I love the opening sentence of the Introduction to the Hongwanji translation of the Larger Sutra (The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Delivered by Shakyamuni Buddha):
‘In the history of Mahayana Buddhism, the Pure Land tradition has played a distinguished role in spreading the Buddhist message of universal compassion.’ (LS p. vii)
Everyone reading this blog will know at first hand the truth of that statement. Many of us have found ourselves despairing at finding a spiritual path that could deliver us from constant failure, despite good intentions, in our efforts to enter the bodhisattva path – the way of self benefit and benefit of others. To do good for ourselves and help others.
It is true that we can become an adept of one profession or occupation, that may bring healing and relief in body and mind to many people in a secular sense, but to bring the joy of ultimate deliverance from birth-and-death, or – at least – true felicity and spiritual freedom, has proven to be beyond our reach. It has been, for us, the Pure Land way that has enabled us to fulfil our aspirations through the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, which takes form in our lives as Namo Amida Butsu.
For us, the Larger Sutra has proven to be a treasure beyond calculation. And so it has been throughout history. Clearly, the Pure Land way is essential if we aspire for the spiritual good of ourselves and the good of others. That is why, over many centuries it gradually gained in popularity.
The Larger Sutra, which lies at the heart of Pure Land Buddhism because it gives expression the the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, is a sacred text from antiquity. One thing we know well about such texts is that they have survived when many other similar writings have been lost.
For a magnificent religious text like the Larger Sutra to reach us it must have proved its worth in the longing hearts of countless seekers for truth. It has, perforce, served to bring them light, deliverance and joy. Application of the teaching of the Larger Sutra has actually brought about entry into the bodhisattva path for those who hear and accept its sublime teaching.
For these reasons, the Larger Sutra has been a mainstay of the Mahayana, which teaches universal deliverance from suffering. In this regard, the first thing we need to recognise is the inter-dependent nature of all existence.
‘No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.’ (John Donne)
By accepting Amida Buddha’s Vow in the Name (Namo Amida Butsu) we are delivered so that we can deliver others. To be embraced in this process of ‘going’ (to be born in the Pure Land) and ‘returning’ (to the world of birth-and-death for the sake of others) we participate in the Buddha’s mission, the Buddha’s pure karma. That is to say, the relief of suffering through breaking the bonds of ignorance and attaining wisdom.
‘In life or death
with the Buddha
the journey continues.’ (Zuiken, AZS, p. 36)