First, we’re going to go to Japan to talk about Shinto, the native religion of Japan. Then we’ll cover some of the new religions of Japan. The defeat of Japan in World War II brought so much disillusionment to the Japanese that it led to one of the greatest phenomena that I know of: The growth from the ashes of about 160 new religions. I don’t know of anywhere else in the world where such a thing has happened. Some of the religions are quite interesting, although they do not go to the depths that Indian Buddhism does. In some regards, the new Japanese religions are more therapy than they are religion. We also want to talk about Shin in Japan. Shin Buddhism, called the Buddhism of “other power,” resembles Christianity more than Buddhism. Shin Buddhism is very popular and is the largest religion in Japan.

We’re also going to go over to China to talk about Taoism, Confucianism, and some Chinese Buddhism. That, of course, could be a whole course by itself. Fortunately, some of you have been exposed to some parts of Taoism through your studies of T’ai Chi Chih. I’m going to cover as much as I can in these short talks.


The first thing we’re going to talk about is Shinto. While it may not be a religion in the ordinary sense of the word, it is a way of life in Japan. You’ve all heard the word Shinto. Here shin means spirit or ghost. Shin actually has many meanings. In this case, the Chinese written characters would say “spirit” or “ghost.” And “to” is “the way.” So shin-to is “the way of the ghost,” “the way of the spirits.”The first settlers that came to Japan were the Ainu, the aborigines, who did not resemble the present day Japanese at all. The Ainu, indigenous to the Japanese archipelago, worshipped ghosts called Kamui. It is very easy to see how the Japanese got the word kami from Kamui. Kami means sort of a god who is a spirit of the deceased. When you die, according to Shinto (and practically all Japanese believe this), you remain around the household. You remain with the clan, guarding the clan and family from evil spirits. You are constantly propitiated, appeased, by offerings. This is an absolutely rock bottom belief in Japanese life. Every household has a tokanoma (a recess) and in it a scroll, and in front of it (if they are cultured people), a flower arrangement that speaks of the coming season and the departing season. No one sits in front of that tokanoma, except the Emperor if he happens to drop in. (That doesn’t happen too often!) But sometimes an honored guest will come and he will be placed in front of it. When I went to Suni’s house the other night, she placed me in front of the scroll; I didn’t want to sit in the Emperor’s place.

Shinto is imbedded in the Japanese culture. For instance, when I was teaching English to Japanese students in Albuquerque many years ago, my students would arrive in pinstripe suits and ties with a lot of cash in their pockets. They looked like Madison Avenue! One time I took them to the Philosopher’s Anonymous group where I was giving a talk, and I had them sit at different tables. I had the ones who were more fluent in English sitting down front. Everyone said, “Oh, these fellows are just like us.” I called one student up and I said by way of introduction, “Mr. Kuba, you live with your family, of course, because you’re not married.” Then I said, “Doesn’t your mother cook food for your dead ancestors every day?” He said, “Oh, that, that…” I said, “Doesn’t your mother put food out, sometimes twice a day, so that the kami, the spirits, can get the essence of the food?” (The question has often been asked, “Do the living eat the food afterwards?” I would say it depends how rich you are. I would say usually, yes, the food is eaten.) I asked him other questions. Little by little, it became evident that he wasn’t the American boy next door at all.

Japan has changed on the surface to look like a modern western nation, perhaps way ahead of Europe in many respects. But underneath, there is no change from its Shinto roots. And there will not be change because it is born and bred into every Japanese man. I say “man” because only men make the pilgrimage to Isse, which is like Mecca. There are two things that are prohibited in Isse: a woman is not allowed there and you are not allowed to die there. It’s unclean for you to die there because you would contaminate Isse with your death. In Isse, they tear down the beautiful wooden buildings every 12 years and then rebuild them. Everybody in Japan is a Shintoist when he or she dies. You can be a Buddhist or a Christian, but also a Shintoist. This is natural to the Japanese.

Once I asked the son of Tenrikyo’s founder, who is now the head of the Church, “Did you ever go to Isse?” He said, “Well, sure I went to Isse.” I said, “Why would you go to Isse? You’re in the Tenrikyo Church, which is not Shinto.” “Oh, every young Japanese man goes to Isse.” That was his answer. Very often that’s the answer you’ll get. Once I asked my great friend, Takahashi-san (we called each other brothers), “Why do you wear this garment around your midsection all the time?” (Personally, I think it’s to protect the t’an t’ien, the spot two centimeters below the navel where the chi is stored. It’s a good idea, when it’s cold, to protect the t’an t’ien.) He said, “Oh, we’ve always worn it.” “Yes,” I said, “But why do you wear it?” “Well, we’ve always worn it.” I realized I wasn’t going to get very far with this line of questioning.

Shinto is very strong in bringing out the male and female principles of the universe. (The intellectual calls them principles but other people call them gods.) Izanagi and Izanami are the male and female principles or gods. They are thought of as the first parents. Most of the religions in Japan think of God as a father parent. These first parents, Izanagi and Izanami, are like Adam and Eve except they are not really pictured as mortals. It’s hard to say just what they are. Izanagi and Izanami: Are they principles or gods?

I don’t think many people know that originally Japan was a matriarchy, ruled by women. The Kojiki, a very old book in Japan, gives the uppermost place to the female deity, Amaterasu. This is the sun goddess. The Emperor of Japan was thought to descend from the sun goddess. This was why the Japanese defeat in World War II was so difficult for the Japanese. How could the descendant of the sun goddess lose? Was the Emperor mortal after all? The feeling had always been that he was not mortal. While the woman was the sun goddess, the male was merely the moon god. The moon is small compared to the sun.

However, once long ago, the story goes, there was a wedding of the Emperor to the Empress, representing Izanagi and Izanami. And, as was customary, the female spoke first in the wedding ceremony. When the Empress produced a monster child, it was taken to mean that Japan was not meant to be a matriarchy any more. From then on, the male spoke first in the marriage ceremony, and there were no more deformed children born. Those who know life in Japan know the woman is not in the ascendancy there. It’s changing very slowly and maybe in another two kalpas, it will completely change.

Shintai are magical objects, such as the sacred mirror of the sun goddess. I believe that is why the bride wears mirrors in her hair at her wedding. Usually the bride has three outfits. The guests are entertained by watching the bride change clothes. First she wears a traditional wedding dress with the mirrors and powder on the face. The male dons a morning coat, a long tailcoat with a high hat. Then the bride changes into a western wedding gown and usually looks very lovely. Finally she goes back and changes into a western suit, traveling to the honeymoon. By this time, the whole day has gone by. They’ve given the guests two meals, financed a master of ceremonies, hired musicians, and the bridegroom is in hock for the rest of his life. He’s spent so much money.

Magical objects are very important in Shinto. Besides the sacred mirror, there are strips of paper tied to trees, supposedly to pray for offspring (or more offspring.) These are all magical objects. There may be female and male objects similar to Taoism where certain Taoists pretend to marry trees, female and male. This Taoist belief may carry over into Shinto.

Every object of nature is a kami or a spirit. The idea is to propitiate the evil spirits and show gratitude to the good spirits. Every object of nature, every blade of grass, has a spirit attached to it, and many of the fairy tales of Japan have to do with a man whose wife suddenly begins to fade. She exclaims, “They’re cutting down my tree!” meaning she is the spirit of that tree. It is felt that all nature is alive and very close to people. I would say this closeness to nature is one of three or four outstanding characteristics of the Japanese people. The idea the Romans and Europeans had of conquering nature would never occur to a Japanese. Their orientation is to blend with nature, to be friends with nature. So Shinto, which is not very well known in the West, really has to do with worship of the ancestors and with worship of the spirits of nature.

One of the most famous of the early Japanese was Prince Shotoku.

He lived around the 8th century and said, “Shinto is the root and stem, Confucianism the leaves and branches, and Buddhism the flowers and the fruit.” These three have coexisted since the 6th century. You might ask, “What has Confucianism got to do with Japan?” Japan is a Confucian country. All Asia is Confucian. I doubt if anyone else in history has had more impact on culture than Confucius.

Japan is not a democracy, although its governmental form is that of a democracy. I asked people at the Tenrikyo Church where I stayed, “Did you vote the other day?” “Oh yes, yes, we voted.” “Whom did you vote for?” “Well, the head of the church told us to vote for so and so.” They have more important things to do (like the laundry and sewing) than to take the time to learn about the candidates.

Japan is not a democracy. Every Japanese knows what is expected of him. When I got there, there was a big, important church wedding with five hundred guests. In preparation for a ceremony, people bathe at different times. The honored guests bathe first. The older females bathe last. Not everybody gets the same food nor has the same quarters. I didn’t understand this. I was like the bull in the china shop. I had just gotten to Japan and came down to breakfast the first morning; my great friend, Takahashi said, “Stone-san, you look a little tired, why don’t you go to your room and rest awhile.” “Takahashi-san, I just got up.”

“You look a little tired, why don’t you rest a while.” “No, I’m not tired, I’m not tired.” “Why don’t you go to your room and rest a while.” Actually, he said it about eight times. Finally, I realized, he wanted to get this crazy foreigner, this gaijin, out of the way before he messed things up with all the wedding preparations. I couldn’t understand why one fellow wasn’t eating the same thing as a different fellow. Every Japanese and every Confucian person knows what is expected of him.

Nobody makes waves.

But I didn’t know any of these things when I first got to Japan. In my early years there, in my early times, I was like a bull in a china shop and did things such as left my window open at night. That’s terrible. One night, when I left my window open, we had a typhoon and I couldn’t get it closed. I know what my friend Takahashi and his friend were thinking. They wouldn’t say a word, but I knew what they were thinking: If I hadn’t opened the window, we wouldn’t be having all this trouble. No Japanese or Chinese will open a window at night for spiritual and other reasons.

It’s interesting that as long ago as the 8th century, Prince Shotoku would say, “Shinto is the root, Confucianism is the leaves and branches, but the fruit and flowers, that is Buddhism.” In Japan, in Shinto Japan, natural forces are divine. Nature is divine. You have a kinship to nature. (I don’t want to sound as though I’m deriding this because I’m not; I’m very fond of the people with whom I lived.)

One time an old man at the church I was staying in got sick. During the day, they sent for a doctor. (These were university people.) But at night they performed what amounted to an exorcism rite. (They didn’t realize the old man’s room was right across from my little two- mat room, so I could hear what was going on.) Using what is called a Japanese shibui voice, they asked, “Why have you done this to us? We have given you food. We take care of you.” They are talking to the spirits, saying, “Since we’ve taken good care of you, you’d better shape up!” The old man got well right away. A beautiful old man, too.

I have a very funny story to tell about my stay at the Tenrikyo Church during this same time. One day after eating, the Church minister called me out to what was like a sitting room. Everybody else followed me, too. There was a western toilet sitting there. At that time there were no toilets at the church. Instead, there was a hole in the floor, and a man came around once a week and swept it up. He wore a gas mask. They used the waste for fertilizing crops, but apparently foreigners weren’t allowed to eat that food. (It’s not the same now; there are flush toilets now.)

So I looked at the toilet sitting there on the floor, not connected to any plumbing. And the church minister said, “Aren’t you going to try it? Well, sit down. ” I thought to myself, “Am I supposed to take my pants down or what?” These people were all watching me. I sat down. It was very small toilet. I said, “Fine, fine.” Everybody smiled and said, “Good, good.” And they were very happy. Then the minister took the toilet and placed it over the hole and put beautiful tiling all around its base. But there was no flushing at all. So all it did was raise the hole a little bit, and this was to make me more comfortable, which I thought was very nice. It was a very embarrassing moment.

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In Shinto, water is a great purifier, and ritual cleanliness is everything. You could say that ritual cleanliness is a central tenet in the Japanese way of life. This is why there is always a little ladle and the water outside the temples and shrines. You wash your hands and purify yourself many times.

What I like about Shinto is the attitude. Shinto’s attitude is, “Life is good; men are good. If you accept what is brought to you, you will be happy. You’re not going to come back to life again. After death, you’ll become a minor god and hover around the local quarters.” Shinto believes that you should treat life as though it is good and is meant to be happy. If you accept what is, without complaining, things will be pretty good. That has two sides to it.

Shinto also says that human beings know what they should do. You don’t have to tell people what’s right and wrong. They know. One time I was on a train (I was coming back from a vacation resort) and the train was so crowded that I had to stand all the way. The old lady next to me couldn’t get both legs down, so she had to stand on one leg. She never complained. I got back to Kyoto and saw my friend the Buddhist scholar. I said to him, “I really have to admire these people; this woman never complained.” He said, “That’s the trouble, if she complained, she wouldn’t have to stand that way.” But in a later incident, he contradicted himself.

Another time this same friend took just the opposite stand. He said, “Tomorrow is the day that the treasures are being brought out of Daitokuji. Some of the treasures there, such as the painting the ‘Sixth Persimmons,’ are some of the greatest in the world.” (These are such great treasures that the United States never ordered Kyoto to be bombed during the war. How could you ever replace these treasures?) My friend said, “Tomorrow is a special holiday. Would you like to go with me and a few friends to Daitokuji to see these pictures?” The pictures are brought out only once a year and they are spread on the lawn. But if it rains, they’re put back and you have to wait until the next year. Fortunately, it was a nice day, and, afterwards, we went downtown to a teahouse, but the teahouse was not yet open. The proprietor was a nice man who let us in to a back room. It hadn’t been aired out overnight – it was musty and the smell was pretty bad, somewhat like my new car.

When no one was looking, I got up from the table, walked over and opened the door a little, just to let some fresh air in. Wouldn’t you do the same thing? When I came back my friend really lit into me. He said, “That’s the trouble with you Westerners. You try to adjust the environment to suit yourself.” I asked, “What would you do?” He said, “I would adjust myself to the environment.” But in our earlier conversation he’d told me that if this woman had spoken up on the train, things would change. His response depended on the day I bumped into him.

I like Shinto’s idea, “Life and men are good.” Tenrikyo, where I’ve often stayed, says, “Joyous life.” Not that you should try to be joyous – it’s your duty to be joyous. You have no right to spread negative vibrations around. Shinto has a multitude of gods, so that you can give thanks for blessings more often.

There were three sacred objects given to the Emperor to start his rule of Japan. The first was the mirror at the Ise shrine; the second was the sword at the Awari shrine, which represents wisdom and justice; and the third were jewels, which represent obedience and gentleness. They’re in the Tokyo palace. These are the three sacred objects of Shinto.

I think every government in the world, if they are going to deal with Japan, should know something about Japanese temperament. My East Indian friend asked me to substitute teach for him for a few months at a Kyoto University graduate class learning English. I taught English the painless way by having discussions in English. The students got deeply involved in the discussion, and I corrected them on the blackboard as we went along. Then, after class, everyone got on the streetcar with me and rode back to my residence, continuing the discussion the whole while. Then they rode back to their own homes. It was really very nice. The discussion was based on this question: Is Medieval Japan still alive? After several weeks, they came to a very subtle answer. I was very proud of them because they were speaking in a foreign language. No, they decided, Medieval Japan is not alive but the Medieval way of thinking is still alive. If you get to know any of the Japanese business concerns – particularly at the middle level – it helps quite a bit if your family is a Samurai family. Everybody is equal, but some are a little more so.

New Japanese Religions

The new Japanese religions are an unparalleled phenomenon in history. One of the new religions I know best, Tenrikyo, is actually over a hundred years old. It was banned by McArthur after Japan’s defeat in World War II but revitalized after the Occupation. It’s very powerful and they have about ten million members.

A Story: Tenrikyo

One time I used Tenrikyo’s influence to my advantage. The Church asked me once to come to Japan to help Tenrikyo’s missionaries with their English, and it had to be done very quickly. I said, “Yes.” I went downtown to get my visa approved for an eight to twelve month stay. It wasn’t a regular tourist visa since I would be there for a prolonged stay. When I got down to the Japanese consulate in Los Angeles and went to see the clerk, I said, “I have to get a visa quickly because I’m going to Japan to teach at Tenrikyo.” He asked how long I was going to be there, and I said between eight and twelve months.

He said, “You’ve been to Japan before. You know you can’t get a long-term visa this way. It has to come from Tokyo and you have to have a sponsor.”

I said, “Gee, Tenrikyo is going to be very unhappy.”

He said, “You know this requirement very well. The initiation for the visa has got to start from there. It’s going to take maybe a month or two.”

I replied, “Boy, they’re going to be very unhappy.”

He kept going on, and I didn’t argue with him except to say over and over, “Tenrikyo is going to be very unhappy.”

Finally the Japanese clerk went into another room and soon a lady came out. (The man couldn’t come back out because it would be loss of face.) She handed me the visa. I know what went through the clerk’s mind: “There are elections coming up in Japan and the Tenrikyo people control ten million votes.” If they hadn’t granted me my visa, at the next election, the head of Tenrikyo would go to the head of the party in power and say, “What’s the idea? This man was coming here to help us, we’d invited him, and suddenly this idiot down at the consulate decides to hold him up and won’t let him come.” Well, you can be sure he’d get on the phone long distance. It worked. I never said anything other than, “Oh, they’ll be very unhappy.”

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The new religions of Japan have some very original ideas. I would say that probably all of them are Shinto derived. When I’ve suggested that notion to Sekai Kyusei Kyo and Tenrikyo Church leaders, whom I know pretty well and with whom I’ve worked, they would tell me that they’re not Shinto at all. They’re using the Shinto prayer, have the long Shinto fingernails, make pilgrimages to the holy Shinto city of Isse, but they deny connection to Shinto at all.

Healing by faith and prevention of sickness by faith are main characteristics of the new religions. The Seicho no Ie (House of Growth) religion started as a book publishing company in 1930, right before World War II. The gentleman Taniguchi formed his own religion from the book publishing company. Taniguchi had belonged to the Omotokyo religion but splintered off from it after he had a revelation. That’s what’s so interesting about these new religions. Many of them splintered off or branched off from a previous new religion. In 1928, Taniguchi wrote the following experience and revelation he had in meditation, and I think it’s deserving of great respect:

One day when I was in meditation, suddenly I heard an unseen voice saying, ‘On earth there exist no sins, no death, no poverty. Nothing binds human beings, who are the sons of God by nature, and are Buddha himself.’

He wrote down the words as spoken to him. It’s my feeling that Seicho no Ie is an outgrowth of Christian Science. He then wrote:

A light of truth flashed through my heart and dissolved my mental affliction. This manifest world, visible to the naked eye, and felt with the five senses, is not God’s creation. I was greatly mistaken at accusing and judging God. This world as perceived by the five senses, is merely a production of our minds. God is love and mercy. The Real world, created by God’s infinite wisdom, love and light, is filled with eternal harmony. This Real world, this perfect and eternal world, that always is, this was the truth I discovered at that time. At the same time, I realized the real Self. The real Self is the eternally enlightened Sonship.

I think that’s an amazing statement, don’t you? I see no reason to doubt the sincerity of it. Don’t you hear a lot of sincerity in it? I think this man went through a real experience. It is very much flavored with Buddhism except for the reference to God. “If you can concentrate your mind on the perfect nature of the other person while in conversation,” Taniguchi said, “All illness will disappear.” Isn’t that Christian Science and some of the other religious sciences? I have very great respect for Taniguchi but I think it is derivative religion.

Kurozumikyo is a religion that worships the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Therefore it is almost a Shinto sect. They have a very absorbing rite called the “Sun Swallowing Rite. ” Every day you swallow the sun. Here’s how it goes: “Every day the believer shall worship the sun, and, while doing this, shall inhale the fresh air as if to swallow the sun that is the divine spirit of God. By repeating this, he shall arrive at the mystic consciousness of oneness with Amaterasu-o-mikami. By this practice, health of body, as well as the mind, shall be attained without fail.” This is Shinto.

Another religion is Ananaikyo and does a chinkon meditation. That’s Chinese, I believe. Ananaikyo ties man to God, building a bridge between earth and heaven. The founder, Nakano Yonosuke, sees Ananaikyo as the fifth great religion. To do the chinkon meditation, sit on a tatami mat with both arms stretched out in front. The hands meet and the fingers form a small opening. Through this opening, the eyes concentrate on a small black stone. That’s interesting because that somewhat parallels Mohammedism. The eyes concentrate on a small black stone on a stand two meters away. From doing this, a trance-like state is entered as the meditator concentrates on one thought, such as “I am God.” The meditator must be grateful and gradually enters a state of emptiness, shunya. The state of Voidness must come by itself.

I think these religions are very, very intriguing. Going back to Omotokyo, the teaching of the Great Origin. The Omoto slogan is, “Man must live in religion.” Not one thing that man does is outside the sphere of true religion. Properly seen, every action, every word, is religion. Now I’m speaking my personal opinion: Every word is revelation. So, properly seen, everything is within religion. Omotokyo, like the other new religions, declares that religion must be closely identified with everyday life. Do you see the difference, then, between these new religions and Buddhism and Yoga (which couldn’t care less about everyday life)? These new Japanese religions are integrated with everyday life, and they are really a way of making everyday life easier.

A woman farmer, Deguchi Nao, founded Omotokyo. Her life was just suffering, nothing but suffering. (This very closely parallels the life of the founder, Miki, of Tenrikyo.) She was from a poor home and married into a poorer home. She had eight children. Two girls went mad, two boys ran away, three children died soon after birth. Other than that, it was a joyous life. At age thirty, her husband died and she sold rags for a living. The only person I can think of with a life like this is Job in the Bible. In 1892, her favorite daughter went mad. While in despair she had a vision and a message from God: Destruction of the world was at hand. It was the last judgment. A Messiah would come and the kingdom of heaven on earth would begin the day after destruction. (It doesn’t say whether it was 9 AM or 10 AM.) (laughter) It will begin on the day after destruction. Deguchi Onisaburo, a young scholar who practiced asceticism and had studied spiritualism, became the leader of her sect and married her mad daughter, who was mystically healed.

When I refer to the Japanese healing church, Sekai Kyu Seikyo, it is the same church as the Church of World Messianity in America. The philosophy of Sekai Kyu Seikyo is that first there is a spiritual world, then a physical world – the law of the spiritual preceding the physical. In America, they use the hand to heal but in Japan they use a wooden spoon. The spoon, I don’t know anything about. The founder of Sekai Kyu Seikyo, Meishu-Sama, quite intuitively found out about the power of the chi. I have seen a great many healings happen in this church.

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Expanding further on the organizer and leader of Omotokyo, Onisaburo scandalized the Japanese government by riding a white horse and writing his name in characters reserved for royalty. You’re not supposed to ride a white horse in Japan unless you’re the Emperor. Onisaburo died after World War II and his sect’s dogma was the same as Sekai Kyu Seikyo’s.

Onisaburo’s great rules for learning were as follows:

1.) Observe the true phenomenon of nature and you will know the body of the true God;

2.) Observe the unerring function of the universe and you will think of the energy of the true God;

3.) Penetrate the mentality of the living creature and you will conceive of the soul of the true God;

4.) Finally, behind the phenomenon of the universe is God or one reality. All that exists is an expression of Him. Everything consists of these three elements of God: body, soul, and energy. These three elements are together called the “causative factor.”

The prime force of the universe is vitality. What do we know vitality is? Chi. The prime force of the universe is vitality, divinity. Those of you who study T’ai Chi Chih and Seijaku, please remember that. The universe is the manifestation of vitality, or the fragments of divinity. I can’t find much to quarrel with in Onisaburo’s precepts even though he rode a white horse. (laughter)

You notice that none of these new Japanese Churches views are contrary to the other. They may be complementary. There are quite a few other new churches as well. I don’t think I’ll talk about Soka Gakkai, but it’s a fascinating phenomenon. Many of these churches use a Shinto prayer called the Prayer of Heaven. Why do these churches use the Shinto prayer? Because they say it has a very high vibration and it’s fun to say. They take a little from Buddhism and a little from Christianity, a little from Shinto, and mix it together, and put it in the microwave. But I think the new religions are compelling, and I have no doubt that the founders had real experiences leading to their creation.

Shin Buddhism

Now we’re going to make quite a switch. While we’re still in Japan, we’re going to Shin Buddhism. Usually the Japanese word shin, in Chinese, is spelled hsin, having to do with spirit or truth. It also is the word for heart, mind, and spirit. The Japanese and Chinese both have a word for the spiritual heart. Hsin is the word for the spiritual heart in Chinese.

Shin Buddhism is called Pure Land Buddhism. Shin Buddhism is quite different from Zen because Shin Buddhism is devotional. Pure Land Buddhism has to do with Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, is also called Amitayus. The Buddha of Infinite Light originated in India and came to Japan through China. In China he was know as Amitabha. When I gave the heightened awareness classes, we used Amitabha as a word to chant because of its powerful vibration.

The story of Amitabha is very beautiful. Amitabha, when he was a mere man eons ago (when he was a Bodhisattva), made forty-eight great vows, one of which was to save all sentient beings. He said, “If you will think of me and remember me, I will bring you to the Pure Land, the Western paradise where conditions are ideal for enlightenment.” He didn’t say “If you will be pure, I will bring you to the pure land.” He didn’t say that because he is not a judge. “If you will think of me,” he said, “I will bring you to the Pure Land, the Western paradise where conditions are ideal for enlightenment.” A member of the Amitabha sect might say, “I am a poor suffering man, I am weak, I can’t do Zen meditation. But Amitabha Buddha promised to save all sentient beings. I’m a sentient being. All I have to do is get myself out of the way and I’ll be saved.”

Consequently, families sit around late in the day and, as you walk along on the street, you’ll hear the family chant, Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu, hail to the Buddha of Infinite Light. It has the effect of getting the self out of the way. When the self is gotten out of the way, as all the Buddhists sects say, then you are in the Pure Land.

Much has been written about Shin Buddhism, which is very powerful in Japan. Remember that Shin Buddhism started in China.

From certain of the sutras, the talks given by the Buddha when he was alive, it has been interpreted that one could reach enlightenment by remembrance of the Buddha. Shin Buddhism is almost a worship of the Buddha, although Buddha is not supposed to be worshipped.

Amida Butsu, the Buddha of Infinite Light, takes everybody who remembers him to the Pure Land. He does not judge. He does not say, “That man is a bad man so I’m not going to bring him, but I’ll bring that other man because he’s a good man.” He’s there to save everyone. And the same is true for Kwannon, or Kuan-Yin, in China, the Boddhisattva of mercy. Mercy is for everybody: The good, the bad, the honest, and the dishonest.

Shin Buddhism was really started by Shinran. Jodo Shinshu was really what Shinran started, and his teacher was Honen. I want to tell you the story of each man because they are two of the greatest stories in the history of the Orient.

Two Stories: Shinran & Honen

Shinran, for ten or eleven years, was on the top of Mount Hiei in Japan studying Tendai (an old school of Chinese Buddhism), practicing and torturing himself, and he could find no peace. Finally, he came down from the mountain to go to Honen, his future teacher. Honen explained to him how having simple faith in the Buddha of Infinite Light, and the repetition of Namu Amida Butsu, would bring him the peace that he had never found. He died chanting Namu Amida Butsu.

Who was Honen? Honen was a Samurai’s son. He had the hairdo of a Samurai, a topknot. Listen to this closely because it’s an unparalleled story. I’ve never seen it written in the West. Honen’s father engaged in a duel with another man and received a mortal blow. As Honen’s father lay dying, he called Honen to him and said, “According to the code of the Samurai, you have to avenge my death. However, I don’t want you to avenge my death. I want you to become a monk and work for the salvation of the man who killed me.” Have you ever heard of anything like that? Well, when a Samurai’s son is told to do something, he does it! He cut his Samurai topknot and went off to become a Buddhist monk. Eventually Honen became the guiding father of Shin Buddhism, the great Jodo Shinshu Buddhist sect of Japan, the remembrance of the Buddha of Infinite Light.

Shinran came to study and learn from Honen and founded his own branch, the great Jodo Shinshu Buddhist sect of Japan, part of the so- called Amida Cult. D.T. Suzuki said that Shinran was the greatest spiritual figure in the history of the Orient. That would include the Buddha! That is an amazing statement. Shinran was a very great spiritual man. Shinran said, “Unhindered space, like the light cloud, free from all impediments, none is there unblessed by the light. Take refuge in the Inconceivable One.” Of course, that could be Christianity, couldn’t it? I think that statement is very beautiful.

Shin Buddhism is called the Buddhism of Other power whereas Zen is Self power. In Zen, you’ve got to do it yourself. In Shin Buddhism the belief is, “I can’t do it, but I’ll let Amida Buddha do it for me.” Zen and Shin Buddhism appear to be diametrically opposed to each other. But the meditation and the stringent practices of Zen Buddhism bring you to selflessness, lack of self-attachment, don’t they? Similarly in Shin Buddhism, giving up and saying, “I can’t do it. I turn it over in great faith, entirely to the Buddha of Infinite Light.” Isn’t that giving up your self too? Zen and Shin Buddhism come to the same point by different roads. I told you the story of the man who said he doesn’t do the Namu Amida Butsu chant any more, but that it’s going on in his heart all the time.

When Shinran was on top of Mount Hiei, practicing Tendai, try as he might, he could find no peace. He worked very hard. Later, his grandson wrote this beautiful comment, written like a poem, about those years: “Many moons passed as he practiced contemplation on the moon of the three-fold truth in the ten stage meditation.” (This is the Chi Kung of Tendai.) The grandson’s comment continued, “The seasons’ flowers renewed their fragrance many times as he disciplined himself in pondering the truth of one hundred worlds with one thousand modes of suchness.” Beautiful, isn’t it?

Then Shinran reflected on the meaning of emancipation and thought, “However hard I may try to calm the waters of meditation, waves of consciousness arise to disturb it. However hard I may try to contemplate on the moon’s nature, clouds of illusion overcast it.” This was his state of mind before he came down the mountain in order to talk to Honan and learn more about how he could attain peace.

Shin Buddhism, once it was introduced in Japan, spread over Japan like wild fire. The average man, the average farmer, the man who is having a hard time making a living, really isn’t that interested in the strong disciplines of Zen. He doesn’t feel he can do these. But give him a faith, give him an opportunity to practice faith, and he gets a great deal out of it.

D.T. Suzuki, the man who made Zen popular in the western world, wrote many books on it, and practiced Shin Buddhism all of his life. That is not generally known. Most people think he was a Zen Buddhist.

D.T. Suzuki said he had come across more experiences of Satori, enlightenment, through the chanting of Namu Amida Butsu, than from all Zen practice in Japan.

This faith is very beautiful. My feeling is that faith and devotion culture the heart. What you believe in isn’t the important element. It is the act of believing and the devotion. The people in Japan very, very firmly believe this. I have gone to many Shin Buddhist temples in America and I do not find the same quality of devotion. Once, I attended a service at a Shin Buddhist temple in Palo Alto, California.

Because I speak Japanese, they allowed me to come to a meeting afterwards. I was quite astounded by what they were saying. They were talking about not allowing any gaijin (a derisive term for foreigner) into their church. Well, here I was a gringo. Not a very nice term. Here I was at this meeting but they were not paying any attention to me. Afterwards I said, “Let me ask you a question. Are you here in this church, in this temple, because you believe in the teaching of the Buddha? Are you interested in what Shinran taught, the meaning of Namu Amida Butsu? Or are you here because this is a club that makes you feel Japanese and you can perpetuate the Japanese customs?” They hemmed and hawed and finally agreed that they thought of it more as a club than a spiritual organization. This is very understandable.

Questions & Answers

I would like to have a couple of questions or observations on the new religions of Japan, Shinto, or Shin Buddhism.

Questioner: What does the kyo in all the religions mean?

Justin: It means religion.

Questioner: Could you talk a little bit about the Healing Church’s use of chi? How that is done?

Justin: Yes, Sekai Kyu Seikyo is growing a little bit in America and was known as the Church of World Messianity. I learned a great deal from them. Not only because of the healing they did, but also because of the teachings of their founder, whom they call Meishu-Sama. Meishu-Sama is written about in many books as if he’s a charlatan. As a matter of fact, he applied for the Nobel Prize for Medicine. He didn’t get it and was put in jail just before he died. Also, he obtained great sums of money for healing people by giving Johrei. Johrei is a way of sending energy through the hands and is very effective.

I’ll tell you a few stories about Sekai Kyu Seikyo. In 1960, I got a call from Paul Reps, my great friend, who said, “Go to the Sekai Kyu Seikyo Church on New Hampshire Avenue in Los Angeles, put a dollar on the altar, and get spiritual treatment.” I did as I was told. I went there, sat on a low chair without a back (just a stool), and faced a person who was there to give service. He acted as a channel for the divine light and guided it through his hands over all the parts of my body, as he’d been taught. He was wearing a sacred talisman to protect himself as he was doing it. As soon as I felt the ray given off by his hand, I went into meditation. During the Johrei treatments, many people stop thinking right away.

When I go to Los Angeles, I make sure to visit the Johrei Church (which is now on San Marino Street) and sit there and sneak in for another session. That room has such a great vibration. All thoughts seem to stop. If you ask the average person to sit still for five minutes, he can’t do it. However, people sit in that room receiving Johrei for twenty, twenty-five minutes, and they’re so sorry when it’s over. There’s a great peace.

One of the first times I ever used parts of T’ai Chi Chih mentally was the time I was still giving Johrei. I mentally did T’ai Chi Chih while giving Johrei and the effect was startling. A woman seeking Johrei had come to the Church for the first time, and she was a rather strange young woman. She sat down in front of me. (You can sit down in front of anyone; trained volunteers give Johrei.) She’d never been there before. The woman turned her back to me. (First you turn the back, then you face.) I put up my hand and I began to do “Around the Platter” mentally. (“Around the Platter” is the third movement in T’ai Chi Chih.) The woman let out a scream. I said, “What’s the matter?” She said, “The heat! I can’t take it! The heat!”

When you give Johrei you feel certain heat in your the hand. I was wearing at that time the talisman of the Healing Church. At any rate, I gave her a little Johrei and finally she just left. She didn’t do the prayer or the bowing that is traditional at the end of treatment. She just left. A week later, I gave a talk at the East/West Culture Society down near Vermont Street, and she was in the audience. She came to see me. She looked bewildered. I said, “What’s the matter?” (I’d never met her before the other day.) She said she’d been wandering around for a week feeling that she was in a great cathedral with shafts of light coming down through it. She’d been unable to go to work. It was almost unhinging her mind. I never gave Johrei again. The Church that trained me had talked a little about the karmic factors involved. I didn’t realize the power of what I was doing. Why my power was so great, I don’t know. Doing T’ai Chi Chih mentally really stepped it up.

Frankly, I don’t know what happened to the woman after that, but I’ve had several experiences myself. Once, a man who once had been mentally ill gave me Johrei that sent me into another dimension, which I thought was part of a past life. When I asked the minister, she said, “No, that was the future.” I left after this treatment, got into my car, and drove home, which was about a twenty-five minute drive. I didn’t remember the trip at all. I was in another dimension. It wasn’t until I began to see familiar houses that gradually I came out of it. I said to myself, “Why would this man, who once had been mentally ill, have had such an effect on me?”

The Healing Church says that in this life we go through certain purifications. (As a matter of fact, all life is purification.) If you go to the Church, receive a treatment, and your stomach becomes upset, and Gateway to Eastern Philosophy & Religion you tell the members that you’re having a purification, that toxins are flowing through you, they’ll say congratulations. A doctor will think whatever condition you have is permanent. “Let’s operate,” he’ll say. But the Healing Church practitioners say “Congratulations!” I found this to be so. Not too long ago, I had a pain in my jaw. I think it was from dental work that had been done twenty-five years ago. Suddenly the pain went from my jaw down one side of my back and I could barely straighten up. I knew that eventually it would go to the other side of my back. It did. Then there was a period of diarrhea and then it was gone. I felt wonderful afterwards. This is what they teach.

The members of the Healing Church have farms where they raise vegetables – huge zucchini for example. They don’t use any spray; they don’t fertilize the soil. They use Johrei on the plants. There’ve been periods when the farms surrounding them had blight, but the Johrei farm never had a problem. I’m not making this up. I’ve eaten the vegetables. They bring them for the members to consume and sell them for almost nothing.

Meishu-Sama’s doctrine of purification is very much in tune with my perception of expansion and contraction. Of course animals know this. Animals that are sick will eat something that will make them throw up. Fish have been seen to surface and eat an herb or root. The trouble is when someone has a purification (a headache for example) he’ll take a pill. That sets up more purification. A Reverend at the Church once remarked about a chronic condition I had at that time, “Next time it comes, don’t curse it, bless it, and see what happens.”

I really feel that Meishu-Sama’s book Fragments is one of the most revealing documents that I have ever read. It is considered to be a minor religion. Buddhists would laugh at it. But I learned a good deal from it and once had an occult experience in which a man wearing black with white underneath his robe was leading me. I didn’t know who he was and he led me through death. I was very terrified when his foot came down on me. I was about to die but nothing happened. I was still there. Suddenly I realized this was Meishu-Sama; this was the exact picture of him I knew. If I go back there, I will probably buy a few specimens of his calligraphy (which are wonderful). And they are supposed to have very high vibration. I have to go by my own experience, not intellectual analysis.

If you ever go to Los Angeles, go visit the Church of World Messianity, where you can receive Johrei from the trained members. You don’t have to pay anything. After you have a treatment, if you want, go and put a dollar or two on the altar and say the Taka Amahara prayer, a Shinto prayer, said to have a very high vibration. I like to sit out front afterwards because, as the others are getting Johrei, it’s coming out and hitting me, too. I feel it very strongly even sitting in the waiting room. When I receive Johrei a repeated experience occurs. Invariably after I’ve sat down, I’m shocked to realize that maybe twenty or twenty-five minutes have passed, and I’ve had no feeling of time at all. The giver will say to the recipient, “Turn around,” and I’ll be startled. I’ll have no idea where I am. I go right into meditation. As you can see, I have a very fond memory of the Johrei Church.

You’ll notice that Japanese religions do not go into great depth in metaphysical thinking. But the feeling is there, very strongly. I can tell by your expressions that you enjoyed hearing about the new religions more than anything else in this course. It is very easy to identify with them, and react to them.

Obaku Zen

Everybody knows about Rinzai Zen and Soto Zen, but there is a third sect called Obaku Zen that few know about. Obaku is the Japanese name for Ch’an Master Huang-Po, who was the teacher of Lin-Chi (Rinzai.) There is a Zen sect in Japan named after Obaku. It has a famous temple in Uji and uses the Nembutsu of Shin Buddhism as well as some Shinto practices. I have a three hundred and fifty year old scroll in my meditation room from Obaku Zen. In Obaku Zen, the monks grow their little fingernails long. But in Tenrikyo, my friend Takahashi’s small fingernail was way out to here. (gestures) Growing the little fingernail is Shinto.

Everyone in Obaku plays the Shakohachi, the bamboo flute. It has to do with breath control and breath plays a very important part in Buddhism. There is also ancestor worship, which, of course, is not Buddhism. But Buddhism is very accommodating. When Buddhism came to Japan, it accommodated Shinto. In the Buddhist temples, you will find Shinto shrines. There doesn’t seem to be any contradiction between them at all.

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I’m going to give you two quotes in haiku: “In my ten foot bamboo hut this spring, there is nothing, there is everything.” This haiku is typical of the concept wabi-sabi, which has so much austerity and is so much part of the Japanese culture. There is nothing and yet there is everything. Paul Reps reflected this wabi-sabi view when he wrote, “How grateful I am, with no thing to be grateful for.” Same thing. He didn’t say with nothing to be grateful for. He said with no thing to be grateful for.

A Story: Losing All the Nothing You have Gained

This is very much like the story told to me by Roshi Shinryu Suzuki, the head of Tasajara Zen Center near Big Sur, California. (This is not the same person as D.T. Suzuki.) He told me a story, and several others, and may have written about it. Roshi Shinryu Suzuki originally studied ten years at one temple and he gained absolutely nothing. Then he went to another temple, studied another ten years, and gained nothing at all. By now, he was quite well known as a scholar, and they asked him to go to a university and lecture on Buddhism, which he didn’t want to do. But he did it. He said, “I lost all the nothing I had gained.”

Vertical & Horizontal

I’m going to read a statement from my Zen teacher. It has to do with saigo and daigo, the vertical and horizontal. Now we’re back on a different level. We’re not on a simple level. But there are many of you who meditate, and I think this will get across the idea.

Some people have a small taste of the vertical, the unrelieved absolute. They then begin to go to lectures, read metaphysical books, and argue with those who don’t share their opinion. They have naturally translated their small experience into terms that are familiar to them religiously, philosophically, and psychologically. So they hear the voice of Jesus, or they see Krishna playing the flute, or get a glimpse of the Buddha with two attendants. This disturbs their lives because they now realize there is something more than their daily experience. Others may have a complete vertical experience, and an overwhelming experience of one-ness that takes them completely into the absolute, and makes it impossible for them to get back to their habitual daily lives. They now think transcendentally and find everything in this world tasteless and meaningless. It is very difficult to live on in this fashion, even though this experience may have been joyous and almost ecstatic. Many who have this experience of the absolute are sure they have achieved the final rung on the ladder, and make no attempt to understand or integrate their experience. They may become renunciates and shun all worldly life. It is not a happy or fulfilling way to live. If the student has a good teacher, the teacher will see the dangers and lead the student along the way to complete integration. The student must go back to the market place, to be with humanity and, indeed, all life.

You remember the story about Chao Chou: When someone comes to the teacher carrying nothing, what should he tell him? Tell him to throw it out! That’s also what the teacher would say in light of a student’s experience of one-ness. The teacher would say, “Forget it, go past that.” Without a teacher, students may persist in this condition, understanding much of eternity but little of today. They may long for release from this world into a state that they conceive, without realizing that that state is the state of their own minds. Having escaped samsara, and had a real glimpse of nirvana, they have not reached the point where they perceive that samsara is nirvana. The absolute is the relative. There is no need of escape, only integration. They are living in the vertical, which is steep and slippery and untenable in this world. If I said this to a person from one of the new religions, he or she would look at me as though I were crazy.

Those who follow a true teacher – or who spontaneously have an experience when they perceive their own enlightenment – are able to make the complete circle and come back to ordinary life, which will now appear anything but ordinary. What need for argument when each thing is perceived as being true. Such a person has little desire for metaphysical discussion, and no desire to foist his views on anyone else. He no longer sees his experience as Christian or Buddhist, and will get to the point where he forgets his own enlightenment. Not wishing to be a teacher, he is a true teacher by example. There is no chance of his being hung up on words or written characters. The scriptures no longer serve a purpose since everything in life has become a scripture. Truly, the moon shines clearly in a cloudless sky. Yet there is turmoil, joy, and suffering. And he does not avoid these. The vertical and horizontal have been completely integrated. For how many does this happen?

One thing very interesting concerns the moment when the meditator perceives his own enlightenment. There’s a famous story in Zen Buddhism about the monk who, after many years of practice, entered to face his master. Something shifted and the monk had a great Satori experience. He stood there overcome by it. The attendant said, “You’ve had your joy, now why don’t you bow?” So he bowed. And as he bowed, he perceived his own enlightenment. I’m not going to try to explain that to you. You’ll have to figure it out yourself. He perceived his own enlightenment and integration was possible for him. Otherwise, he might have wandered around in that state of enlightenment without even knowing about enlightenment or his own enlightenment. Then he’d be hung up.

I had a talk with Roshi about perceiving one’s own enlightenment. The monk had the enlightenment. Then, when the attendant said, “Why don’t you bow?” he bowed and perceived his own enlightenment. At that moment, there was no self, no individual self. People such as Paul Reps, for instance, always spoke in the third person. After making a statement, Paul would say, “Did Reps say that?” It is a method used to go beyond clinging to the self.

This article is published in Gateway to Eastern Philosophy & Religion.

Published On: May 14th, 2022Categories: Gateway to Eastern Philosophy & Religion

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