The Pure Light
by Zuio H. Inagaki
The Pure Light is incomparable;
Once the Light illumines us,
All our karmic defilements are removed.
Take refuge in the Ultimate Haven. (Jodo Wasan 5)
Amida's Light is here described as 'pure'. As for several other key words in the Shin teaching, the adjective 'pure' has profound significance. The Land we aspire to be born in is popularly known as the Pure Land, and Amida himself is often described as 'pure'. In one of the oldest Chinese translations of the Larger Sutra, his name appears as the 'Immeasurably Pure Buddha', and one of the names with which Nagarjuna - the First Master - addressed Amida was the 'Pure Person'. Not only are Amida and His Land pure, but his Name also contains pure merit, which is transferred to us through it and becomes the potent karmic energy to take us to the Pure Land. The state of mind that receives the Name and trusts Amida's saving power is likewise pure. Indeed the absolute faith (shinjin) is called 'pure mind', 'pure aspiration', and so on.
In the Discourse on the Pure Land, Vasubandhu distinguishes seventeen glorious aspects of the Pure Land, of which the first is purity. T'an-luan explains that purity is the general aspect of this Land and that the nature of purity is unalterable and cannot be tainted by anything in the world. He further distinguishes two kinds of merit, true and untrue. 'Untrue Merit' is that which is acquired by morally good deeds and brings about a happy state of existence. It is not, however, in agreement with the ultimate reality and truth; hence it is described as 'inverted' and 'false'. 'True merit' is produced from a Bodhisattva's wisdom and pure karma and is eventually manifested as a Buddha's glorious body and a Buddha--land. Such merit is perfectly in agreement with ultimate reality and is characterized by purity. It is not inverted because it agrees with the two levels of truth, relative and absolute; nor is it false, because it is capable of leading sentient beings to the realm of purity.
Elsewhere T'an-luan explains that the reason why Amida's Land is pure is that it has arisen from the pure karma of the Bodhisattva Dharmakara who realized insight into the non-arising of all things. In other words, he realized the emptiness of all existing things.
In the Mahayana usage of the term, 'pure' has two implications: firstly, it is devoid of evil passions and attachments and is free of karmic defilements originating from ignorance, and secondly, it is capable of purifying those passions and the defiling elements of other beings.
The former is the ontological meaning and the latter is the soteriological. All this indicates that the Pure Land is not simply pure in its essential nature, but, more importantly, it has the power to purify both sentient and non-sentient existences.
When we encounter Amida's Pure Light, all our karmic bonds and impurities are removed, leaving in us pure and serene entrusting hearts. Thus, with the darkness of ignorance dissipated once and for all, we find ourselves completely reborn as spiritually awakened ones. Amida, as the Pure Person possessed of the boundless power of purifying beings, is assuredly our Ultimate Refuge to whom we should dedicate our sincere devotion.