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by Ryuei Michael McCormick

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Key Points of the Senchaku Shu Part 2:
Casting Aside the Miscellaneous Practices

 

                      Next, Nichiren turns to chapter 2 of the Senchaku Shu that deals with teachings of Shan-tao in his Commentary on the Sutra of Meditation on the Buddha of Infinite Life. Honen quotes a long passage from that work which elucidates Shan-tao’s division of all Buddhist practices into “correct” or “right” practices and “miscellaneous” practices and then dividing the “correct” practices into the “rightly established act” and the “auxiliary acts.” Honen starts his own summary of this by stating:

 

          As to the first, elucidation of the practices proper for Rebirth, according to Master Shan-tao, the practices leading to Rebirth are many but can be grouped under two major divisions: the Right and the Miscellaneous Practices. (p. 18)

 

                      Honen then reviews the five right practices according to Shan-tao:

 

1. The right practice of chanting the Triple Pure Land Sutras

2. The right practice of contemplating Amitabha Buddha and his Pure Land

3. The right practice of doing reverence to Amitabha Buddha

4. The right practice of uttering the name of Amitabha Buddha

5. The right practice of giving praise and offerings to Amitabha Buddha

 

                      Then, in accord with the passage from Shan-tao, Honen specifies that the right practice of uttering the name of Amitabha Buddha (the nembutsu) is the rightly established act whereas the other four practices are to be considered auxiliary.

                     

                      All other Buddhist practices of chanting sutras, contemplation, doing reverence, uttering the names of the buddhas, and giving praise and offerings to other buddhas, bodhisattvas or deities aside from those focused on Amitabha Buddha and the Triple Pure Land Sutras are to be considered miscellaneous practices along with the practice of the six perfections and all other forms of Buddhist cultivation and devotion. Nichiren is particularly concerned with the dismissal of the recitation of any other sutra beside the Triple Pure Land Sutras as miscellaneous and the dismissal of doing reverence to any other buddha but Amitabha Buddha as miscellaneous, because this means that the chanting of the Lotus Sutra and the giving of reverence to Shakyamuni Buddha are being compared unfavorably to the chanting of the Triple Pure Land Sutras and the giving of reverence to Amitabha Buddha. Here are those two passages from the Senchaku Shu in full:

                                             

          Regarding the first, the Miscellaneous Practice of Sutra-Chanting, with the exception of the above-mentioned Meditation Sutra and others pertaining to Rebirth in the Pure Land, cherishing and chanting the sutras, whether Mahayana or Hinayana, whether Exoteric or Esoteric, is called the Miscellaneous Practice of Sutra-Chanting. (p. 21)

 

          Regarding the third, the Miscellaneous Practice of Doing Reverence, with the exception of the above-mentioned reverence to Amida, all forms of worshipping and showing reverence to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as to the various divinities, are called the Miscellaneous Practice of Doing Reverence. (p. 21)

 

                      Honen then makes the claim that in regard to the correct and miscellaneous practices, the correct practices will allow the practitioner to become more intimate with Amitabha Buddha while the miscellaneous practices will lead to estrangement. The correct practices will allow the practitioner to become closer to Amitabha Buddha while the miscellaneous practices will lead far away from him. The correct practices can be performed without ceasing whereas the other practices can only be performed intermittently. The merit from the correct practices are naturally utilized for the purpose of enabling rebirth in the Pure Land of the West, whereas the miscellaneous practices will only do so if there is a specific intention to dedicate the merit for that purpose. The correct practices are pure in that they lead directly to rebirth in the Pure Land whereas the miscellaneous practices do not lead directly there. Honen then provides what he claims are precedents for the categorization of things into pure and miscellaneous in the Buddhist canon and the works of past teachers, but none of them have any relevance to this particular division.

 

                      In regard to the idea that the nembutsu is the exclusive practice that surpasses all the other right practices, Honen cites not only Shan-tao but also his master Tao-ch’o and Shan-tao’s own disciple Huai-kan (7th-8th centuries). In this way he attempts to show that this was not merely Shan-tao’s private opinion.

 

                      Finally, Honen ends the second chapter of the Senchaku Shu with another long passage from Shan-tao, this time from his Hymns in Praise of Rebirth that compares the odds of benefiting from the correct practices with the odds of benefiting from the miscellaneous practices. Honen then summarizes this passage from Shan-tao as his own final statement regarding the relative merits of the correct and miscellaneous practices in this chapter.

 

          I believe that anyone who reads these words ought to cast aside the Miscellaneous and take up the Exclusive Practice. Why should anyone cast aside the Exclusive and Right Practice, by which a hundred out of a hundred attain Rebirth, and stubbornly cling to the Miscellaneous Practices, by which not even one out of a thousand attains Rebirth? Practitioners ought to seriously ponder this. (p. 28)

 

                      Nichiren saw that Honen was not merely advocating Pure Land Buddhism but was actually recommending that Buddhists cast away the most important scripture of all, the Lotus Sutra, and the most important buddha of all, Shakyamuni Buddha, because to chant the Lotus Sutra or to express reverence for Shakyamuni Buddha must be considered miscellaneous practices that can not bring about rebirth in the Pure Land and therefore should be “cast aside” in favor of the right practices of Pure Land Buddhism and in particular the rightly established practice of the exclusive nembutsu.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2004.

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