Living Rissho Ankoku Ron

A commentary
by Ryuei Michael McCormick > Historic Buddha > Mahayana > Lotus Sutra > Blog

Key Points of the Senchaku Shu Part 1:
Rejecting the Gateway of the Holy Path


                      In this section of the Rissho Ankoku Ron, Nichiren summarizes the arguments of Honen from several chapters in the Senchaku Hongan Nembutsu Shu (Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu and the Original Vow) in order to show exactly what it was about Honen’s teaching that he found objectionable. Though English translations of Rissho Ankoku Ron make it appear as though these are direct quotations from Senchaku Shu, they are actually amalgamations of statements found in each of the chapters of the Senchaku Shu that Nichiren examines. These amalgamations serve to draw out and underscore the full implications of Honen’s teaching. In 1997, the Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research published a full translation of the Senchaku Shu by Morris J. Augustine and Kondo Tessho. Now that a full translation of the Senchaku Shu is available in English we can compare Nichiren’s summary with Honen’s full argument and judge whether Nichiren’s citations are accurate assessments of Honen’s points. I certainly invite any reader of this commentary to carefully read both the Senchaku Shu and the Rissho Ankoku Ron and make their own comparisons, but for now I will do my own review of the sections of Senchaku Shu that Nichiren honed in on using the Augustine and Tessho translation.


                      Nichiren begins with a review of chapter 1 of the Senchaku Shu. In that chapter Honen starts off citing a long passage from the Collection of Passages on the Land of Peace and Bliss by Tao-ch’o that compares what he calls the Holy Path with Rebirth in the Pure Land. Honen then reviews the ways in which other Buddhist schools like the Yogacara (Vijnanavada), Madhyamika, or Flower Garland divided the Buddhist teachings in order to discern which are the most profound. He then says, “Regarding the Pure Land school now under discussion, we see that it has - if we rely on the Dhyana Master Tao-ch’o - set up the Two Gateways encompassing the whole of the Buddha’s message: the Gateway of the Holy Path and the Gateway of the Pure Land.” (p. 9) Honen then tries to answer the objection that there is no precedent for claiming the existence of a separate Pure Land school by citing the words of revered Chinese masters like Yuan-hsiao, Tz’u-en (632-682, the founder of Dharma Characteristics school in China), and Chia-ts’ai (c. 620-680) who seemingly made reference to the existence of such a school. In any case, he goes on to define what he believes the Tao-cho’s reference to the Holy Path encompasses:


          First, the Gateway of the Holy Path is divided into two parts: one is the Mahayana and the other is the Hinayana. The Mahayana is further divided into the Exoteric and Esoteric, as well as the Provisional and the Real. In the Collection of Passages on the Land of Peace and Bliss only the Exoteric and the Provisional Teachings of the Mahayana are treated. Hence, the Holy Path Teachings refer to the circuitous or ‘gradual’ forms of practice, which requires many kalpas. From this we can infer that the Holy Path Teachings also include the Esoteric and the Real. It follows then that the teachings of all eight contemporary schools - the Shingon, Busshin, Tendai, Kegon, Sanron, Hosso, Jiron, and Shoron - are also included in the Holy Path. We ought to be aware of this. (p.10)


                      What Honen has done here is to include all forms of Buddhism he was aware of under the rubric of the Holy Path. “Busshin,” incidentally, means “Buddha Mind,” and that was another name for the Zen school. The phrase, “from this we can infer...” is even an admission on the part of Honen that he has gone beyond what Tao-ch’o explicitly said in including the esoteric school of Shingon or the Tendai school which claimed to teach the definitive (called the “Real” in the passage quoted) as opposed to provisional Buddha Dharma insofar as it upheld the Lotus Sutra. But of course any of these schools would naturally claim that their teaching was definitive and not provisional. Honen has basically ignored all the sectarian classifications of the other schools, such as exoteric and esoteric, provisional and real, by asserting the schema of his own Pure Land school and sweeping all of the other groups, no matter how they may have defined themselves, into the category of the Gateway of the Holy Path as compared to the Gateway of the Pure Land. And how do these two gateways measure up to each other and which should one choose? Honen’s view is very clear:


Now the reason why Tao-ch’o, in his Collection, set up the distinction between the Two Gateways of the Holy Path and the Pure Land was to teach people to reject the Gateway of the Holy Path in favor of entering the Gateway of the Pure Land. (p. 12)


                      Honen then claims that other revered Chinese teachers made the same distinctions including T’an-luan, T’ien-t’ai, Chia-ts’ai, Tz’u-en and others. He then cites T’an-luan in a passage where the authority of Nagarjuna is in turn invoked:


          To begin with Dharma Master T’an-luan, we see that he stated in his Commentary on the Treatise on Rebirth in the Pure Land: “Let us reverently reflect on what the Bodhisattva Nagarjuna said in his Treatise Explaining the Ten Stages. He declared that there are two paths by which the Bodhisattvas may seek the Stage of Non-Retrogression: one is the Way of Difficult Practice and the other is the Way of Easy Practice.” (p. 12)


                      Honen then makes the following identifications for his readers: “In this context, the Way of Difficult Practice is the Gateway of the Holy Path, and the Way of Easy Practice is the Gateway of the Pure Land.” (p.13)


                      Honen cites some passages from Tz’u-en that contrast the difficult practice of those who follow the three vehicles (the way of the Buddha’s monastic disciples, the solitary contemplatives, and the bodhisattvas) and those who simply call upon the name of Amitabha Buddha to attain rebirth in the pure land. Honen again identifies the Three Vehicles and rebirth in the pure land with the Gateway of the Holy Path and the Gateway of the Pure Land respectively. He then goes on to make his essential point:


          He who would learn of the Pure Land school should first of all understand the import of the above passages. Even though a man may have previously studied the Gateway of the Holy Path, if he feels an inclination toward the Gateway of the Pure Land, he should set aside the Holy Path and take refuge in the Pure Land. (p.14)


                      Honen points to T’an-luan and Tao-ch’o as two revered teachers of former times who did just that. He ends the chapter by positing several alternate “blood lineages” for the Pure Land school and specifies that he is concerned only with the lineage of Tao-ch’o and Shan-tao.


                      It is clear from these passages that Honen is advocating that people “reject” and “set aside” the Gateway of the Holy Path. And that encompasses rejecting and setting aside all other teachings and practices of Buddhism other than those of the Pure Land school, including the Tendai school and the Lotus Sutra. For Nichiren, a devotee of the Lotus Sutra, this was unconscionable.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2004.

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