Thursday, October 21, 2010

Something I Never Knew about East Asian Buddhism

Back in the Pleistocene, I worked as a gopher for a resort hotel (of sorts) at Bethlehem New Hampshire, called the London House.  It doesn't seem to be there any longer and I think I know why.  Every day about 3:30pm, the boss lady would pack me into the car and we'd drive down to the train station at Littleton to wait for the New York train.  I'd clip my bow tie onto my white shirt and walk the platform saying "LONdon House.  London HOUSE.  LONDON HOUSE."  and so forth, as if to recruit new customers from among the new arrivals.

The trouble is, we never had any.  I can't remember once in the time that I stayed there--what, three weeks?--that we actually recruited a customer off our afternoon station runs (perhaps needless to say, there were other hotels that did better). We didn't have many other customers, either: throughout my brief career, the house was all but empty.  Since I was supposed to be living on tips, I finally got the message and decamped for another and busier hotel.

I hadn't thought of that place in years until this afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where I visited the Khubilai Kahn show.  It's entertaining and instructive in its own right but one item that particularly caught my attention was the blurb for a portrait of "Buddha Amitabha Descending from His Pure Land."

Wait a minute, "his?"   You mean there is more than one?  Turns out yes:
The image in this painting shows the Buddha Amitabha descending form his Pure Land to welcome the soul of a recently deceased individual into his paradisiacal abode.  Amitabha is one of several Buddhas who create and maintain such realms.
  So, there is more than one Pure Land--competitors, just like hotels?  Do they all  have to pile into their jitneys and drive down to the train station every day, clip on their bowties and shout "Ami-TABHA" and such like?  And is there some poor sect that never gets any customers and has to go home every day empty?

Seems kind of sad to me, a heaven with no takers.  At least in our day, we used to get to drive down to Echo Lake at night and go skinny dipping.   I hope they have that kind of fun in the Pure Land.

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