Friday, August 7, 2015

The grave karmic consequence of denying the transcendent reality of Amida Buddha

- based on Master T’an-luan’s Ojoronchu -

Master T'an-luan (476-542)
The Three Buddha Bodies (aspects) and the Two Buddha Bodies doctrines are usually not properly understood by those who don't accept the existence of the many transcendent Buddhas in Mahayana[1]. While the true reason for such an attitude is their materialistic vision of the universe, they often use the formless Dharmakaya (Dharmakaya of Dharma-nature) as an excuse and argument to reduce all transcendent manifestations to mere symbols or metaphors, or even go so far as to blame „folk Buddhism” for their presence in the canonical writings.
But surely, Master T’an-luan did not share such distorted views when he clearly said that exactly because Dharmakaya is formless, there is no form which it cannot manifest”:

„Unconditioned Dharmakaya is the body of Dharma-nature. Because Dharma-nature is Nirvanic, Dharmakaya is formless. Because it is formless, there is no form which it cannot manifest. Therefore, the body adorned with the marks of excellence is itself Dharmakaya”.
„The body adorned with the marks of excellence” is the specific transcendent manifestation of each Buddha for the sake of saving sentient beings:

„The Dharmakaya has no form of its own and yet manifests various forms, corresponding to the conditions and capacities of sentient beings.”

In the case of Amida Buddha, this is the Form He has taken in the Pure Land; it is Amida as described in the Larger Sutra by Shakyamuni, and as seen and heard by the audience gathered together on the Vulture Peak to listen to this sutra. It is Amida who always accompany us, sentient beings who entrust to Him.  

Ultimate Dharmakaya or Dharmakaya of Dharma-nature is beyond time and form, so it cannot be perceived as an object of faith. In this ultimate Dharmakaya we dwell only after we attain Buddhahood in the Pure Land, but here and now ordinary unenlightened people like us cannot relate to it, nor understand it. This is why Amida Buddha does not remain secluded in His ultimate - formless Dharmakaya, but has manifested himself in the form described by Shakyamuni in the Larger Sutra, and has established His Pure Land. 

Even if Amida Buddha in Form and Name is inseparable from His formless Dharmakaya, it doesn’t mean that He is non-existent or just a symbol or fictional character. As the saying goes, even if the two Dharmakayas are inseparable, they are different; they are one, but not the same. So, while we accept that Amida has the aspect of ultimate formless Dharmakaya, we relate in our faith and teaching to Amida in Form and Name, to Amida as described in the Larger Sutra and to Amida who now resides in the Pure Land. Those who do not understand this difference, but continue to negate the existence of Amida Buddha in Form and Name are not practicing in accord with the Dharma, as T’an-luan explained:

„What is the cause of not practicing in accord with the Dharma, or in agreement with the significance of the Name?
It is due to failure to understand that the Tathagata Amida is a Body of [ultimate] Reality and a Body for the sake of Living Beings.”

When we say the nembutsu, we take as object of our faith and refuge, the Name of Amida Buddha in His glorious manifestation for the sake of saving sentient beings (Dharmakaya of Expediency/Sambhogakaya):

„The ten repetitions of the Name arise from the unsurpassed faith by taking as object the Name of Amida Tathagata of a glorious body of skilful means that comprises immeasurable merits which are true and pure.”   

To negate the existence of transcendent Buddhas, including Amida, with their various manifestations is, according to T’an-luan, the most evil act of abusing the right Dharma. In a famous dialogue from his Ojoronchu, which is later mentioned by Shinran in his Kyogyoshinsho, he explains that the only obstacle to birth in the Pure Land and the true exclusion in the Primal Vow is the act of abusing the right Dharma. Then he defines the abusing of the right Dharma as follows:

„If one says ‚there is no Buddha’, ‚there is no Buddha Dharma’, ‚there is no Bodhisattva’ and ‚there is no Dharma for Bodhisattvas’, such views held firmly in the mind by one’s own reasoning or by listening to other’s teaching, are called, 'abusing the right Dharma.’”

Now the thing is that those who consider the story told by Shakyamuni in the Larger Sutra, of Dharmakara Bodhisattva becoming Amida Buddha, to be a fictional story, and Dharmakara or Amida to be fictional characters, symbols or metaphors, are actually saying „there was no Dharmakara Bodhisattva” and „there is no Amida Buddha”. Their act of denying the existence of Amida Buddha in His Dharmakaya of Expediency (Sambhogakaya form) or the Body (Aspect) for the sake of saving sentient beings, is abusing the right Dharma. For this reason, those who spread such distorted visions are excluded from birth in the Pure Land. More than this, when their present life is over, they will be reborn in the Great Avici Hell, as T’an-luan explained:

„He who has committed the transgression of abusing the right Dharma will not be able to attain Birth, even though he has not committed any other evils. For what reason? The Mahaprajnaparamita[2] sutra says:

[…] Those who have abused the right Dharma will also fall into the Great Avici hell. When the period of one kalpa comes to an end, they will be sent to the Great Avici hell of another world. In this way, such evildoers will consecutively pass through a hundred thousand Great Avici hells.’

The Buddha thus did not mention the time of their release from the Avici hell. This is because the transgression of abusing the right Dharma is extremely grave.
Further, the right Dharma refers to the Buddha Dharma. Such ignorant persons have abused it; therefore, it does not stand to reason that they should seek birth in a Buddha-land, does it?”

The Larger Sutra is the Amida Dharma taught by Shakyamuni Buddha with the intention of helping sentient beings to be born in the Pure Land of Amida. Those who do not take this sutra and Dharma as being genuine, but call it a fictional or mythological story, how can they be reborn in a Pure Land of a Buddha whose existence they actually deny? Indeed, as T’an-luan said, „it does not stand to reason”, isn't it ?

[1] Master T’an-luan clearly explained: „To say that each Buddha rules innumerable and incalculable worlds in all the ten directions is a view maintained in Mahayana discourses”.
[2] Daibonhannyaharamitsukyo.

5 comentarii:

Our Beautiful Path said...

Thank you Josho,

It is very sad that many people do not believe in the fundamentals of Shin Buddhism, and through their misconceptions may not only damage themselves, but others who follow them. It is also very sad that by not Listening to the Masters and Shakyamuni Buddha they will not receive Shinjin and so they will never really have the ultimate proof that Amida is indeed REAL as is the Pure Land.

Hopefully your article may reach someone and help them have a change of heart and to READ the MASTERS WORDS for themselves. They are VERY clear and they are written for the simple and illiterate so easy to understand - particularly Master Rennyo's writings and the Tannisho by Yuien-bo. Again a very interesting article. Thank you.

Gassho, Camille :)

Josho Adrian Cirlea said...

Greeting, Camille and thank you for your comments! Indeed, I hope this article and others on the topic of "modern divergences" will help some to have the change of heart you are talking about...

Anonymous said...

Hi Josho

Please let me know your thoughts about this quote:

Thus the answer to your question [are the mind-Only Pure Land and the Self-Nature Amitabha the same as or different from the Western Pure Land and Amitabha in the Pure Land?] is that they are one yet two before Buddhahood is attained, two yet one after Buddhahood is attained.

Quoted from Pure-Land Zen ,Zen Pure-Land Letters from Patriarch Yin Kuang. Page 108 – 111

This is my appreciation of Faith in the 18th Vow. The Faith itself is in the Original Vow, the Dynamic working, hearing the name, deep trust, enduring mindfulness, Amida's light showing us our Karmic Reality. So the two aspects our Karmic Evil and it's working and the working of the Original Vow, embracing and grasping and Settled Mind in this matter. But overall our Deep entrusting to the Altruistic Mind of the Original Vow, totally trustworthy, utterly Compassionate, saving the individual, filled with Ignorance and Evil Karma!

But there are 48 Vows, which in accordance with the above quote is the manifestation of the Reward Land and Reward Body, but this is secondary until it unifies into 'two yet one' with Birth in the Pure Land at Death. The complete working of the 48 vows. Also Birth in the Pure Land in this life with Mindfulness from the Buddha, Hearing the Name, the substance of Faith and Deep Entrusting, Peaceful Awareness.

I am engaging in dialogue as a friend to find out what you think about this!!!



Josho Adrian Cirlea said...

Dear Anonymous,

I would rather invite you to read my explanations, from the perspective of our Masters lineage of the nature of the Pure Land and Amida Buddha.

Here are the links:
The Three Bodies (Aspects) of Amida Buddha

The relation between the Doctrine of the Two Buddha Bodies and the Three Buddha Bodies of Amida Buddha

The Two Aspects of the Pure Land

All Buddhas and all sentient beings have the same Buddha nature, with the difference that the Buddhas dwell in it, while we don’t. Thus, the Buddha nature of Amida and our Buddha nature is the same. We’ll realize our Buddha nature only when we’ll be born in the Pure Land.

Next, as you will see from the articles above, Amida Buddha and His Pure Land ALWAYS have the two aspects 1) the ultimate nature or Dharmakaya aspect and 2) the manifestation aspect. No matter you are now a Buddha or not, Amida Buddha and His Pure Land ALWAYS have these two aspects. These are one, but not the same, and they exist in the same time. They have existed and will exist in these two aspects no matter you attain Buddhahood or not.

The essence of the Pure Land is of course, the ultimate Dharmakaya beyond form, but it also has Enlightened forms and adornments, and is actually a real existing place. If samsara is the effect of our collective unenlightened karma, the Pure Land is the effect of the Enlightened karma of Amida Buddha – it is the Reward of Bodhisattva Dharmakara’s practices and vows. Shakyamuni Buddha never said it is mind-only, but rather took great effort to describe its wonderful manifestations.

The language used in that passage you quote might be confusing. I never use and our masters in our lineage never used terms like, “mind-only” – which is rather a Zen term, and not a Pure Land term. Thus, I advise you to NEVER use it again. I myself refuse to integrate that term in my explanations. And Patriarch Yin Kuang has no spiritual authority for a Jodo Shinshu follower. More than this, the title of that book “Pure-Land Zen ,Zen Pure-Land” speaks for itself. A combination of Zen and Pure Land has never been used in our tradition, no matter how smart or how beautiful some elements of that combination might seem. After Master Shan-tao died, a process of combination between Zen, Pure Land and other elements has started in China, but Honen Shonin when he begun to teach the Pure Land in Japan, and later Shinran Shonin, never agreed with those combinations. Please, be aware of this, and stop using passages from Masters who (even if they were good masters in their respective lineages) were not part of the Jodo Shinshu transmission. Also do NOT use terms which were not taught in our tradition. Shinran Shonin clearly said in his Kyogyoshinsho:

“The monks and laity of this latter age and the religious teachers of these times are floundering in concepts of „self-nature” and „mind only”, and they disparage the true realization of Enlightenment in the Pure Land way”.

So, again, stop using terms like “Self-Nature Amitabha” or “mind-only”. Do not try to explain Jodo Shinshu teaching through these terms. Such terms were used in a Zen context and later some people and masters tried to accommodate them with the Pure Land teaching – but our Masters never did that! We do not take Zen concepts and accommodate them into Jodo Shinshu, nor do we explain Jodo Shinshu in accordance with them.

Josho Adrian Cirlea said...

There is another problem in your comments.

You said:
“But there are 48 Vows, which in accordance with the above quote is the manifestation of the Reward Land and Reward Body, but this is secondary until it unifies into 'two yet one' with Birth in the Pure Land at Death. The complete working of the 48 vows. Also Birth in the Pure Land in this life with Mindfulness from the Buddha, Hearing the Name, the substance of Faith and Deep Entrusting, Peaceful Awareness”.

First, again - give up to the words “in accordance with the above quote”, because Master Yin Kuang is not a spiritual authority in our lineage and school. So, do NOT try to explain Jodo Shinshu teaching through his quote.

Next, birth in the Pure Land does not take place in this life too, but ONLY after death. In this life, in the very moment we entrust to Amida Buddha for the first time, we enter the stage of non-retrogression or being assured of birth in the Pure Land and Nirvana (the stage of the truly settled). So, no matter what happens to us here, we are safe and our destination to the Pure Land is certain. Nowhere in the 48 Vows there is a saying that birth in the Pure Land takes place now, in this very existence. All you need to know about Amida Buddha and the Pure Land is presented by Him in His 13th Vow – Infinite Life, in His 12th Vow – Infinite Light, in His 32nd Vow – the manifestations of His Pure Land and in His 31st Vow – the Light of His Pure Land. In the rest of the vows are explained the method of being born there (18, 19, 20), the Name as being praised by all Buddhas (17th Vow), the stage of being assured of Nirvana in this life and entering Nirvana in the Pure Land (11th Vow), the returning from the Pure Land to save all beings (22nd Vow), and the various characteristics of beings born in the Pure Land. I explained ALL THE 48 VOWS in my book The 48 Vows of Amida Buddha, which you can find here, at this link,

Again, nowhere in the 48th Vows is said that we experience the Pure Land in this very existence!

Namo Amida Butsu

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