It’s an interesting speculation that the Pureland tradition may go back not only to the Buddha but even beyond to Zoroaster, the great sage of Persia who founded one of the first know religions in the world. Zoroastrianism still exists in the religion of the Parsees in India.
In the Zoroastrian religion there is a worship of light, of the sun, the sun god Ahura. Whether there is any connection with the name Ahura and Amida of course has to be speculation.
We trace our tradition - our Japanese Pureland tradition - to Honen; and Honen was an eminent Tendai monk, very erudite, who left the official religious tradition of his time and became a hijiri. Hijiris were, we say, wandering holy man, though they didn’t always wander. Sometimes they lived in communities, bessho, that were often adjacent to but not part of Buddhist temples.
These people brought religion to the common people, while the priests in the temple ministered to the aristocrats and royalty. Honen particularly wanted to bring the religion to the common people, and he was a great devotee of the nembutsu – invoking Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light.
Many of the hijiri were of the same practice. But the term hijiri comes from hishiri, which is jisheng in Chinese, and the jisheng were rather shamanic kind of people who worshipped the sun, and it’s quite possible that there is a connection between the sun worship of the Zoroastrians and that of the jisheng. Zoroastrianism was certainly taken to China, and a mission of Zoroastrians was received at the Chinese court. So, we know that even at the official level there was some presence of Zoroastrianism in China. Traditions of this kind can be extremely old and very persistent, even when they are not officially approved.
So, there is some distant ancestral connection, I think, between the shaman of the sun who wandered in China, the hijiri in Japan who wandered chanting the nembutsu and all this probably ultimately goes back to Zoroastrianism of Persia and that very early religion of light and darkness. Of course, light and darkness would have a certain appeal in China, where the whole idea of yin and yang was well established and people who followed shamanic ways were much influenced by Daoism.
So, all of this is an intriguing speculation. Who knows, if its true or not? But, I think, we can be reasonably confident that the religious tradition which now takes the form of Pure Land has its roots deep in history, way, way back. It’s not merely a kind of later revisionism within Buddhism, but rather a cross-fertilization of very ancient traditions going back into the deepest recesses of the mists of time.
For myself, ever since my early childhood in the Mediterranean region, I have always been a bit of a sun-worshipper, you probably are, too. So, we can all worship the sun together.
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much