I became a Pureland Buddhist in 2006. I didn’t know anything about Pureland Buddhism at the time. I had been practicing Buddhism for a few years, and then I met Dharmavidya and the Amida community. I knew that I wanted to join this community and have Dharmavidya as my teacher. That was enough.
I learnt about bonbu nature: we are foolish beings of wayward passion; full of greed, hate and delusion. I learnt that Amida Buddha, the Buddha of wisdom and acceptance, loves us just as we are.
I saw the shadow of those teachings. What in medieval Japan was called licensed evil: if we are loved just as we are, if we are going to be reborn in Amida’s Pure Land regardless of our karma, why bother to do good at all?
I tried to make sense of this in the context of the other Buddhist teachings I had received about developing the six paramitas, following the precepts, and the idea of helping others which Shantideva talked about in his Bodhisattvas Way of Life, one of my favourite texts back in 2006.
In the just as you are teaching I heard echoes of the Buddha-nature teaching that I had studied in Zen, and struggled to make sense of.
In my practice as a Zen Buddhist, and my early years as a Pureland Buddhist, I had moments of understanding in my heart what these teachings were pointing towards: A deep sense of my own okayness, and the okayness of the world; I glimpsed the world filled with the light of the Buddhas, and filled with love; I felt some deep connection with something that went beyond words.
These experiences crashed into my critical mind. I read about Critical Buddhism in Pruning The Bodhi Tree, and felt deep sympathy for the position of the critical Buddhists. If we are enlightened just as we are, why practice compassion, why try to change ourselves? If the world is perfect just as it is, and we should allow things to unfold naturally (a Taoist idea they critique) why expend energy trying to make a difference?
Shinran said that just because you have the antidote you shouldn’t drink the poison. Those words resonated but that didn’t go far enough to resolve this dilemma for me.
Iris Murdoch wrote that here in the west we have a tendency to want to reduce philosophy down to one single line, to be able to say ‘this is good’. (In Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, I think.) I understood that there might be more than one ‘good’, and I thought this might offer a way out.
It’s good to bring yourself into a closer relationship with something that loves you just as you are. And it’s also good to take steps to move beyond just as you are today, towards selflessness.
It’s good to have an experience of Buddha nature or big mind, but it’s also important to integrate that and to hold it within the contexts of the precepts.
For a long time this was enough of a resolution, although I still struggled with some of the Shin and Zen teachings that suggest there is nothing to do.
Last week we celebrated Bodhi day, and here at the temple we hosted a week long retreat. My teacher Dharmavidya led the retreat and in his first dharma talk he showed me the way through this confusion.
We are loved just as we are, he said, and we have total freedom and responsibility for our own lives.
Just like Shakyamuni loved everyone that came before him, but it was the disciples job to make the most of their own lives, we can experience the love of Amida, but how we choose to live is up to us.
Being loved unconditionally by the Buddha means that there is no need to try and manipulate the world in order to receive love. It cuts through a whole layer of selfishness and hands us back the reins of our own life.
There was a great sense of relief in hearing this, as it put into words something I had been struggling to say for some time. It allows room in our practice for both the important mystical experiences of the Pureland Buddhist sages, and the ethical teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha.
We are loved just as we are, regardless of our karma, and we also have the freedom to choose the poison or the antidote.
Dharmavidya said it best in his teaching, and you can watch the whole talk below. The part I am referring too comes about half-way through, but it is worth listening to the whole thing.
This post also appears on the Amida Mandala website.