People often wonder, when they first explore Buddhism, how Pure Land Buddhism relates to Buddhist concepts such as the Eightfold Path, The Four Noble Truths and so on. The line of reasoning here is if you aren’t making a conscious effort to follow the Eightfold Path, how can you call yourself a Buddhist?
Pure Land Buddhism does not negate the Four Noble Truths in any way. Afterall, it’s because we suffer and are mired in our own delusions and craving that Amida Buddha created the Pure Land and the vows to provide refuge to all. However, the Eightfold Path is less obvious at first sight.
People do not consciously practice the Eightfold Path in their following of Pure Land Buddhism, but through self-reflection, hearing the Dharma, and taking sincere refuge in Amida Buddha, the Eightfold Path is gradually fulfilled. The first of the Eightfold Path is Right View, and one cannot appreciate Amida’s Vow without first comprehending the state of one’s own mind, and the fact that there is no lasting happiness in the world. Dispassion and detachment, which the Buddha speaks of, likewise grow as one practices the path. This does not mean that people become cold robots, but rather that they are not so caught up and flustered by life. If life does not go their way, they are not upset by this because they know they are embraced by Amida Buddha’s light. Likewise, when times are good, they enjoy it, but still keep their eye on the prize (the Pure Land).
Rennyo Shonin once wrote a poem stating:
Those who hear
That ‘I’ does not exist
Should all lose no time
In trusting Namo Amida Butsu.
This illustrates that true faith in Amida and effort in being reborn in the Pure Land cannot occur until one has developed Right View.
As for factors such as Right Livelihood and Right Effort, these still hold true in Pure Land Buddhism. Remember that if you are doing devotional practices, you are not spending your time doing naughty stuff. 😉 At minimum, it’s wholesome karma, but in the long-run, it’s a fulfilling practice.
In one story, Honen met a woman who was a prostitute, and she begged him for help. He told her that if at all possible, she should quit what she’s doing, but if this is not possible, then she should sincerely recite Amida’s Name (the nembutsu) diligently. It was said later that she kept up the practice until she died, and Honen, upon hearing this, declared that should would surely be born in the Pure Land.*
As for factors such as Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, this does not necessarily elude to meditation as we know it. The Buddha, as explained by Walpola Rahula, encouraged followers to cultivate skillful behavior (bhavana in Sanskrit), and meditation is one such means of doing this. However, self-reflection is likewise a skillful behavior because we become more aware of our actions than before. I can personally attest to this as a Pure Land Buddhist over the last 3 years. I do not meditate often, but in my reflections, I have learned a lot about myself that I did not realize before. This is, in Pure Land terms, Amida’s Light shining upon one’s own foolish and ignorant behavior.
Honen, also taught that through following the Pure Land path, one developed something called the “Three Minds”, which are:
- The Sincere Mind.
- The Profound (or Deep) Mind.
- The Dedicated Mind (toward the Pure Land).
Also through Pure Land Path, Honen taught that one would give rise to the Four Modes of Practice:
- Reverence to Amida Buddha and the Bodhisattvas of the Pure Land.
- Whole-hearted and exclusive practice of reciting Amida’s Name.
- Uninterrupted practice.
- Long-term practice.
So, here we see a person cultivating skillful behavior such as dedication, reverence (and by extension humility) and focus. These traits are also taught in Buddhism in general.
Lastly, D.T. Suzuki said that if you wanted to know the efficacy of reciting the nembutsu, you should just do it. Only if you follow the path can you see its fruits, which is true of any Buddhist path.
Anyways, that’s all for now. Going to bed. 🙂
* – This is notable for another reason in that earlier medieval Buddhist thought generally put women at a disadvantage in terms of rebirth and practice. The idea of a woman, let alone a woman-of-the-night, being a dedicated Buddhist and being reborn in the Pure Land was quite progressive. To this day, Pure Land Buddhism is more popular among woman than men. It’s true at my own temple, and in the broader scheme of things. Men prefer to barrel through difficult practices while woman appreciate the equal salvation of Amida’s compassion I suppose. Whose the smarter of the genders here? 🙂