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Jinen and Shizen, 自然, by Reverend Professor Toshikawasu Arai

Reverend Professor Toshikawasu Arai visited Salinas on August 9, 2015 and gave a lecture at Salinas' first Furutani Memorial Lecture series.

Jinen and Shizen, 自然

When I gave a Dharma lecture at the Buddhist Temple of Salinas, CA, I failed to communicate with the lady who asked about the difference between “jinen” and “shizen.” She was a local resident of Japanese ancestry and was puzzled by the word “jinen” that I used in explaining the working of Amida Buddha. When I wrote the Chinese letters for jinen on the board, she read it confidently “shizen.” There was a language problem—I was not able to completely switch to Japanese at that time because some participants in the lecture were obviously of non-Japanese origin. In retrospect, I should have explained it in Japanese thoroughly and then repeated my explanation in English afterwards. In any case, the following is my answer.

Both “jinen” and “shizen” are expressed with the same Chinese letters 自然. However, “shizen” means what we call nature—a state of being on the earth and in the universe before any human intervention—with trees, grass, rocks, rivers, ocean, mountains, winds, storms, stars, galaxies, and so on. Actually humans are part of nature, but we tend to regard nature as a totality of objects for our exploitation. In fact, we would have to live like apes and monkeys if we wanted to live in complete harmony with nature. In this sense, humans and nature are in a state of conflict.

On the other hand, “jinen” was originally a Taoist word borrowed by Buddhists in China. In Taoism, it meant “spontaneously becoming so.” When Buddhists borrowed it, it came to mean the Buddha’s working to guide sentient beings to the Buddha path. Jinen surpasses all human calculations and efforts and is beyond human cognizance. Shinran made it even clearer by interpreting it to mean “causing us to become so.” In other words, it is another expression of “tariki,” or “the power that causes us to walk the Buddha path before we are aware of it.” Jinen is, therefore, synonymous with the power of the Primal Vow. “Shizen,” or nature, can exist without the existence of humans, or without “me,” but “jinen” is used by a person who has awakened to the working of the Primal Vow on him that has guided him/her to the Buddha path without his/her awareness,. In a plainer expression, it can be said, “Previously, I lived without the knowledge of the Dharma and without any reverence to the Buddha. I even looked down upon priests for their socially unproductive lives. Now I realize the Buddha had already known myself in such a state and with many different means has guided me to awaken to the Buddha’s Primal Vow. How grateful I am for the Buddha’s benevolence.”