The origin of Pure Land belief


In order to lead people to enlightenment, Shakyamuni gradually conveyed his teachings over a period of 50 years, preparing his listeners step by step to understand his final teaching. The Buddha’s first sermon (The Four Noble Truths) was generally directed to monks and nuns who renounced the secular world and aspired for breaking the cycle of rebirth (Sravaka disciples).  For ordinary people, however, who live in the social fabric of daily life, the teaching of renouncing the secular world and extinguishing desires was an impossible path to follow.


In order to offer ordinary people hope for an end to their sufferings, Shakyamuni started in the next step of his teaching to refer to a hope in salvation in a future life, provided that people make a vow to end their impurities and aspire to be reborn in a pure land after death. Through this concept, Shakyamuni aimed at triggering hope, that an end to sufferings is possible.


The teaching of a better life after death was a transient device, employed to dispel pessimism: Both nirvana and the pure land were metaphorical devices employed by Shakyamuni to develop his followers' understanding”. (D.Ikeda, Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death, page 6)


The concept of rebirth in a “Pure Land” after death was a shift in Buddhist teachings - away from early Buddhism’s (Theravada) nihilistic views. This shift started as a small step in the path of Mahayana Buddhism, which continued to gradually develop further, until the Buddha’s listeners were prepared to receive the final teaching of the Buddha. The final teaching in Buddhism is that which can lead people to enlightenment as they are, through transforming their current life into a “pure land”, before – and not after – death.


However, revealing one’s Buddhanature in this lifetime requires a diligent practice on the individual’s level.  Pure Land belief, however, offers salvation after death through depending on an external power of Amida.  In this, the essence of Amida Buddhism is not very different from Abrahamic religions and belief in God and Heaven - as similar to Pure Land.


Pure Land and the challenging concept of Buddhanature


Nichiren explains:

                                “Myoho-renge-kyo is the Buddhanature of all living beings. The Buddhanature is the Dharma nature, and the Dharma nature is enlightenment…. the Buddhanature that all beings possess is called by the name Myoho-renge-kyo....Therefore, if you recite these words of the daimoku once, then the Buddhanature of all living beings will be summoned”. WND1 p131


The concept of the “Buddhanature” implies that each person has a full potential to attain the highest state of life of enlightenment in one’s current circumstances. Disbelief in one’s full potential to manifest Buddhahood would lead - as a matter of course - to seek Buddhahood somewhere else apart from this life.


If the Buddhanature is inherent as a potential in the life of individual since birth, then a correct practice should be able to reveal one’s Buddhanature during this current  life.  SGI literature explains that it is exactly through transforming one’s current circumstances that one can reveal one’s Buddhanature and enjoy the highest state of life:


"In his treatise 'The Opening of the Eyes,' Nichiren Daishonin writes: 'In his earlier teachings, Shakyamuni Buddha spoke of the present world as an impure land. But now, in the 'Life Span' chapter of the Lotus Sutra, he has reversed this, revealing that this world is the true land' .

Our communities are the 'true land' of our mission.


We should, therefore, not lament about the places where we find ourselves right now. The challenge falls to us to transform them, through our own efforts, into victorious Lands of Tranquil Light--realms of Buddhahood. Such is a way of life based on the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra." SGI Newsletter 7696, Feb.2009


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