One more post before going to bed and embarking on a week of gatherings and partings in Boston.
I've been meaning to share an excerpt from Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. His depiction of the Pure Land resonates uncannily with my experience of initial formation in general, and it describes my hopes for life in the novitiate in the particular.
Is Francis of Assisi a bodhisattva, and is Santa Ynez, Calif., a Pure Land? Let others judge:
I became a monk at the age of sixteen in the tradition of Zen, but we also practiced Pure Land Buddhism in our temple. Pure Land Buddhism, which is very popular throughout East Asia, teaches people that if they practice well now, they will be reborn in the Western Paradise of the Buddha Amida, the Land of Wondrous Joy of the Buddha Aksobhya, or the Heaven of Gratitude of the Buddha Maitreya. A Pure Land is a land, perhaps in space and time, perhaps in our consciousness, where violence, hatred, craving, and discrimination have been reduced to a minimum because many people are practicing understanding and loving-kindness under the guidance of a Buddha and several bodhisattvas. Every practitioner of Buddha's way is, sooner or later, motivated by the desire to set up a Pure Land where he or she and share his or her joy, happiness, and practice with others. I myself have tried several times to set up a small Pure Land to share the practice of joy and peace with friends and students. In Vietnam it was Phuong Boi in the central highlands, and in France it is our Plum Village practice center. An ashram, such as the Community of the Arch in France, is also a Pure Land. A Great Enlightened Being should be able to establish a great Pure Land. Others of us make the effort to begin a mini-Pure Land. This is only a natural tendency to share happiness.
A Pure Land is an ideal place for you to go to practice until you get fully enlightened. Many people in Asia practice recollection of the Buddha (Buddhanusmrti), reflecting on the qualities of the Buddha -- visualizing him or invoking his name -- in order to be reborn in his Pure Land. During the time of practice, they dwell in a kind of refuge in that Buddha. They are close to him, and they also water the seed of Buddhahood in themselves. But Pure Lands are impermanent. In Christianity, the Kingdom of God is where you will go for eternity. But in Buddhism, the pure land is a kind of university where you practice with a teacher for a while, graduate, and then come back here to continue. Eventually, you discover that the Pure Land is in your own heart, that you do not need to go to a faraway place. You can set up your own mini-Pure Land, a Sangha of practice, right here, right now. But many people need to go away before they realize they do not have to go anywhere.