Dr. Nobuo Haneda of the Maida Center of Buddhism
On Sunday, March 10, West Covina Buddhist Temple welcomed back noted Shin Buddhist lecturer Dr. Nobuo Haneda of the Maida Center of Buddhism in Berkeley, California, for the third installment in its "Living Dharma Seminar Series." In the previous Seminar I, Dr. Haneda spoke eloquently on the "two Buddhas" of Shin Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism in general, which are the historical Shakyamuni Buddha, and the symbolic or universal Amida Buddha. In Seminar II, Dr. Haneda had addressed the key comparison of Shakyamunis teachings to that of Jodo Shinshu founder Shinran Shonins teachings. He had said, though the terms used are different, their basic teaching is the same because there is really only one universal awakening in Buddhism. For this third installment, the focus was on Rev. Manshi Kiyozawa, a pivotal teacher in the Shin Buddhist tradition.
Dr. Haneda began his talk by stating that, in contrast to Shakyamuni and Shinran, who lived long ago and whose biographies are full of "legendary" elements, Kiyozawa is modern, so we can more easily identify with him. Rev. Kiyozawa modernized Jodo Shinshu, and is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in modern Buddhist history. In fact, in Japan, a certain influential publisher had once selected Rev. Kiyozawa (Jodo Shinshu Tradition) and D. T. Suzuki (Zen Tradition) as the two most famous Buddhists in modern times.
Dr. Haneda said that the most important aspect of Kiyozawa is that he was a seeker of the Dharma. Specifically, he focused not on the so-called "fruit" aspect (enlightenment), but on the process of Buddhism, on how the seed eventually becomes fruit. "It is by identifying ourselves with this process that we are liberated," said Dr. Haneda. In essence, this was Kiyozawas radical change to the Buddhist thinking of the time. Before Kiyozawa, people were looking to a Buddha to "save them." This was a dualistic way of looking at the Buddhist teachings (at Amida Buddha as an external "savior," much like the Christian God). Kiyozawas change of focus profoundly influenced many people, such as Rev. Haya Akegarasu and Professor Ryojin Soga. And, if we understand the significance of Kiyozawas emphasis on the process, we can understand why his students like Akegarasu and Soga focused not on Amida Buddha, but on Dharmakara, the seeker in the Larger Sutra that ultimately becomes Amida. Dharmakara represents the process, the "causal stage," said Dr. Haneda. "Ultimately, for Akegarasu and Soga, Rev. Kiyozawa was Dharmakara," he said.
In the next segment, Dr. Haneda had participants read from a chapter of the book, "December Fan," which is a collection of some of Kiyozawas most famous essays. The chapter read was Rev. Kiyozawas biography. Dr. Haneda explained that it was impossible to understand Kiyozawa without understanding his life (1863-1903). One of the key points Dr. Haneda emphasized as the book was being read was that the Meiji government which took power in Kiyozawas time resulted in significant and negative changes for Buddhism in Japan because the Meiji government was Shinto-based, not Buddhism-based. The Meiji persecuted Buddhists. Furthermore, Buddhist temples were experiencing hard times and so, in order to attract bright young ministers, they offered scholarships. Through this temple-sponsored education, Kiyozawa was exposed to western thought, to people such as Spinozza, Kant and Hegel.
Eventually, at the young age of 25, Kiyozawa became a school principal and was quite successful. However, in 1890, he suddenly abandoned his successful lifestyle and became an ascetic. He began to read the Tannisho extensively and ate a diet of pine needles and resin, the most humble of all foods. To say the least, this was a radical change. Then, in 1892, Kiyozawa criticized the Otani-ha (Higashi Honganji headquarters) for not propagating Shinrans teaching more actively. Dr. Haneda cited several reasons for this change in Kiyozawas attitude. The first reason was historical; Buddhism in Japan at that time had become a "fossilized, dualistic teaching," he said. And Kiyozawa wanted to focus on and reexamine the dynamic process. Secondly, there was Kiyozawas mothers influence, which was strong. She was a serious student herself, and had asked her son to clarify the teachings to her. Third, there was Kiyozawas "scientific mind." Dr. Haneda pointed out that Kiyozawa wanted to experiment, to prove the validity of Buddhism. These attempts to "prove Buddhism" stood in stark contrast to the prevailing practice of the time of "praying" to Amida Buddha for salvation.
Dr. Haneda then made the key point that Rev. Kiyozawas life paralleled Shinran Shonins life in that Kiyozawas ascetic experiments represented the same kind of "self-power" effort as Shinrans 20 year-effort on Mt. Hiei (Shinran practiced Tendai Buddhism, which emphasizes practices that are similar to those of the Theravada path, for 20 years). And, that it was only after the failure of these self-power efforts that both gained a deep insight into the limitations of the self. As Dr. Haneda said, "It was only after Shinrans self-power practice that he understood other-power. Likewise with Rev. Kiyozawas ascetic experiments. The insight into ones limitations is the content of Kiyozawas understanding of other power."
But then, Kiyozawa got tuberculosis due to his 5 years of ascetic practices, which included his diet of pine needles, but it was actually also a common illness at that time. Acknowledging his illness, Kiyozawa had said, "This corpse of mine is dead..." But it was also a most dynamic time for Kiyozawa, because he began to act on his desire to have Shinrans teachings propagated. He began in earnest his attempts to reform the Otani-ha organization and "went up against" Atsumi, the head of the Otani-ha. Interestingly, Rev. Kiyozawas reform movement later became the "Dobokai Movement" of more recent Shin history (post-war Japan, and most recently, in the 1990s in America).
Dr. Haneda then stated that the year 1898 was the most important year for Kiyozawa. In this year, at the age of 35, he experienced great personal suffering. He lost his teaching position and his reform movement failed. Without his teaching job, he had to assist at his fathers temple, but he was really not wanted there, and became a burden. Furthermore, Kiyozawa was still quite ill with tuberculosis. It was in this time that he called himself a "December Fan," i.e., a "good-for-nothing," useless person. But it was also the time in his life that "His Shinjin was established," said Dr. Haneda. He received the same awakening that Shinran experienced. Also, at this time, Kiyozawa discovered and gained a great deal from 3 key books. One of these books was the Agama Sutras, which are the oldest collection of Theravada sutras. Through these ancient sutras, Kiyozawa was able to discover the spirit of Shakyamuni. Dr. Haneda related that, during his reading of these sutras, Kiyozawa was said to have been brought to tears. Another book was the writing of the Greek slave, Epictetus, which Kiyozawa called, "the best book in the West." The third influential book for Kiyozawa was the Tannisho. Kiyozawa was one of the people who is credited with having popularized the Tannisho, which before his time, had not been widely known.
Regarding Kiyozawas seeing himself as a "December fan," Dr. Haneda said "This is not just a simple humility, but a deep, existential insight. Its the answer to the most important question, which is "What am I?," he said. To Dr. Haneda, this statement of Kiyozawa can be compared to the existential statements of Shakyamuni and Shinran. Shakyamuni said, "I am impermanent." Shinran said, "I am evil." Kiyozawa said, "I am a December Fan."
In his final years, Rev. Kiyozawa experienced more difficulties. First, his "nemesis," Atsumi, took over again from Ishikawa, who had been more favorable to Kiyozawa. Then, his oldest son, wife and third son all died. These events led Kiyozawa to write the essay, "My Religious Conviction," one of the most powerful and important Buddhist writings of all time. Dr. Haneda termed this essay, "A modern Tannisho." Rev. Kiyozawa died a week after writing this essay.
In comparing Shakyamuni, Shinran and Kiyozawa, Dr. Haneda emphasized the key similarities they share, which are that they saw Buddhism as being a matter of self-examination, essentially for answering the question, "What am I?" In the case of Shakyamuni, to attain his awakening, in his meditation, he asked himself the question "What am I?" What he found was that not only was his body impermanent, but that his self (or mind) was impermanent also. Both body and self were really nothing but a continuous flow, and were due to causes and conditions which change. There was no real consistency, no real substance in me. Thus, Dr. Haneda pointed out, the essence of Shakyamunis insight was, "I am impermanent."
Shinran also asked one question, "What am I?" His answer to this question was, "I am an evil person." Dr. Haneda clarified that what prompted Shinran to declare himself an evil person, is that he discovered the same truth within his mind that Shakyamuni discovered, that his mind was just reacting to causes and conditions; there was no true "goodness" within him. Dr. Haneda added that, "If we discover ourselves as evil, this is rebirth in the Pure Land."
And clearly, Rev. Kiyozawas self-imposed description of "December Fan" represents the same insight into the self as both Shakyamuni and Shinran. Kiyozawa saw deeply into the emptiness of the self. Therefore, Dr. Haneda emphasized that Buddhism is not ultimately concerned with simply knowing about Buddhist concepts such as the Four Noble Truths or Eightfold Noble Path. As Dr. Haneda said, "Buddhism is really about self-knowing, answering the question, What am I?"
During a Q & A period, one participant asked about Kiyozawas extreme ascetic practices and wondered if that was a mistake because, if he hadnt, wouldnt he have lived longer and been able to teach longer? Dr. Hanedas answer was that seeing Kiyozawa this way happens because we tend to only see him objectively. But what we have to do is to see him subjectively, "get inside his mind," and understand the many karmic conditions of his time. And ultimately, in discussing a key Buddhist teacher, their particular historical lifestyle and context is irrelevant and really doesnt matter. And, "Are we really any different from them?," he asked. Today, we still need intense self-examination and must ask ourselves this most important question, What am I," said Dr. Haneda. "This is why Shakyamuni, Shinran and Kiyozawa have so much to offer us. They help us to understand what we really are."
In the afternoon, Dr. Haneda went on to talk more about the thought of Kiyozawa. Specifically, he said that there are numerous similarities with Shakyamuni and Shinran. The most basic similarity is that all three had the same essential awakening experience soon after they abandoned their self-power practices. In Shakyamunis case, he attained "bodhi" under the Bodhi tree after abandoning his 6 years of ascetic practice. In Shinrans case, he received shinjin after abandoning 20 years of practice on Mt. Hiei. In Kiyozawas case, his shinjin was established after giving up his 5 years of ascetic practice. Most importantly, as Dr. Haneda said, "Bodhi and Shinjin are the same experience; there is only one crucial and deepest human awakening in Buddhism, and I dont see any difference in their experiences."
Then, Dr. Haneda drew his famous "boat diagram," which showed a boat first traveling upstream (against the current, against the flow of impermanence), then turning around, and finally traveling downstream (with the current). He said the turning around of the boat in the diagram reflects the encountering with impermanence that all three experienced. If we think of their awakening as having 3 phaseswhich are the same three phases as the Three Dharma Markswe see this similarity. In all three people, the difficulty or first phase, was their own self-power; they all attempted to attain awakening through difficult self-power practices. The phase of encountering the cure (2nd Dharma Mark) was the recognition that the self is not so great (questioning the self); it involves seeing the limitations of the self. The "cured" phase, or the 3rd Dharma Mark, is the realization of the absoluteness of impermanence, the realization of Amida, of a greater reality, which comes from the realization of the emptiness of the self. Furthermore, in each case, Dr. Haneda emphasized that their awakening actually consisted of two aspects, one negative and one positive. Dr. Haneda then drew a table which compared these three Buddhists in terms of the two aspects of their awakening.
|Shakyamuni||"My life is spent"||"The universal work is established."|
|Shinran||"I am evil"||"Amida embraces me"|
|Kiyozawa||"I am a December Fan"||"Tathagata takes responsibility"|
Dr. Haneda emphasized the crucial point that these Buddhists all received the same two essential insights. They saw the smallness of the selfand simultaneouslythey saw the greatness of the Dharma.
Turning to speak specifically about the meaning of Kiyozawas self-designation, "December fan," Dr. Haneda said that Kiyozawa often used words like "uselessness." This was Kiyozawas answer to the question, "What am I?" Kiyozawas answer was, "I am useless." Regarding this choice of word, Dr. Haneda related the story of a certain Japanese movie hed seen as a child that illustrated this term, "uselessness." The movie made a strong impression on Dr. Haneda. The movie concerned the "ghosts" of Japanese soldiers who, having died in WWII, were returning in a "ghost train" to their homes. The movie revolved around a certain "Mr. A," who had apparently gotten married before leaving for the war. However, returning to his home now as a ghost, he sees his wife romantically involved with "Mr. B," who had been Mr. As best friend. Then, one-by-one, all the returning war ghosts discover similar sad changes have taken place in their homes and that this is not at all the happy homecoming they thought it would be.
Dr. Haneda pointed out that this movie teaches us a "cold, sobering truth," and one which is normally deeply hidden from our view. "Though we think we have something called mine, there is actually no such thing. Although we think we have a place or position we can call ours, there really is no such place. And, we are not so important and indispensable as we think we are," he said. "This is Shakyamunis teaching of selflessness." From a more personal point of view, and referring to his having lived in America for some 30 years now, Dr. Haneda added, "Is it not also an illusion for me to think I have a place here in America?" In other words, "We are just like Mr. A," he said. "We have no place, no lasting importance. We are all dispensable. This is a terrible truth; this is the absolute negation of power we think we had. There is nothing we can grasp and own in this world...to think so is an illusion. This is the meaning contained in Kiyozawas phrase, "December fan."
On the other hand, Dr. Haneda went on to clarify that this deep understanding of the self, this realization of the futility of self-efforts, though negative, then leads also to a deep understanding of the Dharma, which is positive. To further illustrate this, Dr. Haneda related the story of a little boy carrying a tray of food, but unaware of his mothers help. In the course of carrying the tray, the little boy looks back and realizes his mother has really been carrying the tray all along. This story illustrates the two aspects of awakening. The negative aspect was that the boys self-power, or pride, is negated when he realizes his mother has been carrying the tray all along. The positive aspect is that now he can relax because he is liberated from his sense of self-importance. "This is tremendously liberating because we realize a greater power is there, and that this greater power totally embraces me," said Dr. Haneda. "If a person considers himself an important person, he must suffer because of his sense of self-importance. The more self-important a person feels, the more difficulty and suffering a person has. Whereas, if a person considers himself unimportant, if he knows the emptiness of his self-power and the limitations of the self, he does not suffer.
Referring back to his boat diagram, Dr. Haneda said that the upward-pointing boat (going against the flow of impermanence) represents the "imagined self," while the downward-pointing boat represents the true self, the Dharma self, the impermanent and selfless self. So, like Shakyamunis "I am impermanent," and Shinrans "I am evil," Kiyozawas "I am a December fan" reflects this same realization of the illusion of a "good," "permanent," "useful" or "reliable" self. "Yes, this is a terrible insight, but this is because Buddhism is very realistic. Buddhism doesnt spoil us," Dr. Haneda said.
Next, Dr. Haneda went on to discuss these three teachers in terms of their lives after their awakening. In each case, he said, all three went on to live dynamic lives, "All were reborn into a new life," said Dr. Haneda. "This happens because, in the cured condition, life becomes so creative and powerful...this is like a paradox," he said. In his final message before dying, Shakyamuni talked about virya, or continuous seeking, living life as a dharma person, such that each moment is fresh and new. "Be life itself; dont become attached to "isms." In Shinrans case, Dr. Haneda pointed out that "Shinran appreciated Amida Buddhalimitless, creative life. He became part of this limitless life and kept on seeking and learning; Shinran never said "I am a teacher; he lived his life as a continuous seeker." Dr. Haneda said that Kiyozawa lived his life the same way, like an "experiment" and didnt take any fixed doctrines for granted. Kiyozawa used to tell his student Akegarasu, "Never preach," by which he meant, "Dont become a teacher; keep questioning your self."
Not only were their lives creative and dynamic, but also peaceful. Dr. Haneda said a creative and dynamic life seems at odds with a peaceful life, but they are not. This was because they lived their lives beyond dualism. Shakyamuni advocated the Middle Path, Shinran referred to himself as neither a secular person nor a monk, and Kiyozawa said, "Our true self is nothing but this; committing our total existence to the wondrous working of the infinite, then settling down just as we are in our present situation." Dr. Haneda said, "These three statements are identical...These statements capture the essence of Buddhism and are the basis of a peaceful life." In Shinrans case, his statement "Im neither secular nor monk," refers to his experience of being exiled at the age of 35 to Echigo due to the persecution of the Nembutsu Movement by the government. But actually, Dr. Haneda pointed out that his statement has a deeper meaning than just its historical significance. We think dualistically, but Shinran said, he was "neither secular nor religious." Thus, Shinran was denying dualism and identifying a third position that transcends both. Likewise, Shakyamuni renounced both the secular (i.e., his life as a prince) and the religious (his 6 years of ascetic practices). In his enlightenment, Shakyamuni recognized a third position, the Middle Path. If we look at Shinrans life from this perspective, we see that Shinran also renounced the secular life because, at age 9, he left home to go to Mt. Hiei. And, his leaving Mt. Hiei at age 29, reflects his renouncing the religious life. At this point in his life, Shinran became Honens student and said, "I am neither secular nor monk."
Dr. Haneda said that this way of looking at life is similar to the philosopher Hegels concept of "dialectics." This concept proposed that there was the "thesis," which represents the secular, the "antithesis," which represents the religious, and the "synthesis," which represents the middle path. Dr. Haneda further pointed out that, when we live the secular life, we are typically filled with blind love of secular values such as wealth and fame. Then, when we "discover" the religious life, we adopt the opposite, antithetical stance of hating secular values and only seeking "spiritual" ones. But, in the final synthesis, just like Shakyamuni, we come to see the mistake of both extremes.
As an example of this "extremism," Dr. Haneda gave the example of a love relationship. "In love," he said, "we experience blind love where everything is perfect...love blinds a man to all imperfections. But, if the lover cheats on us, that blind love turns to blind hate. Either way, we cannot see our lover objectively. This is exactly like Shakyamunis 180-degree turnaround from hedonism to asceticism. Both sides were wrong. They were, in fact," said Dr. Haneda, "both sides of the same coin, of attachment, of delusion." In the same way in Shinrans experience, Mt. Hiei was just as bad as his pre-Mt. Hiei secular life.
Dr. Haneda then drew on the board a diagram which pictured a man standing on a "flatland," which he called "point A"a small raised plateau which is has a "precipice" or steep cliff at one end. On the other side of the precipice is the vast expanse of the ocean. Dr. Haneda said that the man starts out at point A, on the flatland. This represents the secular life, the life of the person who has no knowledge of the religious values. He believes "The flatland is the flatland," i.e., he is complacent in his acceptance and pursuit of secular values. But one day, the man climbs the precipice, point B, and looks into the ocean for the first time. He gains insight into the nature the flatland. From the higher vantage point of the precipice (i.e., religious, but dualistic values), he sees that the flatland is not really flatland, but is the precipice, i.e., that the flatland/secular values are finite, limited and relative. He also gains insight into the vast, limitless expanse of the ocean beyond the precipice. At this point, hes at point B, believing that "The flatland is the precipice." In other words, the man believes he must negate the flatland and move from point A to point B. He feels only the vast ocean is real, only the religious values are correct.
However, Dr. Haneda pointed out that "The problem is that the man is so impressed and dazzled with the precipicethe infinite and absolutethat he forgets hes actually standing on the flatland. He identifies with the infinite, but forgets hes still standing on the finite. This is why historically, its not uncommon for artists for example to become insane," he said. "The problem is, that other world is intoxicating but unreachable, which is why artists often either went insane or committed suicide." For example, Dr. Haneda cited the great painter Van Gogh, who cut off his ear. "The psychological turmoil of Van Goghs life illustrates the difficulty contained in this dualistic approach," said Dr. Haneda.
But Shakyamuni and Shinran saw the limitations in dualistic thinking and reached "Point C." They saw that "The precipice is the flatland." "In other words," Dr. Haneda clarified, "The limited flatland is seen as the appearance of the infinite. Thus, we come to see the flatland with a new appreciation. The flatland is not to be despised; even secular values are part of the precipice. At point B," he said, "one is dazzled by the precipice and forgets the physical reality. But at point C, one does not forget that he is, in fact, standing on the flatland, and in so doing, rediscovers the flatland from a new perspective."
Dr. Haneda gave a concrete example of this "rediscovery." Once, Dr. Hanedas teacher, Shuichi Maida and a friend were watching a TV program showing astronauts walking in space. Maidas friend commented that to him, what the astronauts were doing was inconceivable." Maida said, "Yes, it is inconceivable, but arent we doing something just as inconceivable by just walking here on earth?" As Maida said, "Our ordinary existence here and now, is most inconceivable."
Dr. Haneda said that many religions in fact talk in a dualistic fashion. The problem with this dualism is it teaches us to have a longing for the "other world." In contrast, Dr. Haneda clarified that, "Buddhism denies dualistic ideas and teaches the transcendence of dualism. Buddhism teaches us ordinariness. All we have is our ordinary self. Look at what we already have, what we are right here and now."
And so, in Kiyozawas famous quote, "Our true self is nothing but this; committing our total existence to the wondrous working of the infinite, then settling down just as we are in our present situation," we can see that Kiyozawa is talking about position C, "the precipice is the flatland; that the infinite is appearing as the finite." Dr. Haneda explained that ultimately, the flatlandour life here and nowis the only place where we can appreciate the infinite. This concept, or position C, is the basis for Kiyozawas "contentment" as expressed in "My Religious Conviction." "Ordinariness is the way...Appreciate things as they are, but deeply," said Dr. Haneda.
Here, Dr. Haneda emphasized once again the similarities of Shakyamuni, Shinran and Kiyozawa. "All three took up extreme ascetic practices and tried to negate secular values, but they recognized that was not the way. They renuciated their religious practices, came back to reality and appreciated it from a totally new perspective. And there, in their ordinariness, they discovered the profound Dharma working. Their lives were very creative and dynamic. At the same time, their lives were so peaceful because they were really happy being their ordinary self. They all had a deep insight into the basic nature of the self and accepted whatever limited, foolish, evil qualities they had."
In the last Q & A session, a participant asked, "Why did Kiyozawa use the word "infinite" rather than "Dharma" or "Amida?" Dr. Haneda answered that this was actually one of Kiyozawas great contributions, that he went to great lengths to avoid using Buddhistic terms. He wanted to communicate the essence of Buddhism, to capture its essence, but without using terms that most people found confusing and hard to understand. For example, regarding the term "Amida," Dr. Haneda explained that "Amida" is from the Sanskrit term "a-mita," where "a" means "not" and "mita" refers to "measurable." Thus, Amida means "immeasurable," or infinite. "Amida refers to the reality of unlimited light and unlimited life, that time stretches back infinitely and forward infinitely, and encompasses all life. " But Kiyozawa knew that people instead tended to associate some kind of supernatural being with Amida, and he wanted to avoid that misunderstanding," he said.
Another participant asked, "Is the story of the flatland a warning against mysticism?" To this question, Dr. Haneda replied that, like mysticism in general, Hinayana/Theravada teachings tend to be dualistic. They stress a specific "practice" and the need to leave our everyday reality and change ourselves into something else, something "better," something "extra-ordinary." However, this is dualistic and is like "point B" in the flatland/precipice story. On the other hand, Jodo Shinshu and Mahayana Buddhism is really like the practice of the "C" point of view. It teaches us that "We are what we are." "The most important point is that we tend to want to spiritual, to be religious. But if we really examine our self, we see many self-centered motivations there. We see that we have over-estimated the importance of our self. Therefore, rather than trying to become better people, simply being ordinary is the real goal in Buddhism," he said.
"Kiyozawa was so influential because, when he became the December fan, he also became so dynamic. He was like life itself," said Dr. Haneda. And he profoundly influenced his students, like Akegarasu, Kaneko and Soga. Akegarasu was not a Buddhist scholar, but was an extremely popular Buddhist lecturer. Kaneko is credited with reinterpreting the concept of the Pure Land. Soga deeply examined Dharmakara and the Larger Sutra. These students of Kiyozawa all became "giants" in Shin Buddhism themselves.
Throughout his talk, Dr. Haneda emphasized that we can learn so much from Kiyozawa. In studying his life, we see a person who faced extreme difficulties and was able to learn from them. And, like Shakyamuni and Shinran Shonin, Kiyozawa teaches us that self-examination is the most important thing in life. Real happiness and freedom cannot be found without it. In conclusion, Dr. Haneda simply said, "Kiyozawa is the fountainhead of modern Jodo Shinshu."
On behalf of West Covina Buddhist Temple, Rev. Ken and our Temple Communications Staff wishes to sincerely thank Dr. Haneda for sharing the life and thought of Manshi Kiyozawa with us.
Seminar participants listen as Dr. Haneda speaks
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