FAS Society Journal, 1997, pp.133-140
Buddhism has developed various theories concerning the pure land and the buddhaland, i.e., the way of being of the world. The Vimalakirti Sutra deals with this subject in its first chapter, on the buddhaland. The ultimate goal of the FAS Society's "Vow of Humankind" is to "construct a world which is true and happy." I suggest that this is closely related to the pure land expounded in the Vimalakirti Sutra. Thus, here I would like to consider how the pure land and buddhaland are described in the sutra.
The buddhaland chapter is centered on the Dharma teaching that Shakyamuni preaches in response to the question presented by Ratnakara, son of an elder. First, we will look at the main sections of this preaching:
The Buddha said: "Ratnakara, the whole body of living beings is the land where a bodhisattva attains buddhahood. Why is it so? Because a bodhisattva becomes the holder of a buddhaland as long as he invigorates living beings; because he takes hold of a buddhaland whenever living beings are educated; because he possesses a buddhaland while living beings, entering the buddhaland, are initiated into the Buddha's wisdom; because he is furnished with a buddhaland as far as living beings, entering the buddhaland, develop the power of being a bodhisattva. Why is it so? The reason is that bodhisattavas are furnished with their buddhalands because they give rise to their activities solely for the benefit of living beings. For instance, one can build a house at will on vacant ground without difficulty, but in empty sky one cannot. It is the same with bodhisattvas. Because they want to bring living beings to maturity, they seek to have a buddhaland, which cannot be sought in empty sky. Ratnakara, you should know that the straightforward mind is a bodhisattva's purified buddhaland. When he attains buddhahood, guileless beings will enter that land. Firm determination is a bodhisattva's purified land. When he attains buddhahood, beings equipped with roots of virtue will enter there.... So, Ratnakara, a bodhisattva begins practice according to his straightforward mind. As soon as he practices, he gains firm determination. The moment he gains firm determination, he keeps his thoughts under control. As he keeps his thoughts under control, he is in like behavior. As he is in like behavior, he ripens occasions for beings to attain Awakening. Whenever he ripens occasions for beings to attain Awakening, he has expedients. As he has expedients, he has living beings purify themselves. The moment living beings are purified, the buddhaland is purified. As soon as the buddhaland is purified, the discourse is purified. As the discourse is purified, wisdom is purified. As wisdom is purified, his mind is purified. As his mind is purified, all the merits are purified. Therefore, Ratnakara, a bodhisattva who wants to purify his buddhaland should make efforts to fully purify his own mind. Because, as the bodhisattva's mind is pure, his buddhaland is pure.
The buddhaland spoken of in the Vimalakirti Sutrais expressed by the famous words at the end of the above quotation: "as the bodhisattva's mind is pure, his buddhaland is pure." As this phrase indicates, the buddhaland or pure land is not to be sought either in a special realm spatially separated from this actual, historical world or in the so-called afterworld. Rather, it signifies that if only our mind is truly pure, this historical world of actualities, just as it is, immediately becomes the pure land right here and now, or more precisely, it originally is the pure land. Contrary to the common belief, heaven or the pure land is not outside our actuality. This world, just as it is, is the pure land; the pure land, just as it is, is this world. That's the authentic Buddhist world view.
What, then, does "as the bodhisattva's mind is pure" mean? As we already saw in the previous sections, "Sitting in Complete Repose" and "Dharma is Beyond Form," the purest state of our mind is truly empty, and thus it is called pure Dharma-body (Dharmakaya). Actually, however, this pure Dharma-body contains no body or land. The [supposed] body and land are one, so to speak, and at the same time this one is empty. Awakening to the empty Dharma is called the Buddha body; the place of this Awakening is called the buddhaland. Therefore, there is no buddhaland outside of the Buddha body, and no Buddha body outside of the buddhaland. This is grounded on the fact that Dharma has a single form which is no form.
It is said that Vimalakirti's house was completely empty when Manjusri paid a sick call on him. This empty house most directly points to the character of the true buddhaland. Because the buddhaland is completely empty and formless, whatever has form falls short of being the true buddhaland. The phrase "as the bodhisattva's mind is pure, his buddhaland is pure" also indicates such ultimate purity. It is not a purity relative to impurity, and furthermore, it contains nothing whatsoever to be designated "pure." Indeed it must be called purity beyond the duality of purity and defilement. Thus, we don't need to wait or move elsewhere to reach the buddhaland. All we have to do is make our mind pure in the true sense of the term. Then, the very time-and-place where we are, immediately becomes the buddhaland. And if this time-and-place immediately becomes the buddhaland, it is no longer confined to that particular time and place. Then and there, the absolutely undetermined buddhaland perfects itself.
Actually, the phrase "bring(ing) living beings to maturity" means this way of perfecting of the buddhaland. To construct the buddhaland is to bring living beings to maturity. In other words, "tak(ing) hold of a buddhaland" means that the Buddha has awakened. That the Buddha has awakened means that the empty pure land is achieved. Precisely because the pure land is achieved, living beings enter there. By building the buddhaland, the Buddha practices compassion for living beings. In short, precisely because the Buddha has taken hold of a buddhaland, living beings can enter there.
The buddhaland in the ultimate sense of the term must be such a formless buddhaland whose body and land are not two. At the same time, the formless buddhaland must in turn express itself as various buddhalands with forms. Building buddhalands with different forms is the Buddha's "secondary" compassion, so to speak. The primary, ultimate compassion has no form at all. True compassion does not discriminate between Buddha and living beings, between saver and saved. Compassion which still leaves an element of duality between living beings who are saved and the Buddha who saves them, cannot be called ultimate compassion. As I have said earlier, true compassion is nothing other than the unhindered self-abiding functioning of the empty Self. Thus it does not involve anything called Buddha, anything called living beings. It is the subject of compassion through and through, involving no specific objects to turn its compassion to. The subject of compassion has nothing whatsoever to be determined as "compassionate."
I have just said that the subject of compassion has nothing to be called "compassionate." But I must point out that nothing is further from vain, superficial compassion. On the contrary, it is only when we realize this that we, as True Subject, can practice true compassion. This compassion is of a whole other order than what we ordinarily call compassion or love. Not until we break with compassion involving the duality of saver and saved, and thereby reach the stage free of such duality, can we acquire the function of ultimate, boundless compassion. This ultimate compassion, this "compassion arising out of no-compassion," is what is called Objectless Great Compassion in Buddhism. While creating innumerable forms, it can save all living beings in a self-abiding manner, without being hindered by the forms it creates. Vimalakirti practices just such compassion. His compassion is the function of Self-Nothingness, the fundamental character of the Buddha.
Sitting in Complete Repose, which I discussed earlier, is in fact nothing other than this subject which makes true compassion possible. One of the phrases I quoted there, "realizing all activities without abandoning Nirvana," points to the ground on which such Objectless Great Compassion can be practiced. The Bodhisattva's taking hold of the buddhaland also means the same thing, as does "all dharmas are established from the root of non-abiding" [from the chapter on Seeing Living Beings]. Only the absolute Subject can respond to the world of discrimination in an unhindered and self-abiding way. The infinite buddhaland is constructed, so to speak, in accordance with the varying abilities and circumstances of living beings. In fact, the various laws of Buddhism represent such function aimed at constructing the buddhaland. That is why it is said that the six paramitas or "perfections" and the fourfold boundless mind are the bodhisattva's pure land.
The act of giving is a bodhisattva's purified buddhaland. When he attains buddhahood, all the self-renouncing beings will enter there. Keeping precepts is a bodhisattva's purified buddhaland. When he attains buddhahood, beings who have guarded the path of the whole ten right conducts will enter there. [Forbearance is a bodhisattva's purified buddhaland. When he attains buddhahood, beings who are adorned with the thirty- two physical marks of a Buddha (and who are perfect in being forbearing and calm) will enter there.] Exertion with energy is a bodhisattva's purified buddhaland. When he attains buddhaland, beings who undertake efforts in all the meritorious acts will enter there. Deep thought in self-concentration is a bodhisattva's purified buddhaland. When he attains buddhaland, beings who are composed in mindfulness and self-possession will enter there. Wisdom is a bodhisattva's purified buddhaland. When he attains buddhahood, beings who are established in truth will enter there. The fourfold boundless mind is a bodhisattva's buddhaland. When he attains buddhaland, beings who bide at once in the states of friendliness, compassion, joy and disinterestedness will enter there.
In this way, all practices of building the buddhaland arise out of Objectless Great Compassion; and precisely therefore it may be said that the six paramitas are reduced to one. If they are only mutually independent methods of practice, they are not ultimate practice. The establishment of the six paramitas must be the establishment of the one ultimate paramita; and at the same time, the one ultimate paramitamust be the function of the empty Subject with Objectless Great Compassion. Six paramitas not based on such a paramita are nothing but Hinayana paramitas. Each of the six paramitas, either charity, discipline or others, must be an access to the one ultimate paramita. If charity remains charity in the ordinary sense, it cannot be called Mahayana charity. Only when it arises out of the one ultimate paramitacan it express the whole and thus establish it, though remaining a particularparamita.
At the beginning of the first quotation above [from the buddhaland chapter], it said, "the whole body of living beings is the land where a bodhisattva attains buddhahood." After all, this is the same thing as what I have just said. Because living beings exist in this world, the Buddha constructs the pure land. It is established by the Buddha, but it is entirely for the benefit of living beings; through it we can enter the buddhaland. Living beings represent, so to speak, the fundamental motive for the Buddha's secondary practice of compassion.
Therefore, the next expression, "becomes the holder of a buddhaland as long as he invigorates living beings," means the same thing. It continues, however: "Why is it so? The reason is that bodhisattvas are furnished with their buddhalands because they give rise to their activities solely for the benefit of living beings." But this refers to the secondary compassion expressed as forms. All such forms are, needless to say, based on the primary, formless compassion. At the same time, the metaphor that follows reveals the most positive, dynamic character of this secondary compassion with forms: "For instance, one can build a house at will on vacant ground without difficulty, but in empty sky one cannot."
The word "vacant" in "vacant ground" refers to the absolute, Nondiscriminating Formless Dharma. But if this vacancy is only literally empty and formless, no palaces or houses could be built there. Such literal emptiness is represented by the term "empty sky." On the other hand, the vacant ground mentioned here, though it is absolute, Nondiscriminating Formless Emptiness, is the ground of creation, empty yet containing infinite discrimination. It has such rich contents of absolute being that any kind of house can be built on it at will.
Thus, the primary formless compassion is the Subject, and it constructs on the basis of itself the secondary compassion, which is capable of creation and has a character of absolute being. This is indicated by: "Because they want to bring living beings to maturity, they seek to have a buddhaland, which cannot be sought in empty sky."
The two statements: "the straightforward mind is a bodhisattva's purified buddhaland" and "firm determination is a bodhisattva's purified land," indicate Objectless Great Compassion, the fundamental motive for construction of the pure land, in both aspects of one and many. As indicated by the words "the straightforward mind is the place of the great Way (bodhimandala)" [in Chapter Four, on the Bodhisattvas], the straightforward mind refers to our very Awakening to our True Self; it means the same thing as Sitting in Complete Repose and Dharma.
As indicated by the words that follow: "When he attains buddhahood, guileless beings will enter that land," the straightforward mind is the subject of the beings who do not flatter. The straightforward mind is the mind that is not crooked. After all it is the same thing as the Single Mind.
On the other hand, firm determination points to the infinite contents of the straightforward mind, as we can see from the sentence that follows: "When he attains buddhahood, beings equipped with roots of virtue will enter there." If the straightforward mind represents one, firm determination corresponds to many. Thus we can say that these two indicate that "one, just as it is, is many; many, just as they are, are one." In the mandala of the Shingonsect, the Kongô-kai or Diamond Realm represents one and the Taizô-kai or Womb Realm represents many; but these are only two sides of the same coin.
Therefore, it is said: "....a bodhisattva begins practice according to his straightforward mind. As soon as he practices, he gains firm determination.... As he has expedients, he has living beings purify themselves. The moment living beings are purified, the buddhaland is purified." This indicates that, on the ground of the straightforward mind, the Bodhisattva can practice boundless compassion, and by his practice of compassion, he can build a new world of history in a positive and dynamic manner. Only then can the ultimate buddhaland be perfected. To assume a buddhaland isolated from history is an escape from actualities, which will end up negating this world. If [as the opening of the Vow of Humankind says] we are "Calm and composed, awakening to our True Self; being fully compassionate humans," for the first time we attain the straightforward and firm determination capable of creating new history and constructing a world in which we can live truly. If we fall short of this, the world of history will remain indefinitely "on the way"; it will be the world of karma throughout. [The end of the Vow of Humankind:] "A world which is true and happy" can only be constructed by the tireless and unremitting Love which creates history while transcending history.
[Translated by Nobumichi Takahashi in collaboration with Gishin Tokiwa & Jeff Shore]