Of all the forms of Buddhism currently practiced in Asia, Pure Land has been the most widespread for the past thousand years. At the core of this school is a text of great beauty and poetry, the Amitabha Sutra, intoned every evening in countless temples and homes throughout the Mahayana world. This important text shares with the Avatamsaka and Brahma Net sutras the distinction of being among the few key scriptures preached spontaneously by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, without the customary request from the assembly.
Although several translations of the sutra itself are available (the best known, by the renowned scholar Max Muller, dating from 1894), no major commentary appears to have been published in English. The Van Hien Study Group is therefore privileged to be associated with J.C. Cleary's present rendering of The Essentials of the Amitabha Sutra -- a seminal Chinese commentary by the T'ien-t'ai Master Ou-i (1599-1655), later recognized as the ninth Patriarch of the Pure Land school.
To those pressed for time but hungry for solace, Pure Land Buddhism offers the vision of a pure, idealistic realm, where Amitabha Buddha has vowed to assist all those who sincerely call upon Him. Pure Land literature tells the beautiful story of the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, the future Buddha Amitabha,
who had for eons past been deeply moved by the suffering of sentient beings and who had determined to establish a Land of Bliss where all beings could experience emancipation from their pain. In the presence of the eighty-first Buddha of the past, Lokesvararaja, Dharmakara made forty-eight vows relating to this Paradise, and promised that he would not accept enlightenment if he could not achieve his goals... When, after countless ages, Dharmakara achieved enlightenment and became a Buddha, the conditions of his [18th] vow were fulfilled: he became the Lord of Sukhavati, the Western Paradise, where the faithful will be reborn in bliss, there to progress through stages of increasing awareness until they finally achieve enlightenment. (Pure Land Buddhist Painting,p.14-15)
Sukhavati, the Pure Land, is of course, ultimately Mind but, to human beings bound by attachments and delusion, it is also real -- as real as our evanescent, dreamlike world. Consider this exchange between a Zen monk and his chosen disciple:
Disciple: Master, does the Pure Land exist?
Master: Does this world exist?
Disciple: Of course it does, Master.
Master: If this world exists, then the Pure Land exists all the more.
May all sentient beings rediscover the sublime vows of the Buddha of Light, Life and Compassion, may they rediscover their Bodhi Mind -- the Mind-seal of the Buddhas!
Rye Brook: Vesak, May '96
"In secular western thought, awareness of psychological projection as a source of supernatural being has served to demythologize demons, goblins, angels and saints and rob them of their power. The Bardo Thodol [Tibetan Book of the Dead], however, speaks of the deities as 'projections' but never as 'mere projections.' The deities are present and must be dealt with religiously ... not just by intellectual insight." (D.G. Dawe in The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, p. 93.)
Bodhi Mind: the determination to achieve Buddhahood, for oneself and for the benefit of all sentient beings. Mind-seal: heart of the teaching.