Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Serenity509
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Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Serenity509 » Tue Jul 28, 2015 8:14 pm

I am sorry if I am offending anyone by sharing this. The following is a summary of the Pure Land sutras from a perspective that doubts their literal historicity. Please let me know which specific parts, if any, are false about this summary:
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
The author is not just a Westerner trying to force his modernist preconceptions onto Pure Land Buddhism:
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:
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.
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.

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:
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
as kuonjitsujo...
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.
http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-ENG/bloom.htm
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.

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sth9784
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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by sth9784 » Tue Jul 28, 2015 9:00 pm

An excellent post. I have never before seen the differences between the various versions of the same Sutra laid out like that, and it does suggest that it was a dynamic process.

Regarding the interpretation of the Larger Sutra through the Contemplation Sutra, it was done by Shan-tao, and Honen as well, so the influence of such interpretation undoubtedly had an influence on the whole of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism. I was aware of the doubt about the Meditation Sutra of being of non-Indian origin, and it is likely, but even so, it does not lessen my belief in the teachings of Shan-tao, or Honen at all.

Unfortunately, I think you are correct in the statement that those who interpret literally do in fact gloss over parts, and since some of these people are boldly proclaiming their Shinjin, they will never accept anything other than their current view.
Crom!

Serenity509
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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Serenity509 » Tue Jul 28, 2015 9:23 pm

sth9784 wrote:An excellent post...
Unfortunately, I think you are correct in the statement that those who interpret literally do in fact gloss over parts, and since some of these people are boldly proclaiming their Shinjin, they will never accept anything other than their current view.
Thank you. All I am hoping for is more tolerance and understanding all around.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by steveb1 » Wed Jul 29, 2015 1:28 am

Serenity, congrats on another great post on a timely, important subject. I hope it generates a good deal of discussion because I'd like to learn more and see what people think about this issue.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Serenity509 » Wed Jul 29, 2015 3:04 am

When people are insecure in their beliefs, they sometimes feel a need to threaten others into agreement, such as the idea that you won't be going to the Pure Land. Spelling every other word in all capital letters, for example, is a tactic of demanding agreement with whatever a person says. I honestly have no problem against Paul Roberts and his followers as people.

I am curious, however, about what his credentials are and who gave him the authority to pronounce who's going to the Pure Land and who isn't, especially since Roberts himself doesn't take every word of the sutras as literal fact. I am not trying to make this overtly personal. My sincere hope is for more tolerance and understanding all around, instead of there being more dividing the sangha. I'm sorry if I'm offending anyone by sharing these things.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by steveb1 » Wed Jul 29, 2015 7:10 am

Roberts, judging by his Yahoo! site, is a persevering teacher. But he's not a sensei ordained in the Hongwanji tradition so far as I know. He does frequently refer to "real" senseis such as Adrian Cirlea and some Japanese masters. He learned about Shin from correspondence with Shin masters (which is surely better than I've done), but still he's a lay teacher. So I don't know how he would reply if asked for his authority-source. He might just say, "My Shinjin grants me all the authority I need, because it's a direct gift from Amida Buddha". But of course, hundreds of thousands of Shin folk have Shinjin but do not teach or do not feel "called" to the profession. It's a mystery to me...

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by sth9784 » Wed Jul 29, 2015 8:00 am

From what I understand, his group on Yahoo, or Google (don't recall which) is quite popular, but as can easily be seen from different posts on this forum, some people have problems with him, and that is understandable. I say it is understandable, because he basically splits the Shin Sanga in two, the true/real, and the false, depending upon, as far as I can tell, if you interpret the story of Dharmakara in the Larger Sutra as historical fact. He, and others have said much about viewing Amida as a "metaphor", and imply that those who do so simply can not attain Shinjin. I have never personally seen anyone who views Amida as a "metaphor" say that everyone else must also believe the same, but I could be wrong. To me, it does not really matter which you believe, because I think both views are right, considering both believe in Amida, and most importantly in my opinion, say the Name.
Crom!

Serenity509
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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Serenity509 » Wed Jul 29, 2015 8:01 am

Please keep in mind that I don't want to bad mouth any particular individual, and I'm sorry if it appears that way. I just think that Amida Buddha alone decides who is saved and who isn't, not some people in a Yahoo group. Furthermore, it's a strawman to say that if you don't interpret the sutras 100% literally, then you must think that Amida is just a fictional character, especially since they don't interpret the sutras 100% literally either anyway.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Admin_PC » Wed Jul 29, 2015 6:18 pm

I think he claims Eiken Kobai as sensei, though Josho Adrian Cirlea fits in there somehow.

Gomez has some charts at the back of his translation of the Larger and Shorter Sukhavativyuha sutras laying out the differences between versions. I think the post in this thread covered just about all of it though.
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Serenity509
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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Serenity509 » Thu Jul 30, 2015 1:29 am

My personal opinion is that the Pure Land is real, but it exists in a spiritual realm beyond space and time, that interpenetrates the material world in which we inhabit. This would explain how, throughout history, Amitabha and Kannon have appeared to devotees on their deathbed, since they live in a realm that interpenetrates our own. Since the Pure Land is a higher reality interpenetrating our own, it can also be experienced in this life, in this body, instead of just waiting until the moment of death.

Since the sutras describe the Pure Land as being billions of light years beyond the known universe, I interpret this distance in a metaphorical sense, referring to the transcendent nature of the Pure Land. The sutras refer to the Pure Land as "like the realm of unconditioned Nirvana," and what we learn from Mahayana philosophers such as Nagarjuna is that Nirvana and Samsara are ultimately one.

Furthermore, Amida Buddha and the Eternal Buddha are one and the same being, regardless of whether the story of Dharmakara is a literal history or symbolic of the life of Shakyamuni Buddha. When we say the Nembutsu, we are both calling out to the Buddha of Infinite Light and also calling forth our own Buddha-nature which, in an ultimate sense, are one.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Serenity509 » Fri Jul 31, 2015 5:56 am

double post
Last edited by Serenity509 on Fri Jul 31, 2015 6:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Serenity509 » Fri Jul 31, 2015 6:03 am

Nagarjuna and other important figures of the Mahayana encouraged Pure Land Practice, while also teaching that Nirvana and Samsara are ultimately one. When we think of the Pure Land as being a literal place galaxies away, instead of a higher reality interpenetrating the space we already inhabit, or Amida Buddha as separate from our own Buddha-nature, this is for the sake of compassionate means:
Two Truths
1) Relative or conventional, everyday truth of the mundane world subject to delusion and dichotomies and 2) the Ultimate Truth, transcending dichotomies, as taught by the Buddhas.

According to Buddhism, there are two kinds of Truth, the Absolute and the Relative. The Absolute Truth (of the Void) manifests "illumination but is always still," and this is absolutely inexplicable. On the other hand, the Relative Truth (of the Unreal) manifests "stillness but is always illuminating," which means that it is immanent in everything. (Hsu Heng Chi/P.H. Wei).

Pure Land thinkers such as the Patriarch Tao Ch'o accepted "the legitimacy of Conventional Truth as an expression of Ultimate Truth and as a vehicle to reach Ultimate Truth. Even though all form is nonform, it is acceptable and necessary to use form within the limits of causality, because its use is an expedient means of saving others out of one's compassion for them and because, even for the unenlightened, the use of form can lead to the revelation of form as nonform" (David Chappell). Thus to reach Buddhahood, which is formless, the cultivator can practice the Pure Land method based on form.
http://www.ymba.org/books/mind-seal-buddhas/glossary

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Serenity509 » Sat Aug 01, 2015 10:50 pm

I posted this on another thread, but I just hope that others get a chance to read it. I feel like I've come full circle, but in a way that encompasses everything that I've read and learned from all different kinds of viewpoints:

The reason why I share these things is because I don't want anyone to feel forced or threatened into any particular position. When you read Pure Land-related articles on sites like Buddhistdoor.net, they write from the perspective of the Pure Land being a real place and Amitabha being a real Buddha. However, they do it in such a way that doesn't beat people over the head or threaten.

I've discovered a relatively easy way of coming to a more literal belief in Amida Buddha and the Pure Land that doesn't require threatening others who disagree.

If you accept Buddhism as the true religion, the Dharma as an eternal principle to the universe, and that the universe has always existed in some form, then it sort of goes without saying that there are many other worlds in which sentient beings have attained Buddhahood.

There is no logical reason, then, from this perspective that Dharmakara couldn't have been a real person who attained enlightenment eons ago. While the Pure Land sutras contain culturally conditioned language, such as references to the sands of Ganges river, lotus blossoms the size of carriage wheels, etc., we can understand this as the historical Buddha using language that the common people could identify with.

If the historical Buddha, in his enlightenment, received the full knowledge of the universe, or at least the knowledge of whatever is necessary to lead others to enlightenment, then it should go without saying that, when he spoke of Amitabha and the Pure Land, he was speaking from his own enlightenment.

Though the sutras may not have come into written form until the first or second century, there's reason to believe that they came from an earlier oral tradition originally spoken by the Buddha himself. We must not forget that ancient India was an oral culture, and important religious texts such as the Rigveda were passed down for hundreds of years before taking a written form.

Please keep in mind that I've tried to explain these things in the fairest, most logical way possible, and I'm not accusing anyone who disagrees as having false faith. There is a difference between fundamentalism, which threatens anyone who disagrees with a particular position, and a more literal reading of religious texts that nonetheless encourages a more cheerful, tolerant attitude of those who disagree.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Rakz » Tue Aug 04, 2015 12:51 am

That was very painful to read.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Serenity509 » Tue Aug 04, 2015 1:08 am

What part specifically was painful to read? I've tried, in the best way I could, to express some popularly accepted views in the fairest way possible. I hope that I've done justice to all sides.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Serenity509 » Tue Aug 04, 2015 3:09 am

I can't stress enough that the most important thing is whether or not you love Amida Buddha and call out to his name in faith, which is a deeply personal matter that cannot be threatened or forced. We need not agree on the same interpretations of a sutra in order to take refuge in the Buddha whose compassion it proclaims.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by Serenity509 » Sat Aug 08, 2015 12:15 am

I received this comment on Facebook, and I hope it can be helpful to others:
It is completely in line with the Four Noble truths, and exactly what Shakyamuni Buddha stated, "don't believe everything that is said, just because I said it.. etc." No fundamentalism is ever needed when truth is awakened in faith.
There is no need for a person to emotionally oppress anyone who disagrees in order to believe that the Pure Land is a real place or that Dharmakara was a real person who attained Buddhahood. What bothers me about these fundamentalist-minded websites and teachers is not their beliefs but the way that they treat anyone who disagrees with them.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by gingercatni » Sun Aug 23, 2015 11:34 am

This is a very interesting post. However like a lot of other posts on other sites, it's seems to be filled with doubt and an effort to (by those with doubt) to prove the sutras are untrue. There are differences in the sutras throughout the canon as they were retold orally and then written down and went through pali and sanskrit and local variations. The important thing is despite their variations they hold to the true dharma and same line of truth. I was once filled with doubt, simply because I grew up with christianity and knew nothing of Buddhism. My advice, stop challenging the Buddha's words, accept the teachings, spend more time building a connection to Amitabha and less trying seek verification.

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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by gloriasteinem » Sun Aug 23, 2015 12:56 pm

Yeah, about the women who need to be reborn as men in the Pure Land. It is still believed in Taoism and Buddhism that a woman be more spiritual should imidiately reborn as a man.

For example, the prophecied student of Maitreya, a woman is considering to be killed and reborn as a man immediately so to be his student in some interpretation and in other - is not clear how she is a king and woman and a student of future Maitreya. Should she inevitably die and rebirth quickly or what? How could she be king as woman, is she at all. Scriptures and interpretations contradict. And the whole this contradiction is both humiliating and confusing for a Buddhist woman. How she should perceive her own life? As a temporary condition before becoming a man? As a phase for a better one to come. How being a man is better at all, I don't wanna be a man and my teacher for example tells me in something that cannot proceed ahead, something insoficient, incapable? Its humiliating in time because you cannot forget exactly such remarks. I don't exactly wish to rebirth Again and suddenly I'm not good in this life but I cannot feel good in some next either because I would not feel as a man too. I like to watch man, I don't wanna have a beard. So I wanna say this kind of discriminatory insensitive discourse is all around and emotionally devastating. I don't know how women at all continue to hear this and even agreed as like it is righteous. Be sure I don't wanna be Christ himself or something relative so I don't need to be a man , not to say most men don't wanna be too. Nor they can be. So what's the point? Still its not very clear how at all you to be a Buddhist woman after all you have to is wait to die and rebirth like a man. I don't know where feminists are sleeping but these kind of discourses needed to be change and removed.
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Re: Clearing up the Pure Land sutras

Post by gloriasteinem » Sun Aug 23, 2015 1:27 pm

What I want to say is that such sayings as "a woman should rebirth as a man" not only reduces dignity and importance of women's practice but removes the sense of one's life day by day. I wish women to be fighting for the right to have their spiritual practices respected for their worth and their life as women be significant enough but not only as mothers as in Christianity, mothers of men, again very discriminatory. Women are treated like dogs, that's the truth, in daosim and Buddhism, humans but not yet humans, maybe in the next life, possibly. And what if I don't want to be a man and the idea of being a man in next life depresses me?
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