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Pure Land - I. What the school of Pure Land says about itself

jeudi 16 juin 2016 par Phap

See Pure Land - II. What the Other Buddhist Schools Say About Pure Land and Its School

This article is derived from my Master degree which has been (successfully) submitted to the Institut Catholique de Paris.
Any fault or error are due to me.

We (the reader and I) are debtful to Lady Evelyne P., who has worked hard to improve my original English version. Thank you, Evelyne.

Table of contents

1. General points

2. The Birth in the Pure Land as a motion

3. Lines of contention

Two interpretations of the Pure Land paradigm – Shinran’s and Hônen’s.

1. General points

a. Our preconception of history
1§. Our intent in this study is to revisit the way the ideal of being born in the Pure Land of Amida has developed through time and space. The use of the verb revisit underscores the hermeneutical dimension of our study : we are aware of the responsibility we take in interpreting the corpus of traditional texts of the Pure Land from a specific point of view.

2§. We also use this verb to counter Hegel’s viewpoint which interprets the history of Pure Land as the blooming of the concept of birth in Pure Land according to an inescapable process derived from internal necessity (as the oak is “necessarily” included in the seed). We do not pretend to occupy the absolute point of view overlooking history.

3§.We shall sip through texts and authors according to our focus, namely the ideal of being born in the Pure Land of Amida. We shall avoid compiling authors and texts without taking into account the differences between them.
We will attempt to identify the structuring features inside the corpus of Pure Land. We shall deal with the corpus as a global text (synchrony) while maintaining – albeit secondarily - a diachronic approach, since we want to determine genealogies of thought.

4§. Our hermeneutical approach is supposed to be regulated by “scientific neutrality” #1 : we intend to look for the internal consistency of the texts, without any bias beforehand.
The methodological aspect shall be re-evaluated in the second section when we give our approach a new dimension. For the time being, it is sufficient.

b. delineating the corpus – authors and texts #2
The authors

5§. We use the lists given by the Jôdo 浄土 school of Hônen and the Shinshû school of Shinran. Hônen 法然 (1133-1212), also called Genkû 源空, selects the following genealogy #3 :

  • in India,
    • Nargarjuna 龍樹,
    • Vasubandhu 婆薮槃豆 or天親,
  • the « five patriarchs » 浄土五祖 (Jôdo goso jap.) from China,
    • Tanluan 曇鸞(476-542),
    • Daochuo 道綽(562-645) #4,
    • Shandao #5 善導(613-681),
    • Huaigan 懷感 (ca. 600-700 ?) ,
    • Shaok ang 少康 ( ?-805)
  • in Japan, Genshin 源信 (942-1017), also called « the master of Shuryogon in » 首楞嚴院 by Shinran.

6§. Shinran 親鸞 (1173-1262)#6 is one of the most famous disciples of Hônen #7 : his genealogy does not include either Huaigan or Shaokang, but it includes Hônen #8 ; his genealogy is called the “ the seven eminent religious”.

7§. We have to be cautious regarding these genealogies : Hônen was convinced about the exclusive and unidirectional nembutsu 一向專念 #9 (in order to be born in the Pure Land of Amida) by Shandao #10 and not by Genshin #11.
Hônen will elect Shandao and not Daochuo as his master because the former reached a specific samadhi, unlike the later #12. Our authors have been eclectic in their spiritual filiations, while maintaining their fidelity to the traditional lineage.


8§. We will study the most used texts in Pure Land collections :

Regarding Indian authors,

  • Nagarjuna (from the Madhyamika school, ca. 150-250) is credited #13 with the Analysis of the ten stages 十住毘婆沙論 [1] #14 and the Treaty of the Great Virtue of Wisdom (Commentary of the Mahaprajanaparamitasutra) 大智度論 [2] ;
  • Vasubandhu is famous for his Treaty on birth [in Pure Land] 往生論, also entitled Treaty on the Sutra of Infinite Life 無量壽經憂波提舍願生偈 [3] ; Hônen ranks this Treaty with the Trilogy (cf. infra about the Trilogy) #15 ;

Regarding Chinese authors,

  • Tanluan wrote Commentary of the Treaty on birth in the Pure Land 無量壽經優婆提舍願生偈註 or 往生論註 [4] ;
  • Daochuo is credited with the Collection of Peaceful felicity (An-lo chi ch.)安樂集 [5] ;
  • Shandao wrote the Contemplation Method  [6], the Commentary of the Contemplation Sutra of Infinite Live #16 觀無量壽佛經疏 [7], the Hymns of birth in the Pure Land 轉經行道願往生淨土法事讃 [8] and the Hymns of veneration of birth in the Pure Land 往生禮讃«  [9] ;

Regarding Japanese authors,

  • Genshin wrote the Sum of birth (in the Pure Land) - ôjôyôshû 往生要集 [10],
  • Hônen wrote the Senchaku #17 選擇本願念佛集 [11] and
  • Shinran the kenJôdoshinjitsukyôgyôshômonrui 顯淨土眞實教行證文類 [12], abbreviated as kyôgyôshinshô 教行信證 #18 - abbrevaited henceforth as KGSS. We shall also use A Record in Lament of Divergences 歎異抄 (Tannisho in Japanese) #19, which contains some of Shinran’s words reported by one of his disciples.

9§. We might say that Hônen’s and Shinran’s major works, namely Senchaku and KGSS, belong to the compilation literary form, keeping in mind that they quote texts to buttress a personal point of view written in the “I” form #20.
Both use compilation to place their teachings within the doctrinal main streams but their main works are not just plain compilations.

10§. Further in the past, we find the three founding texts,

  1. Sutra of Infinite Life 無量壽經 [13],
  2. Sutra of the Contemplation of Infinite life 觀無量壽經 [14] and
  3. the Amida Sutra 阿彌陀經 [15].

We shall call them the Long Sutra, the Contemplation Sutra and the Short Sutra.

11§. As they are Sutra, they are received as Sakyamuni Buddha’s own words #24. According to Shinran, these sutra were written one millennium before Christ #25.

Together they form the Pure Land Trilogy - Jôdo sambukyô (jap) 淨土三部經, which, according to Hônen, is the “main foundation sutra of the Pure Land” #26.
Inside the Trilogy, there are different ways of appreciating the three sutra : Hônen dedicates most of the Senchaku to the Contemplation Sutra whereas Shinran openly praises the Long Sutra #27 over the Contemplation Sutra #28.

12§. Buddhologists have tried to date the sutra according to the existing versions, either in Sanskrit, Tibetan or Chinese #29.
The Chinese versions may be dated rather accurately. Some experts suggest that the Short Sutra was written before the Long Sutra because the story of Amida is not included in the Short Sutra ; they don’t question the Indian origin of these two sutra #30 ; the date a quo might be between -100 and +100 +200 A.D., the date ad quem might be +250 A.D. #31
On the other hand, the Contemplation Sutra seems to be the most recent ; it might not originate from India#32.

13§. In the XIXth century, Max Müller discovered Sanskrit versions of the Short and Long Sutra in Japanese monastries #33. We do not know if they were read and understood at the time of Hônen and Shinran.

14§. The terms “Pure Land Sutra Trilogy” 淨土三部經 Jôdo sambu kyô (jap.) and “Pure Land School” 淨土宗 seemed to appear after Tanruan. The latter was coined by the Korean Master 元曉 Wônhyo (617-686) from the Kegon school 華嚴宗Kegon shû (jap.) #34.

Limits of our scope

15§. Since we restricted our corpus to speculative texts, more “popular” texts, such as those dealing with the hagiography of saints 往生傳 (ôjôden jap.) born in the Pure Land, will fall outside of our scope.
We are aware that we shall not be able to perceive the interactivity between the popular practice of the Pure Land and its doctrinal elaboration.

c. Vocabulary
16§. The Chinese 佛土 is used to translate the two Sanskrit words Buddhakstra #35 and Buddhavisaya #36. We shall translate 佛土 by “Buddha land”.

The land of Buddha Amida 阿彌陀 is called “Pure Land” 淨土 (used four times in the Long Sutra) or the “Land of Bliss » (or “extreme bliss” 極樂世界, used fifteen times in the Contemplation Sutra) or “Land of Peace and Bliss” 安樂國 #37, which translates the Sanskrit sukhavati used in the Long Sutra #38.

The Chinese 境界 is translated by “spheres” : they are used to designate a group of Buddha Lands or the Three Worlds 三界.
We shall translate the ideogram 地 by “step” when we speak about the ten steps of the Bodhisattva 菩薩十地.

Birth translates the Chinese 往生 or 生. Both Daochuo and Shandao used the combination of the two ideograms to underline the reality of the movement to “go and be born” in the Pure Land of Amida, thus opposing the idealistic interpretation which sees in birth a mere spiritual event occurring within the practitioner’s mind / heart #39.

The will to be born there is rendered by a “vow “願 (願生其國) or a desire 欲(欲生我國) in the Long Sutra.

The expression “to be born in” translates the Chinese 生彼國, 生彼佛國, and so on. In English we have to add “in”, which does not appear in Chinese #40.
Following Ducor’s choice, we shall use “birth (in the Pure Land)” and not “rebirth”.

2. Birth in the Pure Land as a motion

Analysis of the motion in three steps

17§. Considering that birth in the Pure Land can be seen as a motion, we shall analyze it in three steps :

  1. the terminus ad quem, the destination, viz the “Pure Land of Amida” ;
  2. the terminus a quo, the starting point, i.e. the Saha world娑婆 ;
  3. the trajectory between these two termini #41.

18§. The motion is triggered by the potential difference between the two termini  : the terminus ad quem is highly desirable in itself ; it is more desirable than the terminus a quo ; the motion comes from the desire to go from the less desirable to the more desirable point.

19§. Nota bene : this work is focused on the Trilogy which uses narrative and literary imagery techniques to describe birth in Pure Land. We deal with this figurative representation without excluding “idealistic” interpretations of the Pure Land at this stage : in fact, a representation can be understood both literally and metaphorically, the latter leaving space for idealistic interpretations.

a. The destination : the Pure Land of Buddha Amida
20§. Inside the Trilogy, only the Long Sutra tells us the genesis of the Pure Land of Amida, derived from the monk Dharmakara 法藏’s career as a Bodhisattva which unfolds as follows :

  • Dharmakara intends to produce a perfect and unrivalled Pure Land by his Bodhisattva practices ; he says so in front of Buddha Lokeshvararaja 世自在王佛 ;
  • He visits innumerable Buddha Lands 佛世界in order to learn the Buddha’s “best practices”
  • Buddha Lokeshvararaja asks him to declare himself openly ; Dharmakara complies and takes his 48 vows#42 ;
  • He practices his vows during an incredible amount of time and becomes a Bodhisattva ;
  • Arriving at the end of his Bodhisattva career, he becomes Buddha Amida #43 ; since then, he has been dwelling in his Buddha Land for an inconceivable amount of time.

21§. We may say that the Pure Land plays a key role in the Long Sutra : the monk Dharmakara intends to produce a perfect Pure Land ; most of his vows deal with the Pure Land #44 ; moreover, the Long Sutra is entirely devoted to the description of the Pure Land after listing the 48 vows. We are going to check this last point now.

The purity of Buddha Amida’s Land
22§. The Long Sutra qualifies the terminus ad quem as pure mainly because it is faultless :

  • The ground is flat, its ornaments are wonderfully beautiful. All of them are made of precious and non decaying material ;
  • The inhabitants are born there without any physical or moral defects (for instance, none of them is born as a woman). Their body shines like gold, and they are not subject to any suffering resulting from illness and death.

23§. This purity helps the inhabitants of Buddha Amida’s land to progress towards an awakening :
Through each of their senses the inhabitants experience objects that proclaim the Law :

  • trees, flowers, rivers, all of them praise and expose the Law ;
  • when the inhabitants encounter Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta (sc.) Seichi (jap.) 大勢至and Avalokiteshvara (sc.) Kannon (jap) 觀世音, these two acolytes #45 lead them to Buddha Amida who fills them with delight through his bodily aspect and through his preaching of the Law.

24§. The inhabitants constantly hear the Law which is preached in every possible way and they stand constantly in the presence of Buddha Amida : it is a precious privilege when we take into account the difficulty to be born in a period where the Law is proclaimed, let alone in a period when a Buddha exists.

25§. These inhabitants will not “fall back” into the Three Worlds 三界#46, they have reached the non-retrogression stage 不退地 #47 - their passions are not extinguished 斷, let alone uprooted 除, they still exist but they aim at objects which do not foster “greed” #48, the ultimate cause of rebirths in the Three Worlds.

Shinran wrote :

“ If the single thought of Joy and Gratitude is awakened in us, we shall realize Nirvana #49 without severing 不斷 our blind passions 煩惱” #50.

An extra samsaric land
26§. Let us focus on the origin of the purity of Buddha Amida’s Land :

  • its ornaments 莊嚴 #51 (ground, ponds, trees, palaces) reflect Amida’s purity of heart #52 as a monk and then as a Bodhisattva #53 ;
  • its inhabitants are born pure thanks to their being born by “transformation” 化生inside a lotus flower and not from an egg 卵生, from a moisture 胎生or from the womb 濕生 (there is no female in the Pure Land of Amida) #54.

27§. Finally, the Land can be qualified as pure because it is outside the three worlds, outside the Samsara : one who is born there is no longer subject to the law of life-and-death, and to reincarnation ; no evil beings are born here, the inhabitants encounter only good company that supports them in their progress towards Enlightenment.

28§. Shandao links this specific quality of the Pure Land of Amida to its being a recompensed Land 報也 and not a transformed Land 化也 just as Amida’s body is a recompensed body and no a transformed one #55.

29§. Let us conclude on the terminus ad quem by stressing that we give this expression a relative meaning and not an absolute one : in no way can the Pure Land be understood as the “ultimate” destination #56, and this for two reasons :

  • The inhabitant dwells there in order to achieve Enlightenment and not to stay there permanently ; the Pure Land is used as a transit place, we could say a spring board ;
  • Although he has been dwelling there, he can “go back” to the Three Worlds to help sentient beings. According to Shinran, someone who wants to be born in the Pure Land just for his own benefit will fail to reach the Pure Land #57.

b. The starting point : the Saha world
30§. As seen above, Amida’s Pure Land has attractive characteristics which make birth there desirable. Birth there becomes all the more desirable when the authors contrast it with the actual world.

31§. Genshin’s ôjôyôshû 往生要集 exemplifies this approach : Genshin depicts the human condition in a sinister way, emphasizing the anguish of the dying man : he man suffers mainly from loneliness, since only his bad deeds follow him on his journey to the hellish court #58.
He also depicts the bad destinies (惡趣 or 惡道) in order to induce horror and repulsion.
Genshin does not spare the inhabitants of the heavenly kingdoms : when one of them reaches the end of the fruit of his good acts 善業, knowing that he shall have to depart from this land of pleasures, he feels terribly anguished, and this all the more so since the other inhabitants, sensing his pending departure, avoid him : “one must know that this pain is worst than the one in hell” wrote Genshin #59.

32§. This world is all the gloomier as the present age is the age of the Decay of the Law mappô (jap.) 末法#60 ou matsudai (jap.) 末代#61.
According to Daochuo, it is now impossible to practice the Law in the Saha world. He developed this view by giving a personal interpretation of the classification into two ways by the Buddhist schools described by Tanluan.
Tanluan himself relied on Nagarjuna who described two ways :

  • the easy practice 易行道, which is like being taken on a boat and arriving at port without any effort, and
  • the difficult practice 難行道, which is like walking by foot on the land #62.

33§. Nagarjuna may have been inspired by the eighth stage in the Ten stages of the Bodhisattva : there, the practitioner proceeds effortlessly on the sea because he is carried by a boat #63 ;

34§. Nagarjuna recommends the easy way as the answer to the “words of a cowardly and contemptible man, and not those of a brave man with a strong aspiration” : this easy way will fulfil a man’s desire to reach the non-retrogression stage without exerting himself.
This easy way rests upon the “easy practice based on faith” #64 : according to Nagarjuna, this practice resorts to a spiritual technique (to revere and keep in mind the ten Buddha of the ten directions) and also a vocal technique (to pronounce the names of the ten Buddha of the ten directions) #65 ;

35§. Tanruan focuses Nagarjuna’s easy way on Buddha Amida and his vows ; like Nagarjuna, he seems to think that the difficult way is still practicable #66 ;

36§. Daocho’s An-lo chi follows the classification into two ways, while distinguishing between the Way of the Saints and the Way of the Pure Land. According to Daochuo, since this age is the one of the Decay of the Law, only the Way of the Pure Land is practicable #67.

37§. Daochuo uses the Pure Land paradigms of the impact of mappô to distinguish the Way of the Pure Land from the other Mahayanist teachings ; we can say that with Daochuo, the Pure Land begins to have an autonomous identity #68.

38§. A few centuries later, Hônen and Shinran will follow the track opened by Daochuo , taking up the same beginnings and reaching similar conclusions.

39§. The argument of the Decay of the Law may have greatly helped the success of the ideal of the Pure Land in Daochuo’s and Hônen’s times. It looked so decisive to Hônen that he kept only the Pure Land practice of the vocal nembutsu #69.

Yet, from the historian’s point of view, it would be wise to qualify the impact of mappô with a study of the mentality of the time : it would be wrong to overemphasize events (famines, civil wars, epidemics, corruption of moral standards especially by the religious brothers and sisters) which, all told and said, occur periodically in the history of mankind.

40§. When looking for a trauma in the history of a civilization or a culture, one had better look for the clash between old and new paradigms between competing ways of thinking and organizing the world #70.

41§. Besides, we saw that there were at least two dates for the beginning of mappô ; the beginning date of the Decay of the Law may have caused as much debate as the date of the End of the World in the Western Christianity, mutatis mutandis.

42§. At last, we will refer ourselves to the Buddhologist Chappel, who says that Shandao did not use the argument of mappô to promote the Pure Land of Amida since for Shandao this Land is attractive by itself #71.

43§. If Shandao does not overuse the argument of mappô, he still holds that it is urgent to pass to the “other side”, since this river, the Saha world, is a dangerous one.

44§. Shandao used the famous parable 喩 of the two rivers and the white path 一白道二河 #72, which echoed one by Tanruan #73 : both tell the story of a man running for his life from East to West : trying to escape bandits, he is cornered in front of one (Tanruan) or two rivers (Shandao).

45§. In Shandao’s parabola, the two rivers are respectively made of fiery flames of fire and furious waves ; a thin path of white sand crosses these two rivers and leads to the western bank.
Through these two metaphors, the authors describe the Saha world as a world of passions (the water stands for fear and the fire for anger), which prevent man from reaching the Pure Land. And yet he has to overcome these two dangers and reach the western bank in order to escape a very dangerous situation.

46§. Let us conclude the analysis of the terminus a quo with the Contemplation Sutra.
In this sutra, Queen Vaidehi 韋提希is desperate because her son, Prince Ajatashatru 阿闍世 had her imprisoned and he had ordered that his father, King Bimbisara 頻婆娑羅, would starve to death.
She wonders how to escape such a dark age, how to avoid the pains resulting from her karma. Then she begs Buddha Sakyamuni to show her a Pure Land where she would be freed from all these torments.
Among all those shown to her by the Buddha, she chose the Pure Land of Amida, thus indicating its superiority.

c. From the terminus a quo to the terminus ad quem

A description of the way in the Long Sutra

47§. The difference between the two termini generates a two-fold desire :

  • the desire to quit the Saha world and
  • the desire to go to the Pure Land of Amida.

This yearning is explicit in three out of the 48 vows of the current version of the Long Sutra, namely vow n°18, 19 et 20. In these three vows, Amida is shown to be concerned by those who wish to be born in his Pure Land : 欲生我國 #74.

48§. The 18th vow being pivotal in Shinran’s doctrine, we will quote its Chinese version and its western translations by Hisao Inagaki, a Shinshû follower.
Synopsis of the 18th vow in the Long Sutra

Inagaki Taishô
If, when I attain Buddhahood, 設我得佛。
sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, 十方衆生至心信樂。
desire to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, 欲生我國乃至十念。
should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment. 若不生者不取正覺。
Excluded, however, are those who commit the five gravest offences and abuse the right Dharma. 唯除五逆誹謗正法

49§. Out of the 48 vows, only the 19th tells us about the transition from the terminus a quo to the terminus ad quem : under some specific conditions, after one’s own death 臨壽終時, one might see Buddha #77 coming with his retinue to fetch him (this movement is called 來迎 raigô (jap).

50§. Further down in the Long Sutra Buddha Sakyamuni reveals that one can be born in the Pure Land of Amida either from transformation 化生or from the embryonic state 胎生, depending upon the quality of one’s faith : is it a resolute faith 明信 or does it coexist with some doubts 疑惑 #78 ?

  • If one is doubtful, one will be born in a palace where one will have to stay for 500 hundred years before gaining access to the Three Jewels 三寶 ; during this time, one will not be able to see or hear Buddha, nor encounter Bodhisattva nor Sravaka.
  • The ”resolute faith” allows the faithful to be born “spontaneously” 自然 #79 by transformation into a seven jewels lotus bud : 於七寶華中自然化生。 [16]. In that case, the new inhabitant can understand immediately the upper wisdom of the Buddhas and he can meet directly the Three Jewels

51§. Let us note that in the Tang translation of the Long Sutra, the inhabitants in the embryonic state feel as if they dwelled in a palace, while in fact they are inside a lotus bud 蓮華. The Sanskrit version tells the same story as the Tang translation #80.

52§. We can find different variants in the geography of Pure Land. For instance Shandao –taken up by Shinran – added a borderland 邊界 or 邊地 to the lotus buds and the palace (which is not an illusion in Shandao’s eyes) #81.
Later on, Shinran considered that the people relying on their own power自力 jiriki (Jap) belonged to the group of sceptics.

53§. Whatever the differences between the variants, they all share the same conviction : some inhabitants of the Pure Land have direct access to Buddha Amida and others are prevented – temporarily according to the Long Sutra #82 – from meeting Buddha and benefiting from his guidance.

54§. The Long Sutra soberly describes the passage to the Pure Land of Amida. Besides, according to this sutra, to be born there, one has to yearn after it and to accumulate merits 功徳 #83 ; depending upon the quality of one’s faith, one will transfer 迴向 one’s merits with a “sincere heart” 信心 or with a heart entertaining some doubts, and one will be born accordingly either by transformation or in the embryonic state.

55§. We are now going to show that the Contemplation Sutra is less sober, and also that it does not take back the requirements stated in the Long Sutra.

The description of the passage in the Contemplation Sutra
56§. First, the Contemplation Sutra sets nine ways of birth in the Pure Land, instead of two ways in the Long Sutra #84. The Contemplation Sutra breaks the move from the terminus a quo to the terminus ad quem in three successive steps :

  • The past life of a sentient being 衆生, depending upon his morality and his observation of the “developed Sutra” (vaipulya sutra 方等經典) of the Big Véhicle大乘 ;
  • His last moments, with more or less grand appearances coming to welcome him (來迎 or in more recent writings 来迎, raigô jap. #85) ;
  • In the Pure Land of Amida, his “career” with more or less noble fruit #86.

57§. Secondly, the Contemplation Sutra opens the way to the Pure Land to a broader spectrum of sentient beings.
Of course, the upper levels are occupied by the sentient beings who desired to be born in Amida’s Land #87, but it doesn’t exclude de jure that people who have not heard about Buddha Amida and his Land could be born there : Confucians #88, for instance, may be born there, provided they meet a “good friend” #89 善知識 in an apparition at their death bed ; this good friend expounds the teaching of Dharmakara’s 48 vows and his Land of Supreme felicity #90, which makes them yearn after being born there.

58§. We may assume that the Confucians can rely on their Confucian virtues as merits, but what about criminals ?
The Contemplation Sutra welcomes them also in the Pure Land, even the worst of them who have committed the five offences 五逆, inducing a tension with the restrictive clause of the 18th Vow in the Long Sutra.

59§. Like the Confucians, the criminals encounter a “good friend” when at death throes ; this time, the good friend reveals the cure which extinguishes the bad fruit to come, namely to pay homage to Buddha Amida by saying the formula : Na-mo-o-mi-t’o-fo (chin.) namo amida butsu (jap.) : 南無阿彌陀佛 #91.

60§.The Contemplation Sutra echoes the 18th vow in the Long Sutra when using the Chinese character 念 to designate the curing practice, and by requesting that it be practiced ten times.
It differs from the Long Sutra in explicitly considering 念 as a mental and a vocal practice #92.
Hônen will refer specifically to this reading when he identifies 念 to the vocal practice, in the wake of Shandao who is the main initiator of this major change #93.

3. Lines of contention

61§. Looking back on our study, we can notice some lines of contention which can account for evolutions and clashes inside the Pure Land history. The Pure Land authors balanced the straining forces according to their own existential experience and the basic intuition they derived from it.
62§. We spot the following three main areas of friction :

a. Are there any restrictions to being born in the Pure Land of Amida ?
In the Contemplation Sutra we find a trend towards offering an universal salvation through birth in the Pure Land of Amida :

  • the restrictive clause of the 18th Vow is no longer an obstacle to the salvation of any being #94 ;
  • the requirements are lowered : one is merely requested to invoke Buddha Amida ten times, with the appropriate formula.

63§. Anyhow, the Contemplation Sutra demands that a criminal should invoke the Buddha ten times in a continuous way 絶and with a “sincere heart” 至心 [17] #95.

  • The Contemplation Sutra required the production of the “three hearts” 三心- sanjin (Jap.) only for the upper level #96 ;
  • Shandao extended this necessary condition to all nine levels #97.

64§. Later on, Shinran will say that the three hearts result from Amida’s Vow and not from the aspirant #98.
When considering these shifts about the sanjin, we can avoid the simplistic view of a continuous and homogenous development process of the Pure Land doctrine.

65§. Later on, questions were raised about the number of invocations : could once be enough #99 ; and why wait until the last moment, which could happen without any warning and so not leave enough time for invoking Amida #100 ?
Shinran thought that the nembutsu (invocations) came spontaneously to the aspirant’s mouth as an expression of his gratitude : in his sense, there is no use in counting them since they do not trigger salvation, on the contrary they result from it.

b. What is the part of the aspirant in achieving his birth in the Pure Land ?
66§. The vow to be born in the Pure Land is associated to the transfer of merits. But who transfers merits ?
If it is the aspirant, it means we are still in the context of the Way of the Saints – but haven’t we said that it was impracticable during the Age of the Decay of the Law ?

Shinran concluded that the transfer was achieved by the sole Buddha Amida #101.

67§. Shinran’s position can be illustrated by an excerpt from the KGSS.

“Both the cause and the effect of our birth in the Land of Recompense come from Amida’s Vows ;
The karmic energy for our birth and returning to this world originates from the Other-Power #102.
The cause of attaining the Stage of Right Assurance #103 is Faith alone”. #104
正定之因唯信心 #105

Shinran assigns three powers to the salvation process :

  • Amida’s Vows : they make birth in the Pure Land possible (cause) and powerful (effect)
  • the Other-Power #106 : it enables the Bodhisattva living there to come and go between the Pure Land and Samsara ;
  • “Faith” (the trustful and believing heart / mind 信心) : it helps the follower reach the state of non-retrogression – when he “produces” the thought of faith, according to Shinran. In Shinran’s eyes, Faith derives from the activity of Amida and is not the fruit of the follower’s activity

68§. Thus the whole salvation process is powered by Amida, without the follower having any active part in it.
Shinran says that even the desire to be born in the Pure Land is not produced by the follower #107 : it derives from Amida’s Great Compassion 大慈悲, who, thanks to his Wisdom, knows that men cannot avoid mingling doubts to their good deeds, which prevents them from being born in the Pure Land.

c. When are we born in the Pure Land ?
69§. According to the Contemplation Sutra and the Long Sutra’s 19th Vow, Buddha Amida comes to welcome the aspirant at his last moment 來迎(来迎) raigô (jap) #108, which means that the crossing-over to the Pure Land occurs at death time.
And yet the Contemplation Sutra also states in the eighth contemplation that the mind of the one who visualizes Buddha becomes Buddha #109, which means that some fruit can be achieved in this life – although the sutra does not say if Birth in the Pure Land is one of them.

70§. According to Tanluan, the Easy Way enables the aspirant to achieve, after this life what the Difficult Way achieves in this life, that is to say the stage of non-retrogression.

71§. Unlike the traditions of achievement at dying time 臨終業成 (rinjû gôjô jap.), Shinran promotes achievement in the middle of this life 平生業成 (heizei gôjô jap) #110.
72§. According to Shinran, the non-retrogression state is reached when “faith” is awakened (Faith which derives from the power of the Primordial Vow of Amida) #111. From this moment on, Amida will not abandon his follower – not because of the latter’s merits but because of the former’s powerful compassion.

73§. The Other-Power is so powerful that Nirvana will necessarily be reached : the aspirant is sure to be born in the Pure land at his death ; this birth shall occur instantaneously and shall be followed instanteously with the entry into Nirvana #112 .

74§. In Shinran’s eyes, Buddha Amida does not come to welcome the dying – because he did it already at the first and unique instant of faith : Amida embraced him in the light of his compassion and will not abandon him.
Therefore the Shinshû speaks about a no-raigô 不来迎 furaikô unlike the other schools #113.

75§.Let us conclude this topic with an excerpt from the KGSS #114 :

« When a thought of mindfulness of Amida’s Primal Vow arises,
At that instant we spontaneously enter the Stage of Assurance 必定.
Always reciting only the Name of the Tathagata,
We should seek to repay our indebtedness to his Great Compassion”. #115

76§. It is stated here that the aspirant feels inside him the effectiveness of Amida’s Vow which makes him reach the eighth stage of the Bodhisattva – he has achieved a fruit that the Pure Land tradition generally expected from the birth in the Pure Land : in that sense, we may say that the aspirant is already born there.

Conclusion : Two interpretations of the Pure Land paradigm – Shinran’s and Hônen’s.

77§. Hônen filters the practices according to a “progressive threefold elimination” #116 and only retains one of thems, the invocation of the [Buddha Amida’s] Name 稱名 (称名 in modern characters, shômyô Jap.) :

  • eliminating the method of the Way of the Saints to keep only the method of the Way of the Pure Land ;
  • inside the method of the Way of the Pure Land, eliminating “the mixed practices” 雜行 (combining practices of both ways) to keep only the proper Pure Land practice 正行 #117 ;
  • within the five proper Pure Land practices, eliminating the four “auxiliary acts” 助業to keep only the “act of true fixing” 正定業, that is the invocation [of the Buddha Amida] 稱名 shômyô (Jap.)

78§. Hônen calls this act the practice of the (vocal) nembutsu “exclusive” 専 #118 and “one-way” 一向 #119 ; Hônen views this practice as the only one enabling man to be born in the Pure Land during the present age of the Decay of the Law.

79§. Shinran has developed his classification #120 from the tariki point of view he found in Tanruan’s thought and so, his classification ends up with the “joyful hope” 信樂 produced by the power of Amida’s Vow and not with the nembutsu practice selected by Hônen.
Shinran considers that relying on a practice – even the only one of shômyô – still belongs to a jiriki attitude, if not to the Way of the Saints. Shinran views the nembutsu as expressing gratitude #121 and not as producing any saving effect.

80§. Shinran goes further than his master Hônen when developing the Other Power, bringing this concept to its maximum potential.
A famous quotation of the Tannisho can help us sum up this surpassing of the master by the disciple : where some people (including Hônen, it seems) say : “even wicked men can be born in the Pure Land, all the more so the good ones”, Shinran says it the other way round :

“Even a good person attains birth in the Pure Land, how much more so the evil person.”
善人なほもつて往生をとぐ、いはんや悪人をや。 #122

81§. Even though this saying may look paradoxical, it is the logical consequence of the Other Power paradigm : good men thwart the power of Amida’s Vow by “calculating”, by trusting their own power – but the Vow is so powerful that it can overcome this wrong orientation.
A fortiori the Vow can save the wicked ones who are totally unable to escape their lot by themselves.

©, 2007
©, june 2016
© fr. Franck Guyen op, june 2016


n.1. See the French paper version of this work about neutrality.
n.2. See also : GIRA, Dennis, « Faith and Practice in Pure Land Buddhist Thought. A Christian Reaction »
in DORÉ Joseph (dir.), À la rencontre du Bouddhisme, Publications de l’Académie internationale des Sciences religieuses, Cerf, 2000, p.255-271
n.3. Cf. Hônen, Le gué vers la Terre Pure, Senchaku-shû, translated from the Japanese Chinese by J. DUCOR, Fayard, 2005, p.57-58.
n.4. From the temple of Hsuan-chung 玄忠寺 (T.83,2646,633a,19)
n.5. Shinran also calls Shandao « the master of the temple of Kuang-Min » 光明寺
n.6. – after his exile, Shinran calls himself gutoku (jap.) 愚禿-, the stupid bald one -, implying that he is neither a monk (stupid) nor a lay man (shaved)
– cf. Tannisho, notes déplorant les divergences, l’enseignement oral du saint homme Shinran rapporté par un disciple anonyme, translated by par J. Ducor, International Association of Buddhist culture, Dobosha, Kyoto, 1983, n.37-38.
Hônen called Shinran Zenshin (jap.) 善信 in 1205 (Tannisho, op. cit., n.84 p.60)
n.7. Hônen had several famous disciples. Among them :

  • Benchô (Chinzei-ha), 1162-1238 ;
  • Shoku (Seizan-ha), 1177-1247 ;
  • Ryûdan (Chôrakujiryu), 1148-1227 ;
  • Kôsai (Ichinengiryu), 1163-1247 ;
  • Chosai 长西(Kuhonjirû), 1184-1266.

Cf. BLOOM, Alfred, “Shinran in the context of pure land tradition” in Japanese religions vol. 17, January 1992, vol.1 p. 7
n.8. Chart II “The Seven Pure Land Patriarchs and Their Writings Cited in The Kyogyoshinshu” in Shinran Shônin, The Kyôgyôshinshô, the collection of passages expounding the true teaching living, faith, and realizing of the pure land, Translated by D.T. Suzuki, The Eastern Buddhist Society, Shinshû Ôtaniha, Kyôto, 1973
– We ‘ll abbreviate it as KGSS by D.T. Suzuki.
n.9. See infra concerning the translation of 一向 et 專.
n.10. Hônen declared to a monk that he founded his doctrine on the ground of the sole explanation by Shandao of the transmission of the Contemplation Sutra contained in his Commentary” – the monk was taken aback by Hônen’s answer (See Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit., n.1 p.161).
This explanation asserts the following : « as far as the intention of the Primordial Vow of the Buddha [Amida] is concerned, the intention [of the Contemplation Sutra] is that the beings pronounce exclusively and in a one-way manner the name of the Buddha »
- we translate the French : « du point de vue du voeu primordial du Buddha [Amida], l’intention [du Sutra des contemplations],c’est que les êtres prononcent exclusivement le nom du Buddha Amida de manière unidirectionnelle ».
The Chinese reads : 望佛本願意 在衆生 一向專稱彌陀佛名。 (T.37,1753, 278a26)
n.11. Hônen discovered Shinran’s work thanks to a quotation of Shandao’s work by Genshin - Cf. Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit.,p.72 n.1.
See Senchakû T.83,2608,4b1 for the sentence quoted by Genshin.
n.12. Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit.,p.200
n.13. About Nagarjuna’s identity, see FUJITA Kotatsu, « Pure Land Buddhism in India » dans FOARD James Harlan (ed.), The Pure Land Tradition : History and Development, Berkeley Buddhist Studies ; Hardcover, 1996, p.33.
n.14. See Inagaki’s translation on Internet :
n.15. One of « the four texts which directly expound the Pure Land teaching” (Payne quoting Hônen
– cf. PAYNE Richard, « The Five Contemplative Gates of Vasubandhu’s Rebirth Treatise as a Ritualized Visualization Practice »,
in FOARD James Harlan (ed.), The Pure Land Tradition : History and Development, Berkeley Buddhist Studies ; Hardcover, 1996, p.233.
n.16. Hônen sees this commentary as the « compass pointing to the Western Pure Land, [as] the eyes and legs of the follower ! »
- We translate the French : « boussole indiquant la Terre Pure de l’Ouest, les yeux et les jambes du pratiquant !’ » (Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit. p. 204) – Cf. T83,2608,0019c26靜以善導觀經疏者是西方指南行者目足也。
n.17. Jôdo shinshû reads it :« senjaku  ».
n.18. We’ll abbreviate it as KGSS.
The long title echoes the traditional Buddhist threefold partition teaching, practice and realization ; the short title points towards Shinran’s originality since it introduces « faith » before « realization » ; the chapter about faith is the longest among the six chapters of the KGSS (see KGSS de D.S. Suzuki, p.203 n.2).
[The fourfold partition appears explicitly for the first time in KGSS at T.83,2646,589b6].
(see also BLUM, Mark L., The Origins and Development of Pure Land Buddhism, A Study and Translation of Gyõnen’s Jōdo Hōmon Genrushō, Oxford University Press, 2002,. n.18 p.250 – his point of view is questionable).
We have used Inagaki’s translation available at :
We also used D.T. Suzuki’s translation and notes, which were printed after his death.
n.19. For English translations of Tannisho, see
(Dennis Hirota (Head Translator), Hisao Inagaki, Michio Tokunaga, and Ryushin Uryuzu) or
(Taitetsu Unno’s translation).
For a Japanese text, see : kikuchi/link/index.html
For a French translation, see : Tannisho, notes déplorant les divergences, l’enseignement oral du saint homme Shinran rapporté par un disciple anonyme, traduit par J. Ducor, International Association of Buddhist culture, Dobosha, Kyoto, 1983, 62 p. Ducor”s book contains the Japanese text.
n.20. Hônen wrote : « personal commentary » 私云ou :私問曰 (17 occurrences in the Senchaku).
Shinran called himself the « stupid bald man » 愚禿.
n.21. We have access to its Sanskrit and Tibetan versions and to five Chinese translations
(cf. KGSS by D.T. Suzuki, p.336 ; see also FUJITA Kotatsu, « Pure Land ... », art. cit., p.7 : Suzuki and Fujita disagree upon the dates).

The best known Chinese translation is the one by Samghavarman 康僧鎧 (T.12,360) in the Wei dynasty - written in 252 A.D. according to Suzuki, around 412 A.D. and written in reality by Buddhabhadra and Paoyun according to Fujita.

The other four are :

  1. the Big sutra of Amida 大阿彌陀經 (T.12,362) around 223-228 A.D. according to Suzuki, 222-253 A.D.according to Fujita : this translation gives a list of 24 vows ;
  2. the Han translation around 258 A.D. called the Sutra of the even Awakening 平等覺經 (T. 12,361) ;
  3. the Assembly of the Buddha of Infinite life 無量壽如來會 (T. 11,310[5]) around706-713 A.D. in the Tang dynasty ; translated by Bodhiruci菩提流志(not the one of the VIth century) ;
    -# the Ornament of Infinite Life 無量壽莊嚴經 (T. 12,363), in the Sung dynasty in 980 A.D. according to Suzuki, 991 A.D. according to Fujita.

n.22. Translated by Kalaysas between 424 and 442. We only have a Chinese version.
n.23. Translated by Kumarajiva around 402.
See T.12, 367 for Xuanzang’s translation in 650. We have a sanscrit text and a Tibetan translation (FUJITA Kotatsu, « Pure Land ... », art. cit., p.8).
n.24. It is wise not to oppose too radically the sutra to the other texts : Shandao considered that he had been inspired by a mysterious appearance when he wrote his Commentary, and he asked that this Commentary be copied ”like a sutra” ; Hônen said that this Commentary has been told directly by Mida [Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit.,p.204].
n.25. According to the KGSS in Inagaki’s translation, the Buddha Sakyamuni was born in 1027 B.C. (the comput in the Gregorian calendar being supplied by Inagaki) – cf. T.83,2646, 640c6-7.
n.26. Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit.,p.51. See also T.2608, 2a7.
The senchakû content is dedicated to the Trilogy : Sutra of the Infinite Life (chap. III to VI) , Contemplation Sutra (chap. VII à XII), Sutra of Amida (chap.XIII to XVI). The main part of the Senchaku deals with the later sutra.
n.27. Shinran considers it is the « true teaching » 眞實教. See T.83,2646,589b7.
n.28. Shinran associates

  • the Long Sutra to the hongan, the 18th Vow,
  • the Contemplation Sutra to the 19th Vow (the « provisional vow » according to Shinran – see infra), and
  • the Short Sutra to the 20th Vow

(cf. SHIGEMATSU Akihisa, « An Overview of Japanese Pure Land » in FOARD James Harlan (ed.), The Pure Land Tradition : History and Development, Berkeley Buddhist Studies ; Hardcover, 1996, p.305).
See also : BLOOM, Alfred, “Shinran in the context of pure land tradition” in Japanese religions vol. 17, n°1, January 1992, Kyôto, 1992, ISSN 0448-8954, p.20-21.
About the superiority of the Long Sutra inside the Trilogy, let us recall that it has an undeniable privilege since it will be preserved 100 years 百歳 more than the other sutra at the time of the Disappearance of the Law. Cf. T.12,360, 279a12
n.29. Let us not forget that a Chinese version may be older than the Sanskrit one since the Chinese translators may have known more ancient Sanskrit versions than the existing one.
n.30. Fujita dates the terminus ad quem around 200 A.D. (FUJITA Kotatsu, « Pure Land ... », art. cit., p.10).
According to him, the 24-vows version is the older one (FUJITA Kotatsu, « Pure Land ... », art. cit., p.16).
n.31. Cf. PAS Julian F., Visions of Sukhavati : Shan-Tao’s Commentary on the Kuan Wu-Liang Shou-Fo Ching (Suny Series in Buddhist Studies) ; Paperback ; 1995, p.11-12. Pas suit Fujita.
n.32. Fujita suggests Central Asia as a possible birth place, « possibly in the Turfan area » (FUJITA Kotatsu, « Pure Land ... », art. cit., p.8).
n.33. The Sanskrit version of the Long Sutra contains 46 vows and not 48 vows. Moreover, the 18th vow, which is very important in the Pure Land tradition, does not appear there. In fact, this difference between the lists of vows existed already in the Chinese versions, since one of them lists “only” 24 vows.
Following Müller’s discovery, the Venerable Bunyu Nanjio composed the Sanskrit version of the 18th vow based upon the 19th vow – an interesting case of “retro-writing”
cf. MÜLLER Max (ed), Buddhist Mahâyâna Texts, The Sacred Books of the East, vol. 19, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1894 ; New York, Dover Publications, 1969, p.73).
n.34. Cf. Hônen, Le gué..., op. cit., p.48. Cf. Cf. T.83,2608,1,c13 for the Chinese.
n.35. See L’enseignement de Vimalakirti (Vimalakirtinirdesa), traduit et annoté par E. Lamotte, Louvain, Publications Universitaires, Institut Orientaliste, 1962, appendice I p.395 et suivantes.
n.36. Cf. art. bukkyô in S. Lévi et J. Takakusu (dir.), Hôbôgirin, dictionnaire encyclopédique du bouddhisme d’après les sources chinoises et japonaises, Maisonneuve, 1930, réimpression 1982, p.157.b.
The article says that the term 佛境界 can also be found.
n.37. In the Long Sutra, Buddha Sakyamuni himself calls the Pure Land this way (T. 360, 270a06).
For a detailed discussion upon the differences between the Chinese translations and the Sanskrit, see : PAS Julian F., Visions of Sukhavati...,op. cit., p.150 et n.47 p.379.
Pas does not assign any specific meaning to the variants between translations ; we ‘ll consider the different translations as synonyms in our work.
n.38. According to Fujita, the expression « Pure Land » has been coined in China and has no equivalent in Sanskrit (FUJITA Kotatsu, « Pure Land ... », art. cit., p.20,24)s
n.39. Cf. Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit., p.35-36.
We shall develop this point infra.
n.40. Yet the Contemplation Sutra uses 中 to indicate a birth in Pure Land “in” 中 a pond of jewels : 生寶池中 (T. 12,365,345c21).
n.41. We discovered after the fact that we had unknowingly followed Panikkar’s method used in PANIKKAR, Raimundo, Le dialogue intrareligieux, translated from English by Josette Gennaoui, Aubier, 1985, p.140-142.
n.42. The Contemplation Sutra speaks explicitly about the 48 vows of bhiksu Dharmakara 法藏 比丘四十八大願 without giving their content (T.12,365, 345c4)
n.43. In the Long Sutra, Buddha Amida appears for the first time under the Chinese translation 無量壽佛 (from the Sanskrit Amitayus – in English, “Infinite Life”) T.12,360, 270a24).
The transliterations 阿彌陀 and 彌陀 are absent in the Long Sutra in the T.12,.360, T.12,361 and T.12,363 versions, they appear in T.12,362 and in T.11,310[5].
In the T.12,360 version Buddha Sakyamuni also uses the other name, Amithaba, “Infinite Light” in English, 無量光 in Chinese (T 12,360, 270a29).
We shall not delve further into the question of the various names of Buddha Amida.
n.44. Out of 48 vows, only fifteen vows (namely 13, 17, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 41, 42, 43 44,45, 47, 48), do not deal with the “Land” 國
n.45. Cf. Long Sutra T.12,360,273b24
n.46. The Three Worlds are :

  1. the world of appetite 欲界,
  2. the world of form 色界 and
  3. the formless world 無色界

n.47. The Sanskrit avaivartika (bhumi) has been translated by 不退 and transliterated by 阿惟越致 in Chinese – L’enseignement de Vimalakirti..., op. cit., p.191.
See Inagaki’s translation of the KGSS : « The Stage of Non-retrogression’ is avaivartika in Sanskrit » 梵語謂之阿惟越致 (T.83,2646,609a29).
This stage ranks eighth in the ten stages of Bodhisattva’s career (Ducor in Hônen,, Le gué ..., op. cit., p.35).
– Bodhisattva’s career is divided into 52 levels, the most famous ones being the ten stages of Bodhisattva, namely : “(1) stage of joy ; (2) stage free from defilement ; (3) stage radiating the light of knowledge ; (4) stage aflame with intelligence : (5) stage of high distinction ; (6) stage ahead of Enlightenment ; (7) stage going far away from ignorance ; (8) stage of immovable faith ; [le stade de non-régression] (9) stage of good wisdom ; and(10) stage called the cloud of Dharma “ (KGSS translated by D.T. Suzuki, n.102 p.137)
The « chapter of the ten stages » 十地品第 in the Garland sutra reads : 一者歡喜地。二者離垢地。三者發光地。四者焔慧地。五者難勝地。六者現前地。七者遠行地。八者不動地。九者善慧地。十者法雲地。 (T.10,279,179b22-24).
The eighth stage is called irreversible 不轉地« because wisdom does not regress 無退 » (we translate from the French in : Soûtra des Dix Terres, translated from the Chinese by Patrick Carré, Fayard, 2004, p. 172 ; seeT.10,0279,200c08. See also T.10,279,200c.23, speaking about irreversibility 不退轉法 in the eighth stage..
n.48.貪愛 or 貪 or 愛(trsna)
n.49. The Chinese uses the translation : 寂滅 « extinction in peace » - or the transliteration 涅槃.
n.50. The Chinese reads :能發一念喜愛心不斷煩惱得涅槃(T.83,2646,600a18). Further down in the KGSS, Shinran quotes Tanruan :

« When ordinary men full of evil passions attain birth in the Pure Land, the karmic bonds of the three worlds will not affect them any more.
Even without severing evil passions, 不斷煩惱they will attain the state of Nirvana”

(T.83,2646,624b2-3 trs. Inagaki).
The Chinese reads :

有凡夫人煩惱成就。亦得生彼淨土。三界繋業畢竟不牽。 則是不斷煩惱得涅槃分

(T.83,2646,616c16 à 18)
n.51. The Chinese has only one term, chuang yen 莊嚴, to designate the ornaments of the Land itself and the ornaments of its inhabitants, whereas the Sanskrit distinguishes between vyuha (for the Pure Land) and alamkara (for the Buddha)
(CORLESS Roger J., « T’an-luan : The First Systematizer of Pure Land Buddhism, » in FOARD James Harlan (ed.), The Pure Land Tradition : History and Development, Berkeley Buddhist Studies ; Hardcover, 1996, p.116).
n.52. The Chinese 心 means both the voluntary and the intellect.
n.53. See in the Vimalakîrti sutra, traduit du chinois par Patrick Carré, Fayard, 2000, p.25-29 : « le Bodhisattva qui veut conquérir une terre pure doit purifier son esprit ; quand son esprit est pur, sa terre de bouddha est pure. » ibidem, p.28.
Carré translates : 若菩薩欲得淨土當淨其心。隨其心淨則佛土淨(T.14,475,538c5).

  • The Vimalakirtinirdesa refers explicitly to Buddha Amida 阿彌陀佛in chap. 7 (cf. T.14,475,548b16).

n.54. Cf. Sutra développé, T.12,360 278,b2.
We qualify this statement in a further development. As for the ways of being born, see in the KGSS (T 83,2646,637b19)
n.55. Cf. Shandao quoted by Shinran, answering the question : “ : Is Amida’s Pure Land a recompensed land or a transformed land ?” (Inagaki translating : 彌陀淨國爲當是報是化也T. 83,2646,625b7 – see Shandao, T.,37,1753,250b12).
Shandao replies quoting the Mayahyana Sutra on the Equal Nature 同性經 : 是報佛報土。(ibid., b.8.9). – 也and 土seem to be synonymous here.
See also : PAS Julian F., Visions of Sukhavati ..., op. cit., Preface p. xiii.
We discuss in Pure Land - II. What the Other Buddhist Schools Say About Pure Land and Its School the fact that only Bodhisattva are supposed to have access to the sambhogakaya.
n.56. In this respect, it is wrong to use “Paradise” as a synonymous for « Pure Land » since there is no place “beyond” the Paradise in its general acceptance.
n.57. Shinran quotes the following Tanluan’s commentary of Vasubandhu’s speech twice :

“If there is anyone who does not awaken the aspiration for the highest Bodhi 無上菩提but, having heard of the endless pleasures to be enjoyed in that land, desires to be born there simply because of such pleasures, he will not attain birth”

- Inagaki translates : 若人不發無上菩提心。但聞彼國土受樂無間。爲樂故願生。亦當不得往生也。( T.83,2646,606c23-24).
Same quotation at T.83,2646 ;619a28.
n.58. ASUKA Ryôko, Vers la Terre Pure, L’Harmattan, 1993, p.123.
A long time before Genshin,, the Long Sutra wrote : « "Further, in the midst of worldly desires and attachments one comes and goes alone 獨, is born alone and dies alone 獨.(..). Each receives his karmic consequences and nobody else can take his place. »
(Inagaki translates : 人在世間愛欲之中。獨生獨死獨去獨來。(..)身自當之無有代者。(T.12,360,274c24-26).
n.59. ASUKA Ryôko, Vers la Terre Pure, op. cit., p.120.
We translate from the French : « il faut savoir que cette souffrance est pire que celle de l’enfer »
n.60. Cf. Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit. p. 44 note 1.
Shinran describes five ages :

  1. the age when the Buddha is still in the world 在世法,
  2. the age of the Correct Law shôbô (jap) 正法,
  3. the age of the Semblance of the Law zôbô (jap.) 像法,
  4. the age of the Decay of the Law mappô (jap) 末法and finally
  5. the age of the disappearance of the law 滅法(T. 83,2646,632c23-24).

More usually authors speak about the three ages : 三時, namely shôbô, zôbô and mappô. The next table shows the logic behind these five ages :

Age 教Teaching of the Law 行Practice 證 Enlightenment Presence of the Buddha
在世法 Y Y Y Y
正法 Y Y Y N
像法 Y Y N N
末法 Y N N N
滅法 N N N N

For more details, see GIRA Dennis A., Le sens de la conversion dans l’enseignement de Shinran, Maisonneuve et Larose, 1985 n.7 p.43
According to Shinran, the Way of the Saints is only practicable (« opportune » according to 時機) during the first two periods (聖道諸教爲在世正法。而全非像末法滅之時機。T.83,2646,632c23-24).
Further on, Shinran says that the teaching, practice and fulfillment of the enlightenment offered by the Way of the Saints has long been void :聖道諸教行證久廢。T.83,2646,642c6
n.61. Cf. Hônen,, Le gué ..., op. cit.,p. 44 note 1.
According to Shinran, the Decay of the Law has begun since 683 years (已以入末法六百八十三歳也 KGSS T.83,2646,633b), that is to say 552 A.D.
See also Suzuki, KGSS, n.273 p.290.
According to another comput, mappô begun in 1052 A.D. - cf. SHIGEMATSU Akihisa, « An Overview of Japanese Pure Land... », art. cit., n.31 p.311
n.62. Hônen, T.83,2608,2a27
n.63. Cf . Soûtra des Dix Terres , op. cit., p. 166 ; see the Chinese in T.10,279,199c05-06.
n.64. We translate Inagaki : « the easy practice based on faith”, for the Chinese : 信方便易行(T.26,1521,41b). :.
n.65.應以恭敬心執持稱名號(T. 26,1521,41b14 )
n.66. Tanruan quoted by Hônen (Hônen,, Le gué ..., op. cit.,p.54).
n.67. Daochuo quoted by Shinran : “We are now in the age of the Decadent Dharma. In the evil world of the five defilements, the Dharma-gate to the Pure Land is the only way possible for us”
- Inagaki translates the Chinese : 當今末法。是五濁惡世。唯有淨土一門可通入路又云。(T. 83,2646, 629b12-13).
n.68. Cf. BLUM, Mark L., The Origins and Development of Pure Land Buddhism, A Study and Translation of Gyõnen’s Jōdo Hōmon Genrushō, Oxford University Press, 2002, n.18 p.186.
n.69. We translate the Chinese 稱念 shônen (jap.). This translation can also be helpful when nembutsu is opposed to 觀念 kannen (jap.), the « contemplative nembutsu » (see Hônen, Le gué.., op. cit. p. 106, 116).
n.70. As a matter of fact, Hônen and Shinran lived in a transitory period : the Heain era (794-1185) was being replaced by the Kamakura (1185-1333) ; the delicate aristocratic culture of Kyôto was giving way to that of the Lords of War from the East after the Genpei War (1180-1185) between the Taira and the Minamoto.
n.71. Though he thought he was living during mappô, according to Hônen,
- cf. Hônen,, Le gué ..., op. cit.,p. 110 note 1.
n.72. Shandao (T.37, 1753, 270c-272a, 272b-273b), taken up by par Hônen (T.83,2608,11b14_ 12a13) and Shinran ( T.83,2646,603b).
n.73. Cf. T 47,1957,3c10-15 translated in PAS, Julian F., Visions of Sukhavati ..., op. cit., p.147.
[It is less known that the MPPS relates a similar parable : a man, persecuted by his enemies, takes the risk to cross a dangerous river to reach the other bank, “where there was a strange country, which is blissful and free of pains” – we translate the French : « il y avait un pays étrange, pays bienheureux國安樂 (sukhavati), apaisé, pur 清淨 et exempt de tourments » MPPS, Tome 2, p.707.
Lamotte translates : 河之彼岸即是異國。其國安樂坦然清淨無諸患難。(T.25,1509,25,145b18-19)
– we have not find this link in our readings].
n.74. T.12,360,268a27,b1, b.4
n.75. Éracle’s translation aims at the threefold heart – sanshin (jap.) – that Shinran linked to the three hearts – sanjin (jap.) – in the Contemplation Sutra

  • sincere heart 至誠心,
  • deep heart, 深心,
  • heart of the production of the vow [to be born in the Pure Land] and of the transfer of merits 迴向發願心)

(T. 12,365, p. 344c).
(See the link in KGSS by D.T. Suzuki, n.279 p.292 and n.288 p.295).
Inagaki chose to underline the quality of the relation between Amida and the follower by using the verb « entrust ». [We’ll see down the road that Amida himself inspires this entrusting ].
On the other hand, Inagaki translates 念 by “call” whereas Eracle translates it by “think” (penser).
Inagaki’s translation points to a dramatic turning point in the interpretation of the Chinese 念in the history of the Pure Land, as seen further..
n.76. See n. 1 p.132 de Ducor in : Hônen,, Le gué ..., op. cit. : « 1. Matricide, parricide, meurtre d’un saint, faire couler le sang d’un Buddha et causer un schisme dans la communauté Ces perversions sont des « fautes à rétribution immédiate » prioritaires sur le reste du karma du mourant, elles le font tomber dans les enfers à l’instant même de sa mort. »
- we translate : to kill one’s mother, to kill one’s father, to kill a saint, to attack a Buddha and to cause a schism in the community. These perversions are « sins with immediate punishment » since they have the upper hand after death and make the dead go directly to Hell.”
n.77. 7 According to the conditions of the dying man, Amida will appear :

  • 1) « himself » (T.12,360,272b19), or
  • 2) as a “transformation Buddha » 化佛, with a transformation body nirmanakaya 化身(T.12,360,272b29 et c2), or
  • 3) in a dream 夢. (T.12,360,272c10).

Cf. Trois Soûtras et un Traité.., op. cit., p.144-146.
n.78. Instead of analysing the three categories in the Long Sutra, we will focus on the more sophisticated classification in the Contemplation Sutra.
n.79. GIRA has established three main meanings for 自然 :

  1. « In Buddhism, jinen自然 can apply to the truth underlying everything ; in that sense, jinen points toward spontaneity and total independence of tathatâ (shinnyo — cf. note 7, p. 77). In that case, you always find it in the compound : mui jinen 無為自然 (asamskrta) with the meaning of uncreated.
  2. Jinen can also apply to the natural law of causes and effects - good acts produce good fruit and bad acts bad fruit -. You find this idea in the compound gôdô jinen 業道自然.
  3. Shinran also uses jinen to designate the natural process of salvation, which results from Amida’s Vows and his achievements Hôzô-bosatsu in a way which is as unavoidable as good is the consequence of a good act and evil the consequence of a bad act. It is called ganriki jinen 願力自然 or tariki jinen 他力自然. Cf. Taya, Bukkyôgaku jiten, p. 211 et Shinshû jiten, p. 342.)

We translate the French : « A l’intérieur du bouddhisme, le terme jinen自然 s’applique à la vérité sous-jacente aux choses. En ce sens, le terme jinen indique la spontanéité et l’indépendance totale de la tathatâ (shinnyo — cf. note 7, p. 77). Dans ce cas, il se trouve toujours dans un composé : mui jinen 無為自然 (asamskrta) ayant le sens d’incréé, inchangé et pur. Jinen s’applique aussi au travail naturel de la loi des causes et des effets - les bons actes produisant de bons fruits et les mauvais actes de mauvais fruits. Ceci est exprimé dans le composé gôdô jinen 業道自然. Shinran utilise utilise jinen pour parler du processus naturel du salut, qui est la conséquence aussi inévitable des Voeux d’Amida et de l’accomplissement de ses pratiques comme Hôzô-bosatsu, que le bien est la conséquence d’un acte, et le mal celle d’un mauvais acte. Ceci s’appelle le ganriki jinen 願力自然ou encore le tariki jiten 他力自然. Cf. Taya, Bukkyôgaku jiten, p. 211 et Shinshû jiten, p. 342.) » GIRA, Dennis, La conversion…, op.cit.n.5 p.116-117 .
See also ibid., p.212 about jinen honi ; we will develop this point. See also Ducor in Tannisho, op. cit., n.46 p. 53.
n.80. cf. MÜLLER Max (ed), Buddhist Mahâyâna Texts, The Sacred Books of the East, vol. 49 p.65.This remark may help in the study of the contacts between Sanskrit and Chinese texts.
n.81. Cf. Shinran, T.83,2646,627b25-26.
n.82. According to Huaigan, the inhabitant of the borderland (called by him the kingdom « of arrogance and neglect » 懈慢界 - Genshin et Shinran will also borrow this expression from him) enjoy so much this counrty that the cannot depart from it to enter Amida’s Pure Land (KGSS T.2646,83,627c3-4).
In the Tannishô (XI), Shinran is more optimistic : the inhabitants « in the end will attain birth in the fulfilled land by virtue of the "Vow that beings ultimately attain birth." [the 20th Vow] » (Dennis Hirota & co.’s translation) – see in French : Tannisho, XI p.20 et n.53-54 pp. 55-56.
The Japanese reads : “果遂の願(第二十願)のゆゑに、つひに報土に生ずるは »
n.83. T.12, 360, 278a23 et a29. In French, see Trois Sutra..., op. cit., p.212.
n.84. These 9 levels of birth fall into 3 « classes »品, « up »上, « middle » 中 and « low »下 ; each class is divided into 3 levels, »上,中下.
The 9 levels run from the top of the high class : 上品上生 down to the lower part : 下品下生 (T.12,365, 344c09 à 346a26).
Each ot the classes corresponds to a specific contemplation (from the 14th to the 16 th).
n.85. The expression raigô 來迎 can be found several times in the Contemplation Sutra : it appears for the first time in Amida’mouth : 是故我今來迎接汝 (T 12,365, 345a11).
n.86. They are listed as follows : producing the aspiration for Enlightenment菩提之心 (T.12,365,346a25), producing the aspiration for the highest Enlightenment 無上道心, (T.12,365,345a23), access to the first stage in the career of Bodhisattva, - “the First Stage of Bodhisattvahood”
(Inagaki) - . 初地 ( T.12.365,345c25 - the « stage of Joy » 歡喜地 – cf. Shinran quoting Nagarjuna in T.83,2646,591a18), attaining Arhatship 得阿羅漢道 (T.12,365,345b17), receiving the prediction of one’s future Buddhahood from each Buddha 受記 (T.12,365,345a21)
n.87. Through the transfer of merits, the sutra says : 迴向願求生極樂國 (T.12,365,345a23)
n.88. Cf. the low level of the middle class 中品下生 where the man has followed the Confucian precepts of filial respect 孝養父母行 and “humanity” 仁義 (T.12,365,345c2).
This characteristic strengthens the hypothesis of a non–indian origin of the Contemplation Sutra.
n.89. Cf. French translation by Eracle (Trois Soûtras et un Traité.., op. cit., p.272, 273, 275, 276).
The Japanese also says : 縁の知識 en no chisiki « une connaissance douée d’affinité » (Ducor dans Tannisho, n.29 p. 51).
The Chinese also says : 善友 (cf. parabola of the white path and the two rivers, where Amida is the good friend).
n.90. Let us recall that Dharmakara’s big story is written in the Long Sutra.
n.91. This formula is a dharani 陀羅尼 transliterated from the Sanskrit (南無 and 阿彌陀 does not mean anything in Chinese).
In the Trilogy, this dharani appears only in the Contemplation Sutra and it is described as a cure in the 7th and the 9th levels class (cf. T.12,365,345c15 et 346a19).
n.92. If we suppose that the Contemplation Sutra was achieved later than the Long Sutra, we can infer that the Contemplation Sutra witnesses a trend toward interpreting 念 more and more in a vocal way.
n.93. Cf Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit.,p. 88-89 and n.2 p.88
n.94. Shandao, Hônen and Shinran hold that the icchantika 一闡提輩 or 闡提輩 or 闡提破 (beings which are deprived of a Buddha nature according to the Vijnanavada school, and who cannot plant seeds of Good) can be born in the Pure Land (cf. Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit., p.133)
n.95. Translation by Éracle and Inagaki. The full expression is 至誠心(T.12,365, 344c12), one of Shinran’s sanjin
n.96. “The one who is endowed with these three hearts shall necessarily be born in this kingdom “.
The Chinese in the Contemplation Sutra reads : 具三心者必生彼國。(T.12,365,344c13).
See Shandao’s interpetation of this sentence in Hônen’s Senchaku : Le gué ..., op. cit.,p.140 – the Taishô reference is T.83,2608,12a17.
n.97. « But if one of these hearts is missing, he won’t be born there »
- we translate the French : « Mais si un seul coeur manque, il n’y naîtra pas » : Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit.,p.140.
See also PAS, Julian F., Visions of Sukhavati ..., op. cit., p.267
n.98. Cf. KGSS de D.T. Suzuki, n. 288 p 295.
We quote : « The concept of the three minds derives from The Sutra of Meditation, and includes : (1) the mind that is true and sincere (..) ; (2) the deep mind (..) ; (3) the mind desiring to be born in the Pure Land by means of the turning-over of Amida’s meritorious practice [according to Shinran’s interpretation)
n.99. According to the Long Sutra, a single practice [we don’t say “invocation” at this stage ] 一念is enough, provided that it is practiced with the proper inner state (faith/trust, joy, transfer of the merits towards birth) : the Long Sutra holds the exclusion clause against the criminals committing the five offences. (SeeT.12,360, 272b)
n.100. Knowing that in the Buddhist logic, this bad circumstance results from bad karma and not from bad luck or from the extrinsic decision of a celestial authority.
n.101. Cf. KGSS de D.T. Suzuki, n.281 p.293.
Shinran reads the Chinese 至心迴向 (Long Sutra, T.12,360,272b13) so that it can only be Amida’s action.
See also BLOOM, Alfred, « Shinran in the context.. », op. cit., p. 12-13.
Concerning the debate over ekô seshime tamaeri, see also GIRA, Dennis A., Le sens de la conversion, op. cit., p.181 and n.9. p.202, who quotes Bloom “Sinran’s Gospel of Grace”.
n.102. « Other-Power » 他力.
n.103. « Right Assurance » 正定 (shôjô jap.)
n.104. Translated by Inagaki.
n.105. T.83,2646,600b15-16.
Shinran inteprets Tanluan’s own interpretation of Vasubandhu’s Treaty on the Pure Land
n.106. The concept of tariki (jap) 他力 was first developed by Tanruan, who combined it with the easy way. Cf. Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit.,p.53, n.3.
n.107. “he endows true Desire for Birth that benefits others. Desire for Birth is [the Buddha’s] desire to transfer his merit [to sentient beings]. 欲生 即 是 廻向心
This is the mind of Great Compassion ; hence, it is not mingled with doubt. 故疑蓋 無雜 » [T.83,2646,606a1].
n.108. The Long Sutra does not use the expression raigô, though.
n.109. « Your mind produces the Buddha’s image, and is itself the Buddha.” – Inagaki’s translation of the Chinese : 是心作佛是心是佛。(T.12,365,0343a21)
n.110. Shinran holds that the 19th Vow is a « provisional vow » 方便之願- Cf. T.83,2646,629b. See Ducor’s note in Tannisho, op. cit., n.67 p.58.
n.111. See GIRA Dennis A., Le sens de la conversion, op. cit., p.217.
This moment is called shin no ichinen 信の一念, « ichinen meaning the shortest possible instant and shin meaning as seen above the manifestation of the Big Faith in man »
- we quote Gira : « ichinen, ici, ayant le sens d’instant ou moment, c’est-à-dire l’expression temporelle la plus courte possible, et shin exprimant tout ce que nous venons de dire de la manifestation en l’homme de la Grande Foi » (ibid. p.215).
It is unique because it occurs only once for the aspirant and then never ceases (See Ducor, Tannisho, op. cit., n.67 p.58).
n.112. The ones with faith stay in the group of the fixed ones, they will unfailingly reach the nirvana immediately after their being born in the Pure Land ».
We translate : « ceux qui ont la foi demeurent dans le Groupe des Déterminés à l’Exactitude et atteindront infailliblement le nirvana immédiatement lors de leur naissance dans la Terre Pure » in : GIRA Dennis A., Le sens de la conversion, op. cit., p.217.
(Voir aussi ibidem, p.216 et n. correspondantes 24.25 p.223)
Bloom writes in a similar way : « For Shinran, the moment of faith is rebirth (ôjô), while the moment of death is jôbutsu or becoming Buddha, the final enlightenment” (article BLOOM, Alfred, “Shinran in the context of pure land tradition”, op. cit., p. 24
n.113. See the following article about Rennyo, who wrote after Shinran : ROGERS, Minor L., « Rennyo’s Ofumi and the Shinshu in Pure Land Tradition », in FOARD, James Harlan, The Pure Land Tradition : History and Development, Berkeley Buddhist Studies ; Hardcover, 1996, p.438-439.
n.114. See also in the Tannisho : « The reason is that in the awakening of one thought-moment, having been illuminated by Amida’s light, we are endowed with true entrusting which is firm as a diamond ; thus, we are already included in the stage of the truly settled. [synonymous for the stage of non-retrogression] » (Unno’s translation).
The Japanese reads : 弥陀の光明に照らされまゐらするゆゑに、一念発起するとき金剛の信心をたまはりぬれば、すでに定聚の位にをさめしめたまひて(Tannisho, op. cit., XIV, p.27)
n.115. Translated by Inagaki.
n.116. See Hônen, Le gué…, op. cit. p.197, translating the Chinese T.83,2608,19a1-5. “Threefold elimination” is the English equivalent of the Japanese : 三選の文 san sen no mon jap.)
n.117. the Senchaku lists them as follows : « i. Reciting sutra ; ii. Contemplating ; iii. Revering ; iv. Pronouncing the Name 稱名 ; v. offering praises and offerings. » Hônen, Le gué ..., op. cit., p. 61-62.
Ducor translates the Chinese : 一讀誦正行。二觀察正行。三禮拝正行。四稱名正行。五讃歎供養正行也。(T.83,2608,3a6-7).
n.118. Ducor translates 專 by « exclusif » or « exclusivement ». Blum prefers « wholeheartedly » or « with single-minded devotion » - BLUM, Mark L., The Origins and Development of Pure Land Buddhism, …, op. cit., n.18 p. 19.
Blum points out the fact that Hônen uses 專 as a predicate for the revering 禮 (rai Jap.) and the reciting 讀誦 (dokuju Jap.) practices : 專 does not necessarily imply « exclusivity » according to Blum.
n.119. The expression一向專修念佛 (ikkô senshû nembutsu Jap.) is absent from the Senchaku  ; on the other hand the Senchaku contains 9 times the expression 一向專念.
This later expression is absent from Shandao’ Commentary  : Shandao uses the combination 一向專 only once in his Commentary, when he writes : 一向專稱彌陀佛名(as we already said above, this passage was crucial to Hônen’s change of thought).
Hônen makes nembutsu a synonym for shômyô.
Ducor translates 一向 by « one-way » - see Hônen, Le gué.., op. cit. p.97-98, : Hônen explains there that in India « the monasteries of the Big and the Small Vehicles are called one-way » when they practice only one Vehicle ,
- we translate : « les monastères du Grand et du Petit Véhicule sont qualifiés d’unidirectionnels » quand ils ne pratiquent qu’un véhicule
(the Chinese reads : 大小兩寺有一向之言T.83,2608,7b4 ).
n.120. Shinran classifies the teachings according to two axis : (vertical 竪– cross-wise 横) and (going out 出 – transcending 超) in his KGSS.
The moment of faith is « crosswise transcendence », 横超 (ôchô Jap.) : « When we acquire the Diamond-hard True Faith, we transcend crosswise the five evil realms and the eight adverse conditions.. »
- The Chinese reads : 獲得金剛眞心者。横超五趣八難道。T.83,2646,607b20-21)
n.121. Gratitude belongs to the eighth among the ten benefits [益] coming together with the « first moment of faith » (GIRA Dennis A., Le sens de la conversion, op. cit. n.25 p.222-223)
n.122. In French, see :Tannisho, III p.14. English translation by Unno.



[3T. 26, 1524

[4T. 40, 1819

[5T. 47, 1958

[6T. 47, 1959

[7T.37, 1753

[8T. 47,1979

[9T. 47, 1980




[13T. 12, 360 #21

[14T. 12, 365 #22

[15T. 12, 366 #23

[16T.12,360, 278b06

[17T.12,365, 346a18

[18T.83,2646,600b 5 à 7

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