Comparative Studies

Two Popular Pure Lands: How East Meets West

Despite there being as many countless Pure Lands as there are Buddhas, the historical Buddha most famously taught us about one in the West (Amituofo; Amitabha Buddha’s) and another in the East (Medicine Buddha’s) of our world system. This can be seen as a skilful means to urge us to seek birth in either Pure Land. If the Buddha taught about more Pure Lands in equal detail, we might become confused as to which to aspire birth in. Even the speak of these two Pure Lands alone might cause ambivalence to those new to Buddhism.

Also, there is no practical need for the Buddha to speak at length about too many other Pure Lands in detail – as they are all basically of the same nature (in physical magnificence) and purpose (i.e. for training beings for enlightenment). However, as Amituofo’s Pure Land is the easiest to reach, ALL Buddhas will recommend it to beings of their worlds.

As a theory, some propose that the eastern direction has the psychological feel of giving life (as the sun rises in the East, signifying birth of a new day). This relates to Medicine Buddha’s vows to heal the ailing in this life… while the western direction has the psychological feel of refuge and return (as the sun sets in the West, signifying the time to go home) at the end of this life. They relate this to Amitabha Buddha’s vows to guide beings to return ‘home’ to their Buddha-nature.

However, that said, all Buddhas, having the same perfect compassion and wisdom, will most gladly and skilfully help all beings in whatever ways possible – as according to their karmic conditions. E.g. Mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha can have healing effects too, while mindfulness of Medicine Buddha can lead to birth in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land too (as we shall see later). Note that Amitabha Buddha is also known as ‘The Unsurpassable Great King Of Healers’ (无上大医王). Due to impending death, there is also a limit to healing in Samsara, while complete and permanent healing is by reaching Pure Land. 

If we study the ‘Sutra Of The Meritorious Virtues Of The Fundamental Vows Of Medicine Master Vaidurya [Lapis Lazuli] Light Tathagata’ (药师琉璃光如来本愿功德经) or simply ‘Medicine Master Sutra’ (药师经), as taught by Sakyamuni Buddha (some time after teaching Amitabha Sutra), we will realise that there is mention of Amitabha Buddha and his Pure Land (Of Ultimate Bliss) in it. The central importance of Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land is thus emphasised by being ‘cross-marketed or publicised’ – even in this relatively short sutra, which focuses mainly on Medicine Buddha’s Pure Land. Let us look at such excerpts from the sutra.)

Excerpt: ‘Moreover, Manjusri [Bodhisattva], that World-Honoured One, the Medicine Master Vaidurya Light Tathagata [i.e. Medicine Buddha], when practising [the] Bodhisattva path, of [his] great vows given rise to, and that Buddha land’s meritorious virtues’ adornment, I [Sakyamuni Buddha], if [for] one kalpa, if [for] more than one kalpa, [am] not able [to] exhaustively [speak of them]. However, that Buddha Land [i.e. Medicine Buddha’s Pure Land, is] always pure, without women [i.e. without gender differences, tension or sexism], also without evil destinies [of the three lower realms], and sounds [of] suffering; [with] vaidurya as ground, [and] golden cords [lining its] paths, [its] cities, towers, palaces, pavilions, studios, windows [and] nets, [are] all [with the] seven treasures composed; also like [the] Western [Pure] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss [of Amitabha Buddha, its] meritorious virtues’ adornments, are equal and without difference.’

(‘复次、曼殊室利!彼世尊药师琉璃光如来行菩萨道时,所发大愿,及彼佛土功德庄严,我若一劫、若一劫余,说不能尽。然彼佛土,一向清净,无有女人,亦无恶趣,及苦音声;琉璃为地,金绳界道,城、阙、宫、阁,轩、窗、罗网,皆七宝成;亦如西方极乐世界,功德庄严,等无差别。)’

Comments: The Buddha listed some physical attributes of Medicine Buddha’s Pure Land, which parallel that of Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land. He emphasises that both Pure Lands are essentially pure and identical (other than possibly some minor characteristics, as according to particular causal ‘architectural’ visions). This is so as all Pure Lands coexist ‘collectively’ on the same ‘plane’ or ‘dimension’, based upon the same equanimous and compassionate state of mind, with perfect meritorious virtues and wisdom. Thus, all Pure Lands are equally pure as they are shaped by the same fully enlightened state of mind.

It is worth noting that Manjusri Bodhisattva, who personifies perfect wisdom, was also present in the assemblies which the Buddha taught the three main Pure Land Sutras (Amitabha Sutra, Immeasurable Life Sutra and Contemplation Sutra), hinting that knowledge of the Pure Land teachings is required for perfecting and sharing great wisdom, and that it takes great wisdom (or is greatly wise) to pay attention to the profoundly skilful Pure Land teachings. As such, the Pure Land teachings are not just based upon faith and compassion, or merely for those lacking in wisdom or intelligence. They are suitable for those of all mental capacities, from the lowest to the highest.

Excerpt: ‘Moreover, Manjusri, if [there] are [the] fourfold assembly, [of] bhiksus [i.e. monks], bhiksunis [i.e. nuns], Upasakas [i.e. laymen], Upasikas [i.e. laywomen], and other purely faithful good men, good women [and] others, [who] are able [to] receive [and] uphold [the] Eight-Part Fasting Precepts, if passing one year, or repeatedly [for] three months receive [to] uphold, learning [to] live [with them], with these good roots, aspire [to be] born [in the] Western [Pure] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss, where [the] Immeasurable Life Buddha [i.e. Amitayus or Amitabha Buddha is to] hear [the] right Dharma, those yet [to be] definite [in Aspiration],

(‘复次、曼殊室利!若有四众:苾刍、苾刍尼、邬波索迦、邬波斯迦,及余净信善男子、善女人等,有能受持八分斋戒,或经一年、或复三月受持学处,以此善根, 愿生西方极乐世界无量寿佛所听闻正法而未定者,)

if hearing [the] name [of the] World-Honoured One, Medicine Master Vaidurya Light Tathagata [Yaoshi Liuliguang Rulai; Medicine Buddha], when approaching [the] end [of] life, [there] will [be] eight great Bodhisattvas, [with] their names called: [1] Namo [i.e. homage to and refuge for life in] Manjusri Bodhisattva [i.e. Wenshushili Pusa], [2] Namo Contemplator [Of The] World’s Sounds Bodhisattva [i.e. Guanshiyin Bodhisattva], [3] Namo Attainment [Of] Great Strength Bodhisattva [i.e. Dedashi; Dashizhi Bodhisattva], [4] Namo Inexhaustible Intention Bodhisattva [i.e. Wujinyi Pusa], [5] Namo Treasure Sandalwood Flower Bodhisattva [i.e. Baotanhua Pusa], [6] Namo Medicine King Bodhisattva [i.e. Yaowang Pusa]. [7] Namo Medicine Supreme Bodhisattva [i.e. Yaoshang Pusa, and] [8] Namo Maitreya Bodhisattva [i.e. Mile Pusa]. These eight great Bodhisattvas, riding [upon] space to arrive, [to] show them [the] path, [to] immediately in that [Pure] Land [of Amitabha Buddha], within that world’s all kinds [of] varicoloured treasure [lotus] flowers, spontaneously manifest birth.’ 

(若闻世尊药师琉璃光如来名号,临命终时,有八大菩萨,其名曰:南无文殊师利菩萨,南无观世音菩萨,南无得大势菩萨,南无无尽意菩萨,南无宝檀华菩萨,南无药王菩萨,南无药上菩萨,南无弥勒菩萨。是八大菩萨乘空而来,示其道路,即于彼界种种杂色众宝华中,自然化生。’)

Comments: If those who aspire to be reborn in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land are lacking in strong resolution on the deathbed, even mindfulness of the (name of) Medicine Buddha (by sound, or thought; which is a mental sound) will aid successful birth there – even though it is not Amitabha Buddha’s name that is heard. The assistance is possible as there are great Bodhisattvas (e.g. Guanshiyin and Dashizhi: Amitabha Buddha’s chief assistant Bodhisattvas et al.) who are mindful of those who are mindful of either Amitabha or Medicine Buddha, who will safely redirect them to Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land. This speaks of the great priority of aiding birth in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land – due to its excellence. It can be seen here that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas compassionately, skilfully and selflessly cooperate with one another to guide beings to be reborn in the Pure Lands they wish to go, even for those with some hesitation.

According to the ‘Sutra [Of] Ten [Ways To Be] Reborn [In] Amituofo’s Land’ (十往生阿弥陀佛国经), Pure Land aspirants will receive constant protection by 25 Bodhisattvas, to be without sickness and afflictions, from humans and non-humans (such as evil ghosts and gods), to attain peace when living, and when about to be born in Amituofo’s Pure Land. Of these Bodhisattvas, four listed are among the eight in the ‘Medicine Master Sutra’ – Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, Great Strength Bodhisattva, Medicine King Bodhisattva and Medicine Supreme Bodhisattva. With Manjusri Bodhisattva also personally having aspired to reach Amituofo’s Pure Land, this means the majority, of five out of the eight Bodhisattvas are closely linked to Amituofo. (For full list of the 25 Bodhisattvas, see ‘Bonus Excerpt‘ at end of article.)

Of course, if one is mindful of Medicine Buddha to be reborn in his Pure Land, there should not be redirection elsewhere. However, it is worth noting that the sutra does not mention Medicine Buddha, his chief assistant Bodhisattvas: Sun Light Bodhisattva (日光菩萨) and Moon Light Bodhisattva (月光菩萨), or the above eight Bodhisattvas personally receiving aspirants to reach his Pure Land, while sutras associated with Amitabha Buddha do state himself and/or his chief assistant Bodhisattvas (Guanshiyin and Dashizhi), along with more Bodhisattvas coming forth to receive and guide aspirants to reach his Pure Land.

Does the above make the stated reception and guidance by the eight Bodhisattvas more likely to be towards Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land? This is partly why it is interpreted by some that it is harder to reach Medicine Buddha’s Pure Land. Reaching Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land allows ease of accessing all other Pure Lands, including Medicine Buddha’s Pure Land, as stated in the Amitabha Sutra (阿弥陀经) –

Excerpt: ‘[The] beings [of] that [Pure] Land [Of Ultimate Bliss, of Amitabha Buddha] often, early [in the] morning, each with [the] hem [of their] clothes, fill many wonderful flowers, [to] make offerings [to a] hundred thousand kotis  [of] Buddhas [in] other directions. [Note: 1 koti is 10 million.] Promptly by mealtime, [they] return [to the] original land, [to] eat [and] practise walking meditation.’

(‘其土众生,常以清旦,各以衣祴,盛众妙华,供养他方十万亿佛。即以食时,还到本国,饭食经行。’)

Comments: This is possible because, as mentioned, all Pure Lands coexist on the same spiritual ‘plane’ or ‘dimension’, while Buddhas can compassionately empower to enable their Pure Lands’ inhabitants to reach one another’s Pure Lands to meet more Buddhas. This inter-accessibility via Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land is explicitly clear.

The above passages on how Medicine Buddha connects us to Amitabha Buddha also reminds that, as mentioned in the Amitabha Sutra, the teachings related to Amitabha Buddha are universally protected and kept in mind (i.e. being mindful of, for teaching and protecting its practitioners), by all Buddhas of all directions, including Medicine Buddha, even though he resides to the East of our world system, which is even farther East from Amitabha Buddha’s Western Pure Land! Perhaps with such subtle ways, the Buddhas help us to focus with greater priority upon reach of Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land.

Bonus Excerpt: ‘【释迦牟尼】佛告大众:“于我灭后,受持是经【《 佛说十往生阿弥陀佛国经 》】,八万劫中,广宣流布,至贤劫千佛,使诸众生普得闻知,信乐修行,说者、听者皆得往生阿弥陀佛国。若有如是等人,我从今日,常使二十五菩萨护持是人,常令是人无病无恼,若人、若非人不得其便,行住坐卧,无问昼夜,常得安稳。

若有众生,深信是经,念阿弥陀佛,愿往生者。彼极乐世界阿弥陀佛,即遣 【1】观世音菩萨、【2】大势至菩萨、【3】药王菩萨、【4】药上菩萨、【5】普贤菩萨、【6】法自在菩萨、【7】狮子吼菩萨、【8】陀罗尼菩萨、【9】虚空藏菩萨、【10】德藏菩萨、【11】宝藏菩萨、【12】金藏菩萨、【13】金刚菩萨、【14】山海慧菩萨、【15】光明王菩萨、【16】华严王菩萨、【17】众宝王菩萨、【18】月光王菩萨、【19】日照王菩萨、【20】三昧王菩萨、【21】自在王菩萨、【22】大自在王菩萨、【23】白象王菩萨、【24】大威德王菩萨、【25】无边身菩萨,是二十五菩萨,拥护行者,若行、若住、若坐、若卧、若昼、若夜,一切时一切处,不令恶鬼恶神得其便也。”‘

‘[Śākyamuni] Buddha told [the] great assembly, “… If [there] are sentient beings, [with] deep faith [in] this Sūtra [(On) Ten (Ways Of] Rebirth (In) Amitā(bha) Buddha’s Land], [who are] mindful [of] Amitā[bha] Buddha[‘s name – Āmítuófó], aspiring [to be] reborn, [in] that Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss [of his], Amitā[bha] Buddha, [will] immediately send [1] Contemplator [Of The] World’s Sounds [Avalokiteśvara] Bodhisattva, [2] Great Power Arrived [Mahāsthāmaprāpta] Bodhisattva, [3] Medicine King [Bhaişajyarāja] Bodhisattva, [4] Medicine Supreme [Bhaiṣajyasamudgata] Bodhisattva, [5] Universal Virtues [Samantabhadra] Bodhisattva, [6] Dharma Ease Bodhisattva, [7] Lion’s Roar Bodhisattva, [8] Dhāraṇī Bodhisattva, [9] Empty Space Treasury [Ākāśagarbha] Bodhisattva, [10] Virtues’ Treasury Bodhisattva, [11] Treasures’ Treasury Bodhisattva, [12] Golden Treasury Bodhisattva, [13] Vajra Bodhisattva, [14] Wisdom [Of] Mountains [And] Seas Bodhisattva, [15] King [Of] Bright Light Bodhisattva, [16] King [Of] Flower Adornment Bodhisattva, [17] King [Of] Many Treasures Bodhisattva, [18] King [Of] Moonlight Bodhisattva, [19] King [Of] Sunshine Bodhisattva, [20] King [Of] Samādhi Bodhisattva, [21] King [Of] Ease Bodhisattva, [22] King [Of] Great Ease Bodhisattva, [23] King [Of] White Elephants Bodhisattva, [24] King [Of] Great Majestic Virtues Bodhisattva, [and] [25] Boundless Body Bodhisattva, [with] these 25 Bodhisattvas, supporting [and] protecting them, if walking, if standing, if sitting, if lying [down], if [in] day, if [in] night, [at] all times, [at] all places, not letting evil ghosts [and] evil gods attain advantage [over] them.”‘

Related Article:
How To Reach The Western & Eastern Pure Lands?
https://purelanders.com/2018/07/30/how-to-reach-the-western-eastern-pure-land

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