Doubt as Human Calculation, Part 1 By Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji

“In this episode of No Doubt, we will take a look at the phrase “bachi ga ataru,” where one is believed to be punished for doing something wrong. In addition, what is the Shin Buddhist stance on ghosts and the supernatural? In the second segment, we will continue with the topic of doubt in Shinran Shonin’s thought. Doubt is also synonymous with human calculative thinking, human rationality and reasoning, as well as human discriminative thinking.  “

Rev. Miyaji’s podcast page: No Doubt: A Shin Buddhist Approach
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Discussed in this podcast:
Segment 1: Do we as Shin Buddhists believe in the phrase “bachi ga ataru” ?
Segment 2: Hakarai (はからい) – Doubt as Human calculation (Human discriminate thinking, human logic & reasoning)

Quoted scripture/reference:

In the search for truth there are certain questions that are unimportant. Of what material is the universe constructed? Is the universe eternal? Are there limits or not to the universe? In what way is this human society put together? What is the ideal form of organization for human society? If a man were to postpone his searching and practicing for Enlightenment until such questions were solved, he would die before he found the path.

Suppose a man were pierced by a poisoned arrow, and his relatives and friends got together to call a surgeon to have the arrow pulled out and the wound treated. If the wounded man objects, saying, “Wait a little. Before you pull it out, I want to know who shot this arrow. Was it a man or a woman? Was it someone of noble birth, or was it a peasant? What was the bow made of? Was it a big bow, or a small bow, that shot the arrow? Was it made of wood or bamboo? What was the bow-string made of? Was it made of fiber, or of gut? Was the arrow made of rattan, or of reed? What feathers were used? Before you extract the arrow, I want to know all about these things.” Then what will happen? Before all this information can be secured, no doubt, the poison will have time to circulate all through the system and the man may die. The first duty is to remove the arrow, and prevent its poison from spreading.

When a fire of passion is endangering the world, the composition of the universe matters little; what is the ideal form for the human community is not so important to deal with.


Hakarai is the noun form of a verb meaning to deliberate, analyze, and determine a course of action. It further means to arrange or manage, to work out a problem, to bring a plan to conclusion. In Shinran’s more common usage, as a synonym for self-power, it refers to all acts of intellect and will aimed at achieving liberation. Specifically, it is the Shin practicer’s efforts to make himself worthy of Amida’s compassion in his own eyes and his clinging to his judgments and designs, predicated on his own goodness, for attaining religious awakening.

For Shinran, salvation lies rather in the complete entrusting of oneself to the Primal Vow, which works to bring about “the attainment of Buddhahood by the person of evil” (A Record in Lament of Divergences 3). This working is Amida’s hakarai. Hakarai, then, possesses two opposed meanings, as a synonym for both self-power and Other Power, and its usage reflects the core of Shinran’s religious thought, where one’s calculative thinking and Amida’s working are experienced as mutually exclusive. Great compassion illumines everyone at all times, but any contrivance to attain enlightenment by cultivating one’s own virtues or capabilities – whether through moral action or religious practice – will blind one to it, making sincere trust (shinjin) impossible. Only when a person realizes his or her true nature as a foolish being (bombu), all of whose acts and thoughts arise from blind passions, does he awaken to the great compassion that grasps him just as he is. To know oneself and to know Amida’s compassion are, in fact, inseparable aspects of the same realization, and one awakens to them simultaneously. In this awakening, one’s own hakarai disappears and entrusting oneself to Amida’s Vow actually comes about for the first time. Thus Shinran states, “No working (practicer’s hakarai) is true working (Amida’s hakarai).”

As true entrusting arises wholly from Other Power, the practicer is completely passive. Even seeking to know oneself as evil or to rid oneself of hakarai in order to accord with the Primal Vow is itself hakarai, and all such effort is futile and self-defeating. This is the paradox the Shin practicer faces. The admonition against hakarai does not mean, however, that one must renounce the aspiration for enlightenment and do nothing at all. It may be said that the desire for birth arises truly only with shinjin and that prior to realization of shinjin it is overshadowed by attachment to this world. Nevertheless, aspiration even prior to realization of shinjin leads one to listen to the teaching in earnest confrontation of the problem of emancipation. Such listening will at some point be transformed into hearing (mon), which Shinran explains:

“To hear” means to hear the Primal Vow and be free of doubt (i.e., hakarai). Further, it indicates shinjin. (Notes on Once-calling and Many-calling)

This hearing, which is the realization of shinjin, is not simply to receive the verbal teaching, but to experience with one’s entire being the very reality of the Primal Vow. When great compassion wakens one to its working, one is freed from the bonds of one’s own hakarai. Conversely, when one’s calculative thinking is made to fall away, all is seen to have been Amida’s working.

From the Glossary – CWS –

Language references:

たる(bachi ga ataru) to incur divine punishment; to pay for one’s sins. can also mean You’ll pay for that!; What goes around, comes around

仏滅 (butsumetsu) Bad luck all day. The meaning of this day is twofold: “The day when even Buddha would have perished” and, more literally, “Everything is hollow and meaningless”.

身口意 (Shin Ku I) action, speech and thought

はからい (old spelling はからひ) (Hakarai) calculation (see above glossary from CWS)

Listen to more of Rev. Miyaji’s talks on this site

Rev. Miyaji’s podcast page:
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