Shinran understood the Pure Land to be the formless realm of Nirvana. This is why Shinran described rebirth into the Pure Land as “the birth of non-birth,” just as the Buddha described Nirvana as “the unborn.”
In the words of the larger Amitabha Sutra, “That Buddha-land, like the realm of unconditioned Nirvana, is pure and serene, resplendent and blissful.”
The name of the Pure Land itself, Sukhavati, means “ultimate bliss,” which is a positive description of Nirvana. (Usually, in other Buddhist texts, Nirvana is described in negative terms.)
If our future rebirth into the Pure Land is already assured through sincere trust in Amida Buddha, then everything we do in our Buddhist path, including reciting the Nembutsu, is in gratitude for what we’ve already received.
In Mahayana teaching, Dharma-body is the Ultimate Truth of all reality, yet it’s without name and form. Amida Buddha is therefore a skillful device (upaya) which makes the reality of Dharma-body knowable to us, foolish beings. In the words of Shinran, ‘The Nembutsu alone is true and real.’
If Dharma-body is in all things, that includes fecal matter as well. Why worry, then, if Amida is a literal Buddha?
In the image of Amida Buddha on the altar, and the recitation of his name, Namu-Amida-Butsu, we awaken to the outworking of Dharma-body in our daily lives, leading us to the Pure Land, the realm of Nirvana.
Pure Land Buddhism is the most widely practiced form of Buddhism in East Asia, especially since it provides lay people a safe and easy path to Buddhahood.
As a Pure Land Buddhist, I don’t worry about whether the Pure Land sutras are literally historical in a Western sense. Mahayana Buddhism understands its scriptures differently:
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/
Since the true nature of Dharma-body and Nirvana is beyond name and form, the Pure Land scriptures are a provisional teaching device, not the Ultimate Truth itself.
In reciting the name of Amida Buddha, our rebirth into the Pure Land, the realm of Nirvana, is assured. This assurance doesn’t depend on Amida as a literal historical Buddha.
Amida Buddha is a finger pointing to the moon of Dharma-body, the ultimate source of all Buddhahood, just as the Pure Land points to the formless realm of Nirvana.
The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka, as well as boulders and cave walls, made by the Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty during his reign from 272 to 231 BC.
These inscriptions are dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Pakistan and northern India, and represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism.
The edicts describe in detail the first wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship of one of the most powerful kings of Indian history. According to the edicts, the extent of Buddhist proselytism during this period reached as far as the Mediterranean, and many Buddhist monuments were created…
The inscriptions revolve around a few repetitive themes: Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism, the description of his efforts to spread Buddhism, his moral and religious precepts, and his social and animal welfare programs.
I visit a Buddhist temple about twice a month. In Japan, most Buddhists only visit temples on special occasions like holidays, weddings, and funerals. It’s common for Japanese Buddhists to have butsudans for home practice: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butsudan
While Jodo Shinshu is the largest sect in Japan, Shinran never intended on founding an official, distinct sect of Buddhism. In the words of Shinran, he never had a single disciple, since Amida Buddha was always the focus.
The only required Jodo Shinshu practice is recitation of the Nembutsu, in gratitude for our future rebirth into the Pure Land, the realm of Nirvana. Jodo Shinshu Buddhists first met in each other’s homes, rather than in temples.