Thursday, May 31, 2012

The manifestations of the Pure Land – short explanation of the 32nd Vow of Amida Buddha


(last revised: June 1st 2012)
If, when I attain Buddhahood, all the myriads of manifestations in my land, from the ground to the sky, such as palaces, pavilions, ponds, streams and trees, should not be composed of both countless treasures, which surpass in supreme excellence anything in the worlds of humans and devas, and of a hundred thousand kinds of aromatic wood, whose fragrance pervades all the worlds of the ten quarters, causing all bodhisattvas who sense it to perform Buddhist practices, then may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.” 
                                                                                                                 the 32nd Vow

The wonderful manifestations of Amida’s Land are also presented in the Smaller Amida Sutra (Amida-kyo)[1] where Shakyamuni describes them to Shariputra in an ecstatic manner not even giving time to his listener to ask questions. He starts preaching that sutra without being asked and he says on and on something like: “Shariputra, it is wonderful, that place is supreme in beauty…. Shariputra, in that land there are so and so places and so and so precious treasures…. Shariputra …….Shariputra…”. It seems that Shakyamuni doesn’t even allow himself time to breathe when he speaks about the beauties of the Pure Land, such is his enthusiasm in presenting them.

It is very important to realize that Shakyamuni does not speak about the Pure Landof Amida in terms of ultimate reality beyond form (Dharmakaya) but instead he uses many images and colourful words[2]. The language of the Three Pure Land sutras is descriptive and effusive, clearly not intended to practitioners who are trying to go beyond forms.
The 32nd Vow shows without any doubt that the Pure Land is a transcendental realm with myriads manifestations, created by Amida out of Compassion for sentient beings.

Although the true nature of all Buddhas and their manifestations is ultimate Dharmakaya, one cannot take refuge, have faith or aspire to be born into Dharmakaya. This is why we have a Buddha in Form and Name called Amida in whom we can entrust and a Pure Land where we might wish to be born after death[3]. Without them, our attainment of Buddhahood would be impossible.

Only when we are born in the safe environment of the Pure Land we will naturally realize ultimate Buddhahood[4] or Dharmakaya of non-duality, but as long as we are here in this present body we accept the duality of the Savior (Amida Buddha) and those to be saved and of samsara and the Pure Land. To insist on talking in ultimate and non-dualistic terms while we are still unenlightened is useless and stupid. More than this, tonegate the existence of Amida Buddha and of his Pure Land or to call them symbols, metaphors or fictional stories, as some deluded nowadays teachers do, is the gravest offense of slandering the true Dharma[*]. Such statements accuse Shakyamuni of lying and might obstruct many beings from entering the Pure LandDharma gate.

Also, if we read carefully the Three Pure Land sutras we notice that Shakyamuni is not just making the effort of describing the Pure Land with its myriad manifestations, but he even points to a direction where it can be found. He mentions this direction in the Smaller Amida Sutra:

"If you travel westward from here, passing a hundred thousand kotis of Buddha-lands, you come to the land called 'Utmost Bliss,' where there is a Buddha named 'Amida.' He is living there now, teaching the Dharma.”[5]

and also in the Larger Sutra:

“Ananda asked the Buddha, "Has the Bodhisattva Dharmakara already attained Buddhahood and then passed into Nirvana? Or has he not yet attained Buddhahood? Or is he dwelling somewhere at present?"
The Buddha replied to Ananda, "The Bodhisattva Dharmakara has already attained Buddhahood and is now dwelling in a western Buddha-land, called 'Peace and Bliss,' a hundred thousand kotis of lands away from here[6]."

Thus, it is clear that by describing in many words the wonders of the Pure Land and by pointing to a direction where this Pure Land is, Shakyamuni Buddha bears witness to its actual existence and to the authenticity of the 32nd Vow. It is as though I speak to you about a certain park I would like you to visit. If I tell you, it’s there, in the west of the town” you will be sure that I speak about an actually existing place. Also, if I use many beautiful words and colorful images to describe it, I might even arise in you the wish to go there.
No doubt Shakyamuni has the same intention when describing the Pure Land of Amida, because the aspiration to be born in the Pure Land is an important part of the Primal Vow[7] and our escape from samsara.

Also, these transcendent manifestations show that the Pure Land surpasses all other places in the world of suffering –  “surpass in supreme excellence anything in the worlds of humans and devas”. In fact, the Pure Land is beyond samsara and cannot be compared with the realms caught in the power of birth and death, thus subject to impermanence.
Humans, devas (gods) plus other kinds of sentient beings and the environments in which they are born are the product of their unenlightened karma, but the Pure Land of Amida is the manifestation of his supreme Enlightenment and pure merits so all its treasures and manifestations are supreme in beauty while in the same time they have the power to deepen and strengthen the dedication of those engaged in the practice of liberating themselves and others (bodhisattvas):

“a hundred thousand kinds of aromatic wood, whose fragrance pervades all the worlds of the ten quarters, causing all bodhisattvas who sense it to perform Buddhist practices.”

It is obviously that the treasures found in the Pure Land are not intended for the enjoyment of the six senses but for expressing the Dharma, calling beings to the Dharma, praising Amida’s virtues and showing the supreme place this enlightened land occupies among other Buddha lands. They are spiritual treasures, even if they are described using the terms we are familiar with, like  palaces, pavilions, ponds, streams and trees, aromatic wood, etc.


                                                                                                     


[1] Smaller Amida Sutra, section 3:
"Shariputra, why is that land called 'Utmost Bliss'? The beings in that land suffer no pain but only enjoy pleasures of various kinds. For this reason, that land is called 'Utmost Bliss.' Again, Shariputra, in that Land of Utmost Bliss there are seven rows of balustrades, seven rows of decorative nets, and seven rows of trees. They are all made of four kinds of jewels and extend over the whole land, encompassing everything. For this reason, that land is called 'Utmost Bliss.' Again, Shariputra, in the Land of Utmost Bliss there are seven-jewelled ponds, filled with water of the eight excellent qualities. The beds of the ponds are covered solely with gold sand, and from the four sides of each pond rise stairs of gold, silver, beryl and crystal. Above these stand pavilions adorned with gold, silver, beryl, crystal, sapphire, rosy pearls, and carnelian. In the ponds are lotuses as large as chariot-wheels -- the blue ones radiating a blue light, the yellow a yellow light, the red a red light and the white ones a white light. They are marvelous and beautiful, fragrant and pure. Shariputra, the Land of Utmost Bliss is filled with such splendid adornments.

"Again, Shariputra, in that Buddha-land heavenly music is played continually. The ground is made of gold. Six times during the day and night mandarava flowers rain down from the sky. Every day, in the serenity of the early morning, the people of that land fill the hem of their robes with exquisite flowers and go to make offerings to a hundred thousand kotis of Buddhas dwelling in the worlds of other quarters. Then they return for their morning meal. After the meal they enjoy a stroll. Shariputra, the Land of Utmost Bliss is filled with such splendid adornments.

"Again, Shariputra, in that land there are always many kinds of rare and beautiful birds of various colors, such as swans, peacocks, parrots, sharis, kalavinkas and jivamjivakas. Six times during the day and night birds sing with melodious and delicate sounds, which proclaim such teachings as the five roots of goodness, the five powers, the seven practices leading to Enlightenment, and the Eightfold Noble Path. On hearing them, the people of that land become mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. But, Shariputra, you should not assume that these birds are born as retribution of their evil karma. The reason is that none of the three evil realms exists in that Buddha-land. Shariputra, even the names of the three evil realms do not exist there; how much less the realms themselves? These birds are manifested by Amida Buddha so that their singing can proclaim and spread the Dharma.

"In that Buddha-land, Shariputra, when soft breezes waft through the rows of jewelled trees and jewelled nets, they produce subtle, wonderful sounds. It is as if a hundred thousand musical instruments were playing together. Everyone who hears the sounds spontaneously becomes mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma and Sangha. Shariputra, that Buddha-land is filled with such splendid adornments.”

[2] In the Larger Sutra too, Shakyamuni makes extensive descriptions of the Pure Land as a proof of the authenticity of the 32nd Vow:
Section 14:
 „Again seven-jewelled trees completely fill that land. There are some made of gold, some of silver, and others made of beryl, crystal, coral, ruby or agate. There are also trees made of two to seven kinds of jewels.
"There are gold trees with leaves, flowers and fruits of silver; silver trees with leaves, flowers and fruits of gold; beryl trees with leaves, flowers and fruits of crystal; crystal trees with leaves, flowers and fruits of beryl; coral trees with leaves, flowers and fruits of ruby; ruby trees with leaves, flowers and fruits of beryl; agate trees with leaves, flowers and fruits made of various jewels.

"Again, there are jewelled trees with purple-gold roots, white-silver trunks, beryl branches, crystal twigs, coral leaves, ruby flowers and agate fruits. There are jewelled trees with white-silver roots, beryl trunks, crystal branches, coral twigs, ruby leaves, agate flowers and purple-gold fruits. There are jewelled trees with beryl roots, crystal trunks, coral branches, ruby twigs, agate leaves, purple-gold flowers and white-silver fruits. There are jewelled trees with crystal roots, coral trunks, ruby branches, agate twigs, purple-gold leaves, white-silver flowers and beryl fruits. There are jewelled trees with coral roots, ruby trunks, agate branches, purple-gold twigs, white-silver leaves, beryl flowers and crystal fruits. There are jewelled trees with ruby roots, agate trunks, purple-gold branches, white-silver twigs, beryl leaves, crystal flowers and coral fruits. There are jewelled trees with agate roots, purple-gold trunks, white-silver branches, beryl twigs, crystal leaves, coral flowers and ruby fruits.

"These jewelled trees are in parallel rows, their trunks are evenly spaced, their branches are in level layers, their leaves are symmetrical, their flowers harmonize, and their fruits are well arranged. The brilliant colors of these trees are so luxuriant that it is impossible to see them all. When a pure breeze wafts through them, exquisite sounds of the pentatonic scales, such as kung and shang, spontaneously arise and make symphonic music.

Section 16:
"Again, the halls, monasteries, palaces and pavilions are spontaneous apparitions, all adorned with the seven jewels and hung with curtains of various other jewels, such as pearls and moon-bright mani gems.
"Inside and out, to right and left, are bathing pools. Some of them are ten yojanas in length, breadth and depth; some are twenty yojanas, others, thirty, and so on, until we come to those measuring a hundred thousand yojanas in length, breadth and depth. They are brimful of the water of eight excellent qualities, clear, fragrant and tasting like nectar.

"There are golden pools with beds of silver sand; silver pools with beds of golden sand; crystal pools with beds of beryl sand; beryl pools with beds of crystal sand; coral pools with beds of amber sand; amber pools with beds of coral sand; agate pools with beds of ruby sand; ruby pools with beds of agate sand; white-jade pools with beds of purple-gold sand; purple-gold pools with beds of white-jade sand. Others are composed of two to seven jewels.
"On the banks of these pools are sandalwood trees, whose flowers and leaves hang down and diffuse perfumes everywhere. Heavenly lotuses of blue, pink, yellow and white bloom profusely in various tints and tones, completely covering the surface of the water.”

[*]
It is stated in the Kyogyoshinsho:
„Saying there is no Buddha, no Buddha-dharma, no bodhisattva, no bodhisattva-Dharma. Deciding on such views, whether through understanding thus in one's own mind or receiving the ideas from others, is called slandering the right Dharma.”
People who make this grave offense cannot be born in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha. See my article „The Exclusion in the18th Vow”.

[3] Read the explanation of the 13th Vow (Infinite Life of Amida Buddha).
[4] The 11th Vow promises attainment of Buddhahood of those born in the Pure Land. I will explain it in a next article.
[5] Section 2 of the Smaller Sutra.
[6] Section 10 of the Larger Sutra. 
[7] “If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment”. Please read the article “Three Vows of Salvation”.

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