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 Amitābha Buddha’s (Āmítuófó) Pure Land in the West and Medicine Buddha’s Pure Land in the East. 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 in those new to Buddhism.

Also, there is no need for the Buddha to speak at length about too many other Pure Lands in detail – as they are basically of the same nature (in physical magnificence) and purpose (i.e. for training beings for Buddhahood). However, with Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land being the easiest to reach, through which all other Pure Lands can be accessed, including Medicine Buddha’s Pure Land, all Buddhas will recommend it to beings of their worlds.

The Eastern direction has the psychological feel of giving life, as the sun rises in the East, signifying energy and birth of a new day. This is sometimes related to Medicine Buddha’s vows to heal the ailing in this life and in his Pure Land. 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 day (or life). This is sometimes related to Amitābha Buddha’s vows to guide beings to ‘return home’ to their Buddha-nature, especially in his Pure Land.

However, such rigid perception is only psychological and can create an unnecessary false dichotomy. If this Sahā World is not situated between these Buddhas in the East and West, it would not make sense. All Buddhas, having the same perfect compassion and wisdom, will most gladly and skilfully help all beings in whatever ways possible, according to their aspirations and karmic conditions.

Mindfulness of Amitābha Buddha as the ‘Unsurpassable Great King of Healers’ (无上大医王) can have healing effects too, while mindfulness of Medicine Buddha can lead to birth in Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land too (as the below sūtra shows). Due to impending death, there is limit to healing here, while complete and permanent healing is by reaching Pure Land. 

In the ‘Sūtra [Of The] Meritorious Virtues [Of The] Fundamental Vows [Of] Medicine Master Lapis Lazuli Light Thus Come [One]’ [《药师琉璃光如来本愿功德经》or simply《药师经》: Medicine Master Sūtra] taught by Śākyamuni Buddha, there is mention of Amitābha Buddha and his Pure Land. The central importance of Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land is thus emphasised by being ‘cross-marketed (or publicised)‘ – even in this medium length sūtra focusing mainly on Medicine Buddha’s Pure Land. Let us look at such excerpts.

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。

Furthermore, Mañjuśrī, [of] that World-Honoured [One] Medicine Master Lapis Lazuli Light Thus Come [One] [i.e. Medicine Master Buddha: Bhaiṣajyaguru Buddha], when practising [the] Bodhisattva path, who gave rose [to] great vows, and that Buddha land’s meritorious virtues’ adornments, I if [for] one kalpa, or [for] more [than] one kalpa, [will] not [be] able [to] speak [of them] completely.

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(quē)、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。

However, that Buddha land [of Medicine Buddha is] always pure, without having women [i.e. no gender differences], also without evil paths, and suffering’s sounds. [It is with] lapis lazuli as ground, [with] golden cords lining paths. [Its] cities, watchtowers, palaces, pavilions, balconies, windows, [and treasure] nets, [are] all with seven treasures formed; also similar [to the] West[ern Pure] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss, [with] meritorious virtues adorned, equal without difference.

Note 1: These attributes of Medicine Buddha’s Pure Land are similar to that of Amitābha Buddha’s Western Pure Land, except that the latter is usually taught to be with gold as ground. It is natural that they are similar as Buddhas have equally perfect meritorious virtues, compassion, wisdom and equanimity, existing on the same ‘plane’ of purity. However, Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land is most often taught by Śākyamuni Buddha to help us focus, to overcome the paradox of choice.

于其国中,有二菩萨摩诃萨。一名日光遍照。二名月光遍照。是彼无量无数菩萨众之上首,次补佛处。…

In that land within, [there] are two Bodhisattva Mahāsattvas. [The] first [is] named Sunlight [With] Universal Illumination [i.e. Sūryaprabha]. [The] second [is] named Moonlight [With] Universal Illumination [i.e. Candraprabha]. [They] are of that [land’s] immeasurably innumerable Bodhisattva assemblies’ foremost, [and are in the] positions [to] next replace [the] Buddha…

Note 2: Together with Medicine Buddha, this noble trio are known as the ‘Three Sages (Saints) of the Eastern Pure Land’ (东方三圣). Although there are many other Pure Lands in the East, as in the West and other directions too, they are the most well known ones in the East, to beings of our world.

复次、曼殊室利!若有四众:苾刍(bìchú)、苾刍尼、邬(wū)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,

Furthermore, Mañjuśrī, if [there] is [the] fourfold assembly, [of] Bhikṣus [i.e. monks], Bhikṣuṇīs [i.e. nuns], Upāsakas [i.e. laymen], Upāsikās [i.e. laywomen], and other good men, good women, [and] others [with] pure faith, [who are] able [to] receive [and] uphold [the] Eightfold Purification Precepts, if passing one year, or repeatedly [for] three months, receiving [and] upholding training [in the rules of] conduct, with these good roots, aspire [for] birth [in the] Western Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss, [where] Immeasurable Life Buddha [i.e Amitāyus Buddha: Āmítuófó] is, [to] hear [the] Right Dharma, [but] yet [to be] decided,

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:文殊师利菩萨,观世音菩萨,得大势菩萨,无尽意菩萨,宝檀华菩萨,药王菩萨,药上菩萨,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。

if hearing [the] World-Honoured [One] Medicine Master Lapis Lazuli Light Thus Come [One’s] name, when approaching life’s end, [there will] be eight great Bodhisattvas, their names [are]: [1] Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva, [2] Contemplation [Of The] World’s Sounds Bodhisattva, [3] Attainment [Of] Great Power Bodhisattva, [4] Inexhaustible Intention Bodhisattva, [5] Treasure Sandalwood Flower Bodhisattva, [6] Medicine King Bodhisattva, [7] Medicine Supreme Bodhisattva [and] [8] Maitreya Bodhisattva. These eight great Bodhisattvas, riding [upon] space and coming, [will] show them [the] way, [and they will] immediately [in] that land’s many kinds [of] varicoloured treasure flowers within, naturally [by] transformation born.

Note 3: Which is ‘that land’ (彼界) mentioned? A fair interpretation is that the Bodhisattvas (as connected to Medicine Buddha), will further urge the person to aspire firmly, to reach the Pure Land that the person is already more inclined towards – as this is the easiest to do. This is an excellent example of how even another Buddha, along with other Bodhisattvas, are willingly to most compassionately, skilfully and selflessly cooperate with one another to guide even hesitant beings to reach the Pure Lands they wish.

Note 4: As mentioned in Amitābha Sūtra, the teachings related to Amitābha Buddha are universally protected and kept in mind by all Buddhas, including Medicine Buddha, for protecting its practitioners. Perhaps with such subtle ways, the Buddhas help us to focus with greater priority to reach Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land. Even sincere mindfulness of the (name of) Medicine Buddha (by sound, or thought; which is a mental sound) will aid successful birth – even though it is not Amitābha’s Buddha’s name that is heard. The assistance is possible as the Bodhisattvas are mindful of those who are mindful of either Buddha, and will safely direct them accordingly.

Note 5: However, ‘that land’ mentioned is more likely to be Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land due to the following reasons –

[i] Despite some mindfulness of Medicine Buddha’s name in this case, none of the Three Sages Of The Eastern Pure Land were mentioned to come to receive the person.

[ii] Bodhisattvas [1], [2], [3] and [8] are already in Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land, with [2] and [3] being the chief assistant Bodhisattvas of Amitābha Buddha in his Pure Land.

[iii] Bodhisattva [4] received teachings about Bodhisattva [2] in the ‘Contemplation [Of The] World’s Sounds Bodhisattva’s Universal Door Chapter’《观世音普门品》, which speaks of Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land in an extended version.

[iv] Bodhisattvas [6] and [7] were mentioned in the ‘Sūtra [On] Ten [Methods Of] Rebirth [In] Amitā[bha] Buddha’s Land’《十往生阿弥陀佛国经》to be among 25 Bodhisattvas who receive beings to Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land.

[v] Bodhisattva [8] was mentioned in ‘Universal Virtues Bodhisattva’s Practices And Vows Chapter’《普贤菩萨行愿品》to also be present in Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land.

或有因此,生于天上。虽生天上,而本善根,亦未穷尽。不复更生诸余恶趣。天上寿尽,还生人间。

Perhaps, [with] this, therefore born in heavens above. Although born [in] heavens above, yet [with their] own good roots also yet [to come to an] end, [they will] not again [be] born [in] all other evil paths. [When their] heavenly lives above end, [they will] return [to be] born [in the] human world.

或为轮王,统摄四洲,威德自在,,安立无量百千有情于十善道。

Perhaps as Wheel[-turning] Kings, [with] complete command [of the] four continents, [with] majestic virtue [and] ease, establishing immeasurable hundreds [of] thousands [of] sentient [beings], on [the] path [of] ten goodnesses [i.e. wholesome deeds].

或生刹帝利、婆罗门、居士、大家,多饶财宝, 仓库盈溢,形相端正,眷属具足,聪明智慧, 勇健威猛, 如大力士。

Perhaps born [as] Kṣatriyas, Brahmins, laypersons, [in] influential families, [with] much abundant wealth [and] treasures, storehouses brimming over, appearances upright, families complete, intelligence [and] wisdom, bravery [and] strength, boldness [and] power, like those [with] great might.

Note 6: If the person still does not have firm enough aspiration to reach any Pure Land, the person will be guided to a good heavenly or human rebirth (thereafter). This is also possible as the person did cultivate substantial meritorious virtues for so. However, in contrast to reaching a Pure Land, note that these destinations are still within the rounds of rebirth; that do not guarantee liberation, much less Buddhahood. It is thus better to not be ambivalent now, on where to go at the end of this life – by aspiring firmly to reach Pure Land, to experience Ultimate Bliss instead of just worldly joy. Through training in Pure Land to be great Bodhisattvas bound to be Buddhas (Dharma Kings), one will be able to reach out to more beings than Wheel-turning Kings with the Dharma.

若是女人,得闻世尊药师如来名号,至心受持,于后不复更受女身。

If as women, attaining hearing [of the] World- Honoured Medicine Master Thus Come [One’s] name, [with the] sincere mind receiving [and] upholding [it], in [the] future, [they will] not again receive [the] female body.

Note 7: Amitābha Buddha’s 35th great vow is similar in effect.

Related Articles:

Why Be Particularly Mindful Of One Buddha?
https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2014/03/why-be-particularly-mindful-of-one-buddha

What Is True & Total Healing?
https://purelanders.com/2012/10/06/what-is-true-total-healing

念佛如何免受鬼难
《佛说十往生阿弥陀佛国经 》
How Mindfulness Of Āmítuófó Protects From Evil Unseen Beings
(Sūtra [(On) Ten (Ways Of] Rebirth (In) Amitā(bha) Buddha’s Land)
https://purelanders.com/2018/06/11/how-mindfulness-of-amituofo-protects-from-evil-unseen-beings

如何同见阿弥陀佛与弥勒菩萨
Where To Meet Amitābha Buddha & Maitreya Bodhisattva Together
https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2019/04/where-to-meet-amitabha-buddha-maitreya-bodhisattva-together

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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