In starting this thread, I have no interest in convincing others to be Pure Land Buddhists. The Buddha taught 84,000 paths to enlightenment, and Theravada is legitimately one of those paths. Instead, I would like to show how we're not so different from each other.
It makes me happy to focus on the commonalities we share. Please, then, let me explain how Pure Land Buddhism might relate to the Pali canon.
First of all, what is the Pure Land? Shinran Shonin, along with the Pure Land masters who came before him, defined the Pure Land as the realm of Nirvana, and the vivid descriptions in the Pure Land scriptures, including jeweled trees and clear ponds, as expedient means for explaining a reality beyond our understanding.
In the Pali scriptures, the Buddha almost always described Nirvana in negative terms, such as unborn, unconditioned, cessation of suffering, etc. Because Nirvana is so utterly beyond what human words can describe, the Buddha usually explained Nirvana by what it is not. The Pure Land, then, is an expedient device for ordinary people to think of Nirvana in positive terms, terms which are easier to imagine and conceptualize.
In the Pali scriptures, the Buddha describes Nirvana or Nibbana as a realm beyond our everyday experience:
In his understanding that the Pure Land is really the formless realm of Nirvana, Shinran explained rebirth into the Pure Land as "the birth of non-birth," much like how the Buddha described Nirvana as "the unborn."The Buddha also refers to Nibbana as an 'ayatana'. This means realm, plane or sphere. It is a sphere where there is nothing at all that correspond to our mundane experience, and therefore it has to be described by way of negations as the negation of all the limited and determinate qualities of conditioned things.
The Buddha also refers to Nibbana as a, 'Dhatu' an element, the 'deathless element'. He compares the element of Nibbana to an ocean. He says that just as the great ocean remains at the same level no matter how much water pours into it from the rivers, without increase or decrease, so the Nibbana element remains the same, no matter whether many or few people attain Nibbana.
The next question we can now ask is, who is Amida or Amitabha, the object of devotion in Pure Land Buddhism? In a conventional sense, Amida is a literal Buddha from billions of Buddha-lands away, who attained Buddhahood ten kalpas ago. We can relate this to what the Buddha teaches in the Pali canon, because it's in the Pali scriptures where he originally spoke of intelligent life in other world systems, along with Buddhas who came before him. Given this context, a Buddha from another world system is not so far-fetched.
On a deeper or more esoteric level, Amida is more than a literal Buddha. Shinran Shonin and the Pure Land masters often described Amida as Dharma-body itself, the Buddha-nature in all things and beings, the original enlightenment which compassionately leads all beings to enlightenment. Amida is, in this sense, Nirvana personified:
The last thing I'd like to share in relating Pure Land Buddhism to the Pali canon is the meaning behind the Nembutsu, the primary practice of Pure Land Buddhism. The original meaning of the word Nembutsu or Nianfo is "mindfulness of the Buddha," a practice which falls under right mindfulness and right concentration in the Eight-Fold Path. Mindfulness of the Buddha is a practice which goes back to the Pali canon, though we might be mindful of the Buddha under a different name.Supreme Buddha is formless, and because of being formless is called jinen. Buddha, when appearing with form, is not called supreme nirvana. In order to make it known that supreme Buddha is formless, the name Amida Buddha is expressly used; so I have been taught. Amida Buddha fulfills the purpose of making us know the significance of jinen.
http://shinranworks.com/hymns-in-japane ... inen-honi/
While Theravada Buddhists practice mindfulness of Shakyamuni Buddha in order to cultivate his qualities within themselves, Pure Land Buddhists recite Amida's name in order to cultivate the Amida-nature within. Because of the Mahayana doctrine of the interpenetration of all phenomena, it's often been taught by Pure Land masters that our own Buddha-nature is the same as Amida's, and in reciting Amida's name, we awaken to our Amida-self, the Buddha-nature within.
Entrusting in the name of Amida, who is Nirvana personified, we are led to the realm of Nirvana. This is from the Tibetan Book of the Dead:
I am sorry if I am not explaining this very well, and I'm happy to offer clarifications. My only intention is to show possible commonalities between the Theravada school and the Pure Land school of Buddhism.Remember the clear light, the pure clear white light from which everything in the universe comes, to which everything in the universe returns; the original nature of your own mind. The natural state of the universe unmanifest. Let go into the clear light, trust it, merge with it. It is your own true nature, it is home...
Thine own consciousness, shining, void, and inseparable from the Great Body of Radiance, hath no birth, nor death, and is the Immutable Light-Buddha Amitabha.