Looking for the Pure Land: A Visit to Xuanzhong Monastery
According to the major sutras of Pure Land Buddhism, the Larger Sukhavativyuha and the Smaller Sukhavativyuha, Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land (Skt. Sukhavati) lies beyond 10 billion Buddha-lands west of our World of Endurance. Having been fully developed from the mid-6th to the early 9th centuries, the belief in rebirth in such a place and the recitation of Amitabha’s name to achieve this goal became central to Pure Land Buddhism, serving as an expedient for the meditative path to enlightenment or even as a method of equal importance since the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). To better understand the nature of the Pure Land and how it is related to the world in which we sentient beings live, I visited one of the birthplaces of Pure Land Buddhism—Xuanzhong Monastery (玄中寺) in Jiaocheng County, Shanxi Province, China.
Since its establishment in 472, Xuanzhong Monastery has stood on the same site in the Shibi Mountains, remote and secluded. Three patriarchs of the Pure Land school, Tan Luan (曇鸞, 476–542), Dao Chuo (道綽, 562–645), and Shan Dao (善導, 613–81), resided and spread the teachings there. For this reason, Xuanzhong Monastery received continuous imperial patronage during the Tang dynasty (618–907). When Kublai Khan ruled China, he also granted the monastery imperial protection. Khan’s edict, inscribed in stone in both Chinese and the ‘Phags-pa script,* has been well preserved in the monastery’s stele collection. Today, Xuanzhong Monastery is lauded as an ancestral court by Pure Land Buddhists in China, as well as by followers of Jodo Shu and Jodo Shinshu—two Pure Land sects in Japan.
Xuanzhong Monastery. Photo by Yang Liquan
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