Our Inner Self
(excerpt from Buddha of Infinite Light by D. T. Suzuki)
Vol. XLVIII, No. 10

…What kind of being is Amida? My understanding about Amida is that the Larger Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra, which describes his vows and enlightenment, is basically mythical in the sense that it is telling a story that transcends history, which is bound by time. It has almost nothing to do with so-called conventional history.

I remember talking many, many years ago to an American philosopher who was visiting Japan, James Bissett Pratt, who is no longer living. He had a very good understanding of Buddhism. Dr. Pratt and I were discussing the Christian emphasis on historical fact and how Christianity depends on history. Buddhism, on the other hand, ignores what is known as objective history and relies more on the legendary and the mythical.

We came to and agreed on the following: myth, legend, and tradition (“tradition” may not be the proper term) and poetical imagination are actually more real than what we call factual history. What we call facts are not really facts – not so dependable and not so objective as that word implies. Objectivity in the true and real sense is found in religious myth, poetic and metaphysical truth. So we concurred that the story of Amida has more objective and spiritual reality than mere historical truths. Amida is really ourselves – this is the reason that we can accept the story of Amida so readily and understand the story of Shoma and other devotees of the Shin tradition.

In the story itself is something very deep which directly appeals to our innermost mind. We can say that there is outer mind and inner mind. We generally lean on this outer mind or outer self, not the inner or inmost self. The inmost self lies deeply buried in the unfathomable abyss of our relative consciousness. This self is ordinarily well concealed under layers of all kinds of things moving on the surface of consciousness. The latter is what we generally take as the real self, but actually it is not. The real inner self is difficult to awaken. And to awaken that inner self, according to Shin doctrine, one pronounces the name of Amida, Namu-Amida-Butsu. But merely to say Namu-Amida-Butsu will never awaken the inner self. As I have said, Namu-Amida-Butsu is to be pronounced with sincerity and real devotion. Out outer self, which is superficial, works on the surface of our consciousness. This superficiality consists in bifurcation. When we think, “This is my self”, or “This is my inner self”, that self is already divided into two – the self and somethings that stands against that self. When we become conscious of ourselves, we always have the one who thinks and the one who is thought – subject and object. Subject and object are always present in our consciousness.

The Dhammapada, one of the earliest texts of Buddhism, discusses at great length the destroying of consciousness, or getting rid of consciousness. When people read a phrase like “the destroying of consciousness”, they assume it means negating human existence altogether, that it is like committing suicide. This is the gospel of negativity Westerners often criticize. Asians, then, are accused of being life negating. But actually “the destroying of consciousness” means destroying the superficial, relative consciousness. It means going beyond the bifurcation of subject and object.
Subject and object, before they split, emerge from where there is no subject or object yet. This world that we take for granted and see is intellectually reconstructed; it is not the real one. We have re-formed it through our senses and our intellect working at the back of the senses. We reconstruct this world and believe that our fabrication is the real thing.

But to reach the inner self, such superficial relativity must be eradicated. To destroy relativity is not to create another relativity, but to find relativity itself undivided into relative terms – which, again, is rather difficult to understand. But the inner self is reached only when this relativity is transcended. When there is no subject and no object, some Buddhists would say, we are in a state like that before we were born into this world. We see things as we did before we came into this world.
But to talk this way we usually have to use language, and language always works in time. Therefore, every thing we verbalize is chronologically ordered. …

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