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Pure Land Buddhism

To: soc.religion.eastern
From: Cris Fugate (fugate@plains.nodak.edu)
Subj: Pure Land Buddhism (0000.bdsmpld.cf)
Date: unknown

   If you study Pure Land texts you will find an evolution of ideas.  In
my opinion there are four main streams: the nature of the Pure Land, of
Amida Buddha, of bodhisattvas, and the use of meditation.  Here are my
observations and where I think this evolution is heading.

I. The Pure Land.

   In the three Pure Land Sutras (Larger Sukhavati, Smaller Sukhavati, and
Meditation on Amitayus Sutras) we see that the Pure Land is one of several
pure lands.  There is one in each of the ten directions, and the pure land
of Amida Buddha is in the west.  I don't know about other pure lands, but
this pure land was simply a paradise where the faithful could go to
practice meditation without involving any of the impurities of the world.
   In Chinese Chingtu this idea of many pure lands evolved into only one pure
land.  However, it still remained a paradise in which enlightenment was
sought.
   In Japanese Shinshu the one pure land became a paradise in which those
who were born there were instantly enlightened or were born there because
they became enlightened.  I believe this occured due to the application of
the idea of Buddha-Nature.
   If we are born there because we become enlightened then Sukhavati (the
Pure Land) could be thought of as Parinirvana.  This would be the final
step in its evolution.  However, this forces some other concepts to change
as well..

II. Amida Buddha.

   In the three Pure Land Sutras Amida (Amitabha or Amitayus) Buddha is
one of many Buddhas, and each pure land is associated with a Buddha. 
   In Chinese Chingtu the idea of many Buddhas became one Buddha.  This
was due partly to Taoist ideas where Amida Buddha became comparable to the
Tao.  This same idea carried over into some of the Japanese Shinshu sects
(but not all of them).
   This last concept of Amida Buddha has also been called God in a few texts.
This may be due to western influence even though most of these texts are of
asian origin.  This is probably the last step in its final evolution.  

III. Bodhisattvas in Pure Land Buddhism.

   Bodhisattva originally meant a being who took a vow to become
enlightened.  After enlightenment they would not be reborn again.  Then it
became a person who sought enlightenment for himself and others outside of
the monastic life.  Then it became a being who refused to enter
parinirvana until all sentient beings did so together (a Chinese invention).  
   From what I can tell late Shinshu does not believe that a person
actually returns in rebirths.  Instead they return to this world because
of their union with Amida Buddha in faith.  Notice how this is in harmony
with all of the above definitions of a bodhisattva.
   If Sukhavati is Parinirvana, however, and bodhisattvas are able to be
reborn there then a bodhisattva cannot refuse to enter Parinirvana.  The
solution could be to simply reject the Chinese definition.  When the
enlightened person dies they enter Sukhavati.  However, this poses a
problem with the traditional viewpoint of salvation in Pure Land Buddhism..

IV. Meditation in Pure Land Buddhism.

   The original practices of Pure Land Buddhism included visualization and
the repetition of the name of Amida Buddha (Namo Amita Buddha or other
forms) in meditation.  This was done to increase merit and thereby
increase the chance of being born in Sukhavati.  In China these practices were
followed, added to, then eventually abandoned.  What followed was the
simple repetition of the Name (Namo Amito Fo) without meditation.
   Why did this happen?  A doctrine called "The Latter Day of the Dharma"
evolved which was based on the idea that the true Dharma had fully decayed
and it was impossible to meditate and obtain enlightenment.  The Nienfo
(Name of Buddha) became the way to tap into the power of Amida Buddha's
merit to save those who called His Name.
   There did develop the idea of "Dual Cultivation" which attempted to
merge faith of Chingtu and insight of Ch'an (Chinese Zen).  The idea
was that neither was complete without the other.  However, this did not
seem to have survived in Chingtu.
   Interesting thing is that Tientai/Tendai Buddhism revived the meditational
practices and developed the idea that rebirth in Sukhavati meant
enlightenment (just one of several means).  However, Shinshu rejected the
idea of meditation reverting to the simple repetition (Namu Amida Butsu).
   We have now seen that meditation is not an alien idea in the history of
Pure Land Buddhism.  It could be an important part of Pure Land Buddhism if we
reject the Latter Day theory.  The problem is how Amida Buddha's vow to
save those who call His Name fits with meditation.
   The answer seems to lie with Dual Cultivation.  Just as faith and insight
depend upon each other and should be balanced, progress in this practice is
due to cooperation with Amida Buddha in simple meditation.
   What if enlightenment cannot be obtained during life?  There is the
idea of the ethereal world which functions much like the original view of
Sukhavati.  The only difference is that all beings are born there after
death, not just those who are virtuous or call upon the Name of Buddha.
Enlightenment then means a transformation into an undiscribeable existence 
in Sukhavati.

V. Conclusion.

   I have tried to present a brief account of the evolution of Pure Land
and where it might lead as I understand it.  I am not evangelizing nor
condemning anybody else who has different views.  My intent is to simply
inform others of an alternative approach to Pure Land which they may find
more attractive.  I am always open to questions, corrections, and
suggestions.  I will not respond to flames.  

====== append

   One thing that should be added to my last post is why late Japanese
Shinshu holds that people who are born in Sukhavati are automatically (if
not already) enlightened.
   Traditionally, enlightenment (realization of the Buddha-Nature) is
achieved through insight.  However, Shinran (the founder of Jodo Shinshu)
thought that this was achieved through faith.  Those believers who have no
doubt, and who have found union with Amida Buddha in faith, have realized
their Buddha-Nature (Amida Buddha).
   I think this is only one side of the coin.  It is probably both insight
and faith which is the cause of enlightenment.  Therefore, meditation is
still valid.
   I should also point out that some Shinshu sects (I am not sure which)
believe in a type of purgatory in which all may attain this faith and
thereby attain rebirth in Sukhavati.  This is no different from the
ethereal/subtle realm found elsewhere.

Praise Amida Buddha

Cris Fugate
fugate@plains.nodak.edu

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