Author Topic: A Theravada Monk on Pure Land Buddhism  (Read 205 times)

Offline Dharma Flower

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A Theravada Monk on Pure Land Buddhism
« on: June 30, 2019, 06:12:14 pm »
This article is from a Theravada monk writing favorably on Pure Land teaching and practice:
- Bhante Cintita -

Keep an open mind toward the Pure Land. Much of what
we call “life” and “my world” are fabrications. Most of our
“world” consists of concepts which don’t square with reality.
There are skillful and unskillful concepts. Any valid form of
Buddhism is about developing the former while rejecting the

I also used to think the LUB was just a fable for the ignorant
masses. This is elitist thinking, and it’s wrong on many levels.
Our world now is only known through sensory information;
that is, we never have access to the “real” physical world.
Whether there is a real world out there beyond our sense
impressions is up for debate and will never be settled, because
we can never reach beyond our impressions (the six types
of consciousness according to Buddhist philosophy) to the
so-called physical world underneath or beyond them. Thus,
our world is basically a virtual reality concocted by our brain.
Any neuroscientist can confirm this. Our world is really quite
effervescent and much more like a bubble or mirage than a
rock or cup. That being the case, the idea that there are other
“worlds” such as Pure Lands, heavens, and hells is really not
so far-fetched. In fact, if you’re a Buddhist, you more or less
have to accept the idea of different levels of existence,
including heavens and hells, as the historical Buddha certainly
taught this.

Are these levels of being just psychological states of mind
rather than other “places”? Possibly, but I don’t think so.
Western Buddhism is too psychological in my opinion. We
reduce everything down to psychological phenomena:
dakinis, spirits, bodhisattvas, hell, and heaven have all become
brain states! Compare a Zen talk from medieval times to now.
Now we only talk about our “stories” and disbanding them
and “being with our emotions”, and that we’re okay just as
we are. These are all influences from (pop) psychology. This
language jives with some folks. Although it may sound like
I’m knocking this way of speaking, I’m not; however
Western Buddhists often deem this approach as a more mature,
advanced way of considering these topics, rather than
considering them as actual realities.

So, instead of thinking of worlds as solid things, if you think
of them in more philosophically idealistic terms, that is,
thinking of them more as mind-stuff rather than matter-stuff,
the idea of a Pure Land a million miles from here is not implausible.
Clearly, the fact that the Pure Land is “west” of
here should give one a clue that the Buddha wasn’t referring
to a physically locatable place on the Universe map! It’s not,
like, over there by Andromeda or something.

Another point to consider: Amitabha could be any number of
things or beings. He could be what we’d call a real person.
This is how most practitioners understand him and have
understood him for many centuries, and for most of us, this is
the easiest and best way to relate to him.

But let’s say he’s not a person. Well then, what is he, if anything?
He’s described as limitless light and life. What else
is described as limitless and eternal? Mind itself. Therefore,
even if Amitabha were not real in the person-sense, then
surely “he” is real in the sense of referring to the One Mind,
Being itself, which is always characterized in all spiritual
traditions as eternal, one, and an infinitely bright light (that
doesn’t hurt your eyes). So, focusing on Amitabha is
focusing on the foundation of what and who we are.

Some teachers, like Thich Nhat Hanh, and others say that this Amitabha
as Mind approach is the higher-level of relating Pure Land to
Buddhism. It certainly appeals to the more psychologically
sophisticated practitioners. However, I don’t think being
sophisticated is an advantage or “higher”, at least not in my

Let’s look at this in another light: let’s say it all is a fable.
Would Pure Land teachings still qualify as skillful teachings
according the Pali canon?

You bet. Amitabha Buddha is a valid meditation object,
either as an image or as the sound of repeating silently or
vocally “Namo Amitabha Buddha” or just “Amitabha Buddha”.
Furthermore, as Pure Land practitioners we are told to
recite the Amitabha Sutra often, every day if we can. This
sutra brings happiness and peace to the mind and it reminds
us of the core teachings of the Buddha: the Five Powers,
Noble Eightfold Path, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment,
and last but not least, mindful recollection of the Buddha,
Dharma, and Sangha. Such teachings would content even the
staunchest Theravadian! Time and again, the Buddha in the
Pali Canon extols the benefits of mindfully recollecting the
Triple Gem. Every time you recite the Amitabha Sutra, you
are reminded of these core teachings which form the basis of
any Buddhist tradition.

Thus, if we die having sincerely practiced the Pure Land way,
and there is no Amitabha to greet us, we’ll still have lived
a noble life, having practiced the Five Precepts, developed
mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. We’ll have lived in
joy contemplating the wonderful and wondrous nature of the
Land of Ultimate Bliss and the fantastic and compassionate
Buddha of Infinite Life and Light presiding there.


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