Mr. G wrote:Huseng wrote:
It will not lead to liberation in this life.
No, it won't, however Japanese Pure Land teachers Honen, Shinran and Ippen believed one could attain the stage of non-retrogression in this life. There were hints from Chinese Pure Land masters that they believed this as well (if not full enlightenment). And of course Amitabha practices in different schools of Tantra and Dzogchen believe that one can achieve liberation in this life.
However as you know, any Mahayana school of thought that was pre-tantric, has controversies on whether liberation is possible in this life.
Pre-tantric Mahāyāna has no controversies about liberation in this life. The question is whether buddhahood is possible in a singe life or not, which both Chan and Tantra addressed. Traditionally Mahāyāna has asserted that one can advance through bodhisattva stages and in that sense be liberated from samsara, though still actively engaged in it. Mahāyāna has also recognized the ability to achieve arhatship, which is liberation, though precludes any active engagement within samsara following death.
In a sense, all practices are a gamble of some sort or another.
Not really -- you can analyse suffering, the causes of suffering and remedy suffering in the span of even just a few years and see the results. Those results speak for themselves. You don't have to take any of it on faith so to speak if you use common sense and consider the causes for suffering as outlined by the Buddha. Having found his explanation agreeable, you apply the antidotes and see the results for yourself. That isn't a huge gamble.
It is also quite different from, say, praying to reborn in a pure land following death, which has to be taken entirely on faith in scripture. In that case one is gambling a potential lifetime of practice on something as uncertain as directing your future rebirth. Ordinary people have no choice over where they are reborn. It all comes down to your karma when you die. Hopefully you'll have cultivated the causes for a favourable rebirth, but there is no 100% guarantee.
In the Tannisho, Shinran writes:
"Even an evil person attains birth, so it goes without saying that a good person will."
Right, and I think he's wrong. An evil person will suffer the effects of their non-virtuous karma depending on whether it is projecting or completing karma, unless of course they cull those causes or overwhelm them with virtuous karma. See the following from Asanga's Abhidharmasammucaya:
“The results of favorable and unfavorable actions are produced in the good and bad destinies (sugati, durgati). This also, through the projecting action (ākṣepaka-karma) and the completing action (paripūraka-karma). What is projecting action? It is the action by means of which the result of fruition is produced. What is completing action? It is the action by means of which, after having been born, one experienes good and bad results.”
That means evil deeds can result in an unfavourable rebirth or disagreeable results or qualities coming to be experienced in a future life.
To say that evil people somehow escape this by the grace of Amitabha is more or less a rejection of karma and hence a wrong view to hold. It is no different than claiming Brahma will save you from your evil deeds by relying on his grace.
This is really stating that Amitabha made vows to assist in saving all people - no one is left out. As the serial murderer Angulimala was helped to liberation by Shakyamuni, Amitabha also does not leave anyone out. Shinran did not advocate people to do as they wished, and even scolded people when he wrote:
"Do not take a liking to poison just because there is an antidote."
All bodhisattvas seek to aid beings without exception, but they are not omnipotent.
I disagree here. Pure Land practitioners in both Chinese and Japanese traditions do bang it out in samsara just as well as any other practitioner. Ippen after doing years of retreat went to spread his teachings carrying nothing but 10 items with him and walking to every county in Japan. Honen and Shinran when they were both exiled, also taught the poor and downtrodden. And there are countless stories of Chinese Patriarchs who do retreat and then come back to teach laypeople.
Right, but they seek rebirth in a pure land primarily for themselves first and foremost, which is in itself not an appropriate aspiration to hold if one is inclined towards the Mahāyāna.
I understand what you're saying, however you're leaving out the point that the idea of going to the Pure Land was to either immediately become a Buddha as Shinran thought, or that the Pure Land was a sort of staging area where one would continue on the Dharma path. Either way though, the idea was to become a Buddha to assist all sentient beings afterwards. It wasn't considered a place to chill out and rest.
There is prescriptive and then there is descriptive. In any case, if you read descriptions of Amitabha's Pure Land, it isn't a place conducive to buddhahood for the simple fact that minimal suffering exists, and hence there is little reason to cultivate genuine compassion. This kind of situation is addressed in the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra:
Those bodhisattvas then asked the Licchavi Vimalakirti, "How does the Buddha Sakyamuni teach the Dharma?"
Vimalakirti replied, "Good sirs, these living beings here are hard to discipline. Therefore, he teaches them with discourses appropriate for the disciplining of the wild and uncivilized. How does he discipline the wild and uncivilized? What discourses are appropriate? Here they are:
"'This is hell. This is the animal world. This is the world of the lord of death. These are the adversities. These are the rebirths with crippled faculties. These are physical misdeeds, and these are the retributions for physical misdeeds. These are verbal misdeeds, and these are the retributions for verbal misdeeds. These are mental misdeeds, and these are the retributions for mental misdeeds. This is killing. This is stealing. This is sexual misconduct. This is lying. This is backbiting. This is harsh speech. This is frivolous speech. This is covetousness. This is malice. This is false view. These are their retributions. This is miserliness, and this is its effect. This is immorality. This is hatred. This is sloth. This is the fruit of sloth. This is false wisdom and this is the fruit of false wisdom. These are the transgressions of the precepts. This is the vow of personal liberation.
This should be done and that should not be done. This is proper and that should be abandoned. This is an obscuration and that is without obscuration. This is sin and that rises above sin. This is the path and that is the wrong path. This is virtue and that is evil. This is blameworthy and that is blameless. This is defiled and that is immaculate. This is mundane and that is transcendental. This is compounded and that is uncompounded. This is passion and that is purification. This is life and that is liberation.'
"Thus, by means of these varied explanations of the Dharma, the Buddha trains the minds of those living beings who are just like wild horses. Just as wild horses or wild elephants will not be tamed unless the goad pierces them to the marrow, so living beings who are wild and hard to civilize are disciplined only by means of discourses about all kinds of miseries."
Thus it is by miseries in a sense that sentient beings are placated, not some celestial paradise paved in gold and decorated in gems.
The descriptions of the Pure Land to me are not something I take as being literal down to the letter. The first way I think of it is as a provisional teaching to motivate pracititioners. Secondly, when I read descriptions like "birds singing Dharma" I think of it as having my sense organs exposed to Dharma - My eyes reading sutras, my ears listening to a Dharma lecture, My nose smelling incense...etc. It's a way of expressing the inconceivable (Amitabha's Pure Land) with the best descriptive terms that had weight back then.
Even if you don't read it literally, the description is of a place with minimal suffering. Such a place is unsuitable for cultivating compassion.