Precepts and Shinran

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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Wed Apr 28, 2010 6:42 am

Hi Huseng and all,

I see that I was too subtle the first time. I can be more direct.

Huseng wrote:The first question is that if liberation from samsara was so simple, why did Shakyamuni Buddha not teach it?


You see, this is disparaging a perfectly valid path of Buddhism. Please stop. Debate, even fierce debate is fine. In the form of Buddhism I practice it's a tool for learning and a respected method. But to claim that various paths that are well-validated and commonly accepted to be taught by Buddha Shakyumani are less than legitimate, not taught by the Buddha, "too easy" and so on, is not acceptable. At the very least it's disrespectful. And in particular it's unacceptable to claim that the Buddha never taught it. One can ask other members about the validity of practices xyz for his/her personal edification, but not discount it as one of the Buddha's teachings as a matter of fact.

The Buddha gave many teachings. Some were even given to Nagas originally. Shall we say that those are any less than our own because they don't jive with our own dispositions?

This is a formal warning and a need for further intervention in this thread will lead to this discussion closing. At that point someone can re-start a similar investigation or discussion if it is conducted in a manner which is more kind and respectful towards members of this tradition.

Thanks,
Laura
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:17 am

I'm not as proficient in Shin teaching as Dodatsu, but based on Chinese Pure Land teachings I may have some answers.

I understand Huseng's question and actually agree with his doubts. Claiming there is any compassionate and omnipotent being leads to the problem of theodicy, and such an argument was used by Buddhist masters several times to refute those who thought there is such a divine being.

Why I don't think it applies to the Pure Land teaching is because Amita Buddha is not the cause of being brought to his land but the condition. That is, as a result of his bodhisattva work through many aeons he created a buddha-land without any suffering on it (Sukhavati, Land of Bliss), and had 48 vows to specify how and upon what conditions can beings reach his land. So it is like he made a contract which has to be fulfiled by beings to receive admission. Those are the house rules. Such is perfectly within common Mahayana teaching on buddha-lands and dependent origination.

Minimal requirement from an applicant to the Western Pure Land is faith, vow and practice. Of this three, faith and vow constitutes the essential determinant of birth while practice is on one hand for cultivating faith and vow, on the other defines what level of birth one can get. Faith and vow stands for: there is a way, I want to go that way. Practice is remembering, recalling the existence of the way and the determination.

This three (faith, vow, practice), which can be summed up as nianfo/nenbutsu, builds a connection with Amita Buddha. Such a connection is necessary for receiving merit from him. This is in accord with the teaching on transference of merit as accepted by all schools; ie. by knowing of the dedicated merit and being happy about it one receives that merit. This works in case of humans, bodhisattvas and buddhas alike.

This way we can establish the requirements for the possibility of the general Pure Land idea within the framework of Mahayana. Now we can look at how it can be possible to attain birth only by faith through other-power.

Those who don't hear about the Pure Land path has no chance to aspire for it. Therefore knowledge comes first. Based on knowledge faith has to appear. Such faith is only possible because there is Amita Buddha's vow to escort beings to his land and there they're assured of enlightenment. So we can say that faith is from him. Such faith must be deep trust where insight into one's own situation, into the way of Pure Land and the determination. This is the three minds (sanjin) within deep trust (shinjin). Also, deep trust means that one keeps not forgetting of Amita Buddha, which has the verbal expression in Namo Amita Buddha. Hence shinjin also includes nenbutsu, and nenbutsu includes shinjin.

This is how faith is the sufficient cause for birth in the Pure Land. Once there is faith birth is assured, in that sense it is equal to non-regression. Since on the Pure Land liberation is guaranteed, birth is enlightenment (similar to bodhicitta being samyaksambodhi in the Avatamsaka Sutra).
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
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“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Apr 28, 2010 12:12 pm

Huseng wrote:Are you proposing that a Buddha is omnipotent in the sense of having absolute control of any condition or cause in reality?


A Buddha is omniscient (that is, knows all phenomena, causes and conditions) and, according to the Flower Ornament Sutra, has unlimited ability to teach and save beings in any circumstance. If in fact he lacks the capacity to save you or me -- regardless of our karmic baggage -- then the above criteria have not been met and a Buddha is not really a Buddha.

Does this imply "omnipotence"? I am reading Astus's explanation carefully. We might also consider whether or not all phenomena are fundamentally aspects of Mind. If that's the case, then omniscience=omnipotence. Also, since Amitabha is within you and not simply "out there somewhere", we are also talking about realization of self-nature.

I don't deny the existence of Purelands. I'm objecting to the proposal that merely by having faith in a Buddha that one can be plucked out of samsara and transformed instantly into a Buddha. If you propose that Buddha is omnipotent and is supremely compassionate, then you have an issue of a theodicy in which you cannot explain why suffering exists despite an omnipotent and compassionate being apparently existing. If it is omnipotent, then it has the ability to end all suffering right now. If it is compassionate and omnipotent, then it would end all suffering right now. However, suffering exists so we can indeed from that make our conclusions about such a proposal.


I agree these are valid questions. But it seems to me that if you have this kind of objection, it actually applies to Pure Land in general and not just Shinran. Again, if we look at Chin Kung, he makes two points very clear:

1. Anyone in any situation can be saved through the method of Buddha remembrance.
2. The condition is faith.

Ven. Chin Kung wrote: The Buddha is indeed capable of helping a person who has committed serious offenses to become a Buddha. The question lies in whether or not the person believes and accepts. If not, then the fault lies with the individual, not the Buddha. So, after reading the Infinite Life Sutra we know that anyone who sincerely practices the recitation method will already succeed.


As I understand it, Shinran's main innovation was to renounce "self-power" in favor of "other-power". That is, you eliminate the striving, acknowledge emptiness and let the Primal Vow do its work. But the problems you raise, I think, are not really with this revision, but with the nature of the Vow itself.

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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 28, 2010 12:25 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:A Buddha is omniscient (that is, knows all phenomena, causes and conditions) and, according to the Flower Ornament Sutra, has unlimited ability to teach and save beings in any circumstance. If in fact he lacks the capacity to save you or me -- regardless of our karmic baggage -- then the above criteria have not been met and a Buddha is not really a Buddha.


Does it say unlimited or does it say immeasurable? A Buddha is omniscient, yes, but not omnipotent. It sounds like you have critically misunderstood what a Buddha is and made a Brahma out of Buddha. Your vision of the Buddha has turned him into a god like we find in monotheist religions

Shakyamuni is quoted having stated the following:

"He who eyes can see the sickening sight, why does not God set his creatures right? If his wide power no limits can restrain, why is his hand so rarely spread to bless? Why are his creatures all condemned to pain? Why does he not to all give happiness? Why do fraud, lies, and ignorance prevail? Why triumphs falsehood, -truth and justice fail? I count your God unjust in making a world in which to shelter wrong." J VI.208


This is essentially an argument pointing out the fallacy of the theodicy. If a Buddha is omnipotent as you suggest, then why would he not give happiness to all? Why would fraud, lies and ignorance prevail? If an all-compassionate and omnipotent being existed, suffering would not exist. This can easily be inferred.


Maybe this implies "omnipotence" and maybe it doesn't. I am reading Astus's explanation carefully. We might also consider whether or not all phenomena are fundamentally aspects of Mind. If that's the case, then omniscience=omnipotence. Also, since Amitabha is within you and not simply "out there somewhere", we are also talking about realization of self-nature.


Omniscience does not entail omnipotence. One fundamental teaching of the Buddha is dependent origination. All things arise due to causes and conditions. Even in a citta-matra model, cause and effect are still applicable. If it was not, we'd have meaningless mysticism and not a valid means to overcome suffering which indeed has a cause and conditions which support it.


It seems to me that if you have this kind of objection, it actually applies to Pure Land in general and not just Shinran. Again, if we look at Chin Kung, he makes two points very clear:

1. Anyone in any situation can be saved through the method of Buddha remembrance.
2. The condition is faith.


And who was Chin Kung? You should defer to the Buddha.

As I understand it, Shinran's main innovation was to renounce "self-power" in favor of "other-power". That is, you eliminate the striving, acknowledge emptiness and let the Primal Vow do its work. But the problems you raise, I think, are not really with this revision, but with the nature of the Vow itself.


I don't deny that Buddhas help beings. In fact the dharmakaya is like the sun in that regardless if we know it or not or even appreciate it we receive its benefit unconditionally. However, I object to suggestions that a Buddha is omnipotent. I also object to the notion that a Buddha could just pluck a being out of suffering and instantly make them a perfect Buddha free from all defilements regardless of the being's karma.
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 28, 2010 12:31 pm

Astus wrote:Why I don't think it applies to the Pure Land teaching is because Amita Buddha is not the cause of being brought to his land but the condition. That is, as a result of his bodhisattva work through many aeons he created a buddha-land without any suffering on it (Sukhavati, Land of Bliss), and had 48 vows to specify how and upon what conditions can beings reach his land. So it is like he made a contract which has to be fulfiled by beings to receive admission. Those are the house rules. Such is perfectly within common Mahayana teaching on buddha-lands and dependent origination.


My idea of the Pureland is to build one right here on earth. Or rather turn our world into a Pureland. Let us eliminate all disease, war, fighting, anger, poverty and oppression on earth. Let us turn the US Pentagon into a Dharma Center.
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Apr 28, 2010 12:42 pm

Well, ok then, you object to Pure Land soteriology. What more is there to say?

Chin Kung is a (well-known) Chinese Pure Land teacher; I'm quoting him as a representative of that tradition.

Perhaps I have misread the Flower Ornament Sutra -- I know you've made that a focus of your studies. I'll take a closer look. But perhaps we are splitting hairs? All things arise due to dependent origination and causes/conditions. But an omniscient Buddha knows all the causes and conditions and how dependent origination unfolds. Therefore in any circumstance he already understands what is needed to save beings. You seem to be denying the Buddhas this capacity, but in Mahayana "saving beings" is something even a bodhisattva can do.

The complaints you raise seem to me essentially the same ones which Theravadins bring against the Mahayana. If Guan Yin can hear the cries of the world, why do some cries go unheard?
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 28, 2010 1:24 pm

Huseng,

The idea of "Pure Land on Earth" is indeed a good one. But it has little to do with the Pure Land school itself. If you accept Tiantai Zhiyi and Yongming Yanshou as valid teachers, you should have no problem with birth in the Pure Land. Which of course doesn't mean you have to choose that way.

Lazy_eye,

It seems to me you take it too much to the extreme. Of course buddhas and bodhisattvas work tirelessly for the wellfare of all beings. But they cannot make anyone enlightened. Even if one goes to a buddha-land (any of them), they have to attain realisation on their own. The difference is the environment. Thus the Pure Land is said to be like a monastery, an ideal place for the perfection of paramitas. Shinran may simplify all this to saying that attaining birth is equal to enlightenment, but I doubt he wanted to contradict the tenet of the four noble truths, especially the fourth.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 28, 2010 1:32 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Well, ok then, you object to Pure Land soteriology. What more is there to say?


Pure Land Buddhism isn't monotheism.

Chin Kung is a (well-known) Chinese Pure Land teacher; I'm quoting him as a representative of that tradition.


I quote the Buddha who refuted any notion of an omnipotent being existing.

Perhaps I have misread the Flower Ornament Sutra -- I know you've made that a focus of your studies. I'll take a closer look. But perhaps we are splitting hairs? All things arise due to dependent origination and causes/conditions. But an omniscient Buddha knows all the causes and conditions and how dependent origination unfolds. Therefore in any circumstance he already understands what is needed to save beings. You seem to be denying the Buddhas this capacity, but in Mahayana "saving beings" is something even a bodhisattva can do.


You cannot tear open a flower hoping to see it bloom like that. The conditions must be cultivated for it to bloom on its own. Mahayana Buddhism is not about salvation, but liberation.

The complaints you raise seem to me essentially the same ones which Theravadins bring against the Mahayana. If Guan Yin can hear the cries of the world, why do some cries go unheard?


I did not deny the existence of Bodhisattvas. I only say that they are not omnipotent.
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 28, 2010 1:35 pm

Astus wrote:Huseng,

The idea of "Pure Land on Earth" is indeed a good one. But it has little to do with the Pure Land school itself. If you accept Tiantai Zhiyi and Yongming Yanshou as valid teachers, you should have no problem with birth in the Pure Land. Which of course doesn't mean you have to choose that way.


As I've stated several times already, I don't deny the existence of Purelands. My problem is with the assertion that merely by saying, "Namu Amida Butsu" that you can become free from all defilements and become an omniscient tathagata.
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Dodatsu » Wed Apr 28, 2010 1:52 pm

Huseng wrote:As I've stated several times already, I don't deny the existence of Purelands. My problem is with the assertion that merely by saying, "Namu Amida Butsu" that you can become free from all defilements and become an omniscient tathagata.


Simple, it's in No. 11 of Amida's Vow!
(11) If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not dwell in the Definitely Assured State and unfailingly reach Nirvana, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.


Shinran's explanation:
To reveal, with reverence, the true realization: It is the wondrous state attained through Amida's perfect benefiting of others; it is the ultimate fruition of supreme nirvana. It arises from the Vow of necessary attainment of nirvana, also known as the Vow of realization of great nirvana.

When foolish beings possessed of blind passions, the multitudes caught in birth-and-death and defiled by evil karma, realize the mind an practice that Amida directs to them for their going forth, they immediately join the truly settled of the Mahayana. Because they dwell among the truly settled, they necessarily attain nirvana. To necessarily attain nirvana is [to attain] eternal bliss. Eternal bliss is ultimate tranquility. Tranquility is supreme nirvana. Supreme nirvana is uncreated dharma-body. Uncreated dharma-body is true reality. True reality is dharma-nature. Dharma-nature is suchness. Suchness is oneness. Amida Tathagata comes forth from suchness and manifests various bodies - fulfilled, accommodated, and transformed.


The Sutra further states:
That Buddha-land is pure and tranquil, wondrous and delightful. It is not apart from the enlightenment of uncreated nirvana. The sravakas, bodhisattvas, devas, and human beings there all possess lofty and brilliant wisdom, and their transcendent powers are thoroughly realized. They are all of a single kind, with no distinction in appearance. The words "human beings" and "devas" are used simply in accordance with usage elsewhere. Their countenances are dignified and wonderful, surpassing things of this world. Their features, subtle and delicate, are not those of human beings or devas; all receive the body of naturalness (jinen) or of emptiness, the body of boundlessness.


Further [the Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life] states:
All the sentient beings of that land and those to be born there are brought to thorough fulfilment of supreme enlightenment and reach the abode of nirvana. Why is this? Because those who are falsely settled or not settled cannot comprehend [the Buddha's intent in] establishing the cause [of birth there].


And from Tan-luan's "Commentary on the Pure Land Treatise":
Further, the Treatise states:

Concerning "the fulfilment of the adornment of the virtue of purity," the gatha states:

Contemplating the features of that world,
I see that it transcends the three realms.

Why is this inconceivable? When foolish beings possessed of blind passions attain birth in the Pure Land, they are not bound by the karmic fetters of the three realms. That is, without severing blind passions, they realize nirvana itself. How can this be conceived?
Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
One sees that no foolish being who encounters it passes by in vain.
When a person single-heartedly practices the saying of the Name alone,
It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Dodatsu » Wed Apr 28, 2010 1:55 pm

Huseng wrote:
Astus wrote:Why I don't think it applies to the Pure Land teaching is because Amita Buddha is not the cause of being brought to his land but the condition. That is, as a result of his bodhisattva work through many aeons he created a buddha-land without any suffering on it (Sukhavati, Land of Bliss), and had 48 vows to specify how and upon what conditions can beings reach his land. So it is like he made a contract which has to be fulfiled by beings to receive admission. Those are the house rules. Such is perfectly within common Mahayana teaching on buddha-lands and dependent origination.


My idea of the Pureland is to build one right here on earth. Or rather turn our world into a Pureland. Let us eliminate all disease, war, fighting, anger, poverty and oppression on earth. Let us turn the US Pentagon into a Dharma Center.


If you wish to build one here (aka Humanistic Buddhism 人間浄土), that's fine. A noble goal, good. But for me and a lot of others, we're aspiring to be reborn in Amida's Pure Land.
Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
One sees that no foolish being who encounters it passes by in vain.
When a person single-heartedly practices the saying of the Name alone,
It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
- Shinran Shonin
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 28, 2010 2:00 pm

Huseng,

It is of course not enough to just say it. Anyone can say it without even knowing a thing of its meaning. Faith is the essential part here which makes buddha-remembrance a living connection. Through that connection there is birth in the Land of Bliss. "Namo Amita Buddha" is just summing it up, expressing the whole teaching. Similar (but not the same) to the Mani-mantra in Tibetan Buddhism which is explained in so many ways that it includes the whole Vajrayana. Or to say that the six paramitas or the four noble truths contains the entire teaching of the Buddha. The nianfo/nenbutsu is buddha-awareness (not buddha-mind, except if we go into a Zen explanation), and as the Surangama Sutra explains, just as remembering our father - who never forgets us - it is possible to meet, that's how by remembering Amita Buddha we can meet him at the time of death and be escorted to the Pure Land.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Huifeng » Wed Apr 28, 2010 2:45 pm

Dodatsu wrote:
Huseng wrote:
Astus wrote:Why I don't think it applies to the Pure Land teaching is because Amita Buddha is not the cause of being brought to his land but the condition. That is, as a result of his bodhisattva work through many aeons he created a buddha-land without any suffering on it (Sukhavati, Land of Bliss), and had 48 vows to specify how and upon what conditions can beings reach his land. So it is like he made a contract which has to be fulfiled by beings to receive admission. Those are the house rules. Such is perfectly within common Mahayana teaching on buddha-lands and dependent origination.


My idea of the Pureland is to build one right here on earth. Or rather turn our world into a Pureland. Let us eliminate all disease, war, fighting, anger, poverty and oppression on earth. Let us turn the US Pentagon into a Dharma Center.


If you wish to build one here (aka Humanistic Buddhism 人間浄土), that's fine. A noble goal, good. But for me and a lot of others, we're aspiring to be reborn in Amida's Pure Land.


Have been enjoying this thread so far, but haven't added anything. Have been inspired by the last couple of posts, though, as above.

My own understanding is that both taking rebirth in the Purelands of other Buddhas (such as that of Amitabha, or Aksobhya, etc.) as well as creating a Pureland ourselves for the benefit of other beings, are both part of the broader Mahayana path.

One of the reasons for many (though not all) to take rebirth in other Purelands in the first place, is to learn how this is done. Learning from those other Buddhas, we can then understand how to do this ourselves.

This may superficially sound like saying that one part is more rudimentary and the other is more advanced, but I am not sure if they are so separated. On the higher grounds, bodhisattvas travel from buddha-land to buddha-land basically at will. As always, the purpose is the same - to mature other sentient beings, to learn from the buddhas, and to perfect the buddha-dharmas.

So, in the long term, I don't find these mutually exclusive. Though I'm not saying that the above posters are saying that they are mutually exclusive either, just making my own understanding of this point more explicit.

(It may take an enormous amount of effort to have the people of the USA give us the power over the Pentagon to let us so transform it into a Dharma center. How do we accumulate such merit in the first place?)
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 28, 2010 3:22 pm

There is a section of the Vimalakirti-sutra that came to my mind.

Basically, in contrast to the distant Buddha-field of Sugandhakuta where mere perfume allows Bodhisattvas to attain virtues, the Saha universe that we presently reside in is actually a lot more effective in generating Bodhisattva virtues, particularly compassion, as it contains all the cruel and harsh elements of samsara and thus fosters compassion, a prerequisite for Buddhahood, far more effectively than a gentle serene Pure Land.

See the following section:


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."

The bodhisattvas said, "Thus is established the greatness of the Buddha Sakyamuni! It is marvelous how, concealing his miraculous power, he civilizes the wild living beings who are poor and inferior. And the bodhisattvas who settle in a buddha-field of such intense hardships must have inconceivably great compassion!"



I personally can identify much more with this line of thought than with aspiring to be reborn in Amitabha's pure land.

Basically, it is the cruel realities of our Saha universe right here and now that produce Bodhisattvas and foster those Bodhisattvas towards rapid Buddhahood. In a serene place with no woes or worries, what need for compassion? What possibility is there for heroic and meritorious deeds?

The late Master Sheng Yen wrote the following (see p.77 in the link below):

"There are also Buddhists who, with unfathomable compassion and sturdy faith, do not wish to be reborn in any of the buddha lands in other places, but rather wish to be reborn time and again in our world in order to deliver people from suffering."


He continues:

"Seeking rebirth in Amitabha Buddha's pure land is surely the safest, easiest and most reliable kind of faith, and is a great comfort and kindness bestowed upon those unsure of their own abilities. On the other hand, the Amitabha Sutra states that no one can be reborn in the Land of Utmost Bliss with only weak karmic capacities for virtue and with little merit. So although the energy of Amitabha's vows is enormous, you still need to practice good deeds and accumulate merit in daily life. Otherwise, at the brink of death, you might not even have the energy to recite Amitabha Buddha's name. At that time, although Amitabha would like to help, he might be unable to do so."




http://www.shengyen.org.tw/big5/book/orthodox.pdf


Also Master Sheng Yen points out the draw backs of Pure Land practise (see p. 138):

"Regarding the paths of practice, there are two types: the difficult path and the easy path. One starts the difficult path by invoking bodhi-mind and follows up by practicing the bodhisattva path life after life, sacrificing one's self to benefit sentient beings. The traveler on this path relies heavily on the power of his vows to support his work of delivering others life after life. It is a very difficult approach. If his vow-power is not strong enough, the practitioner will frequently withdraw from the path because of frustrations and setbacks. But this path is faster than the easy path, as one will achieve the goal of becoming a Buddha much sooner. The easy path is to rely on rebirth in one of the pure lands that has been created by a Buddha's vow-power, where practitioners can nourish their wisdom. In other words, the practitioners are reborn in a buddha land as ordinary people, but will cultivate wisdom under the facilitating environment there. After they reach the stage of non-retrogression or even the noble stages, they will enter the ordinary world to practice the bodhisattva path to deliver sentient beings. So this path is safer and more stable, but winding and slow."





I think you can draw a line between the quote I gave above from the Vimalakirti-sutra and what Master Sheng Yen is saying here. Essentially, while the Pure Land path is viable, it is slow and not as effective as the Bodhisattva vehicle raging through the hell fires of the Saha universe.
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby kirtu » Wed Apr 28, 2010 3:49 pm

Astus wrote:If enlightenment seems unreachable then the Pure Land path is the optimal choice. That way one can get free from samsara and fulfil the bodhisattva path easily. Otherwise, even if one collected an immense heap of merit throughout a single life, there's no guarantee one won't be born in the lowest hells and stay there for many aeons.


Quite right. I would hazard that virtually all Mahayana practitioners from traditionally Buddhist countries are in fact primarily Pure Land practitioners or have a significant dose of Pure Land practice in their practice. And I think the same is becoming true of Western Mahayana practitioners.

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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:05 pm

There is an interesting essay relevant to this thread: Foundations of Ethics and Practice in Chinese Pure Land Buddhism.

Honen and many of his disciples (including Shinran) put themselves into the category of "lowest of the low" where one may actually commit serious offenses but still be saved. Still we should note that neither of them became a serial killer or anything close that.

As for Ven. Shengyan's arguments, attaining buddhahood through birth in the Pure Land may take longer for those born in the lower levels but not for those in the upper leveles. At the same time, failing on the bodhisattva path and losing human birth can easily result in aeons of wandering around (see the parable of the blind turtle in the ocean). In that case it would be essential to reach non-regression in this life, hence buddhahood is not far away at all. Or there's the sudden enlightenment of Chan as another option.

I'd also like to refer to the original issue behind starting this topic. It is to show how Shinran had good reasons to say that precepts for him (and many others) are too high, but fortunately the Pure Land path gives him a chance to attain buddhahood in that condition too. Others with better karma still may be able to realise enlightenment on their own. And those others should uphold moral discipline. If they can.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
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Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Dodatsu » Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:05 pm

Master Sheng Yen talks from the view-point of the Path of Sages, not from that of a Pure Land practitioner. (All due respects to him, i eve n had the chance in 2003 to give him a personal tour of the Hongwanji) For us Shin Buddhists, once we attain birth in the Pure Land (= attain enlightenment), we also return to not only this Saha world, but also any other worlds we have affinity with to work for the sentient beings there.
Second is Amida's directing of virtue for our return to this world. This is the benefit we receive, the state of benefiting and guiding others. It arises from the Vow of necessary attainment of the rank of succession to Buddhahood, also know as "the Vow of succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime." It may further be called "the Vow of directing virtue for our return to this world." Since this Vow appears in the Commentary on the Treatise, I (Shinran) will not quote it here; see the passages from the Commentary [that follow].

The Treatise on the Pure Land states:
Concerning "the fifth gate of emergence": With great compassion, one observes all sentient beings in pain and affliction, and assuming various transformed bodies to guide them, enters the gardens of birth-and-death and the forests of blind passions; freely sporting there with transcendent powers, one attains the state of teaching and guiding. This is brought about by the directing of virtue through the power of the Primal Vow; it is called "the fifth gate of emergence."

The Commentary on the Treatise states:
"Directing virtue for return to this world" means that after being born in that land, fulfilling samatha and vipasyana, and gaining the power of compassionate means, one returns and enters the thick forests of birth-and-death, teaches and guides all sentient beings, and brings all to enter the Buddha-way together. Whether with regard to the aspect for going forth or the aspect for return, all is entirely for the sake of bringing sentient beings across the ocean of birth-and-death. Thus it is stated, "It is to fulfil the mind of great compassion, taking the directing of virtue as foremost."


Also, as Tan-luan 曇鸞 wrote:
The Commentary on Vasubandhu's Treatise on the Pure Land states:

Reverently contemplating the Commentary on the Ten Bodhisattva Stages of Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, I find it stated that there are two paths by which bodhisattvas seek the stage of non-retrogression - the path of difficult practice and the path of easy practice.

With the path of difficult practice, it is seeking non-retrogression in this world of five defilements at a time when there is no Buddha that is difficult. This difficulty appears in many ways; I will indicate what is meant by roughly listing several of them.

* The apparent good practiced in non-buddhist ways is confused with the dharma of the bodhisattva.
* The sravaka's concentration on self-benefit diverts a bodhisattva's practice of great compassion.
* Evildoers lacking self-reflection subvert the excellent merits of others.
* The results of good acts undertaken with inverted thinking nullify the bodhisattva's pure practice for enlightenment.
* The path of difficult practice is based solely on self-power and lacks the support of Other Power.

Such problems as these, which may be seen everywhere, are examples of the difficulty. Thus the path of difficult practice may be compared in its hardship to journeying overland on foot.

In the path of easy practice, one aspires to be born in the Pure Land with solely one's entrusting oneself to the Buddha as the cause, and allowing oneself to be carried by the power of the Buddha's Vow, quickly attains birth in the land of purity. Supported by the Buddha's power, one immediately enters the group of the truly settled of the Mahayana. The stage of the truly settled is none other than the stage of non-retrogression. Thus the path of easy practice may be compared in its comfort to being carried over waterways in a ship.

This treatise, the Upadesa on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life, indeed holds the ultimate of the Mahayana; it is a sail with which to catch the favorable wind toward non-retrogression.

"Immeasurable Life" is a name of the Tathagata of the Pure Land of happiness. Sakyamuni Buddha, while residing at Rajagrha and Sravasti, taught the assembly about the virtues that adorn the Buddha of Immeasurable Life. The Buddha's Name forms the essence of those sutras. Later, the sage Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, reverently heeding [Sakyamuni] Tathagata's greatly compassionate teaching, composed a gatha of aspiration for birth in the Pure Land based on these sutras.


Also, there is a great misunderstanding by many masters, past and contemporary, to the passage in the Amida Sutra which you quoted below, for there is a version of the commonly used Amida Sutra (Kamarajiva's translation) with an extra 21 Chinese characters.
Master Yüan-chao's Commentary on the Amida Sutra states:

The Tathagata seeks to clarify the excellence of virtue of holding to the Name. First, other good acts are criticized and labeled "small roots of good." If performed without true trust, all meritorious acts - including charity, observance of the precepts, temple construction, making images, worship and chanting, seated meditation, repentance, and ascetic practices - are only small good acts, even though they are directed toward birth with aspiration for the Pure Land. They are not the cause of birth. If one holds steadfast to the Name in accord with this sutra, one will definitely attain birth. We know then that saying the Name is possessed of many roots of good and many merits.

I formed this understanding long ago, but people hesitated to accept it because of their doubts. Recently, I have obtained a copy of the sutra as engraved on a stone monument at Hsiang-yang and find that this text corresponds perfectly with the truth. Thus people have begun to embrace a deep faith. The inscribed text states:
Good sons and daughters, hearing the teaching of Amida Buddha, solely say the Name single-heartedly, without being disturbed by other thoughts. Because one says the Name, all one's evils are eradicated. It is the act of many roots of good, many virtues, and many merits.

元照律師弥陀経義疏云。「如来欲朙持名功勝先貶余善為少善根。所謂布施・持戒・立寺・造像・禮誦・座禅・懺念・苦行・一切福業、若无正信、回向願求、皆為少善。非往生因。若依此経執持名号、決定往生。即知、称名是多善根多福徳也。
近得襄陽石碑経本文、理冥符、始懐深信。彼云。善男子・善女人、聞説阿弥陀仏、一心不乱、専称名号。以称名故、諸罪消滅、即是多功徳・多善根・多福徳因縁。」
(The above quote is found in Yuan-chao's Commentary on the Amida Sutra)

And, in Jodo Shin, the last moment of death is not seen as important as in the other Pure Land schools.
The idea of Amida's coming at the moment of death is for those who seek to gain birth in the Pure Land by doing various practices, for they are practicers of self-power. The moment of death is of central concern to such people, for they have not yet attained true shinjin. We may also speak of Amida's coming at the moment of death in the case of those who, though they have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses throughout their lives, encounter a teacher in the hour of death and are led at the very end to utter the nembutsu.

The practicer of true shinjin, however, abides in the stage of the truly settled, for he or she has already been grasped, never to be abandoned. There is no need to wait in anticipation for the moment of death, no need to rely on Amida's coming. At the time shinjin becomes settled, birth too becomes settled; there is no need for the deathbed rites that prepare one for Amida's coming.

"Right-mindedness," then, is the settling of the shinjin of the universal Primal Vow. Because of the realization of this shinjin, a person necessarily attains the supreme nirvana. Shinjin is the mind that is single; the mind that is single is the diamondlike mind; the diamondlike mind is the mind aspiring for great enlightenment; and this is Other Power that is true Other Power.

There are, in addition, two other types of right-mindedness: that achieved through meditative and that through nonmeditative practices. These are right-mindedness of self-power within Other Power. The terms "meditative good" and "nonmeditative good" are used with reference to birth through various practices and indicate the good practices of self-power within Other Power.

Without awaiting Amida's coming, the practicer of self-power will not attain birth even into the borderland, or the womblike birth, or the realm of indolence. For this reason Amida created the Nineteenth Vow, vowing to appear at the moment of death to welcome people who wish to attain birth by directing the merit of their accumulated good toward the Pure Land. Thus, it is the person endeavoring in meditative or nonmeditative practices who must be concerned about awaiting the moment of death and attaining birth through Amida's coming.

The shinjin of the selected Primal Vow has nothing to do with either "thought" or "no-thought." "Thought" refers to meditation on the color and form of an object; "no-thought" means that no form is conceived and no color visualized, so that there is no thought whatever. These are both teachings of the Path of Sages. The Path of Sages comprises teachings that people who have already attained Buddhahood preach in order to encourage us; it includes such schools as the Busshin, Shingon, Tendai, Kegon, and Sanron, which are said to be the ultimate developments of the Mahayana. The Busshin school is the presently growing Zen school. There are also the accomodated Mahayana and the Hinayana teachings, such as the Hosso, Jojitsu, and Kusha. These are all teachings of the Path of Sages. "Accomodated teachings" are those that Buddhas and bodhisattvas, who have already attained Buddhahood, promote by temporarily manifesting themselves in various forms; this is the meaning of the word "accomodated."

The Pure Land teaching also includes doctrines of "thought" and "no-thought," although here "thought" refers to nonmeditative good and "no-thought" to meditative good. "No-thought" in the Pure Land school, then, is quite different from that of the Path of Sages. "No-thought" of the Path of Sages also includes a doctrine of "thought" as visualization. Please ask someone about the full implications of this.

In the Pure Land teaching there are the true and the provisional. The true is the selected Primal Vow. The provisional teaches the good of meditative and nonmeditative practices. The selected Primal Vow is the true essence of the Pure Land way; good practices, whether meditative or nonmeditative, are provisional ways. The true essence of the Pure Land way is the consummation of Mahayana Buddhism; the provisional gateways of expedience include the other Mahayana and the Hinayana teachings, accomodated and real.

The teachers of Sakyamuni numbered one hundred and ten; this is stated in the Garland Sutra.

Namu-amida-butsu

Kencho 3 [1251], Intercalary ninth month, 20th day

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Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
One sees that no foolish being who encounters it passes by in vain.
When a person single-heartedly practices the saying of the Name alone,
It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:13 pm

Astus wrote:I'd also like to refer to the original issue behind starting this topic. It is to show how Shinran had good reasons to say that precepts for him (and many others) are too high, but fortunately the Pure Land path gives him a chance to attain buddhahood in that condition too. Others with better karma still may be able to realise enlightenment on their own. And those others should uphold moral discipline. If they can.


This is a very good thread we're having here. :smile:

As Master Sheng Yen stressed: "you still need to practice good deeds and accumulate merit in daily life."

From that perspective maintaining precepts allows for an accumulation of merit in daily life. You need merit to get to the pure land of Amitabha, ergo maintaining precepts is quite beneficial in achieving said goal.

Thus I disagree with Shinran or anyone else who would say precepts are unnecessary. They are the foundation of everything in Buddhism.
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Dodatsu » Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:15 pm

During the time of Honen and Shinran, Buddhism was "closed" to the general population, reason: they were not nobles, poor and uneducated, and thus had no chance to give dana, much less become monks or nuns (Remember, during that time in Japan one had to get official recognition in order to become a monk or nun), and many had to engage in trades that required the taking of life etc. For such people, Honen's message of the Pure Land teachings founded the way of emancipation for them, through Amida's undiscriminating Vow to save sentient beings. Shinran took it one step further by being an example that even if one did not adhere to the precepts, one would still be able to attain birth in the Pure Land. Thus for us in Jodo Shin, adherence to the precepts does not become a qualitative factor for our birth in the Pure Land.
This being said, there are Shin Buddhists in Taiwan, HK who are still vegetarian, who still adhere to the 5 precepts etc but do not say that those who don't will not attain birth in the Pure Land. It is precisely because Amida vowed to deliver all sentient beings, through birth in the Pure Land, to enlightenment. To use a very christian term, it's His gift, but it's up to each individual whether to accept it or not. The Buddha won't force it down our throats, but continues to beckon us.
Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
One sees that no foolish being who encounters it passes by in vain.
When a person single-heartedly practices the saying of the Name alone,
It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
- Shinran Shonin
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Re: Precepts and Shinran

Postby Dodatsu » Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:19 pm

Notes on 'Essenstials of Faith Alone' 2

That Buddha, in the causal stage, made the universal Vow:
When beings hear my Name and think on me, I will come to welcome each of them,
Not discriminating at all between the poor and the rich and wellborn,
Not discriminating between the inferior and the highly gifted,
Not choosing the learned and those upholding pure precepts,
Nor rejecting those who break precepts and whose evil karma is profound.
Solely making beings turn about and abundantly say the nembutsu,
I can make bits of rubble change into gold.


That Buddha, in the causal stage, made the universal Vow

That Buddha refers to Amida Buddha.

In the causal stage indicates the time when Amida Buddha was Bodhisattva Dharmakara.

Universal means wide, to spread. Bhiksu Dharmakara established the supreme, unexcelled Vow and spread it widely. "Supreme" means that it goes beyond the vows of other Buddhas. It connotes transcendent, unequalled. The Tathagata's establishing of the universal Vow is explained in detail in Essentials of Faith Alone.

When beings hear my Name and think on me

Hear is a word indicating shinjin.

Name refers to the Name embodying the Tathagata's Vow.

Think on me instructs us, Hold this Name in mindfulness! This is implied in the compassionate Vow that all the Buddhas pronounce the Name. "Hold in mindfulness" means that people of true shinjin constantly recall the Primal Vow without interruption.

I will come to welcome each of them.

Each of them means all inclusive, everyone. Welcome means to receive, to await, expressing Other Power. Come means to return, to be made to come. Thus, we are made to come and return to the city of dharma-nature. Since there is coming from the city of dharma-nature into this Saha world to benefit sentient beings, come has the sense of "to arrive from"; since there is attainment of the enlightenment of dharma-nature, it means "to return."

Not discriminating at all between the poor and the rich and wellborn

Not discriminating means not choosing, not rejecting.

Poor means impoverished and in need. At all is for emphasis, meaning "not at all"; it also means "with" and to lead. Rich and wellborn indicates the wealthy and the people of rank. Thus, without in the least differentiating among such people, Amida leads each and every person to the Pure Land.

Not discriminating between the inferior and the highly gifted

Inferior refers to those whose knowledge is shallow, limited, and slight.

Highly gifted indicates those with great ability for learning. Amida does not choose between the two.

Not choosing the learned and those who uphold pure precepts

Learned means to hear and believe in numerous and diverse sacred teachings.

Upholding means to maintain. "To maintain" means not to lose or dissipate what we learn.

Pure precepts indicates all the various Hinayana and Mahayana precepts - the five precepts, the eight precepts, the ten precepts of morality, all the Hinayana codes of precepts, the three-thousand regulations of deportment, the sixty-thousand regulatory practices, the diamondlike one-mind precepts of the Mahayana, the threefold pure precept, the fifty-eight precepts expounded in the Brahma-net Sutra, and so on - all the precepts for monks and for laypeople. To maintain these is "to uphold" and to violate them is "to break." Even saintly people who observe these various Mahayana and Hinayana precepts can attain birth in the true fulfilled land only after they realize the true and real shinjin of Other Power. Know that it is impossible to be born in the true, fulfilled Pure Land by simply observing precepts, or by self-willed conviction, or by self-cultivated good.

Nor rejecting those who break precepts and whose evil karma is profound

Break precepts applies to people who, having received the precepts for monks or laymen mentioned earlier, break and abandon them; such people are not rejected.

Evil karma is profound: evil people who have committed the ten transgressions or the five grave offenses, people of evil karma who have reviled the teaching or who lack seeds for Buddhahood, those of scant roots of good, those of massive karmic evil, those of shallow inclination to good, those of profound attachment to evil - such wretched men as these, profound in various kinds of evil karma, are described by the word profound. Profound means bottomless. Good people, bad people, noble and low, are not differentiated in the Vow of the Buddha of unhindered light, in which the guiding of each person is primary and fundamental. Know that the true essence of the Pure Land teaching (Jodo shinshu) is that when we realize true and real shinjin, we are born in the true fulfilled land.

Come and welcome each of them means making all beings of true and real shinjin return to the Pure Land by welcoming and leading them there.

Solely making beings turn about and abundantly say the nembutsu

Solely making beings turn about instructs us, Single-heartedly make your heart turn about!

Turn about means to overturn and discard the mind of self-power. Since those people who are to be born in the true fulfilled land are without fail taken into the heart of the Buddha of unhindered light, they realize diamondlike shinjin. Thus, they "abundantly say the Name."

Abundant means "great" in the sense of great in number, "exceeding" and "supreme" in the sense of excelling and surpassing all good acts. This is because nothing excels the Primal Vow embodying Other Power.

"To abandon the mind of self-power" admonishes the various and diverse kinds of people - master of Hinayana or Mahayana, ignorant beings good or evil - to abandon the conviction that one is good, to cease relying on the self; to stop reflecting knowingly on one's evil heart, and further to abandon the judging of people as good and bad. When such shackled foolish beings - the lowly who are hunters and peddlers - thus wholly entrust themselves to the Name embodying great wisdom, the inconceivable Vow of the Buddha of unhindered light, then while burdened as they are with blind passion, they all attain supreme nirvana. "Shackled" describes us, who are bound by all our various blind passions. Blind passions refers to pains which torment the body and afflictions which distress the heart and mind. The hunter is one who slaughters many kinds of living things; this is the huntsman. The peddler is one who buys and sells things; this is the trader. They are called "low." Such peddlers, hunters, and others are none other than we, who are like stones and tiles and pebbles.

I can make bits of rubble change into gold

This is a metaphor. When we entrust ourselves to the Tathagata's Primal Vow, we, who are like bits of tile and pebbles, are turned into gold. Peddlers and hunters, who are like stones and tiles and pebbles, are grasped and never abandoned by the Tathagata's light. Know that this comes about solely through true shinjin. We speak of the light that grasps because we are taken into the heart of the Buddha of unhindered light; thus, shinjin is said to be diamondlike.

Although I have not set forth the meaning of this passage as fully as I would like, I have presented a rough explanation. I hope the reader will ask good teachers about its profound implications.

The passage is the exposition of Tz'u-min, master of the Tripitaka, who studied in India. In China he is known as Hui-jih.
Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
One sees that no foolish being who encounters it passes by in vain.
When a person single-heartedly practices the saying of the Name alone,
It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
- Shinran Shonin
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