In ordinary usage, faith is an act performed by the self, immanent in the self, and arising from within the self as an intentionality toward some object. It is the same even when we speak of believing in oneself. In all its forms, belief does not depart from the field of consciousness and self-consciousness. In religion, however, faith comes about only on a horizon where this field has been overstepped and the framework of the "ego" has been broken through.

Sin comes to be realized within the self itself and of all men or of all sentient beings (sattva). So, too, must the faith that signifies salvation as a conversion from that sin be a Great Reality. ... Buddhism distinguishes between "two types of profound faith." Faith is seen in its primordial sense as the turning of the "Power of the Original Vow" (that is, the saving will) of the Tathagata (Buddha) in the direction of all sentient beings. This is known as Dharma Faith. When this in turn, meets with the real awareness of sin by man, it becomes human faith.

In Buddhism, the name of Amida is taken to be the sign of fulfillment of the Buddha's Vow of Compassion, and indeed is itself the name for the unity of the Buddha and all things. When that name is called to mind and pronounced on the lips of sentient beings, the actualization of the Buddha's Great Compassion and the witness of faith by sentient beings are seen to be really one, a single realization. In this regard we may draw attention to a passage from the Shujisho of Kakunyo, a text from the tradition of Pure Land Buddhism: "Without the practicing devotee who opens his heart to faith in the Name, Amida Buddha's Vow to save all and forsake none would not be fulfilled. Without the Buddha's Vow to save all and forsake none, how would the desire of the devotee for rebirth in the Pure Land be fulfilled?

Therefore it is said, "Is not the Vow the Name, and the Name the Vow? Is not the Vow the practicing devotee, and the devotee the Vow?" In general, then this sort of faith indicates the point at which the self truly becomes the self itself. The elemental realization of evil and sin, and the field of nothingness opened up in that realization, and the acceptance of belief in the working of salvation all signify, each in its own way, the point at which the self becomes itself as something absolutely unique, the most "private" point in the self, the standpoint of the "solitary man" as Kierkagaard has it. Not only can no one else ever take the place of the self; but even the "self" of ordinary parlance, that is, the self as "ego" is equally incapable of replacing the true self. The ego represents the subjectivity of the individual, but as the standpoint of the "ego" it can also be universalized into the standpoint of everyone else. This characteristic of the ego is already apparent, in the Cartesian cogito, ergo sum.

Faith, in contrast, marks the point at which the self is really and truly a solitary self, and really and truly becomes the self itself. At the same time, however, this faith is not simply a thing of the self, but takes on the shape of reality ... [As] Shinran notes ... "When I carefully consider the Vow which Amida brought forth after five kalpa's contemplation, I find it was solely for me, Shinran." ... In Buddhism it is said, "He who prays to be born in the land of the Buddha will be reborn and reside there in a state of non-retrogression." The moment one pure act of faith springs up, this faith is constituted as a state of non-retrogression through which the believer enters into a state of "right confirmation". This is so because this faith is not merely a conscious act of the self, but an actualization within the self of the reality we have been speaking of. It is called a state of non-retrogression because it is the moment at which the believer enters, instantly and irretrievably, into the certainty of rebirth. In that "atom of eternity in time," the possibility of rebirth is transformed into a necessity by the Power of the Original Vow of the Buddha. The word "direct" that appears in the phrase "the direct attainment of rebirth in the Pure Land" emphasizes the instantaneousness of the moment of conversion in which the delusory transitoriness of karma reaching back to times past without beginning is absolutely negated and birth into the Pure Land is secured and confirmed.

Earlier I used the expression "atom of time in eternity" in reference to the moment when radical evil makes itself present to self-awareness in the ground of the subject. At that time I also noted that the nothingness of the self makes itself present in that self-awareness of evil, and that very nothingness becomes the focus of conversion. The direct attainment of birth into the Pure Land must represent the same sort of movement at which a change of heart takes place. It is the movement of conversion to birth through death, the movement wherein absolute negation and absolute affirmation are one, as stated in phrases like the following: "Receiving in faith the Original Vow is the first instant, the end to life; directly attaining birth into the Pure Land is the next instant, the immediate beginning of life." It is the moment of single-minded abandonment to Amida Buddha in a pure act of faith." Therefore, as Zendo (Shan-tao) writes in the Hanshusan, "When we bow our heads in worship of the Buddha we are still in this world; when we lift them up again, we are already entered into the realm of Amida."

Keiji Nishitani (from 'Religion and Nothingness')

Sensei Ulrich
October 27, 2005