Bringing Pureland to the West one runs into a mesh of ideas that have developed in our very different Western context. A crucial ideological element in our Western outlook derives from Adam Smith and the idea that if each looks after his own (economic) interest it will bring (by means of a "hidden hand") the greatest good for all. This is a corner stone of our Western type of "individualism". At the same time, we also have a monotheistic ethic that includes an idea of surrender. This reaches its fullest development in Islam. The word Islam itself implies surrender to God. However, the idea is also present in Christianity and from there it has come into programmes like Twelve Step and Course in Miracles. The existence of these two different ideals can lead to a kind of swinging from one extreme to the other and a sense that self-care and care for others are mutually opposed principles. This has been further strengthened by the historical fact that the early Christian church broke through the resistance of the Pagan Roman empire by Christians becoming martyrs. We thus have a rather strong current in our cultural unconscious of martyrdom and a good deal of contemporary pop psychology is dedicated to trying to eliminate this. However, one does not eliminate a pendular swing by adding energy to the other extreme.
Benefitting Self & Other
Buddhism comes from a different cultural context. Now these cultures are talking to each other. In Buddhism there is an implicit assumption that what is genuinely good for one is good for all and that by practising the spiritual path one is benefitting self and other automatically. This makes it a middle path in relation to the Western concerns. Actually Buddhism does not really have the idea of surrender in the sense of the military analogy. It is not really that the Buddhas are a "higher power" that one surrenders to. It is rather that they are an unfailing support. With that support one never has to surrender and one is never defeated. Yet one's state of never being defeated is not because of one's personal strength. It is because one has the merit power of the Buddhas supporting one. One's actions thus naturally become a further extension of that merit power, which is much greater than one's own little accumulation. The image is more of the Buddhas "underneath" than "on high". Hence we have the lovely little poem of Saichi:
The ocean is full of water
it has the seabed to support it.
Saichi is full of blind passions:
it has Amida to support it.
We can see in this poem that Saichi's sense of his "blind passions" is somewhat impersonal. It just happens to be so, but that is not a disaster because there is Amida (and, by implication, therefore, all the Buddhas and other celestial beings) supporting. Even the blind passions will somehow work out OK.
No Day of Judgement
So Saichi does not feel that one day he will have to answer for his passions and justify them or be punished. For sure they will have consequences in this world and it is better to be wise than stupid, but sin is not a cosmic or metaphysical catastrophe. He feels that the passions are just part of how things are - just as it is - and that is not terrible because, although his merit is small, he can rely upon and partake of the merit of the Buddhas.
We in the West have a cultural background of fear-of-God and fear-of-judgement and this drives both the sense of self-responsibility and judgementalism. In Buddhism, the gods are in the same boat as we are and the Buddhas do not judge, they help. For sure, we are vulnerable to urges that get us into trouble in various ways and even lead to us sometimes being cruel, mean or stupid, but still the Buddhas smile upon us in the same way as a good parent continues to love the child even when it has a temper tantrum or gets into trouble.
Relaxing in the Deepest Place
The Buddhas are looking out for us. They help when they can, past, present and future, here and hereafter. We live our lives by such light as we have, and they help and give us more light whenever we open up enough to receive it. The more appreciative we are of the spiritual support, the more we relax in the deepest part of ourselves. The more relaxed we are in the deepest part of ourselves, the easier we are to live with and the more others benefit from our presence. Self and other thus both benefit in a single process. There is no opposition between what is good for self and what is good for other. It is possible to see this as a kind of surrender, rather as one surrenders to a deckchair, but it is not surrender in the sense of the warlike analogy of becoming defeated or a slave. One remains undefeated. In fact, one relaxes because one knows one cannot and will not be defeated. Even if the whole universe is consumed by fire, one will be fine in the only sense that ultimately matters.
Thus what we call self-care and care for others happen, but without a strongly self-conscious contrivance of some kind. The bodhisattva saves all sentient beings but does not have a sense of saving all beings; cares for self but without any special sense of caring for self. Eat when hungry, sleep when tired, do what needs doing, see needs and attend to them, but no need to make a big deal out of it. That is the Buddhist spirit. It is really a kind of naturalness that becomes possible through the sense of having spiritual support.
Being Shattered but Not Defeated
There is a story that Quan Shi Yin was busy saving sentient beings for many eras and then paused to take stock and saw just as many beings needing saving as when she started. At this point she shattered into a thousand pieces. It was at that point that Amida appeared and put her back together again. Amida continues to appear in her headdress as you can see in the picture.
When we try to do things by our own power sooner or later we feel shattered. When she was shattered she stopped for a moment, and at that point, some light got in. At that point she was stopped in her tracks, she did not know what to do or what was what. Her "vedana" stopped, momentarily. In terms of her previous program she was defeated, but Amida appears and, in effect, says, "No, you are not defeated because I am here. You did not notice me before because you were too busy with your idea. It was not a bad idea, but it did blind you to my presence. Still, here I am, and all is well. You are not defeated. You can go on with your work, but now that you know I am here you will do it in a new spirit." Hearing this, she can relax. She will continue her work, but in a much more natural relaxed way and, with much less expenditure of effort, she will actually be much more effective. Furthermore, she will enjoy it more and feel happy and grateful, knowing that whatever happens, all's well and all shall be well.