Reflections on the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho: A Guide
by Hisao Inagaki, Professor Emeritus Ryukoku University, Kyoto, Japan

The True Buddha and Land

At the basis of the True Buddha and Land are the Twelfth and Thirteenth Vows, namely, the Vow of Infinite Light and the Vow of Infinite Life. The two vows read:

If, when I attain Buddhahood, my light should be limited, illuminating even a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha lands, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

If, when I attain Buddhahood, my lifespan should be limited, even to the extent of a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of kalpas, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. (BDK, 12-II, IV, p. 15)

In accordance with different kinds of Buddha-bodies, different Buddha-lands are distinguished. A Dharmakaya Buddha dwells in a Dharmakaya-land, a Sambhogakaya Buddha dwells in a Sambhogakaya-land, a Nirmanakaya Buddha has his own sphere of activity. Although every Buddha has all the three kinds of bodies, his most prominent characteristic stands out and determines the nature of his Buddhahood. Shakyamuni was a Nirmanakaya Buddha like other Buddhas who had preceded him. Amida is a Sambhogakaya Buddha rewarded for his vows. Like Amida, many other Buddhas living in other parts of the universe have been rewarded by their specific vows.

Amida is the Buddha of Infinite Light (Amitabha) and his land is the Land of Infinite Light. Also, as rewarded for his Thirteenth Vow, Amida is the Buddha of Infinite Life (Amitayus) and his land is the Land of Infinite Life. Together, Amida is the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life, and the Pure Land is the Land of Infinite Light and Life. In this connection, we should note that it is established in the Mahayana that one’s body and environment originate from the same karma, Amida’s body and the Pure Land manifest themselves from the same karmic cause: namely, the Twelfth and Thirteenth Vows.

In the worlds of Samsara, individuality reigns. Each being has its own karma which is different from that of others. Specific karmic energy created in a being continues after death while maintaining its individuality and undergoing transformations, until it is annulled by appropriate practices. When one is liberated from karmic fetters, one attains spiritual freedom – Nirvana – and becomes an arhat. This is the objective of the Hinayana path. By realizing Nirvana, one leaves Samsara for ever.

Karma-created and karma-creating individuality is often falsely clung to as an eternally abiding atman. Unlike some Indian religious philosophical systems, Buddhism does not admit the permanent existence of atman. According to the primordial teaching of Buddhism, one’s individuality is a temporary conglomeration of the five constituent elements – the five skandhas. Under different causes and conditions, it assumes different outlooks. Ontologically, atman is a fallacy. Apart from the assertion that ‘all are devoid of selfhood’ (anatman), the Hinayana presents three more maxims: ‘everything is ephemeral,’ ‘everything is suffering,’ and ‘everything is impure.’ In the Mahayana, one’s individuality is retained indefinitely, not as something one is attached to, but as a provisional manifestation in order to display altruistic activities. For bodhisattvas and Buddhas, a ‘universal entity’ may be more appropriately used. The Hinayana concept of anatman which replaces ordinary people’s attachment to atman is now replaced by the Mahayana concept of ‘great self’ (mahatman), which is equivalent to Dharmakaya. It should be remembered that ‘great self’ is one of the four virtues of the Mahayana Nirvana, the other three being ‘eternity,’ ‘bliss,’ and ‘purity.’ When we are born in the Pure Land, we share the same Dharmakaya with Amida and bodhisattvas while retaining our provisional individualities for the purpose of manifesting various bodies of incarnations. When we return to our conventional individualities, our old karmas since the eternal past stored deep in our consciousness revive but they cease to have any binding force. They have already been converted to Amida’s pure karma. It is, however, possible for us to remember everything that has happened in former lives and be able to extend helping hands even to those suffering in hell. In this sense, we can talk as if our life continues to be in the Pure Land.

It may be necessary to explain a little more about the shift of the four delusions of an ordinary man to the four negative realities of an arhat, then to the four virtues of the Mahayana Nirvana. First of all, we, ordinary people, have a habitual delusory view of taking ephemeral things to be permanent, painful things to be pleasant, no-self to be eternally abiding self and defiled things to be pure. Secondly, Hinayana sages have a correct view of impermanence, painfulness, no-self and impurity. Thirdly, a widely accepted Mahayana view, based on the Nirvana Sutra, etc., is that Nirvana is eternally existent; it is the state of highest bliss; it is the state reigned over by true self that is free and unrestricted; it is the state of complete purity. The Mahayana Nirvana thus contains the four intrinsic qualities: eternity (nitya, 常), bliss (sukha, 楽), great self (mahatman, 我) , and purity (subha, 浄). The ‘true self’ (真我) and ‘free and unrestricted self’ (自在我) as the equivalents of ‘great self’ (大我)( mahatman) are descriptive of the highest state of self – the Buddha’s self, and is of the nature of True Suchness.

The process of spiritual development from an ordinary man to an arhat and a bodhisattva/ Buddha in terms of atman may be shown by the following list:

  • ordinary man ⇒ attached to atman
  • arhat ⇒ realizes anatman
  • bodhisattva/ Buddha ⇒ realizes mahatman
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