Pure Lands Part 2: Mantra and Pure Lands

Mantra and Pure Lands

[Read part one of this feature here]

By accessing the name or mantra , you access the heart of the mandala and then you enter that mandala or sub-mandala of the Mandala of Awakening…

How can reciting a name or reciting a mantra link us to a being such as Amitabha or Guru Rinpoche or Avalokiteshvara, or whatever Buddha we’re talking about, whether we call it a Yidam or Bodhisattva or Buddha? This relates to what a person, a mantra or a name is.  I think you’d have to look for the answer in the teachings on the interpenetration of all beings.

All beings interpenetrate and so they’re all present and can be called upon – especially in the the case of a powerful being, such as a Bodhisattva. Every being is a mandala or a sub-mandala of the ultimate mandala of our Buddha Nature that we all have in common. Each person has their unique pattern of connections within that to other beings and therefore a particular power to help those beings. So when you say the name of some particular being or person, you connect to their mandala because you’re interpenetrating with it already. 

So saying their name, it’s as if we are invoking them and then recognising that they have a power to connect to you. If it’s an Enlightened Being, they have the power to connect you to your own Awakening, the Mandala of Awakening. You could call it the ‘Samadhi of Awakening’.  The Pure Lands are a special kind if samadhis created by Awakened beings for other beings to enter.  So they are actually a special kind of shamatha and vipassana.

Each person or mandala a kind of samadhi that you can enter. You can enter into another person’s world and in the same way you can enter into the samadhi of the Buddhas.  A particular Buddha manifests in a certain way perhaps for historical or cultural reasons because of real connections with a particular time and place – in other words they conform to a particular mandala.  If you invoke that particular form, mantra and,or name, you can have quite quick access to that samadhi because actually it already interpenetrates all beings out of compassion.

So we can kind of relax into having confidence in that, even if we don’t visualise it or we don’t even say the mantra. If we have some real connection with it, say through a name, a lineage, and/or a teacher who has a connection with a lineage or a mandala of people who have a connection with that lineage, somehow we can link into that whole mandala and access it.

That’s why at certain times and places, certain practices become popular. For example at one time, Akshobya’s pure land was very popular.  In Milarepa’s songs, in the departure song, he says ‘May we meet in True Joy’s Pure Domain.’ That’s the name of Akshobya’s Pure Land. In more recent centuries, Tibetans have focussed much more on Amitabha’s pure land, because they’ve got such a strong connection with it.  They give a lot of weight to the fact that Amitabha said that his pure land was easier to get to than any others.  Of course if you believe that and if you come from a society which really values Amitabha, it’s probably true. But on the other hand, if you had other connections at another time and place, another pure land might be easier. They also say that Guru Rinpoche’s pure land is very easy to get to. It’s called Zangokpalri – the Copper Coloured Mountain – and you can get anywhere you want from there.

What all this really mean is rather esoteric. I wouldn’t like to claim that I knew what these statements mean about one Pure Land is easier to get to than another.  I go back to what I said originally, that it depends on what your own feeling of connection is. That’s the main thing to go by.

Mantra is the essence of a particular person or gateway to awakening expressed in a sound. To our thinking mind, a mantra is something that happens in time. It’s got a beginning and an end. But when you analyse it you can’t find a beginning and an end because actually the mantra is something much more profound than something you can know from outside it.

You become the mantra and the mantra is Buddha jnana itself. So that’s how Shakyamuni became enlightened by his mantra . His mantra continues and pervades all beings and if we recite it we can link in and as we link in, we link into the enlightenment of Shakyamuni himself. But if you break that sound down with the analytical thinking mind, the mantra disappears into ungraspable emptiness. Yet it manifests all- of- a-piece with the heart and mind of the Buddha. 

So for example when in the Shakyamuni puja, it says that by means of this mantra, Shakyamuni himself became enlightened, you could think, ‘Well surely if it’s Shakyamuni’s mantra, it emerged from him. How could his enlightenment have emerged from that?’ You have to think of it as not really being in time or space. It’s the same with all the other mantras. There’s something more profound than time and space in the way we usually think of them with our dualistic thinking. Real time and space cannot be broken down by conceptual analysis like that.

The Indian tradition goes into great detail about these subtleties of how the sound emerges from the Dharmakaya and the different ways in which sound manifests at different stages in the process and how it gets subtler as your awareness or attention becomes more subtle and profound and powerful.

So there’s a lot going on in that one statement about the mantra. If you say the mantra or if you say the name, it seems that the name and the mantra are pretty much synonymous. Often the mantra is  made up of a word like ‘om’ – the source of everything and then the name of a Buddha such as Amitabha and then ‘hum’,  the essence of all the power of that particular Buddha.

So ‘Om Milarepa hum’ or something like that would be a typical way that a mantra would be formulated. By accessing the name or mantra , you access the heart of the mandala and then you enter that mandala or sub-mandala of the Mandala of Awakening and it takes you straight to Awakening. So that would be another way of expressing what a pure land is.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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