Some Common Pure Land Misconceptions

Below are all the significant problematic Pure Land related excerpts from the book ‘The Way To Buddhahood’ (成佛之道) by Master Yinshun (印顺), as translated by Wing H. Yeung, with comments on them. This book, though often used for introduction to general Buddhist teachings, unfortunately has the misconceptions below on the precious Pure Land teachings, which are especially crucial for this current Dharma Ending Age, as clearly taught by Sakyamuni Buddha in the ‘Immeasurable Life Sutra’.

Excerpt: p.14: ‘When Sakyamuni Buddha was a Bodhisattva, he had the great compassionate intention to alleviate suffering and made a great vow to endure hardship. He did not want to be born in Pure Land. Instead, he vowed to practise to become a Buddha in this impure world because sentient beings here were miserable and urgently needed help.’

Comments: According to the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha established his Pure Land named ‘Unsurpassable’ (无胜国) to the West of our world system, as far as 42 Ganges’ rivers’ sand grains’ number of world systems away. This means he does actively teach there, while he also manifests elsewhere, such as in our defiled land to teach. Likewise, Amitabha Buddha (Amituofo) does the same – teaching in his Pure Land while also manifesting in various worlds such as ours to teach. We know this through examples such as Great Master Shandao and Yongming, the Second and Sixth Patriarchs of the Pure Land tradition respectively, who are regarded as Amituofo’s manifestations. Just as there is no conflict in establishing a Pure Land and venturing beyond to help others, there is no conflict in reaching a Pure Land and doing what we can to help others now too. Reaching Pure Land is simply for the best training to become the best Bodhisattvas to most efficiently guide all beings to Buddhahood.

Excerpt: p.60: ‘However, this [Nianfo practice] is only helpful for those who follow their last thoughts. For those who when dying follow their serious karma or their habits, the karmic forces are stronger.’

Comments: One will definitely have a last thought just before taking rebirth, which can be willed with practice to be in terms of sincere Nianfo, thus overriding karmically or habitually potentially arising negative thoughts. This is how even the otherwise hell-bound can escape from the most negative rebirth, as stated in the Contemplation Sutra.

Excerpt: p.103: ‘The Inner Court of Tusita is an adorned Pure Land where Maitreya Bodhisattva frequently preaches the Dharma… After some time, Maitreya Bodhisattva will come to Jambudvipa to become a Buddha. By then, this world will have already been transformed into a Pure Land… Maitreya Buddha will transform and save infinite sentient beings…

Comments: Technically, as Maitreya Bodhisattva is not yet a Buddha, and since Tusita is a heaven, where he resides is not an actual Pure Land, which is manifested only by Buddhas beyond all limited heavens. It is not so that our world will be a Pure Land when he arrives, though it will be purer than our world now. Due to this, the beings he is able to save then is not ‘infinite’.

Excerpt:Therefore, if one vows to be born in the Pure Land of Tusita, one will see Maitreya Bodhisattva and will follow him in his descent to the human world of the future…

Comments: It is not simply by vows that Maitreya Bodhisattva can be met, as there are many other practices needed too, such as the Ten Wholesome Deeds and many kinds of samadhi (meditative concentration). These make meeting him in Tusita not so easy.

Excerpt:In comparison to rebirth in other Pure Lands of the worlds in ten directions, the doctrine of rebirth in Maitreya’s Pure Land is most precious and secure. This can be obtained with reference to its three aspects.

Comments: The easiest Pure Land to enter is Amituofo’s Pure Land, as seen in his 18th vow, which requires only utmost sincere mindfulness of his name with joyful faith and aspiration to reach his land, as the minimum criteria. It is truly the most precious and secure, thus recommended by all Buddhas of all worlds most readily and most often.

Excerpt: ‘1. Closeness: Maitreya, now in the Tusita Heaven, will come to our human world in the future – to this very world, in this same realm of desire. These two locations, Maitreya’s Pure Land and this world are very close. Maitreya’s Pure Land is not like the other Pure Lands. In order to reach these other Pure Lands, one must pass through many Buddha Lands. As for the length of time involved in this process, after one is reborn in the Inner Court of Tusita in the next life, it will not be too long before one will return to the human world. This is not like being reborn in other Pure Lands where the length of time is required to return to this world is unknown.

Comments: Physical closeness does not equate to ease of reach. As above, there is high criteria. Physical distantness also does not equate to difficulty of reach. For instance, just because Amituofo’s Pure Land is a hundred thousand kotis of Buddha Lands away does not mean it is that number of times harder to reach – since reach is based on Amituofo’s instantaneous reception and guidance, not through personal journeying. As Maitreya Bodhisattva will manifest as a Buddha around 5.6 billion years later, it is not that it will ‘not be too long’ before returning to the human world. If Amituofo’s Pure Land is reached by the end of this life, one would already be a liberated Bodhisattva long before 5.6 billion years.

Excerpt: ‘2. Easy attainability: The Pure Land of Tusita and the Pure Land of this world, as it exists in the future, are both lands in the realm of desire. One therefore needs only to take refuge in the Three Treasures, keep the precepts purely, give properly, and in addition vow to be born in Maitreya’s Pure Land, reciting, “Praise the Future Descending Maitreya Buddha.” Then one can be born in the Pure Land of Tusita. This is different from being born in other Pure Lands, in which one has to be single-minded without scatteredness. To be single-minded without scatteredness in meditation is certainly not easy.

 Also as above, the Sutra On Maitreya’s Ascent say, ‘With practice of many kinds of samadhis, to deeply enter Right Concentration, then can there be attainment of birth [there].’ This means it is difficult for the average practitioner to meet Maitreya Bodhisattva. Such are the actual meditative single-minded skills needed. For Amituofo’s Pure Land, the right translation of the criteria to reach it, according to the Amitabha Sutra, is ‘wholeheartedness without being scattered’ (一心不乱), which is utmost sincerity in Nianfo (practice of mindfulness of the name of Amituofo), such that one does not change the subject. Based on the right Faith and Aspiration, this is not so much of meditative single-mindedness though it can naturally lead to it after connection to Amituofo.

Excerpt: ‘3. Universal accessibility: To be born in Maitreya’s Pure Land, one need not necessarily vow to attain the Bodhi Mind or the mind of renunciation… The beings of the Two Vehicles [who are without the Bodhi Mind] cannot be reborn in those other Pure Lands… Therefore, the doctrine for the Pure Land of Maitreya is the one that is really open to all those who would attain the deliverance of the Five Vehicles [of humans, gods, Sravakas, Pratyekabuddhas and Bodhisattvas]…

Comments: According to the Pure Land sutras, to reach Amituofo’s Pure Land does not require Bodhicitta (Bodhi Mind) as a must either, although having it will lead to higher grades of birth there. Even if the motivation of renunciation (of the Three Realms [or Spheres]) is not needed to reach Tusita, as above, the criteria is still high. Amituofo’s Pure Land is thus the one really one ideal land open to all beings.

Excerpt: ‘Some people say, “Previously it was said that one should cultivate the divine Dharma without wanting to be a divine being, so why talk about seeking to be reborn in Tusita Heaven?” The primary reason that one wants to avoid being born in the heavens is that one does not want to be born [i.e. stuck] in the longevity heavens through one’s profound meditation. In the heavens of the realm of desire and in Maitreya Bodhisattva’s Inner Court of Tusita in particular, one frequently sees the future Buddha, listens to the Dharma and practices, so it is all right to be reborn there.

Comments: According to ‘The Treatise On Ten Doubts About Pure Land’ by Great Master Zhizhe, it is challenging to try entering the the Inner Court due to many heavenly distractions of the outer court. They can thus lead to spiritual retrogression instead of certain progression.

Excerpt: ‘Some people say, “Why not advocate being reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land?” They should know that Amitabha Buddha’s most blissful Pure Land is a Pure Land particular to the Great Vehicle – in which Sravaka Buddhists generally do not believe or which they are ignorant.

Comments: There is seldom speak of Sravaka Buddhists who aspire to meet Maitreya Bodhisattva, while the Pure Land sutras list many great Arhats present to receive the teachings linked to Amituofo.

Excerpt: ‘Some people say, “In the past, Buddhasimha practiced the doctrines of Maitreya, vowing to be born in the Inner Court of Tusita but instead he ended up in the outer court enjoying sensual pleasures. So it may not be reliable to be reborn in the Pure Land of Tusita.” These people do not know that the story of Buddhasimha being born in the outer court was purposely spread by other people with ulterior motives…’

Comments: This account was stated clearly in ‘The Treatise On Ten Doubts About Pure Land’ which is a celebrated and widely studied text written by Great Master Zhizhe, who is the founder of the Tiantai tradition, and widely regarded as the ‘little Sakyamuni Buddha of the eastern land (China)’, as he systematically synthesised and categorised the Buddha’s teachings.

Excerpt: p.247: ‘Thus the easy path is to practice… Puxian (Samantabhadra) Bodhisattva’s ten great vows… [T]he easy path was taught to the timid beginners with an emphasis on embracing and protecting their faith… It is generally said that after reaching a Pure Land, people gradually practise and are determined not to retreat and to attain supreme bodhi.’

Comments: The Easy Path does not see practice of the ten vows as a must, as this would require Bodhicitta, which is not a must. The Easy Path is not only for the timid, but for the confident, wise and compassionate too, which is why Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s tenth vow is to personally reach and guide all beings to reach Amituofo’s Pure Land. To reach it requires strong Faith too. It is not generally said but definitely taught that all who reach Amituofo’s Pure Land will have the swiftest and non-retrogressive progress towards Buddhahood.

Excerpt: p.249: ‘[O]ne should… move into practicing cessation, contemplation… The doctrine of Amitabha Buddha’s Most Blissful Pure Land rejects the reality of this world… This is a teaching that rejects the human world and emphasises rebirth after death.’

Comments: The Pure Land path does not require practices of cessation and contemplation in the usual meditative sense, as the thought of renouncing this world is already the key cessation while the Aspiration to reach Pure Land is already the key contemplation. It does not reject the reality of this world, as it still makes sense to best do what we should now to make it a better place, even while aspiring to reach the best place for spiritual perfection, which is Amituofo’s Pure Land. Thus, the Pure Land path emphasises both this world and the next.

Excerpt: p.250: ‘To embrace these types of beginners who cannot renounce worldly pleasures… Sakyamuni Buddha also proclaimed the Medicine Buddha’s Pure Land… in the east, which symbolises growth, whereas Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land is in the west, which symbolises retirement. To liberate the dead, Chinese Buddhists chant the name of Amitabha Buddha; to disperse calamity and prolong life, they chant the name of Medicine Buddha… Yu Lin… knew that… most have little affinity with Amitabha’s Pure Land.’

Comments: Amituofo’s Pure Land also has pleasures, but of the spiritually pure kind, which surpasses all worldly pleasures. It is after all, the Land Of Ultimate Bliss. There is no teaching in the sutras saying that just because Amituofo’s Pure Land is to the West, it means it is to be practised only when dying or after death. What more, as the Buddha taught, since death can arrive abruptly, practice should begin now, before it is too late. Also, beings to the West of Amituofo’s Pure Land would perceive it as an Eastern land instead. Mindfulness of Amituofo is also able to disperse calamity and prolong life, as attested in many cases in history, since such practice creates meritorious virtues that dilute negative karma which causes suffering. Amituofo is also the Buddha Of Immeasurable Life, thus able to lengthen life, which of course necessitate the dispersion of calamity. It is not true that most have little affinity with Amituofo as most do. This has been so since ancient times till today, which is why Amituofo’s name is ubiquitously heard and seen so much often than other Buddhas’ names. This is so as Sakyamuni Buddha mentioned him the most among all other Buddhas.

Excerpt: p.259: ‘But the key point in this method is mindfulness of a buddha’s physical appearance and virtues…’

Comments: This is not true as the most crucial and thus popular Pure Land practice linked to Amituofo, which accords with his 18th vow does not require mindfulness of his form and virtues; only his name, with the utmost sincere Faith and Aspiration. Mindfulness of his form and virtues are more challenging and thus optional methods of practice. 

Excerpt: p.329: ‘To strengthen the faith of beginners with timid and weak minds, the Buddha taught the easy path as a skilful means. There is no harm in being reborn in a Pure Land; when the power of patience is achieved, then one can practise the extensive difficult deeds of transforming sentient beings.’

Comments: The Pure Land path is also for the spiritually courageous and strong, who are eager to most swiftly train through a Buddha’s direct teaching in his Pure Land, so as to most efficiently become great Bodhisattvas fully capable of guiding all other beings to Buddhahood. Not only is there no harm being reborn in a Pure Land, the benefits are thus immeasurable for oneself and all beings whom one can quickly rescue. This is while it is most difficult to achieve the power of patience in defiled lands like ours, thus making it extremely difficult to practise extensive deeds to transform sentient beings now.

Excerpt: p.355: ‘Also, because it is difficult to practise in a defiled land, the Buddha persuaded people to be reborn in the Pure Land where it is easy to be successful…. [H]owever… practising in a defiled land for a day is superior to practising in a Pure Land for a kalpa, and practising in a defiled land is easier than doing so in a Pure Land.’

Comments: The right way to understand these contradicting lines is that it is indeed more swiftly meritorious to practise in a defiled land within the same duration of time, than in a Pure Land. However, it is to the same extent much more difficult to do so, due to the distractions and obstacles. In other words, it still makes great sense to seek birth in Pure Land. On the comparison, the Immeasurable Life Sutra mentions that the merits from observation of the Eight Precepts for one day and night in a defiled land is equivalent to that cultivated in one hundred years in Pure Land; not one kalpa. However, remember that it is 36,500 (due to ‘365 days times 100 years’) times harder! This means we have at least 36,500 reasons to reach Amituofo’s Pure Land to expedite our practice towards Buddhahood!

Related Articles:

How An Anti-Pureland ‘Treatise’ (By The Same Author) Failed
Why Your Last Thought Matters So Much
Why Not Seek Birth In Tusita Heaven?
The Three Provisions For Rebirth In Pure Land
The True Meaning Of ‘Wholehearted Without Being Scattered’ (一心不乱)
The Fastest Way To Buddhahood Is Via Amituofo’s Pure Land

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1 Comment

  • 凡夫如果从末法又生末法,越生越末,这不是勇敢,真是愚痴!三界火宅都越烧越猛了!如果一直回入娑婆,大多唯有继续生死而已。有易行道不走,却走难行,又易退转的道,是对慧命的一大祸害!说方便就是不究竟者,忽略了每个法门都是方便法。修般若也不是一步登天的,不能直跳到般若中道上。佛说法也是方便说,因为第一义谛不可说。念佛到净土才是最快圆满一生了悟般若波罗蜜的第一方便法门。观音菩萨在那直接教我们心经心法!阿弥陀佛。

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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