The author is not just a Westerner trying to force his modernist preconceptions onto Pure Land Buddhism:The Pure Land narrative, when taken literally, requires a human being to take a leap of faith based on something that cannot be verified. A literal reading of the Pure Land scriptures makes extraordinary claims that requires extraordinary evidence...
Furthermore, there is considerable evidence that Pure Land Buddhism is not a teaching of the historical Shakyamuni, but rather a development of the Mahayana movement which most scholars acknowledge to have arisen centuries after Shakyamuni’s passing. The Mahayana scriptures that we have today resulted from centuries of creation and evolution (from the 2nd century AD up until the 11th century AD) which explains why there are numerous versions of the same sutras. The Larger Sukahavtivyuha Sutra, which is the foundational text for Pure Land Buddhism, has survived in seven versions and there are noticeable differences between them. According to the Zhi Qian and Zhi Loujiachen translation, Dharmakara made 24 vows. The Faxian translation lists 36 vows. The Sanskrit and Tibetan versions has 47 vows while the Bodhiruchi and Sanghavarman translations both have 48 vows. The existence of a plurality of texts suggests a diverse process of creation as Buddhists strove to express their understanding of the historical Shakyamuni’s teachings into new narratives.
Another evidence that the Pure Land scriptures were not the work of a single person are internal and external textual contradictions. The seven surviving versions of the Larger Sukahavtivyuha Sutra are significantly different in content. Only the Bodhiruchi and Sanghavarman versions have a long preamble on the acts of the Bodhisattvas while the others do not. The Zhi Qian and Zhi Loujiachen versions have a long description of the Five Evils of the world, which is absent in the Faxian, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Bodhiruchi versions, although the Sanghavarman version has a short version. The Zhi Qian and Zhi Loujiachen version does not refer to Maitreya’s vision while the other five versions do so,
The Larger Sukahavtivyuha Sutra states that people who have committed the five heinous acts and/or blaspheme the Buddha's teachings are barred from rebirth in the Pure Land while the Contemplation Sutra (accepted by scholars as a work of non-Indian origin) contradicts this by stating that those who commit the five heinous acts can also take birth in the Pure Land should they repent at the end of their lives and trust in Amitabha. Pure Land teachers have traditionally reconciled this by saying that the apparent exclusion clause in the Larger Sukahavtivyuha Sutra was an ethical injunction to warn the sutra’s readers from committing these acts. But it seems to my mind that the more likely explanation is that the sutras were composed by different people with different ideas about who would or would not be excluded from the Buddha’s compassion, as embodied by the Pure Land.
Also, a literal reading of the Pure Land texts can present several difficulties. In the Larger Sukahavtivyuha Sutra, we are told that Dharmakara existed immeasurable ages ago. But the story of Dharmakara is couched in cultural references from ancient Vedic India. In the sutra, Dharmakara is quoted as comparing the splendour of the Buddha Lokeshvaraja to Mount Sumeru. He also vowed to worship as many buddhas as “the grains of sand in the Ganges.” The idea of Mount Sumeru was from borrowed from Vedic cosmology and so the name “Ganges” also came from Vedic civilization.
A further indication of the historical origins of the Pure Land scriptures can be found in Dharmakara’s 26th vow where he aspired to provide the body of Narayana for everyone born in his land. Narayana is a name for the Vedic deity Vishnu. The inclusion of this god and the above-mentioned references from Vedic culture indicates that the writer or writers of the sutra was not trying to tell their readers a literal event which took place billions of aeons ago. They were conveying a myth.
http://progressivebuddhism.blogspot.com ... ssive.html
http://blogisattva.blogspot.com/2010/12 ... apore.html
In this day and age, in which gender equality is the norm, it's inadvisable to read the sutras 100% literally. Both the 35th Vow in the Larger Amitabha Sutra and Chapter 23 of the Lotus Sutra state that the woman who seeks birth in the Pure Land will be born as a man. Perhaps this is one reason why the Tannisho tells us to not read the scriptures 100% literally:
Also, the 21st vow promises that those born in the Pure Land will have the thirty-two physical marks of a great man. It takes a simple Google search in order to see that these marks traditionally include a retractable penis. How do we take this part literally? I am sorry if I'm offending anyone by sharing these things.From our viewpoint, in all the scriptures the true and actual teachings are intermingled with the provisional and expedient. The Master's real intention was that you should discard the provisional and keep to the actual, put aside the expedient and abide by the true. You should take great care not to misunderstand the scriptures.
It appears that the more literal-minded who insist that everyone read the story of Dharmakara as literal history or else we don't have true faith are, in fact, ignoring or glossing over parts of the sutras that they themselves don't interpret literally. The similarities between Shakyamuni and Dharmakara seem clear to me, in that they both renounced royal titles for the sake of Buddhahood, so perhaps it's allegorical of Shakyamuni Buddha's own life story.
As a former Tendai monk, Shinran understood the Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra and Amida Buddha to be one and the same being:
If Amida Buddha's existed from the eternal past, then it ultimately shouldn't matter if Dharmakara's story is literally true. I am sorry if I'm offending anyone by sharing these things.One of the signal elements in Shinran's thought which
reflects his background in the Lotus Sutra and Tendai thought
is his conception of Amida as the Eternal Buddha, designated
Though chapter VII suggests that the Buddha has passed
into nirvana, despite his lengthy career, chapter XVI
indicates that the Buddha will never pass away. The Buddha
declares: "As I said before, it is very long since I became a
Buddha. The duration of my life is innumerable, asamkhya
kalpas. I am always here. I shall never pass away."...
In his interpretation of Pure Land thought, Shinran did
not directly attack or criticize the Tendai or other
contemporary traditions, or quote from the Lotus Sutra
itself. Rather, he addressed the major issues raised in that
tradition and formulated a comprehensive alternative. He
deepened the philosophical basis of Pure Land teaching,
establishing the supremacy of the teaching as the universal,
true way to enlightenment.