Amida Sutra

Part 7 - The Mass Vision Begins
The beginning of the sutra after the introduction invites us to participate in a mass vision. It is part of a historical scene wherein a confrontation took place between Buddha and other religious leaders. Shakyamuni was tempted to use magic and hype to explain his teachings. Instead he invited the congregation to participate in a mass vision of the Dharma as active principle, personified as Amida and his Pure Land. The reader of the sutra is invited to participate in the vision. We are not asked to 'believe, but rather to participate and then evaluate the results of that experience. Buddha has always invited us to 'try it and see.' He steadfastly leads us beyond himself to nirvana. Here, he leads us beyond himself as an historical person towards a more transpersonal, trans-historical experience of Dharma as an active force, not merely the passive goal of our striving.

The 'realm' which Shakyamuni makes known to us through his principle disciple, Shariputra, is somehow a mirror image of the dirty earth itself. There is the subtle criticism implied in the description of the Pure Land. If the world we humans have created here on earth for ourselves with our technology does not match the beauty of the Pure Land, why not? Or perhaps the Pure Land is to be found here? What is the geography of the Pure Land? Furthermore, a vision is similar to a dream, the dream time of the Aboriginal holy persons. In the middle of the a dream no one asks the question, "Does the dream I'm experiencing really exist? Am I really having the experience?" The vision invites us to participate, to come and see for ourselves.

The mass vision begins when Buddha Shakyamuni addresses his friend Shariputra and says, "Beyond the world of birth and death, beyond the frontiers of billions of galaxies…."

As Shakyamuni discusses the sutra with Shariputra the whole entourage and congregation overhears and participates in the vision. When we chant this sutra as a community we recreate the events. As modern hearers reading and chanting together we indeed enjoy the same results as the original hearers of ancient times!

1. The Buddha spoke with his disciple first,
The Elder Shariputra, "Listen now,
O Shariputra. Far from here exists
A world, one called Sukhavati. This means
'the Highest Happiness, the Realm of Bliss.'
Amida rules this kingdom now.
He actually lives there presently,
Continually teaching Dharma Law.
And why is this land called the Land of Bliss?
And why is it called Highest Happiness?
The reason, Shariputra, now is clear.
For beings living there experience
'Not having many sorrows.' They receive
Unceasingly all kinds of happiness.

2. Again of Shriputra it's adorned
With seven balustrades, with seven rows
Of trees and seven nets, with its décor
In precious crystal, silver, gold and beryl.
It thus is called the Land of Happiness.

3. Again, o Shriputra, it's adorned With pools of seven treasures: gold, red pearl,
White coral, silver, agate, crystal, beryl.
These pools are filled with virtures, eight in all:
Limpidity and purity along
With flexibility and calm, then too,
Refreshing coolness, power to prevent
A famine, fertilizing qualities,
Productiveness and sweetness represent
The spiritual qualities possessed
By water which is seen within those pools--
And they are pure to their very depths!
What's more you see around them golden sand.
The stairways leading to them gleam with gems;
With precious crystal, silver, gold and beryl.
Above them rise the many mansions built
Of seven treasures. These are gold, red-pearl,
White coral, silver, agate, crystal, beryl.
These pools contain the lotus blossoming
As large as mammoth wheels. Their yellow hue
Is yellow splendor. Blue is splendor blue.
The red is splendor red. The color white
Appears as splendor white. Each blossom's pure
So fine and wonderful to gaze upon.
O Shariputra, thus perfected good
Adorns the Realm of Highest Happiness.

These and following sections of the sutra repeat the refrain that an experience with the transcendent has its foundations in virtue and perfected good. This is an important argument in the religious world. There were those during Shakyamuni's time who taught the leaving behind of moral and ethical considerations in the search for ultimate enlightenment. Shakyamuni insisted that the conditions for the arising of Bodhi Mind lie with moral standards. Thus the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path form the foundation of spiritual practice and the enlightenment experience. They also form the basis of life in the post-enlightenment stage.

In fact we can erase all the flowery language of the vision in the sutra and still discover a practical moral philosophy. The spiritual qualities of water are a case in point. This refrain, however, occurs over and over agan as a kind of ironic reminder:"Yes we know you are having a great vision but don't forget, happiness has sound moral and ethical and virtuous foundations.

The point here is that power, spiritual or otherwise, is based in virtue. The area of politics and economics is plagued also with the delusion that an elevated position renders moral responsibility unnecessary. Many leaders in these areas are looking for a situation in which they can do anything they want with no restrictions of any kind, especially from religion and morals. This is indeed a profound delusion with exponential results due to the amount of power involved. The karmic burden of these delusions is truly heavy.

Again and again, Shakyamuni will remind us that any vision, political, economic or religious, is not removed from the law of karma. Karma is produced by thoughts, actions and words. This is one reason, by the way, that Buddhism promotes liberty, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.

In organized societies we are often controlled so that our energies benefit those in power. In bureaucratic societies, some have power to damage others without having to worry about being damaged in return, or having to face the moral implications of their actions. Most leaders in our modern societies never see those who are affected by their decisions. An extreme case in point is WWII. People were controlled by powerful leaders who were vicious moral idiots. To live in such a world was to suffer the burden of bad karma whether one wanted or not. The story of SCHINDLER'S LIST bears this out dramatically. Terror and insecurity created the cult of impotency. In our own times, people are still forced to violate their moral conscience and lose their human dignity. Buddhism helps us with this problem. It relieves all karmic suffering. We can give up our membership in the cult of impotency.

The sutra constantly reminds us that all levels of human experience, even that of religious transcendence, are beholden to the law of karma. Ignoring this fact always bring tragedy in its wake. The effects of WWII for example are still with us 53 years later. The same fact is true for the effects of our thoughts, actions and words today. How long will we have to suffer their consequences?

Blessings Be,
Sensei Ulrich

February 8, 2000

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