Friday, 4 March 2011

Pure Land as Sangha

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.'
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.'"
 Dr Haneda goes on to write:
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?


  1. Dear Jishin, It's fascinating to hear about your encounter with the Otani-ha priests and your re-encounter with Haneda-sensei's teachings. I think that the Kiyozawa-Akagerasu-Maida-Haneda line is important in the powerful way they get us to take a fresh look at things. It can be difficult to go beyond the initial shock at what they are saying however and delve deeper into what they are getting at. Often people don't make that next step when engaging with these particular teachers.

    It was with the Rijin Yasuda quote above in mind that I said the following in a talk last year:

    "The word ‘Pure’ (jp. jo) in the term ‘Pure Land’ (jp. jodo) refers not just to the quality of Amida’s Buddha-field (skt. Buddha-ks.etra) but also to its purpose. As Soga Ryojin has pointed out this is expressed with wonderful poetry in The Larger Sutra of Eternal Life where it says of the jewel-ponds in the Pure Land; "The water opens their minds [spirit], and delights their bodies, washing away all mental impurities." The Pure Land is the realm of Amida Tathagata’s activity, and the Samgha, which is its manifestation in the human world, is not strictly speaking the community of Buddhist devotees but rather the field of encounter where individuals meet each other within the purifying working of Amida’s Light. As Rev. Kemmyo Taira Sato has beautifully expressed it in his book 'Great Living':

    “Shinran Shonin states that the true Buddha is the Tathagata of Inconcievable Light and that the true Land is the Land of Infinite Light. Both the Buddha and the Land are depicted as “Light” beyond form and logic. They have no material substance. They are not to be represented as objects.”

    “The true Land is pure activity, the working of Infinite Light. When people become aware of the working of Infinite Light, they enjoy being part of it, together with everyone else. It is [through] the inconceivable working of Infinite Light that self sentient beings cast off their karmic attachments. Birth in the Pure Land means being involved in the working of Infinite Light. Great joy wells up from with within through our encounter with Infinite Light. This then is indeed the land of Enjoyment.”

    Realisation (sho), in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, means being taken into this dynamic realm of mutual purification, enjoyment, joy and gratitude. As the Zen teacher Katagiri Roshi, states; “Sho is not something to be verified by someone; it is the final verification of truth, of how your life is going on in real reality. It is feeling grateful for yourself, for your mind, for everything around you. This is final verification.” In the Jodo Shin way this verification and gratitude is expressed spontaneously at the moment of awakening as “Namuamidabutsu”; the original prayer in which the dynamic unity between the individual and the Dharma is proclaimed and assured."

    (from a talk I gave at Three Wheels Temple in May 2010, entitled 'Amida Tathagata’s 11th Vow in the ‘Realisation’ chapter of Kyogyoshinsho')

  2. Hi Jishin, thanks for sharing this it's much appreciated and seems very timely given my recent moving into Tenrin Taya. perhaps Rev. Yusuda's words would not have resonated as much before this shift.

    i think Kyoshin's kindly provided quote helps maybe clarify such a seemingly radical statement without it appearing too 'out there' (not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that - sometimes a gentle 'cage-rattling' can be a good thing!)

    i look forward to reading more of you here and over at Echoes :)