Understanding Pure Land Sect (Part 3)
Why Sukhavati, and not other Pure Lands
There are many Pure Lands in the ten directions. Why is it that Buddha Sakyamuni specifically directed people to the Western Pure Land, i.e. Sukhavati and extolled the supremely wonderful conditions and environment of that Land alone?
The Amitabha Sutra states, “Sentient beings in that Land experience no suffering but only know every kind of joy; therefore, it is called Ultimate Bliss.”
The environment and conditions of the Western Pure Land are most exalted. That realm provides sentient beings with many more advantageous circumstances than other pure lands, which common beings in the Triple World cannot fully understand … Even on a general level, the gap between the auspicious environment and conditions of the Pure Land and the lowly environment and conditions of the Saha World is wide, such differences are so great that they cannot be fully described! However, in general, those differences can be summarized the next chapter.
For all the reasons, there are two main factors:
- The environment of the Western Pure Land is exalted, and can awaken the yearning of sentient beings to achieve rebirth.
- The conditions of the Western Pure Land are unfathomable and wonderful, and can help those who are reborn to progress easily and swiftly along the path of enlightenment.
Thus, although there are many Common Residence Pure Lands in the ten directions, only the Western Pure Land possesses all auspicious conditions in full. This is why sutras and commentaries point toward rebirth in the Western Land.
Why Amitabha Buddha, and not other Buddha’s names
Shakyamuni introduced Amitabha Buddha to his disciples and followers, and laid special stress on the Sukhavati. He emphasized that adoration of Amitabha Buddha is a shorter and easier way to cross over the sea of suffering, to end the cycle of birth and death and to reach the other shore of Buddhahood. He did not teach us to recite his own name ‘Shakyamuni’, but directed us to recite that of Amitabha Buddha, because it is more likely for us to achieve by that particular name. No founder of any other religions has directed the people to worship another instead of himself. Shakyamuni’s recommendation is obviously full of compassion, free from selfishness, and reliable.
There are numerous Buddhas in the ten directions. All right-minded sentient beings can draw near and study with them. Why has Amitabha Buddha been singled out among all Buddhas?
There are three reasons:
- Because Amitabha Buddha has made forty-eight profound, all-encompassing vows;
- Because sentient being in this world have great causes and conditions or affinities with Him;
- Because the teachings of Buddha Sakyamuni in the Saha World and Buddha Amitabha in the West are interrelated.
The Forty-eight Great Vows of Amitabha Buddha
In the Larger Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra, Bhikshu Dharmakara made forty-eight vows for the realization of his prospective Pure Land, and saying that, “May the World Honored One thus listen to me as to what my vows are, in regard to how, after I shall have attained the Buddhahood, my own Buddhaland shall thus be realized. “At present, Bhikshu Dharmasaka has become Amitabha Buddha for ten Kalpas, it means that his Buddhaland, where he is now preaching, has been realized. The forty-eight vows are summarized as follows. Please note that the 18th, 19th and 20th vows are fully described as they are the most important ones.
- In my country, there will be no three evil paths, i.e. hell, animal and ghost.
- In my country, no beings will fall into the three evil paths.
- In my country, the beings are gold in color.
- In my country, the beings are the same in appearance.
- They have the miraculous power to recollect the previous lives of themselves (Riddisakchatkriya).
- They have the Divine-eye (Divyatchakchus).
- They have the Divine-ear (Divyassrotra).
- They have the Intuitive-mind (Paratchittadjna).
- They have the Heavenly-foot (Purvanivasanu).
- They have no idea of selfishness or their own property, even their own bodies.
- They will be firm in Samadhi till they reach Nirvana.
- My light illumining everywhere is unlimited.
- My life is unlimited.
- All my pupils, after having become Pratyeka-Buddhas, continue to study and cultivate.
- In my country, the life of beings is eternal unless they choose to pass away.
- In my country, there is no evil or sinful existence, even its name is unknown.
- All Buddhas glorify the name of Amitabha Buddha.
- Provided I become a Buddha, if the beings of the ten quarters who after having heard my name, and thus awakened their highest faith and aspiration of re-birth in that country of mine, even they have recollected such a thought for ten times only, they are destined to be born there, (with the exception of those who have committed the five deadly sins (Anantarya), and have blasphemed the orthodox law (Dharma); otherwise may I not attain the enlightenment.
- Provided I become a Buddha, if the beings of ten quarters who have directed their thoughts towards the Bodhi and cultivated their stock of various merits with a fervent craving for re-birth in that country of mine, if at the moment of their death, should I not appear with an assembly of retinue before them, then may I not attain the enlightenment.
- Provided I become a Buddha, if the beings of ten quarters, after having heard my name always longing for that country of mine and cultivating various essential merits for the purpose of realizing their earnest wish to be born in my country, should their fulfillment be failed, then may I not attain the enlightenment.
- All beings in my country are endowed with the glorious thirty-two attributes ( Laksanani ).
- All Bodhisattvas who come to be born in my country are bound in one life only, and become Buddha-elect (Ekajatipratibuddhas)
- All Bodhisattvas in my country can offer and serve all Buddhas within a short moment.
- All appliances for the worship provided by the Bodhisattvas in my country should appear before the Buddhas to their satisfaction.
- All Bodhisattvas in my country can preach the law of wisdom in completion.
- All Bodhisattvas’ body is golden, like Narayana diamond, in my country.
- All heavenly beings in my country should be of supreme beauty, which can be perceived by divine-eyes.
- All Bodhisattvas in my country can perceive the boundless shining Bodhi-trees.
- All Bodhisattvas in my country possess the wisdom of eloquent oration in Dharma.
- All Bodhisattvas in my country have unlimited wisdom of oration.
- My country should be limpid and brilliant as to reflect the miniatures of all Buddha-worlds of ten quarters as one’s face is seen in a bright mirror.
- In my country, there are magnificent palaces towers, lakes and streams, blossoming trees, etc. compounded with jewels and with scent of perfumes.
- The body and mind of all beings in all Buddha-worlds to be gentle and peaceful when touched by my rays of light.
- Having heard my name, beings in all Buddha worlds will attain Ajatahsarvadharma (Endurance of Nirvana) and the Dharani.
- Having heard my name, those who dislike female lives can be incarnated into a masculine body in all other Buddha worlds.
- Having heard my name, all Bodhisattvas in all Buddha-worlds will continue their practices in next lives till the attainment of Buddhahood.
- Having heard my name, all Bodhisattvas and heavenly beings in all Buddha-worlds will worship Amitabha Buddha and be honored by gods and men.
- All heavenly beings in my country have clothes excellent to their satisfaction as quickly as a moment of a thought.
- All heavenly beings in my country enjoy happiness as great as that of the Asravakchava Bhikshu.
- All Bodhisattvas in my country can see the Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters and at once behold them from the jewel-trees.
- Having heard my name, all Bodhisattvas of other worlds have no diminution in the functional powers and complete sense-organs.
- Having heard my name, all Bodhisattvas of other countries should attain the pure Samadhi of emancipation (Suvibhaktavati) and serve all Buddhas forever by a moment of thought.
- Having heard my name, all Bodhisattvas of other countries will be incarnated as a member of noble family when he dies.
- Having heard my name, all Bodhisattvas of other countries will obtain a combination of full virtues and joyfully cultivate.
- Having heard my name, all Bodhisattvas of other countries will obtain the ‘Samantanugata’ (the highest Samadhi of Buddha recitation), and see all Buddhas constantly till they have obtained Buddhahood.
- All Bodhisattvas in my country can hear the preaching of the Dharma whenever they desire.
- Having heard my name, all Bodhisattvas of other countries should immediately reach the state of Avaivartika (i.e. non-retrogression).
- Having heard my name, all Bodhisattvas of other countries should reach the first, second and third degrees of Dharma Endurance immediately.
The Three Holy Ones in the West
Apart from Amitabha Buddha, there are two great Bodhisattvas in Suhkavati, namely Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta The three sages are known as the Three Holy Ones in the West or the Trinity in Western Paradise..
Avalokitesvara is a Sanskrit word for the Bodhisattva who hears the sounds of the world, as he rescues all beings by hearing their voices of suffering and cries for help. In Chinese, he is called Guan Shi Yin or Guan Yin Bodhisattva. As one of the Four Great Bodhisattva, he is the one with the greatest kindness and compassion/mercy, therefore known as God/Goddess of Mercy.
Avalokitesvara is one of the chief attendants of Amitabha Buddha, represented on his left, and being the future Buddha in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, i.e. Sukhavati after Amitabha Buddha. He uses to hold a vase with
Avalokitesvara can transform into many different forms in order to cross over the beings. Originally presented as a male, Avalokitesvara is usually presented as a female. In fact, such a great Bodhisattva can transform in any gender whenever and wherever necessary in order to have affinity with the sentient beings and salvage them.
There are numerous Buddhist literatures to introduce and praise Avalolitesvara, and also many miraculous responses from Avalokitesvara by the people in the past and at present, particularly in case of emergency and criticality. It is no wonder why Avalokitesvara is so popular and well respected by many Buddhist devotees.
Mahasthamaprapta is a Sanskrit word, which means the Bodhisattva who has attained great might,” stands on Amitabha Buddha’s right.
Kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and giving are the Four Immeasurable Minds of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The former two are characterized by Avalokitesvara, while the latter two by Mahasthamaprapta.
As stated in the Shurangama Sutra, the Bodhisattva attained Samadhi and enlightenment by remembering and missing Buddha, and was thus reborn in the Sukhavati.