Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 37

Amida's self-benefit and benefit of others have
        been perfectly fulfilled as the Pure Land,
The compassionate means skillfully adorned
        to lead us to take refuge.
It cannot be grasped by the mind or by words,
So take refuge in the Honored-one beyond
        conceptual understanding.

Buying A House

The Buddha Dharma is ultimate truth. The contents of the Pure Land all signify aspects of the dharma and the unconditioned. We are told, no matter how attractive the physical properties of the transformed Land may be, it is nevertheless saturated with the dharma.

For example, some hear the sound of 'Buddha,' some hear the sound of 'Dharma,' some 'Sangha,' others hear 'tranqillity,' 'emptiness and non-self,' 'great compassion,' 'paramita,' 'ten powers,' 'fearlessness,' 'special qualities,' 'supernatural powers,' 'non-activity,' 'neither arising nor perishing,' 'insight into the non-arising of all dharmas,' ...1.

The Buddha's teaching method - expedient, or skillful means - is to awaken us from our stupor and confront us in a gentle way with things we may not want to hear. For the Buddha dharma does confront us with unpleasant facts. Take the three signs of the dharma (SK tri lakshana), for example. These are that the basic 'facts of life' are non-self, impermanence and that all existence is suffering. (The Sanskrit terms are: anatman, anitya and dhukha, respectively.)

These are not usually palatable ideas. Do we like to be told as we set out on a new relationship - a marriage, a new venture, a life - that everything is impermanent? When we are feeling happy seeking pleasure, do we like to be told that the ultimate outcome of worldly pleasure is suffering? Yet, these are cardinal features of the Buddha Dharma.

Truth is very often unwelcome but there is nothing that is more important for our own spiritual, mental and sometimes even physical health. We usually go into denial when we are faced with unsettling truths. Truth is rarely popular, and because the Buddha Dharma is uncompromising in confronting truth, it is often unpopular, too! We do anything to avoid facing up to the underlying angst which betrays the profound suffering that we all endure. That is why it is imperative, for our own good, that Buddhas use skilful means to attract us.

The irony is that, if we seek birth in the Pure Land because of our perception of the 'adornments', it is very like paying more for a house only because of the way it has been made to look attractive and not for its genuine purpose, which is shelter. The adornments of the Pure Land are not ultimately important, though they may be a source of delight and awe. But it is the purpose of the Pure Land - nirvana - that matters and it is from the call of nirvana (the Primal Vow) that our hope of being born there arises.


1: The Three Pure Land Sutras, A Study and Translation, Hisao Inagaki, Nagata Bunshodo [TPLS], p. 282.

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