The changing landscape of Pure Land

The traditional view in Amitabha Buddhism maintains that salvation from sufferings is found after death :

“…chanting that Amitabha Buddha, through the strength of his vows, help us to be reborn in the Pure Land as we breathe our last breath in our present bodies”. 

This view, however, is starting to fade in some Amida schools operating in East Asia through gradual acceptance of the concept of “Inherent Buddhanature”.

The teaching of “Inherent Buddhanature” means that ordinary people possess the mind of enlightenment since birth (as a potential).  Based on this concept, the Lotus Sutra teaches the possibility of transforming one’s current reality and circumstances to become a “pure land” in this reality - without the need to wait until death to seek a pure land at a next rebirth.

Nichiren explained in his writings that the mind of ordinary people possesses the mind of Enlightenment, and that the nature of land (or circumstances) we live in comes as a reflection to our mind, and hence will become the pure land when we reveal our Buddhanature.

There was a huge tension in the religious atmosphere in society, when Nichiren teachings posed a considerable challenge for the basis of Amida beliefs.  Amida followers were very emotional and outraged about Nichiren’s teachings, and he was consequently subjected to attacks and attempts to kill him. 

Amida and Zen exchange of beliefs: The ground breaking concept of “Buddhanature” is taught by many Mahayana schools, and among them the Zen school.  In essence, Zen and Pure Land schools are quite different in two basic areas:

First: Zen practice is primarily that of silent meditation, while Amida school employs verbal chanting of Amida’s name.

Second: while Amida belief is based on written sutras, Zen is based on transmission of teachings without sutras.

Despite these diametrically opposed differences, a marriage of beliefs took place in some East Asia temples, where Zen sect offered Pure Land sect the advanced concept of “Buddhanature” and – on the other hand - Pure Land offered Zen the acknowledgment of verbal chanting.

This connection between the two schools was documented in an Amitabha sect book Pure Land-Pure Mind dedicated for western followers (USA, Canada and Australia).

As this book explains (page 18) scholars from Amida schools had an exchange with Zen temples, and an agreement took place to interpret the concept of “Pure Land after death” as the same as “Buddhanature in this life”.


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