jan 18, 2019 4:38 pm

Yes, it makes very much sense. Thank you!

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Shaku Kenshin » Mon Feb 04, 2019 6:13 am

Yesterday I thought about the nembutsu as a practice to manifest Amidas qualities in oneself and a question came to my mind. Is this kind of nembutsu also taught in terms of ichinen sanzen? At least for me, this would make a lot of sense, but I can't remember if I have ever seen it stated like this in one of the Tendai Pure Land scriptures.

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Seishin » Mon Feb 04, 2019 10:09 am

Yes this is how I understand it.

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Tatsuo » Mon Feb 04, 2019 11:20 am

Shaku Kenshin wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 6:13 am
Yesterday I thought about the nembutsu as a practice to manifest Amidas qualities in oneself (...)
Hmmm what does this actually mean? :thinking:

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Tatsuo » Tue Feb 05, 2019 7:55 am

Tatsuo wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 11:20 am
Shaku Kenshin wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 6:13 am
Yesterday I thought about the nembutsu as a practice to manifest Amidas qualities in oneself (...)
Hmmm what does this actually mean? :thinking:
I read this phrase several times, especially in texts dealing with Tendai teachings. Does nenbutsu mean meditative practices like ‘Jogyo Sanmai’ or can verbal nenbutsu also result in Amida qualities manifesting in the practitioner? And what are Amida qualities? Just enlightenment (like any other Buddha) or are there Amida-specific qualities the practitioner can manifest? The properties of his Pure Land and his extremely long practice to achieve enlightenment would be more specific to Amida but I am unsure how this can be realized by a nenbutsu practitioner in this lifetime. Can anyone who practices the nenbutsu (verbal and/or meditative) easily manifest Amidas qualities?

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Shaku Kenshin » Tue Feb 05, 2019 12:03 pm

Thank you very much for your reply Seishin.


These are some very good questions Tatsuo. Unfortunately, I am not able to give any satisfying answers, but I would like to quote Jikan's and Seishin's blogs.
Finally, I would like to dispel a concern many beginners express when introduced to nembutsu practice: how do I know Amitabha Buddha is real and not just another bit of make-believe? My answer: Earnestly put it into practice and see which is more real, the body of Amitabha or your own aging body; your everyday distracted mind or Amitabha's enlightened mind; your everyday contradictory and not-always-perfectly-honest speech or the pure teaching of Amitabha Buddha.

In reality, your nature is no different from Amitabha's, and with practice, all the enlightened characteristics we associate with Amitabha arise in you. This is a method for accomplishing it, and it is free for you to try. I encourage you to do just that, to realize the nature of mind and be of real and lasting help to all who suffer.
http://dctendai.blogspot.com/2010/08/ne ... e-can.html
Looking through all of this, I feel it’s clear that, in Tendai at least, that the practice and fruit of the practice of Amida, is both for the benefit of our minds right here and now, as well as for the future (or future lives). In the spirit of ichinen sanzen (一念三千 – three thousand worlds in a single thought), when we chant the nembutsu and meditate on Amida we are connecting our minds with Amida’s qualities. We become unified with Amida, as Amida is unified with us, awaking our own Buddhanature. So the nembutsu is not just a practice for rebirth, but it’s a practice for enlightenment.
https://tendaiuk.com/2016/04/18/amitabha-buddha/

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Shaku Kenshin » Tue Feb 05, 2019 3:25 pm

One more quote from Jikan's entry.
The great Ch'an master Hsuan Hua made some profound comments on recitation practice. I'll repeat them here for your consideration:

Your goal is to dispense with all extraneous thoughts and to consolidate your thoughts into one mindful thought of the Buddha. If you don't have extraneous thoughts, you won't have any evil thoughts, and when nothing evil is arising in your mind, you're on the road to goodness.

(Surangama Sutra commentary, p. 231)

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by rory » Wed Feb 06, 2019 2:44 am

Here is the classic text from the great Pure Land master Genshin:
Thanks to Rev.Jikai Dehn who made the translation:
The Collection on the Mental Contemplation of Amida (Buddha)
by Sramana Genshin of the Eshin-In.

The Sanskrit character A 1 is none other than the Principle of Emptiness. 2 The character of MI is the Ten Dharma Realms resulting from causes and conditions. 3 That is to say, it is none other than the Principle of Provisionality. 4 To which the Hundred Realms are in eternal compliance. 5 The character TA is none other than the Principle of the Mean. 6 This Middle Way is identical with the Dharmakaya. It has been formerly said, that the sentient beings of the Ten Realms all call on Amida Buddha.

The Dharmakaya of Amida Buddha is the Originally Enlightened Tathagata, and the perfection of the mind. 7 The Sambhogakaya of Amida, is precisely the Rupakaya that is self enjoyed (as well as) enjoyed by others, that results from cultivation. The Nirmanakaya of Amida, is none other than the World of Ultimate Bliss. Amida Buddha is (both) the superior and inferior Nirmanakaya. 8 These Three Buddhas have transformational bodies beneficial to self and other; each body, each function, is eternal and unchanging.

To one with Bodhicitta, it is as if all dharmas are alike Buddhas. All dharmas are none other than the Ten Realms. Consequently, if a Realm does not know Buddha Dharmas in this way, (the beings of it) cannot be reborn in the Pure Land.

9 One who engages Bodhicitta, knows all dharmas are alike Buddha Dharmas. This mind is none other than the karmic cause which results in the Pure Land. To be mindful for (but) ten moments in one’s contemplation of Principle {the absolute}, is the karma which assures rebirth. For those who now contemplate Principle for ten moments, the Dharma Realms are not different from The Middle Way. Samsara is none other than Nirvana. (In the moment) one contemplates the character A, the Forty Two levels of Ignorance, 10 and the Mental Affliction of deluded views and perceptions in common with them, are instantaneously extinguished by becoming the Sambhogakaya Buddha. 11 (In the moment) one contemplates the character MI, the Forty Two Types of Mental Afflictions (that arise from) the myriad phenomena,12 and the evil karma of the Three Lands, are instantaneously extinguished, by becoming the Nirmanakaya Buddha.13 (In the moment) one contemplates the character DA, the Forty Two Levels of Primary Afflictions and the karmic retribution of the Two Deaths, are instantaneously extinguished, by becoming the Dharmakaya Buddha. 14

By contemplating the epithet’s TA and A (which are the) Essence and Function; uncaused are all dharmas, empty and quiescent.15 The character “Mi” is the many causes and myriad forms. These Three Truths contain all dharmas. 16

Here ends the Collection on the Mental Contemplation of Amida (Buddha).
Translation by Rev. Jikai Dehn.

gassho
Rory
Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu
Chih-I:
The Tai-ching states "the women in the realms of Mara, Sakra and Brahma all neither abandoned ( their old) bodies nor received (new) bodies. They all received buddhahood with their current bodies (genshin)" Thus these verses state that the dharma nature is like a great ocean. No right or wrong is preached (within it) Ordinary people and sages are equal, without superiority or inferiority
Paul, Groner "The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture"eds. Tanabe p. 58
https://www.tendai-usa.org/

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Tatsuo » Wed Feb 06, 2019 6:32 am

To one with Bodhicitta, it is as if all dharmas are alike Buddhas. (...) Consequently, if a Realm does not know Buddha Dharmas in this way, (the beings of it) cannot be reborn in the Pure Land. One who engages Bodhicitta, knows all dharmas are alike Buddha Dharmas. This mind is none other than the karmic cause which results in the Pure Land. To be mindful for (but) ten moments in one’s contemplation of Principle {the absolute}, is the karma which assures rebirth.
This seems to imply, that the nenbutsu is not at all necessary for birth in the Pure Land, but the development of Bodhicitta and the understanding of all dharmas being exactly Buddha. What then is the use of the Pure Land? In Jodoshu for example, the Pure Land is necessary for normal, deluded people to develop their practice, just as the Larger Amida Sutra suggests. If Bodhicitta and a true understanding of the dharmas is the cause for birth in the Pure Land, then only highly advanced practitioners can be born there, who may not even need the conditions of the Pure Land to develop their practice. I’m not sure, however, if I understand the text correctly.
(In the moment) one contemplates the character A, the Forty Two levels of Ignorance, and the Mental Affliction of deluded views and perceptions in common with them, are instantaneously extinguished by becoming the Sambhogakaya Buddha. (In the moment) one contemplates the character MI, the Forty Two Types of Mental Afflictions (that arise from) the myriad phenomena, and the evil karma of the Three Lands, are instantaneously extinguished, by becoming the Nirmanakaya Buddha. (In the moment) one contemplates the character DA, the Forty Two Levels of Primary Afflictions and the karmic retribution of the Two Deaths, are instantaneously extinguished, by becoming the Dharmakaya Buddha.
What are the Fourty Two Levels of Ignorance? There is probably a connection to the 42 stages of Bodhisattva practice. Either this practice is super easy or super difficult. If a short contemplation on those interpretations of the characters in Amida’s name can result in enlightenment, then no Tendai practitioner would ever be subject to greed, anger and delusion. If, however, it is necessary to complete the 42 stages of Bodhisattva practice to properly do these contemplations, then almost nobody would be able to do them.

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Tatsuo » Wed Feb 06, 2019 7:09 am

Thank you for your reply, Shaku Kenshin.
(...) all the enlightened characteristics we associate with Amitabha arise in you. This is a method for accomplishing it (...)
when we chant the nembutsu and meditate on Amida we are connecting our minds with Amida’s qualities. We become unified with Amida, as Amida is unified with us, awaking our own Buddhanature. So the nembutsu is not just a practice for rebirth, but it’s a practice for enlightenment.
Seems like the nenbutsu is viewed as a practice which can result in enlightenment in this life. Unlike the text which was posted by Rory the nenbutsu is a mix of verbal and meditative practices focused on Amida (not only on the nature of reality). And the meaning of the phrase “Amidas qualities/characteristics” only refers to his enlightenment and not to his actual characteristics based on his specific vows. So the promise is nothing less than enlightenment when practicing the nenbutsu. I wonder how many practitioners actually achieved enlightenment (= completely cutting off greed, anger, and delusion) by doing nenbutsu, though I don’t want to rule out that possibility. However, I find it hard to believe that laypeople who occasionally practice nenbutsu in this way actually achieve enlightenment like this. Though I’m not sure if Tendai teachings really do claim that. I really like the second quote which is not too different from the teachings of Japanese Pure Land schools - including a relationship with Amida and birth in the Pure Land - maybe even the working of Amida’s Other Power when it comes to awakening the Buddhanature. Please correct me if I misunderstood you, Rev. Seishin :anjali:

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Seishin » Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:42 am

There are numerous things at play here which I feel need to be addressed;

Firstly, I feel it is best to look at how the nembutsu is viewed from the Chinese Tiantai perspective, vs the Japanese Tendai perspective.

Secondly, I feel it is important to realise that within BOTH Tiantai and Tendai, different aspects of nembutsu practice were emphasised. Because of this we get what looks like confusion. However, unlike other schools of Buddhism, Tendai isn’t 100% monolithic, in the sense that different views are able to find under the umbrella of “Tendai”.

Thirdly, we must also understand that time has changed how the nembutsu is viewed, not just in modern times, but throughout its history.

Fourthly, how all Buddhist practice is viewed via the lense of the Lotus Sutra and Zhiyi’s philosophy thereof.

To further address my first point; Zhiyi, the de-facto founder of Tiantai, incorporated the nembutsu practice as part of his school, as can be found in the makashikan text. However, what is not obvious is his views on the Pureland. Whilst he praises the nembutsu for its, shall we say, ‘inclusiveness’, even going as far as saying that to recite the name of Amitabha is to recite the name of ALL Buddhas, he doesn’t go in to details about rebirth in the Pureland. So it would seem that his practice of the nembutsu was more about attaining samadhi in this life, however, we also know that on his death bed he said he saw Kannon Bosatsu coming to take him to the Pureland….. so it would seem he did support the more literal interpretation of the nembutsu…. So what’s happening here?

The nembutsu, Amitabha and the Pureland continued to be debated and studied throughout Chinese Buddhist history, but to try and keep things “Tendai” related, let me bring up a famous Tiantai Pureland exponent; Ou-yi 蕅益大师. In his text ‘Mind Seal of the Buddhas’ he mostly expounds the literal understanding of the Pureland and nembutsu practice, but also emphasises what might be called ‘mind only’;
“1. Reciting the Buddha-name at the phenomenal level means believing that Amitabha exists in his Pureland in the west…. It means you resolve to make vows and to seek rebirth in the Pureland, like a child longing for its mother…
2. Reciting the Buddha-name at the level of inner truth means believing that Amitabha and his Pureland in the West are inherent features of our own minds, the creation of our own minds.“ (redacted)
Further to that, he states that those with higher faculties will be able to realise the pureland in the mind in this moment. Those of lower faculties will be reborn in the pureland after death. Now, before anyone starts taking this the wrong way, this idea of ‘higher and lower’ faculties is part of Tiantai teaching and is not meant to disparage anyone. Instead, it recognises that we are NOT all at the same level, and the way we understand the Buddhist path will differ depending on our deluded minds. What I have been taught about this text and the nembutsu is that it is a wonderful practice because it can skirt BOTH these aspects in one single practice. I believe this is why Ou-yi sings its praises so much, because it doesn’t require one to have higher faculties to benefit from it. But what this text says to me, as a Tendai practitioner, is that peoples understanding WILL differ depending on where they are, and that’s ok. There’s room within Tendai for BOTH these aspects to sit side by side in the same room, such is the beauty of Tendai.

Now, I understand that for some, this is a hard pill to swallow. I have heard many say that if the Pureland is only mind, then it nullifies the very real existence of the Pureland. However, I don’t believe this is true, but we are now going down deeper Tendai philosophy rabbit holes, so I’ll leave that there.

As I’ve waffled on way too much I’ll just quickly add that, within Japanese Tendai we also have the esoteric understanding of the nembutsu, which again sits happily with the others all thanks to the Lotus Sutra and Zhiyi’s philosophy.

To answer the question of Amida’s qualities, I have been taught that Amida’s qualities are his vows and his Pureland. To realise these qualities in ourselves is to put the vows in to practice and to realise the pureland in the here and now. This is another rabbit hole of Mahayana doctrine that I don’t have much time or energy to go in to right now, but I do hope the above has helped foster some understanding of why the Tendai view may seem contradictory to the more readily available and understandable Jodo shu / Shinshu understanding.

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Shaku Kenshin » Wed Feb 06, 2019 12:55 pm

Excellent post Seishin!
Seishin wrote:
Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:42 am
Thirdly, we must also understand that time has changed how the nembutsu is viewed, not just in modern times, but throughout its history.
I think this is a very important point. The text that Rory posted is a good example. If I am not mistaken, this is an short excerpt from the Kanjin ryaku yoshu. Most scholars think that it is an apocryphal text that was attributed to Genshin, but actually written in the late Heian period. Many texts from that time are heavily influenced by hongaku thought, which is why it emphasises enlightenment in this life through a simple practice. The Shinnyokan is another example of such a text. Older Tendai texts, like the Kuhon Ojogi, seem to concentrate more on birth in Amida's Pure Land after death. Then again, Zhiyi himself did not emphasis this as much. But as Seishin mentioned, these two goals were never mutually exclusive.
This change in understanding over time and also depending on the audience is exactly the reason, why I wanted to know how it is explained to lay people nowadays.
However, unlike other schools of Buddhism, Tendai isn’t 100% monolithic, in the sense that different views are able to find under the umbrella of “Tendai”.
I think this is what can make things very confusing, although it makes sense within the doctrinal system of Tendai.
But what this text says to me, as a Tendai practitioner, is that peoples understanding WILL differ depending on where they are, and that’s ok. There’s room within Tendai for BOTH these aspects to sit side by side in the same room, such is the beauty of Tendai.
This is not only the case for Tendai. I think we can find similar things in the writings of Chinese Pure Land Masters. Unfortunately, I am on an extended business trip, therefore I can't look it up right now, so I would be grateful if someone corrects me in case I am wrong, but I think Daochuo wrote that the nature of the Pure Land is emptiness, which is why the people with the capacity to realize emptiness should strive for rebirth in the Pure Land of emptiness. Those with lower capacities, who are not able to realize emptiness, should strive for rebirth in the Pure Land of form, but upon birth they will immediately realize emptiness.
Last edited by Shaku Kenshin on Wed Feb 06, 2019 1:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Könchok Thrinley » Wed Feb 06, 2019 1:02 pm

:good:
“Observing samaya involves to remain inseparable from the union of wisdom and compassion at all times, to sustain mindfulness, and to put into practice the guru’s instructions”. Garchen Rinpoche

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Tatsuo » Wed Feb 06, 2019 1:52 pm

Thank you so much for your reply, Rev. Seishin! It makes much more sense now! Since there is a distinction between the different faculties of practitioners I can imagine that the nine grades of birth in the Pure Land are also important in Tendai Pure Land teachings.

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Seishin » Wed Feb 06, 2019 1:55 pm

Tatsuo wrote:
Wed Feb 06, 2019 1:52 pm
Thank you so much for your reply, Rev. Seishin! It makes much more sense now! Since there is a distinction between the different faculties of practitioners I can imagine that the nine grades of birth in the Pure Land are also important in Tendai Pure Land teachings.
Yes totally. There is a text by Ryogen on the Nine Grades, but sadly not in English

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Re: Tendai nenbutsu for lay practitioners

Post by Shaku Kenshin » Wed Feb 06, 2019 2:36 pm

Shaku Kenshin wrote:
Wed Feb 06, 2019 12:55 pm
But what this text says to me, as a Tendai practitioner, is that peoples understanding WILL differ depending on where they are, and that’s ok. There’s room within Tendai for BOTH these aspects to sit side by side in the same room, such is the beauty of Tendai.
This is not only the case for Tendai. I think we can find similar things in the writings of Chinese Pure Land Masters. Unfortunately, I am on an extended business trip, therefore I can't look it up right now, so I would be grateful if someone corrects me in case I am wrong, but I think Daochuo wrote that the nature of the Pure Land is emptiness, which is why the people with the capacity to realize emptiness should strive for rebirth in the Pure Land of emptiness. Those with lower capacities, who are not able to realize emptiness, should strive for rebirth in the Pure Land of form, but upon birth they will immediately realize emptiness.
What might also be noteworthy in this context, is that Shoku, one of Honen's main disciples, recognized two forms of birth. The first one occurs in this life, when we realize that everything that is necessary for our enlightment was already accomplished by Amida many kalpas ago and we become one with Amida (sokuben ojo). The other form of birth is at the time of our death, when Amida welcomes us to his Pure Land.
Interestingly, unlike most of Honen's other main disciples, Shoku did not start as a Tendai monk, but learned first under Honen and later, after Honen's death, he also studied with Tendai and Shingon masters.

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