Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 22

In the land of happiness, sravakas, bodhisattvas,
Human beings, and devas all posses luminous wisdom,
And their bodily features and adornments are all the same;
Different terms are used for them only in accord with
        the forms of existence in other worlds.

The Land of Happiness

Another name for the Pure Land (jodo) is 'land of happiness' (anraku Sk. sukhavati). Since sukhavati means 'land of happiness' it is clearly a synonym for nirvana, which is the goal of all Buddhist practice.

We should not cofuse the Pure Land with heaven. Heavens1 belong to the round of birth-and-death (Sk. samsara) and are part of the sphere of desire (Sk. kama-dhatu), which also includes human beings. Hence, the heavens bear no relationship to the Pure Land, the land of happiness, or nirvana, which completely transcends the existence that we experience now, whether in hell, as a human being, an animal, a heavenly being, or a hungry ghost.

'Happiness' needs to be understood carefully because in our parlance it is sometimes used in a frivolous way, whereas, as a synonym for nirvana, it means immense joy, utter felicity, total mental clarity, truth and ultimate freedom.

Some people are troubled by the elaborate descriptions of pure lands and their contents, which we encounter in many texts. However, all of these features point most notably to two aspects of Buddha realms. The first is that they are places which are completely saturated by dharma, and the second points to the permanence of the unconditioned (nirvana). Objects are said to be made of minerals which are signs of durability.

In all traditions of the Buddha Dharma, pure abodes and pure lands have always been either way-stations or final destinations in the quest for liberation from the round of birth-and-death (Sk. samsara).


1: The source that I use for 'Buddhist' cosmology is the Abhidharma Kosha Bhasyam by Vasubandhu Bodhisattva, Chapter 3, The World. The opening verse says, 'Kamadhatu (the realm of desire) consists of hell, the Pretas, animals, humans, and six heavens.'

Cosmology is not an integral part of the scheme of liberation in the Buddha Dharma, so Vasubandhu derived his ideas from existing Indian sources.

In the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, Shinran Shonin draws on the teaching of the buddhas to show that the powers that govern the universe - including the forces of evil - have undergone a conversion process, which ensures that they are amenable to the influence of the principles of compassion, and that they protect the Buddha Dharma.

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