by Soga Ryojin; W. S. Yokoyama, Trans.

Note: This is a draft translation of the lead essay of the premier volume of the Kaishin [The Open Spirit] journal, which existed from 1935-44. The dates are important, as this tiny journal by a few recognized Shinshu writers was a small voice of protest in wartime Japan. Soga’s essays, 61 of the 67 in all, were later collected into a book called “Kokoro o hiraku” [“The Opening of the Spirit”] in 1958.

On the occasion of the issuing of our journal Kaishin [The Open Spirit], I, being the one who named it, am obliged to say a few words as to how this title came to be. But in truth it was pure chance I came across the title Kaishin. As we were waiting around for it to be born and had concrete indications it would, the journal sort of named itself: Kaishin, the open spirit, a meaning we may expect to become apparent as the journal comes into its own.

Let me say a few words as to the rather external process leading to my encountering the title. I first discovered this title in a phrase from the Larger Sutra of Infinite Life description of the treasure ponds adorning the Pure Land: kaishin ettai, open the spirit [mind] and relax the body. Generally, Buddhism does not speak in terms of soul (tamashii), gods (shin, kami), spirit (sei) or spirits (rei, ryo), and prefers instead to couch its arguments in terms of heart/mind (shin, i) or consciousness (shiki) to express its idea that all dharmas are without self (shoho muga). Nonetheless, in the Larger Sutra of Infinite Life section where it especially exalts the adornments of the wondrous world of the Pure Land, the words kaishin, to open the spirit, are used, a point we should pay particular attention to.

When we look at the Larger Sutra with this in mind, we find in the section on compassionate conversion that it demonstrates the karmic suffering of man stricken with the three poisons and five evils by making frequent use of such terms: kishin-seishiki shizen shu (spirit and mind arise naturally); tenshin kokushiki (the solemn bearing of the gods); jushu shinsei (at life’s end we go to the gods); shinmei saisei (the soul reborn); shingu shin’an (when the body is dull, the soul is dark); ketsufun seishin (the indignant soul); kizai shinmei (the soul whose destiny is sealed); seishin tsuku (the suffering of the soul); and in the introduction, koshin botai (the womb of fallen souls). I cannot read these scriptural passages without being painfully aware of the powerful influence karma exerts on our lives.

Indeed, between the solemn bearing of the gods and the suffering of the soul, between the gods and the soul, there seems to be a distinction being made as to what is chosen or rejected, high or low, great or small, but together they impose on us a sense of awe before the divine. This [sense of awe] would seem to be qualitatively different from the serene and calm sense of the dharmic activity derived from terms such as Buddha, tathagata, heart, mind, or consciousness.

Why does the former impose on us a sense of awe before the divine, and the [latter] have us follow the serene and calm? Why should the former want us to put our trust in what is irrational (fu-gori), while the latter would have us trust in a principle that is pure and true? This is because, as long as we exist in a defiled land where we walk the path of karma, it is absolutely impossible for us to transcend that karmic path; against this, it is only through the Pure Land of the Original Vow that we, while leading lives in the world of karmic pursuits, are able to go beyond [what would be our fate]. Thus, in kaishin, the word kai, or opening, well symbolizes the event in this world of stringencies where the soul, while following the karmic path, at the same time intermingles with the natural activity of the Way, to go beyond..

July, 1935