Latest post:

(9/12) Value of self-effort
November 17th, 2018

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

(9/12) Value of self-effort
— if buddhas and bodhisattvas exist to help others

(intro to the series at
Question 9, and its answer provided by the spam:
If “buddhas” and “boddisatvas” exist to help others in achieving “nirvana” what is the true value of “self-effort”?

If, as a Buddhist, I rely on the help of a “buddha” or “boddisatva” how can my assisted work be accredited to me as Karma (or even as true obedience to the Eight Fold Path)? Doesn’t assistance negate the self-effort required to establish Karma in the first place?

I previously mentioned that the question 5/12 (on being conscious of attaining nirvāṇa) was probably the most sensible, and pointing to a difficult point of the teaching… This question 9/12 might be the second best. And it might take us through some history of Buddhist traditions!
And, as for previous 'questions', I'll pass the orthographic mistakes showing the spammer never researched seriously his own questions.

Early Buddhism much insisted on self-effort. Even if a teacher guides you to the threshold of spiritually beneficial deeds, you're still the one who can and has to walk through the door! No one can do the work for you, others can only spare you from reinventing the wheel through trial and error. At the conventional level, you're the sole responsible for your karma.

A few centuries later though, through famines and plagues, several Buddhist places had gone through tremendous difficulties in relation to practicing, so some teachers had promoted 'easier' practices, teachings adapted to difficult times (with few resources —incl. time— to spare), teachings to maintain hope that some minimal practice might still allow some form of spiritual progress.
Hence comes the notion of the "three Ages of the Dharma" and notably of the Latter Days of the Dharma, also known as the Degenerate Age, when teachings are supposed to be perverted, teachers are supposed to be primarily seeking personal benefits, etc. and therefore 'true' practice is near impossible.

Such a view on the Latter Days of the Dharma has probably proven helpful in some specific temporary circumstances, to keep some hope, to avoid depression, not to see oneself as a 'bad person' solely because circumstances do not let oneself continue practicing like in the previously better conditions…
But when the view is maintained (as the basis for a school or another) after the hard times ended, after things improved, then it generally becomes just a classical "no true Scotsman" logical fallacy —declaring without the tiniest element of proof that what's left to us is no longer 'true' Buddhism!
Unfortunately, ignorant masses love such fallacies… as they give them an excuse for minimal practices (over exerting serious efforts toward Liberation), they allow to see oneself as 'Buddhist' and 'spiritual' and 'a good person' while actually perpetuating the status quo and not pushing toward much change, much reform, much relinquishing of saṃsāra.

Japan can be a harsh country, and the "Latter Days of the Dharma" doctrine (aka. mappo there) has had much influence in Japanese Buddhism.
In particular, it became the basis for new Pure Land schools, Jōdo-shū, Jōdo Shinshū, Yūzū-nembutsu-shū and Ji-shū. It also is at the core of the esoteric Nichiren school. And competition / dialogue with other schools (e.g. Zen traditions) spread the influence of the doctrine. [cf.]
But the doctrine could previously be found in China, in Tibet, and even in India. It's not purely Japanese.

Among the Japanese schools specifically based on this doctrine, Jōdo Shin Buddhism stands out as a revolution in the thinking: while Jōdo advocated for a mix of "self-effort" (in repeating the nembustu in order to think of the Pure Land of Amitabha at the time of death, in order to be reborn there) and "other-effort" (since ultimately Amitabha is then the one offering a better place —and teachings— for us to finally be able to practice seriously), the Jōdo Shin variant (by the very important teacher Shinran) advocated counting purely on "other-effort", claiming that "self-effort" was purely illusory in the Latter Days of the Dharma and that we should simply entrust ourselves in the care of compassionate Amitabha (whose compassion does not depend on our faith or efforts anyway!).
These were serious pedagogical evolutions compared to earlier versions of "Pure Land" doctrines (cf. and Moreover, even Amitabha was initially not considered as accepting just anyone in his Pure Land: to enter his Pure Land, according to the sūtra at the basis of these schools, some conditions had to be respected, and some exceptions (preventing entry) were listed. So even the "Great Vow"of Amitabha had to be re-interpreted (cf. Personally I marvel at the creativity of Shinran, and the depth of some of his insights, to support people in difficult times (but I cannot consider that most people who interact with me live in similar times, this would appear to me as a doctrinal projection… except for a few people, actually experiencing tremendous personal difficulties!)

The funny bit is that Buddhism, even when it seems to rely on "other-effort" for Liberation from saṃsāra, then quickly reverts to some form of "self-effort".
If e.g. Avalokiteśvara (the bodhisattva of Compassion) was to intervene to help us (based on our ignorant wish to be taken care of, at times of difficulty), then this would mean this realm, this world, is his Pure Land… which, in turn, would assert that this realm, this world, is the best place for us to “practice” the eightfold path, and in particular the “compassionate" dimension of it, under the guidance and opportunities created by Avalokiteśvara !
And suddenly, it’s no longer about us being taken care of, but about us letting go of selfishness, taking care of others, wisely engaging with causality in order of reduce the suffering for all sentient beings, etc! We're back to "self-effort", only this times we have role-models to follow!
The wish to "be taken care of" is to be tapped into, in order to understand / to realise what all other beings around us want: being taken care of… or, at the very least, not having to fear us, not having to suffer because of us, being free from our ignorance and selfishness! Thus the wish to "be taken care of" leads to e.g. taking Buddhist vows to protect others, meditating to 'connect' with the bodhisattvas, or treating better those around us.

In fact, reliance on other-power can be used in Buddhism by a teacher to counteract inappropriate grasping of self-power by a student: entrusting in the care of another might help fighting conceit and self-importance []. This can be helpful when spiritual autonomy and self-effort again lead to a belief in a separate self, or a superiority complex.
An anecdote from Jodo Shin Buddhism might illustrate the point differently:
« In fact, the true act of dāna pāramitā involves giving up what we cherish the most —ultimately our ego self. I know a Dharma-school teacher who encourages the practice of dāna in children by setting an example. Once he took the students to give fruits to the homeless. In doing so, he purchased the most expensive fruits at the grocery store. When one mother complained that the homeless did not deserve such extravagance, he explained two important things about true giving. First, it requires some sacrifice on the part of the giver. To give away something that one doesn't need is not dāna. Second, the act must not be condescending but must show respect to the one who receives the gift. In fact, one is grateful to the recipient who makes the act of giving possible. »

There's not as much contradiction between Avalokiteśvara the Carer (or other buddhas and bodhisattvas) and the Buddha’s message on personal responsibility and autonomy, as the spammer naïvely believes (
Either you're already at a point where you accept personal responsibility and strive for autonomy, or you need baby steps first and role models or inspirations to follow. Ultimately, your Liberation remains your responsibility though, because no one can let go, for you, of what you grasp! The grasper of defilements is the one who has to ungrasp. The chaser for "more of this, less of that, another" and the clinger to "me, myself, mine" are the ones who have to cease chasing and clinging.

Hopefully, it is understood that even if you benefit from guidance, from inspiration, from role models, from worthy examples, then you're nonetheless the one doing the volitional deed of following these and therefore the one karmically benefitting.
There'd be no sense whatsoever in claiming that reinventing the wheel is necessary to benefit: it matters little why you behave well and stop trashing the world with your selfishness, what karmically matters is that you willingly do so! [which is also what offers a possibility for higher rebirth to ignorant beings]
If you're concerned with spiritual development, in particular to a high level, it's smart to leverage best whatever help you can get!
And yes, if you do completely reinvent the wheel, autonomously, without any help, any model, any inspiration, then you end up being a buddha yourself… and it's very meritorious but it's not necessary.

#Buddhism #Dharma