Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist - Kono-mama

11.07.2015 10:19


Kono-mama ("I Am That I Am" 1)


THE RELIGIOUS consciousness is awakened when we encounter a network of great contradictions running through our human life. When this consciousness comes to itself we feel as if our being were on the verge of a total collapse. We cannot regain the sense of security until we take hold of something overriding the contradictions.

Whatever contradictions we may experience they would not trouble us unless we were philosophers, because each one of us is not supposed to be a thinker of some kind. The contradictions however in most cases assert themselves in the field of the will. When we are assailed on this side, the question is felt most acutely, like a piercing arrow. When the will to power is exposed to constant threat in one form or another, one cannot help becoming meditative about life.

"What is the meaning of life?" then demands not an abstract solution but comes upon one as a concrete personal challenge. The solution must be in terms of experience. We then abandon all the contradictions that appear on the plane of


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intellection, for we must feel in a practical way contented with life.

The Japanese word kono-mama is the most fitting expression for this state of spiritual contentment. Kono-mama is the is-ness of a thing. God is in his way of is-ness, the flowers bloom in their way of is-ness, the birds fly in their way of is-ness--they are all perfect in their is-ness.

Christians ascribe all these ways of is-ness to God whoever he may be and remain satisfied with themselves in the midst of contradictions. John Donne (Sermon VII) has said: "God is so omnipresent . . . that God is an angel in an angel, and a stone in a stone, and a straw in a straw." Eckhart has his way of expressing the same idea: "A flea to the extent that it is in God, ranks above the highest angel in his own right. Thus, in God, all things are equal and are God himself." 2


A Zen poet-master 3 sings:


In the foreground precious stones and agates,
In the rear agates and precious stones;
To the East Kwannon and Seishi,
To the West Monju and Fugen 

In the middle there is a streamer:
As a breeze passes by
It flutters, "hu-lu," "hu-lu."






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This "hu-lu," "hu-lu" (in Chinese) or "fura-fura" in Japanese reminds one of Saichi's outflowings:



Saichi's mind is like the gourd [on water],
Floating all the time,
Blown by the winds, it flows on floating
To Amida's Pure Land.


[paragraph continues] The one difference, we may point out, between Shin and Zen is that the Zen masters would not say "To Amida's Pure Land." They would not mind if the gourd floats on to hell though they would not object to floating on to the Pure Land, either. This is not due to their indifference, fura-fura-ness. Superficially they may seem so, but only superficially. Their fura-fura-ness really comes from their deep experience of the Emptiness which concerns a life altogether transcendental or, we might say, "supernatural." Most people fail to distinguish the moral life from the inner transcendental life, which, it may be asserted, has a life of its own and lives altogether separate from an individually differentiated life which has its values in a world of utilitarian purposiveness.

To put all this again into Christian terminology, Eckhart declares:

[If you can] take what comes to you through him, then whatever it is, it becomes divine in itself; shame becomes honor, bitterness becomes sweet, and gross darkness, clear light. Everything takes its flavor from God and becomes divine; everything that happens betrays God when a man's mind works that way; things all have this one taste; and therefore God is the same to this man alike in life's bitterest moments and sweetest pleasures. 5


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Eckhart naturally refers everything to God though his God somewhat resembles Saichi's "Namu-amida-butsu." We "creatures" as coming from God just follow his will "sono-mama," and have nothing to say, good or bad, as to what we do. If I take this for the Christian understanding of fura-fura-ness, will Christians be offended?

Eckhart has a strange but interesting question in this connection:

A question is raised about those angels who live with us, serving and guarding us, as to whether or not they have less joy in identity than the angels in heaven and whether they are hindered at all in their [proper] activities by serving and guarding us. No! Not at all! Their joy is not diminished, nor their equality, because the angel's work is to do the will of God and the will of God is the angel's work. If God told an angel to go to a tree and pick off the caterpillars, the angel would be glad to do it and it would be bliss to him because it is God's will. 6?

The Shin pattern of expression is subjective and personal in contrast to the Zen way which is objective and impersonal, showing that Shin is more concerned with the karuṇā aspect of Reality while Zen tends to emphasize the prajñā aspect. The Shin faith is based on Amida's Praṇidhāna, which is summarized in the "Namu-amida-butsu" known as myōgō (nāmadheya in Sanskrit), meaning "the Name." The myōgō may sound abstract but it is the integrated form of subject and object, of devotee and Amida, of Namu (worshiper) and Buddha (the worshiped), of ki and 7 When the myōgō is pronounced, the mystic identification takes place:



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As I pronounce "Namu-amida-butsu"
I feel my thoughts and hindrances are like the spring snows:
They thaw away as soon as they fall on the ground.




Not knowing why, not knowing why--
This is my support;
Not knowing why--
This is the "Namu-amida-butsu."




Amida is this: "See, here I am!"
Namu and Amida--
They make out the "Namu-amida-butsu."
O Nyorai-san, such things I write,
How happy!


These are from Saichi. His experiences are given direct utterance here. As soon as the "Namu-amida-butsu" is pronounced he as "Namu" (ki) melts into the body of Amida () which is "the ground" and "support." He cannot reason it out, but "Here I am I What has taken place is the identification of Amida () and Saichi (ki). But the identification is not Saichi's vanishing. Saichi is still conscious of his individuality and addresses himself to Amida Buddha in a rather familiar fashion saying, "O Nyorai-san!" and congratulating himself on his being able to write about the happy event.

The following is the explosion of Mrs. Chiyono Sasaki of Kona on the island of Hawaii, who is a myōkōnin belonging to the Hongwanji Temple under Rev. Shōnen Tamekuni:

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8 I am so pleased with this, I bow my head.
Good or bad--’tis "kono-mamma"!
Right or wrong--’tis "kono-mamma"!
True or false--’tis "kono-mamma"!
"Is" or "is not"--’tis "kono-mamma"!
Weep or laugh--’tis "kono-mamma"!
And "kono-mamma" is "kono-mamma"!


If you say "kono-mamma" is not enough, you are too greedy.
The "kono-mamma" never changes, nor can it be changed.
It is only because you are my Oya,
You call me to come "sono-mama" ["just as you are"].
It is all due to our not knowing that "kono-mamma" is "kono-mama"
That we wander about from one place to another.
That I am now inside the fold is due to the virtue of Oya's compassion,
And this pleases the Oya and also pleases me;
Oya and I live together then.
Each time I learn of his long-suffering labor,
How miserable I am!
How wretched I feel!
Ashamed of myself I resume my Nembutsu:
"Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu!"


"Kono-mama," we may think, sounds too easy and there is nothing spiritual or transcendental in it. If we bring this out in the world of particulars, everything here will be left to the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. It is the most dangerous doctrine to be put forward, especially to our present world. But it may be worth asking, Is this doctrine of "kono-mama" really so dangerous? 9 Is our present world



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so valuable, deserving a careful preservation, where the knowledge of "that something" is fading away--"that something in the soul so closely akin to God," as Eckhart tells us? When we did not have this knowledge, Eckhart regarded our individualistic ego-centered life "of no more importance than a manure worm." Is a world inhabited by this sort of existence really worth preservation?

Eckhart's passage is a very strong one:

As I have often said, there is something in the soul so closely akin to God that it is already one with him and need never be united to him. It is unique and has nothing in common with anything else. It has no significance whatsoever--none! Anything created is nothing but that Something is apart from and strange to all creation. If one were wholly this, he would be both uncreated and unlike any creature. If any corporeal thing or anything fragile were included in that unity, it, too, would be like the essence of that unity. If I should find myself in this essence, even for a moment, I should regard my earthly selfhood as of no more importance than a manure worm. 10


p. 150


The doctrine of "kono-mama" is based on the psychology growing out of the experience of the Eckhartian "that something." One need not be metaphysically analytical in order to speak of it as eloquently as Eckhart does. But there is no doubt that Mrs. Sasaki, the author of the foregoing lines, tasted "that something" though she had no learning and mentality equal to the great German theologian. Saichi is more "learned" in his way and calls it "Buddha-wisdom" (Buddhajñā) which he must have heard from his preachers. Buddha-wisdom is really beyond our mere human understanding which is based on sensuous experiences and "logical" manipulations.



Buddha-wisdom is beyond thought,
Leading me to the Pure Land!




Perfectly indifferent I am!
No joy, no gratefulness,
Yet nothing to grieve over the absence of gratefulness.




Doing nothing, doing nothing, doing nothing!
Nyorai-san takes me along with him!
I am happy!


Saichi's "indifference" and "doing-nothing" are another and negative way of asserting "kono-mama" or "sono-mama." Buddha-wisdom is in one sense all-affirmation but in the other all-negation. It says "yes, yes" or "sono-mama" to everything that comes its way but at the same time it upholds nothing,

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saying: "neti, neti." When Saichi is in the negative mood, his bemoanings are: "How wretched!" "How miserable!" "I am sinner!" "I am a great liar." But when in the positive mood, everything changes. How jubilant he is! He is thankful for everything, he is most appreciative of Amida's free gift and wonders how he deserves it all. In spite of all this apparent fickleness or contradiction, Saichi keeps his mind well balanced and at peace, because his being is securely held in the hands of Amida and rests in the "Namu-amida-butsu."



Nothing is left to Saichi,
Except a joyful heart nothing is left to him;
Neither good nor bad has he, all is taken away from him;
Nothing is left to him!
To have nothing--how completely satisfying!
Everything has been carried away by the "Namu-amida-butsu."
He is thoroughly at home with himself:
This is indeed the "Namu-amida-butsu"!




"O Saichi."
"Yes, here I am."
"Where is your companion?"
"My companion is Amida-Buddha."
"Where are you?"
"I am in Amida."
"O Saichi."
"What is meant by 'all taken in and nothing left out?"
"It means 'captured altogether'."
How grateful!



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To clarify further Saichi's inner life, I quote more of his utterances:



All my cravings are taken away,
And the whole world is my "Namu-amida-butsu."




Saichi, all has been taken away from you,
And the Nembutsu is given--"Namu-amida-butsu!"




None of my evil passions, as many as 84,000, remain with me,
Every one of them has been taken away by the "Namu-amida-butsu."




My mind altogether taken captive by bonnō 

Has now been taken away together with bonnō.
The mind is enwrapped in the "Namu-amida-butsu"--
Thanks are due to the "Namu-amida-butsu"!




Saichi has nothing--which is joy.
Outside this there's nothing.
Both good and evil--all's taken away,
Nothing's left.
To have nothing--this is the release, this is the peace.
All's taken away by the "Namu-amida-butsu,"
This is truly the peace.




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With all this, however, we must not think that Saichi turned into a piece of wood which is free from all passions, good as well as bad. He was quite alive with them all. He was as human as we are ourselves. As long as we are what we are none of us can be released from the burden. To get rid of it means to get rid of our own existence which is the end of ourselves, the end of all things, the end of Amida himself, who has now no object for his upāya (or means) to exercise. The passions must remain with us all, without them there will be no joy, no happiness, no gratitude, no sociality, no human intercourse. Saichi is quite right when he asks Amida to leave tsumi with him; 12 he fully realizes that without tsumi he cannot experience Amida. Our existence is so conditioned on this earth that we must have one when we wish to have the other, and this wishing is no other than the passions which constitute tsumi. We are always involved in this contradiction, which is life, and we live it and by living it all is solved. The contradictions of any sort all turn into the sono-mama-ness of things. All that is needed is the experience of nothingness, which is suchness, kono-mama.

We can say that Saichi's free utterances, occupying more than sixty schoolchildren's notebooks, are rhapsodies on his living the grand contradiction itself which greets us as ki and  13 at every phase of our existence. Saichi lives this contradiction



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and loves it to the fullest extent of his being. Each plane-shaving which rolls off his geta-making work table tells him about the world-drama which defies our attempt at solution on the plane of intellection. But the simple-minded Amida-intoxicated Saichi solves it quite readily by making each shaving bear his inscriptions: "What a despicable man I am!" and "How grateful Saichi is for Oya-sama's infinitely expanding compassionate heart!" "Poor Saichi is heavily tsumi-laden and yet he has no desire to part with it, for tsumi is the very condition that makes him feel the presence of Amida and his Namu-amida-butsu." Saichi lives the grand world-contradiction, his living is the solving.


Shinran, the founder of the Shin sect, presents this comment on the thought of "kono-mama." Since he was a Chinese scholar, he did not use the Japanese vernacular but its Chinese equivalent, tzu-jên fa-êrh, the Japanese reading of which is jinen hōni.

Ji means "of itself," or "by itself." As it is not due to the designing of man but to Nyorai's vow [that man is born in the Pure Land], it is said that man is naturally or spontaneously (nen), led to the Pure Land. The devotee does not make any conscious self-designing efforts, for they are altogether ineffective to achieve the end. Jinen thus means that as one's rebirth into the Pure Land is wholly due to the working of Nyorai's vow-power,

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it is for the devotee just to believe in Nyorai and let his vow work itself out.

Hōni means "it is so because it is so"; and in the present case it means that it is in the nature of Amida's vow-power that we are born in the Pure Land. Therefore, the way in which the other-power works may be defined as "meaning of no-meaning," that is to say, it works in such a way as if not working [so natural, so spontaneous, so effortless, so absolutely free are its workings].

Amida's vow accomplishes everything and nothing is left for the devotee to design or plan for himself. Amida makes the devotee simply say "Namu-amida-butsu" in order to be saved by Amida, and the latter welcomes him to the Pure Land. As far as the devotee is concerned, he does not know what is good or bad for him, all is left to Amida. This is what I--Shinran--have learned.

Amida's vow is meant to make us all attain supreme Buddhahood. The Buddha is formless and because of his formlessness he is known as "all by himself" (jinen). If he had a form, he would not be called supreme Nyorai. In order to let us know how formless he is, he is called Amida. This is what I--Shinran--have learned.

When you have understood this, you need not any more be concerned with jinen ["being by itself"]. When you turn your attention to it, the "meaningless meaning" assumes a meaning [which is defeating its own purpose].

All this comes from Buddhajñā, which is beyond comprehensibility.

From this commentary of Shinran on jinen hōni, we can see what understanding he had of the working of Amida's praṇidhāna ("vows") or of the other-power. "Meaningless meaning" may be thought of as having no sense, no definite

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content, whereby we can concretely grasp what it means. The idea is that there was no teleology or eschatological conception on the part of Amida when he took those forty-eight vows, that all the ideas expressed in them are the spontaneous outflow of his mahākaruṇā, great compassionate heart, which is Amida himself. Amida has no exterior motive other than a feeling of sorrow for us suffering sentient beings and a wish to save us from going through an endless cycle of births and deaths. The "vows" are the spontaneous expression of his love or compassion.

As for the sentient beings, they are helpless because they are limited existences, karma-bound, thoroughly conditioned by space, time, and causation. As long as they are in this state of finitude, they can never attain Nirvana or enlightenment by themselves. This inability to achieve emancipation is in the very nature of our existence. The more we try the deeper we get involved in an inextricable mess. The help has to come from a source other than this limited existence, but this source must not be something wholly outside us in the sense that it has no understanding of our limitations, and hence is not, in any way sympathetic with us. The source of help must have the same heart as ours so that there will be a current of compassion running between the two. The source-power must be within us and yet outside. If not within us, it could not understand us; if not outside, it would be subject to the same conditions. This is an eternal problem-to be and not to be, to be within and yet to be outside, to be infinite and yet ready to serve the finite, to be full of meaning and yet not to have any meaning. Hence the incomprehensibility of Buddhajñā, hence the incomprehensibility of the "Namu-amida-butsu."

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Saichi's version of Shinran has its own charm and originality from his inner experience which defies our logical analysis:



The Namu-amida-butsu inexhaustible,
However much one recites it, it is inexhaustible;
Saichi's heart is inexhaustible;
Oya's heart is inexhaustible.
Oya's heart and Saichi's heart,
Ki and hō, are of one body which is the Namu-amida-butsu.
However much this is recited, it is inexhaustible.




How wretched!--
This comes out spontaneously.
How grateful for Buddha's favor!--
This too spontaneously.
Ki and hō, both are Oya's working:
All comes out in perfection.




Saichi's Nyorai-san,
Where is he?
Saichi's Nyorai-san is no other than the oneness of ki and hō.
How grateful I am! "Namu-amida-butsu!"
"Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu!"




Such a Buddha! he is really a good Buddha!
He follows me wherever I go,
He takes hold of my heart.
The saving voice of the six syllables
Is heard as the oneness of ki and hō--

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I have altogether no words for this;
How sweet the mercy!


Eckhart has his way of commenting on all these ideas which we may take as exclusively Shin.

If you suffer for God's sake and for God alone, that suffering does not hurt and is not hard to bear, for God takes the burden of it. If an hundredweight were loaded on my neck and then someone else took it at once on his neck, I had just as lief it were an hundred as one. It would not then be heavy to me and would not hurt me. To make a long story short, what one suffers through God and for God alone is made sweet and easy. 14

It [the will] is perfect and right when it has no special reference, when it has cut loose from self, and when it is transformed and adapted to the will of God. Indeed, the more like this the will is, the more perfect and true it is. With a will like this, anything is possible, whether love or anything else. 15

Supposing, however that all such [experiences] were really of love, even then it would not be best. We ought to get over amusing ourselves with such raptures for the sake of that better love, and to accomplish through loving service what men most need, spiritually, socially, or physically. As I have often said, if a person were in such a rapturous state as St. Paul once entered, and he knew of a sick man who wanted a cup of soup, it would be far better to withdraw from the rapture for love's sake and serve him who is in need. 16






143:1 "And God said unto Moses, I am that I am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I am hath sent one unto you." Exodus, 3,14.

144:2 Blakney, p. 205.

144:3 Goso Hoyen, died 1104.

144:4 These are the chief Mahāyāna Bodhisattvas:


1. Avalokiteśvara
2. Mahāsthāmaprāpta
3. Mañjuśrī
4. Samantabhadra



145:5 Blakney, p. 17.

146:6 Ibid., p. 205.

146:7 See infra.

148:8 This is her colloquialism for kono-mama, "as-it-is-ness."

148:9 Saichi has this to say in regard to "kono-mama": p. 149


Though we all say by word of mouth "kono-mama"
We really do not know what this means.
There is no "kono-mama" to him who inattentively listens to the Dharma,
There is no "kono-mama" to him.
I am one of those heretics who know not what "kono-mama" means;
A heretic indeed am I whose name is Saichi.


Saichi must have heard a preacher talking about "kono-mama," warning the audience to be on their guard not to take it in the sense of indifference or dissipation or giving oneself to impulses of the moment which grow out of the one-sided self-power. The "kono-mama" doctrine is likely to turn into a "heresy" when it is only intellectually understood and not experienced in our innermost consciousness.

149:10 Blakney, p. 205.

152:11 Evil passions.

153:12 See infra.

153:13 Ki, originally meaning "hinge," means in Shin especially the devotee who approaches Amida in the attitude of dependence. He stands as far as his self-power is concerned against Amida. is "Dharma," "Reality," "Amida," and "the other-power." This opposition appears to our intellect as contradiction and to our will as a situation implying anxiety, fear, and insecurity. When ki and are united in the myōgō as "Namu-amida-butsu," the Shin devotee attains anjin, "peace of mind."

O Saichi, if you wish to see Buddha,p. 154


Look within your own heart where ki and hō are one
As Namu-amida-butsu--
This is Saichi's Oya-sama.
How happy with the favor!
Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu.



158:14 Blakney, p. 210.

158:15 Ibid., p. 13.

158:16 Ibid., p. 14.