There is a lot of suffering in the world. That’s the fact of it.
The world isn’t itself synonymous with suffering. The whole cycle of life is a neutral expression of the Ultimate—that which some might call “divine,” but as a Pure Land Buddhist, I would call “Dharmakaya,” or Amida Buddha—that non-conceptual Ultimate Reality.
Life contains suffering, or rather our wrong view of this reality makes it into Samsara. This is what the Buddha discovered: we suffer because of our attachments to the impermanent phenomena (dharmas) that constitute this conventional existence. Nothing in this universe lasts; everything is transitory. But we are angered by this, and frustrated that all things must pass away.
We are so attached to the idea that the forms of this reality are more concrete and lasting that we apply the same logic to ourselves. We are convinced that the person we identify as “I” is a fixed and eternal being. The fact is that what we consider our “self” is nothing more than a persona built from experiences, bigotries, fears, names and other assorted labels. It’s a facade, a bunch of words that says nothing about who we really are.
Let’s try a little exercise.
Ask yourself who you are, but ditch the name, job title, marital status, gender, even the tag “human,” etc. View yourself outside of the confines of this heap of information. Who are you?
Interesting exercise, isn’t it? But what this little test teaches us is just how much we understand ourselves and this reality in terms of nouns and ideas. This in itself is not a problem. The problems arise when we cling dogmatically to our views of the world or our own self and imagine them to be one and the same thing.
Concrete conceptions do not float well in the shifting seas of a universe that is inherently in flux.
Only by living mindfully, acting without reacting, becoming aware of our wrong views, and adjusting our mindsets accordingly can we be freed from suffering and realize our true latent Buddha-nature, which is a nature of unconditional compassion and wisdom.
In the Pure Land tradition, the ultimate act of mindfulness is to recite or chant the Nembutsu—the Name of Amida Buddha—“Namu Amida Butsu.” In the Larger Sutra of Infinite Life we read of Amida’s resolve to liberate all sentient beings, vowing that all who entrust themselves to him and say his Name will be reborn in the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss.
What is this Pure Land?
The Sutra is replete with fantastical imagery and colorful descriptions of an ornate Land, bejeweled and filled with unimaginable wonders, where Enlightenment and Buddhahood is assured. Where the ignorance and craving that cause our suffering is done away with and does not exist.
Some accept the Sutra description at face value and say that the Pure Land exists as described somewhere “out there” far beyond a trillion galaxies. But the real Pure Land is not so far. It is closer than one’s heartbeat, for to be reborn in the Pure Land of Bliss is simply a euphemism for the realization of our own Buddhahood. Some will argue that this makes the Pure Land and Amida unreal, but on the contrary, this actually makes them both more real than we can even imagine.
As we said at the outset, Amida Buddha is the face of the Ultimate Reality, and to realize our own Buddha-nature is to realize our own Oneness with this—the Dharmakaya. It is as though Amida has fallen asleep in us and by chanting his name, we rouse this True Self to awakening.
Let me leave you for now with Amida Buddha’s promise as recorded in the Larger Sutra bearing his name:
“If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”
Ivan Latham is a writer, blogger and member of the Shandao lineage Pure Land Buddhist school. He has a blog called the Apertures of the All. Originally from the UK, he lives in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, with his wife, Julia, and their three children.
Editor: John Lee Pendall