Updated: Jan 2
At that time Buddha said to the Elder
Shariputra: “West of here, past a hundred
billion Buddha-lands, there exists a world
called Ultimate Bliss. In this land there is a
Buddha called Amitabha, who is preaching
the Dharma right now.”
Sakyamuni Buddha spoke of a world “west of here” to help us understand where the Pure Land is in relation to our world. He further explained that it lies “past a hundred billion Buddha-lands.” A buddha-land is a great galaxy in which one Buddha dwells and teaches. And so, from the aspect of phenomenon, a hundred billion buddha-lands is an inconceivable distance from us. Fortunately, from the aspect of noumenon, of principle, the Pure Land is already within our true nature.
Sakyamuni Buddha said, “there exists a world” to ensure that no doubt arises in the listener—this world does indeed exist. Telling us it is called “Ultimate Bliss” is done to encourage us to vow to be born there, not in our world that is called Endurance.
“In this land there is a Buddha called Amitabha.” Saying that Amitabha Buddha is in that land is done to assure us that he is neither a figment of imagination nor a being who will come into existence sometime in the distant future. He is real, and he already exists in his Pure Land. By mindfully chanting his name—a cause—we will form a connection with him and be born in his land—the effect.
When we vow to be born in the Pure Land, he will know. He will be aware that we want to end our suffering. And with infinite patience, he will wait for us to form a connection with him. How do we do this? By single-mindedly chanting his name. And for how long? For the rest of our life—but most crucially when we are breathing our last breaths.
It is as if Amitabha is always reaching out to us with a perfectly steady hand. But our hand, moving erratically all the time, a symbol of our thoughts jumping from one thing to another, must first be stilled before we can take his. By single-mindedly repeating Amitabha’s name as we are breathing our last breaths, our finally still mind will resonate with his and we will be as one. He will come, just as he vowed, to guide us to his land of Ultimate Bliss.
“Preaching the Dharma right now,” tells us that in the Pure Land, Amitabha Buddha is currently teaching the Dharma. He has been doing so since he became a Buddha ten kalpas ago. In comparison, Sakyamuni Buddha taught the Dharma in this world for just forty-nine years. These forty-nine years of teaching were so difficult for him to do because our world has a terrible learning environment.
It is even worse today for we are now in the Dharma- Ending Age. People today have very short lives and little time to learn and practice. They have deep-seated bad habits and numerous afflictions, not the least of which are selfishness, greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance. They have long-established worldly desires including those for food, sleep, sensory indulgence, fame, prestige, wealth.
Absorbed in all these afflictions and desires, people have not created the necessary conditions for Buddhas to come here often to teach. Maitreya Bodhisattva will not come to our world to become a Buddha for another 5,670 million years!
This multi-million-year gap between the two Buddhas, Sakyamuni and Maitreya, shows how incredibly rare it is in our world, our buddha land, to be able to learn directly from a Buddha.
The Western Pure Land, however, has an excellent learning environment. Amitabha has been teaching there for kalpas. In that time, uncountable beings in that land have eradicated their afflictions and allowed none to develop. They have erased all bad habits and strengthened their good habits. From this, we can see why a superior learning environment is so important.
While there are uncountable beings in the Pure Land now, initially there were none. Where did they come from? These beings with their abundance of good roots, good fortune, and causal connections came from worlds in all the ten directions.
Having good roots means that they believed and comprehended the teachings in this sutra. We can too.
Having good fortune means that they were willing to practice according to the teachings and were able to succeed in that practice. We can too.
They developed good roots and good fortune within themselves. We can too.
Causal connections are external factors and refer to favorable conditions. The most significant favorable condition is to meet a genuinely good teacher who introduces and teaches this Dharma door to us.
It is an incredibly rare opportunity to hear of such an ideal land for learning and practice. If we want to be born there, we too must have abundant good roots, good fortune, and favorable causal connections. We may be able to rely on others to help us where favorable connections are concerned, but we have to cultivate good roots and good fortune ourselves.
— Chapter 7, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
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