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Journal: Jiriki and Tariki

Note: This Journal entry was written on October 3, 2001, as I walked on the Old Tokaido. Take a look at that day's Logbook for more.


Several times now I have run up against an anomaly.

Most Japanese Buddhists--even the "professionals"--are extremely tolerant of other sects, etc. There is little of the parochialism (!) expressed by members of different denominations in America.

So I have been surprised that several people at temples have told me that my use of the prayer Hannya Shingyo was inappropriate for their sect. But today I found out why.

There are two modes in Japanese religion, and indeed in religion in general. In Japanese these are called jiriki--self-power--and tariki--others' power. Joseph Campbell explained them like this:

In India, they call jiriki the "way of the monkey." When a mother monkey travels, the baby must cling to her by his own power, or fall. Tariki is the way of the kitten. A mother cat carries her baby in her mouth.

The implications in religion are clear. Jiriki is raising oneself up by one's own effort; tariki is calling on the god(s) for help. (Most Protestants believe that Christianity is tariki: salvation by faith, not works. They perceive Catholics as trying to do it by jiriki.)

At the extremes of Japanese Buddhism, Zen practice is jiriki. One sits until one controls one's mind to the point of achieving enlightenment. The other extreme is the Amidist sects--Jodoshu and Jososhinshu for leading examples--which believe that simply calling on the name of Amida Buddha will save one. (There's just something about that name.)

The Hannya Shingyo is not strictly a Zen prayer; in fact, it's most closely associated with Shingon Buddhism, a more balanced approach, but with strong strains of practice and self-effort. The temples where I have been told that the Hannya Shingyo is inappropriate? Without exception, they were Jodoshinshu--Amidist--temples.

My host at Saishoji explained this for me today. I have been praying about the "mental exercise" of recognizing emptiness ("form is emptiness; emptiness, form") in front of a statue of a Buddha who simply wants me to call his name to be taken to the Pure Land (Jodo). A holy faux pas. I guess I'll have to be more careful about who's listening!

Posted October 3, 2019

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