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4. Sakyamuni's Teachings of Pure Land

The teachings of Jodo-shu (the Jodo branch) are based on the "Three Sutras of the Pure Land (浄土三部経)." While I would like everyone to pore over these sutras some day, I know that it is perhaps difficult for beginners to read them all the way through. Accordingly, I summarized them as a short story with the intention of introducing the outline of the sutras to you.
I hope you enjoy this sample of the preaching of Sakyamuni.


It was a beautiful day - the sky was clear and the air was calm.
It was not too hot or too cold, and a pleasant breeze could be felt everywhere. Sunlight shone softly upon green trees in the forest, and birds were joyfully singing here and there...
- It's said that our Sakyamuni will give us a special talk today. In addition to renowned disciples, well over a thousand people have gathered here. Ah yes, I forgot to mention, we are now in India, in a big temple called "Jetavana-vihara" located in the city of Sravasti in Kosala, Central India.
Sakyamuni is already on the platform, sitting cross-legged on the roomy floor. The glow on his face is brighter than usual, and its radiance appears to be more intense than the sun or the moon.
Sakyamuni looks at the congregation with a benign smile. He then fixes his eyes on Sariputra and Maudgalyayana, who are sitting just next to him, and also casts his eyes on the disciples and followers at distance; he has been silent for some time.
Everybody is waiting with bated breath for Sakyamuni to start his preaching. It is not long before Sakyamuni starts talking, and his deep, powerful voice echoes throughout the room.

"Look at my face, my people. Maybe it glows brighter than usual.
"I am full of joy now because today I will talk about the teachings of Pure Land."

With this introduction, Sakyamuni got directly down to the subject:

"Far far away from here to the west, there is a world called Sukhavati (Pure Land). There dwells a buddha named Amitabha, who always extends a helping hand toward us.
"There is no pain in that world, and people there are pleasantly dedicated to spiritual exercises in comfort. This is because the world is called Sukhavati, the land of highest joy.

"The land of Sukhavati is abundant in unbelievable beauty. While the trees here in Jetavana-vihara are full of beautiful green, the beauty of trees growing in that land is not comparable to them. The trees in the land of Sukhavati suffuse radiance like vivid-colored gems. Lotuses growing in ponds blossom magnificently and colorfully, emitting a fresh and eternal bouquet.
"In fact, trees have a sacred radiance in this world too. Meadows, rocks, and even small stones are full of sacredness. However, it is only enlightened people who can sense the sacredness - only a very small number of people who have achieved spiritual enlightenment...
"That is not the case with the land of Sukhavati. The trees, the earth, ...; all the people experience from them this sacred radiance like gems. Even those who are not enlightened may be overwhelmed by their beauty."

While Sakyamuni was thus talking, his voice was interrupted by the keen piping of a bird. People listening to his talk with their heads down looked up startled and looked at the face of Sakyamuni. Sakyamuni, with his eyes half closed, thoughtfully listened to the bird's song until its reverberation completely vanished, and then, he resumed talking:

"In that land are birds like the one just now. However, their songs are so wonderful that it is as though listening to the preaching of enlightened buddhas. The birds' songs have no language. However, once their songs and harmonies have permeated into you, your hearts will experience a sweet awakening.

"Now I'd like to ask you a question: how was that world created? It was not created by nature, unlike the world we live in. It's not a world that can be touched by our living hands or seen by the naked eye. Nor is the land of Sukhavati a world that can be imagined or dreamt of in our minds. If we each had the land of Sukhavati in our mind, the land would be different from individual to individual. This cannot be, and thus Sukhavati is a world created by the Amitabha Buddha with the power of buddha's will.
"Because it is the world created by the power of buddha's will, it cannot be touched by hands or shown to people by saying 'Look, here is Sukhavati.'
"Moreover, the power of will is different from our will. It is the power of will of the buddha who has attained enlightenment. Therefore, the land is of unimaginable reality. The place where it is located is traditionally expressed as 'a place oriented to the west distant from here by ten trillion buddha lands.'
"Similarly, the buddha named Amitabha does not have a living body, unlike us who are born of parents. Amitabha has a body created by the power of will as a result of spiritual exercises. Since the body is not a living body, it will never die. Amitabha has an eternal life. Moreover, the body glows brightly with indescribable radiance, as if by a huge explosion.

"The buddha called Amitabha is a most remarkable buddha. An enormous number, like stars, of practitioners undertake spiritual exercises in the pursuit of enlightenment. Among them, the number of people who have attained enlightenment and become buddhas is also uncountable. However, only a single buddha decided to guide even people who have nothing to do with enlightenment up to the final goal of the path, and this is Amitabha Buddha. Before Amitabha became a buddha (at that time Amitabha was merely a spiritual practitioner whose name was Dharmakara), he made a vow that 'For anyone who calls my name, I will guide him/her to my land.' When one's vow concerns oneself, he/she will do his best to fulfill it. However, to guide others, and besides, to guide those who don't know anything about Buddhism, is extremely difficult. None except Amitabha Buddha has attained that. Although I have attained enlightenment, too, I haven't reached the state of being like Amitabha Buddha yet.

"The radiance emanating from Amitabha Buddha is special. It reaches every corner of your heart. It penetrates through YOU. Your secrets, things you don't want anyone to know, and things you had forgotten all about... All of them are illuminated by dazzling light. The buddha called Amitabha literally illuminates your whole being with the light, understands everything about you, and yet, extends a helping hand to you.
"The only thing you can do is to join your palms as reverence to Amitabha Buddha, and give and surrender your whole heart.
"A few people can have a vision of Amitabha Buddha or of the land of Sukhavati during their life in this world. However, it is rare. Extremely rare. Those who have experienced the vision know well that Amitabha Buddha or the land of Sukhavati is real.

"The time when you are brought to the land of Sukhavati is when the sands of your body's life have run out. To this end, there is one thing you should do now. Pray for admission to the land of Sukhavati, and call the name of the buddha, Amitabha. Once, twice, or three times a day, or whenever you become aware, remind yourself to do this. That is, join your palms in reverence to Amitabha and chant 'Namu-Amida-butsu (I put my faith in Amitabha Buddha).' It is the indisputable truth that Amitabha Buddha knows and understands everything of you, and guides you with great compassion. Chant continuously 'Namu-Amida-butsu' with wholehearted reliance. You may easily forget this. So, remember this again and again in a day and chant Nembutsu. You will discover some day that the only genuine moment in your life is the time when you look toward Amitabha Buddha and chant Nembutsu.
"One's life is short, contrary to one's expectation. Moreover, it is rare to encounter the teachings of the land of Sukhavati.
"You have already listened to the teachings. Wish to betake yourself to the most blessed and beautiful world, the land of Sukhavati, and, chant Nembutsu diligently relying upon the power of Amitabha Buddha. This is my teaching."

After Sakyamuni had finished talking, all the people who were gathered offered worship to him full of joy and deep gratitude, and then went their way.