In this line of thinking, Amitabha's Western Paradise is far off indeed, unknown on this side of death.
Please share your experiences with the benefits of Pure Land practice in your daily lives.
How has Amida touched you as the person you are right now?
Quotes from teachers and masters such as Shinran and Honen are welcome as well.
For myself, without Pure Land Buddhism, I would not be a Buddhist today. I meditated for about four years, anapanasati mostly. I came to Buddhism to seek relief from depression, and the basics of morality, meditation, and study helped immensely. It was like taking medicine to relieve my worst symptoms of suffering. But to continue with the analogy, I continued the same unhealthy habits that lead to the illness in the first place: doubting everything, fleeing pain and unpleasant people, clinging to harmful pleasures, having unhealthy relationships with others... So while no longer suicidally ill with mental suffering, I realized how much difficulty remains just to be alive: a frail fragile body, relying on an unreliable world full of fellow confused people, trying to discern the right practices for the endless ills the mind experiences, and so on.
So one evening, after sitting through meditation which had started becoming like a crucible where I'd burn alive with every suffering thought until I'd start to sweat or weep, I said the nembutsu in desperation. I'm not sure where I'd even heard about it. I may have just said "Amitabha!"
The response was instant. I'd tried praying to God or Jesus or even Chenrezig before, but it was calling into the dark. If there was a response, I didn't recognize it.
Nembutsu was like finally finding a trail in endless undergrowth. The feeling was one of being washed over with relief, concern from something distinctly outside my small sphere of suffering, and joy. There was warmth like stepping out into the sun. I've had several mystical experiences, and experiences are fleeting and generally pointless as far as redirecting my life, but this still seems to me like an important milestone. It was the day I turned towards the Pure Land.
Since then, I begun to learn what what "never being abandoned by Amida" means.
Depression is a hell of a thing that still haunts me sometimes. Last year, when I felt like I was dying (and looked like it according to my terrified husband), it was after a few weeks of lapsing in nembutsu. Then I heard "namu amida butsu" deep in my mind which had mostly become numb and thoughtless. It grew and grew, and I became aware of my surroundings again. Instead of going to the hospital, I returned to the cool shade of Amida's tree.
I've also repeatedly wandered among practices, which all were dead ends, and at each dead end was the nembutsu, sometimes to the point that it surprised me. "What? Here too?" It's amazing the lengths I've gone to to ignore Amida, but even this ungrateful and runaway son has not been forgotten.
In terms of benefits in daily life, there are many.
* An increase in our sensitivity to our faults, the ways we hurt others. Shinran described this as Amida's light compassionately illuminating our true situation. Think of the significance of this: while others are blind to their own faults, blaming others and seeking gratification whatever the cost, merely saying "Namu Amida Butsu" reveals the true anger or greed behind so much of our lives and actions, and in this way, we can be humbler and gentler towards others. Egotistic pride dressed up in religious robes has no foothold.
* Another is nembutsu embraces all manner of defilements. Instead of having to choose which antidote to apply to fear, boredom, sadness, greed, hatred, and hoping we can do so under their powerful sway in the moment, we merely say nembutsu and remember Amida and our true home. This for me is one of the most tangible ways to know Amida in this life.
* Nembutsu forces us to consider the fearful matter of death which so many choose to ignore. We lay down recognizing we may never rise again, so we say nembutsu. Getting in the car, we consider how many die in auto accidents every day, so we say nembutsu. I have a fear of being shot to death, so I realize that at any moment, a stray bullet may fly from a neighbor's house or the street through the wall and kill me, as sometimes happens in the news. Then I say nembutsu.33rd Vow wrote:If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten quarters, who have been touched by my light, should not feel peace and happiness in their bodies and minds surpassing those of humans and devas, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
Instead of becoming despondent and pessimistic about the unknown time and place of our death, we prepare and rejoice for rebirth in the Pure Land. It goes without saying that many of the concerns of gain/loss, pride/notoriety, hate/love, and so forth lose their strength when faced with an abiding awareness of death. We are spared much worry in this way, remaining unabashedly realistic about the fragility of living even one more day.
* If we have strong habits of grasping at our suffering, we grasp the nembutsu instead. When we can do this, we are a little freer. When we cannot do this, we are nonetheless not abandoned by Amida, as his continual presence in our lives attests to.
* Nembutsu is easy and can be said at any time, in any place, under any circumstances, by anyone of any capacity. Practices like this are rare and precious. Beings burdened with doubt and hate and forgetfulness and so on are the special object of Amida's attention. So knowing of our faults gives rise to feelings of gratitude for this attention and pocket-sized practice. Instead of diving into self-loathing or discouragement as we may have done while trying other paths in the past, we are embraced and deepen our practice life.
Master Shinran famously wrote of the ten benefits a nembutsu devotee receives in this very life. It's quite long, but here's a link: http://amida-ji-retreat-temple-romania. ... butsu.html
I'll research other writings on this important subject in the coming days.
I could go on, but would like to hear what others have to say.