One of the most outstanding characteristics of the practice of Buddha mindfulness is that it enables one to be swiftly born in Amitabha Buddha’s (Amituofo) Pure Land within this life (if one truly aspires and practises accordingly with the right faith). And upon reaching Pure Land, one is able to swiftly attain Buddhahood, without backsliding or obstacles in between. It is truly the expressway to Buddhahood.
Usually, for ordinary beings to become Buddhas, we need to go through 52 stages of attainments (菩萨五十二位) – namely, the 10 Faiths (十信), 10 Abodes (十住), 10 Practices (十行), 10 Transferences (十回向), 10 Grounds (十地) and Universal Enlightenment (等觉; highest Bodhisattvahood), before reaching Supreme Enlightenment (妙觉; Buddhahood). In terms of time, this requires 3 great Asamkhyeya-Kalpas (阿僧祗劫). [1 Asamkhyeya-Kalpa is 1000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000 Maha-Kalpas (or 1048 Maha-Kalpas) while 1 Maha-Kalpa (大劫) is 13, 4384, 0000 years. 3 great Asamkhyeya-Kalpas is thus 13, 4384, 0000 x 1048 years.] As this calculation is from the first stage of the 10th Abode onwards, the time spent in prior unsubstantial or trial-and-error practice is not added yet! As such, the time needed for ordinary beings to practise to become a Buddha is much more than 3 great Asamkhyeya-Kalpas.
However, in the Amitabha Sutra (阿弥陀经), we know that Amitabha Buddha attained Buddhahood (and created his Pure Land) only 10 Maha-Kalpas (130, 4384, 0000 years) ago. This is tremendously shorter than 3 great Asamkhyeya-Kalpas. Yet, according to the sutra, despite this short period of time, ‘In that Land Of Ultimate Bliss, beings born there are all Avaivartikas. Among them, many are in the Stage Of One Life To Replacement [to become Buddhas]. Their number is extremely great and cannot be known by counting, and can only with immeasurable and boundless Asamkheya-Kalpas be spoken of.’ (极乐国土，众生生者，皆是阿鞞跋致，其中多有一生补处，其数甚多，非是算数所能知之，但可以无量无边阿僧祇说。) What is inconceivable is that within just 10 Maha-Kalpas, there are already countless beings in Pure Land who are on the brink of Buddhahood. This bears testimony to the efficiency of Pure Land in training beings for Buddhahood.
Though the stages attainable in Pure Land are in greater detail below, they should not be a key concern, as whatever stage one first realises, it will be non-retrogressible and only leads towards steady progression in spiritual practice. Due to the supremely blessed environment of Pure Land, it is not necessary to ascend all the 52 stages to Buddhahood one by one in a slow way. Pure Land is as such, the most accelerated and thus swiftest path towards Buddhahood.
[Note: For the below’s time conversion, it is based upon this teaching by Sakyamuni Buddha: ‘此娑婆世界释迦牟尼佛刹一劫，于极乐世界阿弥陀佛刹为一日一夜。’ —《华严经·如来寿量品》’This Saha World’s [of the cycle of birth and death] Sakyamuni Buddha’s land’s one kalpa, is of Amita[bha] Buddha’s Land Of Ultimate Bliss’ one day and one night.’ – Avatamsaka Sutra (Chapter On Tathagatas’ Lifespans) In other words, 1 Maha-kalpa in the human realm here is equivalent to 1 day (in terms of e.g. 24 hours) in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land.]
The Contemplation Sutra (观无量寿佛经) states that beings of the lower level of the lower grade of birth (下品下生) [who have done the Five Heinous Transgressions (五逆罪) and/or the Ten Unwholesome Deeds (十恶业), who repent and practise (行) sincerely with faith (信) and aspiration (愿) for birth in Pure Land] will be reborn from lotuses after 12 Maha-kalpas here (in terms of human time scale, which is only 12 days there,) and give rise to irreversible Bodhicitta (菩提心; aspiration for Buddhahood). This is in sharp contrast with being reborn in Avici Hell (阿鼻地狱) to suffer relentlessly for an unimaginably long duration with uncertain limit, thereafter being reborn gradually in better lives to ‘restart’ spiritual cultivation. Due to the bountiful merits of Amitabha Buddha which he is ready to share, mindfulness of Buddha is the only way to escape from otherwise certain rebirth into the hells. The middle level of the lower grade of birth (下品中生) requires 6 Maha-Kalpas here (which is 6 days there) to be born, to soon give rise to Bodhicitta, while the higher level of the lower grade of birth (下品上生) requires only 49 days here (which is 0.000003452464512 of a minute there) to be born, and 10 Small Kalpas (167,980,000 years here, which is 3 hours there) to realise the First Ground (初地) Of Bodhisattvahood. If we are sincere and proficient Dharma practitioners, we are likely to be born in higher levels and grades, thus taking even less time to realise Buddhahood.
For the lower level of the middle grade of birth (中品下生), one realises the Stage Of Stream-Winner (入流) after 7 days of birth here (which is 0.000000020550384 of a minute there) and the Stage Of Arhathood (阿罗汉) after 1 Small Kalpa (小劫; 16,798,000 years here, which is 18 minutes there). For the middle level of the middle grade of birth (中品中生), one realises the Stage Of Stream-Winner after 7 days of birth here (which is 0.000000020550384 of a minute there) and the Stage Of Arhathood after half of 1 Small Kalpa here (which is 9 minutes there). For the higher level of the middle grade of birth (中品上生), one realises the Stage Of Arhathood almost immediately when born (which is even much faster in terms of Pure Land time).
For the lower level of the higher grade of birth (上品下生), one is born from a lotus after 1 day and 1 night here (which is 0.000000002935728 of a minute there), and able to realise the Stage Of First Ground (初地) Of Rejoice (喜地) after 3 Small Kalpas here (which is 54 minutes there). For the middle level of the higher grade of birth (上品中生), one realises the Stage Of Eighth Ground (八地) Of Unshakeability (不动地) after 7 days here (which is 0.000000020550384 of a minute there) and realises the Patience Of Non-Birth Of Dharmas (无生法忍) after 1 Small Kalpa here (which is 18 minutes there). For the higher level of the higher grade of birth (上品上生), one will realise the Patience Of Non-Birth Of Dharmas (which is equivalent to the Eighth Ground) upon birth, swiftly becoming a great Dharmakaya Bodhisattva (法身大士). Even great Bodhisattvas who have realised Universal Enlightenment like Samantabhadra (普贤) and Manjusri (文殊) express the need to practise mindfulness of Buddha, by aspiring to be born in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land – because the path to Buddhahood there is incredibly swift and cannot be compared with other worlds.
All beings who reach Pure Land are Avaivartikas (阿鞞跋致) because they are non-retrogressible (不退转) in three ways (三不退) – in terms of attainment (位不退: one will never backslide to rebirths in the lower realms and is bound for at least Arhathood), practice (行不退: one will never backslide to goals lesser than Buddhahood), and mindfulness (念不退: one will never backslide from moment-to-moment mindfulness of awakening, and is aligned in every thought with the vast and deep ocean of the wisdom of Buddhas. A remarkable aspect of being born in Pure Land is that though one might not have technically realised non-retrogression in all three ways immediately when it is reached, one is nevertheless on the non-retrogressible path of realising them fully.
From the above, we can note that beings who can be born in Pure Land are unlimited in nature. They range from those who had done great evil, to those who are average, to those who are not even Stream-winners yet, to those who are good Dharma practitioners, to those on the brink of Buddhahood (Bodhisattvas who have realised Universal Enlightenment – who can reach there instantly via mindfulness; not via lotus births). As indicated in the Contemplation Sutra, the first attainment one realises in Pure Land depends on one’s prior diligence in Dharma practice. They range from Stream-entry to Arhathood, from giving rise to irreversible Bodhicitta to realising the First Ground (up to the Eighth Ground). All these will lead up to Universal Enlightenment, and Supreme Enlightenment upon ‘graduation’ from Pure Land. While staying in Samsara even for a long time tends to not lead to much progress towards Buddhahood, with the practice of Buddha mindfulness, the aspiration for Buddhahood will no longer be a distant dream for anyone!
Does Amituofo’s Pure Land Offer The Fastest Way To Buddhahood?
Can Samsara Lead to Buddhahood More Efficiently than Pure Land?