My Blog of Blogs
Current and historical attempts to chronicle my life and thoughts
(more about these blogs)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"Make This World a Pure Land"

East Meets West

At dinner with the jingoistic monk a few weeks ago, I was asked a presumptuous question: "What is your devotion?" Elaborated, they meant: "To what Buddha are you devoted, and, therefore, what sutra do you chant daily?"

This is a, uh, foreign concept for me. (Yeah, I know, I'm the one that's foreign.)

So I cobbled together an answer based in truth: I chant the Heart Sutra (almost) daily; I sit quietly, sometimes formal Zen, but usually reflective sitting, just about every day; and Guan Yin is perhaps my favorite Bodhisattva. It held them off, but I don't think it completely satisfied their need for an answer patterned on their own practices.

Fast forward to Friday, July 14, in the car going from Fuzhou Airport to our hotel in Ningde. Present were Wu Xian Shou and Diego Wu, as well as the driver (a mute witness). Mr. Wu and I danced around the idea of my learning Chinese, and his learning English. Then he asked an interesting question: Was the Medicine Buddha Sutra available in English? (It is.) Implied was the question: could he learn English from reading the sutra? That would be motivating!

While we were talking about it, Diego said, "My father has given his heart to the Medicine Buddha."

The conversation turned to other things. But later (it was a long ride) I had time to ask: Why has Mr. Wu chosen the Medicine Buddha for his devotion?

This large statue of Yaoshifo (Yakushi Nyorai)
dominates the two halls at Kiyotakiji
on the 88-Temple Pilgrimage of Shikoku, Japan

The answer was deeply thought out and a pleasure to hear. The Medicine Buddha, Mr. Wu said, was dedicated to bringing aid and comfort to those suffering. It was not just medicine as in pills and so on, but any comfort. For example, if a person were cold, clothes could be considered a "medicine" for the body. By this thinking, all aid rendered was a form of medicine. (Likewise, wisdom is a mental medicine, to cure the disease known as "delusion.")

Now, the Twelve Great Vows recorded in the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha each begin with the words "I vow that in a future life..." This is consistent with the general concepts of both Amitofo (Amitabha) and Yaoshifo (Bhaishajyaguru) devotion. Both point toward Pure Lands: Sukhavati in the West, for devotees of Amitofo; and the Land of Lapis Lazuli Radiance in the East, for devotees of Yaoshifo. These are places that faithful believers will go after they die, whence they will practice further with the support of the Buddha who presides there.

But some teachers make an interesting distinction between these two Buddhas. It is common to see three Buddhas on the altar of the Main Hall in a Buddhist temple. They sit left to right:

And so these teachers say:

  • Shijiamounifo is the Buddha of the past, since he came and went 2500 years ago
  • Yaoshifo is the Buddha of the present, since he comforts our bodies now
  • Amitofo is the Buddha of the future, since he waits for us in the Western Pure Land

So while the Sutra emphasizes a vow for the future, the emphasis of Yaoshifo is the present.

That's why Mr. Wu's next statement gave me chills (in a good way): Devotion to the Medicine Buddha, he said, was meant to help create a Pure Land in this world. Certainly Mr. Wu's efforts to support the monastic sangha, and poor lay teachers like me, is evidence of the depth of his devotion to this effort.

Master Hsing Yun, of Fo Guang Shan, consistently says the same thing. I had always assumed he was talking from the Amitofo Pure Land tradition. Now I wonder if he wasn't speaking of the Medicine Buddha devotion. It's a concept that seems to have developed greatly in the 20th century, with great monks like Tai Xu leading the way.

In any case, my week at Hua Yan Temple was very much like living in a Pure Land on earth, where everyone was courteous and helpful, bringing ease and comfort to each other with generosity and compassion. (Even the teenagers!) It can be done.

* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * *

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave me a message; I can't wait to hear from you!