For the most part, Jodo Shin Buddhism is almost unknown in the West up until recently. The work of the Unno’s have done a lot to bring interest to the tradition in the States. Before the Unno’s there was Dr. Alfred Bloom and you will find both of there writings in these articles in Tricycle Magazine, they been featuring article on our tradition. Here is a great reference for those interested in the Jodo Shin tradition of Buddhism as shared in the pages of Tricycle.
When I first came to Buddhism, I was fascinated about how doctrinaire it could be and it felt a lot like the judeo-christian world with all the arguments about purity of doctrine and who was right and wrong. For those new to Buddhism, you will see that in the different schools. thankfully there are the 84,000 Dharma-doors – there are innumerable paths to enlightenment. One area that has much disagreement is the idea of the Pure Land.
For some the Buddhist Pure Land is another realm where we are able to do the practice in purity and grace after we die and return as bodhisattvas to bring others to the Pure Land. The first component of the Pure Land, Amida Buddha, is the master of the land. The Pure Land is a place where Amida Buddha is teaching and his spirit pervades, where
“In the ponds, at all times, lotuses of various colors as large as
chariot-wheels are in bloom. Blue flowers radiate blue light, brilliance and
splendor; yellow ones radiate yellow light, brilliance and splendor; red ones
radiate red light, brilliance and splendor; white ones radiate white light,
brilliance and splendor; four-colored ones radiate four-colored light,
brilliance and splendor. Shariputra, that Buddha-land is full of such glorious
adornments of supreme qualities, which are most pleasing to the mind. For this
reason, that land is called ‘Utmost Bliss.’ THE SUTRA ON PRAISE OF THE PURE LAND
Like I said, for man this is what the Pure Land is for them, I personal do not know. Shonin Shinran the founder of Shin seems to clearly teach that it is an actual place in another realm where we go when we die. It’s possible.
For my daily engagement with the world I like to look at the Pure Land in two ways, The first is from Thich Nhat Hanh and what he has said about the Pure Land….
” The notion that the Pure Land is an exterior reality, a place to be found far away in the western direction, is just for beginners. If we deepen our practice, the Buddha and the Buddha’s land become a reality in our mind. Our ancestral teachers have always said this. If we practice well, we can experience Amitabha Buddha and the Pure Land wherever we are in the present moment.” –
I also like what Rijin Yasuda a Shin Priest wrote about the Pure Land
“People say various things about birth in the Pure Land. But could there be any greater ‘birth in the Pure Land’ than the fact that we are now sitting and learning sitting and learning the Dharma together? This place where we are listening to the Dharma together is the Pure Land. Our being allowed to be part of this place, of this Sangha, is ‘birth in the Pure Land.’ Do you think that you can have anything greater than this in your life—the fact that you are listening to the Dharma as a member of the Sangha? Some people may speak about the wonderful things to be obtained in the Pure Land after death, but those things are nothing but projections of human greed. The fact that we are privileged to be part of the Sangha is our liberation, our “birth in the Pure Land.'”
I like these two sentiments.
In the end I think my mythological mind embraces the first idea about the Pure Land and the lotuses of various colors as large as chariot-wheels are in bloom. Blue flowers radiate blue light, brilliance and splendor; there is something poetic about it. And I would say that my daily mind / present mind embraces the second ideas.
How about you?
Blinded by Passions
passions , I
out loud in
of my own
to the Other
in the light
namu amida butsu
The Buddha Within
The Voiceless voice
she calls out to me,
with these lips
& this breath.
Astonished that even
as I am, the Buddha
& I are one.
Namu Amida Butsu
My Foolish Self
My blind self
pierced by Amida’s light
illuminated and dissolved
into the great ocean of compassion
into the Oneness of life
Palms together, embraced
just as I am. each step
with the Buddha,
my truest self,
my Amida self,
the deep flow of the oneness of realty
all beings one with me
palms together and bowing
namu amida butsu,
embraced just as I am.
A few thoughts on Right Livelihood.
Right livelihood (samyag-ājīva / sammā-ājīva). This means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings.
And what is right livelihood? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood: This is called right livelihood.
More concretely today interpretations include “work and career need to be integrated into life as a Buddhist,” it is also an ethical livelihood, “wealth obtained through rightful means” (Bhikku Basnagoda Rahula) – that means being honest and ethical in business dealings, not to cheat, lie or steal. As people are spending most of their time at work, it’s important to assess how our work affects our mind and heart. So important questions include “How can work become meaningful? How can it be a support, not a hindrance, to spiritual practice — a place to deepen our awareness and kindness?”
- Business in weapons: trading in all kinds of weapons and instruments for killing.
- Business in human beings: slave trading, prostitution, or the buying and selling of children or adults.
- Business in meat: “meat” refers to the bodies of beings after they are killed. This includes breeding animals for slaughter.
- Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs.
- Business in poison: producing or trading in any kind of poison or a toxic product designed to kill.
Pure Land Shin Buddhism
I want to look at this from a different angle. Early in the founding days of Shin Buddhist Tradition, Honen wanted to teach everyone the Path but could not until he was banished by the emperor to live among the poor and outcast and so he began teaching anyone who would listen to him about the nembutsu path; fortune -tellers, fishermen, prostitutes, ex-robbers, butchers, samurai and other elements of society that were normally excluded from Buddhist practice; the outcasts. Honen knew, that because of our blind passions, and our ego-entagled selves, we were all outcasts from the Pure Land or Enlightenment and because of the Compassion of Amida, we outcasts were welcomed home. Honen and Shinran taught that everyone was accepted and no one was excluded because of their type of work.
So what does this have to do with Right Livelihood? Lets’ look at this quote about Kuan -yin one of the manifestations of Amida Buddha.
Kuan-yin hears the sounds of the world — the sounds of suffering, and sounds of joy as well. She hears the announcements of birds and children, of thunder and ocean, and is formed by them. In one of her representations she has a thousand arms, and each hand holds an instrument of work: a hammer, a trowel, a pen, a cooking utensil, a vajra. She has allowed the world to cultivate her character, and also has mustered herself to develop the skills to make her character effective. She is the archetype of right livelihood: one who uses the tools of the workaday world to nurture all beings and turn the Wheel of the Dharma.”
Excerpted from “Right Livelihood for the Western Buddhist” by Robert Aitken.
What does this mean to you?
Sometimes, because of circumstance or maybe even karmic debt we are unable to change our livelihoods, What is to be done then? Here is a favorite story from the life of Honen,
Honen met a woman who was a prostitute, and she begged him for help. He told her that if at all possible, she should quit what she’s doing, but if this is not possible, then she should sincerely recite Amida’s Name (the nembutsu) diligently. It was said later that she kept up the practice until she died, and Honen, upon hearing this, declared that should would surely be born in the Pure Land.
Is a Buddhist who works as a Bartender a bad Buddhist? What of the soldier? The fisherman? The prostitute? What does right livelihood mean for them? And at the same time I find it hard to feel the same understanding for the Pimp, the Meth Lab Cooker.
For most of us I think, Right Livelihood ultimately mean that we are simply applying mindfulness and Buddhist principles to our daily work activities. I am not trying to say that Right Livelihood is not reflected in the Five Types of work to be avoided, but that not matter what work we do, that we as practitioners, do not separate our practice from our daily work, that our practice and work are interdependent of each other.
What do you think?
in the wind….
now in the falling
Calling us home,
Namu Amida Butsu
Just as I am,
floating in an ocean of light –
the Great Compassion carries me.
– Namu Amida Butsu
calling me home
my true self –
For those who are first introduced to Shin Buddhism, there can be some initial confusion about the tradition. This can even be more confusing since our fellowship is Shin-Zen hybrid and not a traditional Shin Buddhist Sangha.
For most of people and for those in our community, the confusion usually revolves about Amida Buddha and the Pure Land and how to these symbols can make the Shin tradition seem like some form of a theistic Buddhism, with Amida Buddha as a Savior/ God figure and the Pure Land like some sort of Buddhist heaven. This is understandable. It is important to note that we are dealing with a religion in translation, where language can fail us or at least get in the way. When dealing with the language and diction of Shin Buddhism we can get caught up in old meanings and previous contexts of words such as “saved” “sin” and “evil” (especially for us who come from a Christian background). In translation, the same words may have been used in a previous context but when they are used in relation to Shin Buddhism, the original intent, and meaning are lost. The language used can be similar but not the same, the words can get in our way.
So let’s clarify. It is obvious that Shin Buddhists venerate Amida Buddha, and the compassion that he symbolizes, and yet veneration is different than worship. To venerate someone means that there is great respect or awe inspired by the dignity, wisdom, dedication, or talent of that person. To worship someone would be more accurately, the act of showing respect and love for a god especially by praying with other people who believe in the same god: the act of worshipping God or a god. So with Amida Buddha, there is veneration but not worship, because Amida Buddha is not God, did not create the universe, and does not judge man. In Mahayana Buddhism, there are many different Buddhas, and none of them, are worshipped as gods. Simply put, Buddhas are not gods, they are awakened beings, exert no force, that simply teach the Dharma and the path to liberation. Here is a story from Shakyamuni Buddha’s life about this very question,
” ‘Are you a deva?(God)”
“No, brahman, I am not a deva.”
“Are you a gandhabba? (demi god / celestial musician), “No, brahman, I am not a gandhabba.”
“Are you a yakkha?” ( a protector god or trickster diety)
“No, brahman, I am not a yakkha.”
“Are you a human being?”
“No, brahman, I am not a human being.”
“Then what sort of being are you?”
“Remember me, brahman, as ‘awakened.'”
AN 4.36 PTS: A ii 37
From my perspective, in Buddhism –when it speaks about deities, bodhisattvas, and Buddhas, it is a symbolic representation of different aspects of awakened humanity. Or even characteristics of reality itself, but do not refer to any god. Amida Buddha is venerated because he represents the perfection of compassion and wisdom; and the capacity within each of us, to be perfectly compassionate with others and ourselves.
When I first was introduced to Amida Buddha and the Shin tradition I was amazed at the openness and compassion that I felt within it and at the same time, it did seem like Amida was Jesus without the blood. There are similarities, but as I said earlier, similarly does not mean the same. At the core, they are very different. In Christianity, a person is separated from God by sin. The separation of God and man occurred when Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God in the Garden of Eden. Their sins of disobedience caused all of mankind to be separated from God. For some Christians, this means that each person born into this world is separated from God, doomed to Hell, and will not be allowed to enter Heaven. As Paul wrote to the Romans,
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
This disobedience caused a separation from the moment you are born, and the only way to bridge this separation is to have someone pay the price for the disobedience. In enters Jesus Christ A Christian writer John Piper has explained,
“Since our sin is against the Ruler of the Universe, “the wages of [our] sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Not to punish it would be unjust. So God sent his own Son, Jesus, to divert sin’s punishment from us to himself. God “loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation”—the wrath-absorbing substitute (emphasis added)—“for our sins”
1 John 4:10.
So the role of Jesus is to stand between man and God and pay the price of our wrath inducing disobedience. How does one take advantage of what Jesus has done? By having trust in him and by calling on his name and he will, by his mercy and grace allow those who do to enter into the rest of the lord. Ok, now that does sound familiar, especially when we read also that Amida Buddha saves all who intone his name, namu amida butsu, even if just once with a pure heart; that they will be born in the Pure Land. So it is like Jesus=Amida or Amida = Jesus. On closer inspection, we discover that they are actually quite different, even if the way to access their symbolic aid is similar. Here is an example of how this idea of disobedience and sin just does not relate to Amida Buddha. Here is a quote from D.T. Suzuki. Suzuki was one of the most important people in spreading Zen in the West.
“Far as Amida is concerned, he is all love, there is no thought in him of punishing anybody, such discriminative judgments are not in him. He is like the sun in this respect shining on the unjust as well as the just. A sinner comes to the Pure Land with all his sins, or rather, he leaves them in the world where they belong, and when he arrives in the Pure Land he is in his nakedness, with no sinful raiments about him. Karma does not pursue him up to the Pure Land.”
D.T. Suzuki Essays on Shin Buddhism
Literal vs. True
For many Christians, Jesus is a literal physical being existing somewhere else besides where we are now. That also could be said for some Shin Buddhists. There is an anecdote that goes something like this. There are two members that are arguing whether Amida Buddha is a literal Buddha is some far off land, one says yes and the other says no. Later on in the day and at different times they as the resident minister for clarification. The one who believes that Amida Buddha is more literal ask the minister if Amida Buddha was symbolic or literal. The minister smiles and says the Amida Buddha is more of a symbolic representation than a literal historical being. The man walks away shaking his head. A little later the second man approaches the resident minister and asks if Amida Buddha was symbolic or literal. The minister smiles and says the Amida Buddha is not symbolic at all but a literal historical being. The man walks away shaking his head.
For some Shin Buddhists, those of a more modernist bent, Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life is a potent mythopoetic symbol. The Buddhist Patriarch Huineng, explains how a symbol works, that symbols can be…
“likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?”
Amida acts as symbol, is the finger pointing to the truth of Reality as it is. Dr. Nobuo Haneda has explained.
“Mahayanists were interested in identifying the universal source (or basis) of the inspiration that awakened and produced Shakyamuni. And they identified it as the Dharma or universal Buddhahood. In order to show this spiritual basis of Shakyamuni in a more concrete human form, Mahayanists created the concept of “Amida”—an ideal human being, a “humble and dynamic” human being who embodies the Dharma.
As we can see, Amida is not a god, nor a wrathful judge, not a creator, nor lawgiver and there is no such thing as sin per se in Buddhism, simply delusion. Amida is not like Jesus since there is no god, not god to disobey, to be wrathful, or who needs to be appeased because of our disobedience and finally no sacrificial requirement to make man/woman right with God.
A yet, Shinran Shonin, the founder of Shin Buddhism, has said that Amida saves whoever has sincere faith in him. The question then would be what does he save us from?
The Buddha taught us in the first two of the Four Noble Truths, that Life is Suffering and suffering is caused by attachment to a false sense of an anonymous separate self. From the Buddhist perspective, being “separate” or “separated “is an illusion of our true state, and that there is no real separation to the Oneness of Life, whereas in Christianity, man is in a fallen state and the state of separation is a reality. The Compassion of Amida Buddha, then could be said to acts as a symbol that helps a person to, overcome their delusion of being separate from the Oneness of Life, and “saves” one from a misunderstanding of the Dharma, of Reality as it is and of being anything less than their innate Buddha nature. Again from Dr. Haneda,
“Thus, as far as our personal attainment of Buddhahood is concerned, this second meaning of “Amida” as a symbol of the Dharma (or universal Buddhahood) is more important than the first. The goal in Buddhism is that we personally become Amida Buddhas. The Buddhahood that we are expected to attain in Buddhism is not the historical Buddhahood of Shakyamuni, but the universal Buddhahood that is symbolized in “Amida.” We cannot totally identify with Shakyamuni, because we live in a different historical context than that of Shakyamuni. However, we can and should identify with the universal aspiration that Dharmakara symbolizes, strive to fulfill it, and become Amida Buddhas. We must realize our deepest reality, our true selves, which is what the realization of Amida Buddhahood means.”
Amida Buddha acts not as a reconciliation of a person to God, but the reconciliator of a person to themselves and to the understanding, as Jeff Wilson has written,…” of the true nature of all things as liberated suchness.”
The story of Amida Buddha gives us an alternative narrative to our ego- entangled story. Amida is not God but a symbol of the feeling or sense that many of us have, of a loving immeasurable mystery at the heart of existence. Entrusting in Amida Buddha is trusting in that sense and is the source of the Great Compassion that frees us from our delusory ego-self – of shame, separation, and lack. When we turn to entrust in the Compassion of the Oneness of Life as symbolized by Amida, a path opens before us for us to experience true compassion. Entrusting in Amida Buddha is a skillful means to access the reality of the Oneness of Life that lies beyond language; that comes from the very wisdom and ever-present grace waiting for us at the core of becoming fully human.
Namu Amida Butsu.
Our Sangha is growing! and how lovely it is. We are growing and sharing more of the Dharma, more of the joy, light and compassion that is symbolized by Amida Buddha. It is amazing to see the fellowship deepen with each passing week as we share our practice and start to truley wake up the the Oneness of Life and Compassion that calls out us each day.
Over the past few weeks we have been learning about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, and this coming week we will be going over the Five Precepts. The Discussions have been open, free and full of caring and insight as we learn the practice together. I am astonished at how each member of our fellowship is willing to be open, and share fully and willing to invest in our gathering. Here is a great quote about the Pure Land and the Sangha by Rev Rijin Yasuda
“People say various things about birth in the Pure Land. But could there be any greater ‘birth in the Pure Land’ than the fact that we are now sitting and learning sitting and learning the Dharma together? This place where we are listening to the Dharma together is the Pure Land. Our being allowed to be part of this place, of this Sangha, is ‘birth in the Pure Land.’
Together we are working to make the Pure Land here and now. We look forward to see you at any one of our Sunday Gatherings.
- The Pure Land a Place or a Symbol or Both? (saltlakecitybuddhistfellowship.wordpress.com)
- ‘Going for Refuge’ as Idiom and Metaphor (dhivanthomasjones.wordpress.com)
- The Color Gold (saltlakecitybuddhistfellowship.wordpress.com)
- How to recite the Buddha’s name – An Introduction to Pure Land Buddhism (essenceofbuddhism.wordpress.com)
The sea is just full of water;
there is the seabed that sustains it.
Saiich is just full of evil karma;
there is Amida that sustains it.
How happy I am!
(Myokonin Saichi no Uta Vol.1, p.188)