The Pure Land and the Perfection of Wisdom

Amida Buddha seated in the Pure Land

Hi all,

From my experiences in Pure Land Buddhism, including Jodo Shinshu and Jodo Shu, I usually don’t see a lot of discussion regarding such Mahayana Buddhist concepts as the Perfection of Wisdom. I think this is because they’re usually associated with other Buddhist sects such as Zen or Shingon Buddhism.

However, while reading through the Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (e.g. “The Larger Sutra”), which is central to Pure Land Buddhism, I found a surprising number of references to emptiness, the non-arising of all dharmas1 and other key terms usually found in the Perfection of Wisdom sutras. Here are some example verses, translated by Rev. Zuio H. Inagaki:

Although they [bodhisattvas] observe with the eye of equality that the three worlds are empty and non-existent, they strive to learn the Buddha Dharma and acquire varied eloquence in order to rid living beings of affliction caused by evil passions. Since all dharmas have arisen from Suchness, the bodhisattvas see them as they really are and know skillful means of speech that will develop good habits and destroy bad ones in living beings.

And when talking about the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, who became Amitabha Buddha:

“He [Dharmakara] dwelt in the realization that all dharmas are empty, devoid of distinctive features, and not to be sought after, and that they neither act nor arise…”

Also, the 34th vow of Amitabha Buddha states:

(34) If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten quarters, who have heard my Name, should not gain the bodhisattva’s insight into the non-arising of all dharmas and should not acquire various profound dharanis, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.

And also when describing the bodhisattvas in the Pure Land, you can find the following verses:

Knowing that dharmas are like a flash of lightning or a shadow,
They will pursue the Bodhisattva Path to its end
And amass a stock of merit. After receiving
My predictions, they will become Buddhas.

While thoroughly knowing that the nature of all dharmas
Is empty and without substance,
They will single-mindedly seek to produce their pure lands
And will surely establish lands such as this.’

Compare the first line to a certain famous verse in the Diamond Sutra, translated by Thich Nhat Hanh:

All conditioned phenomena
Are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow
Like the dew, or like lightning
You should discern them like this

The verse on “receiving predictions” mirrors much of the content from the Lotus Sutra as well, where Shakyamuni Buddha explicitly predicts the eventual Buddhahood of several of his chief disciples, both monks and nuns.

Anyhow, while the focus of Pure Land Buddhism is simply getting to the Pure Land, what I find fascinating is that there is a lot of underlying Mahayana concepts and teachings woven into Pure Land Buddhism, and yet most people may simply miss them.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

3 thoughts on “The Pure Land and the Perfection of Wisdom”

  1. Pure Land and many other second turning of the wheel branches come out of the Mahayana depths. Most practitioners are not scholars who study across the scope of Buddhist writings and teaching, many of which have only become available in the West and English in recent decades. Emptiness and non-self are expanded on deeply in many of the Mahayana teachings in the first 5 – 7 hundred years of the CE.

    Yogakara, in Japanese, Hoso I think, is a deep dive.


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