Amida Shu Buddhism: Faith and Practice

Dharmavidya writes:

When we receive faith, regard and revere the
Dharma and attain Great Joy
We Immediately transcend the five evil realms

– Shinran

Primal Vow
Just as it is
Just as you are

The most simple and difficult aspect of Amidism is to trust that one is acceptable just as one is. There is nothing whatsoever to achieve. There is no divine punishment or purgatory for sins. There is nothing to achieve, but there is a deep dynamic already at work in our lives and if we allow it then we will find ourselves seized by it. This inner dynamic is called the primal vow. It is an inner longing. Amidism is a matter of awakening to this inner dynamic. it is not a personal possession but rather a function of the inconceivable measurelessness of existence itself that constantly pulls us beyond ourselves. Mostly people do not feel acceptable as they are and so spend a lot of energy on avoidance and escapism – different forms of hiding – and this prevents them from realising what is most deep and sincere. In the eyes of the Buddha they are acceptable just as they are but they create their own hell because they are not acceptable in their own eyes. Of course, one also meets conceited people who purport to be self-satisfied but this is just a shallow front. It is, in fact, impossible to get out of the habit of escapism without some kind of wake-up call from beyond ourselves. This wake up is “the voice of the Buddha” in one form or another. Sometimes it is provided by inspiration such as from a spiritual teacher, sometimes by a crisis in our life that gives us a shock, and commonly by some juxtaposition of the two. On the one hand, therefore, we need nothing. On the other hand, we need to be woken up by the Buddha. Then we awaken to natural faith. Faith in Buddhism means to entrust oneself to reality – to things just as they are (tathata) – not to anything supernatural, nor to wishful thinking.

Even if the whole world is on fire
Be sure to pass through it to hear the Dharma;
The you will surely enter the Path of the Buddha
And everywhere deliver beings from the river of birth and death
– The Larger Pureland Sutra

Five Refuges

In Amida we take refuge
In the Buddha we take refuge
In the Dharma we take refuge
In the Sangha we take refuge
In the Pure Land we take refuge

All Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Amida Buddhists additionally take refuge in Amida Buddha and in the Pure Land. The two additional refuges deepen our appreciation of the original three.

The Buddha – by the Buddha is meant the Buddha Shakyamuni, the founder of the Buddhist tradition in this historical epoch, who was a human being who renounced and overcame greed, hate and delusion, thus entering enlightenment and discovering the Primal Vow by means of which he was able to live a life of service to all sentient beings.

The Dharma – Dharma means both the Buddhist teaching and reality. The Buddha pointed out reality: birth and death, bliss and affliction, paths of noble living and paths of corruption. He bade us take our life in hand and set it upon a noble path.

The Sangha – Sangha means the community of those, ordained and lay, who follow the path pointed out by the Buddha. To take refuge in sangha is to commit oneself to being part of the movement that the Buddha founded for the emancipation of this world from delusion.

Amida Buddha – Amida means measureless. The historical Buddha gave teachings about Amida Buddha to help us to see all existence in the aspect of what is immeasurable and ungraspable so that we might turn away from little lives and mean minds and be released into a greater vision.

The Pure Land – there are two paths in Buddhism: the Path of Sages and the Pure Land Path. Amida Buddhism is a Pure Land path, based on faith in the vision of the Pure Land rather than on achieving personal enlightenment by one’s own efforts.

Threefold Faith

Shraddha, Prasada and Abhilasa

Shraddha means to have complete faith in the act of Refuge. Prasada means to have clarity of mind. Abhilasa means to have pure aspiration and willingness to undertake whatever action may be for the good of all. Faith in all its forms is central to the Amidist approach. All forms of ethical behaviour spring from faith. If there is little faith then there is bound to be a selfish intention even if one’s actions are superficially respectable. Faith in Buddhism refers to the overcoming of self and the implementation of the doctrine of non-self.

Threefold Mind

Sincerity, Depth and Longing

Faith is not something imposed from outside. It is something that wells up from within. It is triggered from outside. It is like a hidden treasure that somebody has sewn into our clothing without our knowledge. Perhaps one day somebody points out the lump in the hem of our garment and on closer examination we discover the diamond. The nature of this faith is a feeling of longing for the Pure Land, as if one had been exiled from his true home. Looking closely we discover that this longing is a fundamental part of our nature. it is our deepest place. Being sincerely in touch with this deep longing gives us courage and directs us to “go forth for the benefit of all sentient beings, in the service of gods and humans” to do all that we can to assist the Buddhas to make the Pure Land visible to all so that all are similarly awakened to their most fundamental drive until all are living in the service of all.

Threefold Path

Sila, Samadhi and Prajna

In Amidist Buddhism we do not see ethics, mind cultivation and wisdom as the path leading to enlightenment so much as the path leading from the awakening of faith. If one has faith in the Pure Land then one naturally wants to serve all beings and so one’s behaviour is likely to be kind, compassionate, wise and friendly. Similarly, if one has faith, then one is not troubled by setbacks or confused personal agendas so the mind becomes clear and bright. Amidist Buddhism does not present spiritual perfection as an emotionless or mindless condition. It is a condition in which the feelings of gratitude, awe, longing and reverence become powerful motivators giving a person energy, patience, single mindedness and clarity of purpose.

Threefold Practice

Keeping the Pure Land in mind
Engaging fully with the world of bliss and affliction

Keeping the Pure Land in mind means always to be guided by faith. This may be expressed in many different ways. Many practitioners like to recite the names of the Buddha and especially the name Amida, perhaps in the form Namo Amida Bu. Or to visualise the Pure Land in the form described in the scriptures or naturalistically. Some find their faith strengthened through contact with natural phenomena and others through listening to teachers or inspirational study. The most characteristic method in Amidist Buddhism is to call the name of Amida thereby expressing the depth of faith and longing in one’s heart.

Engaging fully with the world of bliss and affliction means that faith atrophies if it is not acted upon. If we have the vision of the Pure Land before us we can hardly help ourselves wanting to make it a reality in everything we do. Even though we may have very poor capacity and have much spiritual blindness, still, if we have faith, we have some light and if we act on whatever light we have, be it ever so small, more light will appear. If we can trust that the light really is Amida – measureless – then we can entrust ourselves to it. The words for bliss and affliction are sukha and dukkha. The Buddha said that his whole teaching was concerned with pointing out dukkha and the possibility of its transformation into sukha. We will soon realise that dukkha is really to be understood as whatever threatens our faith and sukha as whatever strengthens it. The Buddha told his followers to go forth into the world to help everybody in every way we can – to resist the conditions of ill, assist the afflicted and demonstrate an alternative.

Renunciation means that if we have faith we do not want to be encumbered with things and habits that get in the way of our living in accordance with that faith. This is where all the common practices of Buddhism come to be seen as valuable: simplifying one’s life, making offerings, bowing, contrition, rejoicing in others, reverence to teachers, spiritual ancestors and the objects of refuge, requesting teaching, generosity, hospitality, non-killing, non-stealing, avoiding sexual misconduct, non-use of intoxicants, right speech and so forth.

Transmission of the Dharma

Without our many generations of teachers we would never have awakened to the truth.
Without our awakening to the truth the future generations would be without help.

From Shakyamuni Buddha down through Ananda and more than eighty generations of teachers the faith in the Buddhist Pure Land has come down to us and nobody fully awakens this faith without help. The call from without awakens the call from within. Even though a person may be granted a vision of the Pure Land spontaneously, faith matures through the inspiration of living and ancestral teachers.

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