Great power exists within all for fulfillment
The Pure Land tradition of Japanese Buddhism teaches that there is Other Power, a concept that is much misunderstood and gives rise periodically to controversy in Japan.
Some years ago a Parliament member declared that Japan should be more "self power" than "other power" in relations with the United States. Many people in Japan and elsewhere believe Other Power means reliance on an external divine power in the universe.
The major point for Pure Land teaching is that Other Power is not an external power like a God. Rather, it is interior, within ourselves. Other Power is beyond our egoism but not outside the self.
We might liken Other Power to Hawaiian mana or "kami" in Japanese tradition. Mana or kami are not specific beings, but the power or potency within things that enables them to grow and develop. Everything has its degree of mana or kami. They are the pervasive reality that gives each thing its distinctive character.
Mahayana Buddhist tradition, as the background of Pure Land teaching, maintains that everyone possesses Buddha-nature, the potentiality to become Buddha, that is, to realize the power within oneself to surpass egoism and work to enlighten all beings through compassion and wisdom. The aspiration in all beings to transcend their present condition is the activity of Buddha-nature manifesting itself in our world.
Our problem is that we do not recognize it and therefore think that our actions and efforts in the world to gain fulfillment or enlightenment are due to our own efforts and abilities.
According to Shinran, founder of the Hongwanji tradition, we are part of a great process whereby all the forces, causes and conditions within our lives are the working of Buddha-nature. The working of the Buddha-nature in the world may be compared to a combination of grace and providence in Christian tradition.
The symbolic, mythic name for this power in religious faith is Amida, which translates as Infinite. Amida Buddha, the focus of devotion in Pure Land faith, is not a being in some world apart from our reality. Rather, we are living within the Infinite as it also permeates our lives. It is the inconceivable ultimate reality, formless and colorless, though it is represented in language by form and action, as myth. The story reveals the meaning of spiritual reality for our lives.
In practical religious life, we live within a universal process of cause and effect. Whatever we do affects us and others. The process presents many opportunities to look for meaning beyond the superficial perspectives given by our culture, language, social environment or levels of education and economic status. We all sense within ourselves the aspiration for a higher life of meaning that drives people. However, our distorted ego perceptions lead us to view this deeper aspiration simply as a drive for success or some form of happiness achieved by our own efforts. If we follow the drive to transcend more deeply, we will see that it points to something deeper for our fulfillment.
When we recognize this dimension of depth in our lives, we are enabled to negotiate our lives, our responsibilities and our human relations with deeper purpose and attain the foundation for true self-realization.
Alfred Bloom is a University of Hawaii professor emeritus of religion.