Place or No-Place?
Q: I once saw this quote: “The Pure Land is not a place, but a state of mind. It is the foundation of enlightenment and enlightenment itself.” It really confuses me, as it seems to be in contradiction with the Amitabha Sutras.
A: The Pure Land is both a literal realm and the realm of Purified Mind. Remember that both these realms interpenetrate: when pure mind is present the literal realm manifests, the literal realm is a product of purified mind, and ultimately there is no difference between the two. As the Hua-Yen school of Buddhism would put it, the world of events is the manifestation of the realm of principle, and the realm of principle is the testimony of the manifested realm of events. Each depends upon the other.
The beauty of the Pure Land path is that one may regard the Pure Land as a literal place or as a state of mind; it all leads to the same place anyway. If one's devotion to the world-system which is the Pure Land causes one to attain a high degree of enlightenment, then the Pure Land will be seen as a manifestation of the Enlightened Mind. If we can manifest this state of mind in our everyday life, then everything around us is the Pure Land; is that not a place?
I rather doubt Shakyamuni was selling us a bill of goods when he elaborately described this "place" which is Sukhavati. Just remember that all phenomena, places included, stem from the mind; but that does not mean that the place itself doesn't exist. When the phrase, "Form is exactly Emptiness, Emptiness exactly Form" is used in the Heart Sutra it is expressing two truths: the Profundity of Two Truths Being the Same Entity and the Profundity of Two Truths Being Nominally Distinct. In this particular case, it means that there is no difference between the literal realm of rebirth and Purified Mind itself, but they are still two entities, albeit nominal ones.