Selected Works of D.T. Suzuki, Volume II: Pure Land

Selected Works of D.T. Suzuki, Volume II: Pure Land

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ISBN-13: 9780520268937
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 01/15/2015
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (1870–1966) was a Japanese-born scholar and translator who over the course of the twentieth century came to be regarded as one of the leading authorities on Zen and Buddhism generally. He was the author of more than a hundred works on the subject in both Japanese and English and was instrumental in bringing Buddhist teachings to the attention of the Western world. His many books in English include An
Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Essays in Zen Buddhism, Zen and Japanese Culture, Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist,
and Shin Buddhism.

James C. Dobbins is Fairchild Professor of Religion and East Asian Studies at Oberlin College and the author of Letters of the Nun Eshinni: Images of Pure Land Buddhism in Medieval Japan and Jodo Shinshu: Shin Buddhism in Medieval Japan.

Richard M. Jaffe is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University and the author of Neither Monk nor Layman: Clerical Marriage in Modern Japanese Buddhism.

Read an Excerpt

Selected Works of D. T. Suzuki, Volume II

Pure Land

By Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, James C. Dobbins, Richard M. Jaffe


Copyright © 2015 The Buddhist Society Trust as agent for the Matsugaoka Library
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95962-0


The Development of the Pure Land Doctrine in Buddhism

This essay is one of Suzuki's earliest detailed treatments of Pure Land Buddhism. It gives a brief overview of its core concepts and themes: Amida Buddha, Pure Land paradise, vows of Amida to deliver all beings to enlightenment, karmic wrongdoing or sin that hinders humans from attaining enlightenment, nembutsu practice of invoking the Buddha's name, and the religious life of relying on the power of the Buddha, tariki, instead of one's own power, jiriki. Suzuki presents these ideas as fundamental to the Jodo school of Honen (1133–1212), the Shin school of Shinran (1173–1262), and the Ji school of Ippen (1239–1289), but among them Shin Buddhism seems to have exerted the greatest influence on his thinking.

Suzuki seeks to situate the Pure Land sutras and its doctrines in the broader context of Mahayana thought, including the bodhisattva path and the twin ideals of wisdom and love (or compassion). As in the case of Mahayana, he attempts to defend Pure Land from disparagement as an inferior or inauthentic form of Buddhism compared to Theravada, which dominated the scholarly understanding of Buddhism in the early twentieth century. He does so in several ways. First, he identifies similarities between early Buddhism and Pure Land, suggesting that Pure Land in fact embodies the spirit and essence of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni. Second, he argues that historical truth does not necessarily trump mythic truth, propounded in the Mahayana sutras. Third, he differentiates the inner spiritual dimension of humans from the world of intellection and mechanistic causation—a strategy similar to the West's modern attempt to define religion as a nonrational experience operating outside of reason and science. Finally, he offers his own interpretation of the Pure Land paradise as a mystical world that can be experienced in this life rather than after death. The extent to which Suzuki's argument departs from established Pure Land doctrine is reflected in his citation of the Vimalakirti Sutra near the end of his essay to support his claim, a text that plays virtually no role in traditional Pure Land hermeneutics. Suzuki's essay, in short, represents a new style of argumentation to defend Pure Land in the modern period as an authentic form of Buddhism.

The base text for this essay is "The Development of the Pure Land Doctrine in Buddhism," The Eastern Buddhist 3, no. 4 (1925): 285–326. It was republished with slight editorial changes in Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Collected Writings on Shin Buddhism (CWSB), ed. The Eastern Buddhist Society (Kyoto: Shinshu Otaniha, 1973), 3–31. A Japanese translation by Kusunoki Kyo was published as "Bukkyo ni okeru Jodo kyori no hattatsu," in Suzuki Daisetsu, Nihon Bukkyo no soko o nagareru mono (Kyoto: Otani Shuppansha, 1950), 61–138. See SDZ 11:352–400.

* * *

If we believe, as we must from the modern critical point of view, that the history of any religious system consists, partly, in the exfoliation of the unessential elements, but, chiefly, in the revelation and the constant growth of the most vital spiritual elements which lie hidden either in the words of the founder or in his personality, the following question naturally comes up for solution in our investigation of the history of Buddhist dogmatics: "How much of the Pure Land (jodo) idea is deducible from the teaching of primitive Buddhism so-called, or from the personality of Sakyamuni Buddha himself?"

This is one of the most important and fundamental questions in the history of Buddhism, seeing that the majority of Japanese Buddhists are adherents of the Pure Land teaching. Indeed, the origin of the Pure Land idea is simultaneous with the general growth of Mahayana Buddhism itself, which evidently took place within a few centuries after the passing of the Master. At the present stage, however, of our knowledge of Indian thought and culture generally, the solution of the question above cited will be necessarily philosophical and psychological rather than strictly historical. There ought to be more materials at our disposal before we can objectively trace every step of development in reference to historical facts. Therefore, what I have attempted in the following pages may be said to be a philosophy of religious experience which has been gone through with by the followers of the Enlightened One; that is to say, it will be the interpretation of the Pure Land teaching as a formulation of the experience which has so far unfolded itself in the Buddhist life.

For the benefit of readers who are not well acquainted with the characteristic features of Japanese or Eastern Buddhism, a few introductory remarks concerning the teaching of the Pure Land school may not be out of place here. Without some knowledge of this, the purport of the present article will be more or less unintelligible.


By the Pure Land school of Japanese Buddhism I mean the Buddhist doctrine that teaches the invocation of the name of Amida Buddha in order to be saved from an imperfect and sinful life which we all lead, and be taken up after death into the abode of the Buddha, which is known as the Land of Purity or Land of Bliss. This school is also called the Nembutsu school, nembutsu being Japanese (nianfo in Chinese) for the invocation of the Buddha's name. Nen or nian (smrti in Sanskrit) literally means "to recollect," "to remember," "to reflect upon," or "to think of," and consequently nembutsu is to think of the Buddha, and as far as its literal sense is concerned it is not the invoking of his name as is understood at present. This was no doubt all true, primarily; but as the doctrine of Nembutsu began to unfold all its implications, it came to be synonymous with the reciting of the name of the Buddha, for the intense thinking of the Buddha with all his moral and spiritual qualities would inevitably burst out in a loud call on his name. Later, the vocal accompaniment was isolated and given an independent program in the progressive development of the doctrine of Nembutsu. Nembutsu was then no more "meditative recollection" but "vocal recollection." And at present as all the aspirants for the Pure Land of Bliss are taught to resort to this "vocal recollection" as the means of rebirth there, they are followers of Nembutsu.

There are three or four sects now in Japan that are to be classed under the Pure Land school: they are the Jodo, Shin, and Ji. The Yuzu-nembutsu may also be brought under this category, as it teaches the nembutsu and the possibility of rebirth in the land of Amida. But as it will grow clearer later, this sect is based on the philosophy of identity and interpenetration as is expounded in the Avatamsaka Sutra and not on the Original Vows of Amida which are detailed in the Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra, and this latter constitutes the foundation of the Pure Land sects. While the Yuzu no doubt precipitated the development of the Pure Land school proper as we understand it, the Yuzu stands by itself when we consider its peculiar features; and it may be best not to group it with such purely Pure Land sects such as the Jodo, Shin, and Ji. We shall later treat of its tenets in connection with the history of the Pure Land teaching in Japan.

The following are the main ideas which support the structure of the great Pure Land edifice. While each Pure Land sect may differ in its way of upholding certain aspects of the doctrine more emphatically than others, all the sects agree in recognizing the following elements as essential to their faith and incorporating them in the system of their teaching. When we are therefore acquainted with these factors as enumerated below, we know in what respects the Pure Land teaching varies from other Mahayana systems, in other words, how in spite of its assumption of such an apparently un-Buddhist complexion it is essentially Mahayanistic.

1. Amida. Amida occupies the center of the Pure Land doctrine and we must know who he is. According to the Larger Sukhavati-vyuha, he was a king in one of his former incarnations, and moved by the sermons of the Buddha Lokesvara who was the reigning Buddha of that age; he conceived the idea of becoming a homeless sramana and later realizing Buddhahood.

His monkish name was Dharmakara. He meditated for five kalpas before he made a certain number of vows (pranidhana) as conditions of his attainment of enlightenment. When these vows were declared in the presence of Buddha Lokesvara, the earth shook in six different ways. After this, the Bhikshu Dharmakara devoted himself to the practice of all kinds of virtues and meritorious deeds for a period of incalculable kalpas. He went through many an incarnation as kings, laydisciples of the Buddha, celestial gods, etc. He finally attained enlightenment, and became the Buddha of infinite light (amitabha) and eternal life (amitayus). It has now passed ten kalpas since then.

2. The Pure Land. This is the country where the Buddha of Eternal Life and Infinite Light is abiding and is described minutely in the Larger Sukhavati-vyuha and the Smaller Sukhavati-vyuha. In the main it is the world in which "there is neither bodily nor mental pain for living beings, and where the sources of happiness are innumerable." While Buddha Aksobhya has his Buddha-land in the east, Amida has his in the west, distant from this world by a hundred thousand niyutas of kotis of Buddha-countries. And the Pure Land school teaches that Amida Buddha is awaiting us there and that we must cherish the desire to be born in his country. The object, however, is not necessarily to enjoy happiness pure and simple in that world, but to attain enlightenment which is impossible for ordinary mortals to realize while on earth. For they are fettered on all sides by things finite and imperfect, indeed they are themselves all this, and have no way to attain their ideals of freedom and perfection except by going out of this sahaloka (world of endurance) and being taken up by Amida into his world. He made his Vows and reached his enlightenment proving that all the Vows were fulfilled, and therefore if we only invoke his name and ask him to be helped in our trials here, he will undoubtedly listen to us and carry us up into his own abode. In fact, he is constantly calling out to us to come to him, and what we have to do is just to pay attention to the fact and hear his voice.

3. The Original Vows. The fact that he is calling out to us is established by the fulfillment of all his Original Vows (purva-pranidhana), which he made after meditation for five long kalpas. There are, according to Samghavarman's Chinese translation of the Sukhavati-vyuha, forty-eight. Vows made by Amida. While some of them have apparently no practical bearings on our modern conception of life and salvation, there is one most important and most significant Vow, without which the whole system of the forty-eight pranidhanas would collapse. This is known as the Eighteenth Vow, which reads:

If all beings in the ten quarters, when I have attained Buddhahood, should believe in me with all sincerity of heart, desiring to be born in my country, and should, say ten times, think of me, and if they should not be reborn there, may I not obtain enlightenment, barring only those who have committed the five deadly sins and who have abused the Good Law (Dharma).

That the Bodhisattva will practice the virtues of perfection (paramita) not merely for his own benefit but for others as well is one of the original ideas in Buddhism, which grew up in the course of development in India. And with Amida this thought of benefiting others was made the condition of enlightenment, for he vowed that he would not be enlightened unless the conditions were not fulfilled. In Hinayana Buddhism Arhatship was the ideal of the Buddhist life and the Arhat was satisfied with his own enlightenment. Naturally as a social being, he wished to see others enlightened as himself, but this was in no wise thought of in connection with his own attainment. His individuality did not extend so far as to embrace others in it. But Amida's love for all beings was so intense and all-embracing that even when he could have for himself all he aspired to in the way of Buddhahood, he postponed it until his fellow creatures were also assured of a share in his attainment.

4. The conception of sin. Now that Amida has fulfilled his part, what shall common mortals have to do in order to respond to his call? That is, how are we to be reborn in his Land of Purity? First, we have to realize that we are sinful beings due to the karma of innumerable evil deeds committed by us in our former lives, and that if we are left to ourselves we shall have no chance whatever to be delivered from this life of misery and suffering. In this, the Pure Land followers are sometimes apt to run to an extreme by drawing a too sharply defined line between Amida and ourselves. Amida is love, they would say, and light and goodness and has nothing evil in himself, while common mortals are so depraved that, by themselves, they are destined nowhere else than to purgatory. Practically, however, when this remorseful attitude is the more intensely realized, the more earnest and sincere a man will be in his desire to be born in the Pure Land of Amida. Thus three things are considered most necessary for rebirth in the other world: 1. Sincerity of heart, 2. a deep (believing) heart, and 3. desire to be reborn in Amida's Pure Land.

5. Nembutsu. The nembutsu is the expression of a man's complete dependence on Amida as far as his salvation and rebirth are concerned. When he is sincerely awakened to the fact that his moral depravity finally condemns him to purgatory (naraka), this, according to Pure Land scholars, is the time he hears the call of Amida, and the nembutsu is the natural outcome of this awakening and hearing. Whatever the historical meaning of nembutsu might have been, it is now no more mere thinking of the Buddha and his virtues, but, as was explained above, it is the invocation of the name of Amida as one whose forty-eight Original Vows were fulfilled ten kalpas ago. The name Amida itself has now come to have a mysterious meaning charged with a power to save all who uttered it with sincerity of heart and singleness of thought. This is the most remarkable part in the development of the tariki (other-power) system in Buddhism.

6. The moral life. That moral perfection is not essential, i.e., not absolutely needed, for salvation, is one of the principal keynotes in all the Pure Land schools of Buddhism Even in primitive Buddhism mere morality was not regarded as sufficient for the attainment of Arhatship; for meditation (dhyana) and spiritual intuition (prajna) were also strongly inculcated upon the minds of the Bhikshus and Sramanas. The contention most emphatically set forward by Pure Land devotees is that we are fundamentally imperfect, and therefore that no amount of our human and unaided efforts to perfect ourselves morally, if that is the only condition for enlightenment and deliverance, will ever lead to the attainment of the end. The will as expressed in the Original Vows of Amida is thus absolutely essential to lift us from this hopeless situation. Our own efforts called jiriki (self-power) always contain in them something, however minute or faint, of the residual idea of ego, and the basic teaching of Buddhism in whatever form is that we must be free from the thought of ego if we really desire for Nirvana or Sambodhi (enlightenment). We oft en have, principally I think in Mahayana literature, that the Bodhisattvas ask questions of the Buddha through his grace or power (tathagata-dhisthana or -anubhava) and not of their own accord. If this can happen, that is, if the Buddha has the power to move others as he wills, and if common mortals are not their own saviors, it seems to be natural for certain Buddhists to arrive at the conclusion that tariki and not jiriki is the condition of salvation, and that faith and not morality is what is absolutely required of Pure Land aspirants. At all events, teachers of the Pure Land school look askance at the doctrine of self-reliance or self-power (jiriki) as the assertion of egoism, and strongly insist on tariki, other-power, or on the unparalleled superiority of faith and passivity. The following passage from Tauler is in full agreement with the view held by the Pure Land advocates: "Alles das Gott von uns haben will, das ist, dass wir müssig seyen und ihn Werkmeister seyen lassen; wären wir ganz und gar müssig, so wären wir vollkommen Menschen." ["All that God would have from us is that we be idle and allow him to be the master craftsman; were we to be completely and utterly idle, then we would be perfectly human" (JCD).]


Excerpted from Selected Works of D. T. Suzuki, Volume II by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, James C. Dobbins, Richard M. Jaffe. Copyright © 2015 The Buddhist Society Trust as agent for the Matsugaoka Library. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents


Editorial Note

1. The Development of the Pure Land Doctrine in Buddhism
2. Zen and Jodo, Two Types of Buddhist Experience
3. Selection from The Koan Exercise
4. The Shin Sect of Buddhism
5. Selections from Japanese Spirituality
6. Sayings of a Modern Tariki Mystic
7. The Myokonin
8. From Saichi’s Journals
Infinite Light
10. The Spirit of Shinran Shonin

Glossary of Japanese, Chinese, and Sanskrit Terms


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