Close But No Cigar: Life In The Border Land

Here’s a continuation of my conversation with Jason that began here. As it unfolds, we’re talking about the Borderland adjacent to the Pure Land (as Shakyamuni Buddha describes it in the Larger Sutra), and some questions about Dharmakara’s 48 Vows.

As you read it, please note: you don’t need to understand ANY of this detail to become a person who is grasped by Amida Buddha. You simply need to listen deeply, and entrust your karmic destiny entirely to him - his person, his work, his primal vow.

He will do EVERYTHING to save you from the terrible wheel of birth and death, and bring you to Buddhahood at last in his Pure Land.

Frankly, as non-Buddhas, none of us REALLY understand the depth of what it all means.

But we will.

Namu Amida Butsu,

Paul R.



Thanks for the interesting perspective. Another aspect of the question that I’ve often wondered about is this:

Could the 35th Vow–dealing as it does with the “conceivable” issues of sex and gender–be taken as one facet of the transformed land to which practicers of self-power shinjin must first repair?

Could it be that, those of the truly settled state, assured as they are of instantaneous buddhahood at the moment of death, inconceivably transcend (as you pointed out) any karmic limitations that allow for such distinctions as male/female? (Correct me if I’m wrong, but is not a fully enlightened Buddha capable of manifesting any form s/he chooses?)

Another reading of that vow which, I confess, the scholarly side of my personality finds absolutely delicious (though it probably goes too far afield of Shinran’s teaching) is this:

Just as Honen and Shinran re-interpreted the exclusion clause of the 18th Vow as an “inclusion clause,” could the same “identity of opposites” logic be applied to the 35th Vow–that women will indeed be welcomed to the Pure Land as women? In this way, the vow comes to represent male monk Dharmakara’s transcending of his own, unenlightened sexist attitudes.

(I’ve heard the same logic applied to the 3rd Vow as well–that his wish for all to be the color of pure gold represents Dharmakara’s transcending of his own racism.)

Pure speculation, of course. It’s all very interesting, but I suppose the best us non-buddhas can do is to leave the whole question in the able hands of Amida, trusting that the Inconceivability that awaits us is so far beyond our limited human distinctions that we will one day enjoy a great cosmic laugh over the whole thing.

Best, Jason


Hi Jason -

For me, a lot of these questions are simply unanswerable right now. But I’ll try to respond to several threads you raise.

Considering those who do self-power praxis - particularly self-power nembutsu:

It seems to me that sooner or later there is going to be a place and time where the hope of awakening - or entering fully into the Pure Land - will fail for such a person.

He (or she) will have sense of hunger, but not being able to eat; of thirst, but not being able to drink.

Massive yearning will arise, in the midst of great frustration.

Why? Because, in this age of MAPPO, the age of dharma decline, self-power will simply fail him…as indeed it must fail us all.

At that point, the person will be STUCK - sitting in the “womb palace” Shakyamuni describes - the place of seeing the Pure Land from afar, but being unable to leave a gilded cage in which he is trapped - the borderland of “close but no cigar” (to use a modern metaphor).

For that one, still depending subtly on self-power, he will finally come to the exact place you have come to, over the last six weeks of your life: the deep and abiding recognition that faith in himself and his power to self-cultivate is just as powerless as faith in the abstract.

In that moment, he will simply see - with the starkest clarity - the reality of his situation.

Of course, even such clear sight is the gift of Amida Buddha…given to any and all us - as soon as we are ready to listen deeply to this dharma of complete dependence on Amida Buddha’s OTHER power, and receive it.

So, as with all things karmic, the particulars of the process will vary, depending on where a person is coming from, and has gotten to…at the point in time when SHINJIN - true entrusting - becomes his only reality.

But - for me the core of Shinran’s True Teaching is this: this moment of SHINJIN, whenever it occurs, to whomever it occurs, in whatever state of existence, is what manifests the opening of the door. That is the one thing I really do understand as a non-Buddha, as mysterious as it is…and thus try to share, to the best of my ability.

Obviously I can only talk about these other things as a child. When we are actually IN the Pure Land, and are free from our current blindness, we will understand them and speak them with the clarity that only a Buddha has.


Regarding your question about possible “flaws” in Dharmakara’s Vows:

As for the idea that Amida Buddha, in his causal stage as Bodhisattva Dharmakara, made vows that reflect the kind of gross stupidity that you and I and the rest of the human race are still so subject to…I can’t buy that one.

Why? Because Shakyamuni Buddha describes in detail the incalculable time and effort Bodhisattva Dharmakara expended, over many births, visiting endless Buddha-lands, learning exactly what was good and bad about each and every one - BEFORE he made his vows.

So my take is that by the time Dharmakara made his vows, they were made perfectly - so perfectly that in the fulfillment of them he became the greatest of all the millions upon millions of Buddhas in the multi-verse.

Do I understand the full import, implication and instantiation of these 48 vows made and fulfilled by Amida - greatest of all the Buddhas? Of course not. How could I, really - in my current state as a foolish being of blind passion, still snared in a net of ignorance and delusion?


Regarding your question about gender manifestation for Buddhas:

To the extent that Buddhas might manifest, in their reward bodies, some forms that we might consider gender, it seems clear to me that such forms would necessarily be ideal, free of the karmic shadows that characterize BOTH male and female gender manifestions here in this saha world.

The overriding impression I get from the impressionistic description Shakyamuni Buddha gives us in the Larger Sutra is this: There simply is no stain, no impurity, no darkness at all in that pure land, neither in the landscape nor any of the inhabitants: Buddhas or Bodhisattvas or Shravakas…or any other kinds of beings.

But I’m not scholar (grin). What do I know, anyway? I’m with you about waiting for the cosmic laugh.

And honestly, I think even the best scholars (like Eiken Kobai) would say that this whole subject is beyond ALL of us at this time. He waits right along with us, with the same simple faith as you and I.



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