Will Those Back From Pure Land Remember Their Past Lives?

Question: Can those who return from Amituofo’s (Amitabha Buddha) Pure Land recall their past lives, including the fact that they are from Pure Land?

Answer: All who have came back from there CAN recall their past lives. This can be known by these lines taught by Sakyamuni Buddha in the Immeasurable Life Sutra (佛说无量寿经), as translated by Master Sanghavarman (康僧铠):


‘Moreover, those Bodhisattvas, [1] and even until accomplishing Buddhahood, will not receive rebirth in evil realms [2]. With supernormal powers [3] and ease, constantly knowing past lives [4]. Excluded are those born in other directions’ worlds with the Five Defilements in Evil Periods [5], [who] manifest [to be the] same [as] those [there], such [as in] my land [6].’


[1] … from Amituofo’s Pure Land. All who are born in Amituofo’s Pure Land will be Avaivartikas (Bodhisattvas in the Stage Of Non-Retrogression, with non-backsliding progress assured of Buddhahood), as taught by Sakyamuni Buddha in the Amitabha Sutra (阿弥陀经):


‘Moreover, Śāriputra, in the Land Of Ultimate Bliss, those sentient beings born, are all Avaivartikas.’

This means all who depart from Amituofo’s Pure Land are Bodhisattvas, as all would have give rise to non-retrogressible Bodhicitta there before departure. (If otherwise, they would be leaving Pure Land for samsaric (i.e. worldly) reasons as non-Bodhisattvas, instead of the noble aspiration of delivering beings from suffering. This is of course not possible.)

[2] … of hell-beings, hungry ghosts and animals. This is aligned with Amituofo’s Second Vow in the same sutra:


[Second Vow Of Not Again Further Born In Evil Realms]: If I [Dharmakara Bodhisattva] attain Buddhahood [as Amituofo], should heavenly and human beings within my land, after their lives end, have those again further born in the three evil paths, I shall not obtain Right Awakening.’

[3] … of being able to recall all past lives (according to Amituofo’s Fifth Vow), have the heavenly eye for supernormal vision (according to Amituofo’s Sixth Vow), have the heavenly ear for supernormal hearing (according to Amituofo’s Seventh Vow), know others’ thoughts (according to Amituofo’s Eighth Vow), have divine ‘feet’ for supernormal travel (according to Amituofo’s Ninth Vow), and not give rise to thoughts of attachment to self (according to Amituofo’s Tenth Vow).

[4] … of themselves and others. This is aligned with Amituofo’s Fifth Vow in the same sutra:


[Fifth Vow Of Those Born All Attaining Past Lives’ Knowledge]: If I [Dharmakara Bodhisattva] attain Buddhahood [as Amituofo], should heavenly and human beings within [my] land, have those not knowing past lives, to at least know a hundred thousand koṭis [1 koti: 10 million or billion] of nayutas [1 nayuta: 100 billion] of all kalpas’ [1 kalpa: 1.28 trillion years] matters, I shall not obtain Right Awakening.’

[5] … of the kalpa (this period when all kinds of corrupted phenomena increasingly gather), views (which are wrong and harmful), afflictions (which cause suffering due to attachment, aversion, delusion, pride and doubt), sentient beings (who arise from defilements of views and afflictions mixing together) and their lifespans (being short, which makes spiritual progress to Buddhahood without the Pure Land path difficult).

[6] … which is this Saha World, where there is ‘Endurance’ of suffering. This line from the sutra means Pure Land’s Bodhisattvas who manifest in heavily defiled lands such as ours will be ABLE to recall their past lives, yet deliberately exhibit ignorance of their past lives. This is to blend in more skilfully to teach the Dharma, while not possibly confusing beings here. Attention will be directed to the Dharma and not to any claimed status, unless during last moments before departure, so as to inspire survivors to better practise the Dharma. This is in strict accordance with Sakyamuni Buddha’s instructions in the Surangama Sutra’s ‘Section On Clear Instructions For Purity’ (楞严经: 清净明诲章):

‘我灭度后,敕诸菩萨,及阿罗汉,应身生彼末法之中,作种种形,度诸轮转。或作沙门、白衣居士、人王宰官、童男童女。如是乃至淫女寡妇、奸偷屠贩,与其同事,称赞佛乘,令其身心入三摩地。终不自言:『我真菩萨、真阿罗汉』,泄佛密因,轻言未学。唯除命终,阴有遗付。云何是人,惑乱众生,成大妄语?… 譬如穷人,妄号帝王,自取诛灭。况复法王,如何妄窃?… 如我所说,名为佛说。不如此说,即波旬说。’

‘After my Parinirvāṇa, I order all Bodhisattvas and Arhats, to manifest bodies to be born within that Dharma-Ending Age, to become all kinds of forms, to deliver all from rebirth. Perhaps becoming Śramaṇas, white-robed laypersons, kings, officials, young males and young females. As such, and even as licentious women, widows, adulterers, thieves, butchers and peddlers, with them together working, praising the Buddha Vehicle, to enable their bodies and minds to enter Samādhi. To the end, not self-saying, “I am a true Bodhisattva, a true Arhat”, to divulge the Buddha’s secret cause, to lightly speak so to those yet to learn. Only except at life’s end, secretly having that left for entrusting. Why would these persons, confuse sentient beings, by accomplishing great false speech? … For example, like a poor person, falsely naming oneself as an emperor, this is to self-court extermination. Moreover, as a Dharma King, how can this title be falsified [and] stolen? … Such that I have spoken, is named as Buddhas’ speech. Not such as spoken, is Pāpīyāms’ [i.e. Māra: the evil demon king] speech.’

This means any person who claims to be an Arhat, Bodhisattva or Buddha in our world’s present era is straightaway a liar, out to trick others for gathering especially fame and/or fortune. If one cannot recall oneself to be from Pure Land, all the more should there NOT be claim that one is or might be from there. This is so as once one cannot recall oneself to be from Pure Land, one is definitely not from there.

Question: Are there any further dangers of imagining oneself or anyone else to be from Pure Land?

Answer: Yes, there are many grave dangers. If one egoistically imagines one was from Pure Land, one might become spiritually complacent, thinking there is no more need for spiritual training to go there for further spiritual training, when one had never trained sufficiently to reach there in the first place. One thus continues to be reborn endlessly without reaching Pure Land to end samsaric rebirth, or to better help others do so. To ‘romanticise’ oneself to be from Pure Land is thus arrogant and delusional.

Other than already historically recognised great practitioners who revealed their true identities as being from Pure Land near the end of their manifested lives, it is just as foolish to promote the idea that someone else is from Pure Land, as imagining this can lead oneself or others to follow a faulty teacher or practitioner, to learn faulty teachings, that do not lead to Pure Land at all.

Question: Why is it very important to make it to Pure Land, if one wishes to deliver all beings most efficiently?

Answer: If we take our time to wander in the rounds of rebirth while trying to cultivate the path to Buddhahood, it would be extremely difficult to deliver beings from suffering efficiently. In contrast, if we wish to swiftly train to be able to function as the greatest of Bodhisattvas, it is invaluable to reach Pure Land, for reasons that can be seen in Amituofo’s Twenty-Second Vow:

‘【第二十二:菩萨一生补处愿】: 设我得佛,他方佛土诸菩萨众,来生我国,究竟必至一生补处。除其本愿自在所化。为众生故,被弘誓铠,积累德本,度脱一切。游诸佛国,修菩萨行,供养十方诸佛如来。开化恒沙无量众生,使立无上正真之道,超出常伦诸地之行,现前修习普贤之德。若不尔者,不取正觉。’

[Twenty-Second Vow Of Bodhisattvas Attaining The Position Of One Life To Replacement (Of Other Buddhas; Eka-jati-prati-baddhas)]: If I [Dharmakara Bodhisattva] attain Buddhahood [as Amituofo], other directions’ Buddha lands’ all Bodhisattva assemblies, who come to be born in my land, will ultimately and definitely reach the Position Of One Life To Replacement. Excluded are those with fundamental vows, who with ease at places manifest, for sentient beings thus, wear the armour of great vows, accumulate and amass virtuous roots, to deliver and liberate all. Travelling to all Buddha lands, cultivating Bodhisattva practices, and making offerings to the ten directions’ all Buddha Thus Come Ones. Inspiring and transforming Ganges’ sands of immeasurable sentient beings, enabling them to be established on the unsurpassable right and true path, surpassing practices of ordinary peers of all grounds, manifesting in the present, cultivating of the virtues of Universal Virtue [Samantabhadra Bodhisattva]. If it is not thus, I shall not obtain Right Awakening.’

This vow clearly states that all Bodhisattvas, even if they are not yet the greatest of Bodhisattvas (Eka-jati-prati-baddhas) like Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, they will be able to, with ease manifest in all lands (including lands with the five defilements) like him. With this vow’s protection for delivering beings from suffering, such ease must of course be with memory of all past lives, as no proficient Bodhisattva forgets a single crucial lesson learnt from the past, especially that learnt in Pure Land! If one forgets one’s entire life with spiritual training in Pure Land, there might be problems in delivering even one single being. Although this vow is stated to be for those already Bodhisattvas, even if one is not a Bodhisattva now yet, as above in Note [1], all will become Bodhisattvas in Pure Land and be able to benefit from this vow.

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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