Q: A commentator recently queried why the Amida sangha use the term Pureland rather than Pure Land which this commentator thought more correct.
A: We read Sukhavati and Jodo, not Sukha Vati or Jo Do, so Pureland is actually closer to the Sanskrit and Japanese. There is no particular basis for thinking that "Pure Land" is somehow "correct". However, that matters little. Language should not be a strait jacket. Language is a convention for communication. There is a usefulness in having separate terms to indicate the style of Buddhism on the one hand and the domain of a Buddha on the other, so the Amida sangha has adopted the convention of using Pureland for the former and Pure Land for the latter. It works. If other like it they can follow. If they don't they don't have to.
Q: The same commentator asks by what right Amida-shu has produced its own version of the Larger Pureland Sutra
A: Well, it's a free country. There is no particular reason why they shouldn't. Actually there are about seven extant versions of the supposedly "original" sutra. The one that has become standard in East Asia and is used by, for instance, Jodoshinshu almost certainly is not the original Indian version. About a third or more of the text originated in China at a later date. Also, much of the "original" material is, in fact, extremely confused. The main point is that the craving to get a pure orthodox text is a Western obsession that has its roots in Western religious history and the persecution of heresies. The Buddhists of the past were not bothered about this. What they wanted was a text that would work as a vehicle for conveying the Dharma. Texts are tools, not criteria. The teacher Shinran, for instance, takes huge liberties with the texts that he quotes in his works. This is in order to convey the Dharma. This is why there are so many versions. Teachers of old thought nothing of redrafting a passage if the old version was not working for their disciples. Amida shu likewise is a group of sincere practitioners who need a text that works, not an academic shibboleth. There is, of course, nothing wrong with people debating the value of the particular rendering, but trying to imply that only some people have the right to produce one is censorship and elitism.
Q: Why does the Amida-shu version of the three core vows differ from the currently established East Asian one?
A: The point in question is the exclusion verse. In the Jodoshinshu version there is a passage at the end of the faith vow that excludes all those who have committed the most grievous sins. This is a doctrinal problem for Jodoshinshu because all of us must have committed them at some time in our many lives so the implication is that the vow is non-functional. This would mean that salvation by faith did not work and the whole Jodoshinshu doctrine would collapse. Various scholars have tried to get round this in various ways. However, not every early version of the sutra has this exclusion phrase situated in this vow. It makes much more sense that this exclusion goes with the vow on salvation by perfecting all virtues. This is logical. The sutra then makes sense and supports the essential Pureland position (whether Amida-shu, Jodoshin, or Jodo) that perfecting all virtues works in principle but is unattainable in practice so that salvation by faith is the only practical gate. This was the position of Honen and Shinran. This is why the Amida-shu version has it this way.
Q: Surely it is illegitimate for Amida-shu to disagree with Jodoshin-shu, given that Jodoshin-shu is big and Amida-shu is small?
A: This, of course is a silly point on several counts. Firstly, size has nothing to do with it. Secondly, in any case, every year Amida-shu gets bigger and Jodoshin-shu gets smaller. But aside from such frivolity, Amida-shu does not actually disagree with Jodoshin-shu doctrinally on anything much so it is an empty debate.
Q: Why does Amida-shu psychologise the Buddhist teaching?
A: The Buddhist teaching does not need psychologising, Buddhism is psychology. Buddhism is, as the Dalai Lama has said, a science of mind. It is also various other things - a culture, a philosophy, a religion - but first and foremost it is about the mind. "All states flow from the mind", says Buddha at the beginning of the Dhammapada. Some people have said to me that Buddhism does not need psychology - meaning Western psychology. In a sense this is true because Buddhism already is a comprehensive psychology in itself. But that does not mean that it can't absorb technical details from other sources - it has been doing so throughout its history. In any case, if you strip Buddhism of its psychology and take all the texts literally then as far as the vast majority of Western people are concerned it would be reduced to superstition. No, psychology is a crucially important gate to the Dharma and the Dharma is psychological. Again, some people have said that psychology and Dharma are separate in the sense that one could be enlightened and yet still neurotic - I disagree. If you are neurotic you are certainly not enlightened.
Q: What is the Amida-shu perspective on lineage?
A: A lineage is a succession of teachers. Most lineages in Buddhism die out. Some new ones form. Each school of Buddhism has its own conventions about lineage. Each as every right to have its own approach, but should not criticise others. The Jodoshin approach is that only blood descendents of the founder should hold high office. If that's what they think, that's fine for them. Those who agree can join, those who disagree can leave. Some schools think that their lineage goes all the way back to Shakyamuni in an unbroken line. This is almost certainly not true, but if it works for them I have no objection so long as they don't start saying that everybody else should think the same. Some say that lineage ensures purity of teaching and conduct. However, some of the worst scandals in the modern history of Buddhism have been committed by long lineage holders. Half the Zen teachers in the USA belong to lineages that derive from Yasutani Roshi who was, apparently, a Nazi. Some may think that you can be enlightened and still be a Nazi, but I disagree. Knowing who somebody's teachers were is an indicator, but i is not the only indicator and it is certainly not a guarantee.