3. The Three Pure Land Sutras

The “Three Pure Land Sutras” (Jodo Sambukyo) are:

  • Muryoju-kyo (Sutra on (the Buddha of) Immeasurable Life, also referred to as Daikyo, Larger Sutra), in two volumes.
  • Kanmuryoju-kyo (Sutra on Meditation on (the Buddha of) Immeasurable Life, also referred to as Kangyo, Meditation Sutra), in one volume.
  • Amida-kyo (Sutra on Amida (Buddha); also referred to as Shokyo, Smaller Sutra, and Amida Sutra), in one volume.

The selection of these sutras was made by Master Honen.

The Venerable Master interpreted these “Three Pure Land Sutras” in a very individualistic way. This interpretation, as previously explained, can be considered to be in response to criticisms that Jokei and Koben made to Master Honen’s position. In other words, in Article Six of the “Kofuku Temple Petition for Censure,” Jokei made the “three meritorious acts” (sanpuku) described in the Meditation Sutra the basis for his assertion that “birth in the Pure Land through various practices” (shogyo ojo) is advocated even in the “Three Pure Land Sutras.”

In his Zaijarin (Correcting Errors), Koben criticized Master Honen because in his Senjaku-shu, Master Honen refuted the “practice of visualizing the Buddha” (kan-butsu-gyo) and stated that those who take pleasure in “visualizing the Buddha” and do not “recite the Buddha’s name” of Namo Amida Butsu, turn their back on Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, and disagree with Shakyamuni Buddha’s intent. Koben also pointed out that the title of the sutrawas, “Sutra on Meditation on (the Buddha of) Immeasurable Life,” and not “Sutra on Reciting (the Name of the Buddha of) Immeasurable Life.” That being the case, he argued, it must differ from Amida’s Primal Vow, or that Shakyamuni, while discussing Amida’s Primal Vow, was in error about it.

As Jokei and Koben point out, the Meditation Sutra does recommend practices such as the “three contemplations” (sangan), the “three meritorious acts” (sanpuku), and “meditating on the Buddha” (kanbutsu), so their criticisms are not without merit.

The explanation that shows their interpretation is not faithful to Master Honen’s understanding is referred to as “revealing the (truth) in the three sutras, implicitly and explicitly” (sangyo onkenjaku). Master Honen’s position is that the Larger Sutra teaches the truth just as it is, and based on the intent of the 18th Vow, is the sacred work that explains the “Nembutsu of ‘Buddha-centered power’” (tariki nembutsu). It does not have an “implicit” or “explicit” position.