In the ponds there are lotus flowers as big as cartwheels: blue ones shining with blue light, yellow ones shining with yellow light, red ones shining with red light, and white ones shining with white light, each emitting a subtle pure fragrance.
The beings in the Pure Land are born not by being thrust from a womb but by stepping out of a lotus. This is significant because those born from a womb experience the eight types of suffering. The suffering of birth includes the suffering of being inside the womb, not just of being born. A being inside a lotus, however, does not feel any discomfort or pain. Indeed, the
Avatamsaka Sutra tells us that when in the lotus, one feels that the flower is the whole world.
The Amitabha Sutra tells of various colored lotuses, “blue ones shining with blue light, yellow ones shining with yellow light, red ones shining with red light, and white ones shining with white light.” Blue, yellow, and red are primary colors, those that cannot be created by
mixing other colors together. The presence of these primary colors assures us that infinite colors are possible in the Pure Land. Everything there, from the adornments to the beings, glows with light. The light radiating from each lotus is of the same hue as the flower.
While lotus flowers in samsara have a pleasing fragrance, the lotuses in the Pure Land have a “subtle pure fragrance.” Great Master Ouyi wrote in his commentary on the Amitabha Sutra that “the ‘subtle pure fragrance’ of the lotus flowers is emblematic of their special virtues: they are ethereal, unobstructed, formless, and not sense-objects.”
Where do the lotuses come from?
We know that in this world, lotuses grow from the mud at the bottom of ponds. Gradually, the lotuses rise until, finally, they break through the surface of the water. In the Western Pure Land, however, the lotuses arise from our mind.
If we now believe, vow to be born in the Western Pure Land, and chant the name of Amitabha Buddha, a lotus bud with our name on it will appear in a pond in that land. The size, radiance, and color of the flower will reflect our diligence in chanting. If we stop this practice or change to another Dharma door, our lotus will wither. But when we grow increasingly sincere and happy in our chanting, our lotus will grow bigger and brighter. As we breathe our last breaths and singlemindedly chant the buddha-name silently or aloud, Amitabha, accompanied by a retinue of bodhisattvas, will come to us with our lotus. We will then enter the lotus and sit upright within it.
When it is time for our lotus to open, we will step out. Our body, glowing with light just like our lotus, will be fully grown with the same appearance as all the other beings in the Pure Land. We will then be able to stroll around the Pure Land, listening to birds teaching the Dharma or attending the assemblies to hear Amitabha teach.
We can be born in this extraordinary land if we have belief, resolute vow, and truly practice. An ancient patriarch said that for those who engaged in Pure Land practice without intermingling with other practices, if ten thousand people truly practice, all ten thousand
would be born in the Pure Land. Their success is due to their firm belief, resolute vow, and enthusiastic practice according to the teachings.
But more recently we have been told that if ten thousand people practice, only a handful will succeed in being born in the Pure Land. Why the difference? These few sincerely believe, vow, and practice. The vast majority do not, so their chanting is not single-minded. Thus, they fail to be born in the Pure Land.
Understanding this, we should value our good roots and good fortune. Although we have been reborn in this world of ignorance and suffering, we have encountered an inconceivably rare opportunity—the opportunity to become a Buddha. We need to have the determination
to want to be born in the Pure Land and the will to let go of all worries and afflictions. We do this because we realize that everything here is an illusion. Nothing else matters as much as being born in that land.
— Chapter 12, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling