The Common Principles of Pure Land and World Peace

 Dr. Henry Hsiang chou Yo

Buddhist Himalaya: A Journal of Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods

Vol. III No. I & II  (1990-1991)


Copyright 1990 by Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods


As we know that "Pure Land" is the ultimate ideal of Mahayana Buddhism . "Pure Land" is not only the highest state of the result of every "individual" Buddhist's spiritual discipline, but also the complete state of "all" sentient beings in achieving their physical and mental quietude and peace. The realization of this ideal is not slightly inconsistent with mankind's pray for "world peace" in modern times. I also feel that only through the complete understanding of "the principles of Pure Land", can world peace be fully realized.


In order to focus on the issues more concisely, I will use the Chinese version of "Vimalakirti Sutra" as a center to explain to you, in three parts, the essential contents of the principles of Pure Land and the way of applying these principles in the realization of world peace.


I. Pure Land is gained through the purification of mind.


At the very beginning of the first volume of the Vimalakirti Sutra, the "five hundred sons of the Elders" in Vaisali, India are particularly described. I always think that these five hundred sons of the Elders are the members of the first "Buddhist Youths Association" ever appeared in the history of Buddhist sutras. When the Lord Buddha was preaching in Vaisali, they all went to see him for instructions on Dharma. First, they took refuge in the Triple Gems and then raised the question, We humbly ask the Lord Buddha to illustrate how the Bodhisattvas realize the Pure Land".


The Lord Buddha recognized the high value of their question and then happily pointed out the essence by saying, "All species of sentient beings are the Pure Land of bodhisattvas."


The Lord Buddha meant that the places where all sentient beings live are the places where the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas achieve Pure Land. This suggestion may disappoint some people because they may think that "Pure Land" should be some place like "Heaven". It is some place beyond this world, especially some place far away from the places where "sentient beings" live. Why the Lord Buddha's instruction is contrary to this ?


The answer to this question involves the differences of mentality between Mahayana and Hinayana. If you think that to get rid of passions is equal to liberation, you really should keep far away from sentient beings. This is because that the so called "sentient beings" are born out of the aggregation and the continuity of Panca Skandha, When speaking of the cycle of Avidya, Karma and Dukha, which are the frequent phenomena of "sentient beings", "sentient beings" are actually the pronoun of passion. Nevertheless, this is the mentality of Hinayana, As the World "Hinayana" literally implies, "Hinayana" is a "little boat". the Little boat cannot survive the waves of great ocean. Therefore, the little boat only knows to take a shelter port as its final destination.


The Yogis of Hinayana are anxious to attain Nirvana. They think that "to get rid of the future existence" is liberation. This exactly reflects " the mentality of escapism". However, Mahayana is not the case. Mahayana believes that "sentient beings'. are not something to be afraid of. If you can understand the principles of Pure Land, you will certainly achieve the goal of Pure Land from the places where sentient beings live. Thus, the Lord Buddha, following the above-mentioned proposition of "All species of sentient beings are the Pure Land of Bodhisattvas"., gave further instruction.


"If bodhisattvas wish to attain Pure Land, they should purify their minds. When their minds are once purified, the land of the Buddha is purified."


This instruction of the Lord Buddha already reveals the actual secrets of the principles of Pure Land. Its essence consists of at least following three fold meanings.


1.         The realization of Pure Land neither means the cleansing and the beautification of the surface of the earth, nor can attribute to the arbitrary execution of external forces including arms, laws social system, etc. The reality of Pure Land, to the essence, lies in the self-purification of man's minds.


2.         The realization of Pure Land can occur everywhere, not necessary in other place outside this world. Only if people's minds are purified, the place where he or she lives and works is purified accordingly. On the contrary, if you mind hasn't been purified, even you are sent temporarily by some magic power to a place where is already a "Pure Land", probably you will pollute that place. From this we can see that the cleanliness and the dirtiness of the world lie in "mind", not in "land".


3.         The realization of Pure Land should be close to the mass. the reason why the sentient beings have passions is because of the avidya of their minds. If the ignorance in the minds of sentient beings can be purified, isn't it that all sentient beings can become a Buddha at the right moment of self-awakening ? From the standpoint of Mahayana, if "the mass" are kept away from us, there will be not "Mahayana" at all ! This is the reason why the Lord Buddha said at the right beginning, "All species of sentient beings are the Pure Land of bodhisattvas."


Based on the above principles, everyone who is dedicated to the practice of the bodhisattva way should realize his own responsibility towards this world. Today. although conflicts, misunderstanding and war often happen in this world, if everyone starts by the purification of self mind and then proceeds tot he propagation of the purification of minds in whole world, this world will become from "dirty land" into "Pure Land" at an instant. On the other hand, and attempt to escape reality as a means of liberation not only is negative and invalid, but also should be condemned.


II. Infinite purposeful Actions and Non-Abiding in Non-purposeful Actions.


In Vimalakirti Sutra, there is a paragraph mentioning about the bodhisattvas from other world coming to ask the Lrd Shakyamuni Buddha for dharma. The Lord Buddha instructed them, "You should learn the dharmas of finite and infinite liberation, What is finite liberation ? It means the dharma of purposeful action. What is infinite liberation ? If means the dharma of non-purposeful action. A bodhisattva should do infinite purposeful actions and should not abide in non-purposeful actions."


The so-called "should do infinite purposeful actions" means not to forgive the three realms of existence and thus not to forgive the sentient beings. the so-called "should not abide in non-purposeful actions" means not to reside in Nirvana and not to attach sunyata as enlightenment. Perhaps, some people will doubt that if one "should do infinite purposeful actions and should not abide in non-purposeful actions", doesn't it means that one is looking for passions and downgrading by himself ? No, it is not the case, because a bodhisattva thoroughly understands a theory. That is "The reality of passions is exactly the bodhi."


This statement seems to be very mysterious. In fact, the theory is very simple. I always use two terms coined by myself to explain this theory. One is "ecology of passions", the other is "immunology of passions." the so-called "ecology of passions" means to understand the real ecology of passion-its formation and its reality. Evidently, the formation of passions has its own causal causes, therefore, the reality of passions has this characteristic of dependent arising, Just like what Nagarjuna says in the Chapter of Watching causes and Conditions, the Madhyamika.


"There is not a single phenomenon which doesn't come from causes and conditions. Therefore, all phenomena are sunyata".


Since passions are born of dependent arising, passion have not their own nature. Having non own nature means sunyata. If we can fully realize the ecology that passions themselves are of dependent arising and thus of sunyata, doesn't the bodhi (Buddha nature) will appear by itself at the right moment of this self awakening ? This is what the so-called "All passions are seeds of Tathagata" in Vimalakirti Sutra exactly means.


The so-called "immunology of passions" means that although passions may pose certain degree of damage to us, they are not totally useless. The principles of modern immunology tell us that adequate exposure to "virus" will effectively produce "antibody" and then immunity to sickness. If we can adequately expose to passions. we will not only have the chance to understand the "ecology" of passions, but also be immune to passions. To a man who is afraid of snake, no matter how you do your best to escape a snake, if you don't try to observe the ecological characteristics of snake, the snake will forever remain a threat to you, Only by way of fully observing ecology and injecting with immune serum, can the threats of snake be rooted out. this is the real attitude of Mahayana Buddhism towards passions.


If somebody asks, "Why can a bodhisattva reside in mundane world forever, yet not feel panic by it? Why does a bodhisattva dare to plunge himself into the flow of passions, yet not to be drowned forever ?" the answer is nothing else but the fact that a bodhisattva can thoroughly understand that the reality of passions is exactly bodhi, Therefore, a bodhisattva can extract wisdom from passions and achieve the broad scope of merits from residing forever in mundane world. the beautiful poise of a lotus flower being in dirty mud yet not to be polluted is exactly the best reflection of a bodhisattva's "doing infinite purposeful actions and not abiding in non-purposeful actions"


III. Mutual-apprehension of Six paramitas.


As what I described before, the realization of "Pure Land" cannot be detached from realities. Its essence lies in the purification of mind. How to return to realities and to realize the purification of mind, the Vimalakirti Sutra has a colorful description of how Upasaka Vimalakirti leads his life.


"With the view to save mankind, he lives in mundane world with skilled methods. By infinite alms-giving, he saves the poor. by following precepts strictly, he saves those who offend precepts. By adjusting practice with patience, he saves the envious and angry people. By assiduous efforts, he saves lazy people. By concentrated meditation, he saves wild minds. By various samadhi and prajna, he saves ignorant people.


The life style of Vimalakirti is, in short, the life style of six paramitas. As well known, the so-called paramitas are alms-giving, precepts abiding, patience, assiduous efforts, meditation and prajna. The life style of six paramitas is actually the realization of the personification of sunyata. Its most profound meaning is the mutual-apprehension of six paramitas. In other words, the six paramitas support and enrich one another.


From the viewpoint of worldly science, the carbonic diamond is a wonderful object of matter after beautification, In Buddha Dharma, the diamond achieved by the mutual-apprehension of the six paramitas will be the superb object of magnificent "dharmakaya".

The Vimalakirti Sutra says, "My friends, we would abhor this physical body and be happy with this Buddha body. Why ? the Buddha body is the dharmakaya. It is born of infinite merits and wisdom.


Although physical body may be abhorrent, we must well apply the principle of "practicing" the true (dharmakaya) by means of the false (Physical body). "A beautiful garden depends on long term of culturing and irrigation; similarly, the broad Pure Land depends on bodhisattvas' culturing and development for many kalpas. Using dharmakaya as basis and physical body as function will be the common road of every bodhisattva in establishing his broad Pure Land.


The Principles of Pure Land in Mahayana as propagated by the Vimalakirti Sutra consist of rich contents. What I explain before is only one part of it. Why I lay particular emphasis on above-mentioned arguments is mainly because of following four points.


1.         Today's Buddhists should be brave enough to burden the responsibility of world peace;


2.         In promoting world peace, Buddhist should stress mainly on the purification of mind.


3.         World peace is an everlasting goal. all Buddhists should set up a view of perpetual efforts-doing infinite purposeful actions and not abiding in non-purposeful actions:


4.         Only after all sentient beings become Buddhas, can world peace be completely realized.