THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
PART IV: THE PRINCIPLE PROPER
At that time the Buddha told the Elder Shariputra, “Passing from here through hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands to the West, there is a world called Ultimate Bliss. In this land a Buddha called Amitabha right now teaches the Dharma.
At that time refers to the time when all the gods, Bodhisattvas, Sravakas, Bhiksus, Bhiksunis, Upasakas, and Upasikas had gathered together to listen to Shakyamuni Buddha. The Buddha spoke to the wise elder Shariputra saying, “If you travel westward from here, from the pure abode in the Jeta Grove in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary, Sravasti, India, and go through hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands, you will find a world system called ‘the Land of Ultimate Bliss.’ This is the happiest land there is. Nothing surpasses the happiness there, it is ultimate.
“In this land, there is a Buddha. His name is Amitabha , ‘limitless light.’ He is also called Amitayus , ‘limitless life.’ His light is measureless, illumining the lands of the ten directions everywhere without obstruction, and his lifespan extends for hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of great kalpas without end.” After realising Buddhahood, this Buddha did not rest, but right now he speaks the Dharma. He is not an unemployed Buddha; teaching the Dharma is the Buddha’s job. Whoever teaches the Dharma does the Buddha’s work; whoever doesn’t, does the demons’ work. So it is said,
“Unless I teach the Dharma to save living beings, I will have passed through my entire life in vain.”
If you don’t teach the Dharma and convert living beings, you will have wasted your life and obtained no benefit.
“Shariputra, for what reason is this land called Ultimate Bliss?
“Shariputra!” said the Buddha, “Why is this land called Ultimate Bliss?”
Although he had great wisdom, Shariputra didn’t know enough to ask this question, and so the Buddha asked it himself. This is like yesterday when I asked you if you had any questions and you didn’t answer because you didn’t know what to ask. So I said, “Very well, I have a question for you. Do you like the rain?”
Thieves hate the rain. Why? If they go out to steal, they get all wet. “I want to steal something,” they say, “but it is raining. I will have to carry an umbrella. How inconvenient!”
Travellers say, “I came here for a vacation and I haven’t seen a thing. Detestable rain!” Travellers and thieves don’t care for the rain.
But the farmer says, “Rain! My flowers will sell for thousands of dollars. Isn’t this fine?” The fruit growers say, “The rain will make my apples big, fat, and sweet – my oranges too.”
Now, would you say that lecturing sutras and speaking about the Dharma is a good thing or not? Those who believe in the Buddhadharma say it is good, but those who are jealous of it say it is not.
Why is this land called Ultimate Bliss? Basically, Shariputra should have asked this question, but he didn’t, and so Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Shariputra, why is Amitabha’s country called Ultimate Bliss? Speak up!”
The Buddha waited about five minutes. Shariputra said nothing; such great wisdom and yet he didn’t know what to say! He just stared blankly as you do when I ask you a question. But time is precious. Shakyamuni Buddha waited until he could wait no more. “All right,” he said, “I will answer it myself.”
“All living beings of this country endure none of the sufferings, but enjoy every bliss. Therefore it is called ‘Ultimate Bliss.’
In Amitabha Buddha’s land, living beings are born by transformation from lotus flowers. Their birth is pure, not one of desire and emotions, and so their bodies are pure and are not the result of sexual desire and the lustful thoughts of men and women. This is why they endure none of the sufferings, but enjoy every bliss . Why do we suffer? We suffer because our bodies are created from unclean substances of the father’s semen and the mother’s blood. We continually think of unclean things. Men usually think of women, women of men. People eat their fill and, since there’s nothing else to do, sexual desire is foremost. When the time comes, men and women want to marry. If they don’t, they feel as if they have a great illness which has not been cured. Because the basis, the seed, is impure, the thoughts are impure, and those impure thoughts bring about all kinds of suffering. Why is there suffering? For no reason other than this.
Sutras are lectured and Dharma is taught only to teach you one thing, have no unclean, impure thoughts, have no sexual desire. Without sexual desire you are one of the clear, pure, ocean-wide assembly of Bodhisattvas. With sexual desire, you are a ghostly living being of the five turbid realms. Cultivation and non-cultivation are right here. If you can purify your mind, your merit and virtue are limitless. If you cannot purify your mind, your offences are limitless. Offences are created from impure thoughts. Such thoughts are causes planted in your self-nature and they result in the manifestation of offences and evil. But if your self-nature is pure, outwardly there will be no evil karmic retribution.
Therefore, you may study the Buddhadharma for several tens of thousands of great kalpas, but unless you understand the genuine doctrine you won’t get off the revolving wheel. If you understand the essential message of the Buddhadharma, however, you will know, “Oh! It is simply a matter of purifying my mind and will.”
The Buddhadharma teaches you to purify your mind and will. If you understand the Buddhadharma you can become enlightened, and once enlightened, you will never have unclean thoughts again. Why do people suffer? It is because of unclean thoughts. Why is there no suffering in the Land of Ultimate Bliss? It is because the people there have no impure thoughts. Thus, they endure none of the sufferings, but enjoy every bliss .
As we recite “Namo Amitabha Buddha” we each create and adorn our own Land of Ultimate Bliss. We each accomplish our own Land of Ultimate Bliss which is certainly not hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands from here. Although it is far away, it doesn’t go beyond one thought. It is not hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands from here; it is right in our hearts. The Land of Ultimate Bliss is the original true heart, the true mind, of everyone of us. If you obtain this heart, you will be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. If you don’t understand your own original true heart, you will not. The Land of Ultimate Bliss is within our hearts, not outside. This land is clear, pure, and undefiled and so is that one thought of the mind and nature. It is just that now, as common people, we are defiled by attachment. If you can empty yourself of attachments, you will immediately see Amitabha Buddha; that is the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Amitabha Buddha and living beings – do not discriminate between this and that, for the Land of Ultimate Bliss is not so far away. In one thought, turn the light within. Know that originally you are the Buddha, and your original Buddhahood is just the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
For this reason, you should cast out your defiled thoughts, your lustful desires, your confusion, jealousy, contrariness, and selfish thoughts of personal gain. Be like the Bodhisattvas who benefit everyone and enlighten all beings. Just that is the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Don’t you agree that the absence of confusion and false thoughts is the Land of Ultimate Bliss? If it isn’t, what is?
Good knowing advisors, you are all ones of great wisdom and great intelligence. You are all more clever than I, and in the future you will explain the Dharma better than I do. But now, because you don’t know Chinese, I am introducing you to this old-fashioned tradition. In the future you will transform it and make it unspeakably wonderful.
“Moreover, Shariputra, this Land of Ultimate Bliss is everywhere surrounded by seven tiers of railings, seven layers of netting, and seven rows of trees, all formed from the four treasures and for this reason named ‘Ultimate Bliss.’
After explaining why this land is called Ultimate Bliss, Shakyamuni Buddha waited for Shariputra to ask about the limitless principles which remained but, as intelligent as he was, Shariputra simply didn’t know enough to ask. Why? It was because the Pure Land Dharma Door is simply too wonderful.
Unable to wait any longer, the Buddha said, “Shariputra, I will tell you something else. In the most happy land there are seven railings which run horizontally like fences and are arranged vertically in seven tiers.” The railings represent the precepts, the netting represents concentration, and the trees represent wisdom. The number seven is used for the “Seven Classes,” the classification of the Thirty-Seven Wings of Enlightenment into seven groups:
How do the tiers of railings represent the precepts? Precepts prohibit evil and prevent error. Morality is simply
All evil not done and
All good conduct respectfully practised.
Once you have taken the precepts, you cannot entertain confused false thinking. You must purify your mind and will. If you find yourself caught up in false thinking, rub your head and say, “I have left the home-life, I am hairless. I am no longer a layman and so I can’t be casual and think unclean thoughts. I must stop.” In this way the precepts are like a fence. It is illegal to jump it, you have to go through the gate. Thus, the seven tiers of railings represent the precepts.
How do the seven layers of netting represent concentration? One does not enter or emerge from true concentration. With “naga concentration” you don’t need to meditate because no external state will move your heart. You are always concentrated.
Suppose you see something good to eat and think, “Not bad. I will try it out.” This displays a lack of concentration power, to say nothing of stealing food, which is a violation of the precepts!
“Oh, a little thing like that is not important,” you think.
It’s just because you transgress in minor ways, that, when something major comes along you slip up. People who transgress in little matters will transgress even more easily in big ones. It may be a small matter, but it is just the small matters which are difficult to change. If you change your small faults, you have concentration power. Always in concentration,
The eyes see forms outside, but inside there is nothing;
The ears hear external sounds, but the mind does not know.
Concentration is the state of being unmoved by situations. For example, when a woman sees a handsome man but has no thought of sexual desire, she is said to possess concentration power. When a man sees a beautiful woman but has no thoughts of sexual desire, that, too, is concentration. Seeing as if not seeing and hearing as if not hearing,
The eyes see forms outside, but inside there is nothing;
The ears hear external sounds, but the mind does not know.
The seven layers of netting represent concentration. Now do you understand the Amitabha Sutra ? If you don’t understand it completely, perhaps you understand a little. That’s why I am explaining it.
And seven rows of very tall trees. The trees represent wisdom. If you have wisdom, you are tall, without it, you are short. It’s not a question of how tall or short your body is. With wisdom you are like seven rows of tall trees; without wisdom you are like seven rows of grass! The grass has smothered your heart and you grow more and more stupid.
All formed from the four treasures and for this reason called ‘Ultimate Bliss.’ The four treasures are gold, silver, lapis lazuli and crystal.
“Is the Land of Ultimate Bliss made out of only four treasures?” You may wonder.
The treasures in the Land of Ultimate Bliss are limitless and measureless, nothing in this world compares with them. We of this world have never seen anything like the treasures which fill that land.
“Then why do you only mention four?” You ask.
The four treasures represent the Four Virtues of Nirvana: permanence, bliss, true self, and purity.
Permanence. Amitabha Buddha’s lifespan is limitless. Not only does Amitabha Buddha have a limitless lifespan, but when we are born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, we will, too. If you would like to transcend death, seek rebirth in the Pure Land, because everyone there has limitless life. This is the virtue of permanence.
Bliss. Those born in the Pure Land endure none of the sufferings, but enjoy every bliss.
True self. In this land, the self has eight great freedoms, eight functions, eight kinds of strength, and eight spiritual penetrations. These are the eight kinds of wonderful function and are called the Eight Great Freedoms of the Self:
One body can manifest limitless bodies. If a hundred people invite you to lunch, you can accept all their invitations and go to every Dharma protector’s house to eat. One Dharma protector might say, “He came to lunch at my house on such and such a day,” and another will say, “but he also had lunch at my house on that day!” They don’t know that you are able to respond to limitless offerings in a single day.
One body the size of a dust mote can completely fill the great thousand world systems. Isn’t this wonderful? In one mote of dust, Buddha-fields appear; in a Buddha-field, motes of dust appear. One country becomes as small as a mote of dust and one mote of dust becomes as large as a country.
The great body can lightly float to a distant place. It can fly. The body is big and awkward, yet it can gently float far away.
One manifests limitless kinds of living beings which always dwell together in one land. We see mountains as mountains when actually they contain the palaces of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. You see mountains and oceans but do not see the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas within them who are teaching the Dharma. A layman has mentioned such a place where there are many people cultivating the Way; he can see it and you can’t. This is to cause limitless kinds of living beings to dwell in one place.
All the organs are used interchangeably. The eyes can speak; the ears can see; the nose can eat. How can this happen? The six sense organs, the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind are interchangeable. Each of them has the function of the other six. Sages who have given proof to the fruit may speak with Bodhisattvas, but you wouldn’t know it if they were talking with their ears!
The sutra text below says, “...and throughout the clear morning each living being of that land, with sacks full of the myriads of wonderful flowers, makes offerings to the hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhas of the other directions. At mealtime they return to their own country and having eaten they stroll around.” They can do this because they have obtained the Eight Great Freedoms of the Self.
Purity. The last of the four virtues of Nirvana is that of purity. This land is pure. It is adorned with the four treasures which represent the four virtues of Nirvana in unobstructed interpenetration. Thus it is named “Ultimate Bliss.”
“Moreover, Shariputra, this Land of Ultimate Bliss has pools of the seven jewels, filled with the waters of eight meritorious virtues. The bottom of each pool is pure, spread over with golden sand. On the four sides are stairs of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, and crystal; above are raised pavilions adorned with gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls, and carnelian.
“In the pools are lotuses as large as carriage wheels, green colored of green light, yellow colored of yellow light, red colored of red light, white colored of white light, subtly, wonderfully, fragrant and pure.
“Shariputra, the realization of the Land of Ultimate Bliss is thus meritoriously adorned.
The previous passage of text described the exquisite beauty of the Land of Ultimate Bliss. This passage praises the subtle wonder of its water-pools. Having spoken of the seven rows of trees, the seven layers of netting, and the seven tiers of railing, Shakyamuni Buddha was waiting for Shariputra to ask further about that land. But the great, wise Shariputra, the Buddha’s most intelligent disciple, still did not know where to begin and probably hesitated for several minutes until the Buddha himself said, “Moreover, Shariputra, this Land of Ultimate Bliss has pools of the seven jewels. ” There are pools in the Saha world, but they are made of mud or cement. No one makes pools out of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls, or carnelian.
Lapis lazuli is an opaque, blue semi-precious stone. It could be found near the country of Magadha, in central India. Crystal is also called “water jade.” Mother-of-pearl has what looks like cart tracks running across it. Translated from the Chinese it is “great shells.”
The pools were not man-made. On the contrary, they appeared naturally. Within the pools, one finds the waters of eight meritorious virtues :
“No,” I replied, “It is just plain water.”
“But it is so sweet!” she said.
“Perhaps Guan Yin Bodhisattva has given you some sweet dew,” I said.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, and was really delighted. At that time I was wearing rags and you could see my flesh through the holes in them. What do you think she did? She made me two sets of clothes, because she liked the sweet water. The water in the Land of Ultimate Bliss is also sweet and delicious.
This has been a general explanation of the waters of eight meritorious virtues. Were I to speak in detail, I wouldn’t finish by the end of a great aeon. These waters have eight independent merits and virtues, eight happy merits and virtues, eight subtle, wonderful, inconceivable merits and virtues, and more. No matter what karmic obstacles you have, they all dissolve when you get into these pools. What are karmic obstacles? They are those things which you dislike, the things which cause you to become afflicted. Without karmic obstacles there is no affliction and this is like a covering of golden sand. When we go to the Land of Ultimate Bliss, the pools of the seven jewels melt away our karmic obstacles.
On the four sides are stairs of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, and crystal. We may think our stairways of marble are splendid, but those in the Land of Ultimate Bliss are inlaid with gold, silver, lapis lazuli, and crystal, and the pathways emit multicolored rays of light.
Above are raised pavilions adorned with gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls and carnelian. Why are they adorned with so many treasures? To make them beautiful to look at! The seven jewels used to adorn the pavilions represent the perfection of Amitabha Buddha’s ten thousand virtues. The great adornments are the measure of his great virtuous practices, for without virtuous practice, there can be no seven jewelled adornments.
In the pools are lotuses as large as carriage wheel. Then how big are the pools? Each is as big as a hundred great seas. One great sea is big indeed, how big would you say a hundred great seas are?
The lotuses in these pools are as large as carriage wheels, which are much bigger than automobile tires. The carriage wheels on the chariot of the Wheel-turning Sage King are one yojana in diameter. A small yojana is forty miles, a middle-sized one is sixty miles, and a large one is eighty miles. This lotus, then, is eighty miles in diameter. Lotuses growing in pools as large as a hundred great seas would have to be at least that big. Tiny flowers in such big pools wouldn’t look right.
A song about Amitabha Buddha goes like this;
Amita, the great sage and master,
Serene, subtle, wonderful, beyond all others…
Pools of seven gems,
Flowers of four colors and waves of solid gold.
Amitabha Buddha is the great sage and master. His countenance is sedate, serene, and very wonderful. There is no image as fine as that of Amitabha Buddha.
The flowers in the pools are green colored of green light, yellow colored of yellow light, red colored of red light,
white colored of white light. Light, bright light – subtly, wonderfully, fragrant and pure.
The water is subtle and soft. It looks like water, but when you reach out to touch it, it feels as if nothing were there. It feels like water, but it is so fine that you can’t grab a hold of it. It is like there’s nothing there, but still it is there. It is just that subtle.
“Wonderful” means ineffable. There is no way you can even think about it. The water is also fragrant. Once you get in it you won’t want to get out. As soon as you smell its fragrance, you will bring forth the Bodhi mind. In this world, we chase after good smells, but in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, the fragrances cause one to say, “Too fine! I did better hurry up and cultivate the Way.”
The smells of this world cause you to think, “Not bad…it is really bitter at the Temple. Cultivation isn’t as good as…” But smells are defiled dharmas. Forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tangible objects are the five sense objects, and cultivators of the Way must certainly see through and break all attachment to them. First of all, do not become attached to beautiful form. Beauty is only skip deep; beneath the skin there is just pus, blood, and flesh. In the Shurangama Sutra we read of Matangi’s daughter, who couldn’t give up her love for Ananda. The Buddha asked her, “What is it about Ananda that you love?”
“I love his eyes,” she said.
“All right,” said the Buddha, “I will pluck out his eyes and you may have them.”
“Oh no,” she said. “If you do that, they won’t be of any use.”
“If they are of no use, then what are you doing loving them?” asked Shakyamuni Buddha. Hearing this, she immediately certified to the fruit of Arhatship.
So you should not become attached to forms. In order to cultivate, you should borrow forms and sounds and yet not become attached to them. Don’t say, “Ah, this music is so beautiful. When I hear it, I… get all confused and don’t know what I am doing.” If you must sing, sing in praise of Amitabha Buddha. Don’t become attached to smells either.
When I was in Hong Kong people used to follow me around. They said I smelled good. I really disliked this and so I put some smelly stuff on myself to keep them away. Everything is made from the mind alone. If you have samadhi power, then fragrances aren’t fragrant and bad smells don’t stink; good sounds aren’t good sounds, and bad sounds aren’t bad; beauty isn’t beautiful, and ugliness isn’t ugly. Samadhi power is the skill one derives from cultivation. If you have this skill, when people are good to you, you are not happy and when they are bad, you don’t become afflicted. With samadhi power, you won’t listen to the talk of your tongue when it says to you, “Take a taste of this and see if it tastes better than…” I often tell you that when I eat, I don’t know if the food is good or not. It is not that I don’t know . If I didn’t know I would be like wood or stone. I am just not affected by the taste. I eat the same amount, whether it tastes good or not, without discrimination.
In the same way, greed for the objects of touch indicates a lack of samadhi power and shows that one has been turned by external states.
The lotuses of four colors in the Land of Ultimate Bliss shine with four colors of light which represent the Four Applications of Mindfulness, the Four Right Efforts, and the Four Bases of Supernatural Power. In reciting and studying the Amitabha Sutra , we should cultivate samadhi power. If you have samadhi power, then the Land of Ultimate Bliss is right here. If you don’t, even if you went to the Land of Ultimate Bliss, you would run right off to the Land of Ultimate Misery. With samadhi power, the Land of Ultimate Misery is the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Without affliction, you can say, “Everything is okay.” If that is not the Land of Ultimate Bliss, what is?