Can Saṃsāra Lead to Buddhahood More Efficiently Than Pure Land?

Question: Some assume that Saṃsāra (i.e. 生死轮回: the cycle of births and deaths) is good for spiritual cultivation exactly because of its imperfections, and the ‘friction’ it provides. How does this reconcile with going to Āmítuófó’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land to practise?

Answer: This is a good question, and the answers are manifold, as below.

[1] If Saṃsāra is ideal for cultivation, why are most beings in Saṃsāra unenlightened, while all beings in the Pure Land are steadily advancing towards Buddhahood? More personally, if Saṃsāra is so good for practice, why are we still far from enlightenment after all this time? As the Buddha taught, all phenomena rise and fall – including the state of how well the Dharma is generally easy to be learnt, practised, realised and propagated in Saṃsāra. According to various sūtras, the state of the Dharma will generally decline in this Dharma-Ending age (末法时期). If so, Saṃsāra, in terms of this Sahā World (娑婆世界) will become a worse and worse place to cultivate the Dharma, with more and more channels for distractions and delusions to fester. At the same time, it is also taught that the Pure Land method will be the safest to practise for breaking free of Saṃsāra within this period of time.

[2] If Saṃsāra is ideal for Dharma practice, there would be no need for the Buddhas to create Pure Lands and ‘sing’ praises of them, to urge beings in Saṃsāra to seek birth there – as there would be no advantages for doing so for anyone at all. Thus, Pure Lands do and must churn out enlightened beings more swiftly than Saṃsāra. If otherwise, there would be absolutely no point to create even a single Pure Land – because it would deter beings from swift enlightenment by slowing them down.

[3] It is perfectly natural that there will be one ultimately super-skilful teaching that all Buddhas unanimously agree to be the best means to swiftly guide beings of all capacities to full enlightenment. That means is the Pure Land path offered by Āmítuófó. There is no other comprehensive method that all Buddhas agree is a must to propagate. As stated in the Amitā[bha] Sūtra《阿弥陀经》, it is universally propagated by all Buddhas to beings of their lands. This is done obviously because the Pure Land most efficiently trains beings to be enlightened, with the provision of various advantages. If not, it would not be sensible for all Buddhas to heavily ‘market’ the Pure Land path.

[4] The Pure Land provides a bird’s eye view of the universe, including all of Saṃsāra in terms of all space and time, with the heavenly eye, as empowered by Āmítuófó’s meritorious virtues. With this, it is actually easier to give rise to perfect Bodhi Mind (Bodhicitta: 菩提心) with great compassion (大悲) to help all beings in Saṃsāra. The Pure Land is not a paradise that is blind to Saṃsāra’s imperfections and suffering. The ability of Purelanders there to be totally aware of Saṃsāra’s suffering beings provides powerful motivation for advancing towards Buddhahood.

[5] The Pure Land is the perfect physical embodiment of the Middle Path (中道), as manifested from Āmítuófó’s boundless meritorious virtues. Here, the Middle Path does not wrongly refer to a balance of push factors to enlightenment versus pull factors away from enlightenment – because there would be no advantage this way. The Pure Land’s Middle Path refers to its environment not spurring slackness in Dharma practice, while not forcing beings to practise, with all physical elements in the Pure Land expressing the Dharma in spiritually pleasing (and not sensually indulgent) ways to urge continual practice. Its environment does not create any unnecessary friction against spiritual practice, while it provides the best ‘lubrication’ for advancing on the expressway of expedited practice, without any jams.

[6] We need to remember that the Pure Land, as created by Āmítuófó is praised by Buddhas of ALL directions for its excellence. In short, it is endorsed by ALL beings (Buddhas) who have perfect compassion and wisdom. This universal endorsement also means that even if ALL Buddhas merge their compassion and wisdom together, they cannot create a Pure Land that is any more excellent. Thus, it would be a serious mistake to think that birth in Pure Land slows down the path to enlightenment instead of speeding it up. No single Buddha would design a Pure Land that decelerates instead of accelerates the path to enlightenment. If any one does, that being cannot be a Buddha, as perfect compassion and wisdom are requisites to be Buddhas, and having these qualities, no Buddha would create a sloppy Pure Land (that cannot be called a Pure Land at all). The fact that his Pure Land speeds up the path to enlightenment is also an expression of Āmítuófó’s universal compassion because he wishes to train beings swiftly to help all other beings still in Saṃsāra. When ALL Buddhas urge beings of their worlds to seek birth in this Pure Land, they are also expressing the same perfect compassion.

[7] The two chief requisites for Buddhahood are perfect merits (from cultivation of compassion) and wisdom. In the Pure Land, all can have access to Buddhas of all directions, while having the Pure Land as the home ‘base’. This is a very precious advantage because one will be able to make offerings to countless Buddhas in person, thus swiftly accumulating much merits, and learn from them in person too, thus swiftly accumulating much wisdom – all as swift as possible!

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