Welcome to the Western Quarter!

This blog is devoted to the propagation of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, a 750-year-old Buddhist tradition.

Monday, January 11, 2010

"The Western Quarter"

The title of this blog "The Western Quarter" comes from the Inagaki English Translation of Ojoraisan, in English "Liturgy for Birth" composed by the Chinese monk Shan-tao, who lived in the 7th-century. Shan-tao is one of the "Seven Masters" of the Jodo Shinshu. These "Seven Masters" form something like a "lineage" which stretches back to Sakyamuni Buddha, and ultimately, to Amida Buddha. This is typical of Buddhist schools: a series of teachers provides a historical connection (but not necessarily a direct link, in some cases) back to the original teacher (Sakyamuni); some famous teachers of the past, such as Nagarjuna, are important in the lineage of many diverse Buddhist schools, while other teachers are important to only a few specific ones. It depends on the school. The Ojoraisan is typically chanted like a sutra, and is not regularly conducted in Shin temples outside of Japan. Prior to the time of Rennyo Shonin (15th-century CE), it was regularly conducted in Japan (also in other Pure Land traditions), but was eventually replaced by other liturgies (possibly because of its length - it may have been performed round-the-clock).

However, Ojoraisan is a very beautiful liturgy; the essence is Shan-tao's aspiration, and aspiration for others, to be born in the "Western Quarter" or the Pure Land of Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is the Buddha of the Western Quarter, in Sanskrit sukhavati, Japanese, ojodo, or Chinese, jingtu.

What is the Pure Land? This is the realm where Buddhahood may be realized, and attained by all sentient beings. This is a major tradition within Mahayana Buddhism (also if we include the Tibetan traditions), which elaborates on the realms of the Buddhas. Pure Land is possibly the most accessible of all Buddhist traditions, as it emphasizes faith in, and devotion to Amida Buddha (and the possibility of Buddhahood), but this doesn't mean it cannot be profound. There are many Mahayana sutras whose topic is solely on the Pure Land, commentaries which discuss it, and just as many rituals and practices which accompany these beliefs. It is probably beyond the scope of a blog(!) to discuss all the complexities of Pure Land Buddhism, so future posts will focus on how Jodo Shinshu interprets Pure Land teachings. Jodo Shinshu recognizes certain Pure Land sutras as particularly authoritative for its tradition, and the writings of the "Seven Masters" as of special importance. Together with the writings of Shinran Shonin, they provide the basis for the Jodo Shinshu teachings.

If you are interested in Pure Land teachings, go directly to the sources! However, there are not many books that focus on Pure Land Buddhism at your usual Borders or Barnes & Noble, unless it is a general overview-type book. In fact, there are some books that tend to neglect or even dismiss outright the Pure Land tradition because it seems too "faith-based"! Unfortunately, not many of the Pure Land sutras or writings of the Seven Masters are too readily available in English translation; you may have to try some online searching. Try Amida Net linked at the right of this blog, or the BCA Bookstore, where the Inagaki translation of Ojoraisan is available.

Namo Amida Butsu

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