C3 An essay on Pureland Buddhism

Pureland Buddhism

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A short essay about the nature of Pureland Buddhism as an expression of taking refuge.

In Mahayana Buddhism, we vow to help all sentient being to attain complete awakening and, in order to do so, we vow to transform all our negative passions into love and compassion, to master all the Buddha's teachings and to fulfil every step of the Buddhist path. These bodhisttva vows stand like a kind of heroic gesture. No matter how many lifetimes it takes, I will overcome all the harm and suffering in the world and bring all beings to the land of bliss. When we look at the vows from the ordinary perspective they seem like a personal challenge. How shall I do it? Where must I begin? In our morning service we recite these vows. We re-enter the bodhisattva path each new day. Then immediately after doing so we recite the refuges which in our tradition begin with taking refuge in Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is the highest Buddha, representative of all Buddhas, past, present and future, in this and all possible worlds. We take refuge in those Buddhas. This provides us with the means to fulfil the bodhisattva vow. By our own power alone we could not do it. We will not do it by our own determination alone. We can only do it by relying upon the Buddhas. When we entrust ourselves in this way, the task looks completely different. It is no longer oneself who is helping all beings and overcoming all passions - it is Amida Nyorai. We are carried along by Nyorai, guided and held. As we take refuge in Nyorai who represents all Buddhas, so we recognise the need to take refuge in Shakyamuni, the particular Buddha of the age that we happen to have been born into. As we take refuge in Shakyamuni we see the need to take refuge in his Dharma. If taking refuge in Dharma means anything it is that we enter into and take refuge in sangha. And if refuge in sangha means anything it becomes refuge in the vision of a Pure Land since this is the full realisation of sangha. Thus, in practical Buddhism, there is a constant going back and forth between self-power and other-power, but, in the end, it is other-power that sees us through. At the heart of all Buddhism is the act of refuge and the grace of Nyorai.

 

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