At the beginning of many of the great Mahayana sutras, the Buddha is surrounded by an assembly, and this assembly is described, at the beginning of the sutra, and there are various groups of people and beings present; and the first two groups that are generally listed, are the great monks – Śāriputra, Maudgalyāyana, Ananda, and so on, and, as a separate group the great bodhisattvas.

The monks are described as having attained certain superlative virtues and powers. The bodhisattvas are those who serve others and have received their prediction of Buddhahood at some point in the distant future.

This makes me think that the early Buddhist community must have been divided in this way, somehow: that there are the renunciants and there are the bodhisattvas. And the renunciants are those who follow the vinaya, they have a strict rule of life and their aim is purity, a personal achievement of nirvana. While the bodhisattvas have a less controlled life, they are not within a strict discipline, but they are ruled by the spirit of compassion, the spirit of altruism, of service. We might think that the great bodhisattvas, then, were, perhaps, what we would call lay people as distinct from the monks.

We know that in the early community the monks were actually, probably more properly designated as friars.  The “monks” wandered from place to place. They were not monks in the sense of being tied to their monastery with a rule of stabilitas so they had to stay in one place. No, the Buddhist monk was an itinerant. He wandered from place to place, city to city, town to town, village to village and gave teachings in each place that he went, and received offerings, and the receiving of these offerings gave merit to the people who made the offerings.

There must have been in those cities, in those towns, members of the Buddhist community, who were the other half of this balance. So, these would be the lay organizers, you might say, the lay spiritual leaders of the Buddhist community, who would be the bodhisattvas, each in their own town. Some of the sutras actually say: This bodhisattva came from this town, that bodhisattva came from that town, and so on.

And we know from the archeological investigations that after the Buddha’s death stupas were set up, reliquaries, where people came to worship, to pay their respects, to give reverence, and these were centers of lay devotion.

And the monks had separate viharas, dwellings, which were usually some considerable distance away from the stupa. So, the monks did not run the organization that went on around the stupa. That, no doubt, was in the hands of the bodhisattvas.

Now, Pureland Buddhism undoubtedly derives from the practices that happened at the stupas. The practice at the stupa would be that of coming, making offerings, and circumambulating, usually circumambulating while chanting. And it is from this that the practice of Pureland has developed – not out of the monkish tradition, but out of people circumambulating the stupas and chanting. Chanting Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu, probably in Sanskrit Amitabha, Amitabha, like that.

Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much


You need to be a member of David Brazier at La Ville au Roi (Eleusis) to add comments!

Join David Brazier at La Ville au Roi (Eleusis)

Email me when people reply –


  • I like the idea that Pureland derives from the Boddhisattva's and from the lay-people who did set up places of worship. This is what inspires me and I should like to dedicate and offer my life to this. 

    Thank you to share this insight and indeed, it is worderful that in the Buddhist world flexibility and implicity is high in rang. All Buddha's do have their own great qualities. All according to who they are and what is according to their tao.

    Namo Amida Bu

This reply was deleted.