Skip to main content

A Guaranteed Method for Entering the Buddhist Pureland

One thing that always struck me about Buddhist cosmology was how the gods are treated in various texts.  In some schools, the god realms are seen as literal places where people go based on the karma they accumulate before dying.  In other schools, they are seen more as archetypes that convey symbolic truths and act as teaching tools.  In any event, every school seems to think that we as humans should pity the gods.

This seems strange on the surface.  Why would we pity beings with perfect teeth, perfect health, and perfect lives?  The Buddhist answer is that being a god is undesirable because gods don't suffer.  And without suffering, they have no opportunities to practice the dharma.  In fact, I've often heard it said that suffering is the mother of the Buddha.  And I believe this is both literally and figuratively true. 

Buddha, Shinran, Dogen and a host of other Buddhist patriarchs all had some sort of tragedy in their past that drove them to the cushion.  Could they have attained their great realizations without that push; without that suffering? I don't think so. 

So the gods with their perfect lives are to be pitied.  And we mere mortals are left here on earth to practice the dharma as best we can.  But this is interesting because the Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism teaches that if we practice hard enough, we'll eventually live in the Pure Land.  But that begs the question, "What is the Pure Land?" and more importantly, "Where is it?"  This question perplexed me for a long time until I read Rev. Gyomay Kubose's translation of Tan Butsu Ge which translates to A Song In Praise of Buddha.

The text is a poem written by one of Buddha's students, Hozo, in order to describe both the radiance of his teacher, and the great motivation he has to practice as a result of Buddha's example.  In my favorite verse from the poem, Hozo states:

When I become Buddha, I will make my country the first.  All the beings in my country will be unique and beautiful.  That place will transcend all.  My country will be like Nirvana -- nothing to equal it.  Now, I am filled with compassion.  I will enlighten all.

To me, this passage suggests that the Pure Land isn't somewhere we go.  Rather, it implies that the world we live in currently is the Pure Land; not because it's perfect, but because it gives us the opportunity to practice. 

Case in point, Hozo doesn't state that he will realize Buddhahood and ride off into a god realm.  Instead, he vows that he will make his country (e.g. the country that he is currently living in) like Nirvana.  But he wouldn't be able to make all the beings of his country unique and beautiful unless there was some ugliness there to work with.  Similarly, none of us can become Buddhas unless we have the requisite amounts of suffering in our lives that will allow us to practice the dharma 

In typical Buddhist fashion, the passage gives us an impossible vow.  However, it also gives us a ray of hope; that the suffering and disappointment we endure is not meaningless.  Rather, it's a gift that helps us to become Buddhas, and realize that our world is a Pure Land.  In this way, we can continue working to enlighten both ourselves and each other.


If you enjoyed this article, please like The Same Old Zen on Facebook!


Upcoming Events:

I'll be leading a Meditation Flash Mob in Cleveland on Saturday, Sept. 16th at 4pm.  The event will take place in Market Square (across from West Side Market).  You can find more event information by clicking  here.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

3 Universal Truths that Buddha Taught

Philosophers have wrestled with the concept of universal truth for centuries. But no one has been able to figure out exactly what it is, or even if it truly exists. In fact, the existentialist philosopher, Nietzsche famously threw up his hands and stated, " God is dead ," while contemplating the question. Of course, he wasn't claiming that a literal super natural deity had died. Rather, he was expressing the fact that human conceptual thought around things like happiness, goodness, truth, etc. is inherently flawed. As a result, universal truth as represented by God cannot exist. In Nietzsche's view, the best we can hope for is to live as individuals, constantly striving against one another to impose our will to power upon the world. The Buddhist view, however, is different. While Buddha would agree that humanity's conceptual view of the world is limited, he observed three experiences that all living beings share. These are often referre

Magic Mushrooms and the Buddha Dharma

You meet all kinds of people on the road.  Some of them are clearly running from something; a past trauma or an action they regret. Others are clearly looking for something; a tribe of like-minded people or a safe place to call home. This results in a strange mix of people ending up in strange places and sharing their lives for any where from a few weeks to a few months.   You part ways knowing that you'll never see each other again despite your endless promises to keep in touch.  But you always remember the people you meet on the road, and your life is usually better for having met them. Case in point, I met a guy named "Fred" when I was farming in Indiana who'd lived an insanely cool life.  He did corporate America for a while, and decided it wasn't for him.  So, he high-tailed it to Vietnam and taught English for several years before deciding that he wanted to become a shaman.  After that, he made his way to Brazil where he wandered fo

Buddhism and Anti-Natalism

David Benatar is the head of philosophy at Cape Town University and the author of Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.   In his book, David argues that bringing new life into the world is an immoral act.  In order to make this argument he uses an axiological asymmetrical argument, which states: If a being exists, suffering is bad and pleasure is good.  However, if a being does not exist, missing out on pleasure isn't bad, however missing out on suffering is good.  In other words, life is suffering. Suffering is bad.  Therefore, it's better to not be born, so that we never experience suffering.  It's important to note, that Benatar does not include any caveats to this argument.   In fact, in this interview with Sam Harris, he suggests that there is no way to make a life good enough that it is better than not existing. Naturally, this view point has received pushback in the philosophy community.  For my part, I'd like to tackle Benatar's unde