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The So-Called Marks or Signs of Being

Site-Wide Activity Forums Shrine Room Questions for Dharmavidya: Questions in the Sand The So-Called Marks or Signs of Being


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      QUESTION: I am new to Pure Land Buddhism and would be grateful for information and references on the place within those traditions of The Three (or Four) Marks of Buddhism:

      Impermanence (anicca)
      Suffering (dukkha)
      No-self (anattā)
      Liberation (nirvāṇa)

      SHORT ANSWER: I’m not aware of a distinctively Pureland treatment in the tradition, but I can offer one.

      LONG ANSWER: I think it is a mistake to take the original three, anitya, anatma and dukkha as equivalents. I’m using the Sanskrit forms here. The original text says

      sarva samskara anitya
      sarva samskara dukkha
      sarva dharma anatma

      Now it must be apparent that there is an intended contrast between the first two sentences and the third one. All samskaras are impermanent and are dukkha, but dharmas are anatma. This is not, therefore, a list of things to be taken as all descriptive of the same thing. In fact, samskaras are readily identified in the Buddha’s teaching as a sourse of trouble and Dharma as a source of salvation. So, I submit, the virtually universal normal interpretation is wrong.

      What are samskaras? D.T.Suzuki translates the words a “confection”, most other commentators as “mental formation” or something similar. Confection is closest etymologically. They are the things we cook up in our head, the stories we tell ourselves, the complexes of our mind. What is Dharma? Dharma is the truth, what is fundamentally so. I suggest that this text tells us that the stories we tell ourselves – which are redolent with self reference – are ephemeral and cause trouble and that the truth has nothing to do with self.

      Liberation and nirvana are the result of deeply realising this and having faith in it.

      Is there anything Pureland about this interpretation? Pureland is, in many ways, a very practical application of the non-self teaching. All Dharma is non-self makes sense. Different Buddhist schools try to bring us to it by different routes, Pureland simply by having us accept hat salvation is not self-generated, but is an Other Power. This statement of Buddhist central doctrine is wholly Other Power in its main import.

      By Dharmavidya, January 19th 2016.
      Originally posted on La Ville au Roi :: here

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