The radiant light, unhindered and inconceivable, eradicates suffering and brings realization of joy; the excellent Name, perfectly embodying all practices, eliminates obstacles and dispels doubt. This is the teaching and practice for our latter age; devote yourself solely to it. It is eye and limb in this defiled world; do not fail to endeavor in it. Accepting and living the supreme, universal Vow, then, abandon the defiled and aspire for the pure. Reverently embracing the Tathagata's teaching, respond in gratitude to his benevolence and be thankful for his compassion.

~ Shinran Shonin, Passages on the Pure Land Way

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Glorious Manifestations of the Pure Land

Larger Sutra Mandala, Central Panel

What is the difference between the forms that we perceive in this Saha world (our unenlightened lives) and the forms that are manifested in Amida's country, His Fulfilled Land of Nirvana (enlightenment)? The difference lies in their foundational basis or origin.

The foundation of the forms in the Pure Land rests upon the prajna (wisdom) and true compassion that Bhiksu Dharmakara realized when he made his firm and resolute Vows in the Buddha’s presence. Because the cause (Vow-Power) is pure, the result (Pure Land) is likewise pure. These forms exist beyond birth-and-death, and are therefore referred to as “uncreated”; they are produced by the power of Amida's Vows, and are therefore termed “adornments.” Thus, the forms in the Pure Land have the ability to impart the truths of the Buddhist Law, including emptiness, wisdom, and so on up to the highest wisdom of the Mahayana, as described in the Larger Sutra. Master T’an-luan states, “The Pure Land of happiness is sustained by the power of the good of Amida, the perfectly enlightened” (Kyogyoshinsho IV: 7).

On the contrary, the forms that we perceive in this Saha world as bombu (foolish or unenlightened beings) are the result of our evil karma and sustained by our discriminating minds, which are fueled by the three poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance. They are not sustained by any kind of good, let alone the pure merits of Amida. Consequently, they generally produce attachment, craving, and suffering (Sanskrit: duḥkha) rather than nonattachment, liberation, and bliss (Sanskrit: sukha).

Since the Pure Land is the result of Amida's pure Vows, it goes without saying that we cannot be born there by any actions of mind, body, or speech that we might undertake based on our inverted minds. As Genshin says, “Delusion is the nature of ordinary beings. Apart from delusion, there is no mind in us” (Yokawa Hogo). Likewise Rennyo Shonin, the 8th Monshu of our Hongwanji tradition, expressed this thought very succinctly in the following poem, written in 1472 on the day of his mother’s memorial:

How helpless I am,
Lacking in a sincere heart!
What state of existence
Do I deserve?

Since we lack even the sincerity to properly believe in or entrust ourselves to Amida, how can we possibly be born in the Pure Land? Indeed, we can only be born there through the power of the Primal Vow itself, which is also the power of Amida’s Name, Namo Amida Butsu. By truly hearing this sacred Name and understanding its profound significance, we accept Amida's Bodhi-mind directed to us in the two-fold realization of deep faith, as taught by Zendo Daishi (Shan-tao). This means to recognize on the one hand that one is a sinful being, an icchantika, drifting on the tide of samsara with no hope of liberation, totally lacking the “seeds of Buddhahood.” At the same time, it means to believe that Amida's Vow takes as its principal object just such helpless and lost beings as this. These two phases are inseparable elements of one-and-the-same “true faith” (shinjitsu shinjin), which does not arise out of calculation or introspection based on self-power (jiriki). It is, from beginning to end, the gift of Amida.

It goes without saying that one cannot encounter this Vow or hear the Name without a stock of merit from the past. If you have the opportunity to listen to this Dharma, and are thereby enabled to accept the true faith, you should rejoice at the guidance of Shakyamuni and the other buddhas and bodhisattvas who have led you to it. The genuine shinjin is not easy to come by; rather, it is the “most difficult of all difficulties,” and would be altogether impossible were it not for the support of Buddha-centered power (tariki).

Having once received this precious gift, we become partakers in the supreme benefits that attend shinjin in both this life and the life to come. The Name, which is the source of our faith, now becomes its verbal expression in the recitation of nembutsu, which we joyfully repeat in grateful response to the Tathagata’s mercy. Thus we enter the world of salvation in which our enlightenment is absolutely assured, and sailing aboard the ark of the Vow, are ferried across the river of birth-and-death to the Other Shore of Nirvana.

August 22, 2015

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