Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Mr. G » Sun Apr 15, 2012 5:51 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
Mr. G wrote:.
This observation also raises some questions about the
term ‘‘voluntary death,’’ by which ascetic suicide is often described.
As Moerman notes, the presence of insistent crowds determined
to gain merit from witnessing the act may have rendered some instances
of religious suicide not quite so voluntary.

A pertinent question for me is whether Shinran would have endorsed such practices.

Shirnan and Ippen did not endorse suicide. Ippen was adamant against this as noted in the writings collected from his followers.

A teacher can't necessarily be held to account for misinterpretations by followers.

Yes, this is why I personally hold Shinran apart from the collective organization of Hongwanji - too much politics for me.

And regarding Hongwanji, they also have a history of suicide among some followers:

    Longings for postmortem reunion in the Pure Land were also
    cited as a motive for religious suicide, as discussed in Mark Blum’s
    chapter. Blum investigates the suicides of Jodo Shinshu adherents,
    perhaps as many as thirty-three, following the death of the abbot Jitsunyo
    (1458–1525), the monshu or head of the powerful Shinshu¯ Honganji
    organization. The practice of ‘‘relinquishing the body’’ has
    always held an ambivalent position in Buddhist traditions, being alter-
    nately condemned and valorized, and recent scholarship has expanded
    on its multiple significances in specific Buddhist cultures: as
    both a selfless gift and an exchange of one’s corruptible body for the
    adamantine body of an enlightened one; as an imitation of the Buddha;
    as an act of protest when the ruler persecutes the dharma; or as
    sacrifice on behalf of others. Drawing on both Buddhist canonical
    sources and the history of this practice in East Asia, Blum analyzes the
    complex ideological heritage underlying the suicides attending Jitsunyo’s
    death. They drew, he argues, on both the Pure Land ideal of jigai
    o¯jo¯, or ‘‘achieving the Pure Land through suicide’’—the most common
    motive given for Buddhist ascetic suicide in Japan—as well as on Confucian
    traditions, appropriated into the warrior ethos, of loyalty suicide
    ( junshi) to accompany one’s lord in death. Jitsunyo, who presided over
    an immense organization that was at once political and religious,
    united in his person the roles of Buddhist teacher and feudal daimyo¯
    or warrior lord. The suicides accompanying his death, Blum concludes,
    were acts both of mimesis, replicating Jitsunyo’s act of achieving the
    Pure Land, and of solidarity, expressing loyalty to Jitsunyo and at the
    same time conveying to outsiders that the unity of Honganji followers
    transcended life and death.

    - Death and the Afterlife in Japanese Buddhism

On a perhaps related note, my son was reading a book about mummies and it included an example of self-mummification by a Japanese monk!

Yes, sokushin-butsu! Also found in Tendai, Shingon and Shugendo.
    How foolish you are,
    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
    - Vasubandhu
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Serenity509 » Mon Oct 05, 2015 3:57 pm

I realize this is an old thread, but I've just purchased this book so that I can have my own copy of the Amida Kyo, and so I can also have a commentary that's applicable to my daily life.

Mr. G wrote:Early Chinese Pure Land Buddhists like T'an-luan, Tao-ch'o and Shan Tao did not agree with the "mind only" interpretation either. Neither did Honen.

I think maybe we need to look a little deeper into history than that:
The unified practice of Ch'an and Pure Land, known in Chinese as "Ch'an-ching I-chih," has a long history. As early as the 4th century C.E., Master Hui-Yuan (334-416), considered to the be first Pure Land Ancestor, incorporated meditative discipline into Pure Land practice.

Tao-HsinTao-Hsin (580-651), the Fourth Ancestor of the Ch'an school, taught what he called the "Samadhi of Oneness," utilizing the recitation of the Buddha's name to pacify the mind. It should be noted that since this practice involved reciting the name of any Buddha (a practice dating back to the origins of Buddhism) it was not specifically designed to produce rebirth in the Realm of Bliss, but it did act as a bridge linking Ch'an and Nien-Fo practices. Tao-Hsin taught that the Pure Mind is the Pure Buddha-Land.

The unified practice was also advocated by the Fifth Ch'an Ancestor Hung-Jen (601-674) who saw recitation as a good practice for beginners. Hung-Jen also advocated the visualization practices laid out in the Visualization Sutra.

Buddha recitation not concerned with rebirth was taught by a number of Hung-Jen's disciples including Fa-Chih (635-702), the Fourth Ancestor of the Ox-Head School of Ch'an. It was also put forth by the Ching-Chung School which was descended from Chih-Hsien, one of the Fifth Ch'an Ancestor's 10 eminent disciples, in the early 8th century C.E.

Descendents of Chih-hsien who advocated the unified practice included Wu-Hsiang, a former Korean prince who made invocational Nien-Fo practice a key part of the Dharma Transmission Ceremony. Although the practice was still not centered around Buddha Amitabha or rebirth in the Realm of Bliss, it marked the first time that Nien-Fo practice was explicitly adopted as part of a Ch'an school. Subsequent schools which taught Nien-Fo as part of their training included the Pao-T'ang School, the Hsuan-Shih Nien-Fo Ch'an School and the Nan-Shan Nien-Fo Ch'an School.

Ancestor Tz'u-Min (679-748) is said to have been the first Pure Land Ancestor to advocate harmonizing Pure Land practice and Ch'an. Tz'u-min developed his Pure Land faith after a pilgrimage to India, where he was inspired by stories centered around Buddha Amitabha and Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.

Pai-ChangThe Ch'an Ancestor Pai-Chang Huai-Hai (720-814), who wrote the "20 Monastic Principles" which were the blueprint for Ch'an monastic practice, included "Recitation of the Name of Buddha Amitabha." Pai-Chang stated, "In religious practice, take Buddha Recitation as a sure method." The practice of chanting Amitabha's name during a Ch'an monk's funeral was also put forth by Master Pai-Chang.

The T'ang Hui-Ch'an Persecution (845 C.E.) and the Huei-Ch'ang and Shih-Tsung Persecutions of the late Chou Dynasty (10th century C.E.) served to bring Ch'an and Pure Land even closer together. These government crackdowns on Buddhist sects enervated the academically oriented Buddhist schools such as the T'ien-t'ai and Hua-yen sects. Correspondingly, the rise of Neo-Confucianism drew many speculative thinkers away from those schools. But the Ch'an and Pure Land schools, marked by their emphasis on practice, their extreme degree of portability and their non-reliance on Imperial patronage, survived intact. By this time, the Ch'an school had incorporated true Nien-Fo Amitabha practices into its training regimens, and the Pure Land school had incorporated more meditational elements into its own system.

The Ch'an monk and Pure Land practitioner Yung-Ming Yen-Shou (905-975) is said to have been the key figure in the synthesis of Ch'an and Pure Land during this period. He taught that the Pure Land is the Realm of the Purified Mind.

The unified practices were taught in Vietnam by the Thao-Duong School, founded by the Chinese monk Ts'ao-Tang, who was taken to Vietnam as a prisoner of war in 1069 C.E. Other eminent Chinese monks who promoted unified practice were Chu-Hung (1535-1615) and Han-Shan (1546-1623).

Yin-Yuang Lung-ChiDuring the 17th century C.E., the monk Yin-Yuan Lung-Chi, known as Obaku in Japanese, brought the unified Ch'an/Pure Land practice to Japan. His school is known as the Obaku Zen School, and survives to this day as a minor sect in the shadow of the much more influential Soto and Rinzai Zen sects. ... d-practice

As one can see, there's a long history of Hanh's understanding of Amida and the Pure Land. It isn't just a modern invention for half-hearted believers.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Serenity509 » Mon Oct 05, 2015 4:22 pm

It's perfectly fine to have a mind-only understanding of Amida and the Pure Land, while also relying solely on the Nembutsu instead of meditative practices:

The Pure Land is not millions and millions of miles away in the west, it is right here and those who have eyes can see it around them. And Amida is not presiding over any ethereal paradise but his Pure Land is this dirty Earth itself. Being in the Pure Land is to discover the Pure Land within ourselves. Amida is our inmost self, and when that inmost self is revealed, we are born into the Pure Land. - D.T. Suzuki

Later in life Suzuki was more inclined to Jodo Shin (True Pure Land) practice on a personal level, seeing in the doctrine of Tariki, or other power as opposed to self power, an abandonment of self that is entirely complementary to Zen practice and yet to his mind even less willful than traditional Zen. In his book Buddha of Infinite Light (2002), (originally titled, Shin Buddhism) Suzuki declared that, "Of all the developments that Mahayana Buddhism has achieved in East Asia, the most remarkable one is the Shin teaching of Pure Land Buddhism." (p. 22)

Before someone says Suzuki was a modernist radical, this is from Daoxin, who lived over a thousand years ago:

The Great Prajnaparamita Sutra says: "To have thought with no support is called awareness of Buddha." What is meant by "having thought with no support"? Being aware of the Buddhamind is called "having thought with no support." There is no Buddha apart from mind, and no other mind apart from Buddha. To be aware of Buddha is to be aware of mind. To seek mind is to seek Buddha. Why? Consciousness has no shape, Buddha has no form. Realising this truth is calming the mind. With unceasing awareness of Buddha, grasping at objects does not arise. Then it is totally formless, everywhere equal and nondual. When you enter this stage, the mind that [actively] recollects Buddha fades away and no longer has to be stirred. When you witness this kind of mind, this is the true Dharmakaya of the Tathagata. It is also called the Correct Dharma, buddha-nature, the true anture of all things, reality itself. It is also called the Pure Land. It is also called Bodhi, Vajra Samadhi, original enlightenment, and so on. It is also called the Realm of Nirvana, and Prajna, and such. Though the names are countless, they all share the same essence. There is no sense of the subject observing and the object observed.

Daoxin lived around the same time or right before Shandao. He can't be described as strictly Chan or strictly Pure Land, since these divisions didn't yet exist:
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Serenity509 » Mon Oct 05, 2015 5:46 pm

This is from Sister Annabel, who wrote the preface to Hanh's book:
One day, Queen Vaidehi asked the Buddha, "Is the place with no suffering very far away?" The Buddha replied, "No, it is not far away." And then the Buddha taught the queen how to touch the land of Great Happiness in her own heart and in her own mind...

The Sukhavati Sutra and the Avatamsaka Sutra may seem very strange when we read for the first time. We read descriptions of trees that have jewels for their leaves, flowers, and fruit, and descriptions of water with eight virtuous qualities, clarity, sweetness, purity, coolness, limpidity, etc. These descriptions are not for us to consider intellectually. We do not read the Pure Land sutras or the Avatamsaka Sutra with an intellectual mind. But when we read them, the descriptions touch the seeds of purity in us...

There are different levels of belief in the Pure Land, and the highest level of Pure Land teaching is that your mind is the Pure Land, the Pure Land is available in your mind. The ancestral teachers put together the Pure Land Sutras with a kind of wisdom that helps us be in touch. And helps us to have the deep aspiration to be in a Pure Land and also, to help to build a Pure Land.

When we think about our own Pure Land, we have to come back to Queen Vaidehi's question. "Lord Buddha, is there a place where there is no suffering?" Out of compassion, the Buddha said, "Yes, there is." Queen Vaidehi's heartfelt aspiration to be in that place of no suffering came about because she had suffered so much. If she hadn's suffered, the idea of a place where there is no suffering would never have occurred to her. So suffering and no-suffering go together, in the same way defiled and immaculate go together. They are not absolute realities; they are only relative realities. And sometimes the Buddha has to teach the relative truth in order to be compassionate and to help, and to encourage. And that is why the Buddha said there is a place where there is no suffering.

I'm sorry if the above sounds radical or heretical, but there's a 2,000 year history in support of what she's saying, beginning with Nagarjuna who discerned the difference between relative truth and Ultimate Truth, and who taught that Nirvana and Samsara are inseparable. Thank you for allowing me to share it.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Serenity509 » Tue Oct 06, 2015 12:00 am

Probably the most controversial of all Zen koans is if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. Though shocking, it's not meant to be taken literally. If you view Amida as an external deity apart from your own nature, kill that view:

If we see Buddha as someone or something above us, then we are seeking enlightenment outside of ourselves. We need to look inwardly, for that is where our Buddha-nature is sleeping. Buddha is our guide and we rely on his teachings for sustenance on the path, but ultimately we have to “kill” the idea of Buddha as anything other than our own life, our own mind. We have to give it up.

From this perspective, the Nembutsu is not supplicating a divine being but is awakening your Buddha-nature.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Serenity509 » Tue Oct 06, 2015 1:58 am

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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Dan74 » Tue Oct 06, 2015 2:58 am

I don't think it is a good idea to come to a tradition from another tradition and tell them that the other tradition's take on their teachings is the right one.

To my way of seeing what Chan people like Hsu Yun and Sheng-Yen said about Pure Land was for Chan people to help them incorporate Pure Land into their practice. It is not intended for Pure Landers.

As for DT Suzuki, he is said to have embraced orthodox Pure Land towards the end of his life. One reason could be perhaps that faith can be truly powerful to effect a radical transformation while the intellect rarely runs out of tricks and subterfuges to keep us in its realm.

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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Serenity509 » Tue Oct 06, 2015 4:57 am

Dan74 wrote:I don't think it is a good idea to come to a tradition from another tradition and tell them that the other tradition's take on their teachings is the right one.

Thank you for your response. I have never been involved in the Zen tradition. As a matter of personal preference, I honestly find sitting meditation boring. Yet when it comes to mind-only or metaphorical understandings of Amida and the Pure Land, I see that it's supported by over 2,000 years of Mahayana sutras and philosophy, as well as modern teachers within Jodo Shinshu and some other Pure Land sects as well.

Serenity509 wrote:
One day, Queen Vaidehi asked the Buddha, "Is the place with no suffering very far away?" The Buddha replied, "No, it is not far away." And then the Buddha taught the queen how to touch the land of Great Happiness in her own heart and in her own mind...

The next lines in Chapter 17 of the Lotus Sutra continue:
"…and he will see this sahā-world [our world of defilement] whose land is lapis lazuli, plain and level, its eight roads marked off with jambūnada gold, lined with jewel trees…"
It sounds like a description of the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, but Shakyamuni is speaking of this world of ours here and now. When one has such confidence in the Dharma, through mindfulness and joy, this world, in spite of its suffering becomes a Pure Land to us. ... pure-land/

This impure Buddha Field is indeed the Pure Land. It only appears impure because of the minds of sentient beings dwelling in it. If there are mountains in this world, and all is flat in the Pure Land, that is because there are mountains in the mind. Shakyamuni is not a deficient Buddha. To him all is pure. The impurity that we see is the result of impure awareness, and also the Buddha’s compassion in creating a world within which impure beings can grow (Thurman 1976: 18–19; cf. Rowell 1937: 142 ff.). Thus the real way to attain a Pure Land is to purify one’s own mind. Put another way, we are already in the Pure Land if we but knew it. ... dition.pdf

In Mahayana Buddhism, the Vimalakirti Sutra advocates that “When the mind becomes pure, the Buddha land also becomes pure,” while the Avatamsaka Sutra asserts that “One should contemplate the nature of all things in the Dharmadhatu, and realize that they are all created by the mind,” and that “The mind, like a skillful painter, paints all sorts of skandhas.”
...The Buddha Land Chapter in the Vimalakirti Sutra states, “By relying on the Buddha’s wisdom, one can see that the land of this Buddha is pure.” “Because they don’t rely on the Buddha’s Wisdom, they perceive this land as impure.” ... 2_1_1.aspx

The second view, represented in the Lotus Sutra and the Vimalakirti Sutra, is that no pure land exists apart from the saha world: the saha world reveals either its pure aspect or impure aspect in response to the purity or impurity of the hearts and minds of those inhabiting it. One with a pure heart thus dwells in a pure land here and now. Collectively, when people purify their hearts and minds, the society or world where they live becomes a pure land. ... /Pure_land

If saying the Nembutsu can help me to live as if I'm already in the Pure Land, then that is the greatest benefit of all.

It was in Kamakura-period Japan, in Shinran's time, that Zen (Chan) and Pure Land became separate from each other. In China, they've long been practiced alongside each other. I'm not really interested in Zen practice, since the Nembutsu can be said anywhere at any time, but one can say the Nembutsu with a Zen mind, seeing the Pure Land in the here and now.

Serenity509 wrote:I am sorry if I am offending anyone by sharing this. The following is a summary of the Pure Land sutras from a perspective that doubts their literal historicity. Please let me know which specific parts, if any, are false about this summary:

The Pure Land narrative, when taken literally, requires a human being to take a leap of faith based on something that cannot be verified. A literal reading of the Pure Land scriptures makes extraordinary claims that requires extraordinary evidence...

Furthermore, there is considerable evidence that Pure Land Buddhism is not a teaching of the historical Shakyamuni, but rather a development of the Mahayana movement which most scholars acknowledge to have arisen centuries after Shakyamuni’s passing. The Mahayana scriptures that we have today resulted from centuries of creation and evolution (from the 2nd century AD up until the 11th century AD) which explains why there are numerous versions of the same sutras. The Larger Sukahavtivyuha Sutra, which is the foundational text for Pure Land Buddhism, has survived in seven versions and there are noticeable differences between them. According to the Zhi Qian and Zhi Loujiachen translation, Dharmakara made 24 vows. The Faxian translation lists 36 vows. The Sanskrit and Tibetan versions has 47 vows while the Bodhiruchi and Sanghavarman translations both have 48 vows. The existence of a plurality of texts suggests a diverse process of creation as Buddhists strove to express their understanding of the historical Shakyamuni’s teachings into new narratives.

Another evidence that the Pure Land scriptures were not the work of a single person are internal and external textual contradictions. The seven surviving versions of the Larger Sukahavtivyuha Sutra are significantly different in content. Only the Bodhiruchi and Sanghavarman versions have a long preamble on the acts of the Bodhisattvas while the others do not. The Zhi Qian and Zhi Loujiachen versions have a long description of the Five Evils of the world, which is absent in the Faxian, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Bodhiruchi versions, although the Sanghavarman version has a short version. The Zhi Qian and Zhi Loujiachen version does not refer to Maitreya’s vision while the other five versions do so,

The Larger Sukahavtivyuha Sutra states that people who have committed the five heinous acts and/or blaspheme the Buddha's teachings are barred from rebirth in the Pure Land while the Contemplation Sutra (accepted by scholars as a work of non-Indian origin) contradicts this by stating that those who commit the five heinous acts can also take birth in the Pure Land should they repent at the end of their lives and trust in Amitabha. Pure Land teachers have traditionally reconciled this by saying that the apparent exclusion clause in the Larger Sukahavtivyuha Sutra was an ethical injunction to warn the sutra’s readers from committing these acts. But it seems to my mind that the more likely explanation is that the sutras were composed by different people with different ideas about who would or would not be excluded from the Buddha’s compassion, as embodied by the Pure Land.

Also, a literal reading of the Pure Land texts can present several difficulties. In the Larger Sukahavtivyuha Sutra, we are told that Dharmakara existed immeasurable ages ago. But the story of Dharmakara is couched in cultural references from ancient Vedic India. In the sutra, Dharmakara is quoted as comparing the splendour of the Buddha Lokeshvaraja to Mount Sumeru. He also vowed to worship as many buddhas as “the grains of sand in the Ganges.” The idea of Mount Sumeru was from borrowed from Vedic cosmology and so the name “Ganges” also came from Vedic civilization.

A further indication of the historical origins of the Pure Land scriptures can be found in Dharmakara’s 26th vow where he aspired to provide the body of Narayana for everyone born in his land. Narayana is a name for the Vedic deity Vishnu. The inclusion of this god and the above-mentioned references from Vedic culture indicates that the writer or writers of the sutra was not trying to tell their readers a literal event which took place billions of aeons ago. They were conveying a myth. ... ssive.html

The author is not just a Westerner trying to force his modernist preconceptions onto Pure Land Buddhism: ... apore.html

In this day and age, in which gender equality is the norm, it's inadvisable to read the sutras 100% literally. Both the 35th Vow in the Larger Amitabha Sutra and Chapter 23 of the Lotus Sutra state that the woman who seeks birth in the Pure Land will be born as a man. Perhaps this is one reason why the Tannisho tells us to not read the scriptures 100% literally:

From our viewpoint, in all the scriptures the true and actual teachings are intermingled with the provisional and expedient. The Master's real intention was that you should discard the provisional and keep to the actual, put aside the expedient and abide by the true. You should take great care not to misunderstand the scriptures.

Also, the 21st vow promises that those born in the Pure Land will have the thirty-two physical marks of a great man. It takes a simple Google search in order to see that these marks traditionally include a retractable penis. How do we take this part literally? I am sorry if I'm offending anyone by sharing these things.

It appears that the more literal-minded who insist that everyone read the story of Dharmakara as literal history or else we don't have true faith are, in fact, ignoring or glossing over parts of the sutras that they themselves don't interpret literally. The similarities between Shakyamuni and Dharmakara seem clear to me, in that they both renounced royal titles for the sake of Buddhahood, so perhaps it's allegorical of Shakyamuni Buddha's own life story.

As a former Tendai monk, Shinran understood the Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra and Amida Buddha to be one and the same being:

One of the signal elements in Shinran's thought which
reflects his background in the Lotus Sutra and Tendai thought
is his conception of Amida as the Eternal Buddha, designated
as kuonjitsujo...
Though chapter VII suggests that the Buddha has passed
into nirvana, despite his lengthy career, chapter XVI
indicates that the Buddha will never pass away. The Buddha
declares: "As I said before, it is very long since I became a
Buddha. The duration of my life is innumerable, asamkhya
kalpas. I am always here. I shall never pass away."...
In his interpretation of Pure Land thought, Shinran did
not directly attack or criticize the Tendai or other
contemporary traditions, or quote from the Lotus Sutra
itself. Rather, he addressed the major issues raised in that
tradition and formulated a comprehensive alternative. He
deepened the philosophical basis of Pure Land teaching,
establishing the supremacy of the teaching as the universal,
true way to enlightenment.

If Amida Buddha's existed from the eternal past, then it ultimately shouldn't matter if Dharmakara's story is literally true. I am sorry if I'm offending anyone by sharing these things.

Please keep in mind that I am just expressing one point of view, among many, that are acceptable in Pure Land Buddhism today:

Inspired by a listener question/discussion on Facebook, we tackle the issue of belief in (Shin) Buddhism, specifically when it comes to Pure Land imagery. Are we expected to believe in it in some substantive, literal sense? Or do we take it as metaphorical? Symbolic? Symbolic of what exactly? We start by suggesting that wrestling with these questions allows us to think critically about what the point of Buddhist practice is in the first. Why do we practice? Because in some sense we believe it will work. But is this belief in the efficacy of Buddhist practice any different from other forms of religious belief? These are some of the questions we wrestle with in this episode.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Monlam Tharchin » Tue Oct 06, 2015 5:26 am

There are several ways to practice Pure Land. Amida does not abandon.
Some of these ways, literal, symbolic, etc., are explained and encouraged by TNH in the book that this thread is about.

It's good to share one's point of view while avoiding engaging in doctrinal disputes, which Honen strongly discouraged.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Serenity509 » Tue Oct 06, 2015 6:08 am

Thank you for your kind words. If, according to Shinran, our rebirth is assured the moment we accept faith, and that, upon death, we will immediately attain Buddhahood, then literal belief in a Pure Land doesn't seem so important. If, according to Shinran, the Nembutsu is said spontaneously through us as the work of Amida Buddha, that suggests a non-dualistic relationship, rather than Amida as an external deity. I'm sorry if I'm misrepresenting things.
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