A bit late to the party, but this thread is full of wonderful teachings and reflections. Thank you for putting it together, PC!
Some thoughts I have on Day 1
Honen wrote:There is no hope for trekking across the treacherous road, the Difficult Path of the Holy Gate.
Honen wrote:Only by the ship, the Essential Vow of Buddha Amitabha, are we able to cross the delusive ocean of the transmigration of birth-and-death to reach the shore of the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
The teachings of the Holy or Difficult Gate and the Easy Gate can be misconstrued.
When I first heard about them, I thought it was unrealistic that nobody
could use the Holy Gate to awaken in this lifetime. Here are some reflections since then.
First, enlightenment in Buddhism is specific: anuttarā-samyak-saṃbodhi
. This means one is not reborn at all
, whether in heavenly realms or the non-material realms associated with the subtlest states of concentration. Even the most wonderful heavens are still Samsara in that beings are born, die, and fall back into lower realms.
, full and complete enlightenment, is not to be underestimated. The Pali Canon teaches about the four stages of Sotapanna (stream-enterer), Sakadagami (once-returner), Anāgāmi (non-returner), and Arahant. This means nothing less than the complete freedom from even subtle forms of: identity, attachment to rites and rituals, doubt, sensual desire, ill will, craving for prosperity, craving for existence in any form, conceit, restlessness, ignorance. Precious few of us could claim these attainments.
And the 10 Bodhisattva Bhūmi are the 10 stages on the Mahayana bodhisattva's path of training and awakening. They are no less rigorous. For example, one's patience is so perfected in the third Bhūmi that...
Hopkins, Compassion in Tibetan Buddhism wrote:even if someone...cuts from the body of this bodhisattva not just flesh but also bone, not in large sections but bit by bit, not continually but pausing in between, and not finishing in a short time but cutting over a long period, the bodhisattva would not get angry at the mutilator.
Can we claim such a thing?
To attain awakening through the Holy Gate, these are the kinds of realizations required to end cyclical rebirth.
Next, the average person's life is full of obstacles, external and internal. And even if great progress is made, we may be cut down by death in an instant. Upon rebirth, few remember their past lives. Although it's said progress is swifter due to the merit of Dharma practice from past lives, we still have to encounter the Dharma, believe in it, and practice all over again. This is like painting half a picture, setting it under a rock in the forest, hoping someone will come along someday, also be a painter, and finish the original image you had in mind. It's not technically impossible, but it is unlikely. That's why the process of full awakening is said to take an extremely
We may be 1 day, 1 year, 1 lifetime, 100 lifetimes away from even the first Bhumi or Stage. Why take such a risk when there is the Easy Gate available to us, if we're so inclined?
So I've come to see the Easy Gate does not denigrate the Holy Gate or do away with it as a principle. But I noticed in my thinking at first, and elsewhere, that the sheer effort and scale of time involved in progressing through these stages over many lifetimes, especially as a householder, is often underestimated.
The advantages of the Pure Land specifically counteract the disadvantages of Samsara.
* Where Samsara is full of beings wracked by greed, hatred, and ignorance, the Pure Land is full of sages, srvakas at all stages, bodhisattvas, the excellent teachers Avalokiteshvara, Mahasthamaprapta, and Amitabha Buddha himself.
* Where the environment of Samsara is wracked with natural disaster and disease, even the trees and birds of the Pure Land proclaim the Dharma.
* Where life in Samsara may be cut down without warning, the life of those in the Pure Land is said to be limitless.
* Where sentient beings in Samsara can't remember their past lives, those in the Pure Land can and thus gain insight.
* Most serious of all: where beings in Samsara continually regress and fall into unfortunate rebirth, the Three Evil Realms do not exist in the Pure Land
. That means any karma which would have led to such rebirths is neutralized.
So I don't see entering the Easy Gate as a criticism of the Holy Gate or the many wonderful practices of Buddhism.
It's more realizing the gravity of our situation and our limitations. We decide first to go to the Pure Land, which is easy to do, and then, in an ideal environment full of helpers and teachers, tackle the profound work of the Holy Gate there. Not to mention the Easy Gate has many advantages for the practitioner even in this world, which are explored some in the Benefits thread.
I hope that wasn't too long or lecturing. I wanted to explain my thought process in why I now embrace the Easy Gate Day 2
has some really meaty stuff too I'll try to get to soon.