Updated: Feb 8
Do not think that these birds were born as birds due to karmic retribution for past misdeeds. Why not? In this Buddha-land, the Three Evil Planes of Existence do not exist. In this Buddha-land even the names of the Evil Planes of Existence do not exist, much less the realities. All these birds are the creations of Amitabha Buddha, fashioned in order to sing the sounds of the Dharma.
Next, Sakyamuni Buddha spoke to Sariputra about how birds in the Pure Land are not like those in our world. Here, due to their past karmas, birds are reborn in the “Three Evil Planes of Existence.” Why are the planes, also known as paths, called evil? In Buddhism, evil refers to things that hold beings back from acting from their buddha-nature, their true nature. Thus, calling something “evil” is not saying it is bad or immoral. Nor is it saying that individual beings in these paths are evil. On the contrary, since all beings have buddha-nature, the beings in these three paths are fundamentally good.
Understanding this, consider the roots of the three evil paths: greed, anger, and ignorance. These three are so destructive they are called the three poisons. Greed is the cause that results in rebirth in the hungry ghost path. Anger is the cause that results in rebirth in the
hell path. Ignorance is the cause of rebirth in the animal path. These three poisons, which sentient beings experience in samsara, hold us back from attaining our goal of enlightenment and of helping others.
It is very different in the Pure Land. Since the three evil paths do not exist in that land, we can see that the birds are not there because of karmic consequences. As Sakyamuni Buddha said, “All these birds are the creations of Amitabha Buddha, fashioned in order to sing the sounds of the Dharma.”
Why did Amitabha create the birds?
Beings in the Pure Land come from worlds where they enjoyed listening to birds sing. Knowing this, Amitabha compassionately created birds that sing the teachings. These birds, however, are found only in the Land Where Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together, the land described in the Amitabha Sutra. Of the four different lands comprising the Pure Land, the Land Where Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together is the one where most beings are born.
Since these beings have not yet eliminated their worldly habits, many of them still have the habit of enjoying the sounds of birds singing. But unlike the songs of the birds in samsara, the songs of the birds in the Pure Land are truly wondrous, for they are songs of the Dharma!
Additionally, as Great Master Ouyi wrote, “By making us realize that we should not think of these birds in a pejorative way, it counteracts our tendency to make arbitrary distinctions.” Amitabha Buddha, knowing that we usually view animals as inferior to humans, was gently teaching us not to look down on others.
All of us have planted the seeds to be reborn as animals. But animals, at least, are repaying their karmic debts. We humans are still creating them! As Sakyamuni Buddha said in the Surangama Sutra, “A human dies and becomes a sheep. A sheep dies and becomes a human.” We should therefore be thankful for our good fortune and never look down on other beings, considering them inferior. Remember, we are all in samsara. And where we are within samsara depends entirely on our karma.
All the birds in the Pure Land are singing the Dharma simultaneously. Wouldn’t the sound of these teachings, all at once, be chaotic? No! We will only hear the teaching we wish to. For example, you and I are sitting next to each other in the Pure Land. I want to learn about the Amitabha Sutra, so I will hear a teaching on the Amitabha Sutra. You, on the other hand, may
want to learn about the Infinite Life Sutra, so you will hear a teaching on the Infinite Life Sutra. Amazing!
This individualized education is as stated in Buddhism: “The Buddha speaks one teaching, but the listeners understand it according to their capacities.” And so among the myriad teachings of the Dharma that the Buddha speaks, we will hear our chosen teaching and
understand that teaching according to our capacity.
From all this, we can see that Amitabha Buddha is a compassionate teacher. Patiently guiding us, he ensures that we will hear the teaching that we are ready for and happy to learn.
— Chapter 21, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
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