Hisamatsu Shin’ichi on Pure Land and Zen

Hisamatsu Shin’ichi (1889-1980) developed from a Shin Buddhist background into a lay Zen teacher and a professor of Buddhism at Kyoto University.

hisamatsu_buddha_eyeIn an essay, originally published in 1977, he reflects on the understanding of holiness in Western dialectical theology, before comparing the viewpoints of Jodo-Shinshu and Zen Buddhism as follows:

“In Buddhism, the Jodo-Shinshu sect has points of similarity with dialectical theology. It, too, is a religion of disparate conjunction. It absolutely negates the self by extinguishing it and by uniting it with Amida Buddha. This union, however, does not dissolve one into Amida Buddha. Rather by ‘entrusting oneself’ to Amida Buddha, one enters into a relation of absolute dependence, a relation in which there is an absolute gap between the base and evil self on the one hand and Amida Buddha on the other; and nevertheless there is union of the two. This union, as an element essential to holiness, has the gap as its prerequisite. No order of holiness is possible without this separation. Precisely because it is transcendent and separate from us, holiness can be revered, worshiped, trusted, and believed in.

“Zen, however, negates this transcendent and objective holiness which is so radically separated from us just as it denies a Buddha existing apart from human beings. As such it is radically nonholy. Retrieving the holy Buddha, so far removed and separate from human beings, it realizes the Buddha within these human beings, a ‘nonholy,’ a human Buddha. Searching neither for Buddhas or Gods outside of man, nor for paradise or Pure Lands in other dimensions, Zen advances man as Buddha and actual existence as the Pure Land.”

Source: Hisamatsu Shin’ichi, ‘Zen as the Negation of Holiness’, in: The Buddha Eye. An Anthology of the Kyoto School and Its Contemporaries, edited by F. Franck (2004), pp. 175-176.

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