Q&A

What are the Birds Singing in Pureland?

Question: What are the ‘five roots of goodness, the five powers, the seven practices leading to Enlightenment [seven factors of Enlightenment], and the Eightfold Noble Path’ mentioned in the Amitabha Sutra?

Answer: Let’s first look at how the above is mentioned by the Buddha – ‘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 [seven factors of Enlightenment], and the Eightfold Noble Path. On hearing them, the people of that land become mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.’

复次舍利弗:‘彼国常有种种奇妙杂色之鸟:白鹤、孔雀、鹦鹉、舍利、迦陵频伽、共命之鸟。是诸众鸟,昼夜六时,出和雅音。其音演畅五根、五力、七菩提分、八圣道分,如是等法。其土众生,闻是音已,皆悉念佛、念法、念僧。’

The summary of this passage is that there are magnificent birds manifested from Amitabha Buddha’s great compassion and wisdom to unceasingly and wondrously broadcast various aspects of the Dharma throughout his Pureland using sound. This is so skilfully done that beings who hear them (which is all the time), will never lose mindfulness of the Triple Gem, thus greatly expediting their progress towards Enlightenment.

In brief, the listed 4 sets of teachings (five roots, five powers, seven factors of Enlightenment and Noble Eightfold Path) are expanded as below, along with 3 other sets, which would be included in ‘如是等法’ (‘and other such teachings’). These 7 sets of teachings (which have 37 limbs or parts together) are all interlinked in theory and practice. When one practises any 1 set well, one’s practice will be linked to the other six sets. An example is that all 37 limbs can be found within the last set (Noble Eightfold Path) when it is practised deeply.

As the five roots, five powers, seven factors of Enlightenment and Noble Eightfold Path were mentioned in the Amitabha Sutra, it is often thought that these aspects of the Dharma must be practised well or even perfected in order to reach Pureland. However, this is not totally true – because if their perfection is required, it would mean that we need master the Dharma fully to reach Pureland; when the reverse is true – we reach Pureland in order to fully master the Dharma.

If the beings in Pureland have already realised the Dharma perfectly, there would be no need for Amitabha Buddha to manifest the birds. Of course, it is good to practise the Dharma as well as we can before reaching Pureland, because the better we practise, the easier it would be to reach Pureland and the faster will we attain Enlightenment. However, even if we have not mastered the teachings well before reaching Pureland, the birds there can be your teachers – along with Amitabha Buddha and other great Bodhisattvas! But one would need to ensure one’s Dharma practice is sufficient to reach Pureland in the first place!

37 Limbs of Enlightenment (37道品/觉支/菩提分)

1) 四念处 (四念住)
a) 身念处: 观身不净
b) 受念处: 观受是苦
c) 心念处: 观心无常
d) 法念处: 观法无我

1) Four Foundations of Mindfulness
a) Mindfulness of the body

b) Mindfulness of feelings
c) Mindfulness of mind (consciousness)
d) Mindfulness of mind-objects (mental qualities)

2) 四正勤 (四正断)
a) 已生恶令永断

b) 未生恶令不生
c) 未生善令生起
d) 已生善令增长

2) Four Right Efforts
a) Effort to avoid rise of evil

b) Effort to overcome evil
c) Effort to develop good
d) Effort to maintain good

3) 四如意足 (四神足)
a) 欲如意足: 希慕所修之法能如愿满足

b) 精进如意足: 于所修之法,专注一心,无有间杂,而能如愿满足
c) 念/心如意足: 于所修之法,记忆不忘,如愿满足
d) 思维如意足: 心思所修之法,不令忘失,如愿满足

3) Four Bases of Power
a) Desire / Zeal

b) Energy / Will
c) Mind / Consciousness
d) Discrimination / Investigation

4) 五根 (能生一切善法)
a) 信根: 笃信正道及助道法,则能生出一切无漏禅定解脱

b) 精进根: 修于正法,无间无杂
c) 念根: 乃于正法记忆不忘
d) 定根: 摄心不散,一心寂定
e) 慧根: 对于诸法观照明了

4) Five Faculties (Roots)
a) Faith

b) Energy
c) Mindfulness
d) Concentration
e) Wisdom

5) 五力 (能破恶成善 – 力即力用)
a) 信力: 信根增长,能破诸疑惑

b) 精进力: 精进根增长,能破身心懈怠
c) 念力: 念根增长,能破诸邪念,成就出世正念功德
d) 定力: 定根增长,能破诸乱想,发诸禅定
e) 慧力: 慧根增长,能遮止三界见思之惑 (理事之惑)

5) Five Powers
a) Faith

b) Energy
c) Mindfulness
d) Concentration
e) Wisdom

6) 七觉分 (七菩提分/七觉支/七觉意)
a) 择法觉分: 能拣择诸法之真伪

b) 精进觉分: 修诸道法,无有间杂
c) 喜觉分: 契悟真法,心得欢喜
d) 除觉分: 能断除诸见烦恼 (轻安觉支)
e) 舍觉分: 能舍离所见念着之境
f) 定觉分: 能觉了所发之禅定
g) 念觉分: 能思惟所修之道法

6) Seven Factors of Enlightenment
a) Investigation

b) Energy (Effort)
c) Joy
d) Tranquility
e) Equanimity
f) Concentration
g) Mindfulness

7) 八正道 (八圣道/八道谛)
a) 正见: 能见真理

b) 正思惟: 心无邪念
c) 正语: 言无虚妄
d) 正业: 住于清净善业
e) 正命: 依法乞食活命
f) 正精进: 修诸道行,能无间杂
g) 正念: 能专心意念正法
h) 正定: 身心寂静,正住真理

7) Noble Eightfold Path
a) Right View (Understanding)

b) Right Thought (Intention)
c) Right Speech
d) Right Action
e) Right Livelihood
f) Right Effort
g) Right Mindfulness
h) Right Concentration

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!