What is other-power?

A key concept in the Pure Land tradition is that of “other-power” (Japanese, tariki) versus “self-power” (jiriki). Now closely associated with the teachings of Honen and Shinran in 12th- and 13th-century Japan, these terms were first used by the 6th-century Chinese Pure Land teacher Tanluan to refer to the practitioner’s complete reliance upon Amida Buddha rather than on one’s own limited self for every step on the path to liberation.

In their discussion of tariki and jiriki, Tanluan and the Pure Land teachers of Japan referred to a text attributed (although questioned by scholars) to the celebrated Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna in which these two approaches are described as the difficult path and the easy path. The difficult path of self-power is likened to crossing mountains on foot, whereas the easy path of other-power is like being carried along in a boat.

Honen once acknowledged that the teachings found in many texts explaining how to attain personal perfection were all true and wonderful—but he added that he did not know anyone who was actually able to follow them. Pure Land Buddhists believe that once we recognize our limitations and understand that the deluded, fallible individual cannot rely on ego to achieve perfection and reach the Pure Land, the logical consequence will be abandonment of self-power for a fullhearted embrace of other-power. 


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