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»What is Pure Land Buddhism?  »Pure Land Sutras  »Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and teachers
Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and teachers
Shakyamuni Buddha
Shakyamuni is the historical buddha who gained enlightenment and created the teachings of Buddhism in India in the 6th century B.C. Throughout the history of Pure Land Buddhism, people have become confused and sometimes angered at the apparent contradiction of Pure Land teachings in emphasizing Amida Buddha over Shakyamuni Buddha. The doctrine of the "three bodies" (sanjin), however, clarifies their relationship. The "three bodies", also called the "three properties" or the "three enlightened properties", are the three kinds of form that a buddha may manifest as: the Dharma Body is the form in which a buddha transcends physical being and is identical with the undifferentiated unity of being or Suchness; the Bliss or Reward Body is an ethereal body obtained as the "reward" for having completed the bodhisattva practice of aiding other beings to end their suffering and having penetrated the depth of wisdom; and the Manifested Body is the physical form in which the Buddha appears in this world in order to guide sentient beings. In Pure Land Buddhism, it is considered that the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, is the Manifested Body. Honen believed that Amida is the Reward Body. Therefore, Pure Land Buddhism does not denigrate the tradition of Shakyamuni's teachings, but rather accesses those same teachings on the cosmic level. It is felt that since Shakyamuni is no longer present in the physical world, we must access this same potential for an end to suffering through the atemporal and all embracing guidance of Amida.
Amida Buddha
Amida Buddha is the central Buddha and object of devotion of Pure Land Buddhism. This Buddha, whose name means "infinite light" and "immeasurable life" is thought to pervade the universe with his presence and power. In the Sutra of Immeasurable Life (muryoju-kyo), it is said that a long time ago a bodhisattva named Dharmakara (Hozo-bosatsu) made forty-eight original vows in order to save all sentient beings and after eons of energetic practice, fulfilled them and so became Amida Buddha and succeeded in creating his Pure Land as a part of his vows. Amida Buddha is believed to still continue his preaching in his Pure Land in the West.
Kannon Bodhisattva
Kannon is the bodhisattva of great compassion, mercy and love who is widely revered thoughout the Buddhist world. Kannon is one of Amida Buddha's attendents who stands to the left. According to the Meditation Sutra (kammuryoju-kyo), this bodhisattva together with Seishi Bodhisattva, accompanies Amida Buddha and welcomes people who recite the name of the Buddha at the time of their deaths. Popular worship of Kannon began in India and was widespread in both China and Japan. Originally, in male form as Avalokiteshvara, Kannon is commonly portrayed as female in China, Japan and the rest of East Asia.
Dai-seishi Bodhisattva (or Mahasthamaprapta)
Seishi is the bodhisattva of wisdom. Seishi is Amida Buddha's other attendent who stands to the right. Literally, the "bodhisattva who attained great strength", Seishi is thought to have attained powers of wisdom and compassion in order to save people. Besides appearing in the Sutra of Immeasurable Life and the Meditation Sutra, the bodhisattva is also mentioned in the Lotus Sutra, as one of those who assembled on Eagle Peak to listen to Shakyamuni's preaching.
According to tradition, Nagarjuna was the first Mahayana patriarch to advocate the Pure Land way and Vasubandhu is attributed with being the first to explain it clearly. One of the most important Mahayana teachers, Vasubandhu was born in Gandhara in India in the fifth century C.E. It is said that he first studied the Theravada teachings but soon turned to Mahayana under the influence of his elder brother Asanga, who was a scholar of the Consciousness Only doctrine. Works attributed to Vasubandhu are so many that he is known as the monk of a thousand writings. In the Pure Land tradition, he is listed as the second of the Pure Land patriarchs in India becasue of his Treatise on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Wang-sheng lun).
T'an-luan (Jp. Donran) [467-542]
T'an-luan is the master whom Honen claims as the founder of the Chinese Pure Land School. He first studied Taoist scriptures but when given the Meditation Sutra by Bodhiruci, he was so impressed that he devoted himself to the practice of the Pure Land teachings. He had a great influence on Shan-tao in particular and on Chinese Pure Land Buddhism in general through his Commentary on the Treatise on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life which taught that all beings can be born in the Pure Land through the great power of Amida's vow. His development of the nembutsu as a six character form of vocal recitation was also seminal.
Tao-ch'o (Jp. Doshaku) [562-645]
Tao-ch'o was first a scholar of the Nirvana School based in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Later, however, when visiting a temple where T'an-luan lived, he was so profoundly moved upon reading a stone inscription commemorating the master that he converted to the Pure Land school.His commentary concerning Pure Land teachings, Collection of Passages on the Land of Peace and Bliss (An-lo chi), was so important that he eventually was designated as one of the Pure Land patriarchs. It was Tao-ch'o who originated the important distinction between the Two Gateways of the Holy Path and the Pure Land. He also developed the idea that ordinary, deluded people (bonpu) living in this Age of the Final Dharma (mappo) are the special objects of Amida's vow.
Shan-tao (Jp. Zendo) [613-681]
Shan-tao is the Chinese patriarch on whom Honen relied for most of his teaching in the Senchakushu. In 641, he visited Tao-ch'o and heard him give a lecture on the Meditation Sutra which greatly deepened his faith in the Pure Land. Shan-tao wrote five works on Pure Land teachings, his Commentary on the Meditation Sutra being the most influential. Shan-tao is generally credited for popularizing the nembutsu as the reciting of Amida's name rather than the visualization of him in his Pure Land.
Genshin (942-1017)
Genshin was a Tendai priest on Mt. Hiei and one of the most important of the early Japanese Pure Land masters. He wrote the Collection on the Essentials for Birth (ojoyoshu), probably the most influential work on Pure Land Buddhism written during the Heian period (794-1192). The Ojoyoshu's vivid description of the horrors of the hells and the marvels of the Pure Land was immensely influential in the popularization of Pure Land teachings. Genshin's teachings on the ignorant, deluded person (bonpu); his concern for an accessible form of nembutsu practice; and his focus on the salvific power of Amida Buddha's Original Vow (hongan) were of great influence to Honen.
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