Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Koso Wasan 67

Practicers who pray for worldly benefits,
Although they may perform chiefly the saying of the
      Buddha's Name,
Are also termed people of mixed praxis;
In rejecting such practice, it is taught that not one in a
      thousand attains birth.

The Enlightenment and the Awakened One

From the time of François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694 - 1778) we have lived under the ægis of the 'Age of Enlightenment'. The main assumption of this new development in human attitudes is that we can be governed by reason rather than by authority. Since the time of Voltaire, when this view of the world became prominent, there have been many attempts to reverse what is clearly an inexorable trend.

I am not among those who would try to turn back this tide. I prefer to see this new level of human thinking as incremental; it should not be allowed to eclipse the old. Henri Atlan, who expounds the idea that mysticism (his word for 'religion') and science are unrelated but complementary fields of human endeavour, has a balanced outlook. Atlan thinks that we enrich our lives by embracing the Enligtenment of religion (Atlan is a Kabbalist) and the Enlightenment of reason together, not abandoning either.1

In this way, it is possible to live in the world that comes to us courtesy of reason - science, artificial intelligence, representative government, and so forth - and religion: which addresses our profound hunger for deep awakening, meaning, relationship to the whole and wholeness, along with a reconciliation with our manifold unnamed fears and anxieties. Religion is integral to the good life, along with science and the creative arts.

Both science (conventional and practical knowledge) and religion (higher knowledge) can fill every aspect of our life. Henri Atlan summarises his detailed thesis by way of an analogy drawn from our experience of the rules of games. He says that we can play and enjoy tennis and football, but they have nothing in common, except that they are similar forms of human endevour.

Let us learn to live in a world in which we can cherish, love and benefit from both old and new, not confusing the two; just as tennis and football have nothing in common, except that they belong to a particular genre. I sincerely believe that we find greater happiness and inner understanding if we resist the temptation to confuse the enlightenment of religion with the Enlightenment of the modern trend, which informs much that is also good and beneficial.

Together each form of Enlightenment, while remaining distinct, forms a powerful synergy.


1: Enlightenment to enlightenment ; inter-critique of science and myth, Henri Atlan, tr. Lenn J Schramm, SUNY Press, 1993.

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