Tariki: the only reality


Shakyamuni Buddha, the giver of sutras. From the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Gandhara, a country that covered the western region of modern Pakistan.

Let there not be the slightest distortion of the teaching of Other Power with words of an understanding based only on personal views. (T, p. 3)

 We have already explored some aspects of the significance of this sentence, which occurs in the preface to the Tannisho; and I have also pointed out that it is essentially a treatise on the single subject of Other Power (tariki).

When Yuien-bo contrasts ‘an understanding based on personal views’ with ‘the teaching of Other Power’ it is easy to think of this particular assertion as just one among many problems in the Shinshu community, which he wishes to address.  Yet, a survey of the Tannisho brings to light the fact that its sole objective is, indeed, to draw out, into high relief, the ‘fundamental significance of Other Power.’ (TRU, p. 21)

Although the word tariki–Other Power–does not occur in every discussion, cross-referencing tends to link each of the ideas, which the author challenges, to one single truth: that Other Power is the only reality. In order to understand this, we need to be mindful of the definition of Other Power: ‘the power of the Tathagata’s Primal Vow’ (CWS, p. 57) and ‘no working is true working.’ (CWS, p. 574)

So, when—for example–we turn to the first chapter, there are four principal elements that make up its structure: entrusting heart, being grasped and never abandoned, non-discrimination and liberation from the thrall of evil karma. All of them are due to the working of the Primal Vow.

The opening sentence of the Tannisho uses this phrase to describe the arising of the entrusting heart:  ‘you entrust yourself to the Vow’. Hearing this, we could be tempted to think that this is an act of will on our part, but as the narrative of the Tannisho progresses (for example in chapter six) it confirms for us that the entrusting heart is alsogiven by Amida.’ (CWS, p. 664) The entrusting heart is the working of Other Power.

I think that knowing the core principle of Other Power that inspires Yuien-bo, as he attends to the problems of the nascent Shin Buddhist community, enables us to experience the Tannisho in a way that transcends the seeming querulousness of the text, and to rejoice in the skilful way that the writer closes off every self-power option that we are so readily addicted to.

The Tannisho then becomes for us a mirror; a tool for reflecting on our tendency to be blind about the fact that, without the working of the Vow, we are impotent in every aspect of the task of delivery that suffering beings seek with all their hearts. More generally, the Tannisho celebrates the culmination of the Pure Land project; its ultimate resolution into the True Pure Land Teaching (jodoshinshu): the way of absolute Other Power.

The Name, Namo Amida Butsu–emerging from our hearts as the nembutsu–is the actualisation of the Primal Vow;  the manifestation of the working of Other Power; the only reality. Towards the end of his short and elegant treatise Yuien-bo quotes Shinran:

 But with a foolish being full of blind passions, in this fleeting world—this burning house—all matters without exception are empty and false, totally without truth and sincerity. The nembutsu alone is true and real. (CWS, p. 679)