The way that Pureland Buddhism is sometimes presented, it starts to sound like monotheism. This is not surprising given that the conventional speech forms of monotheism are known to us all and, however much we might think we have rejected or moved away from traditional religion, our culture is saturated with ideas developed over two millennia in which monotheism dominated. Before that Europe was polytheistic, but that was a long time ago.
The Buddhist concept, however, is of trillions of trillions myriads of worlds, vast numbers of Buddhas, infinite possibilities and diversity, with no one central "lord" or judge, yet, within all of this, certain fundamental truths that persist throughout.
Why then choose one Buddha as a focus of practice? The answer lies in our own limitation. It is much simpler! In any case, to worship one Buddha or one Dharma is to revere them all, so it does not matter. It you prefer to bow to a thouysand different Buddhas each morning, there is nothing wrong with that. There can be no real conflict between a devotee of Amitabha, Manjushri, Akshobhaya,.... Only in the deluded minds of bombu human beings do such spurious conflicts take shape. All such are delusion.
Why "worship" at all? Well, if you can immediately demolish all your ego-centred delusion at a stroke, then, of course, there is no need. But in practice, to diminish the self means to take a humble stance and to realise that there are beings who are more advanced than oneself, more benign than oneself, simply more than oneself, and to bow before them is natural and right. As Bodhidharma, generally slated as the founder of Zen, said, When bowing ceases, Buddhism ceases. Buddhism is a practical pathway for deluded beings and all Buddha's teachings are practical advice.
The true body of the true bodhisattva is infinitely multidimensional and does indeed bow to a myriad Buddhas every time it bows to any one, in a spiritual sense, they all interpenetrate. The dharma world (dharmadhatu) is not the physical world where things occupy individual concrete places. It is, therefore, good practice to expand one's imagination and one's sense of the vastness, spaciousness and plenitude of the limitless Buddhist conception of things.
I'm sure you've heard the saying, to the effect that bowing is "horizontalizing the ego." Interesting to see worship described in this way, too! It gives me much to think about -- thank you.
This is helpful, thank you.
When I think of the idea of those dwelling in the Pure Land of Amitabha making continuous offerings to other Buddhas as they go about that realm (from memory, I may have that a bit wrong), I often imagine stopping by the Jesus & Madonna tree, so to speak - perhaps lingering there, coming back regularly, to speak with old friends.
It strikes me that my own felt sense of spiritual 'neighbourliness' lies far less between nembutsu practice and other approaches to practice I have learnt in Buddhist circles, than it does between nembutsu and Christian-based, Marian prayer. But - incoherent as this may sound - not because I espouse monotheism, and see Pureland as quasi-monotheistic, or at fundamental odds with other versions of the Buddhadharma. I don't.
I don't, in fact, consider myself to be (in any resolved sense) either a monotheist or a polytheist - or, really, to accept any urgent need to adopt one position in favour of the other. They seem to me ways of speaking, no more. From the monotheistic side, related boundaries around Marian local shrines feels decidedly leaky, in this respect.
That sense of common ground feels much more about a common gesture than a common doctrine - the same gesture of contrition, surrender, entrusting.
All the rest, I suppose, I regard as stories that help, or don't help, to live from that place of entrustment. And I suppose too that God and Buddha are perhaps 'sambkogakaya' to me, in that sense: provisional names, borrowed faces, by which I approach what remains utterly beyond my ken, and my fictions.
The common ground, for me, is the intimate presence of the spiritual friend, to whom one may speak, confide, ask for help. I gladly call myself a Pureland Buddhist, because the way that ever-present friend is spoken of, here, feels more coherent and unforced than any other formulation.
But NamoAmidabu and Jesus, or Mary Mother of God, are names that seem increasingly to enfold each other without too much quarrelling. I certainly don't claim to be holding out any coherent position here. I think its more born of haphazardly negotiated need, than doctrinal conviction. I would gratefully welcome your thoughts, if any occur.
Mat, I think that is splendid. Homage to all Buddhas!
From one side, I guess it's a matter of translation to European backgrounds. And so we speak in Buddhism about faith, sin, hell and pure lands. From other side, I think that it's a matter of language economy. And so we read about "when beings reborn (when nobody does, it is just the stream of consciousness mixed with karma)", "people suffer (when nobody exists by her own side)", "all of us has Buddha Nature (when what we have is the possibility to develop it or not)", or "Avalokiteshvara will guide us to the Land of Amitabha (when he/she is also empty of inherent existence)".
I guess that, sometimes, in order to proselytize uncultivated people, it's better to explain them the "short version" of the complex story. Not everybody is ready for the vicissitudes of Dharma, nor a more elaborated intellectual position. It is like the Tibetan people who actually believes that His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as a reincarnation of Chenrezig, could perform miracles and makes rain.
And we cannot forget that Mahayana has expanded too much, reaching cultures with a strong and deist folklore, like Shinto in Japan, Bön in Tibet or Muism in Korea. And now that Dharma is taking root in the West, we have the same situation with our Christian and Jewish heritages. So we have to read many books with Eastern people trying to "gain" Western adepts making parallelism with the Abrahamic god in order to don't "scare" people.
I must confess that, because of my non-theistic background, this gave me the creeps and almost made me abandon Buddhism long time ago. But as I began to move forward, I started to understand that there is a Dharma door for everyone. I got mine, but at the end it doesn't matter: all paths lead to Rome.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of attitudes that I think could be dangerous. The first one is those, in my opinion, fake bridges between Christianity and Buddhism, trying to compare Jesus with Buddha or Christian Heaven with a Pure Land. As a Buddhist, I don't have problems with syncretism: we have a lot of it in Dharma, but this seems to be too much. The other attitude is to consider us, Buddhist practitioners, as "better" than others, classifying them as existentialists or nihilists, and resting comfortably in our recently discovered Middle Way.
Namu Amida Bu
Thank you - very nice observations. Regarding the points in your last paragraph, which are well worth discussing, ...
1. The idea that Buddhism is best: Well, each system has its merits and its pitfalls. No human religion is perfect and we all learn from one another. To say anything about "all" Christians would be a mistake, just as many of the statements one hears these days about the whole of Islam have to be wide of the mark. Individually, however, one does choose the way that one finds to be most helpful and I am Buddhist because it is an excellent path. Inevitably, I do have opinions about which religions are better and which worse (and even which sects within them), but that is because I'm human and we do make judgements and I know that there must be a fair element of my own delusion wrapped up in such ideas too. No doubt it is dangerous to have opinions - but, unfortunately, that just means it is dangerous to be alive :-)
2. Christianity & Buddhism: These are different traditions with different histories. Some people make bridges between them. If that makes for good relations or if it helps an individual to practise, then it is surely to the good. The best relationship between religions is friendship. Of course, the question here is what is meant by "fake". There surely are real differences. I think that the real danger for Buddhism lies in the tendency to import ideas from the West (usually "progressive" quasi-political "correct thinking") into Buddhism that are no part of its original tradition.
3. Jesus & Buddha: I suspect that Jesus was influenced, perhaps substantially, by Buddhism. I suspect that the "three kings" were Buddhist. Much of the teaching of Jesus that is different from Judaism is similar to Buddhism. If, in that time, one were trying to adapt Buddhism to a Jewish audience one might well come up with something rather like the teachings of Jesus. There is a theory that Jesus did not die on the cross (people saw him alive afterwards) but did have to leave the Roman domains (or be killed) and that he actually died in what is now Pakistan, which was at that time a Buddhist country within which there were small Jewish colonies. So you never know.
Great points, sir! Nothing to add, I totally agree with you.
After point 3, yes, I've heard about that (I saw a BBC documentary if I recall). Perhaps if Buddha and Jesus meet, they'll find many common points, more than their followers for sure :) There's a lovely anime about that, both beings friends and living together as roommates in Tokyo!
Namu Amida Bu
Thanks both, a good exchange.
(And thanks too re above, Dharmavydia. Still a curiously raw thing to attempt to speak the heart clearly into cyberspace.)
To accept the inevitability of having opinions - a whole writhing fistful of them - that will will by their nature remain a work in progress, at least partially deluded, feels like a very liberating notion.
I suppose knowing such opinions for what they are - just that - is a useful touchstone. Which is not to disown them.
I learnt early that Pureland was a 'dumbed-down' Buddhist derivative, a simple-minded ethnic religion, and not the real deal - as was pursued by (us) serious contemplative practitioners, East and West.
So, that opinion settled, I spent many years not looking in that direction, as I set about adding ever-more-nuanced layers of sophistication to my utter helplessness.
I feel very grateful I was afforded a second take on all that some decades later, when I stumbled in here via Who Loves Dies Well.
Namo Amida Bu
Thanks, Mat. Yes, a while ago I was in a discussion (in Spain, it was) in which there was an authority on another form of Buddhism present and people asked him about it and he spoke very well, starting by saying that his form of Buddhism was for the most advanced type of practitioners and so on. When he had spoken they turned to me and said, "So how is your form of Buddhism different from what we have just heard?" and I said, "Well, there are forms for all kinds and our form is for the worst kind of practitioners..." and, of course, everybody laughed, but it is an important point.