Tariki, Other Power

Shinran Shonin gives us a very clear and unambiguous definition of Tariki, Other Power:

Other Power is none other than the Power of the Tathagata’s Primal Vow. (CWS, p. 57)

Naturtiums, 12 October 2016
Nasturtiums, 12 October 2016

To help us to understand what he means by ‘Other Power’ and ‘the Power of the Tathagata’s Primal Vow’, Shinran provides a long quote from the Commentary on the Treatise of the Pure Land by the Chinese Dharma Master T’an-luan (476-542).

The treatise that T’an-luan’s commentary is about was written by the Indian Dharma Master, Vasubandhu Bodhisattva. The importance of this quote is that it explains precisely what the ‘power of the Buddha’s Vow’ – Other Power – means.

T’an-luan quotes three of Amida Buddha’s forty-eight Vows:

  • the eighteenth Vow,’the Vow of birth through the nembutsu’
  • the eleventh Vow,’the Vow of necessary attainment of nirvana’, that is to say, dwelling among the truly settled, and
  • the twenty-second Vow, ‘the Vow of directing of virtue for return to this world’.

All of Amida Buddha’s forty-eight Vow make up the Primal Vow, of course. And there are particularly significant Vows, like the twelfth, and the thirteenth, which are the Vows of Amida Buddha’s immeasurable light and life, respectively. But the Vows that T’an-luan specifically mentions are those, which focus upon realisation on the part of ordinary beings –  bombu.

Speaking of the eighteenth Vow, T’an-luan says

Through the Power of the Buddha’s Vow, one says the Name … and accordingly attains birth in the Pure Land (CWS, p. 59)

Similarly, of the eleventh Vow, T’an-luan says that through the power of this Vow, one comes to dwell among the truly settled. Furthermore, he tells us that by the power of the twenty-second Vow, ‘one swiftly realises enlightenment.’

Then T’an-luan goes on to emphasise the difference between self-power and Other Power. Of Other Power he says,

Again, a person of inferior powers astride a donkey cannot rise up off the ground, but when following an outing of a cakravartin king, is able to wander in the air freely throughout the four continents with no obstruction – such is termed ‘Other Power.’ (CWS, p. 60)

From these basic principles, Shinran tells us, in another place, just what this means for us:

Hence, whether with regard to the aspect for going forth to the Pure Land or to the aspect of return to this world, there is nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through the Tathagata’s directing of virtue to beings out of the pure Vow-mind. Reflect on this. (CWS, p. 302)

Nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through the Tathagata’s directing of virtue to beings out of the pure Vow-mind!’

That is the meaning of Other Power. It is the power of ‘the Pure Vow-mind’, the power of the Primal Vow.

This being so, T’an-luan delivers a final exhortation:

How foolish are scholars of these latter times! Hear the teaching that you should ride upon Other Power and awaken shinjin. Do not confine yourself to your own powers. (CWS, p. 60)

Author: George Gatenby

George Gatenby, a retired Australian businessman, has been a follower of the nembutsu teaching of Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) since 1977. He became a member of the Hongwanji Buddhist Mission of Australia when it was founded in 1993 and was ordained as a Shin Buddhist priest at the Nishi Hongwanji, Kyoto, the following year. He is the author of the blog sites, Notes on the Nembutsu and The Udumbara Flower, and convenes a Shin Buddhist sangha in Adelaide.