Jnana & Prajna
Vol. XLVIIII, No. 2

I recently heard a talk by Rev. Prof. Taitetsu Unno in which he mentioned someone saying that she was “not an ethnic Buddhist, but a real Buddhist”. How this conclusion is made no doubt has many roots. Converts to a religion always study more than those born into it, and Jodoshinshu is no exception. In the same way that nominal Christians learn their Christianity through a kind of osmosis, nominal Buddhists also learn their Buddhism from hearsay. More serious Christians and Buddhists read or listen to the Dharma, in a scholarly, monastic, or as in the case of Jodoshinshu, in a lay-centered temple setting. Added to this is the difficult matter of understanding Buddhism’s fundamentally different take on religion and non-reliance on faith or belief. It requires an understanding different from the norm we humans are born into. In Buddhism, it is the difference between “knowledge – Jnana” and “wisdom – Prajna”.

Jnana in Sanskrit means “understanding or knowledge” and Prajna means “beyond understanding or knowledge”. Prajna is the Buddhist term for the understanding beyond normal understanding achieved by Siddhartha under the Tree of Awakening (Bodhi Tree) that made him a Buddha (Awakened One). It is not merely intellectual or objective understanding, but an understanding “beyond that” – a paradoxical understanding that changes you, transforms you, in ways not clearly definable. Inasmuch as it is a transforming understanding, Buddhism is not simply “a way of life” or a “philosophy” – it is a religion, a transformative understanding of the Ultimate Reality. The man Sakyamuni “woke up” (Buddh) to this Ultimate Reality Amida Buddha (awakening beyond time and space). In Buddhism this Ultimate Reality is without the idea of a supreme creator God or an eternal soul. This “ultimate” has by definition no shape, form, or qualities peculiar to it since it is the totality of all things. Having said that, it is nevertheless expressed in human form, in poetic form, in symbolic form as the Buddha Amida, as wisdom (the understanding beyond normal understanding) and compassion (the feeling of transformation and connection to the true and beautiful). Real Buddhists are not people of Jnana but of Prajna – some are deeply intellectual, some are not; some read everything about Buddhism, some never read; some sit in meditation regularly, some do not; some chant regularly, some do not, some listen to sermons, some do not. For Jodoshinshu, achievement is not an act of self-assertion but rather an act of self-reflective honesty which causes us to float in a sea of tranquility, and all this in the time it takes for the sound of a snapping finger to disappear.

Jodoshinshu is the practice that tells us that we cover up this “ultimate” and replace it with realities and truths of our own and fill this self-created world of delusion with our own verities of good and bad, right and wrong, superior and inferior, etc., etc., ad nauseum. It is this ignoring or covering up of the truth that is the seat of our suffering. And it is deep-seated in that we are not even aware of the fact that this is what we do – ignore. Our practice then is to constantly keep our ego before the mind’s eye – to create occasions, rituals, activities that help us to see our own ego-centric nature for what it is – and in doing so, to see the truth, and be set free, even for a moment, by that truth. Rev. Unno’s talk also spoke of another convert to Buddhism who came to see
that “Buddhism is not so much a prescription for life as it was a description of it”.

Rev. Masao Kodani

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