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14 January 2010, 08:37 AM

Amida Buddha and the Pure Land: In the Here and Now
In Buddhism there are many Pure Land sects that revere Amida Buddha. Also there are many sects in which perhaps the Pure Land practices are not so much emphasize on their own, but are an additional secondary practice. With these many sects there are many different opinions about what or who Amida Buddha is and what the Pure Land is as well as where it is.

This is a very interesting topic for myself. I am very attracted to Jodo Shinshu, which is a much later school of Buddhism, only about 800 years old, founded by Shinran Shonin a student of Honen Shonin. This particular school of Buddhism and in particular Pure Land Buddhism, interprets Amida and the Pure Land a bit different than other schools.

In Jodo Shinshu it is said that Amida Buddha is not some deity, or Buddha being for us to praise and supplicate, but that Amida Buddha is much greater than this. It is beyond God, beyond duality. Amida Buddha is seen as Ultimate Reality experienced here and now.

Jeff Wilson in his book, “Buddhism of the Heart: Reflections on Shin Buddhism and Inner Togetherness” says:

“Essentially, Shinran says that the Dharmakaya, the ultimate interconnected reality of all things, is so incredible that human minds have difficulty understanding it. We might call this aspect of the Dharmakaya “Amida of ultimate reality.” It has no form or name and though we can perceive it after a fashion, it is beyond any possible full conception by human beings. But then there is a second Dharmakaya, the form which reality takes on in order to graciously awaken us to the interconnectedness within which we live and love and have our being. This is Dharmakaya for us: it is Amida as a form (Buddha), a view (shinjin), a name (Namu Amida Butsu). These two Dharmakayas, the two Amidas, are the same, but they appear different to us because one is accommodated to our level of understanding.”

Amida in Jodo Shinshu is not just a Buddha being in a far off western pure land type paradise that guides us to enlightenment. Amida Buddha is seen as a force of compassion here in now in this life. In this moment Amida is working unceasingly to liberate us. It is our greater self, and the greater self of the Cosmos.

Thich Nhat Hanh in his great work on pure land buddhism called: “Finding Our True Home: Living in the Pure Land Here and Now” says:

“The Eminent Master Tue Trung was the elder brother of General Tran Hung Dao, the ehro who saved Vietnam from Mongolian invasions during the thirteenth century. Tue Trung wrote a gatha of four lines, which goes as follows:

The original reality of Amitabha (Amida) is our own Dharma body,
It shines out brightly everywhere, in the South, North, East, and West,
It is like the autumn moon that lies in the high, vast sky,
In the silence of the night its brilliance shines far over the ocean.”

Parenthesis are mine. As we can see masters of the different Pure Land sects have taught not of just an experience of Amida in the next life, but in this life. In the here and now. Amida’s true home is in our minds and hearts. When we awaken to reality as a result of the Dharma (eternal truths) that liberate us, we realize the body of oneness of the cosmos. We find that the flowers outside are the same flowers described about the western pureland of Amida. When our mind is correct and we have right views we see all things as manifestations of the Buddhas. When the birds chirp outside, we hear songs of the Dharma.

Thich Nhat Hanh says a lot of times that he does not think you have to die to enter the pure land or the kingdom of God. He says that actually we have to be alive to be in the pure land.

Taitetsu Unno in “Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn into Gold” says:

“Awakening is dynamic,
Constantly evolving with life’s realities-
Unfolding from ego self to compassionate self,
From enclosed self to open self,
From Foolish self to enlightened self.
The ultimate realization for limited, karmic beings awaits to be fully and completely realized in the Pure Land.”

Tiatetsu Unno throughout this great book talks about experiencing Amida, or Infinite Light and Life here and now. He talks of experiencing the Infinite Compassion that embraces all which is embodied in Amida and manifested in the nembutsu: “Namu Amida Butsu”

Going back to Jeff Wilson in the above quoted book, he quotes from the Contemplation of Amida Sutra:

“The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, “After you have contemplated thus, next visualize yourself as being born in the Western Land of Utmost Bliss sitting cross-legged upon a lotus-flower. Visualize this lotus-flower as closed; as it opens, five hundred rays of colored light illuminate your body; then your eyes are open and you see buddhas and bodhisattvas filling the sky and hear the sounds of water, birds, and trees, and the voices of the buddhas all expounding the wonderful Dharma in accord with the twelve divisions of the scriptures. When you rise from meditation, keep those things in mind and do not forget them. Seeing them thus is called the visualization of the Land of Utmost Bliss of the Buddha Amida. This is the comprehensive visualization, and is known as the twelfth contemplation. Innumerable transformed bodies of Amida, together with those of Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamapraprta, will always accompany those who contemplate thus.”

This great passage is not just speaking of some future event. Buddhism is a way of life for the Here and Now. It is not for us to wait until some great future. But the great future is here and now in this moment. With each inbreath we can touch the Pure Land. The Buddha states in the sutra for us to continue to contemplate this even after you rise from meditation. He instructs us to keep this visualization in mind. If we act in such a way we will see all with the eyes of compassion. We will be able to see the dharma all around us. The raindrops will be the dharma teaching us. When troubles and anxieties attack us we can embrace them and be greatful. Our finitude will be transformed into the Infinite.

Throughout the day just be mindful. Be gentle and compassionate to yourself. Naturally this will spread to others since we are all interconnected. Change yourself and you will see the changes in the world that you want to see. Amida breaths in with you as you are breathing in and breathes out with you as you are breathing out. The main practice of Jodo Shinshu is namely the Name that Calls: “Namu Amida Butsu”. It is not to chant so that you can acquire merits for some future lifetime. It isn’t even you calling out. It is Amida or Ultimate Reality penetrating into the core of your nature which is Itself and liberating you. So Relax, say the Nembutsu once, twice, or as many times as you want, no matter what we are all grasped by this Reality here and now.