I was given a wonderful opportunity to meet some erudite priests from the Shinshu Otani-ha (Higashi Honganji) branch of Jodo Shinshu during my recent stay in Japan. I had been invited to an event to begin the preparations for this year's commemoration of the 750th Memorial for Shinran Shonin, and very kindly several of them spent some time with me afterwards. I was quite inspired by their energy and enthusiasm to communicate Shin Buddhism through a sincere appraisal of the life of Shinran Shonin. The reason I mention this in the context of this post is that I was pointed in the direction of some of the Otani-ha English language websites of which one contains some essays by Dr Nobuo Haneda. I have long struggled with Dr Haneda's writing but having recently re-encountered essays by Manshi Kiyozawa, Haya Akegarasu and Sogo Ryojin and found a new appreciation of their sometimes challenging way of presenting Shin Buddhism, I have begun reading anew Dr Haneda's collection of essays called Dharma Breeze.
As we have recently been discussing our thoughts on the nature of the Pure Land both here and at Echoes of the Name I was interested to read Dr Haneda's essay entitled 'What is the Pure Land' which gave me much needed pause for thought in the light of this ongoing dialogue. At the heart of this essay Dr Haneda equates the Pure Land with the Sangha stating "I believe the Pure Land is a symbol of the Sangha". Initially to be honest I found this to be a rather shocking assertion however with some thought it has now given me a new and lively sense of the Pure Land as lived reality in the context of our encounters with others. The passage which really caught me was this in which Dr Haneda recounts the words of Rev Rijin Yusuda:
"People say various things about birth in the Pure Land. But could there be any greater 'birth in the Pure Land' than the fact that we are now sitting and learning sitting and learning the Dharma together? This place where we are listening to the Dharma together is the Pure Land. Our being allowed to be part of this place, of this Sangha, is 'birth in the Pure Land.'Dr Haneda goes on to write:
Do you think that you can have anything greater than this in your life—the fact that you are listening to the Dharma as a member of the Sangha? Some people may speak about the wonderful things to be obtained in the Pure Land after death, but those things are nothing but projections of human greed. The fact that we are privileged to be part of the Sangha is our liberation, our "birth in the Pure Land.'"
Now I have said that the Pure Land is a symbol of the Sangha—a place where a teacher and his students are wholeheartedly seeking the Dharma. In short, it is a place where we can have true friends.What could be a greater vision of the Pure Land than that?