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Lions Roar : May 2015
BIBLIOTHEQUEDESARTSDECORATIFS,PARIS,FRANCE/ARCHIVESCHARMET/BRIDGEMANIMAGES phenomena are purely the prod- uct of external causes. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, the entire uni- verse is present in a single flower, except for one thing—a self. There are some traditional con- templations you can do to inves- tigate this. Choose any object, say a chair, and see if you can find the one essential thing that makes it a chair. You can do the same thing with concepts them- selves: is there an independent thing called “good,” or does its existence depend on “bad”? Another view of emptiness is that what things are empty of is our projections on them, from “chair” and “me” all the way up to “existence” and “nonexistence.” In the end, of course, emptiness has to go beyond intellectual understanding to direct experience. As the Tibetan yogi Milarepa sang, “Emptiness no longer intel- lect’s realm, what relief!” The Heart Sutra says, “When there is no obscuration of mind”—when we are no longer confused by our external projections and experience the wisdom of emptiness—“there is no fear.” That is why empti- ness is so important—it is the antidote to suffering. I can’t seem to escape from external noise when meditating. What should I do? We’re usually counseled to find a quiet nook in which to do our meditation, especially when starting out, so that we can focus on the task at hand. Assuming that you can’t sniff out such a haven, there’s really only one thing you can do: sit with the noise. After all, get- ting comfortable with “what is”isabigpartoftheworkwe do while meditating, and that includes traffic noise and kids playing. Granted, hearing your neighbor’s TV or loud music is good cause to keep looking for a personal sit- ting sanctuary, because electronic noise is particularly hard to work with. But one Buddhist group we know of met every morning for weeks while a work- crew, complete with jackhammer, was loudly demolishing things just outside their zendo. Yes, there was some frustration among the sitters. But they also shared some good laughs—and learned to keep up their sitting through less- than-ideal, even bone-rattling circumstances. ♦ WHO? WHAT? WHERE? PURE LAND WHEN BEINGS AWAKEN to buddhahood, their realization affects the environment around them. In Mahayana Buddhism, this idea was extended to assert that buddhas exist in a purified sphere of realization that reflects their blissful, enlightened perception of reality. Free of all ignorance, aggression, and attachment, this environment is called a pure land or buddha-realm. All buddhas have such realms, and over time, Buddhists came to seek access to them. It was taught that in this pure, enlightened reality, one could meet with awak- ened teachers, practice the dharma, and escape from the suffering round of samsaric rebirth. Ideas and practices related to purified buddha-realms exist in every form of Mahayana and Vajrayana Bud- dhism. In Theravada Buddhism, the heavenly realm of Metteya Bodhisatta plays a functionally equivalent role. In Central and East Asia, the pure land of Amitabha Bud- dha is the most important. It is believed to be superior to other buddha-realms, and practices designed to enter it (either in this life or at the point of death) are extremely popular. Different sects understand it as nirvana, as a place, or as a state of mind. There are entire schools of Buddhism centered on Amitabha and his realm. The Chinese characters for this realm can be translated as “pure” and “land,” and it is from this that the term “Pure Land” reached English. Technically, all buddha-realms are pure lands, but the term Pure Land refers to Amitabha’s realm unless otherwise specified. —Jeff Wilson JEFF WILSON is an associate professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College in Waterloo, Ontario. Tell us what you’d like to know about Buddhism and meditation at