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« Myths & Stories | Main | Primal Vow & Covenant Theology »

13 June 2005

Comments

Mark Walter

Bro. Steve: Wow, you covered a lot of ground, most of it unfamiliar to me. One thing really popped out at me, though. Jesus was clearly teaching Buddhist thought and ideals. He was also saying to his core followers, "Look, here is how you do it." Most of that group was killed, and so were his core teachings. When the church redefined his teachings, including reincarnation, nearly the entire Christian movement went severely off course, where it remains today. I always think it is so funny that they (most Christians) are unable to affliate one of their core doctrines, being 'born again' and being 'resurrected', with being born again. There may be souls incarnated right now who have only been on the earth one time. In that case, it is easy to see how they could feel like they had never lived (here) before this life. What's very frustrating is how centuries of Christian leaders have misled subsequent leaders and followers. I believe one of the main issues heaven has on the table right now is for us (current incarnates) to help reconcile this problem. Great post!

Dharmavidya

Dear Steve, It is interesting to read your explorations into Pureland Buddhism. Let me help this process along a little. First, there are a number of different kinds of Pureland (it's never simple, is it?). First there is a difference between Chinese Pureland (broadly including Korean and Vietnamese) in which the Pure Land is regarded as a state of mind and Amitabha is equated with the enlightened nature of the individual. In Japan, however, those attitudes are regarded as Zen. So in Japanese Pureland there is what we might call Zen Pureland and Pure Pureland. I suspect that much of the Pureland that you find in North America may be Zen Pureland in this sense - Zen has become very popular. In Pure Pureland, represented in Japan by the Jodo and the Jodoshin schools, Amida is not a product of one's own mind but definitely an "other power". The image sometimes used is of a chick trying to hatch - the mother bird when she hears the chick trying to get out by pecking at the inside of the shell pecks at the outside in order to help. So Amida is a power that calls to us as we call to him. Now the difference between Jodo and Jodoshin is that in Jodoshin they believe that salvation is already assured to all those who have faith so their nembutsu is a kind of "Thank you" whereas in Jodo they do not believe anything is that certain so their nembutsu is a kind of "Please!" Neither of these schools thinks that Amida controls the universe.

Here in the Amida School we think that both Jodo and Jodoshin have some validity. We place a lot of emphasis on faith, like Jodoshin, but we do not believe that anything is certain, like Jodo.Again, we are not much into "oneness" nor into "mind only" doctrines. For us spirituality is an encounter. Also, Jodoshin takes the idea of faith so far that ethics tends to disappear whereas we place quite a bit of emphasis on ethics, and especially on social ethics. There are movements within Chinese Buddhism that see the creation of a Pure Land on earth as an important goal. This idea has given rise to social movements at various times in Chinese history. We follow this line too. So we could over generalise and say that Amida Buddhism is Japanese in its metaphysics but Chinese in its social engagement.

Historically, Pureland is at least as old as Chinese Buddhism which makes it at least as old as Christianity. It may well be older and may go back to Buddha himself. You are right to equate it with sinners. There are two paths in Buddhism, one for sages and one for sinners, and it was probably so from the start. The sinners could be "faith followers" - that is the origin of Pureland. For sages there were refined disciplines of the mind and for the masses there was faith, generosity of spirit and fellow-feeling. Faith is the easy path. At various junctures in Buddhist history Pureland has come into its own as a populist force breaking the control of the elite. This happened in China in the 7th century and in Japan in the 13th. Pureland is certainly a movement for inclusion. In fact only sages are excluded - they have their own path. Amida is one Buddha among many, but he is the Buddha who has the lowest entry tarrif to his Buddhaland. He accepts sinners, women, foreigners, even white Anglo-saxon males. All that is needed is to call with some sincerity upon him. As you say, Christianity became institutionalised, which is a shame because altho some degree of organisation is necessary, there is no need for the massive levels of social control that give rise to inquisitions and so on. We are giving thought to issues of how to organise a religious group and postings on this appear at Buddha on the Board. In passing, let me add that the term dualism has innumerable meanings and we really cannot do without it. Pureland is quite dualistic in its metaphysics - there is Amida and there is me and there is a chasm between. Across the chasm is a narrow rope bridge. The action happens in the crossing, not on the arrival.

It is possible that Pureland had a formative influence upon Christianity at a very early stage - it is not difficult to see Christianity as Pureland plus Judaism, and before the rise of Islam it was not difficult for Indian ideas to reach Egypt - and it is also possible that there was some exchange in central Asia later where the influence may have been more in the other direction - the Chinese Quan Yin, Amida's assistant, looks remarkably like the Maria of Christianity. Anyway, was Jesus a Pureland Buddhist? Yes, I think he was. It is widely believed that Shan Tao, the greatest Pureland sage of China, was an incarnation of Amida. We in the West may see Jeshua in the same way.

Another way of putting all this is to say that there is a religion beyond religions. It is open to anybody. It transcends names. It expresses itself in many creeds, but its essence is the miraculous empowerment that occurs when simple faith encounters the universal light that is, was and ever more shall be.

steve

Dear Mark and Dharmavidya,

My great thanks to you both for taking time to reply to this post. My limited encounters (so far) with Pure Land here in North America are rather as you describe them: the notion of the "otherness" of Amida Buddha *seems* thus far to be a concession to entry-level learners like me ... but there seem to be hints that once the learner (pilgrim) gets far enough, s/he will know better :-) I'm frankly relieved to hear that in *your* tradition Amida Buddha is indeed Other. Try as I might -- and I do try -- I don't think I will ever get away from that sense of Reality, whether in my own Christian faith or in my explorations of Buddhism: the saving power is Other than my puny foolish self, and not just in the sense that it's a deeper dimension of that little self. Metaphor is "just" metaphor ... and yet I, at least, always am inclined to take some of the structure of metaphor as important in and of itself: and if the metaphor suggests that Amida (or Vairocana or any other Buddha or Bodhisattva) calls to *me* ... then I think the metaphor is saying something vital about that reality: i.e. his/her Otherness. (Incidentally, Mr Unno uses the chick-in-the-egg and mother hen outside analogy in his book "Shin Buddhism.")

I do have a question, and maybe I should do this by direct Email but will start it here: if one falls off of that narrow rope bridge, what happens next (according to Pure Land)? Is one reborn in some karmic-shaped new life? or life form? I *don't* get the impression from Mr. Unno that that's the case, at least in his particular school, but that this life is the one and only. And yet even *his* writing is replete with poetic references -- literally in poetry from lay Pure Land practitioners (great stuff too) -- to "homecoming" and returning to the "Home of homes." What are your thoughts -- anyone reading this -- on the topic of rebirth, or, as we'd say in Christianity, "life after life"?

best,
steve

todaf

jap monks told their fuckin soldiers during wwII that whatever they did they would still go to heaven as long as they chant the buddha's name. what do you think you can learn from the japs where buddhism is concerned? stop contaminating real buddhism by using jap terms.

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