Excerpts Q&A

How Do We Know If Amituofo & Pure Land Is Real?

Question: We are taught in the Kalama Sutta to analyse statements of scriptures, critically, including those taught by the Buddha. How do we use this teaching to gauge the following statement by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Infinite life Sutra, and to develop faith and understanding?

Answer: ‘The Bodhisattva Dharmakara has already attained Buddhahood [became Amita(bha) Buddha; Amituofo] and is now dwelling in a western Buddha-land [Sukhavati Pure Land], called Peace and Bliss,” a hundred thousand kotis of lands away from here.’ Ananda further asked the Buddha, “How much time has passed since he attained Buddhahood?” The Buddha replied, “Since he attained Buddhahood, about ten kalpas have passed.“‘

Let us take one step backwards… When we hear that Shakyamuni Buddha himself told his disciples that he has already attained Buddhahood, that he dwells in an eternal state of ‘Peace and Bliss’ (attributes of enlightenment too), more than 2,500 years ago, we too ought to ask if this is really so – because we can’t time-travel to verify this for ourselves. (In fact, being unenlightened, we cannot verify the Buddha’s enlightenment.) Trust them as we do, historians might make mistakes too. Though they do agree and we do believe that the Buddha did walk the Earth, the worst case scenario is that the Buddha never existed or was not enlightened. How should we see this ‘problem’? Here is an answer, that we should naturally arrive at when we study and practise the Buddha’s teachings deeper: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/thedailyenlightenment-realisation/message/318. (What If There Is No Triple Gem?) We should realise something surprising after reflecting on the above – that for us to be Buddhists, we do need some faith:

1. Faith that the Buddha existed,
2. Faith that there is such thing as enlightenment,
3. Faith that he attained enlightenment, and
4. Faith that what he taught can lead us to enlightenment too.

In the Pure Land teachings, faith is simply extended one step forward – by having faith that the Buddha taught us accurately about Amitabha Buddha. In a sense, it is easier to believe in the Pure Land teachings than to believe Buddhahood is possible. For instance, if someone says there is a good school where you can learn to become wiser, this is more easy to believe than saying you can attain perfect wisdom and become a principal of your own school one day. Here, the school is analogous to Pure Land, the learning process refers to the accumulation of wisdom and becoming a principal refers to becoming a Buddha.

There is often focus only on the Kalama Sutta in terms of its Criterion for Rejection alone (such as the teaching of not simply subscribing to scriptures). If we use the Criterion for Rejection only, we will realise that there is no way to absolutely verify the Buddha’s enlightenment and the teachings he taught – unless we become enlightened ourselves. For example, his enlightenment is stated in scriptures and our reasoning that he should be enlightened might turn out to be faulty. We thus need to remember the Criterion for Acceptance too. From http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2009/10/the-twin-criteria-for-rejection-acceptance/ :

‘… Often neglected are the following teachings, where the Buddha got the Kalamas to agree that greed, hate and delusion (Three Poisons) are harmful, leading to evil such as killing, stealing, adultery and lying, which is ‘bad, blamable, censured by the wise and harmful when undertaken’. Conversely, the Criterion for Acceptance is that of using the Criterion for Rejection to realise what is instead ‘good, not blamable, praised by the wise and beneficial (to happiness) when undertaken’. The Kalamas also agreed that the absence of greed, hate and delusion is beneficial, not leading to evil such as killing, stealing, adultery and lying, which is ‘good, not blamable, praised by the wise and beneficial when undertaken’. These teachings are easily forgotten when fellow Buddhists are satisfied with the Criterion of Rejection alone. Well, it is perhaps easier to reject known non-truths than to accept unknown truths! It takes effort to examine and question for the worth of any teaching. 

When Buddhists rigidly abide by the Criterion for Rejection while not practising the Criterion for Acceptance, their Dharma understanding ironically becomes more dogmatic and narrow-minded – which is what the Kalama Sutta is actually against, as it teaches how to graciously accept even apparently ‘non-Buddhist’ teachings, as long as they are in line with the Dharma, in the spirit of eradicating greed, hate and delusion, while increasing generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom. The sutta is not wholly about the Criterion for Rejection, which might be wrongly clung to as the ‘Ten Commandments’ of ‘Thou shalt nots…’ These guidelines given by the Buddha are for skilful application with the Criterion for Acceptance… ‘

If we use the Criterion for Rejection with the Criterion for Acceptance, we will realise that the Pure Land teachings pass the Kalama test. If we study the Kalama Sutta http://accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.soma.html in its entirety, we will realise that at no point does it say it is wrong to have faith. In fact, what it proposes is how to have the right or sound faith – faith that is not blind and irrational. It was the single teaching of the Kalama Sutta that compelled the Kalamas to have further faith in the Buddha’s teachings.

Faith (or rather, ‘saddha’: confidence; conviction) is also the first of the five spiritual faculties (faith, energy; diligence, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom). That is how crucial faith is in all Buddhist traditions. Take for instance, the Buddha’s first five disciples. Before, they had lost faith in the Buddha-to-be’s quest for enlightenment. But when they encountered his approach at Deer Park after he became the Buddha, they felt compelled to go forth to serve him due to the majestic changes in his demeanour, which urged them to develop great faith that he is now very special, and probably enlightened. This they verified for themselves when they learnt from him how to become enlightened too. Without the initial faith to get started on the path of Dharma study and practice, the five would never become enlightened. Without their faith, we would not encounter the compassion and wisdom of the Triple Gem passed down through the generations through them.

Likewise for us, without some minimal faith in the Pure Land teachings, such as in the key 18th Vow of Amituofo, to get us interested in further learning, we would never get started to practise mindfulness of Amituofo well enough to experience the validity of the vow. The Buddha had absolutely no reason to lie about Amituofo and every reason to share about how Amituofo can benefit us. While we might wonder if the scriptures (sutras) on Amituofo are really words of the Buddha, the truth is, historians have discovered hundreds of interlinking sutras that cross-reference to Amituofo, while there is no proof that they are words put in the Buddha’s mouth.

Let us look more at how likely the Pure Land teachings are to be true. It is perfectly logical… [1] that there are many Buddhas in the past kalpas, that there are some special ones, such as Amituofo, who are highlighted by the Buddha. [2] that there are Buddhas like Amituofo, who would create an ideal school (Pure Land) with their great compassion and wisdom for training beings to be enlightened – just as good-hearted Buddhists build good schools in our world to share the Dharma too. [3] that out of the countless schools, there is a best one (Amituofo’s) – just as there is a best school for every subject in our world. [4] that this school is elsewhere, as the universe is big and our present karma conditioned us to miss it. [5] that this school, being adorned with the merits of a Buddha, is a land of peace and bliss. [6] that this school is recommended by all Buddhas as the ideal destination of birth because it is so excellent, just as those who care for us hope we can go to the best schools for the best education. The Pure Land teachings are filled with so much skilful compassion and wisdom that it would be incredible if the Buddha did not teach them!

In fact, when we consider the reasoning above, it becomes hard to disprove the Pure Land teachings. This is clearly beyond blind adherence to scriptures. However, that said, the best proof (back to the context of the Kalama Sutta) of the proverbial ‘pudding’, is in the eating (i.e. via tasting the fruits of actual practice). Nothing is better than personal experiential proof – that vanquishes doubts without a trace. Even if others might doubt our experiences, a solid experience of the efficacy of the Pure Land teachings with the blessings of Amituofo, not just on the deathbed but when well and alive, will probably be the most genuine experience one has. Just as countless have verified their faith personally via Pure Land practice, so can we. As the Buddha put it, ‘Ehi-passiko’ – which means ‘COME and SEE’. Just as the first five disciples of the Buddha and the Kalamas CAME closer to the Buddha to SEE what he had to offer, and practised the teachings he advocated because they made great sense, so too should we closer approach the Pure Land teachings, to see (learn and practise) more deeply, and to realise their immeasurable worth and benefits.

Related Articles:
The Mark of Faith
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2011/03/the-mark-of-faith
Why Pure Lands Must Exist
http://purelanders.com/2011/12/16/why-pure-lands-must-exist/
Proof that We All Wish to Go Pure Land
http://purelanders.com/2009/07/proof-that-we-all-want-to-go-pureland/
Are the Pure Land Sutras Authentic?
http://purelanders.com/2009/12/04/are-the-pure-land-sutras-authentic/
Many Testimonials of Pure Land Practice
http://purelanders.com/2011/12/16/just-nianfo-how-buddha-mindfulness-is-healing-my-mental-illness/
How do We Know the Buddha is Enlightened? (Just How Enlightened are You?)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/thedailyenlightenment-realisation/message/245

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!