Author Topic: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?  (Read 4487 times)

Offline Dharma Flower

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Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« on: April 15, 2018, 04:03:49 am »
The popular conception of the Pure Land as a Buddhist heaven, where we’ll someday meet our deceased relatives, has perhaps more to do with Chinese ancestor worship, with its emphasis on filial piety, than with Buddhism itself. 

Shinran, like Tan-luan and Shandao, understood the Pure Land as the formless realm of Nirvana, rather than a heaven, and therefore referred to it as “the birth of no-birth,” just as the Buddha described Nirvana as “the unborn.”

Buddhism was not immediately accepted in China, because the doctrines of non-self, rebirth, and Nirvana challenged traditional Chinese beliefs about the spirits of dead relatives, that good deeds should be done in their honor.

If there is no permanent, unchanging self, but instead a stream of consciousness from one lifetime to the next, what good is there in dedicating merit to one’s ancestors? The answer to this question might be unsettling for many.

Chinese folk religion therefore came to produce an image of the Pure Land as a Confucian-like and Taoist-like paradise, as an accommodation of Buddhism to traditional Chinese values and customs.

Shinran said that he never recited the Nembutsu out of filial piety. Nonetheless, Shinran had compassionate understanding for those who, however misguided, clung to the notion of a permanent self that will meet our deceased ancestors.

As the realm of Nirvana, the true Pure Land is inconceivable. The heaven-like language we use to describe it is a finger pointing to the moon, making the Ultimate Truth accessible to ordinary beings like ourselves:

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Meaning itself is beyond debate of such matters as like against dislike, evil against virtue, falsity against truth. Hence, words may indeed have meaning, but the meaning is not the words. Consider, for example, a person instructing us by pointing to the moon with his finger. The person would say, ‘I am pointing to the moon with my finger in order to show it to you. Why do you look at my finger and not the moon?’ Similarly, words are the finger pointing to the meaning; they are not the meaning itself. Hence, do not rely upon words.
http://shinranworks.com/the-major-expositions/chapter-on-transformed-buddha-bodies-and-lands/

Offline Ericnut

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2018, 01:31:16 am »
I'm not it Buddhists must be temples. I've been to a Buddhist country.

Offline Dharma Flower

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2018, 12:14:51 am »
The Awakening of Faith by Asvaghosha has one of the earliest endorsements of the Pure Land path as the easy path to Buddhahood. Here are some relevant passages.

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Any corporeal aspects [such as the marks of the Buddha] that are visible are magic-like products of Suchness manifested in accordance with the mentality of men in defilement. It is not, however, that these corporeal aspects which result from the suprarational functions of wisdom are of the nature of nonemptiness [i.e., substantial]; for wisdom has no aspects that can be perceived.
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Translations/Awakening_of_faith.html


On the relative level, Amida is a flesh and blood Buddha from eons ago, galaxies away. On the level of ultimate truth or Suchness, Amida is formless and beginningless.

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He should know that the Tathagatas have an excellent expedient means by which they can protect his faith: that is, through the strength of wholehearted meditation on the Buddha, he will in fulfillment of his wishes be able to be born in the Buddha-land beyond, to see the Buddha always, and to be forever separated from the evil states of existence…
If he meditates on the Dharmakaya, the Suchness of the Buddha, and with diligence keeps practicing the meditation, he will be able to be born there in the end because he abides in the correct samadhi.
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Translations/Awakening_of_faith.html


On the level of relative truth or expedient means, the Pure Land is a corporeal paradise. On the level of ultimate truth, the Pure Land is the formless realm of Nirvana.

Entrusting the name of Amida Buddha, Namu-Amida-Butsu, we are reborn into the Pure Land and become one with the Ineffable Reality of Suchness.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2018, 08:56:01 am by Dharma Flower »

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2018, 03:39:06 am »
None of this is very accessible is it? The language is jargon-filled and remote, and makes my brain hurt after reading a few sentences. The idea of a similar aim to Christianity, that of ending up in a kind of heaven, may appeal to those who want some kind of magic in their religion and who need some kind of immortality to bring meaning to their lives, so has a place I guess.

Wiki even says that Japanese versions have much more in common with forms of Western Protestantism, appealing to those who want to take up Buddhism but without leaving behind some concepts basic to their understanding of things. On the other hand if people have already rejected the magical, the heaven/ hell concepts of religion, then these similarities will probably turn them off. I like a lot about Zen, but similar magical aspects which creep in don't do much for me so I wouldn't call myself a Zennist either.

In terms of language, Dharma Flower,  can you give your own (not quotes) definitions of relative truth and ultimate truth to help understand the texts?
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline Dharma Flower

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2018, 10:24:38 am »
Wiki even says that Japanese versions have much more in common with forms of Western Protestantism...

No, that's what Western Protestants asserted a 100 or so years ago, when they assumed it would be easy to convert Japanese Buddhists to Christianity due to supposed similarities.

I recommend reading The Essential Shinran by Alfred Bloom, which gives a good, brief overview of what Japanese Pure Land Buddhism actually teaches:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9729498-the-essential-shinran

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2018, 02:56:02 am »
Wiki even says that Japanese versions have much more in common with forms of Western Protestantism...

No, that's what Western Protestants asserted a 100 or so years ago, when they assumed it would be easy to convert Japanese Buddhists to Christianity due to supposed similarities.

I recommend reading The Essential Shinran by Alfred Bloom, which gives a good, brief overview of what Japanese Pure Land Buddhism actually teaches:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9729498-the-essential-shinran
I've studied Pure Land over the years, but I'm really interested in what you think yourself, in your own words. I notice you try not to answer my questions, except by providing a link to someone else's words. My question was "In terms of language, Dharma Flower, can you give your own (not quotes) definitions of relative truth and ultimate truth to help understand the texts?". I ask because I am really interested in how people interpret these rather esoteric and inaccessible terms.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline Dharma Flower

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2018, 05:57:33 am »
I've studied Pure Land over the years, but I'm really interested in what you think yourself, in your own words.

Thank you for your response.

I can't state things better than Shinran did. I recommend The Essential Shinran by Alfred Bloom:
https://www.bookfinder.com/search/?full=on&ac=sl&st=sl&ref=bf_s2_a1_t1_1&qi=rZh3la593KK5WOvH1u9TKVXUPyw_1497963026_1:2:2

The collected works of Shinran are also freely available online:
http://shinranworks.com

As the largest Buddhist tradition in Japan, Jodo Shinshu doesn't need my justification, especially if our religious beliefs are determined by past karma. 

You are also welcome to visit my Tumblr page, which now has over 4,200 followers:

https://matthewsatori.tumblr.com

Gassho.  _/\_
« Last Edit: April 20, 2018, 06:10:22 am by Dharma Flower »

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2018, 08:47:42 am »
Dharma Flower, I'm not the slightest bit interested in your links, as I've read widely and do not like the language they use. Time and time again I have asked for your personal interpretations. I know they may not be better, but they will have an interesting take on the subject. It's a shame that you seem to act like a google machine rather than someone who wants to move shared understanding forwards.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline Chaz

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2018, 09:15:30 am »
Wiki even says that Japanese versions have much more in common with forms of Western Protestantism...

No, that's what Western Protestants asserted a 100 or so years ago, when they assumed it would be easy to convert Japanese Buddhists to Christianity due to supposed similarities.

I recommend reading The Essential Shinran by Alfred Bloom, which gives a good, brief overview of what Japanese Pure Land Buddhism actually teaches:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9729498-the-essential-shinran

I've been to several Jodo Shinsho "services" in Colorado.  The similarity between their gatherings and those of protestant Christianity is striking.

The use of Nembutsu is similar to a church I attended in Califormia where they would repeat "OH LORD JESUS".

If I wanted a Christian-like experience, I'd go back to being Methodist.

AS far as Zen goes, I like it.  There is a certain elegance in the practice I find very appealing.  My practice incorporates a number of elements from Zen according to the teaching of Chogyam Trungpa.  There is also a bit of Pure Land practice in there as well.

I guess if you need to be one or the other, then that's ok, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Offline Dharma Flower

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2018, 07:18:53 pm »
AS far as Zen goes, I like it...

As do I. In countries like China and Vietnam, the combined practice of Ch'an (Zen) and Pure Land is the norm rather than the exception. This tradition of dual practice also exists in the Obaku school of Japanese Zen.

Here are some helpful books on the topic of dual Zen and Pure Land practice:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/418427.Buddha_of_Infinite_Light

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/478374.Finding_Our_True_Home

This is from The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Zen Buddhism:

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During the practice of chanting the Nembutsu within the Zen school…Zen masters will refer to the Buddha within the self (koshin no mida) and the Pure Land of the Mind Only (yuishin no jôdo).
In some cases, Zen masters encourage disciples to make use of the Nembutsu as a kôan… The Nembutsu kôan generally takes the form of a question, such as ‘Who chants the Nembutsu?
https://terebess.hu/zen/szoto/Baroni.pdf

Hakuin was the great reformer of the Rinzai sect and, besides Dogen, was the most influential Zen teacher in Japanese history. Hakuin was respectful to the Nembutsu as a Buddhist practice, especially for lay people unable to devote their lives to zazen and koan study:

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It should be known that those who think that the Mu koan and the recitation of the Buddha’s name are two different things belong to the class of evil heretics…

Reciting the name of the Buddha constantly, he has reached the state where the mind is undisturbed. The Great Matter appears suddenly before him and his salvation is determined. Such a man can be called one who has truly seen into his own nature. His own body is the limitless body of Amida, the treasure trees of seven precious gems, the pond of the eight virtues…

In the past the Buddha established expedients; one was called “rebirth in the Pure Land,” another “seeing into one’s own nature.” How can these be two different things! Zen people who have not penetrated to this understanding look at a Pure Land practitioner and think that he is a stupid and evil common person who knows nothing about the Great Matter of seeing into one’s own nature…
https://books.google.com/books?id=mzgHaexXQBUC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

In the words of Master Hakuin above, "It should be known that those who think that the Mu koan and the recitation of the Buddha’s name are two different things belong to the class of evil heretics."
« Last Edit: April 20, 2018, 07:31:04 pm by Dharma Flower »

Offline Chaz

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #10 on: April 21, 2018, 01:42:24 am »
Here's a good one! In Jodo Shinshu, what is Amida Buddha's Pure Land named? 

In Tibetan Buddhism all Buddha's and Bodhisattva's emanate a Pure Land.  This sometimes referred to as a Buddha Field.  The so-called mandala is often a diagram of one such Pure Land.

I don't know how to Pure Land came to be included in Tibetan Buddhism.  I'm thinking it came from some Chinese influence.

Offline Dharma Flower

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #11 on: April 21, 2018, 01:46:59 am »
Here's a good one! In Jodo Shinshu, what is Amida Buddha's Pure Land named? 

In Tibetan Buddhism all Buddha's and Bodhisattva's emanate a Pure Land.  This sometimes referred to as a Buddha Field.  The so-called mandala is often a diagram of one such Pure Land.

I don't know how to Pure Land came to be included in Tibetan Buddhism.  I'm thinking it came from some Chinese influence.


In the teaching of Shinran, Amida's Pure Land is, in and of itself, the formless realm of Nirvana. There is no other Pure Land where one should seek rebirth, according to Shinran. Shinran also refers to Amida as the Buddha-nature in all things and as Dharma-body itself, rather than simply one Buddha among many:
http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-ENG/bloom.htm
« Last Edit: April 21, 2018, 01:57:40 am by Dharma Flower »

Offline Dharma Flower

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #12 on: April 21, 2018, 09:02:56 am »
Because Nirvana means “to blow out,” there’s a common misconception that Nirvana entails personal annihilation. Instead, Nirvana is the extinguishment of suffering:

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Thus the image underlying nibbana (nirvana) is one of freedom. The Pali commentaries support this point by tracing the word nibbana to its verbal root, which means “unbinding.” What kind of unbinding? The texts describe two levels. One is the unbinding in this lifetime, symbolized by a fire that has gone out but whose embers are still warm. This stands for the enlightened arahant, who is conscious of sights and sounds, sensitive to pleasure and pain, but freed from passion, aversion, and delusion. The second level of unbinding, symbolized by a fire so totally out that its embers have grown cold, is what the arahant experiences after this life. All input from the senses cools away and he/she is totally freed from even the subtlest stresses and limitations of existence in space and time.

The Buddha insists that this level is indescribable, even in terms of existence or nonexistence, because words work only for things that have limits. All he really says about it — apart from images and metaphors — is that one can have foretastes of the experience in this lifetime, and that it’s the ultimate happiness, something truly worth knowing.
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/nibbana.html

Shinran understood the Pure Land as the realm of Nirvana, and referred to rebirth in the Pure Land as the birth of non-birth, just as the Buddha described Nirvana as the unborn.

Offline Dharma Flower

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #13 on: April 24, 2018, 11:22:22 pm »
If enlightenment is the abolishment of craving, how can we attain it by craving it? If enlightenment is the realization of non-self, how do we attain it through self-effort alone?In reciting the name of Amida Buddha, we are safely and effortlessly reborn into the Pure Land, the realm of Nirvana.

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Is the Pure Land a Buddhist heaven?
« Reply #14 on: April 25, 2018, 02:17:55 am »
If enlightenment is the abolishment of craving, how can we attain it by craving it? If enlightenment is the realization of non-self, how do we attain it through self-effort alone?In reciting the name of Amida Buddha, we are safely and effortlessly reborn into the Pure Land, the realm of Nirvana.

Unfortunately language is slippery and elusive. Of course you can abolish craving by craving for it to end, and of course you can attain realization of non self-self through self effort. If you recite the name of Amida Buddha you recite it through craving, and it is the self-effort of reciting it that brings about its efficacy. I'm not against your Pure Land, but there are many other ways of attaining realization. It's a matter of finding what works for each individual.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

 


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