Amida Buddhism and the Three Properties of Buddha

Mahayana Buddhism refers to the Buddha as possessing three enlightened qualities (sanjin). The three properties (Wisdom, Compassion and Manifest Action in daily life) - are also called the Three Enlightened Aspects (or Three Bodies) of Buddha.

Obviously, the three qualities of Buddhahood are interconnected, because Wisdom cannot be separate from Compassion, and both Wisdom and Compassion require Action (or a Manifest body to express them in reality).  While Wisdom and Compassion are mental or spiritual in their nature, the Manifest aspect expresses the physical action of the person of Buddha.

Pure Land beliefs are based on separating the three qualities of Buddha: where Amida is considered as a symbol for the “property of wisdom”, one of the Enlightened Properties - and not as possessing the integral oneness of these three properties together.

In this regard, Jodo Shu literature clarifies: “In Pure Land Buddhism, it is considered that the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, is the Manifested Body. Honen believed that Amida is the [wisdom] Reward Body”.

Amida (Amitabha) is an imaginary figure.  Having no physical body to manifest in reality among the people.  Therefore, Amida cannot teach through example of behaviour.  Pure Land beliefs lack the concept of “teaching through actions” or “inspiring humanity through the Buddha’s behaviour” – as Shakyamuni and Nichiren manifested.  Consequently, Pure Land Buddhism lacks the teaching of “role model or mentor”, who would provide the actual proof of the validity of the teachings in daily life.

Pure Land Dualistic views

While the focus of the teaching of the Four Noble Truths is on “sufferings” as the basic fact of life, Amitabha teachings focus on the other extreme: “joy” in Pure Land “where sufferings do not exist”. 

In a question and answer in “Pure Land Buddhism” book - (Master Tien Ju, p.71), we read  the following:

Answer: The Amitabha Sutra states Sentient beings in that Land experience no sufferings but only know every kind of joy. Therefore it is called Ultimate Bliss”.

Needless to say, “Joy-only land” is a familiar concept in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as “Paradise” is described, and Pure Land beliefs are the Buddhist version of this view.

While Theravada Buddhism focuses on suffering in this life, Pure Land Buddhism focuses on Joy after death. 

Nichiren Buddhism, however, regards the nature of reality as inseparably possessing both features of sufferings and joy: Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life and continue chanting Nam myoho renge kyo.” WND1 p 681

Dualistic beliefs, which divide the environment into Pure (with joy) and Impure (with pain) fail to understand the nature of oneness of mind and environment:

        “The Vimalakirti Sutra states that, when one seeks the Buddhas’ emancipation in the minds

        of ordinary beings, one finds that ordinary beings are the entities of enlightenment, and that

        the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana. It also states that, if the minds of living beings

        are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are

        not two lands, pure or impure in themselves.

        The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds”. WND1p4


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