Comments on the 17th Chapter of TANNISHO:

Birth in the Borderland of the Pure Land

“On the assertion that a person born in the borderland will in the end fall into hell.

"In what authoritative passage do we find such a statement? It is deplorable that this is being maintained by people who pretend to be scholars. How are they reading the sutras, treaties, and other sacred writings? I was taught that practicers who lack shinjin are born in the borderland because of their doubt concerning the Primal Vow, and that, after the evil of doubt has been expiated, they realize enlightenment in the fulfilled land.

"Since practicers of shinjin are few, many are guided to the transformed land. To declare, despite this, that birth there will ultimately end in vain would be to accuse Shakyamuni of lying."

--Tannisho, Chapter 17


My comments:

Everything related with the Pure Land is the creation of Amida Buddha. It comes from his Enlightened activity and is the manifestation of it.

All the manifestations of Amida Buddha, especially his true Pure Land and the borderland of his Pure Land, are real and effective in helping sentient beings to achieve supreme Buddhahood.

Amida Buddha realized that it is easier for unenlightened sentient beings to have aspiration for birth in his perfect Pure Land upon hearing about its existence. So he created this place and made it in such a way so that both people who completely entrust in him and also those who cannot completely entrust, be born there and escape once and for all from samsara.

Therefore there is a difference between these two categories of people:
(1) Those who completely entrust in Amida Buddha and let go of any clinging to any form of reliance on their personal power become themselves Buddhas in the very moment when they are born in the Pure Land, and
(2) those who entrust in Amida but still cling to some kind of personal power do not become immediately Buddhas when they are born in the Pure Land. People in this last category are in fact born in the so called borderland of the Pure Land . They do not attain the state of Buddhahood, but they are free once and for all from the suffering of birth and death in Samsara. They are safe, but still they are not liberated. In the same time, being in the special environment of this borderland of the Pure Land they have the opportunity to overcome their doubts and entrust completely in Amida Buddha.

Master Shan-tao said: “those born in the fulfilled Pure Land are extremely few; those born in the transformed Pure Land are many.”

This is because there are very few who completely renounce the reliance on their personal power and calculations and entrust 100% to Amida’s Power.

It is also taught in this chapter: “Since practicers of  SHINJIN are few, many are guided to the transformed land.” Transformed land and borderland are the same. Also there are many other names for the borderland, like “the realm of indolence and pride”, a term used by Shinran in his wasans: “…People devote themselves to saying the nembutsu in self-power; Hence they remain in the borderland or the realm of indolence and pride…” or “the city of doubt”, “the womb-palace”, etc.

This borderland of the Pure Land is also described like a luxurious prison “made of seven precious materials” where people who doubt the Power of Amida Buddha and recite nembutsu while relying on self power or are aspiring to be born in Amida’s Pure Land by relying on their personal merits and virtues are like princes who, because they committed offenses against the king, are imprisoned in a golden palace where they enjoy all pleasures but they are not able to see the king.

This comparison appears in the Larger Sutra:

“The Buddha said to Maitreya, "Consider the case of the noble cakravartin-king who possesses a prison embellished with the seven precious substances. It is adorned in manifold ways, furnished with a canopied bed, and hung with many silken banners. If young princes commit offenses against the king, they are imprisoned there….."

The Buddha said to Maitreya, "These sentient beings are precisely like that. Because they doubt the Buddha's wisdom, they are born in a womb-palace... If these sentient beings become aware of their past offenses and deeply repent, they desire to leave that place...”

To doubt the Buddha’s wisdom means to doubt that Amida created the perfect method for saving you and believing that there is still something you need to do or add to his enlightened activity in order to be born in his Pure Land. To doubt also means to doubt the Primal Vow of Amida in which is described the method and cause of direct birth into the fulfilled Pure Land – the total entrusting in Amida.

Amida Buddha has 48 Vows, among which the Eighteenth is called the Primal Vow. This Vow contains the direct cause of attaining complete Buddhahood in the moment of our birth in the Pure Land. Becoming a true Buddha, capable of benefiting sentient beings in the exact moment of attaining birth in the Pure Land is the consequence of receiving SHINJIN or complete faith in Amida Buddha during this present life, while to rely on Amida but entertaining doubts means to be born in the borderland of the Pure Land.

To deeply repent, means to realize how foolish the idea of adding something to the working of Amida is. Unfortunately, people who doubt Amida Buddha’s Power in the present life will have to expiate their doubts by realizing their stupidity in the borderland or this womb-like palace. Thus they will have the change of heart and receive SHINJIN in this place called the borderland of the Pure Land.

Then, in this chapter of Tannisho it is said, “after the evil of doubt has been expiated, they realize enlightenment in the fulfilled land.”

As we clearly saw in this chapter and in the quote I chose from the many passages one can find in the sutras about birth in the borderland, this place is not one from which one can fall back into the lower realms or the hells, but a place within the Pure Land where people who relied on Amida Buddha during their present life but couldn’t escape their doubts and were still clinging to their self power will stay until they overcome their doubts and completely entrust to Amida Buddha.

It is like an emigrant who was received in the country of Amida but he is still kept at the border region, not being allowed to enter the main continent and meet the president. In fact, there are his own doubts which obstruct him from entering the main continent because of his own clinging to himself, while the Power of Amida is that which caused him to be born in that border region.

Only the Enlightened Power of Amida Buddha is the one who makes possible even birth in the borderland of the Pure Land, not to mention the birth in the true Pure Land itself. Amida Buddha has such an Infinite Compassion and such good methods of saving sentient beings that he succeeds in offering salvation from samsara even to people who doubt and who don’t rely completely on his Power. He brings sentient beings safely out of samsara, both those who entrust completely and those who still have an incomplete trust, while the latter will stay for a while in the borderland until they overcome their doubts.

It is not the fault of Amida or some kind of punishment that some are born in the borderland, just that they are kept in that region by their own doubts. They are the ones who are keeping themselves out of the main continent of the Pure Land, while Amida carried them out of samsara once and for all.

It is very important to understand that the Pure Land in both its aspects, the border land and the true Pure Land, is not a realm within samsara, but a creation of the enlightened activity of Amida which is situated beyond the reach of birth and death. There is no retrogression or falling back from the borderland of the Pure Land into hell or any other samsaric realms because this place has nothing to do with samsara.

One who enters the borderland of the Pure Land is already in the safe embrace of Amida Buddha, just that he doesn’t completely entrust in Amida. But his journey in samsara is definitely over, and there is not a single word in the sutras and the sacred texts saying anything different.

Rev. Josho Adrian Cirlea

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Last modified: 22 April 2010.