What Does Pure Land Buddhism Teach? – Dialectic Two Step
Question: What does Pure Land Buddhism teach?
Response: The Pure Land Sutra is the enlightenment story of the Bodhisattva Dharmakāra. The story is set in the impossibly distant past. Upon fulfillment of 48 vows Dharmakāra became the Buddha Amitabha.
Two of those vows are the central focus of the Pure Land school.
18. If I would become a Buddha, then any sentient being in any one of the ten directions who would earnestly believe and willingly wish to be born in my Pure Land, even if for only the duration of ten thoughts, would be born there. Otherwise, I would not attain Full Enlightenment.
19. If I would become a Buddha, and yet I and all my retinue would not encircle and appear before all those sentient beings at the end of their lives in the ten directions who would have developed the Bodhicitta, have accumulated all kinds of merits and have earnestly vowed to be born in my Pure Land, then I would not attain Full Enlightenment.
The main practice is reciting the name of the Buddha.
The Nature of Buddhas
I’ve always found in vow 18 an interesting interpretation of Buddha nature. Amitabha’s western Pure Land (in Sanskrit Sukhavati or land of bliss) is described as a place in which we cannot regress on our path to enlightenment. In essence, if fulfilled, Dharmakāra’s vow ensures that everyone with a sincere wish for enlightenment, freedom, or contentment will achieve it. Furthermore, and here is the twist, Dharmakāra succeeds in fulfilling his 48 vows – becoming the Buddha Amitabha. Thus it must be the case that all those desiring enlightenment, freedom, or contentment will achieve it.
Who does not wish for such things? What being is exempt from this vow? Are we not all born with the seed of enlightenment?
There are varying degrees of literal and metaphorical interpretations of this Sutra. I would venture that a majority believe they will be met by Amitabha at death. Others read the text to understand rebirth in the Pure Land as brief glimpses found in a mindful state of sincere hope to be reborn there. Others interpret it to mean that the Pure Land is here and now, if we were only to awaken to it (a Buddha being an awakened one).
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Wisdom lies neither in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two. - Octavio
Dialectic Two Step, Modern Koans, Verse Us, Say What?, and Minute Meditations all copyright Andrew Furst
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