Tag Archives: Pure Land Buddhism

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

A Buddhist Chaplain in Occupied Japan

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Prison and the Pure Land: A Buddhist Chaplain in Occupied Japan

Melissa Anne-Marie Curley
Ohio State University

In November 1945, the United States military took over the use of Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison in order to house those charged by the Allied Powers with war crimes. For close to three years, Hanayama Shinshō served as the prison’s volunteer Buddhist chaplain, attending thirty-six executions. Hanayama did not protest the imposition of the death penalty but this essay argues that in his work as chaplain he nonetheless resisted the carceral logic shaping life and death inside Sugamo by mobilizing the ritual and narrative repertoire of Pure Land Buddhism. In Hanayama’s framing, Sugamo was a site of liberation as well as confinement, affording the condemned a unique opportunity to reflect upon the past and commit themselves to a different future, even in death. As Hanayama tells it, the peace discovered by the dead was an absolute peace, transcending politics; he also insists, however, on a connection between this absolute peace and the ordinary peace that the living might hope to secure. The article concludes with a consideration of the political and ethical implications of Hanayama’s reading of the dead as having “found peace” in light of larger conversations about how best to remember—or forget—the nation’s dark past, and what it means to share responsibility for crimes against humanity.

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Foundations of Ethics and Practice in Chinese Pure Land Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 10 2003

Foundations of Ethics and Practice in Chinese Pure Land Buddhism

Charles B. Jones
The Catholic University of America

The primary goal of this project was to find a Chinese text that took on the relationship between human religious activity and the saving power of Amitābha in a systematic way. Alas, such a text has so far eluded me. However, by looking at several texts, I have been able to find hints and indications here and there which, added together, constitute a fairly complete and consistent soteriological scheme that relates self-power to other-power. Fully aware of the hermeneutical dangers one faces in collating proof-texts from works spanning greatly-separated times and places around the Chinese empire, I will venture to lay it out as best I can with some confidence that it indeed represents a characteristically Chinese way of approaching the relationship of self-power and other-power, human striving and the Buddha’s original vow-power. I will do this by focusing on a particular arena of human religious activity: ethics and precepts, “ethics” indicating general norms of human behavior, and “precepts” meaning specific vows taken in ritual contexts.

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A Shin Critique of Buddhist Ethics

Volume 4 1997

Teleologized “Virtue” or Mere Religious “Character”? A Critique of Buddhist Ethics From the Shin Buddhist Point of View

Stephen J. Lewis and Galen Amstutz

When comparative ethicists consider the question of ethics in Buddhism, they are tempted to implicate conceptions of teleology and virtue from Western philosophy. Such implications cannot apply to Mahāyāna exemplified in the Japanese Shin tradition. Shin is characterized not only by emptiness philosophy but also by its emphasis on spontaneous (tariki) enlightenment; both of these features undercut the notion that Buddhism can ultimately concern an intentional goal. But a teleological or virtue-oriented sensibility is not needed for the purposes of ordinary life. On the contrary, Shin social history has demonstrated that a powerful tradition of practical life based on Buddhist teaching can exist perfectly well without it. Such wisdom manifests itself both socially and at the individual level as a kind of character, if not ethics in the usual sense.

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