The Vow of Humankind:

Talks by Shin'ichi Hisamatsu

FAS Society Journal 1997, pp.2-11
Translated by Chris Ives from Hisamatsu Shin'ichi Chosakushû, Vol. III, pp.275-290. Originally presented as talks (teikô) at Weekly Meetings in 1952 at Senbutsuji temple, Kyoto.


Last time we proceeded up through the section of the Vow of Humankind, "being fully compassionate humans." Because this section is inexhaustible, like a spring which renews itself, we have yet to explore it completely. Leaving that for the time being, however, I turn to "making full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations." The section of the Vow from this line to the end elaborates upon the initial section. "Calm and composed, awakening to our true self" is contained in "making full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations," as is "being fully compassionate humans," but "making full use of our abilities" amounts to individual functioning or, so to speak, specialization and personalization.

Being "fully compassionate humans" is common or generalin the sense that all people must uniformly become such humans. On the other hand, "according to our respective vocations" is a matter of our individual functions. Like being fully compassionate humans, the understanding on which this functioning is based spans from shallow, general understanding to the most profound. Whatever the depth, in reality individuals "awakening to our true self" and "being fully compassionate humans" must then "make full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations." This is the truly ultimate way of being. We must all carry out this "Return-Aspect" functioning or Bodhisattva functioning in a profound sense.

It is not at all easy, however, to hold off on our work until we awaken to the true self and are fully compassionate humans. Not doing anything special until we reach that point becomes a problem here. Of course, that final point is the way of being in which true Bodhisattva functioning accomplishes the ultimate mission of an individual and all individuals, but I think we must perform our vocations in the world while simultaneously working on the path to becoming ultimate individuals. In terms of process, we cannot advance without such a dual approach.

By a dual approach I am not referring to merely accomplishing one's everyday vocation or making the best use of one's individuality. We must also penetrate the true self and then be fully compassionate human beings. In terms of religion, this is the direction of the "Going Aspect." Ordinary work in this world is not necessarily the carrying out of Going-Aspect living, and people do not necessarily realize the necessity of that work. Yet this is a crucial direction of living which we must not neglect, for all humans must carry out this practice.

Although I speak of practice here in a very broad sense, we must move forward with such practice, and to do so without negligence is a significant characteristic or ideal of our organization. The individual work of "making full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations" is what is demanded in response to the question of what we do after "awakening to our true self" and "being fully compassionate humans." It becomes the functioning or content of the person awakened to the true self and fully compassionate. Awakening to the true self and being compassionate is very important, but if this is all we do, it is hollow. In Kant's terminology, this is form without content and it is empty. This emptiness is apt to get stuck in what is called a "religious stage," and it corresponds to what Pure Land Buddhism terms "going forever" and what Zen calls "attached emptiness," "empty emptiness," or "shallow satori."

The Going Aspect must contain the Return Aspect. They are not two separate entities -- they are one. Existing together as a single entity is t he true condition, so we should not suppose that only the Going Aspect exists. The Going Aspect is always one with the Return Aspect. The Emptiness and Nothingness spoken of in Zen must become identical to Zen functioning. Historically, people have criticized the "Zen of silent illumination," for it amounts to contentless form that falls short of ultimacy. Therefore, we must by all means possess this content, this single functioning made up of the two aspects.

Inversely, merely "making full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations" lacks a foundation, and it results in dissolution and dispersion, for omitted here is the basic One or most pristine One in all humankind. Lacking this One, we live our human lives without form. Such is the way of human life without the Going Aspect. This "content without form" can rightly be called blindness.

That which is neither hollow nor blind, which has true form and content, is truly singular. In the condition delineated by the Buddhist expression, "Equality just as it is, is discrimination," equality lies at the bottom of discrimination and discrimination certainly exists upon equality. Without separating, they become One, a singular true Reality. By virtue of the whole lying at the base of our respective vocations, we can for the first time possess our vocations in life.

Without such a One or whole in everyday living, the words "respective vocations" do not become manifest. Precisely because "vocation" in this case finds significance in and upon the One or whole, it cannot be established without this ultimate One. Numerous stages constitute any given vocation and slight differences emerge between these stages, yet the ultimate foundation of the vocation must be an absolute One or true whole. We must locate this foundation in the ultimate place of the true self. Up until that point, nothing is ultimate, so we must at all costs push ourselves forward to that place, to the ultimate place. If we do not go all the way to the place of the true human way of being, we cannot comprehend the final goal of our vocations.

Therefore, when we say that we find life worth living, this worth must not be something individual or idiosyncratic. It cannot be something that exists along the way, for if we fail to proceed to the end point, we fail to understand thoroughly the true worth of living. In short, we must advance to the place of religion.

Usually we find life worth living through participation in an actual group or community, such as a nation, the contemporary world, or humankind. We cannot, however, stop at that point. Unless we descend to the foundation of our human nature, we cannot discover ultimate worth in living. The source of that true worth lies in living in a place that transcends normal reality, time and space, history, and humans ("humans" here referring to ordinary humans differing from humans that are fully compassionate in a deep sense). In that place transcendent of actual humans resides our true worth in living.

Speaking from the standpoint of our organization, a human awakening to the true self and being fully compassionate is that which has transcended human beings as we normally conceive of them. As I have been saying, however, this is not a mere transcendent entity: it is a true human being. To us, this is not an ordinary, transcendent God, for true humans become something that corresponds to "God."

This final place, which can be called a living place, is the source of the worth we find in living. Kitarô Nishida used the term "place" (basho) , and his expression "logic of place" occupies a central position in his philosophy. We are apt to think of "place" as something static, and this is how certain people actually interpret Nishida's concept. But "place" is never static: it is a living whole or One. Moreover, "place" is the basis or source of the Return Aspect. Viewed from a slightly different angle, it is the source of functioning, the source of absolute functioning. As such, it is the place of creation as well. This way of construing it is congruent with Nishida's view.

The word "place" invites misunderstanding, and some people do in fact misunderstand this term, but the place of which I am speaking is a truly living place. If seen simply as a place or ground, "place" suggests something static. In Buddhism as well, the term "Emptiness" makes the reality it denotes appear static, but Emptiness is in no way static; it comes into motion and becomes the source of living and actuality. It is the ultimate source of the meaning of our living and, simultaneously, the place from which our functioning emerges. Accordingly, it is the source of value and, at the same time, it is also the source of existence.

At this point, "making full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations" comes down to the question of what a human awakened to the true self and highly compassionate makes into his or her vocation in life. In Buddhism, this vocation becomes Bodhisattva functioning or Return-Aspect functioning. It is never a halfway point in the Going Aspect or the mere conduct of actual life. Rather, it is the goal of our so-called daily lives. This is an ideal goal, and as I mentioned in passing earlier, the individual here becomes the self-limitation (jiko-gentei) of a human that has awakened to the true self and is fully compassionate. We become the self-limitation of an absolute, fundamentally subjective awakening. That fundamental subjectivity does not separate from its source -- it is the fundamental entity itself and cannot become something different or nonexistent.

This amounts in Zen terminology to "becoming master of every situation." "Every situation" has to do with particular, distinctive things, but "master" entails generality and totality. This generality and totality, and this particularity as well, do not separate from "master." This master becomes particular and functions.

Discrimination, vicissitudes or change, and appearance-extinction or birth-death are examples of particularity. Appearance-extinction, birth-death, become eternal through our becoming master, that is, through our becoming the entirety of birth-death while living and dying. In that place, there are no discriminations, no vicissitudes, and no birth-death. Accordingly, birth-death, just as it is, is no birth-death; discrimination, just as it is, is equality; change, just as it is, is constancy; time, just as it is, is eternity.

We often say that our actual life comes into contact with or connects with the Absolute through our religious life, or that the individual is linked tothe whole, but I am convinced that what is expounded by this mode of expression is incomplete and non-exhaustive. Actually, we in no way connect with such things; we are not connected from here to there; we are not contacting something absolute; time is not in contact with eternity.

If we believe we are in such contact, eternity and the Absolute exist transcendently "over there," which means they are not a subject "here." For this reason, "contact" and "connect" still designate incomplete conditions, for eternity and the Absolute do not come into contact with us: their entirety is the true self, and they must be awakened true self. A true state exists when eternity and the Absolute are the true self. That which "establishes all things from its source of non-abiding" (a line from the Vimalakirti Sutra) is the true self. From this fundamental self emerges various kinds of functioning.

Since all functioning becomes the functioning of this non-abiding self, the source of non-abiding fills and extends throughout all established things. We should not, however, view that non-abiding self as existing only inside that functioning: while functioning, it is extricated from that functioning. That is to say, the true self pervades functioning and, at the same time, is not restricted by that functioning, for it is always free from all functioning.

Insofar as the true self makes things without being restricted by them, it constantly makes everything without making anything at all. Moreover, while separating from what is made, it constantly makes things. Making things in this way, the true self possesses a character of newness. It maintains itself without being shackled by the past. Along these lines, we can conceive of things being extricated from so-called karma.

Generally, "karma" consists of our acts of creation throughout countless past eons extending up to the present and our now being restricted by what we ourselves have created. To be free, while creating, from what we have created, is to be free from karma. And in being emancipated from karma, we arrive at autonomy and freedom from obstruction.

An eternal thing is always new and always functions. An eternal subject that is constantly creating is a truly constant, fresh foundation. Through such subjectivity, through our being such a subject, we can be said to be truly creative. In always being new, we must constantly die and part from the past. That is to say, we must negate the past. We can arrive at this absolute or eternal newness through a total act of dying or an absolute death, not through partial dying from moment to moment.

In reality, this must become the true creation of history, which is quite different from what we usually call the creation of history. In this historical creation, value and ordinary historical creation are converted subjectively. In Christian terms, the "end" of eschatology becomes present.

Even in Christianity, from the "end" starts true history, but the "end" in Christianity is the eternal future and never present. Even if one claims it is present, it is distant from here. Though the present is linked to it or connects with it, the "end" never becomes the present. What I am conceiving of differs from Christianity in this respect. The Buddhist view expressed as "all dharmas are established from the foundation of non abiding" and "creating without parting from awakening" differs from the Christian way of thinking. In "without parting from awakening," "from the foundation of non abiding," and "without discarding the Dharma that is the Way," the "end" Christians speak of as being in the future is present. In this regard, the present is the world of religious creation, the world of Bodhisattva functioning. Likewise, the world of God's creation is neither God's creation of the world in the past nor the beginning of the Kingdom of God in the future -- it is the new world of God's creation constantly becomes manifest in the present.

Things have not settled into some static or fixed state of creation; rather, they are constantly created, moment to moment. They must possess this dynamic character, in which fixedness changes into dynamic, fresh creation.

The world I have just described is a religious world, yet it never separates from history. It becomes historical creation in which the subject of history is, so to speak, God. Herein, appearance-extinction, change and discrimination become the functioning of the Absolute, the creative aspect of the Absolute. Accordingly, this differs radically from the usual world of appearance-extinction, the world of change, and the world of discrimination.

"Making full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations," which is an absolute, universal activity, amounts to all of us limiting ourselves and functioning. Therefore, "making full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations" constitutes both the worth we find in living and everything else's worth in living. Herein, the living of the whole and the living of the individual become one. This is neither totalitarianism where the individual is sacrificed for the whole nor individualism, egocentrism, or democracy in which individuals merely function individually for themselves. Rather, one's living is for the whole and the living of the whole is for oneself. The whole is not sacrificed for the individual and the individual is not sacrificed for the whole. The living and sustenance of the individual amounts to the living of the whole and the living of the whole amounts to the living of the individual; in a manner of speaking, the society characterized by such a way of being becomes manifest.

The same situation holds for self-benefit and the benefit of others. Engaging in neither mere egocentrism nor mere altruism, we exhibit the way of being in which self-benefit, as it is, becomes the benefit of others, and the benefit of others, as it is, becomes self-benefit. The functioning of Bodhisattvas must take such a form, for therein lies the true meaning of a Bodhisattva's being fully compassionate. The "perfection of the benefiting of self and others" is first achieved in that way of being. I would suggest that "between thing and thing no obstruction" (jiji-muge) indicates a perfected individual, the kind of individual we are considering today.

Our attainment of this way of being is our "making full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations." Our vocations can be divided into two types. First, there is the vocation, the functioning, in which all people are "awakening to our true self; being fully compassionate humans." In its actual aspect, this combines with ethical, moral, or religious edification. This is necessary in humans, and I believe educators and religionists have such a vocation.

Second, there is the participation in actual work where people engage themselves in production, culture, and so forth. Through the fulfillment of these vocations we find life worth living. To accomplish our vocations, our preparation -- the means or method of functioning -- must b e secured without restriction. In this regard, we must make such efforts as studying and applying our studies. Through this we can for the first time make "full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations." These two types of vocation are linked to the Vow of Humankind's "discerning suffering both individual and social," and "humankind's deep desire for emancipation." Moreover, they are closely related to "construct[ing] a world which is true and happy."

***To be continued***

February 7, 1997