AAR2020 NA Panel: “Other Power” in Indian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese Buddhism

This event was recorded. Video of this panel is available on the University of British Columbia’s website here:


Due to the ongoing coronavirus situation, the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting, originally scheduled to be held in Boston, has been moved to an entirely online or virtual format. Please see the the AAR website for additional information.

Accordingly, the North American District of the IASBS has elected to continue with its plans to hold the following event as an online webinar generously sponsored by the Univeristy of British Columbia. The panel organizers wish to thank Dr. Jessica Main and her staff for all their support.

More information on how to access the webinar is forthcoming.

December 16, 2020, 17:00 (5 p.m.) Pacific Time

“Other Power” in Indian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese Buddhism: Its Nature and Role in Buddhist Awakening

The doctrine of “Other Power” continues to perplex many Buddhists and even Buddhist scholars, who consider it antithetical to the foundational Buddhist spirit of self-cultivation. For many, it even reminds them of “grace” in Christianity. Further, it is often seen to be a teaching exclusive to Pure Land Buddhism. It is true that the controversy between “Other Power” and “Self Power” reached its highest intensity in Japanese Buddhism among the disciples of the 12th century Pure Land master Honen. Then Shinran, Honen’s disciple, took it to its extreme in the doctrine of exclusive or absolute Other Power while negating Self Power. However, if we define Other Power as the “spiritual working or power for the seeking self,” it is found widely throughout the development of Mahayana thought from India to Central Asia and to East Asia. The five panelists will explore the nature and role of Other Power in this first of a two-part panel sessions, conducted over a two-year period. This will culminate in an exploration at the 2021 panel focused on Shinran’s Other Power doctrine.


David Eckel, Boston University

The Logic of Other-Power in the Philosophy of the Indian Mahāyāna

Normally Indian Buddhist philosophers like Bhāviveka, Candrakīrti, and Śāntideva would seem unlikely places to look for the ideas that animated the traditions of Other-Power in the rest of the Mahāyāna. After all, they seem to rely almost exclusively on their own powers of rational investigation. But the works of these philosophers are deeply infused by patterns of thought that under-girded the practice of devotion to Buddhas and bodhisattvas in East Asia. This paper will focus particularly on the concept of the “previous vow” (pūrva-praṇidhāna) in Indian accounts of the bodhisattva path and explore its relationship to the underlying concept of Emptiness.”

Kenneth K. Tanaka, Musashino University

The Other Power in Indian Tathagatagarbha Thought: Reassessing the Dichotomy Drawn between Other Power and ‘Buddha Nature’

Tathāgatagarbha thought is known for its teaching of “Sentient beings possessing Tathāgata nature within,” which later in East Asian Buddhism came to be articulated as “Buddha nature.” This teaching that emphasizes the potentiality within each sentient beings is often portrayed as being in opposition to Other Power, which is regarded to lie external to sentient beings. However, it turns out the teaching of “Tathāgata nature within” (or Buddha nature) has a much more nuanced relationship with the teaching of Dharmakāya, Buddhatā, or Tathatā, which is none other than what we are calling, the “Other Power dimension.” This paper examines this relationship as discussed in Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyanottaraśāstram (An Analysis of the Nature of the Three Jewels being a Treatise on the Ultimate Doctrine of the Great Vehicle,『究竟一乗寶性論』), a representative Tathāgatagarbha treatise from the 5th century authored by Sāramati.

David Matsumoto, Institute of Buddhist Studies, Graduate Theological Union

Other Power Element in Chinese Buddhist Thought: With a Focus on Tanluan

A. Charles Muller, Musashino University

Cases of Other-Power Soteriology in Korean Buddhism

While Korean Buddhism never developed a distinct Pure Land tradition analogous to the Japanese Jōdo-shū or Jōdoshin-shū, Korean Buddhists were well aware of, and frequently discussed issues of other-power and the Pure Land. The case of Wonhyo is often the first cited, as he is reputed to have given up his scholarly work late in life in order to travel around the countryside, teaching people how to recite the yeombul (nenbutsu), and he also wrote influential commentaries on the Pure Land sutras. But the issue of other-power is also discussed in the works of various Cheontae and Seon scholars over the centuries. Most engaging, however, is the modern treatment by Sung Bae Park of the relation of other-power to the Zen notion of sudden enlightenment in his book Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment. There Park argues that the standard notions of Zen enlightenment as self-power and (True) Pure Land as other-power being entirely distinct–even opposed to each other, may not actually stand in opposition if they are looked at from the perspective of the kind of faith involved in their development. For Park, the key correlation between the shinjin espoused by Shinran, and the Patriarchal Faith articulated by Jinul is that they both indicate a level of “non-retrogressing” 不退轉 faith. In my paper, after reviewing the situation in Korea, I will examine Park’s argument against the background of the other presentations in this panel.

Mark Blum, University of California, Berkeley

Conceptions of Other-Power in Japan

Although it has roots in Chinese translations of Indic Buddhist materials with a variety of meanings, the usage of the term “other-power” (tariki) in Japan becomes a technical term in reference to the supernormal powers of buddhas and bodhisattvas used to mark notions of faith, merit, and access to apotropaic power prior to the thirteenth century and from the thirteenth century on notions of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. This change begins in the generation that follows Hōnen (1133-1212) when the term appears as both noun and adjective in critical writings among Hōnen’s disciples in their varying analyses of his thought. This paper will trace the use of various forms of the “language of exalted power” prior to Hōnen, always expressed as nouns, and then offer a summary of the adjectival usage of “other power” used to apply notions of power in what I call “a hermeneutic of praxis” that begins with Hōnen and markedly heats up throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, mostly focusing on the mental state of the practitioner dedicated to nenbutsu practice, wherein other-power changes is contrasted with “self-power”, that becomes a pejorative label marking heterodox views or a simple lack of faith.