The Vow of Humankind:

Talks by Shin'ichi Hisamatsu

FAS Society Journal, Winter 1989-90, pp.6-13
Translated by Chris Ives from Hisamatsu Shin'ichi Chosakushű, Vol. III, pp. 262-274. Originally presented as talks (teik˘) at Weekly Meetings in 1952 at Senbutsuji temple, Kyoto.

Become fully compassionate humans


The content of a compassionate heart is described in many ways by Buddhism, but the most highly compassionate heart, that is to say, most compassionate in the deepest sense, is often conveyed by such expressions as "Objectless Great Compassion"(muen no daihi). The highly compassionate heart awakened to the True Self must be this Objectless Great Compassion. A person awakened to the True Self and a person with a highly compassionate heart in the sense of Objectless Great Compassion are intimately related; one cannot emerge without the other. To become a subject with Objectless Great Compassion we must, in Buddhist terms, awaken to Buddha Nature. If this Buddha Nature is something internally or externally transcendent, it is not yet and cannot become Objectltss Great Compassion. The awakening of Buddha Nature in us must be our awakening to Nirvana. We must truly attain Buddhahood, the ultimate goal of Buddhism. The expression, "a human being who has attained Buddhahood," might seem peculiar for those who think that one who has attained Buddhahood is no longer a human being. But the view that upon attaining Buddhahood our human form in this actuality disappears, that we must die in order to attain Buddhahood, diverges from the original standpoint of Buddhism. A human being realizes Nirvana or attains Buddhahood while in the body created by his or her parents without destroying that body. Such humans who have attained Buddhahood are both possible and exist. In Buddhism this is not an impossible condition, a goal in distant eternity, or an ideal state; attaining Buddhahood in actuality is a person's true or original way of being, and any other way of being falls short. "Attainment of Buddhahood in this body" (sokushin j˘butsu) is construed in various ways, but it signifies becoming a human awakened in actuality to Buddha Nature. In this sense it means awakening to the True Self as our true or ultimate way of being.

As mentioned earlier, there are various levels in the True Self, but awakening to the True Self in the ultimate sense is not an ordinary human self-realization: it involves becoming "an awakened one" (kakusha), someone awakened unto Buddha Nature. We should not relate to the awakened one as a kind of transcendent entity which becomes a subject "other" to us. The awakened one, expressed intimately, is me. I am the awakened one and the awakened one is me. The true I is the I that is the awakened one. Self-awakening in this sense is the human who has awakened to the True Self as delineated in the Vow of Humankind. Our becoming that awakened one is an absolute requirement for becoming a human with a fully compassionate heart.

Let us now consider why objectless Great Compassion -- a fully compassionate heart in the true sense -- must be such an awakened one. Generally speaking, salvation is the functioning of the deeply compassionate heart. Various kinds of salvation exist, differing in terms of content and degree. In Buddhist terminology however, ultimate salvation must be our true emancipation. In all cases the desire for this originally lies within us, but we cannot readily comprehend where this desire arises. If the true desire for emancipation has not arisen in us, we cannot ascertain which desire for emancipation is the true desire, the living and concrete desire. If we do not personally know this true desire for emancipation, we cannot determine the nature of others' desire for emancipation or give rise to that desire in others. Because we cannot indicate to others where the desire for emancipation or its essence lies, we must first understand the desire for emancipation in ourselves. We must arouse the desire for emancipation in people without such desire and advance toward emancipation with them. If we have not actually experienced this in ourselves, we cannot sympathetically experience the inevitable suffering from which we must be extricated. We must first clearly know the desire for emancipation in ourselves and personally taste the actual suffering from which we must be extricated, and through that, feel the suffering of others. But in merely knowing such suffering we do not know the direction of extrication, so we must at that point become emancipated. And through our emancipation we must emancipate others.

A fully compassionate heart is thus possible and possessing this is not merely a state of possessing it, for by virtue of it we save others. In this regard we must truly become emancipated humans and experience the route by which we came to he emancipated. Without this understanding, both possessing a fully compassionate heart and emancipating others are impossible. That is to say, awakening to The True Self in the deepest sense is a necessary condition for having such a highly compassionate heart.

In one's original condition, however, there is no salvation. That is to say, fundamentally there is no saving and no being saved. Saving and being saved, seen from the standpoint distinguishing Expedient Dharma (gonjitsu) from true dharma, are Expedient Dharma. Clearly realizing that one is originally saved, that saving and being saved are originally nonexistent, and then saving those who do not realize this fact -- this amounts to Objectless Great Compassion. Therefore, if unawakened to the True Self, we cannot understand this point and in this ignorance we are convinced we must be saved. In this misunderstanding exists a savior and, consequently, one who is saved, an awakened being and an unawakened being. Both persist in this standpoint, and the original non-existence of the savior and the saved, the awakened and the unawakened, fails to be comprehended.

When we misunderstand salvation in this way, we fail to ascertain our true condition. Insofar as we diverge from this true condition, any salvation we attempt to bring about falls short of true salvation. Because it is as a subject unawakened to the True Self that one tries to save an unawakened object, no true salvation is achieved. Although this might be called salvation, it is attached compassion, compassion based on the belief that there is someone to be saved. Therefore, true salvation can be thought of as the nonexistence of salvation, and in this regard it is the "provisionally expedient gate," something temporary. Despite the fact that being deluded is not our true condition, we objectify this false condition -- that is, we try to save others we perceive to be deluded -- and for this reason the salvation achieved is only temporary.

The savior spoken of in Pure Land Buddhism emerges in the true sense of "awakening, to our True Self" in the Vow of Humankind. If we do not arrive at the consummation of the Going Aspect (˘s˘) and then begin to function from that place, we cannot become a true savior. In the positing of Amida as the central savior, the desire to save humankind is set up as a temporary gate, and this gate, originating in the midst of the attainment of Nirvana, delivers all humankind to awakening. By means of this merciful wish, all humankind moves toward salvation. This is the method established in Pure Land Buddhism.

In my opinion, anyone can become awakened, and everyone must do so. It is very fortunate that Buddhism not only stresses but also exhibits this fact. Human beings must awaken at an ultimate level to Nirvana, to the True Self. This is the true way of being of human beings, and having others enter Nirvana becomes our compassionate vow. We head in this direction and open up a gate to salvation. This desire or merciful wish must be aroused in each of us. All people must possess this in themselves and give rise to it in others. If we truly enter Nirvana, we cannot help giving rise to this great compassionate vow. Such internal inevitability holds sway here.

I think of Amida as an example or model of one who has brought about this desire; I do not want to think that whoever can give rise to this wish when we cannot is a unique individual or that this desire arises for the first time through the action of another. I am the one who awakens to the True Self and arouses the compassionate vow to save humankind. The desire for all people to be this way, even if they are actually quite different, must emerge in us. I am convinced that all people must have the desire to awaken to the True Self and possess a highly compassionate heart. And this is not merely a matter of wanting or having to possess this: we must give it practical effect.

Being calm and composed, awakening to our True Self, becoming fully compassionate human beings, and then functioning constitutes the ultimate way of being. Many such true humans must emerge. To my way of thinking, there must be great number of human beings like Amida, though from the standpoint of certain people this would involve numerous problems. In this way, the people making up this world are made into Buddhas -- they become Buddhas. This is crucial in both Buddhism and religion in general. Even if we cannot actually become such a person, many of us must at least desire to become such a person. To those of us who have not done so, awakening to the True Self and becoming a highly compassionate human being comprise a kind of subjective belief or desire. We set our sights on this. The ultimate goal is keeping highly composed, awakening to our True Self, and becoming highly compassionate human beings. That is to say, we become Amida. In becoming Amida, a new path of salvation opens up. In this way, a living Amida comes forth and this is something we greatly long for.

Someone with the same character as Amida must be a "person of religion" (shűky˘ka). To me, one who pursues this goal as one's occupation in life is a true person of religion. Leaving aside the question of whether this is done as a specialty, I believe all people must become this kind of person. We can either approach this as specialty, or function without pursuing it as a specialty. That is, there are two approaches: functioning to have all people enter Nirvana and, inseparable from that, functioning in a worldly rather than religious manner. Also, in all people becoming Amida there must be, for example, those who are engaged in industry and those who devote themselves to the arts; such occupations arise in human life. In this, the subject is the same but the way of functioning and the object upon which one acts differ. The functioning of Amida must include not only the aspect of having all people enter Nirvana -- granted this is quite or even central -- but also the aspect of external functioning in the world. Expressed slightly differently, the functioning of Amida must encompass both other-worldly functioning and worldly functioning. They are essential when viewed in light of the structure of human beings, the world, or the dharma world. Merely awakening all people is not enough, though. In Buddhism the religious aspect of functioning has been strongly asserted, but the worldly aspect has not been stressed. If we classify this in terms of specialization, the primary concern of persons of religion is the other-worldly side of salvation. Speaking in terms of Buddhism as a whole, however, salvation does not end there, for worldly salvation must be carried out as well. For this reason I believe we can divide people into "persons of religion" (shűky˘ka) and "religious individuals" (shűky˘sha). All people must be religious individuals or, from the Buddhist standpoint, Buddhistic individuals. This group of Buddhistic individuals includes those who work toward emancipation, that is, persons of religion, and those who function in the worldly direction, religious individuals. Both kinds of functioning are work or duty and neither can be omitted. At this point, we also need to rectify the idea that religious individuals need not do worldly things; although persons of religion are not impelled to pursue this as a specialty, religious individuals cannot neglect it. Religion thus takes on an extremely broad and inclusive meaning.

At this point "emancipation" becomes problematic. Emancipation in the phrase of the Vow of Humankind, "humankind's' deep desire for self-emancipation," involves two aspects. It indicates our emancipating humankind from the agony both individual and social, and this agony includes both religious agony in which we desire to be saved religiously and worldly agony in which we desire to be saved in a worldly manner. These two aspects never separate. Standing alone, "religious" is empty and "worldly" is blind. Without both, a religious world cannot come into existence. If the particular (ji) and the universal principle (ri) fail to become one, no true salvation occurs. Emancipating humans from agony that is fundamentally a whole -- but herein separated for the time being into worldly agony and other-worldly agony -- amounts to the "emancipation of humankind." We can view religious agony as, so to speak "deep" agony, and worldly agony as "broad" agony. Desiring emancipation from this agony with depth and breadth becomes the way of functioning of the highly compassionate heart, and this highly compassionate heart must function in both directions. Functioning without both directions is incomplete.

Returning to the question of specialty, I believe that in making "full use of our gifts according to our respective vocations in life," we establish one world in a living, integrated way. But because the most fundamental element of this is being calm and composed, awakening to our True Self, and possessing highly compassionate hearts, we must first become such human beings. This involves one's salvation and the desire for others to be saved; and from this issues "self-benefit and the benefit of others." What is indicated by expressions like "self-benefit and the benefit of others" or "self-awakening and bringing others to awakening constitutes the perfect awakening and functioning" is equivalent to being highly composed, awakening to our True Self, and becoming humans with fully compassionate hearts. As previously mentioned, being highly composed is the path leading to Nirvana. Many stages are conceivable, but being highly composed is advanced in Buddhism the direction leading to the tranquillity of Nirvana.

***To be continued***

January 29, 1997