One who perceives everywhere as Pure Land
need not go to any ‘other’ Pure Land.
Till then, Pure Lands are precious places for training
the ability to perceive everywhere as Pure Land too.
Though we usually call the teachings of the Buddha ‘the Truth’ with a capital letter ‘T’, as something singular, the truth (pun intended) is, the Dharma (the Truth; the path to the Truth) can be divided under two broad categories – relative (conventional; mundane) truths and the absolute (ultimate; supramundane) truth. Relative truths are facts of reality which are defined by dualistic comparison of various forms. For instance, qualities such as ‘tall’ and ‘short’ make sense only in relation to each other. Say, a man is relatively ‘tall’ compared with a boy, who is ‘short’, though the boy is relatively ‘tall’ compared with a toddler, who is then ‘short’ – while the absolute truth (in terms of emptiness) is that each are empty of inherent ‘tallness’ or ‘shortness’ in themselves – which is why these qualities seem to change in different settings. Though relative and absolute truths are two sides of the same coin, they are usually adhered to by the unenlightened as conflicting opposites.
The Dharma can be ‘shortchanged’ by unskilful use of relative or absolute truth. For example, the Amitabha Sutra is a teaching by the Buddha that focuses on relative truth, where he repeatedly urged us to have firm faith in a Pure Land with wonderful forms, and to aspire for birth there. Though the Heart Sutra teaches that ‘form is not different from emptiness’, to introduce Pure Land in terms of emptiness can be confusing as to whether Pure Land is tangible or not. The truth is, Pure Lands are designed for beings with some attachment to form – which is most of us, while Buddhas can only teach through forms. As it is difficult to make a single giant leap to enlightenment, Pure Land as a school for enlightenment offers the best bridge for this gap. With forms shaped by Buddhas’ perfect compassion and wisdom, Pure Lands are the most wondrous expressions of emptiness. Does Pure Land exists or not, if it is of emptiness? This is wrongly asked, because emptiness is not nothingness but ‘everythingness’ of dynamic forms.
Attached to relative truths, one does not realise the absolute truth. Attached to the absolute truth, one does not apply relative truths. It is an absolute mistake to use absolute truth (on emptiness) to counter relative truths (on forms) when one has yet to realise either. Realisation of the one unconditional absolute truth is conditioned by realisation of many conditioned relative truths as essential stepping stones. Any relative truths that (in)directly lead to realisation of the absolute truth are useful, while there are many other truths which are relatively or absolutely useless. As relative truths and the absolute truth are in turn relative to each other, attachment or aversion to either is to miss the truest Middle Way. Sequentially, one realises the relative truths of forms, before one realises the absolute truth of emptiness, before one realises the Middle Path between the duo. That said, as warned by Nagarjuna, attachment to emptiness is the worst kind of attachment – because it tends to nullify the worth of everything!
As Pure Lands are the most skilful conventional means
for guiding beings to the ultimate goal of enlightenment;
they are not exactly ‘enlightenment’ per se;
but expressions of enlightened activity.
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Is Pure Land Formless or Mind-Only?
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The Boy Who Lacked Good Roots