A Buddhism for Ordinary People
Pure Land Buddhism is a spiritual path made for busy people who have hefty work schedules and families to take care of. As a consequence, it simplifies and spiritualizes the seemingly complex and intellectual Buddhist teachings and practices, such as the Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, chanting and meditation. It makes these teachings and practices more understandable and easier for ordinary lay people so they can experience their daily lives as a practical vehicle for inner transformation. Pure Land Buddhism has nothing to do with believing in a deity, Higher Power or God for salvation or blindly following a creed, teaching, ritual or guru, but focuses on daily practice, open-minded reflection, and the direct and personal religious experience of the transcending mystery of life, personified as Amida Buddha. Through the Pure Land path, one’s sufferings and burdens are naturally transmuted into a source of received wisdom and compassion, by which life is lived anew as a journey within beauty, enlightenment and liberation. As a natural outcome of our practice, we are enjoined by the activity of the Great Compassion to be loving, kind and gentle to ourselves and all sentient beings.
Non-hierarchical, Egalitarian and Democratic
The Pure Land path focuses on the everyday spiritual life of ordinary working people and is open to all regardless of capacity, belief, moral status, age, race, gender or nationality. Following the spirit of its founder, Shinran Shonin, our community is non-hierarchical, egalitarian and democratic, that is, everyone is seen as an equal member and “fellow traveler along the path.” In the Shin Pure Land tradition, there are no monastics, monks on nuns, but there are teachers both ordained clergy and certified lay instructors. They are not seen as above everyone else or hold the secret keys to spiritual liberation, but are ordinary people, both men and women, who are just more learned or experienced spiritual seekers. Associate teachers, ministers and other certified teachers can marry and raise a family. Family life is not seen as a hindrance to spiritual development but as a natural function of being human. As a lay fellowship, we see ourselves fully engaged in life, participating neither in the ultimate and secular worlds but at the juncture of both dimensions; this is the essence of the Buddha’s Middle Way. It is for this reason, Shinran Shonin, stated, “I am neither lay nor monk.”
Though little known in North America until just recently, Pure Land Buddhism and the Shin path are the most widely practice form of Buddhism in Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan and Singapore. The PureLand tradition has the largest adherents of any type of Buddhism in the world. Moreover, Shin Buddhism, a branch of Pure Land, is the world’s largest Buddhist denomination with tens of millions of adherents. Furthermore there are pockets of Shin in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Singapore and Great Britain.
Due to the prolific number of books and centers focusing on Tibetan, Zen and Vipassana sects in North America, this news comes across with surprise for many Americans. We must remember that in Japan, just 2% of population practice Zen, and there are only 6 million Tibetans, and as for Vipassana, it is not even a Buddhist denomination but a meditation practice that is part of Theravada Buddhism. Here, we wish not to diminish the significance of these wonderful teachings but just to put into perspective the important role of the Pure Land tradition in the rest of the Buddhist world.