Pure Land is good news

April 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve been involved with Buddhism since 1995 when I took my first university course. Buddhism, and religion in general, has been my passion since that time. Intellectual engagement has been constant, practice has come and gone. I can tell you that for most of this time, I thought Pure Land Buddhism was silly and for people who had given up on trying.

I thought we moderns were much more learned, enlightened, in the intellectual sense, and wise than those living in ancient or premodern times. In some ways, certainly much of this is true. But the ways in which this is true have little or nothing to do with our spiritual, existential state of being.

After reading Jeffrey Long’s Evidence of the Afterlife, I’ve become convinced that consciousness survives bodily death. I’m also amazed at the correspondences between Pure Land accounts of the afterlife and contemporary accounts of near-death experiences (NDEs).

Before reading this book, I thought, like many do, that the Buddha had taught rebirth as either skillful means* or a metaphor for the constant becoming here in this life. In some very real sense, we are reborn each second of every day. However, he meant much more than this, and to deny this is to fundamentally deny what the Buddha taught.

As I get older and more aware of humanity’s wretched state, I’ve come to realize that we do live in dark times. If the ancient Chinese who lived in Shan-Tao’s time lived in spiritual darkness, how much more so do we do now.

Much of this darkness has been amplified by technology and more specifically modern media. You can watch x-rated stuff your mobile. And many do. Imagine that — before TV, how often do you think the average man or woman viewed others having sex? And I’m not talking about wholesome love-making but disgusting sights that humans had never seen before.

Sex is not essentially evil but to deny the profound negative consequences it can have on our minds is living in total denial. Pornographic images take on a life of their own. Everything our mind takes in remains forever.

Consider this deeply: The images we’re absorbing now will remain active or inactive in our store-house consciousness forever.

We’re not only living in sexually aberrant times, we’re also living in the most distracted and desire-driven society ever to plague the face of this planet. And what is the essence of Buddhism if it isn’t to purify our minds of gross agitations? What agitates the mind more than desires, of which sex is the most powerful?

My point is that Pure Land Buddhism is the helpful vehicle that allows desire-ridden beings such as ourselves the chance of making real progress. However, if we think we’re above it, that we can walk the path of arahants, we’re in big trouble. Frankly, I don’t think it’s possible for most us. Not in our society. Not in our time. There are too many distractions and turbidities. And if we fail to concentrate well-enough, develop enough vispassana, and uphold our sila, we may find ourselves falling into unfavorable realms after this life.

Reciting the Buddha’s name can be done by anyone, at any time, under any circumstances, whether you’re homeless, in prison, or at a shareholders board meeting. This is fantastic news! We shouldn’t look down on this path. It’s made for us: boneheads who can’t get their acts together, concentrate well, or simply don’t have the time or aptitude to sit and stare at the wall for hours everyday.

This is truly good news, the gospel, for our time, not just for the Ming dynsty in China or the Kamakura period of Japan.

And if you have doubts, find my earlier post on answering doubts about the Pure Land.

Only repeat the name of Amida with all your heart. Whether walking or standing, sitting or lying, never cease the practice of it even for a moment. This is the very work which unfailingly issues in salvation, for it is in accordance with the Original Vow of that Buddha. (Hōnen, quoting Zendō [Chinese: Shan-tao])

* I mean that I thought Buddha taught rebirth as a support for undertaking the arduous path. Because if death were the end, who’d bother training so hard?

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