The Pure Lands


Bassui had the distinction of empowering others to see beyond their literal notions of the Buddha Pure Lands. However he would not make the attempt if the inquirers were exclusively attached to the phenomenal world and incapable of seeing beyond it. For those who were in earnest, i.e., who could see beyond phenomenal categories with the clear-light of zen, he would engage them with that clear-understanding. The following are extracted portions from his Pure-Land Dialogs.

“Western direction stands for the root feelings of ordinary people. Beyond the ten thousand billion Buddha lands is where the ten evil thoughts of ordinary people cease and the ten stages of bodhisattvahood are transcended. Amida means the Buddha nature of ordinary people. Kannon Bodhisattva, Seishi Bodhisattva, and other sages accompanying Amida Buddha are the wonderful activity of one’s self-nature. ‘Ordinary people’ refers to those with ignorant and deluded minds, minds of analytical knowledge. The time of death refers to the extinction of thought. When the functioning of analytical consciousness is destroyed, feelings are purified; this is referred to as the Pure Land in the West.” 

Right off the top he explains that the Western Pure Land is not some existing “location” in time and space. Its primary reality is that of a transforming-faculty that ignites the shallow mind-sets of ordinary people, thus Amida Buddha is the Buddha of transformation in the ordinary mind via awakening it to its true Buddha-nature. The “western” direction in classical literature refers to the realm of death as the ordinary mind is entrapped in the samsara of life and death. In such vein ordinary folk are the inhabitants of Mara’s death. Hence the people of the West are drawn to Amida Buddha as he and his accompanying Bodhisattvas (like Kannon) make their appearance known by awakening them to the ‘wonderful activity’ of their own inherent Self-nature. When the moment dawns that the ordinary body-consciousness is destroyed—at the time of death—their awakened  bodhi-spirit is set free in the ‘Pure Land in the West’; in a very real sense their former western-abode (state of mind-consciousness) is now transfigured.

“If you truly want to know the meaning of being born in the Pure Land, you must first know the master of he who is born in this land. The physical body has never, from its inception, been the true body but, rather, a temporary formation of the five aggregates.” After the four elements (air, earth, water, and fire) disperse, what remains to be called the self? If the self is originally empty, what is it that is born in the Pure Land? If there is no master to be born in the Pure Land, what is it that seeks this Land of Bliss? Just extinguish the ever-seeking mind, be rid of thoughts of attachment to form, and the body, consisting of the four elements, will have no individual self. When there is no individual self, the nature of the mind is ‘as it is’ and there is no aspect of disorder. This is called the Undisturbed One Mind; it is the Straightforward Mind. In a sutra it is said:’ The Straightforward Mind is the abode of the Buddha Way because there is no deception there.’” 

Bassui sheds infinite light on a much misconstrued idea of what constitutes being born in a Pure Land. It doesn’t mean that a reconstituted skandhic corpse is somehow reanimated. Hence there is no “person” that is reborn but rather a direct-recognition of Mind in Itself AS IT IS. This recognition is only possible once ‘the ever-seeking’ skandhic mind is dissolved through the power of Bodhi. As Bassui would say the ‘Straightforward-Mind’ is the very Buddha-mind. There are no more deceptions from the evil one as Mind awakens to its Undifferentiated Pure-Mind Self, one that is devoid of the former despoiled skandhic and karmic outflows.

“If one truly sees into the origin of his own mind, he will forget attachment to phenomenal existence, and his own Buddha nature will emerge. This is what is meant by the reference to the Buddha as the ‘King of the Law who destroys existence’. This is also the meaning of the phrase ‘Amida Buddha comes to meet you and lead you to the Pure Land.’ When compared with the peace of mind of this kind of awakening, the pleasures of the Western Land of Bliss preached in the sutra do not measure up to one part in a billion. If you become truly awakened in this manner, you will know that the dharma talks in this sutra are simply baited hooks to catch ordinary people who are sinking in a sea of pain; they are compassionate expedient means for leading them to the Right Law of enlightenment. Thus the sutra says:” ‘It is impossible for those who slander the right dharma to be born in the Pure Land even if they recite the Nenbutsu and so forth.’” 

Bassui teaches the metaphors that appear in sutras referencing the Western Land of Bliss are not phenomenal configurations, but rather expedient means to induce Pure-Awakening to the ‘Right Law of Enlightenment’ which is another phrase of awakening to the Pure-body of one’s Absolute Buddha-nature, the Dharmakaya. This is the Dharma of Pure-Mind Awakening. If one slanders it through words or actions, then even reciting the Nembutsu will not assure transfiguration from the Skandhic stranglehold.

“Giving birth to a few mistaken thoughts will put you ten thousand billion lands away from the Western Pure Land. Hence it is said in a sutra: ‘He who sees me by form, he who seeks me in sound, he walks the way of heresy; for he can’t see the Tathagata.’ This Tathagata is the Miracle Body, the Dharma Body, and so forth. It is the original mind of everyone. Simply stop thoughts which seek this mind elsewhere, return to yourself and look directly, and you will see the Tathagata. Look! Look ! Who is this master that is seeing and hearing right now?”

A great summation to Bassui’s pointing-away from the phenomenal and *directly* to the noumenal. There is no seeing one’s own innate Buddhahood without first making direct-stop to meandering-manufactured thoughts. Look! Who is this master THAT sees with the Eyes of the Dharmakayic-Mind?

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One Response to The Pure Lands

  1. Kantairon says:

    It has to be said that you & Mr. Bassui are representing the authentic Mahayana position. Taking an expedient teaching and separating it from the One Vehicle, or thinking that the Land is outside of the Mind, is a heterodox teaching; definitely not in line with Mahayana Sutras.

    When Nichiren said that chanting Honen’s Nembutsu will assure people a rebirth in hell, it sounded harsh and intolerant, but if you really think about it, it wasn’t said without Bodhisattvic tactfulness. After all, conceiving of a Land and a Buddha separate from one’s nature of mind IS slandering the true dharma (saddharma).

    The Pure Name Sutra states:

    “If the Mind is Pure, the Buddha Land Will be Pure”

    The Amitāyus Meditation Sutra states:

    “the Land of Amitabha Buddha is not far from here!”

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