We are already loved
Meditation in Pureland Buddhism
I sit in our shrine room. The hot sun streams across my face, flooding in through the tall Georgian windows. We are in the meditation period during our morning service. I reach down and touch the floor, echoing the Buddha touching the earth. My fingers brush the carpet. I smile remembering how the carpet was a gift from Khemashalini, using money she inherited when her father died. Below the carpet are hard wooden floorboards, set onto walls of Malvern stone and brick. The stone formed thousands of years ago, I guess. The bricks must be at least two hundred years old, the age of the temple. How many hands worked to create this place where I am sitting?
The bell rings, once. The sound is bright and then begins to fade away. The bell rings a second time, I bring my hands up into gassho. On the third ring I bow deeply.
There are still traces of the bell’s sound in the air as I open my eyes. In front of me is the altar. As I rest my gaze on the Buddha’s smile the last edges of tension in my shoulders relax.
In Pureland Buddhism, everything comes down to refuge and Other Power. In the same way I can recognise that my physical existence is supported by myriad causes and conditions that are out of my control and nothing do with me, when I examine the fruits of the spiritual life it becomes clear that these too are great gifts I have received. Wisdom, compassion, fortitude and so on—these are graces bestowed by the Buddhas.
What’s all of this got to do with meditation? For a Pureland Buddhist meditation isn’t about trying to get anywhere. It’s about reminding ourselves that we are already supported. We might discover this sense of support when we take stock of all that we have received from our living teachers, our ancestors, from our communities and from the Buddha’ teachings. As a Pureland Buddhist I also trust that I am particularly supported by Amida Buddha.
You can think of Amida Buddha as the face of emptiness, if you like, as nirvana personified. This article probably isn’t the place to unpick exactly what that means. Whatever it means, Pureland Buddhists have some sense of being in receipt of the Buddha’s love. We trust that without our having to do anything blessings (adhisthana) are already flowing towards us.
Sometimes meditation is about giving our attention to the Buddha, and sometimes it is about giving attention to ourselves. We might examine how it is to be human using the three prompts of naikan. What have I received? What have I offered? What trouble has my existence caused?
Even a quick back of the envelope calculation of the last twenty four hours shows me that I have received much more than I have given, and I can certainly point to some trouble I have caused. This is how it is to be human – we are flawed limited creatures, and still the dharma rain falls on us.
The primary practice of Pureland Buddhists is nembutsu. Nembutsu means something like keeping the Buddha in mind (nen = mindfulness, butsu = Buddha) and it particularly refers to saying the name of Amida Buddha. For Pureland Buddhists all other Buddhist practices can be understood as different forms of nembutsu.
After meditation in our morning service here, we formally recite the refuges – a form of nembutsu, we make our prostrations to the shrine – a form of nembutsu – and we bow to each other, and to our seats – a form of nembutsu.
How lucky we are, that the Buddha’s light shines on us so.
Acharaya Kaspalita Thompson is a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist. He co-leads a Pureland Buddhist Temple, in the Amida Shu tradition, in Malvern, UK.