Ippen & the Kumano dream

JUNE 6 03 – Came across an interesting essay on the Japanese monk Ippen, in particular about his dream at the Kumano shrine, where a ghost-like figure (the white-haired Yamabushi) gave him the essential information he needed to dissolve his spiritual crisis, which marks out his stream of Pure Land Buddhism from all others. It is this distinction, that faith in Amida is simply not necessary, that struck a chord of truth with myself. Which is also why I did not follow Shinran's stream. It also shows how a dream can influence doctrine in such a way as to completely 'undermine' a doctrine while at the same time bringing out its bolder truth.

Today, the followers of Shinran do good works but they also have a fondness for large buildings and a certain degree of piousness. Shinran said some marvellous things about Amida and the nembutsu, and so did Ryonin, whose letters are wonderful, but for me Ippen and the Ji sect he founded, though I know no other people who belong to it, remains the only cult that I can think of that emphasises the complete unimportance of faith, because Amida has made a vow to take to the Pure Land any who call his name, and that vow does not depend on me believing that he can or will fulfill it. To me this seems obvious, and so did it to Ippen when the white-haired Yamabushi imparted this information to him in his Kumano dream of 1274. This cleared away the impediment of thinking there is some 'special way' to call upon Amida's name (traditionally one says 'Namu Amida Butsu').

Still the followers of Shinran emphasise the necessity for shinjin (trust/faith) when calling upon Amida. Ippen's more radical approach honours Amida more truly by allowing his vow to mean exactly what it says, no matter how hopelessly one calls on Amida. That said, I know what shinjin is, but I do not cling to it, sometimes it arises in me, sometimes it does not, but it's not important, and that's the point.

The Ippen article, by Bruce Darling, also contains some very interesting accounts of other 'true oracular dreams' that have been received at the Kumano shrine, leading to what has been called 'the Kumano cult'. It's certainly true that the Kumano dreams have altered people's lives. I count myself among them, because the dream received by Ippen has strongly influenced me.