When one recites the Buddha’s name (Namu-Amida-Butsu), Buddha Amitabha is one’s Self-Nature, the Pure Land is the blissful land of one’s own mind. Anyone who can singlemindedly recite the Buddha’s name in thought after thought and concentrate deeper and deeper will always find Amitabha Buddha appearing in their own mind.
The popular conception of the Pure Land as a Buddhist heaven, where we’ll someday meet our deceased relatives, has perhaps more to do with Chinese ancestor worship, with its emphasis on filial piety, than with Buddhism itself.
Shinran, like Tan-luan and Shandao, understood the Pure Land as the formless realm of Nirvana, rather than a heaven, and therefore referred to it as “the birth of no-birth,” just as the Buddha described Nirvana as “the unborn.”
Buddhism was not immediately accepted in China, because the doctrines of non-self, rebirth, and Nirvana challenged traditional Chinese beliefs about the spirits of dead relatives, that good deeds should be done in their honor.
If there is no permanent, unchanging self, but instead a stream of consciousness from one lifetime to the next, what good is there in dedicating merit to one’s ancestors? The answer to this question might be unsettling for many.
Chinese folk religion therefore came to produce an image of the Pure Land as a Confucian-like and Taoist-like paradise, as an accommodation of Buddhism to traditional Chinese values and customs.
Shinran said that he never recited the Nembutsu out of filial piety. Nonetheless, Shinran had compassionate understanding for those who, however misguided, clung to the notion of a permanent self that will meet our deceased ancestors.
As the realm of Nirvana, the true Pure Land is inconceivable. The heaven-like language we use to describe it is a finger pointing to the moon, making the Ultimate Truth accessible to ordinary beings like ourselves:
Meaning itself is beyond debate of such matters as like against dislike, evil against virtue, falsity against truth. Hence, words may indeed have meaning, but the meaning is not the words. Consider, for example, a person instructing us by pointing to the moon with his finger. The person would say, ‘I am pointing to the moon with my finger in order to show it to you. Why do you look at my finger and not the moon?’ Similarly, words are the finger pointing to the meaning; they are not the meaning itself. Hence, do not rely upon words. http://shinranworks.com/the-major-expositions/chapter-on-transformed-buddha-bodies-and-lands/
As the realm of Nirvana, the true Pure Land is inconceivable. The heaven-like language we use to describe it is a finger pointing to the moon, making the Ultimate Truth accessible to ordinary beings like ourselves…
In the past the Buddha established expedients; one was called ‘rebirth in the Pure Land,’ another ‘seeing into one’s own Buddha-nature.’ How can these be two different things! Zen people who have not penetrated to this understanding look at a Pure Land practitioner and think that he is a stupid and evil common person who knows nothing about the Great Matter of seeing into one’s own Buddha-nature.
If enlightenment is the abolishment of craving, how can we attain it by craving it? If enlightenment is the realization of non-self, how do we attain it through self-effort alone?In reciting the name of Amida Buddha, we are safely and effortlessly reborn into the Pure Land, the realm of Nirvana.
When the Buddha passed away into final Nirvana, he transcended the limitations of existence and non-existence. Shinran described rebirth into the Pure Land as the birth of non-birth, just as the Buddha described Nirvana as the unborn.
Any corporeal aspects [such as the marks of the Buddha] that are visible are magic-like products of Suchness [Ultimate Truth] manifested in accordance with the mentality of men in defilement. It is not, however, that these corporeal aspects which result from the suprarational functions of wisdom are of the nature of nonemptiness [i.e., substantial]; for wisdom has no aspects that can be perceived.