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Pure Land Buddhism


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On other forums I have run threads on Pure Land Buddhism. My memory has been playing tricks with me, as I did think that I had done so here. The idea came to me to add the "tos and fros" on another forum (a more "Orthodox/Conservative" one where my posts met with what could be termed "objections"...... :D ) to the end of the thread I had thought I had run here. However, on looking, such has not been the case.


So I will begin a thread and anyone interested can post comments.


I have mentioned the Pure Land (Shin) form of the Buddhist faith many times - and now I see without specific reference. I see no reason why I should not cut and paste from my posts on the other forum...............so here we go.

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To just use the term "Pure Land" is a simplification, as there are many expressions, and Pure Land itself is just one of various expressions of Mahayana Buddhism, which is itself just one of the various expressions of Buddhism itself. And "Buddhism" itself is really just a "western" term stuck onto the Buddhadharma (The way of the Buddha). The West loves its "isms" and "ologies", even its "ainities"......


What is it that attracts me?



I find in many Pure Land writings an identification with an honest admission of failure, a recognition that we cannot - and will not - make it alone, yet all embraced by Infinite Compassion. It is this dual perspective, its existential reality, that draws me to the Pure Land! Darkness "illuminates" light, light illuminates darkness. This all - for me - revolves around "acceptance", acceptance of ourselves and acceptance of others.


Perhaps to illuminate my own words, and to expand upon them, I would really need to tell my auto-biography. Each of us is a unique individual, and possibly what would draw one towards a particular expression of the Universal would repel another - as Jung has said "there is absolutely no truth that does not spell salvation to one person and damnation to another. All universalisms get stuck in this terrible dilemma." My own path weaved through Fundamentalist Christianity, Atheism and then a very liberal Christianity, then Theravada Buddhism (when I began meditating following a two year bout of severe depression) - and these are only the main sign-posts. Yet there came a point where the questions posed by my own "individuality" seemed to demand another course. I remember at one time posting on the Buddhist forum that I had a growing disatisfaction with certain Theravada teachings, basically because in my eyes it was fundamentally monastic in origin and therefore, at heart, had very little to say to lay people and the lives they lived from day to day. Someone responded at that time, telling me a lot about the Theravada teachings for lay people, and advising me to look them up. I only found out later that this poster was in fact a "Pure Lander", and I found this deeply moving, that he had seen my questions not as an opportunity to "push" his own choice and preference, but had answered instead according to what he understood to be my own need. Anyway, gradually I learned more and more concerning the Pure Land path and found that, being fundamentally lay based and also totally egalitarian (I've always had a hang up concerning so called "masters" and the "need" for them in Buddhism) it spoke to me.


I suppose for me the Pure Land way combines certain Christian teachings concerning the efficacy of "grace" and "other power" with all that I have found illuminating in the Dharma. It also explicitly teaches a "universal" salvation with no "double destiny". Again, it understands enlightenment in such a way as to be illuminated itself by the experience of many Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart and St John of the Cross.............I suppose this appeals to my own heart-felt desire for unity and peace between the Faiths.


To become even more personal, a few years ago I identified the need for "trust" in my life. The words of Shinran ( one of the "founding fathers" of Pure Land Buddhism), where he spoke of "self-power" practices as being obstructions to true surrender, seemed to make a great deal of sense. As an experiment - and with a great deal of trepidation -I ceased meditation, and began to say the nembutsu. The rest is silence! (I would just say that now I find that my reading is often a "meditation" in itself - some sort of "compensation mechanism". Often a word, or a short phrase, will initiate a long period of contemplation where the intent of the words sinks in and finds its rest within)


Anyway, enough for now. If this is of interest to anyone, so be it. If not, so be it. I will continue to post bits and pieces........smile.gif

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What is it that attracts me?


I find in many Pure Land writings an identification with an honest admission of failure, a recognition that we cannot - and will not - make it alone, yet all embraced by Infinite Compassion. It is this dual perspective, its existential reality, that draws me to the Pure Land! Darkness "illuminates" light, light illuminates darkness. This all - for me - revolves around "acceptance", acceptance of ourselves and acceptance of others.



As one might say on Facebook "I like this" Bold emphasis is mine.



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Joseph, the significance of "acceptance" - at least for me - runs throughout all of Reality. Pure mindfulness reveals how I have spent - and spend - much time seeking to become, yet it is not to become, but to be. And paradoxically, genuine transformation seems to come from pure recognition/acceptance, rather than contorted attempts to change.

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To move on, an excerpt from a essay entitled "Shinran's Vision of Absolute Compassion". The excerpt gives a simple overview of the Pure Land understanding of Reality-as-is (Amida), of the nature of grace, and the nature of the "religious" life. (Shinran was a Buddhist who lived in 12/13th century Japan, one of the "founding fathers" of the form of the Pure Land way that developed in Japan)


According to Shinran, salvation is entirely a matter of the Vow* (Grace). It does not hang on events and conditions of time and space, or the imposition of man and society. Salvation cannot rest on chance factors. Shinran makes it clear that the reality of Grace requires nothing from the side of man, including the act of faith, as the causal basis for birth in the Pure Land. Otherwise the emphasis on the Vow (Grace) would be devoid of meaning and significance. Our residual karmic bondage may influence the point in our experience when we become aware of Amida's compassion, but it is not a factor in determining whether or not we actually receive that compassion.


We are suggesting that from the standpoint of Grace (the Vow) all are equally saved even now, despite the presence or absence of the experience of faith itself. The reason for this is that salvation depends on Grace and not on any finite condition.


Someone may ask then what is the point of being religious, if we are saved in any case? This is an important question. However, it reflects the virtually universal notion that religion is a means to an end. We get the benefit of salvation from being religious. For Shinran, however, religion becomes the way to express gratitude for the compassion that supports all our life. It is not a tool for ego advancement or gaining benefits.


The point of being religious for Shinran is that when we come to have faith in the Original Vow (Grace) and live in its light, we truly become free to live a full and meaningful existence in this life.


Shinran's perspective permits a person to see deeply into their life to detect the springs of compassion which sustains it; it allows them to participate and associate with all types of people despite their unattractiveness or difficulty because they understand the potentiality that works in their very being. In perceiving the compassion that embraces all life, the person of faith can themselves become an expression of that compassion touching the lives of others.


(From "Shinran's Vision of Absolute Compassion" by Alfred Bloom, contained within "Living Within Amida's Universal Vow" )


Such words explain from a Pure Land perspective why an "act of faith" - or a choice to "believe" - is seen to be an act of self-power, if such act is considered to be decisive for "salvation"......if seen as initiating a transition from "lost" to "saved".....if seen as determining the attitude of the "divine" towards us in any way.........if seen as transforming such an attitude (of the Divine) from "wrath" to "love and acceptance".......etc etc etc. In fact, a refutation of "Born Again" Conservative Christianity.



And just to illuminate the words further, the following....


......again from the pen of Shinran, from "Hymns of the Pure Land Masters", verse 95......


My eyes being hindered by blind passions,

I cannot perceive the light that grasps me;

Yet the great compassion, without tiring,

Illumines me always


And for my Christian friends, from Julian of Norwich on the same theme......


If there be anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.



(P.S.* "The Vow" can be understood as the Primal Will of Reality-as-is that ALL will come to enlightenment, and of the tireless working within - and as - each unique human heart within space and time of that will, to bring it to fruition)


Edited by tariki
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One thing I have come to love - about Pure Land - is the part reliance , not upon the words of a "sacred" text, but on the various anecdotes of devotees. For me this has developed into a love of biographies and autobiographies, where Reality-as-is finds its place in - and as - individual hearts and minds, becomes their life and the events within it.


Like the following.......


Great compassion awaits us with open arms. Namu-Amida-Butsu is the beckoning call, "Come, just as you are."


This openhearted welcome is quietly described by Koshin Ogui in an article carried in the Cleveland Buddhist Temple Newsletter. He relates an experience he once had of returning home from a trip. In his absence the answering machine had recorded four phone calls from the same person. The message was, "Jesus is the only saviour. Believe in him and you'll be saved. Love him and you'll be loved. Anyone who does not believe in him will go to hell." Ogui comments.....


What do you say about this message? I don't know why, but then I recalled meeting with my mother on my recent trip to Japan. I hadn't seen her for five years. As soon as I opened the door to the house where I was born, there she was standing right in front of me. She didn't say anything much, but she held my hand and with tears in her eyes, she said, "You came home." Isn't that nice, to be welcomed without any justification, whether I believe in her or not. I realize that I have always been living in her love. I am grateful. Namu-Amida-Butsu.

(From "River of Fire, River of Water" by Taitetsu Unno)

Sadly, when I posted much the same as this on a Christian Forum the response was that, given that I claimed to rely upon "man" and the testimonies of man, rather than relying upon "the word of God", I was "lost". Such is life.



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What do you say about this message? I don't know why, but then I recalled meeting with my mother on my recent trip to Japan. I hadn't seen her for five years. As soon as I opened the door to the house where I was born, there she was standing right in front of me. She didn't say anything much, but she held my hand and with tears in her eyes, she said, "You came home." Isn't that nice, to be welcomed without any justification, whether I believe in her or not. I realize that I have always been living in her love. I am grateful. Namu-Amida-Butsu.


(From "River of Fire, River of Water" by Taitetsu Unno)



Such is also my experience. It seems to me that it is only the lack of awareness that we have always been and are presently in that love that makes us think that we need justification to make it so. A simple experience of that love can confirm this and become a life changing event yet one can also give it up to the traditions of men which tells us it must be earned which in my view, serves only to feed ego and put a veil between that awareness and the Truth.



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Pure Land Buddhism represents a segment of humanity.


I see this as touching upon the heart of faith, in as much as many would seem to insist that any "segment" is an indispensable part of some sort of mechanics of salvation/enlightenment and that such enlightenment would be impossible without it. From my own perspective this points to the difference between the "word of God" and the Word of God. For me, the Word is to be found everywhere, and is everywhere, for those with the grace to see.

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D.T.Suzuki (who is more associated with Zen Buddhism, but had a deep affinity with the Shin - Pure Land - expression of the Buddhist Faith) wrote once of how Amida is known to those that look to him/her as the source of grace.


It comes from the book he wrote (or spoke, as it is based upon lectures he gave while in New York in 1958, when Suzuki was 88 years old)


.....we believe in Amida Buddha as our Oya-sama, or Oya-san, as it is sometimes called. It is the term used to express love and compassion. Oya means parent, but not either parent, rather both mother and father; not separate personalities, but both fatherly and motherly qualities united in one personality. The honorific san is the familiar form of sama. The latter, Oya-sama,is the standard form. In Christianity, God is addressed as the Father - "Our father who art in Heaven" - but Oya-sama is not in Heaven, nor is Oya-sama Father. It is incorrect to say "he" or "she," for no gender distinction is found. I don't like to say "it," so I don't know what to say. Oya-sama is a unique word, deeply endearing and at the same time rich with religious significance and warmth.


Maybe this highlights the limitations of language - even worse, how language can control and direct our thoughts, even keep them in captivity. Just as a slight detour, there is the "eastern" notion of the Tao, as "defined" at the very beginning of the Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching.....


The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

The name that can be named is not the eternal name.


In the Chinese translation of St John's gospel, the word "Tao" is used for "Word"..........In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God....or....In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God.


It seems fairly obvious to me that a mind/heart that has lived within a culture where the ideas and expressions of the Tao Te Ching are prevalent would understand the opening of the gospel in a different light from a mind/heart in which God is often seen as "up there", "out there", even as a "man".

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In the Pure Land way, way back in time, it was said that to be "saved" one must entrust themselves fully to the Vow of Amida. Such entrusting was seen to have three aspects, i.e. sincerity, trust itself, and aspiration - these also known as sincere mind, deep mind, and the mind that aspired for birth (in the Pure Land) and for the directing of virtue. These conditions needed to be "fulfilled."


Shinran (13th century) fundamentally altered this understanding by taking "sincere mind" not as the devotees "sincerity", but rather the true and real mind of Amida. Thus, a person does not "sincerely" entrust themselves, but rather the "sincere mind" of Amida is given - by grace - to the person, and this manifests as the person's entrusting and aspiration. Simply put, a Pure Lander trusts the "nature" of Amida (Reality-as-is), not their own, however directed or understood, within or without.


(Or, in Christian terms, one trusts in Grace, not in the strength of ones own belief. And this is within the context of realising that which is eternally, of recognising the unchanging nature of the Divine. Such recognition grants us nothing for it is already the reality in which we "live and move and have our being." We just did not know it.)


Faith does not arise

Within oneself.

The Entrusting Heart is itself

Given by the Other Power. (Rennyo)


This can be experienced to extend to our seeing of the depths of our "sin" (or, in Pure Land terms, our karmic inheritance) The only thing that brings us/allows us, to SEE the full extent of our darkness, is by the light of the infinite compassion of Amida (Reality-as-is). Thus seeing it, is the forgiveness of it. There are no mechanics or "transaction" involved i.e. seeing it, acknowledging it, repenting of it, accepting a substitute in our place to atone for it and then receiving forgiveness for it, and thus switching from being under God's wrath to being transferred to the "Book of Life".


(I would just add that the "beauty" of such seeing is that it brings our hearts into line with all others. The deeper we see our "sin" the more, when the "sin" of others is seen, we - rather than judge - just react spontaneously in the sense of "yes, just like me!" ("You ARE that man!" as David was told in the Biblical story) So we have William Blake's....."mutual forgiveness of each vice opens the gates of paradise", long a favorite of mine.


And all this against the Pure Land background.....


The gift/grace coming from Amida is a free gift, for He/She never asks anything in exchange or in compensation. When the sinner (Japanese ki = jiriki = self-powered person) utters "namu-amida-butsu" in all sincerity they are at once made conscious of their being from the first with Amida and in Amida. There has never been any sort of alienation or estrangement between Amida and the sinner. It was all due to the latter's illusive ideas cherished about themselves. When they are wiped away, they realise that the sun has always been there and they find themselves basking in its light of infinity.


(D T Suzuki, from "Notes to Saichi's Journals", an essay in "Mysticism Christian and Buddhist" )

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There is a painting by Rembrandt, the "Return of the Prodigal". The most significant figure in the picture - rather than the prodigal son himself - could be seen to be the son who stayed at home and "fulfilled all righteousness". He looks on upon the reconciliation between the Father and the prodigal with a certain degree of incomprehension. It just seems to me that sometimes the "christian life" becomes not a self-emptying/sanctification, but often a transformation back into the incomprehension of the son who stayed at home. The "choice" for God, the "seeking" for God, have become "works", works which are then thrown in the face of those who have made no such choice, who have not sought with quite the same degree of endeavour that we ourselves have made. So be it.



Anyway, moving on, there is a statue of Amida that stands outside one of the Pure Land (Shin) temples in Japan. It is called "Amida Looking Back." The statue shows Amida with her/his hands in the mudra's (hand positions) of "teaching" and "fear not". In other words, the call is to come and hear the teachings, and cease to fear. Yet Amida is shown turning her head, for her first thought is for those who do not, or cannot come, for whatever reason. The ones who will not "make it" without special favour and grace.


That is very much the heart of Shin. And perhaps much more.

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At one time I opened a thread on the Pure Land "saints" and mentioned there that "Saints" is not the correct word, they are in fact known (in Japanese) as myokonin.


'Myokonin' literally means a wondrous, excellent person. It is used for a devout follower of Pure Land Buddhism. A myokonin lives a life of total dedication to Amida, and their acts and sayings, though they often run counter to common sense, reveal their depth of faith and true humanity.


One of their number, the cobbler Saichi, wrote...


The love that inspired Oya-sama to go through

All the sufferings and all the hardships -

I thought I was simply to listen to the story,

But that was a grievous mistake, I find.


(Oya-sama.......see previous post on this thread)


For me Saichi's words - in part - point to the reason why many are "dead" to any form of inter-faith dialogue. The words point to the need to engage existentially with the true heart of any faith before one can "know it" in any worthwhile or genuine manner. For me, this is the significance of the Biblical Proverb:- "They who answer a thing before they hear it, it is a shame and a folly unto them."


What is it to truly "hear"? Is it to merely read, only seeking to refute?


Anyway, obviously it is up to each of us to seek an honest answer in our own hearts as to how much we have really "heard" of any faith but our own, before it is possibly rejected as "worthless".


Just as an offering to my Christian friends here, a word on "saints" by Thomas Merton, from his book "New Seeds of Contemplation"....


The saints are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else.

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For me the Pure Land way offers the encouragement to be totally honest with oneself and ones feelings and fears, such is one's trust in Amida's (Reality-as-is) Compassion and Infinite Light. For me, Amida is another name for the nameless, that can take whatever name, the will that works tirelessly throughout Reality - or, as reality - for the ultimate enlightenment of all. All experience has the potential to bring enlightenment; even the moments of apparent failure, of deep existential anxiety, can be transformed by pure acceptance, the embrace of Infinite Compassion. And my own experience is that this can be so virtually in spite of our own "beliefs" and "strategies" rather than because of them. There is a technical term in the Pure Land teachings that means "to become so of itself, not by calculation" and for me this means that it is not my own "understanding" or grasp of truth that brings genuine trust/faith, but Other Power.


This is expressed by some words of a Pure Land devotee......


In the timeless process of birth-and-death,

for the first time I was made to realize

the Other Power of Amida Buddha.

My understanding resulted from listening,

but listening is nothing but a little scratch on a precious gem.

I trusted my understanding instead of trusting Amida.

Until now I was satisfied with my understanding.

But, my understanding does not save me;

It is Amida who saves me.



For me, all the theologies of the world are "little scratches on a precious gem". They have their uses yet ultimately faith is more a letting go (of "self" and its strategies) than a clinging to them, or in Christian apophatic (negative) terms, more a "darkness" than a light.


Anyway, just to finish, another "ode" from the pen of the Pure Land "saint" Saichi.........


Nothing is left to Saichi,

Except a joyful heart nothing is left to him.

Neither good nor bad has he, all is taken away from him;

Nothing is left to him!

To have nothing - how completely satisfying!

Everything has been carried away by the 'Namu-amida-butsu'.

He is thoroughly at home with himself:

This is indeed the 'Namu-amida-butsu'.

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One of the "founding fathers" of Shin Buddhism, Shinran, in effect turned history upside down. He understood all reality as the expression of the "Vow mind", as the manifestation of "suchness", as everlasting activities of salvation, Upaya. From this viewpoint, the historical Buddha - and his own teachings - become just one expression within time of the "primal will" that all sentient beings come to realize enlightenment/salvation. Pure Land teachings may or may not be deemed to be derived from him (the historical Buddha) - for, to a certain extent, from such a perspective, this becomes irrelevant. I'd like to add that I am not particularly arguing for Shinran's point of view, merely attempting to explain it. Yet reflecting upon it, the perspective of Shinran can be understood as some sort of guard against fundamentalism, in as much as any expression of spirituality can be understood as being within the orbit of the "divine will" that all be "saved"..........or so it seems to me....


This is all in keeping with many Buddhist sutta's/sutra's........


The Lord speaks with but one voice, but all beings, each according to their kind, gain understanding, each thinking that the Lord speaks their own language. This is a special quality of the Buddha. The Lord speaks with but one voice, but all beings, each according to their own ability, act upon it, and each derives the appropriate benefit. This is a special quality of the Buddha.


(Vimalakirti Sutra)



Just as the nature of the earth is one

While beings each live separately,

And the earth has no thought of oneness or difference,

So is the truth of all Buddhas.


Just as the ocean is one

With millions of different waves,

Yet the water is no different:

So is the truth of all Buddhas.


Just as the element earth, while one,

Can produce various sprouts,

Yet it's not that the earth is diverse:

So is the truth of all Buddhas.


(Hua-Yen Sutra)



I bring fullness and satisfaction to the world,

like rain that spreads its moisture everywhere.

Eminent and lowly, superior and inferior,

observers of precepts, violators of precepts,

those fully endowed with proper demeanor,

those not fully endowed,

those of correct views, of erroneous views,

of keen capacity, of dull capacity -

I cause the Dharma rain to rain on all equally,

never lax or neglectful.

When all the various living beings

hear my Law,

they receive it according to their power,

dwelling in their different environments.....

..The Law of the Buddhas

is constantly of a single flavour,

causing the many worlds

to attain full satisfaction everywhere;

by practicing gradually and stage by stage,

all beings can gain the fruits of the way.


(The Lotus Sutra, Parable of the Dharma Rain)


Certainly, as I see it, to posit the idea that the Divine - however conceived - has "written" just one book as a prime means of communication, with just one intended meaning, is ultimately incoherent and indefensible.


I will continue to believe (and even continue to observe) that, for those who have the faith that ultimately the Cosmos we live in is benign and means us no harm, for such, the truth of this can be found in all places, at all times.....if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.


All this relates - at least for me - with a "beautiful paradox" that I have spoken of before, drawn from the words of Thomas Merton.... It comes from a letter written to E.D.Andrews, an expert on the life and beliefs of the Shakers (or the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing). Andrews had sent Merton a copy of his book, Shaker Furniture, and Merton was responding to the gift.


This wordless simplicity, in which the works of quiet and holy people speak humbly for themselves. How important that is in our day, when we are flooded with a tidal wave of meaningless words: and worse still when in the void of those words the sinister power of hatred and destruction is at work. The Shakers remain as witnesses to the fact that only humility keeps man in communion with truth, and first of all with his own inner truth. This one must know without knowing it, as they did. For as soon as a man becomes aware of "his truth" he lets go of it and embraces an illusion.

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