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 Where is the Land of Ultimate Bliss?

 

       According to the scriptures of Pure Land Buddhism, the Land of Ultimate Bliss is situated in the western part of the cosmos. Why? It provides a clear destination that reassures the mortals’ faith of rebirth in that land, and after rebirth, we will attain perfect enlightenment, and our dharma body will permeate the worlds of the ten directions.

       In The Infinite Life Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha employed the Venerable Ananda as the target opportunity to introduce Amitabha Buddha’s Forty-eight Great Vows, which he accomplished by practicing the virtuous way of Bodhisattva over immeasurable kalpas. Amitabha’s great vows are for the benefit of all sentient beings. His Land of Ultimate Bliss is also for the benefit of all sentient beings, and his innumerous virtues and merits accumulated over the immeasurable ages are also for all of us mortals. Since all his great vows and all his virtuous practices are for us, and since he has attained Buddhahood, isn’t it true that we all may soon become Buddhas? 

       After Sakyamuni Buddha’s explanation, Ananda asked the Buddha: “Has Dharmakara Bodhisattva attained Buddhahood as a Buddha of the past, or has he not? Where is he now?” Ananda asked about Amitabha Buddha of the three ages: the past, present, and future: Has Dharmakara Bodhisattva been a Buddha of the past, or is he not a Buddha yet? If he is a Buddha in the present, where is he now preaching the Dharma and delivering sentient beings? 

       Why does Venerable Ananda ask this question? In what kind of mood? In these few verses, it is evident that Ananda is anxious to know about Amitabha Buddha. Why? Because Ananda has realized that there is Amitabha Buddha who delivers sentient beings, and there is the Land of Ultimate Bliss for sentient beings. He wants to know right away if Dharmakara Bodhisattva has become Amitabha Buddha; if he had and already passed away, we would have missed the rare opportunity to be free of samsara and attain Buddhahood. So, his first question is whether Amitabha Buddha was a Buddha long passed away.

       His second question is if Dharmakara Bodhisattva has not attained Buddhahood, how long do we have to wait for him to do so?

       Ananda’s third question is if he is a Buddha in the present, where is he now?

       Then, the Buddha replies, “Dharmakara Bodhisattva is now a Buddha residing in the far west, as many as ten trillion Buddha-lands away, in the land called Peace and Bliss.”

       In response to Venerable Ananda’s question, the Buddha replied that Dharmakara Bodhisattva has now become a Buddha, and resides in the West, some ten trillion Buddha-lands away, in a world called Peace and Bliss.

       There are several names for that land. It is called the Land of Ultimate Bliss in Amitabha Sutra, as in The Contemplation of Infinite Life Sutra. The Infinite Life Sutra also calls it the Land of Peace and Joy and the Land of Peaceful Home. In the Treatise and Gatha on Rebirth in the Sutra of the Infinite Life by Vasubandhu Bodhisattva (⁓ 4th century), it is called Lotus Treasury World. These different names mean the same.

       The Amitabha Sutra says the Land of Ultimate Bliss is in the west, and so does The Infinite Life Sutra. The Amitabha Sutra reads: “At that time, the Buddha told the elder Sariputra, ‘In the far west, beyond as many as ten trillion Buddha-lands away, there is a world called Ultimate Bliss, and in that land, there is a Buddha named Amitabha, who is even there expounding the Dharma.’”

       Whether it is The Amitabha Sutra or The Infinite Life Sutra, they both tell us that the Land of Ultimate Bliss is in the West. So, why should we discuss the theme of Where the Land of Ultimate Bliss is? This is because the scriptures also say that the Land of Ultimate Bliss is “vast and incomparable, extensive, and limitless, and supremely wonderful”. The meaning of it is that the Land of Ultimate Bliss is so huge that it has no boundary and permeates the entire cosmos.

      Here is the problem: If the land is in the west, it has a fixed direction and a limited range, but if it is “extensive and limitless,” then it should be without a limited range and infinite and boundless. Which is it? Does the Land of Ultimate Bliss have a limited range or not? With boundaries or not?

      Furthermore, the Treatise on Rebirth states: the appearance of that land is superior to the worlds of three forms (trai-lokya). It is as vast and boundless as the entire cosmic space. Vasubandhu Bodhisattva also says that the Land of Ultimate Bliss is as vast as the boundless cosmos.

       Then again, the Chan practitioners believe there is no Amitabha Buddha but only our self-nature; there is no Land of Ultimate Bliss but in our minds; they advocate “pure mind, pure land.” When our minds are enlightened to the Buddha-nature, we are the Buddha; wherever we are, it is the pure land.

       There is, of course, a scriptural basis for their claim. For example, the Vimalayana Sutra says, “If a Bodhisattva wishes to attain rebirth in the Pure Land, he must purify his mind, and if his mind is pure, the Buddha's Land is pure.” This means the pure land is not outside the mind but created by the mind; there is no pure land outside of the mind. The Huayan Sutra also reads, “If one wishes to understand all the Buddhas of three ages, one should look at them as if his mind creates them.” These verses tell us that the Tathagata is in our minds, and we all possess Buddha-nature. As long as we are enlightened and realize our Buddha-nature, we are Buddhas, for the Tathagata is within, not outside our minds.

       We will now analyze and discuss their points of view.  

       In everything, there are views of equality and differentiation, resulting in positive and negative responses. The Buddha-nature sees everything as equal, and differentiates not pure or defiled lands, not the Land of Ultimate Bliss or the Saha World. Therefore, from this standpoint of equality, the Land of Ultimate Bliss is like the sutras say, as vast and boundless as the entire cosmic space.

       But, if we take the doctrine of differentiation, there are differences between Buddhas who have attained the perfect enlightenment, and deluded sentient beings like us who cling to greed, wrath, and ignorance; also between the Saha World created by the karmas of sentient beings, and the pure lands originated by the vows and practices of Buddhas. Since the Land of Ultimate Bliss is initiated by Amitabha Buddha’s sublime and unique vows and practices, the difference with our Saha World is enormous, so that land is situated far from the defiled lands.

       Take humans as an example. As far as people are concerned, all should be equal, but in terms of race, there are blacks, browns and whites, as well as westerners and easterners, so there are differences in race. Although there are differences, human-nature is the same. So although there is no difference in human nature, there is a difference in appearance. Like the sea, it is seawater when with waves; it is still seawater when it is calm. In short, in terms of differentiation, there is no equality. Therefore, there is differentiation in equality, and there is equality in differentiation. They are two sides of the same entity, mutually inclusive.

       The doctrine of Sages-path[1] considers pure lands to be vast and boundless, while the Pure Land sect recognizes the existence of Pure Land in the West that has a definite location and boundaries. The difference being the Sages-path relies on the practitioner’s own effort to realize Buddha-nature in the defied lands, attain enlightenment, and manifest his own pure land. Thence, exits the gate of equanimity/equality and enters the worlds of differentiation/inequality to deliver sentient beings of the ten directions.

       But as far as our Pure Land teachings are concerned, we want to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss and become Buddhas. For us, it is more appropriate to follow the path of Differentiation. Once we are reborn in that land, we will naturally realize the equality of Buddha-nature. Therefore, there is a slight difference between what the Sages-path advocates and what the Pure Land path prefers.

       Also, people who practice Chan, Huayan, or Vipassana (Nature of Consciousness), uphold the notion of “pure land pure mind, self-natured Amitabha) that since all beings have Buddha-nature the same as Amitabha Buddha and the Pure Land is within our minds, so we do not necessarily have to recite Amitabha Buddha to be born in his Pure Land. If we also hold such a notion, our wisdom-life will be hampered. Why is it so?

       The Land of Ultimate Bliss is without the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance. If we achieve the rebirth in that land, we will eliminate all three poisons immediately; if not, no matter how we emphasize “pure land pure mind, self-nature Amitabha,” we will remain mortals full of the poisons in samsara.

       But the Land of Ultimate Bliss is a wishful realm, the so-called, “Think of clothes, clothes appear; think of food, food arrives,” you can have whatever you want. In the Saha world, the notion of “pure land pure mind” will do nothing of the kind, for such supernatural powers require the cultivation of Jie and Ding.[2] Yet, once born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, we will instantly accomplish all six magical powers without cultivation on our part. And we will realize our Buddha-nature, even the Buddha’s three insights and six universal powers, possessing hundreds and thousands of dharani.[3] If our Buddha-nature is not realized, talking about “pure land pure mind” is only a mantra, which hampers one’s own cultivation and others.

       Those who stress “self-nature Amitabha, pure land pure mind” are less likely to espouse Buddha-recitation Buddha-remembrance, nor pursue the rebirth to the Land of Ultimate Bliss. When they are done with their lives, will they not report to King Yama and be judged, facing retributions? What a pity.

       Therefore, as we came upon Buddhism and Pure Land Dharma, we must be humble, that we all carry a myriad of samsaric transgressions and abominable offenses, that we must be true to Buddha recitation, accept his deliverance, aspire to rebirth in his land. That is our utmost and final goal of life. Otherwise, we can talk as much as we like about the mystery and wonderful doctrines; it will be unrealistic and inappropriate to our own good.

       Pure Land Buddhism speaks not the mysterious and the subtle but rather illustrates the doctrines from facts; as long as you recite Amitabha Buddha, you will be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. It is because Amitabha, before he became Buddha, has made the vows for us, cultivated the virtues and merits for us, and built a land of peace and bliss for us. Now he is Buddha, in  all time and everywhere in the universe. If we recite his name, Amitabha Buddha will hear us; if we worship him, Amitabha Buddha will see us; if we think about him, Amitabha Buddha will know. He blesses us and turns ill events to auspicious ones, bad luck to good fortune, crisis to manageable events. When facing death, Amitabha Buddha will hear our prayers, relieve our suffering, and come to lead us to his Land of Ultimate Bliss. The doctrine of Pure Land Buddhism is simple; its straightforward facts manifest its profound truth.

 

(Translated by Pure Land School Translation Team;
edited by Kevin Orro (Fozhu))

 

 

[1] Sages-path. The Pure Land Buddhism classifies Buddhist sects into two categories: Sages path that relies on Self-power, and Pure Land path that relies on Other-power.

[2] Jie and ding in Chinese pinyin are Buddhist terminologies: Jie means to uphold Buddhist precepts, and ding means total absorption in meditation (samadhis). A practitioner must practice jie to perfection and meditation to samadhis. Once ding is achieved, one will possess five kinds of supernatural powers: divine sight, divine hearing, divine ability to know past lives, divine ability to know the minds of others, divine ability to traverse anywhere in the universe, and appear in different places at the same time. One step further to achieve the sixth supernatural power, the severance of all afflictions, thus attaining Arhat, the highest sagehood of Theravada Buddhism.

[3] Dharani in Sanskrit: 1. Mantra, spell of incantation; 2. The capability of holding in mind the vast amount of the Buddha teachings; 3. Extraordinary memory and comprehension.

 

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Master Huijing

Master Huijing

Master Jingzong

Master Jingzong

Guiding Principles

Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings