Today has been a tiring day, and in frustration I removed a couple blog posts from the last 24 hours. Honestly, they weren’t great posts anyways, so it was no big loss. In any case, while on the way home, I continued reading Kosho Uchiyama’s good book Opening the Hand of Thought, a book on Soto Zen.1 The book reminded me of an article I had read by Jodo Shinshu minister, Hisao Inagaki, when he gave a talk about Nembutsu and Zen.
If you take all the schools of Japanese Buddhism and lump them together, there’s four strains of thought:
- Esoteric or Vajrayana Buddhism (Shingon school, and some elements of Tendai).
- Zen (Soto, Rinzai, Obaku schools)
- Pure Land (Jodo Shu, Jodo Shinshu)
- Lotus Sutra (Tendai, Nichren)
Unlike, say Chinese Buddhism, where these mix very frequently, Japanese Buddhism tends toward a factional approach. On paper at least, Zen guys only do Zen, Pure Land Buddhists only recite the Nembutsu, Nichiren Buddhists only recite the Odaimoku, and so on. However, Rev. Inagaki’s lecture provides an interesting view of how Zen and Pure Land Buddhism (namely Jodo Shinshu or “Shin” Buddhism) converge on many points. All of the above are Mahayana Buddhist schools, so there’s a lot of commonality under the surface, but more than that, they’re all concerned with the basic Dharma and how to put it into practice.
Toward the end, he takes up the question: which should you do? Nembutsu or Zen? I’ll let you read that part for yourself, but I think his answer is both reasonable and realistic, and ultimately benefit one on the path.
Namu Amida Butsu
1 Originally I got the idea for buying this book from some excellent blog posts by Kyoushin, Jishin and Gakko over at Echoes of the Name.