​​​​​Ohigan: "Metaphor for Transformative Change"

By Rev. Tetsuo Unno

​With regard to what is meant by "transformative change," there is, intellectually, the example of Helen Keller who lost her sight and hearing at the age of 19 months. Under the wise and compassionate guidance of her Teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy, she made the giant leap from a world devoid of all words and concepts to a world brimming with words and concepts, so much so that eventually Helen Keller became the best-selling author of six or more books. 

Another  example would be when a man or woman suffering from delusions such as "I am inferior", "I am unlovable", or "I am neurotic", has suddenly realized through their own powers or with therapy, that in reality "I am neither this nor that" but above all else, fundamentally, "I simply AM" period.  With this insight, they cross over from illness to the world of health.

Another example would include the Tokugawa Zen Master, Bankei Eitaku, who relates now in his attempt to attain full satori, he became deathly ill toward the end, and bleeding from his rear end and spitting up congealed blood he, in a flash of insight, understood that "Everything is perfectly managed with the Unborn."  In this narrative, Bankei took the transcendent leap from this relative world to the Other Shore (which is the English translation for "Higan") of the Absolute; or in his word to the dimension of the "Unborn", the world that exists prior to the birth of the relative, dualistic world. 

In Buddhism per se, this sudden transformation is metaphorically expressed as going from this shore to the Other Shore (Higan).  Moving from a state of Ignorance to Wisdom, from Bondage to Freedom, from Suffering to Bliss, from Defilement to Purity, and from Impermanence to Permanence.

To make this crossing to the Other Shore, Theravada Buddhists try to stop the mind from being distracted and through this to look inward into the fundamental lack of a substantive ego, self, or "I", or the source of all suffering.  Rinzai Zen monks attempt to do so by intense meditations on conundrums called "Koans" and ultimately, breaking through to the other shore of an emptiness so thorough that it is empty of emptiness.  Soto Zennists make the crossing by "Just Sitting" in meditation and seeing that the "Other Shore" is fully present in the very act of "Just Sitting".

Shin Buddhists, on the other hand, realize with absolute contrition, that we are by nature incapable of any of the Paths described above.  Therefore, with decisive finality, we entrust ourselves wholly to the Other-Power or "Tariki"; we entrust ourselves to Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow of Unconditional Salvation.  In that moment an act of absolute entrusting, we are, in essence, instantaneously carried over to the Other Shore.  More precisely, one's mind and heart is transported there but one's body remains subject to the limitations of earthly Karma.

"Higan" is observed during the seven days that surround the Spring and Fall equinoxes in the months of March and September.  It is a period in which the ideal weather was thought to be eminently conducive for listening to and meditating on the Buddhadharma, a practice that is carried onto this present day.



This Dharma Message was reprinted from Dharma Talks of the Four Seasons No. 2 which is available for purchase from Hongwanji Place.  Rev. Unno is a long-time minister in the Southern District.  

​​Dharma Message- January 2019

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