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Kierkegaard and Shinran Buddhism

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  • roncriss
    I thought the following comparison of Kierkegaard s understanding of fiath with that of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism was quite interesting. (A good book on this
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 16, 2002
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      I thought the following comparison of Kierkegaard's understanding of
      fiath with that of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism was quite interesting.
      (A good book on this concept in Shinran is "Tariki", by the Japanese
      author Hiroyuki Itsuki.)

      Human insufficiency in Shinran and Kierkegaard

      by Joel R. Smith
      Asian Philosophy

      Vol. 6 No. 2 Jul.1996

      Pp.117-128

      Copyright by Carfax Publishing Company



      ----------------------------------------------------------------------
      ----------


      ABSTRACT Shinran (1173-1263), the founder of the Jodoshinshu of
      Japanese
      Pure Land Buddhism, and Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the Danish
      father of
      Christian existentialism, belong to very different eras, cultures, and
      religious traditions. Yet there are striking similarities between
      their
      religious philosophies, especially in how both offer theistic views
      emphasising faith and grace that see the person as radically
      insufficient
      to attain complete self-transformation. Both claim that the human
      person is
      so radically insufficient that no one can attain Buddhist
      enlightenment or
      Christian salvation through his or her own power, but only through
      divine
      power. I will argue against some commentators that although the Deity
      accepts and transforms this insufficiency, even the power of the
      Deity does
      not eradicate human insufficiency in this life for the person of
      faith. I
      will also argue that Shinran and Kierkegaard differ significantly
      about the
      role of human freedom in faith, and that this difference expresses the
      central difference between Mahayana Buddhism and Christianity
      regarding the
      relationship between the person and the Deity.

      Japanese Pure Land Buddhism before Shinran was an 'easy path' that
      believed
      that the nembutsu or recitation of the name of Amida Buddha
      (Namu-amida-butsu) was the basis for enlightenment. [1] Pure Land
      before
      Shinran had rejected the difficult, aristocratic, and often esoteric
      paths
      to enlightenment offered by the Buddhist schools of Tendai, Shingon
      and Zen
      in order to develop a path open to every person in the degenerate age
      known
      as mappo. [2] The Pure Land path was especially appealing during the
      social
      upheavals of the Kamakura period. [3] But Pure Land before Shinran was
      ambiguous about the extent to which the nembutsu involved self-power
      (jiriki) and Other-power (tariki), and it seems to have combined both
      self-power and Other-power. [4] Shinran saw that although reciting
      Amida's
      name relied on the compassionate Other-power of Amida, nembutsu
      practice
      still retained vestiges of self-power. Even when it avoided rote
      repetition
      with little regard for one's inner quality of mind, mindful reciting
      of
      Amida's name was still a practice done by the aspirant to merit birth
      into
      the Pure Land. Shinran sought to remove these vestiges of self-power
      in
      order to rely completely on Amida's Other-power. Self-power (jiriki)
      must
      be completely replaced by Other-power (tariki). Even mindful
      recitation of
      Amida's name could not bring enlightenment.

      Shinran drew out the logical implications of the earlier Pure Land
      emphasis
      on the egoistic passions in each person, as well as his own
      experience of
      his futile efforts during 20 years of practice in the Tendai sect to
      overcome his passions to attain enlightenment. [5] Profound
      existential
      self-reflection is crucial to realise the futility of one's efforts.
      [6]
      Shinran says:

      From the beginning sentient beings, who are filled with blind
      passions, lack a mind true and real, a heart of purity, for they
      are
      possessed of defilements, evil, and wrong views. [7]

      Thus grace and shinjin (true entrusting or 'faith'), [8] rather than
      the
      'good works' of some spiritual practice, is the basis for
      enlightenment. In
      Buddhism generally, and perhaps even in earlier Pure Land sects,
      faith was
      essential, but was a choice or act of will. [9] For Shinran, however,
      shinjin is not a human act of will but is completely the activity of
      Amida.
      The radical difference between human self-power and Buddha's Other-
      power,
      between blind passions and enlightenment, between samsara and nirvana,
      cannot be bridged by humans but only by Amida Buddha. Shinran is quite
      explicit: 'The nembutsu is not a self-power practice performed by
      foolish
      beings or sages,' [10] and it is Amida, not the devotee, who directs
      or
      transfers merit. A person's recitation of Amida's name is not a
      practice
      through human self-power to attain enlightenment for oneself, but a
      practice performed by Amida that is directed to and heard by all
      beings.
      [11]

      . . . the name of Amida is no longer the merely vocal element in
      the
      practice of recitation, but it is the mysterious activity of
      Amida
      Buddha within the minds of men. [12]

      Shinran retains human recitation of Amida's name not as a means to
      enlightenment but as an expression of gratitude to Amida [13] : 'Only
      by
      constantly reciting the Tathagata's name/ Can we repay the grace of
      the Vow
      of great compassion.' [14] We mysteriously say Amida's name when given
      shinjin, [15] and recitation is a natural manifestation of shinjin.
      [16]

      In this life, one does not attain enlightenment when shinjin is
      conferred
      but one does attain 'entrance into the company of the truly assured'
      and
      'non-retrogression'. [17] When Amida confers shinjin, are our evil
      passions
      eradicated in this life before we attain the Pure Land at death?
      Daigan and
      Alicia Matsunaga claim our insufficiency is eradicated:

      The individual who has received the benefits of the Other-power
      and
      the three qualities of mind equivalent to the mind of Amida,
      henceforth acts in a wholly natural or spontaneous (jinen)
      manner,
      completely free from egotistical self-awareness and in compete
      accord
      with Dharma. All his actions are aimed at leading others to
      share his
      realization, or to assist them in listening to the voice of
      Amida.
      [18]

      Sometimes Shinran himself seems to suggest that blind passions are
      completely eradicated in this life:

      . . . virtues quickly and rapidly become perfectly full in the
      heart
      of one who entrusts oneself to them . . . the vast treasure of
      virtues
      completely fills them. . . . [19]

      Shinjin does, indeed, transform people's lives, Shinran says:

      In people who have long heard the Buddha's Name and the nembutsu,
      surely there are signs of rejecting the evil in themselves . . .
      once
      the true and real mind is made to arise in us, how can we remain
      as we
      were? [20]

      Yet Shinran is quite explicit that blind passions are not eradicated
      in
      this life:

      Our desires are countless, and anger, wrath, jealousy, and envy
      are
      overwhelming, arising without pause; to the very last moment of
      life
      [emphasis added] they do not cease, or disappear, or exhaust
      themselves. [21]

      What happens to our blind passions after shinjin but before death is a
      difficult and ultimately paradoxical point in Shinran. After shinjin
      occurs
      we still possess blind passions, [22] and are still bound by karma,
      though
      this karma is transformed. [23] In perhaps his most explicit statement
      about this, Shinran says:

      . . . without the practicer's calculating in any way whatsoever,
      all
      his past, present, and future evil karma is transformed into
      good. To
      be transformed means that evil karma, without being nullified or
      eradicated [emphasis added], is made into good. [24]

      The Matsunagas seem wrong to emphasise so strongly a person's
      egolessness
      and altruism after shinjin. Whatever Shinran means by karmic passions
      being
      'transformed into good', he also clearly holds that they are not
      eradicated
      in this life but continue until one is born in the Pure Land at death.
      Indeed, Shinran's central claim, however paradoxical, is that when
      Amida
      confers shinjin, we are assured of enlightenment even as our blind
      passions
      remain, although they are somehow transformed into good:

      When such shackled foolish beings . . . wholly entrust
      themselves to
      the Name . . . then while burdened as they are with blind
      passions
      [emphasis added], they attain the supreme nirvana. [25]

      In my opinion, Yoshifuma Ueda offers the best interpretation of
      Shinran's
      paradoxical view. He takes Shinran to be offering his version of the
      basic
      Mahayana paradox that samsara and nirvana are both different and not
      different. A person, as constituted by blind passions, remains
      subject to
      samsaric ignorance until death and as such is starkly different from
      enlightenment and Amida's wisdom-compassion. In this sense, blind
      passions
      are never completely 'nullified or eradicated' in this life. On the
      other
      hand, in shinjin Amida transfers his qualities of mind to us; [26]
      when we
      are pervaded by Amida's wisdom-compassion, our blind passions are
      'transformed into good' without being eradicated. Since we still
      possess
      passions, we are not yet enlightened, but our eventual enlightenment
      is
      settled. [27] So blind passion and enlightenment, the human person and
      Amida Buddha, samsara and nirvana stand in stark opposition and at
      the same
      time are one. [28] While this remains paradoxical in Shinran's
      thought, it
      is the mystery that is at the core of all Mahayana thought.

      Jinen, perhaps Shinran's most important idea after shinjin, brings
      out this
      idea of our non-duality with Amida in shinjin and leads to the idea of
      sunyata. Jinen means what happens of itself, naturally, spontaneously:

      'Dharmicness' . . . indicates the nature of jinen. Dharmicness
      expresses the natural working (jinen) in the life of the person
      who
      realizes shinjin and says the Name once. [29]

      Although conceived personally, Amida is also conceived impersonally as
      Infinite Life (symbolized as Amitayus) and Infinite Light (symbolized
      as
      Amitabha), or compassion and wisdom, the active and passive causes,
      respectively, for the arising of shinjin. [30] Amida's Light
      illumines all
      reality equally and without preference:

      Wisdom's light is infinite
      Of all finite beings, there are none
      That light have not received
      Let us take refuge in the True Light. [31]

      Amida as Light is formless sunyata (emptiness or suchness), Shinran
      says:

      Thus appearing in the form of light called 'Tathagata of
      unhindered
      light filling the ten quarters', [Amida] is without color and
      without
      form, that is, identical with the dharma-body as suchness. . . .
      [32]

      This explains why Amida's granting of shinjin does not seem to include
      either judgement or forgiveness. [33] As Infinite Light, Amida's
      compassionate activity is more like an impersonal force that radiates
      to
      every comer of the universe rather than being personally directed
      towards
      an individual person. It is more like the sun shining than a person
      giving
      a gift. [34]

      Ironically, with Shinran's deepening of Pure Land's awareness of human
      insufficiency, Shinran transformed Pure Land from an 'easy path' to
      the
      most difficult of paths, in light of our egoistic tendency to engage
      in
      self-power. Indeed, enlightenment becomes so difficult that there is
      no
      recourse other than Amida's saving power, and even shinjin is Amida's
      work,
      not ours. Shinran developed Pure Land thought in a subtle way to draw
      out
      the Mahayana implications of the quest to overcome ego and realise
      enlightenment. If all of our practice is tainted by egoistic passion,
      how
      can we overcome ego by our own efforts? For Shinran, this paradox of
      self-transformation can only be resolved by replacing all forms of
      self-power, including nembutsu, with the Other-power of Amida's
      compassionate activity. Amida confers the shinjin that assures us
      birth in
      the Pure Land and in this life transforms our blind passions without
      eradicating them. Amida confers shinjin, and we cannot reject it
      because
      only Amida's Other-power and no human activity is involved in
      shinjin. [35]
      So for Shinran, 'no selfworking is true working.' [36]

      Kierkegaard's Lutheran Protestantism also emphasises salvation through
      faith and grace rather than 'good works'. Kierkegaard's view of the
      process
      of becoming an authentic self unifies his diverse authorship and its
      bewildering array of personae who speak with subtle variations of
      voice.
      [37] In drawing attention to what it means to be a Christian,
      Kierkegaard
      is primarily concerned with the structure, transformation, and
      transcendence of the self. His three spheres of existence--the
      aesthetic,
      the ethical, and the religious--portray self-transformation in terms
      of an
      underlying ontological structure of selfhood which culminates in
      Christian
      faith. Kierkegaard describes the self in terms of relations, not in
      terms
      of substance. The self is not a permanent, enduring substance which
      underlies changing attributes and provides self-continuity and
      self-identity. Rather, the self is a relational structure, and it is a
      multi-dimensional, self-relational structure. [38] Despair and faith
      are
      the two basic modes of self-relational activity. [39] Despair is not
      simply
      a mood or state of mind, but is a disrelation in the self-relational
      structure.

      The task of becoming a self is the task of relating to oneself so as
      to
      overcome despair or inward disrelation. Stated most simply, the task
      is to
      become oneself before God. In aesthetic existence, the self does not
      take
      up or avow this task of relating to itself properly. It does not
      accept
      responsibility for becoming who it really is, so aesthetic existence
      is
      despair. In ethical existence, the self does accept the task of
      willing
      itself. In ethical existence, self-relational activity seeks to choose
      itself authentically through concrete choices and commitments
      concerning
      marriage, vocation, and life style. [40] However, ethical existence
      does
      not appropriate its insufficiency to achieve its task of overcoming
      despair. [41]

      In religious existence, self-relational activity begins to avow its
      insufficiency to overcome despair, and Kierkegaard describes two
      kinds of
      religious existence. Religiousness A, or immanent religiousness,
      develops
      the deepest appropriation of human insufficiency that is possible by
      the
      selfs activity alone. [42] In succeeding movements of resignation,
      suffering, dying away from self, and the consciousness of guilt, the
      self
      experiences itself as insufficient to accomplish this task. The
      transformation from Religiousness A to Religiousness B or the
      paradoxical
      religiousness of Christianity, is the transformation from
      guilt-consciousness to sin-consciousness. [43] Consciousness that
      one's
      insufficiency is sin can occur only in response to God's revelation in
      Jesus Christ. The self is even unable to become conscious of the
      depth of
      its own insufficiency by itself. Sin is a more-than-human conception
      of
      human insufficiency. The vicious. circle of self-relational activity
      must
      be broken by a disclosure dear comes from outside. In sin-
      consciousness,
      human insufficiency exists before God.

      Consciousness of sin is a response to God's revelation and so is the
      initial movement of faith. Consciousness of the forgiveness of sin is
      the
      culminating movement of faith. Forgiveness is Christianity's leniency
      which
      follows upon the severity of sin-consciousness. In forgiving sin, God
      accepts the self in its insufficiency, allowing it as insufficient to
      exist
      in a loving relationship with God. God's acceptance of insufficiency
      allows
      the self to accept its insufficiency. In Christian faith, the self is
      fully
      itself as insufficient before God and itself for the first time. Only
      in
      Christian faith can the self fully live its insufficiency, and so
      fully be
      itself, through obedience and worship before God. Through the
      forgiveness
      of sin, God and self are reconciled to one another and the self is
      reconciled with its insufficiency. Divine sufficiency and human
      insufficiency attain reconciliation.

      Some commentators [44] argue that the self attains realisation and
      fulfillment in existence through Christian faith. This interpretation
      sees
      faith as a kind of self-fulfillment in which human insufficiency is
      eradicated by God's saving activity. This interpretation fails to
      distinguish between self-fulfillment and reconciliation. The self
      does,
      indeed, attain reconciliation with God and itself in that God accepts
      the
      self in its insufficiency. Forgiveness means that God lovingly
      accepts the
      self as insufficient, but it does not mean that God eradicates this
      insufficiency. In faith, human insufficiency remains, but it is no
      longer
      something which separates the self from God. In fact, human
      insufficiency
      is what allows God to express divine love for the self most deeply.
      God's
      gracious acceptance of the self as a sinner is God's most
      compassionate,
      paradoxical gift to the self, and it is possible only in the context
      of
      human insufficiency.

      The reconciliation which occurs in faith must preserve the essential
      nature
      of both God and self. Kierkegaard repeatedly emphasises the absolute
      qualitative difference between the self and God. The distinction
      between
      divine sufficiency and human insufficiency is the basic expression
      for this
      qualitative difference. If this were removed in faith, the self would
      no
      longer be radically different from God in this crucial respect. Since
      insufficiency characterises the very structure of the self, its
      removal
      would essentially alter the self, and the self in faith would lose
      continuity with the self before faith. Kierkegaard holds that there
      is an
      inverse resemblance [45] between the self and God. Human
      insufficiency and
      divine sufficiency constitute this inverse resemblance. The self's
      insufficiency is the root of the self's need to be accepted by God in
      order
      to accept its own insufficiency and to live it fully. The self needs
      divine
      forgiveness in order to be itself as insufficient. Human need and
      divine
      compassion are a mutual fit.

      God's activity or forgiveness is primary in faith, in that the self is
      unable to forgive itself. Yet the self can take offence at this and
      reject
      faith by rejecting this consciousness of forgiveness. Although God's
      activity is primary in faith, the sews freedom is preserved in that
      it can
      reject God's forgiveness. Kierkegaard emphasises that there is always
      the
      possibility of taking offence at divine forgiveness; offence is the
      opposite of faith and is the source of the continual fear and
      trembling
      that offence will destroy faith:

      . . . fear thyself, fear what can kill faith. . . Fear and
      tremble:
      for faith is contained in a fragile earthen vessel, in the
      possibility
      of offence. Blessed is he who is not offended in Him but
      believes.
      [46]

      Kierkegaard's view, I claim, preserves the radical difference between
      the
      human and divine natures, while allowing a relationship to occur
      between
      them. This relationship is one in which the self's insufficiency is
      reconciled with God and itself, rather than one in which
      insufficiency is
      eradicated and self-fulfillment occurs. The relationship of faith
      does not
      occur in spite of human insufficiency but in the face of and by way
      of this
      insufficiency. For Kierkegaard, the self's need for God, which is
      rooted in
      human insufficiency, becomes the way to God. Human insufficiency and
      divine
      sufficiency remain opposites and remain true to their own natures.
      Yet in
      Christian faith they are related in a loving way by virtue of their
      very
      difference. When transformed by faith, our human need of God is our
      highest
      perfection. [47]

      I have argued that in spite of some interpretations to the contrary,
      both
      Shinran and Kierkegaard deny that human insufficiency is eradicated
      in this
      life by either human or divine power. Divine compassion is so
      powerful that
      it extends itself to our evil nature and accepts us as we are in our
      insufficiency. While this does not eradicate our insufficiency or
      confer
      self-fulfillment, it does transform our lives so we can, for the first
      time, accept ourselves as we truly are as insufficient. Both hold
      that we
      remain insufficient in this life and continue to commit evil, yet once
      faith occurs, the person's life is transformed so our evil nature,
      while
      remaining evil in this life, is accepted by God and we can anticipate
      enlightenment or salvation after death. Both thinkers stress that
      faith
      during this life and enlightenment or salvation after death are
      ultimately
      dependent upon the Deity. 48] Obviously Shinran affirms Amida Buddha
      and
      Buddha-nature as ultimate while Kierkegaard affirms Jesus Christ and
      God as
      ultimate. Shinran and Kierkegaard also differ significantly in the
      role of
      human freedom in faith. Shinran holds that shinjin assures one of
      enlightenment after death and that one will not retrogress from this,
      even
      though one will continue to do evil. It seems that for Shinran shinjin
      cannot be rejected, since it is completely the work of Amida's Other-
      power
      and involves no human activity. [49] In contrast, Kierkegaard has a
      strong
      sense of the person's freedom to reject or overturn faith and fall
      away
      from God: ' . . . fear thyself, fear what can kill faith'. [50]
      Because
      Amida causes the divine qualities of mind to pervade the human mind in
      shinjin, and because one cannot reject shinjin, Shinran seems to deny
      human
      freedom. If a person is not free to reject shinjin, then the person's
      nature as finite and free seems to be eradicated by Amida so there is
      radical loss of continuity between who the person is before and after
      shinjin. While shinjin guarantees salvation later at death in a way
      that
      Kierkegaard's faith cannot, it also abrogates our human nature so
      that our
      insufficiency is replaced by Amida's divine qualities. In contrast,
      Kierkegaard preserves the continuity of freedom, and thus the person's
      identity, before and during faith.

      How might Shinran reply to this Kierkegaard criticism? Shinran holds
      that a
      person receives only shinjin and not enlightenment in this life. To
      preserve the finite continuity of human nature in this life, he
      asserts
      that our evil passions are merely transformed by shinjin and
      not 'nullified
      or eradicated' until death. But because he affirms non-retrogression
      which
      guarantees enlightenment after death, he denies freedom and cannot
      make
      sense of his claim that evil passions continue after we receive
      Amida's
      mind in shinjin. [51] At best he would seem to posit a dual self, one
      which
      receives Amida's qualities and cannot reject shinjin, and another
      which
      continues to commit evil out of free will. How these two aspects co-
      exist
      in one unitary self remains unexplained.

      An analogous problem occurs in any Mahayana view that claims that
      enlightenment occurs in this life; for how can a person be both
      alive, and
      thus subject to karma, and yet enlightened and beyond karma? While
      Shinran
      avoids this somewhat by holding that enlightenment occurs only after
      death,
      he replicates the problem in that the shinjin that Amida confers
      cannot be
      rejected. The basic problem is one that belongs to Mahayana and not
      uniquely to Shinran, but it is a problem that Kierkegaard carefully
      avoids.
      Kierkegaard preserves the selfs freedom in faith, which underscores
      rather
      than eradicates the selfs insufficiency, preserves the difference
      between
      God and the self, and preserves the continuity of the self's identity
      before and after faith.

      However, Shinran might reply, as any Mahayana thinker would, that
      Christianity's error is precisely in dualistically affirming the
      qualitative difference between a person and the Deity by insisting
      that
      true human freedom is a self-power which is different from the Deity's
      power. Instead, true freedom is when Amida's power pervades a person's
      mind, infusing the mind with Amida's qualities, so that the person
      becomes
      Amida. As Ueda puts it:

      The fundamental difference between shinjin and [Christian] faith
      is
      that while the concept of faith stands on the duality of God
      (Creator)
      and man (created), shinjin is the oneness of Buddha and man, or
      man's
      becoming a buddha. [52]

      Shinran's notion of jinen--of things in shinjin happening
      spontaneously,
      naturally, and of themselves--conveys the Mahayana non-duality
      between the
      person and Buddha that is absent in Kierkegaard's Christianity.
      Kierkegaard's emphasis on the resemblance between God and humans as
      inverse--human insufficiency inversely resembles divine
      omnipotence--underscores the Christian incommensurability between God
      on
      one side and the world and humans on the other. Kierkegaard's
      emphasis on
      judgment and forgiveness adds to this incommensurability a strong
      sense of
      God as personal. Shinran, in contrast, while theistic, affirms a
      strong
      non-duality between Buddha and the world: 'plants, trees, and land all
      attain Buddhahood'. [53] Influenced by Taoism and Shinto, perhaps, and
      certainly by Kukai's Shingon view at least indirectly, Shinran
      affirms much
      more continuity between humans and the Deity in shinjin, a continuity
      between humanity and divinity that Kierkegaard and traditional
      Christianity
      would reject as idolatrous.

      This continuity is not a simple unity or non-duality, for Shinran
      expresses
      the Mahayana paradox that Buddha and the person are 'one and yet two,
      two
      and yet one'. [54] When shinjin is conferred, 'oneness with the
      Buddha's
      mind is actualized . . . without nullifying or eradicating his
      defilements
      . . . '. [55] While the person is different from Amida, the person is
      also
      not different from Amida. For Shinran, Kierkegaard and Christianity
      simplistically emphasise the duality and ignore the oneness. Yet
      Shinran
      does not simply reverse the emphasis in favour of unity but affirms
      both
      unity and difference. True freedom, then, would not simply be the
      freedom
      to continue to do evil as an assertion of self-power against Amida,
      but
      also for action to arise out of Amida's qualities that are now one's
      own so
      that this evil is immediately and paradoxically transformed into
      good. As
      Shinran says:

      Unfailingly the ice of blind passions melts
      And immediately becomes the water of enlightenment . . .
      The more ice, the more water;
      The more hindrances, the more virtues. [56]

      For Shinran, evil passions remain and are not eradicated, but they are
      transformed, paradoxically, into good even as they remain evil. This
      is
      Shinran's version of the Mahayana identification of samsara and
      nirvana,
      humans and Buddha, and it stands in sharp contrast to the Christian
      emphasis on the qualitative difference between God and the world as
      God's
      creation.

      Shinran and Kierkegaard offer a radical critique of their respective
      traditions and take us deep into the labyrinth of human
      insufficiency. Both
      are sensitive to the danger of retaining subtle traces of human
      sufficiency
      and go further than most Buddhist and Christian thinkers in
      eliminating
      such vestiges. For Shinran, this means giving up the efficacy of all
      spiritual practices and self-power, including nembutsu, so that
      Amida's
      tariki completely replaces human jiriki: no selfworking is true
      working.
      For Kierkegaard it means avowing insufficiency more and more deeply
      until
      one realises that the self can do nothing by itself, and that our
      need of
      God is our highest perfection. Both take seriously the paradox of
      self-transformation: if all of our efforts are tainted by egoistic
      passions, then we cannot overcome our evil through our own efforts. As
      Kierkegaard puts it:

      . . . can a man not overcome himself in his own strength? . . .
      how
      can I be stronger than myself? . . . no man was ever stronger
      than
      himself. [57]

      . . . one understands that a man can do absolutely nothing of
      himself.
      But in and with this understanding God is immediately present.
      [58]

      In spite of striking similarities, however, Shinran and Kierkegaard
      differ
      on two subtle but crucial points. First, Kierkegaard's notion of faith
      preserves and even accentuates the qualitative difference between God
      on
      one side and humans and the world on the other, while Shinran retains
      the
      Mahayana view of the non-duality of samsara and nirvana, including the
      Buddha-nature of humanity, and so he retains a strong sense of the
      impersonality and immanence of Amida's activity. This difference is
      difficult to adjudicate since it refers to the nature of ultimate
      reality.
      Shinran's takes a 'middle way' in that he affirms, albeit
      paradoxically,
      that the person and Buddha are 'one and yet two, two and yet one',
      while
      Kierkegaard's Christianity is firmly dualistic.

      Second, and rooted in the first difference, while both emphasise
      faith and
      the primacy of the Deity's activity in faith, Shinran's view of faith
      circumscribes human freedom while Kierkegaard's view preserves and
      even
      underscores human freedom. At first Kierkegaard's view seems more
      tenable.
      For Kierkegaard, the sense of freedom and finitude that we have before
      faith occurs is not abrogated after faith occurs, so there is no
      radical
      loss of continuity between who we were before faith and who we are
      after
      faith. Shinran, with his notion of non-retrogression, denies the
      continuity
      of human freedom more than Kierkegaard does since one cannot reject
      faith.

      Kierkegaard retains traces of self-power in his conception of what
      true
      human freedom is. While true freedom involves awareness of our radical
      insufficiency and our radical dependency on God, traces of self-power
      remain in that a person is still free to lose faith. For Shinran, in
      the
      true freedom of shinjin, one does not retain any self-power that could
      reject faith, but enough self-power remains so our evil passions are
      not
      completely eradicated until death. Again, Shinran takes a paradoxical
      'middle way' that affirms that after shinjin, a person is not free to
      reject shinjin, yet is free to do evil actions. Shinran does retain a
      kind
      of self-power in that a person still experiences evil passions and
      acts on
      them, but this self-power does not extend to the freedom to reject
      shinjin,
      a power which Kierkegaard affirms. While one does not attain
      enlightenment
      in this life, one does receive Amida's qualities of mind so that one
      is
      assured of enlightenment after death and so that in this life
      the 'ice' of
      one's evil actions 'melts' to become the 'waters' of Buddha's virtues.

      Different conceptions of human freedom are involved, rooted in
      different
      conceptions of the relationship between the person and the Deity.
      Kierkegaard affirms the Christian emphasis on individuality, so that
      even
      in faith when human insufficiency is avowed, true freedom is
      construed to
      include a person's freedom to choose to reject faith. True freedom in
      this
      life means that the person of faith remains an individual who is
      qualitatively different from God. The person of faith does not become
      God
      in any sense whatsoever; indeed, the person finally becomes fully
      aware of
      the qualitative difference between humans and God and is forgiven and
      loved
      by God in a way that preserves this very difference.

      True freedom in this life for Shinran, however, preserves some
      freedom of
      choice to do evil, but also locates true freedom in becoming Buddha,
      that
      is, in being infused with Amida's qualities. To a significant extent
      in
      shinjin, a person ceases to be an individual in that, through Amida's
      power, the person's Buddha-nature is actualised, though not
      completely. The
      highest freedom one can attain in this life is when, as an
      individual, one
      still freely chooses to act on one's evil passions, yet also
      transcends
      one's individuality in that Amida infuses a person's mind with
      Amida's own
      qualities of mind. Perhaps when enlightenment occurs after death, all
      traces of individuality disappear. Be that as it may, in this life
      true
      freedom is approached when individual freedom of choice is replaced
      to some
      extent by the activity of Amida Buddha.

      I have argued that in spite of some interpretations to the contrary,
      both
      Shinran and Kierkegaard deny that human insufficiency is completely
      eradicated in this life by either human or divine power. However,
      through
      faith and grace in this life, divine compassion accepts our
      insufficiency
      and transform us so our evil nature, while remaining evil in this
      life, is
      accepted by the Deity, and we can anticipate enlightenment or
      salvation
      after death. I have argued that both thinkers preserve human freedom
      of
      choice, and therefore self-power, in faith, although Kierkegaard does
      so
      more than Shinran. Their difference regarding how much freedom of
      choice
      remains in faith is rooted in their differing conceptions of true
      freedom,
      with Kierkegaard affirming a more individualistic conception of true
      freedom in order to preserve traditional Christianity's qualitative
      difference between God and the person. In contrast, Shinran affirms
      non-duality between the person and Amida Buddha, while still
      preserving, at
      least in this life, significant difference between them: 'one and yet
      two,
      two and yet one'. In spite of their deep similarities concerning
      faith,
      grace, and human insufficiency, Shinran and Kierkegaard differ
      significantly regarding human freedom and the relationship between the
      person and the Deity, reflecting their different roots in Mahayana
      Buddhism
      and Protestant Christianity.

      NOTES

      [1] For a short version of the history of Pure Land Buddhism, see
      BLOOM,
      ALFRED (1965) Shinran's Gospel of Pure Grace (Tucson, AZ, The
      University of
      Arizona Press) pp. 7-25; for a more detailed history, see MATSUNAGA,
      DAIGAN
      & ALICIA (1976) Foundations of Japanese Buddhism, Vol. II, The Mass
      Movement (Kamakura & Muromachi Periods) (Los Angeles-Tokyo, Buddhist
      Books)
      pp. 11136.

      [2] MATSUNAGA et al., ibid., p. 5.

      [3] Ibid., pp. 6-7.

      [4] UEDA, YOSHIFUMI & HIROTA, DENNIS (1989) Shinran: An Introduction
      to His
      Thought (Kyoto, Hongwanji International Center) p. 137; BLOOM,
      op.cit., p.
      25.

      [5] MATSUNAGA et al., op.cit., p. 97.

      [6] Ibid., p. 97; UEDA & HIROTA, op.cit., pp. 234-235.

      [7] UEDA & HIROTA, ibid., p. 186.

      [8] Yoshifumi Ueda discusses why 'faith' should not be used to
      translate
      shinjin in UEDA, YOSHIFUMI (1981) 'Response to Thomas P. Kasulis'
      review of
      Letters of Shinran,' in: Philosophy East and West, 31, pp. 507-512.

      [9] BLOOM, op. cit., p. 47; MATSUNAGA et al., op.cit., p. 95.

      [10] UEDA & HIROTA, op.cit., p. 145.

      [11] BLOOM, op.cit., p. 70.

      [12] Ibid,, pp. 54-55.

      [13] Ibid., p. 69.

      [14] Ibid., p. 74.

      [15] UEDA & HIROTA, op.cit., p. 148.

      [16] Ibid., p. 145.

      [17] BLOOM, op.cit., p. 61.

      [18] MATSUNAGA et al., op.cit., p. 103.

      [19] UEDA & HIROTA, op.cit., pp. 270-271.

      [20] Ibid., p. 256.

      [21] UEDA & HIROTA, op.cit., p. 165.

      [22] Ibid., p. 151.

      [23] Ibid., p. 165.

      [24] Ibid., pp. 237-238.

      [25] Ibid., p. 235.

      [26] Ibid., pp. 155, 157; MATSUNAGA et al., op.cit., p. 99.

      [27] UEDA & HIROTA, op.cit., p. 151.

      [28] Ibid., p. 151.

      [29] Ibid., p. 244.

      [30] MATSUNAGA, op.cit., p. 51.

      [31] BLOOM, op.cit., p. 57.

      [32] UEDA & HIROTA, op.cit., p. 266.

      [33] MATSUNAGA et al., op.cit., p. 102.

      [34] UEDA & HIROTA, op.cit., p. 265.

      [35] MATSUNAGA et al., op.cit., p. 102.

      [36] UEDA & HIROTA, op.cit., pp. 206, 219, 272.

      [37] I do not have the space to discuss the problem of the
      pseudonyms. For
      this paper, I will attribute to Kierkegaard points made by various
      pseudonyms. While Kierkegaard's view is not identical to a
      pseudonymous
      author's view, the points that I discuss are part of Kierkegaard's own
      view, as I have argued in detail in SMITH, JOEL R. (1977) The
      dialectic of
      selfhood in the works of Soren Kierkegaard (Ph.D. Diss., Vanderbilt
      University).

      [38] KIERKEGAARD, SOREN (1980) in: H. V. HONG & E. H. HONG (Ed. &
      Trans.)
      The Sickness unto Death, (Princeton, Princeton University Press),
      especially pp. 13-42.

      [39] Ibid., especially pp. 42-131.

      [40] Regarding aesthetic and ethical existence, see KIERKEGAARD, SOEN
      (1987) in: V. HONG & E. H. HONG (Ed. & Trans.) Either/Or: Part I & II
      (Princeton, Princeton University Press), especially Part II where
      Judge
      William characterises aesthetic existence as despair while he argues
      for
      the validity of ethical existence.

      [41] KIERKEGAARD, SOREN (1992) in: E. V. HONG & E. H. HONG (Ed. &
      Trans.)
      Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments,
      (Princeton,
      Princeton University Press) pp. 257-258.

      [42] Regarding Religiousness A, see KIERKEGAARD, ibid., pp. 385-561.

      [43] Regarding Religiousness B, see KIERKEGAARD, ibid., pp. 555-586;
      sin is
      also discussed in KIERKEGAARD, op.cit., note 38, pp. 75-131.

      [44] For example, see ELROD, JOHN W. (1975) Being and Existence in
      Kierkegaard's Pseudonymous Works (Princeton, Princeton University
      Press),
      especially pp. 209, 222, 234, 245; a detailed critique of Elrod can be
      found in SMITH, op.cit., note 37, pp. 141-163.

      [45] KIERKEGAARD, SOREN (1971) in: W. LOWRIE (Trans.) Christian
      Discourses
      and The Lilies of the Field and the Birds of the Air and Three
      Discourses
      at the Communion on Fridays, (Princeton; Princeton University Press)
      p.
      300; also see pp. 132-137.

      [46] KIERKEGAARD, SOREN (1944) in: W. LOWRIE (Trans.) Training in
      Christianity (Princeton, Princeton University Press) p. 80.

      [47] KIERKEGAARD, SOREN (1958) Man's need of God constitutes his
      highest
      perfection in: P. L. HOLMER (Ed.) Edifying Discourses: A Selection,
      (New
      York, Harper & Row) pp. 136-176.

      [48] Kierkegaard's view resembles the views of Martin Luther and Karl
      Barth
      in the emphasis on human insufficiency, faith, and grace. For a
      comparison
      of Martin Luther and Shinran, see INGRAM, PAUL O. (1971) Shinran
      Shonin and
      Martin Luther: a soteriological comparison, Journal of the American
      Academy
      of Religion, 39, December, pp. 430-447. For a discussion of Karl
      Barth's
      comments on Pure Land Buddhism, see WALDROP, CHARLES T. (1987) Karl
      Barth
      and Pure Land Buddhism, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 24:4, Fall, pp.
      574-597.

      [49] MATSUNAGA et al., op.cit., note 1, p. 102.

      [50] KIERKEGAARD, op.cit., note 46, p. 80.

      [51] UEDA & HIROTA, op.cit., note 4, p. 154.

      [52] UEDA, op.cit., note 8, p. 507.

      [53] UEDA & HIROTA, op.cit., note 4, p. 265.

      [54] UEDA, op.cit., note 8, p. 510.

      [55] Ibid., pp. 510-511.

      [56] UEDA & HIROTA, Op.cit., note 4, p. 155.

      [57] KIERKEGAARD, op.cit., note 47, pp. 167-168.

      [58] Ibid., p. 173.


      (from: http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-ADM/joel.htm )
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