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The Other Buddhism: Amida comes West

In the vast landscape of Buddhist traditions, Pure Land, or Amidism, often takes a backseat to Zen or Theravada Buddhism in Western understanding. Caroline Brazier’s insightful book, “The Other Buddhism: Amida Comes West,” aims to bridge this gap by presenting a comprehensive exploration of Pure Land thought and practice, particularly its relevance to Westerners.

This blog delves into the key themes explored by Brazier, offering a detailed summary and review to guide your exploration of this unique Buddhist path.

The Heart of Pure Land: Faith and Amida Buddha

Central to Pure Land Buddhism lies the concept of reliance on Amida Buddha’s vow to grant rebirth in his Pure Land, a paradisiacal realm conducive to spiritual awakening. Unlike other Buddhist paths that emphasize self-effort through meditation and ethical conduct, Pure Land focuses on faith in Amida’s salvific power. Brazier clarifies this as not blind faith but a trusting surrender, recognizing the limitations of self-power and embracing Amida’s grace.

The book delves into the origins of Pure Land within Mahayana Buddhism, tracing its development through key figures like Nagarjuna and Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu, the most widely practiced form of Pure Land. Brazier unpacks the profound meaning of Amida’s vow, highlighting its all-encompassing nature and its capacity to embrace even those considered beyond redemption in other traditions.

Beyond Self: Deconstructing the Ego

A core aspect of Pure Land practice involves recognizing and letting go of our attachment to a fixed sense of self. Brazier, drawing on Buddhist psychology, explains how clinging to self creates suffering. We build walls around ourselves, fearing loss and clinging to impermanent experiences. Pure Land teachings, through practices like nembutsu (reciting Amida’s name), encourage us to loosen our grip on this self-centered identity, opening ourselves to a more compassionate and interconnected way of being.

The book explores the concept of anatman (no-self) not as a nihilistic denial of existence but as a liberation from self-absorption. It allows us to connect with others authentically and act with genuine concern for their well-being. This focus on other-centeredness aligns with Brazier’s work in psychotherapy, where she advocates for an “other-centered approach” that emphasizes empathy and compassion.

Nembutsu: The Practice of Pure Land

One might wonder, with an emphasis on faith, what role does practice play in Pure Land Buddhism? Brazier addresses this by explaining the centrality of nembutsu. Nembutsu is the practice of reciting Amida’s name (usually “Namu Amida Butsu” in Japanese). It’s a simple yet profound practice, accessible to anyone regardless of background or ability. Brazier clarifies that nembutsu is not a mere mantra but an act of remembrance and refuge-taking in Amida’s vow. Through nembutsu, we cultivate gratitude for Amida’s compassion and gradually transform our hearts.

The book explores different ways of practicing nembutsu, from mindful recitation to integrating it into daily activities. Brazier emphasizes that nembutsu is not a mechanical act but a practice that fosters a sense of inner peace, trust, and a growing awareness of Amida’s presence.

Pure Land and the West: A Path for Modern Seekers

Brazier’s book shines a light on the unique potential of Pure Land for Western practitioners. She acknowledges that some Westerners might find the emphasis on faith challenging, accustomed to a more self-reliant approach. However, she argues that Pure Land offers a path that resonates with the Western yearning for grace and a loving God.

The book explores how Pure Land teachings on compassion and letting go of self-centeredness can be particularly relevant in our individualistic culture. Brazier highlights the potential of Pure Land to foster social action and a sense of interconnectedness, motivating practitioners to work for the betterment of themselves and others.

Embracing the Pure Land Path: Going Further with “The Other Buddhism: Amida Comes West”

Having explored the core themes of Caroline Brazier’s “The Other Buddhism: Amida Comes West,” let’s delve deeper into some aspects that can guide your exploration of Pure Land practice.

Living the Pure Land Life: Daily Practice

The book offers practical guidance on integrating Pure Land practices into daily life. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Creating an Altar: A simple home altar with an image of Amida Buddha can serve as a focal point for practice and a reminder of Amida’s presence.
  • Sangha and Community: While Pure Land emphasizes personal practice, connecting with a Sangha community of like-minded practitioners can offer support and encouragement.
  • Ethical Conduct: While Pure Land doesn’t emphasize strict moral codes, ethical conduct naturally arises from a heart touched by Amida’s compassion. Practitioners strive to live with kindness and integrity.
  • Grateful Living: Cultivating gratitude for Amida’s vow and the blessings in our lives is an essential aspect of Pure Land practice. Practitioners express gratitude for Amida’s grace and the interconnectedness of all beings.

Beyond Nembutsu: Exploring Other Practices

While nembutsu is central, Pure Land Buddhism offers a variety of practices to enrich your journey. Brazier mentions:

  • Meditation: Mindfulness meditation can support nembutsu practice by cultivating focus and inner peace.
  • Dharma Study: Studying Pure Land teachings deepens understanding and strengthens faith.
  • Pure Land Visualization: Visualizing the Pure Land can inspire faith and offer a sense of refuge.

Addressing Criticisms of Pure Land

Pure Land Buddhism has sometimes been criticized for being too easy or lacking emphasis on self-effort. Brazier addresses these critiques by explaining that:

  • Faith in Pure Land is not passivity. It involves a genuine turning towards Amida and a willingness to be transformed by his grace.
  • Nembutsu practice, when sincere, cultivates qualities like gratitude, humility, and compassion.
  • Pure Land doesn’t negate the importance of ethical conduct; it arises from a naturally compassionate heart.

The Pure Land Path: A Journey of Transformation

“The Other Buddhism: Amida Comes West” emphasizes that Pure Land is not just about attaining rebirth in a paradise. It’s a transformative path that allows us to:

  • Let go of self-centeredness and cultivate compassion for all beings.
  • Develop a deep sense of trust and gratitude for Amida’s grace.
  • Live a more mindful and ethical life in the present moment.

Taking the Next Step: Resources and Further Exploration

If “The Other Buddhism: Amida Comes West” has sparked your interest in Pure Land, here are some resources to continue your exploration:

The Final Note: A Path of Openness

Whether you’re a seasoned Buddhist practitioner or a newcomer curious about alternative paths, “The Other Buddhism: Amida Comes West” offers a compelling introduction to Pure Land. The book’s strength lies in its ability to present a path that is both profound and accessible, emphasizing faith, compassion, and the transformative power of Amida’s grace.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the key message of “The Other Buddhism: Amida Comes West”?

The main message is about the adaptation and relevance of Amida Buddhism in the Western context, emphasizing inclusivity and practical spirituality.

  1. How accessible is this book for beginners in Buddhism?

The book is very accessible, written in a conversational tone that makes complex concepts easy to understand for beginners.

  1. Are there practical exercises included in the book?

Yes, the book includes several practical exercises and meditations that readers can easily incorporate into their daily lives.

  1. What makes this book unique compared to other Buddhist texts?

Its focus on Western adaptation and practical application of Amida Buddhism makes it stand out from more traditional or scholarly Buddhist texts.

  1. How has the book been received by the Buddhist community?

The book has been well-received, particularly by those interested in the modern and inclusive practice of Buddhism in the West.

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