Foundations of the Pure Land

Week 7: Clearing up MisconceptionsDharmavidya David Brazier

Welcome to our six-week online video course with Dharmavidya David Brazier, a psychotherapist and head of the Amida Order, an international Pure Land Buddhist community. With a background in both Soto Zen and Pure Land Buddhism, each week Brazier will be leading us through six foundational teachings of the Pure Land path. This week, in this bonus seventh video, Brazier addresses a common misconception: isn't Pure Land the same as Christianity?

Foundations of Pure Land, Week 1: Other Power.
Foundations of Pure Land, Week 2: Honen's Legacy.
Foundations of Pure Land, Week 3: Chanting the Nembutsu.
Foundations of Pure Land, Week 4: The Pure Land Take on Mindfulness.
Foundations of Pure Land, Week 5: Social Engagement.
Foundations of Pure Land, Week 6: Art and Tradition.

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Michael Jaquish's picture

What a wonderful analysis and comparison of Buddhism and Christianity you have provided for us today Dharmavidya! You did an excellent job of clearly framing the motivating forces behind the decisions to convert to Buddhism that have driven so many people who were born into a monotheistic society to trade a system of intolerance for one of total acceptance.

That being said, I feel compelled to ask; What would the Buddha have said about the concept of Pure Land? It certainly did not exist as a concept involving dualism during his lifetime as far as I can see. The story of Siddhartha Buddha and his attainment of enlightenment is really pretty straight forward. His journey from ego and attachments (which create suffering) to eventual non-self and non-attachment (enlightenment) must be a journey that requires active participation, discipline and practice. No work... no growth.

As we are aware, the Buddha is often quoted as saying to his followers that they should take nothing he said as truth until they have done the work and followed the same path to denial of self that he took. For me, pure land Buddhism seems to fall short of this requirement because dualism (self) is allowed to flourish in a mystical land where individuals who have not managed to free themselves from the chains of attachment are somehow provided with a free pass to escape the endless cycle of rebirth and suffering that the Buddha said could only be broken by 'enlightenment'.

For me, 'Taking Refuge' in the Buddha, The Dharma & the Sangha" is not a form of dualism. For me, it is simply an acknowledgement of the path that I am stepping on that will lead AWAY from dualism.

I AM enjoying this series, however! Thank you!

eric.koeppen's picture

Sorry I'm late to the party on this one...
From the tone of your post it doesn't seem like you're a big fan of Mahayana sutras (which have something like 290 references to Amitabha), so I'll try to explain things simply in terms of the Pali Suttas.

The technique of buddhanusatti, mindfulness of the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha (and devas), dates back to some of the earliest parts of the Sutta Nipata - some of the earliest parts of the Pali Suttas. This mindfulness is a constant thing, it purifies the mind, and navigates it on the right course. You focus on a pure aspiration, someone who's cut the lower fetters, the teachings to get there, and the teachers that help you along the way.

You are incorrect when you said that Buddha said everyone should follow his path - he had 4 types of followers, householders were advised different practices. Otherwise, why wouldn't he have told everyone to live in the forest and follow hundreds of Vinaya precepts? (Believe me, he didn't) This mindfulness of the Buddha, Dharma, Sanga (and devas) was a technique specifically recommended to householders, to be done in the midst of a hectic household life of work, kids, & chores.

Mindfulness of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, devas IS work. It's a form of meditation. It's even done in Theravada, with the Iti Pi So & the Buddho chants. Furthermore, noticing your bent for the Kalama Sutta, this technique works. It's very similar to the power of positive thinking and visualization techniques used in sports. I've experienced these techniques for myself.

Now that we have the cause, we should discuss the effect. Buddhanusatti conducted well, with fidelity in the teachings, would lead to the various jnanic attainments and rebirth into one of the Pure Abodes - this is straight out of the Pali. The particular Pure Abode one was born in was determined by one's level of jnanic attainment. Once reborn in a Pure Abode, one could only travel "upward", eventually attaining Nibbana. Interestingly household disciple Sarakaani died of alcoholism and still attained Pure Abode birth. Aside from that example though, "metaphorical rebirth" still holds true. In Pure Land Buddhism, there are 9 levels of rebirth, these could roughly correspond to the 9 levels of jnana (4 regular, 4 formless, + attaining Nirvana). So we see that these Pure Abodes/Pure Lands are associated with a pure mind.

The last facet that's left is Amitabha - Infinite Light. Maybe you remember this quote from the Pali Suttas: "Luminous is the Mind". Infinite, subtle, clear light mind....

I don't understand the dualism critique. First off, it's not really dualism to begin with. Second off, the Pali Suttas (taken literally) do mention dualism.

If you want references to any of this, I suggest looking for Suttas dealing with Mahanama/Mahaanaama, Sarakaani, Anathapindika, Sigalaka (Sigalovada)...

Dominic Gomez's picture

According to the Buddha Infinite Life Sutra, an immeasurable number of eons ago a king, impressed by the preaching of a Buddha named World Freedom, renounced the throne to follow him. The king took on the name Dharma Treasury and began to practice bodhisattva austerities under the guidance of this Buddha.
After examining an infinite number of Buddha lands and pondering for a very long time, Bodhisattva Dharma Treasury vowed to create his own Buddha land when he attained enlightenment. This "pure land" would combine the best features of all the Buddha lands he had examined, and he pledged to bring all sentient beings who placed their hopes of salvation with him to this new Buddha land.
Bodhisattva Dharma Treasury completed his practices and became the Buddha Amida. He established his pure land in a part of the universe one hundred thousand million Buddha lands to the west of this world.

sanghadass's picture

Which way is west? I live on the other end of the planet - I call it the top! As you are on the bottom - you are in the south! As there are more than two dimensions - where is the west of HERE? Was the western paradise a product of a flat earth topography? Wait a minute - I just remembered - in the holographic model of the universe there are only two dimensions - the third is projected. Spooky!