This is the next part in the commentary upon Summary of Faith and Practice.
Text: know that this will generate rebirth in the Pure Land
Birth in the Pure Land
Birth in the Pure Land means being born in the presence of the Buddha. Buddhists would all like to be reborn in the presence of Buddha and live their life within the Buddha Light. The word that we translate as Pure Land was originally Buddhakshetra. A kshetra is a ‘field’. The meaning is within the field of influence of Buddha. We can imagine that within the field of influence of Buddha a different kind of world comes into being. If everybody in the world was primarily influenced by wisdom and compassion the world would soon be a different place.
We all understand the expression “It all depends upon the light in which you see things.” The best light is the Buddha light and Amitabha Buddha especially epitomises that light. ‘Abha’ means ‘light’. Amitabha means measureless light. As Amida Buddhists, we hope that Amitabha will come and fetch us to his land of limitless light.
Who is in the Pure Land?
It says in the scriptures that in the Land of Amitabha there are shravakas and bodhisattvas. There are no pratyekabuddhas. Pratyakabuddhas are those who enlighten themselves by their own effort. In Amida’s Land, therefore, there are only those who are reborn through entrustment. This entrustment to Amitabha is expressed by the saying of nembutsu.
How to Enter
The sage Ippen was, on one occasion, asked if there were other ways of entering the Pure Land. Reliance upon the Lotus (meaning the teachings of the lotus Sutra) was mentioned. The questioner wanted to know which way was best. Ippen said that it really does not matter which excellent teaching you follow, so long as you do follow it and not just talk about it.
Shravakas follow the Dharma by heeding it. The word ’shravaka’ means somebody who heeds the Dharma. Such people are content to remain in the Pure Land listening to the Dharma until they enter nirvana. Bodhisattvas are shravakas who have additionally made vows to return to samsaric world in order to help other sentient beings. Bodhisattvas will one day become Buddhas. We can think that their arrival in the Pure Land is a temporary stay. They are willing to go forth again into the world of delusions for the sake of others, doing the Buddha’s bidding.
Thus, from this perspective, we can say that bodhisattvas may experience the Pure Land a number of times, perhaps a vast number. Those who do return to samsara do so “trailing clouds of glory” as the famous poet said. They do not entirely lose their connection with the land of bliss. This deep influence then shapes their life and ultimately brings them back to the Pure Abodes. Thus, for the bodhisattva, going to the Land is rather like a refuelling stop-over.
What do people do in the Pure Land?
In the Sutras it says that those in that land are occupied with gathering up celestial flowers that they take and give as offerings to other Buddhas. I think this passage is of great importance.
It tells us that in that land, celestial flowers fall six times per day. This really means all the time, since it is a reference to the old way of dividing the 24 hours into six ‘watches’.
What are celestial flowers? We remember that on the night of enlightenment Shakyamuni was assailed by the hosts of Mara and that he turned them all into celestial flowers.
The hosts of Mara are all the deathward tendencies in our mentality - anxiety, depression, cynicism, pride and so on. When these are illuminated in a new way they are found to be miracle flowers. “Inexhaustible are deluded passions - we vow to transform them all.” We transform them by living in the light of Buddha. All will then become celestial flowers.
Then, as in the practice of chih quan, we offer these flowers to ‘other Buddhas’. Why ‘other Buddhas’? Why not our own Buddha? Buddhism is not a tight exclusive club in which salvation goes with membership. The person inspired by Buddha has a heart that is open in all directions. This is very important - true religions honour other religions and other teachers. We can give celestial flowers to illuminated teachers of all religions, of all races, of all ways of life. Furthermore, just as deluded passions become flowers, so deluded beings become teachers when illumined by the light of Dharma.
So, when we are born in the Pure Land, we shall be cascaded with celestial flowers and surrounded by myriad Dharma and myriad Buddhas - just as we are now. The difference between here and there is that there one is close to Buddha so that everything appears in a new light. When everything appears in the Buddha light, then we see flowers in the sky. When everything is merely within our own little ego light it is tainted with the shadow of Mara.
Some people take these teachings literally and some metaphorically. It does not really matter. All religions have litaralists and metaphoricals and there are pros and cons with each. Different people need different doors, though one should guard a little against trying to fit everything into one’s own prejudice, of course, especially if one is proud of it.
So, saying the nembutsu in simple faith will generate rebirth in the Pure Land. The merit is not in oneself, it is in the nembutsu itself. This is because nembutsu is refuge. When we take refuge in the Buddha’s we participate in their limitless merit. Trusting this process is all that is needed.