There are times more often than I care to admit that I sit at my computer and try to think of something to write for my temple article. When this occurs I rely on others for inspiration. I read the writings of Shinran, I read the stories of the Buddha and I read the articles of the many different temple ministers. Sometimes I will reflect on recent conversations I’ve been involved with family or friends. And sometimes I look through the many books written by the many Shinshu scholars and ministers.
Most recently I came upon some poems written by Harold H. Stewart in his book “By the Old Walls of Kyoto”. As we read his poems it becomes clear that he is greatly influenced by Shinran Shonin. Stewart was an Australian living in Kyoto and practicing Zen Buddhism until he discovered Shinshu. Through a series of poems Stewart shows us his evolution and understanding of the concepts of Jiriki 自力 self-power and Tariki 他力 Other Power. In the poem below, Stewart wonderfully illustrates for us the struggle of self-power it’s defeat and giving into the Other Power using the analogy of climbing up a mountain.
Tariki refers to Other Power. It is Amida Buddha’s absolute saving power in contrast to Jiriki my own power that is limited and inefficient in attaining Bodhi (enlightenment). Shinran refers to Tariki as “Amida’s Vow Power.” “Those who practice good and refrain from doing evil in order to attain Enlightenment…..they lack the mind to rely wholly on the Other Power….However, if they convert their minds of self-power and trust the Other Power, their birth is assured.”
Shinran knew himself well and came to the conclusion that the only way for his salvation was complete reliance on Amida’s vow and any other practice emanating from his own efforts would only provide a distraction to the truth of Amida’s Vow. Stewart shares the same struggle with Shinran and us and expresses it in the poem Climbing at Arashiyama in Late Spring.
Still higher yet along the gorge’s brink
Through wild azalea-shrubs with flowers of pink
I climb the eroded path, but need to rest
More often now. For every step they take,
My limbs grow heavier with a burning ache;
My heart protests with faster-labouring beat.
I know that I can never reach the crest
To view what lies beyond; along the height
The pines have posted guards against the light,
While looking northward up the range, I see
Forested ramparts bar the way to me.
Yet through this afternoon of humid heat
My stubbornness still struggles on uphill,
Growing more breathless, more exhausted, till
Obstinate efforts must admit defeat.
At last I must resign my powerless will
And wholly lean upon that Other Power
For help, on whom my light and life depend.
My heart accepts its karma. In the end
The loos, defeat, and failure time may send
Can clear the way within to Buddhahood,
Which form the start foresaw and understood
That all things as they are, with no rejection,
Before the mind can judge them bad or good,
Are even now the Land of Pure Perfection.