We are Pureland Buddhists in that we are part of that family of schools of Buddhism that have the nembutsu as our central practice. We are Amida Buddhists in that the nembutsu is to keep Buddha Amida in mind. This is true and important. Most fundamentally, however, if one wanted a term to designate the manner in which I present the Dharma to you, it would not be inappropriate to say that we are Refuge Buddhists.
Of course, in a sense, all Buddhists are Refuge Buddhists, since all take refuge. Many, however, do not see quite how central refuge is. For many, taking refuge simply means a necessary step toward something else, which might be meditation practice, or study, or following a particular lifestyle. Often those approaches are really about achieving some kind of perfection. As I understand the Dharma however, body is not reliable, feelings are not reliable, mind is not reliable, and social circumstances are certainly not reliable, and they cannot be made so, and therefore one needs refuge and there is refuge and therefore we can be grateful.
Refuge is the alpha and omega of Buddhism. Progress is simply the deepening of refuge. One may come to understand refuge more deeply, practise refuge more thoroughly, experience refuge more profoundly, take refuge more really. That is the Dharma. Everything else is auxiliary.
Mindfulness is refuge. What we keep in mind is our refuge. To say the nembutsu is to affirm refuge. It reminds us of refuge. Practice is re-minding. All the icons and ceremonies and conventions of Buddhism have no other main function than to remind us of refuge. Mindfulness is to keep refuge in mind so as not to get lost in the conditions of the present moment. Without refuge, in the fleeting moment, one could be carried away by all manner of temptations, but refuge keeps one safe. When one has such safety already provided, one can afford to explore one's foolish nature and no longer does one have to pretend to be more perfect than one is, because it is not self that one is any longer taking refuge in.
Buddhist precepts are refuge. They help to keep us safe in many ways. They are the form and spiritual body of Buddha, and we take refuge in that. They are reminders, showing us both the form or Buddha and our own human nature. We can never perfect our adherence to them and thus we know that we are foolish beings of wayward passion in need of a refuge. They are koans. Koans show us our personal case as a universal case. This is the ground of compassion.
Meditation is refuge. In meditation we step back from the helter-skelter of life and reflect. We concentrate our life. We turn our mind to Buddha and Dharma. We intensify our refuge. We dwell in the peace that Buddha bestows.
Wisdom is refuge. Prajna means to see through or to see beyond. This means to have a sense of the long term tendency of things. Ordinary things are impermanent, they are not reliable, but not everything is impermanent. There is a reliable refuge beyond. If there were not then there would be no liberation. To take refuge is to associate with that beyond, with the eternal Dharma, with the spirit and truth of Buddha that does not decay and is as fresh and new today as it was when Shakyamuni lived in India.
The way that refuge manifests in each life is special to that life. We can learn from great examples, but we have to find our own way. We find our own way, but we are not left alone. Strive diligently. Become a light by making Dharma your light. Take refuge.
So, yes, we are Pureland Buddhists, and yes, we are Amida Buddhists, and, perhaps most clearly, we are Refuge Buddhists, which is really the most basic kind of Buddhist one can be.
Namo Amida Bu