Understanding Pure Land Sect (Part 6)
Nine Classes for the Rebirth in Pure Land
According to the Contemplation Sutra, there are three grades [三輩], each with three forms of rebirth, so that there are nine classes [九品] of people can be reborn in Sukhavati in different manners. It describes the specific requirements of each class of being to be reborn. For each class of rebirth, there is also a detailed description of what happens by the time of death, such as the color of the lotus seat and the names of assembly guiding the dying person to the Pure Land. Moreover, it tells us what happens after the rebirth in Pure Land, how long it will take for the lotus to blossom, etc. One can exactly know what has to prepare for the rebirth and what the procedures are, in order to see Amitabha Buddha when the lotus flower blossoms.
The nine classes are:
The high, medium and low form of rebirth for the superior grade (3 classes),
The high, medium and low form of rebirth for the middle grade (3 classes),
The high, medium and low form of rebirth for the inferior class (3 classes).
The higher classes are those who are free from desire and attachment, observe the precepts and practice the Six Paramitas. The lower classes are those who have committed sins with evil Karma but would like to be reborn in the Pure Land by reciting the Buddha name mindfully.
Buddha-name recitation enables all classes of people to be reborn in the Pure Land, from the most virtuous Buddhist masters, to those who are in capable of meritorious actions and do not develop the aspiration for enlightenment.
However, the great master Ou I [蕅益] said, ” Whether you are reborn in western Pure Land depends entirely on your faith and your vow; while the class or level of rebirth depends on the extent of recitation practice”.
The highest form of the highest grade [上品下生]
Those who cherish the Threefold Thought are at once destined to be born there. The Threefold Thought are the Sincere Thought [至誠心]; the Deep Believing Thought [深心]; and the Thought of Merit Transference and Making Vow [迴向發願心] to be born in that Pure Land by bringing one’s own stock of merit to maturity. Those who have this Threefold Thought in perfection shall most assuredly be born into that country. There are also three classes of beings who can be born in that country.
First, those who have a compassionate mind, who do no injury to any beings, and accomplish all virtuous actions according to Buddha’s precepts; second, those who study and recite the Sutras of the Mahayana doctrine, for instance, the Vaipulya Sutras; third, those who dwell upon the Sixfold Remembrance or Six Thoughts [六念]. These three classes of beings who wish to be born in that country by bringing (their respective stocks of merit) to maturity, will become destined to be born there if they have accomplished any of those meritorious deeds for one day or even for seven days.
By the time of rebirth, all Three Holy Ones in Sukhavati will welcome. Avalokitesvara together with Mahasthamaprapta will offer a diamond seat to him; thereupon Amitabha Buddha himself will send forth magnificent rays of light to shine over the dying person’s body. When he has been born there, he will see Buddha’s form and body with every sign of perfection complete, and also the perfect forms and signs of all the Bodhisattvas. Before long he will serve every one of the Buddhas who live in the regions of the ten quarters. In the presence of each of those Buddhas he will obtain successively a prophecy of his future destiny. On his return to his own land Sukhavati, in which he has just been born he will obtain countless hundreds of thousand Dharanis.
The middle form of the highest grade [上品中生]
The beings who will be born in the middle form of the highest grade are those who do not necessarily learn, remember, study, or recite those Vaipulya Sutras, but fully understand the meaning of the truth contained in them, and having a firm grasp of the highest truth, do not speak evil of the Mahayana doctrine, but deeply believe in (the principle of) cause and effect; who by bringing these good qualities to maturity seek to be born in Sukhavati.
When one who has acquired these qualities is about to die, Amitabha Buddha surrounded by the two Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta, and an innumerable retinue of dependents, will bring a seat of purple gold and approach him with words of praise. Then he will descend from that golden seat and make obeisance to the Buddha with folded hands, praising and eulogizing the World Honored One.
After seven days, he will immediately attain to the state of the highest perfect knowledge, Anuttarasamyaksambodhi, from which he will never fall away; next he will fly to all the ten regions and successively serve all the Buddhas therein; he will practice many a Samadhi in the presence of those Buddhas. After the lapse of a lesser Kalpa he will attain a spirit of resignation to whatever consequences may hereafter arise, and he will also obtain a prophecy of his future destiny in the presence of Buddhas.
The lowest form of the highest grade [上品下生]
This class of beings also believes in the principle of cause and effect, and without slandering the Mahayana doctrine, simply cherishes the thought of obtaining the highest Bodhi and by bringing this good quality to maturity seeks to be born in Sukhavati.
When a devotee of this class dies, Amitabha Buddha with Avalokitesvara, Mahasthamaprapta and all the dependents, will offer him a golden lotus-flower. When he has seen them, he will find himself seated on that golden lotus-flower. Soon the flower will close upon him; following behind the Buddha, he will go to be born in the lake of seven jewels.
After one day and one night the lotus-flower will unfold itself. Within seven days he may see Buddha’s body, though his mind is not as yet clear enough to perceive all the signs and marks of the Buddha, which he will be able to see clearly after three weeks; then he will hear many sounds and voices preaching the excellent Dharma, and he himself, traveling through all the ten quarters, will make obeisance to all the Buddhas, from whom he will learn the deepest significance of the Dharma. After three lesser Kalpas he will gain entrance to the knowledge of the Hundred Dharmas [百法明門] and become settled in the first joyful stage of Bodhisattva.
The highest form of the middle grade [中品上生]
Those who observe the Five Precepts, the Eight Precepts and the fasting, and practice all the moral precepts; who do not commit the Five Rebellious Sins, and who bring no blame or trouble upon any being; and who by bringing these good qualities to maturity seek to be born in the Sukhavati in the western quarter.
On the eve of such a person’s departure from this life, Amitabha Buddha, surrounded by Bhikkhus and dependents, will appear before him, flashing forth rays of golden color, and will preach the Dharma of suffering, non-existence, impermanence, and non-self. He will also praise the virtue of homelessness that can liberate one from all sufferings. At the sight of Buddha, that believer will excessively rejoice in his heart; he will soon find himself seated on a lotus-flower. Kneeling down on the ground and stretching forth his folded hands he will pay homage to Buddha. Before he raises his head he will reach that Sukhavati and be born there. Soon the lotus-flower will unfold, when he will hear sounds and voices praising and glorifying the Four Noble Truths. He will immediately attain to the fruition of Arhatship, gain the Three Insights [三明] and the Six Supernatural Powers or Faculties [六通], and complete the Eightfold Emancipation [八解脫].
The middle form of the middle grade [中品中生]
The beings who will be born in the middle form of the middle grade are those who either observe the Eight Prohibitive Precepts, and the fasting for one day and one night, or observe the prohibitive precept for Sramanera for the same period, or observe the perfect moral precepts, not lowering their dignity nor neglecting any ceremonial observance for one day and one night, and by bringing their respective merits to maturity seek to be born in Sukhavati.
On the eve of departure from this life, such a believer who has this moral virtue, which he has made fragrant by cultivation during his life, will see Amitabha Buddha, followed by all his retinue; flashing forth rays of golden color, this Buddha will come before him and offer a lotus-flower of seven jewels. The newcomer will see himself seated on that lotus-flower. Soon the lotus-flower will fold around him, and being in this he will be born in the jewel-lake of the Sukhavati in the western quarter.
After seven days that flower will unfold again, when the believer will open his eyes, and praise the World-Honored One, stretching forth his folded hands. Having heard the Dharma, he will rejoice and obtain the fruition of a Srotapanna in the lapse of half a Kalpa he will become an Arhat.
The lowest of the middle grade [中品下生]
The beings will be born in the lowest form of the middle grade to Buddhahood. If there are sons or daughters of a noble family who are filial to their parents and support them, besides exercising benevolence and compassion in the world, at their departure from this life such persons will meet a good and learned teacher who will fully describe to them the state of happiness in that Buddha land of Amitabha, and will also explain the forty-eight great vows of the Bhikkhu Dharmakara. As soon as any such person has heard these details, his life will come to an end. In a brief moment he will be born in the Sukhavati in the western quarter. After seven days he will meet Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta, from whom he will learn the Dharma and rejoice. After the lapse of a lesser Kalpa he will attain to the fruition of an Arhat.
The highest form of the lowest grade [下品上生]
If there be any one who commits many evil deeds, provided that he does not speak evil of the Mahayana Sutras, he, though himself a very stupid man, and neither ashamed nor sorry for all the evil actions that he has done, yet, while dying, may meet a good and learned teacher who will recite and laud the headings and titles of the Twelve Divisions of the Mahayana scriptures. Having thus heard the names of all the Sutras, he will be freed from the greatest sins, which would involve him in births and deaths during a thousand Kalpas. A wise man also will teach him to stretch forth his folded hands and to say, ” Namo Amitabha Buddha”. Having uttered the name of the Buddha, the Buddha will send a created Buddha, and the created Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta, to approach that person with words of praise.
After this speech, the devotee will observe the rays of that created Buddha flooding his chamber with light, and while rejoicing at the sight he will depart this life. Seated on a lotus-flower he will follow that created Buddha and go to be born in the jewel-lake. After the lapse of seven weeks, the lotus-flower will unfold, when the great compassionate Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta will stand before him, flashing forth magnificent rays, and will preach to him the deepest meaning of the Twelve Divisions of the scriptures. Having heard this, he will understand and believe it, and cherish the thought of attaining the highest Bodhi.
In a period of ten lesser Kalpas he will gain entrance to the knowledge of the hundred divisions of nature and be able to enter upon the first joyful stage of Bodhisattva. Those who have had an opportunity of hearing the name of Buddha, the name of the Dharma, and the name of the Sangha – the names of the Three Jewels – can also be born in that country.
The middle form of the lowest grade [下品中生]
If there is any one who transgresses the Five Precepts and Eight Precepts, and also all the perfect moral precepts; he, being himself so stupid as to steal things that belong to the whole community or things that belong to a particular Bhikkhu and not be ashamed nor sorry for his impure preaching of the Dharma (in case of preacher), but magnify and glorify himself with many wicked deeds – such a sinful person deserves to fall into hell in consequence of those sins.
At the time of his death, when the fires of hell approach him from all sides, he will meet a good and learned teacher who will, out of great compassion, preach the power and virtue of the ten faculties of Amitabha Buddha and fully explain the supernatural powers and brilliant rays of that Buddha; and will further praise moral virtue, meditation, wisdom, emancipation, and the thorough knowledge that follows emancipation. After having heard this, he will be freed from his sins, which would involve him in births and deaths during eighty million Kalpas; thereupon those violent fires of hell will transform themselves into a pure and cool wind blowing about heavenly flowers. On each of these flowers will stand a created Buddha or Bodhisattva to meet and receive that person. In a moment he will be born in a lotus-flower growing in the lake of seven jewels.
After six Kalpas the lotus-flower will open, when Avalokitesvara and Mahasthama will soothe and encourage him with their Brahma-voices, and preach to him the Mahayana Sutras of the deepest significance. Having heard this Dharma, he will instantaneously direct his thought toward the attainment of the highest Bodhi.
The lowest form of the lowest grade [下品下生]
If there is any one who commits evil deeds, and even completes the Ten Wicked Actions, the Five Rebellious Sins and the like; that man, being himself stupid and guilty of many crimes, deserves to fall into a miserable path of existence and suffer endless pains during many Kalpas.
On the eve of death he will meet a good and learned teacher who will, soothing and encouraging him in various ways, preach to him the excellent Dharma and teach him the remembrance of Buddha, but, being harassed by pains, he will have no time to think of Buddha. Some good friend will then say to him: “Even if you cannot exercise the remembrance of Buddha, you may, at least, utter the name, ” Amitabha Buddha.” Let him do so serenely with his voice uninterrupted; let him be continually thinking of Buddha until he has completed ten times the thought, repeating the formula, ” Namo Amitabha Buddha”.
On the strength of his merit of uttering that Buddha’s name he will, during every repetition, expiate the sins, which involved him in births and deaths during eighty million Kalpas. He will, while dying, see a golden lotus-flower like the disk of the sun appearing before his eyes; in a moment he will be born in Sukhavati.
After twelve greater Kalpas the lotus-flower will unfold; thereupon the Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta, raising their voices in great compassion, will preach to him in detail the real state of all the elements of nature and the law of the expiation of sins. On hearing them he will rejoice and will immediately direct his thought toward the attainment of the Bodhi.
In the Western Pure Land, there is border land [邊地] for the ‘lazy’ and slow practitioners and for those arrogant ones. They are born in the border land, where they are detained without hearing and seeing the Three Jewels for 500 years. Once they get blossom, they will see Amitabha Buddha. The border land is also called ‘womb-palace’ [胎宮].