Tag Archives: Peng Shaosheng

Can an Evil Person Attain Rebirth in the Pure Land?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 27, 2020

Can an Evil Person Attain Rebirth in the Pure Land? Ethical and Soteriological Issues in the Pure Land Thought of Peng Shaosheng (1740-1796)

Hongyu Wu
Ohio Northern University

In Pure Land literature in China, it is not uncommon to find accounts about morally flawed or evil persons attaining rebirth in the Pure Land. The rebirth of evil persons in the Pure Land, in fact, is an issue that can work both for and against Pure Land proponents. On the one hand, the soteriological inclusiveness of evil persons can be employed by promoters to prioritize Pure Land belief and practice over other forms of Buddhist thought and practice. On the other hand, belief in the saving power of Amitābha Buddha might discourage people from doing good or, even worse, legitimize evil behavior—a point that critics both within and outside the Buddhist community were quick to point out. The moral failures of Pure Land practitioners surely garnered criticism and hostility that were directed both toward the individual and toward the Pure Land teachings—and, as Pure Land beliefs and practices in China were not sectarian, the misconducts of the Pure Land practitioners could eventually damage the reputation of the whole Buddhist community. This paper focuses on Peng Shaosheng, a Confucian literatus turned Buddhist layman and a prominent advocate of Pure Land practice, to examine how he employed a syncretic approach by drawing on concepts such as karmic retribution, sympathetic resonance (ganying), no-good (wushan), and ultimate good (zhishan) to develop a scheme that neither denied the saving power of Amitābha Buddha and supremacy of Pure Land practice nor endorsed “licensed evil.” Read article