Diamond Way

Watts beckons us to peer past the veil, where remembering and forgetting engage in a cosmic dance. Traverse the paradoxical streams of jiriki and tariki, self-power and other-power, until the very concept of “I” dissolves like a dewtopped lotus. Prepare to be unshackled and uninhibited, for in the quest for nothingness lies the quintessence of everythingness.


[Sutra chanting]


Now, you know, those people you’ve just been listening to, chanting the sutras on Kōya-san—which is the sort of ultimate center, retreat, inner sanctuary of Japanese practice of Vajrayāna Mahāyāna Buddhism—are a bunch of boys who are just like American college boys who play football, and they haven’t the faintest idea what they’re doing. Not today. They’re doing this because their fathers have sent them there—their fathers’ own temples—and they’ve got to carry on their fathers’ tradition. Because, after all, the family business has to go on. And they have no more idea what this is all about than the man in the moon. And you and I can sit here, and we could get swinging with this music, we could dance to it, and we could go very far out on it—which was what you were originally supposed to do—and for them it’s a chore. It’s a thing you have to get up for at five o’clock in the morning, and you have to memorize all this, and you have to get it exactly right, and do it. And they’ve completely forgotten what it was all about. But it was originally there.


It’s a funny thing how this happens, you see. But do you see how I was explaining to you this morning how we have a rhythm between remembering and not remembering? You remember long enough to know that you’re there. Because if you don’t remember, nothing makes any impression upon you, therefore you are not there. But then, when memory gets too much and you’re too much there, then you have to realize that all memory is an illusion, that there is nothing except the present moment, and that there is no future as equally no past. And then you are liberated. But when you get liberated you have to come back in and play memory again. There’s a cleaning process—in other words, you wipe off the blackboard and then you start writing again. And then you wipe it off, and then you start writing again. And this is the process whereby life is kept going.


So in the same way with these people. They have come to a point in the historical development of their way of life where they remember too much—it’s not new to them—and all this therefore becomes what we call going through the motions. And so this is the same paradox that I was talking about this morning: that the echo (which is memory) is simultaneously what tells you exist and what traps you. So, in the sense that it tells you you exist, it’s an advantage. To the extent that it traps you, it’s a debt. You’re in debt. You should be thankful. Somebody gave it to you. Ultimately, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the lord God did it all for you and you should be thankful, and say, “Anything bad that I did was for me. And dear God, anything good that I did was from you.” You see? What a marvelous mi-up that is.


But all I’m saying is this: there is a point in all of this development where you have to say to people: please come off it. In other words, these boys here in Kōya-san, I was aching to know enough Japanese to say to them, “Do you realize what a great thing you have here? Couldn’t you possibly enjoy it for a few minutes? And let’s get together and all join hands around here and go through this again, these sutras, and really make it!”


So I’m talking, you see, about the same process of what has been called flip-floppability, whereby we switch from one attitude to another, one situation to another. And this pulse-switch situation is the very nature of existence. That’s why your heart does that. That’s why all sounds, all light, everything is going blwwp, blwwp, blwwp, blwwp, blwwp, blwwp, see? And so, because of that blwwp, you know you’re here.


Well, now, I’ve been trying to show how this game has its own inner meaning. So finally, we’ve got to come around to one form of Mahayana that I haven’t really discussed at all to complete the whole scene, which is what is called the School of the Pure Land. And this is the most popular form of Mahayana Buddhism in the Far East. In China, in Japan, everywhere, the multitudes go for this kind. And it’s all under the presiding image of those Dhyani Buddhas called Amitābha, whose name means “boundless light,” and who is a sort of subdivision or aspect of Mahāvairocana, who is the great sun Buddha, and is therefore probably derived historically from Ahura Mazdā from Persia, the great sun god of the Mazdeans and the Pasis. But although that may have been what set it all off, it has been greatly transformed by being canalized through Buddhism.


Now, you have all seen photographs of the Buddha at Kamakura, the Daibutsu, that enormous bronze figure that sits in a beautiful park with pine trees, the temple having long been demolished by a tidal wave—for which thanks be to God, because if it hadn’t been for the tidal wave, nobody would ever have really seen this figure. But there is at Kamakura this huge bronze figure. It’s about 42 feet high. And here this creature sits, surrounded by a great business: thousands of schoolchildren are all the time on tours streaming by, photographers, people selling this, that, and the other, souvenirs, exhibitions of dwarf trees, and everything. They’re all going on around. And here this thing sits and looks down forever, and nothing can hush it. I mean, let’s put it this way: it hushes everything. That, no matter how much turmoil of children and et cetera is going on in this park, this huge face presides over everything. And you cannot ignore it. It subdues you into peace—without doing it in an authoritative way. It doesn’t say to you, “Shut up,” it just is so peaceful that you cannot help catching the infection of peace that comes from this figure. And this is the figure of Amida, Amitābha. Not the historical Shakyamuni, Guatama Buddha, living in India, but one of the Dhyani Buddhas who is not manifested in the world.


Now, the religion connected with this figure is called Pure Land, Jōdo Shinshū (in Japanese): “the true sect of the Pure Land.” It comes—again, the origins are always in India. But the Japanese—under the genius of Hōnen and Shinran, who were medieval Buddhist saints—developed their own special variety of it. And this is a very strange religion, because it takes its basis as follows:


We are living now in the most decadent period of history. That’s what they say. And this comes back from the Hindu idea that this is the Kali Yuga: this is the end of time where everything is completely fouled up. And this started in about 3000 BC. February 23rd, 3023 BC, the Kali Yuga began. And it’s got to last yet for 5,000 years, and then everything will fall apart; the universe will disappear out of sheer failure. So that, now, nobody can be virtuous. Because everybody who tries to be virtuous in this epoch of the world is merely showing off. It’s not really pure, it’s just pretending you’re virtuous, and it’s a big act. In other words: so, you give money to charity not because you really love the people you’re giving money to, but because you are under a sense of guilt and you feel you ought to. And therefore, because of that inescapable bad motivation, nobody can possibly liberate themselves from the chains of karma. The more you try to get out of your karma—that is to say: your conditioning, your bondage to your past—the more you simply get yourself involved in it. And therefore, all human beings living in the end time of the Kali Yuga—or what the Japanese call mappō—are just hopeless; hopelessly selfish.


So in this predicament you cannot rely on jiriki (that means your own power) to get out, to get liberated, from Self. You have to rely on tariki, which is the power of something else altogether than you; something quite different. So in the Jōdo Shinshū sect, the tariki (the other power) is represented in the form of Amitābha (or the Japanese say Amida), this great beneficent Buddha figure who everybody loves. And he’s so strangely different from any kind of authoritarian God figure that we have in the West. Amida doesn’t bombinate. He sits there serenely, quiet. He doesn’t preach. And all you have to do is to say his name in the formula Namu Amida Butsu, which means: namu, “name;” Amida Butsu, “of Amida Buddha.” Namu Amida Butsu. And all you have to do is to say that formula, and after death you will be reborn in a special paradise called Sukhavati—which is Jōdo, the Pure Land—where becoming enlightened is a cinch. It has none of the difficulties surrounding it that we have in our ordinary life today.


Everybody born in the Pure Land is born in the inside of a lotus. There’s a huge lotus pond in front of where Amida sits with all his attendants. And the lotus has come up and they go pop, you know, as the bud breaks. And every time it goes pop, like this, there’s a new little being in there who is somebody who has said that formula, Namu Amida Butsu. And those are human beings who are now sitting on lotuses is like Buddhas. And you should see— you go to Kōya-san, and they have a great painting now in their museum of what it’s like to arrive there. They have a huge panorama of Amitābha and all his attendants, and especially the apsarās, and she looks at you with lovely longing eyes. And so this is welcome to Amida’s paradise, where you will all sit on lotuses and be Buddhas without any difficulty. But the point is: all you have to do to get there is to say Namu Amida Butsu. You don’t even have to believe that it works.


Now, that is the religion of most Japanese Buddhists, believe it or not. In other words, if you, of course, if you really get this and feel that that’s really going to happen to you, you’ll be grateful and you’ll try to help other people, and be a bodhisattva, and so on, and, you know, you’ll be generally helpful around the scene. But the whole idea is that you cannot do it by your own effort. And the moment you think you can do it by your own effort, you’re a phony. You have instead to go completely with the other: to disown your own power and capability of being virtuous, unselfish, et cetera.


So then, this kind of religion develops a peculiar kind of saint, and they call these people myōkōnin. Myō means “wonderful,” means “fine,” nin means “man” or “person”—there can be a woman myōkōnin; it is not sexually restricted to men. So a myōkōnin is a very special kind of character. There are stories told about myōkōnin. There is one, for example: a traveling man who comes to a temple during the course of the night, and walks in, and he takes the sacred cushions on which the priests sit and arranges them right in front of the altar, and goes to sleep. In the morning the priest comes in and says, “What’s going on here?” And the myōkōnin looks at him and says, “Oh, you must be a stranger. You don’t belong to the family.” Another time, he had a great ability for calligraphy, for doing beautiful writing. And people were always trying to get his calligraphy from him, and he was cagey about it. It wasn’t so easy to get it. So one day, a very, very great man invited him for dinner and, again, left him alone in a reception room where there was stretched out on the floor some absolutely gorgeous paper, with ink and brushes just waiting there. And he got so fascinated that he just couldn’t resist. You know? Like a child. He simply couldn’t resist doing his calligraphy on that piece of paper. And suddenly, as he realized he had done it, that he had spoiled this gorgeous paper—you know, which was incredibly expensive—the host walked in. And he apologized and he said, “Really, I don’t know what to do. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t resist the temptation to make some things on this beautiful paper.” And the host said, “Oh, please don’t worry about that!” Because he had now possessed himself of a priceless object of art. This man’s work, today, sells for thousands and thousands of dollars.


So this is the spirit I’m trying—I’m telling these anecdotes to try and illustrate the spirit of what’s called a myōkōnin: somebody in the swing of realizing that the very great thing in life is not your own doing; that it comes from the side of things—the flip, in other words, of experience—that you call “other.” There are some people who believe it comes from the split in experience you call “yourself.” That’s the jiriki people. The tariki people believe it comes from the other.


But now, what happens is this: when you penetrate deeply into the doctrines of the Pure Land school, the simple people believe that there really is Amitābha Buddha, sitting on his golden lotus surrounded by all those apsarās. Exactly (from Japan) 108,000 miles to the west there is a paradise where all those people sit, and where you will be reborn when you die. And the simple priests of the sect in the country villages today still insist that that’s what you should believe. But the sophisticated priests don’t believe that at all. They know that Amitābha is in you—only, it is that side of you which you don’t define as “you.” When you say, “I have a body” instead of saying “I am a body,” that’s because you feel that your body happens to you, that it’s something you got mixed up with, that was given to you by your parents. You don’t say, “I beat my heart on purpose,” you feel that your heart is something that happens to you. So all that side of things that you experience as a passive recipient of it is tariki.


But in all this, who are you? Who is the recipient of these gifts? Don’t you see that “self” and “other” go together? That you don’t need to cling to yourself, because you have everything you called other—and that’s you, too. But you only realize this if you explore it, if you go to an extreme. So you can go to the extreme by pursuing the idea of total courage: of letting go of everything, of being a true Zen monk and abandoning all your property, and living in a barn and sitting in the middle of the night in the cold, and eating rice and pickles and so on, and you can explore liberation that way. That’s going to an extreme. But eventually you will come around to the same point as the person who goes to the other extreme, which is: no effort whatsoever. It comes of itself.


Only, he gets in a kind of bind, too. Because when am I making no effort? Even if I say Namu Armida Butsu, I’m doing something about it. Now, I’ve got to stop saying this Namu Armida Butsu. You know, saying Namu Armida Butsu is so easy, but it’s still a little bit work. And I mustn’t do any work at all! How could you get to the point where you don’t do any work at all? Where you just mustn’t do anything. And you find yourself that that is as difficult as the other situation was, you see? To do nothing—really do nothing—with perfection is as difficult as to do everything.

Alan Watts


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