All things are empty and selfless
One of the uniqueness of Buddhism lies in the doctrine of non self and it is also one of the most confused tenet.
Being Buddhist, we should remind ourselves of emptiness.
Foremost, we do not have a “solid” entity residing inside our body. This tenet is also popularly known as the soul-less tenet. (Anatta) Basically, it teaches that, the personality “I” that we identify with, is nothing but a trick of our deluded mind.
At entry level, we can appreciate this by observing how the “I” that we identify with; our persona, is nothing but a byproduct produced by our mind’s interaction with data received through our senses.
The attachment to the illusion of “I” becomes strong and we believe there is a “solid” individual self residing in our body. We call it a soul. This further cement our false belief in our impure and imperfect self. For example, people who believe they are born aggressive or impatient etc.
To add to the complexity, when Buddhism talks about soullessness, we do not mean that everything ceases when we die. That is nihilism. The other end of the extreme thought flow. We are the middle wayfarers.
At this point we should appreciate that Buddhism is teaching us to re-evaluate our understanding of existence; To help us get the picture right. That way, we learn how to examine our existence with neutrality and detachment. Only then, can we be free from our emotional baggage and start seeing the Truth.
Once we know about our deluded state, we realise that the people around us is trapped in the same delusion.
When we expand our understanding and observe how we “give life” to the non animate objects and their subsequent relationship with sentient beings, we realize the emptiness nature of Samsara.(and the problems that comes with it)
For example, Hong kong comedy in the 80s used to make fun of China people for mistaking the bidet as a source of potable water and drinking from it. To the people in Hong Kong, that is unthinkable. To someone who never saw a bidet, it looks like a water fountain! Such example can be found everywhere, the Westerners condemning the Chinese for eating rotten eggs (century egg), the Chinese condemning the Westerners for eating rotten milk. (Blue cheese?) Some other serious disagreement results in conflicts and sufferings.
Following the above, any practice that causes grasping of a samsaric identity is non Buddhist.
So how do we find this in Pureland practice.
Foremost, we are taught not to grasp at the form of Buddha. The general given advice is “do not be attached to form”. What’s that?
When we worship a Celestial Buddha, one tendency is to imagine a god like being shining like the sun, sitting in paradise. That is attachment to form.
Following that, we try to understand this imaginary god like Buddha better by projecting a personality onto it. For example, “Amitabha favors vegetarian, if you consume meat, you can’t be reborn in western paradise”. That’s just one of the many outrageous things I have heard.
So how does Pure land practice and scripture address such potential pitfall?
It still boils down to practicing until the mind is free from delusion.
Most important is to have faith in Amitabha Buddha, but without the aforesaid misunderstanding. That will help us settle into our practice firmly. Then we just need to practice. With correct understanding, we know that chanting is not for pleasing Amitabha. It is for clearing our delusion so that we can become Buddha too.
Personally, I feel that the Pure land scriptures and practice point towards the state of “beyond thoughts”. While the state and glory of Amitabha and his pure land is grand and beautiful (spiritually attractive), the length, breadth and depth of it, is beyond thoughts.
For example, the age of Amitabha. How do you get a grip of that? Then the distance of the western paradise is also beyond my samsaric logic. Basically beyond my comprehension or conceptualisation. Not to mention the population of Pure land! It is beautiful and yet beyond conceptualisation.
When your mind give up conceptualising, there is PEACE.
Therefore, Amitabha and his Pure Land is spiritually attractive. A spiritual “place” that we aspire to be, yet it is beyond our mortal comprehension. Isn’t that talking about enlightenment?
However, not everyone is brave enough to believe they can become Buddha.
The idea of an attainable place call the Pure land, belonging to Amitabha Buddha may still work better for most. For many of us, it is such simple idea that motivate us to chant and practice everyday. An afterlife that we desire.
That simplicity help us focus. That focus help to silence the monkey mind faster. Hushhhh.
May all be well and happy. May we arrive safely at our pure land.