Q&A

Is Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land Easier To Reach Than Tuṣita’s Inner Court? 阿弥陀佛的净土比兜率内院容易生吗?

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Comparison Of Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land With Maitreya Bodhisattva’s Tuṣita Heaven’s Inner Court

[The following is a summary of the titled, from the original full text below, in the Mirror On Mindfulness Of Buddha《念佛镜》, as collected by the Śramaṇas Dàojìng (沙门道镜) and Shàndào (善道).]

The meritorious virtues (功德) from mindfulness of Amitābha Buddha (阿弥陀佛) surpass mindfulness of Maitreya Bodhisattva (弥勒菩萨) by a thousand million times (百千万倍), as the first had already attained the full fruit of perfect awakening (觉圆果满), which surpasses all grounds of Bodhisattvahood (超诸地位).

As Tuṣita heaven (兜率天) is not beyond the Three Realms (三界), when heavenly rewards have already exhausted (天报既尽), one will still fall into Jambudvīpa (阎浮提). If born in Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land (净土), it is beyond the Three Realms, directly transcending the Five Paths (of hell-beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans and [demi-]gods) (直截五道). Once born in that land, directly until Bodhi (awakening of Buddhahood), not again falling (一生彼国,直至菩提,更不堕落).

In Tuṣita heaven, there is less time receiving bliss (少时受乐), while in Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land within, its bliss is the most supreme (最胜), thus named as ‘Ultimate Bliss’ (极乐), for a long time receiving bliss, without a limiting period (长时受乐无有限期).

Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land’s bodily forms are supreme (身相胜), as they are all complete with great humans’ 32 forms (三十二相), while Tuṣita heavenly beings are without these forms.

Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land’s assembly of disciples is supreme (徒众胜), with all Bodhisattvas together as companions (与诸菩萨共为伴侣) , receiving male bodies, without female forms, while Tuṣita’s heavenly beings are with males and females mixed residing.

Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land’s lifespan is supreme (寿命胜), directly until attaining the fruit of Buddhahood (直至佛果), while Tuṣita’s heavenly beings’ lifespan is four thousand years.

Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land’s supernormal powers are supreme (神通胜), with all six supernormal powers (六神通).

Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land’s fruit’s reward is supreme (果报胜), with clothing, food and drink, incense, flowers, garlands and all objects of offering (一切供具) spontaneously transformed (自然化成), for use without end (受用无有穷尽).

Also, Tuṣita’s heavenly beings when near the end of life (命欲终时), due to exhaustion of positive karma (善业), will have five forms of decay (五衰相) –

[1] with flowers on the head withering (头上华萎),
[2] armpits beneath sweating (腋下汗出),
[3] standing and sitting not stable (起坐不定) (due to uneasiness),
[4] energy weakening (气力衰微), while all these heavenly beings are without their family members (免其眷属) (who stay away due to fear),
[5] with most being restless (多诸掉举).

Those who meet Maitreya Bodhisattva during his three assemblies (三会) in our world might attain as Arhats (阿罗汉), (instead of Bodhisattvas who advance to be Buddhas), while hundreds of millions of hundreds of millions of beings (亿亿众生) still do not meet him. Taking refuge in Amitābha Buddha’s Western Pure Land (归依西方) to swiftly realise Buddhahood (早证道果) surpasses by a thousand million times. Those who seek birth in Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land will immediately be Eight Ground Bodhisattvas (in terms of benefits) and above (八地已上菩萨), with the swiftest reaching Pure Land with one thought (一念).

In the assembly of the Amitābha Sūtra, Maitreya Bodhisattva was present as Ajita Bodhisattva (阿逸多菩萨), to also learn about mindfulness of Buddha.

(According to the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》), in the Dharma-Ending Age (末法时), when all Dharma teachings are totally ended (诸法总灭), Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) will specially ensure the Right Dharma of mindfulness of Buddha (念佛正法) is retained in this world for a hundred years (止住百年) more, to teach and transform sentient beings (教化众生). Thus, mindfulness of Buddha is truly inconceivable (念佛不可思议). [Original full text below.] 


《念佛镜》

(沙门道镜、善道共集)

第二卷:念佛镜末:第十、释众疑惑门:第二、念佛对弥勒门:

问:「念阿弥陀佛功德,多少念于弥勒?」

答:「念阿弥陀佛功德,多于念弥勒百千万倍。何以得知?准经中说,阿弥陀佛现是觉圆果满,超诸地位,所称念者功德最多;弥勒现是菩萨位中,未超诸地果未圆,故称念之者功德狭少。」

问:「何故不念弥勒生兜率天?云何念阿弥陀佛往生净土?」

答:「为兜率天不出三界,天报既尽,还堕阎浮提,所以不愿生天;若往生净土,出过三界,直截五道,一生彼国,直至菩提,更不堕落,所以愿生。

又兜率天,少时受乐;弥陀佛国中,乐最胜,故名为极乐,长时受乐无有限期。以是因缘,胜于兜率百千万倍。何以得知?经中所说,

一则、身相胜,弥陀佛国众生生者,皆具三十二相;兜率天人则无此相。
二则、徒众胜,既生净土,与诸菩萨共为伴侣,受男子身,无女人相;兜率天上男、女杂居,不同菩萨。
三则、寿命胜,兜率天上寿命四千岁,已还复却来,重堕阎浮提;弥陀佛国一去直至佛果,更不再来。
四则、神通胜,弥陀佛国菩萨总六神通;兜率天上人无神通。
五则、果报胜,弥陀佛国众生,衣服、饮食、香、华、璎珞一切供具,自然化成不须造作,长时受用无有穷尽;兜率天上造作方成,纵有自然衣服,不得多时,四千岁已命欲终时,有五衰相:

一则、头上华萎;
二则、腋下汗出;
三者、起坐不定;
四者、气力衰微,诸天免其眷属;
五者、多诸掉举,不如极乐世界百千万倍。」

问:「当来弥勒下生之时,三会说法,度诸众生,得阿罗汉果。何以不愿求生?云何求生弥陀佛国?」

答:「弥勒未下生来,不可待得。何以得知?经中所说,释迦牟尼佛入涅槃後,经五十六亿七千万岁,然始下生,人寿八万四千岁时,弥勒乃出,准《法王本记》,释迦涅槃已来,始有一千七百余年,全未拟来,不可候待。众生命短,恐沉苦海,多劫受殃,不值弥勒。

唯阿弥陀佛现在说法,住极乐世界,广度众生,归依西方早证道果,胜于弥勒百千万倍。设值弥勒三会,说法广度诸人,得阿罗汉,小乘极果,若望大乘,始到初地,亿亿众生不逢弥勒佛。念阿弥陀佛求生净土,即是八地已上菩萨,疾则一念、十念,迟则一日、七日,称念阿弥陀佛即生净土,实过弥勒百千万倍。

又复本师说弥陀经之日,弥勒菩萨亦在会中,阿逸多菩萨是也。弥勒尚念阿弥陀佛,何况未来诸众生岂不念耶?

大行和上在日,数个弥勒业人,回心念阿弥陀佛。

又念佛法,准佛经教,后末法时,诸法总灭,特此念佛正法,止住百年,教化众生。故知念佛不可思议。」


Some Related Questions & Answers

Q1: Is Tuṣita’s Inner Court (兜率内院) where Maitreya Bodhisattva (弥勒菩萨) is a Pure Land (净土)?

A1: Technically, as Maitreya Bodhisattva is not yet a Buddha (佛陀), and since Tuṣita is a heaven (天), where he resides is not an actual Pure Land, though often referred to as so. This is while total Pure Lands are manifested only by Buddhas, which are beyond all limited heavens.

Q2: When Maitreya Bodhisattva manifests in our world to be a Buddha later, will this world already be a Pure Land?

A2: Our world will not yet be a Pure Land when he arrives, though it will be purer than our world now.

Q3: Will Maitreya Bodhisattva save infinite beings in our world then?

A3: Due to this world not yet being a Pure Land, those saved then will not be infinite.

Q4: Is it so that birth in the Inner Court only needs refuge in the Triple Gem (皈依三宝), upholding of precepts (持戒), practice of generosity (布施), vowing (发愿) for birth, and recitation of ‘Homage To The Honourable Future Descending Maitreya Buddha’ (南无当来下生弥勒尊佛)?

A4: There are other practices needed too, such as the Ten Wholesome Deeds (十善业). The Sūtra On Maitreya’s Ascent《弥勒上生经》says, ‘[With] practice [of] many [kinds of] samādhis (三摩地), [to] deeply enter Right Concentration, then can [there be] attainment [of] birth.’ (行众三昧,深入正定,方始得生。) These meditative single-minded skills needed might not be easy for the average practitioner.

Q5: Is it so that birth in Amitābha Buddha’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land needs single-mindedness without scatteredness in meditation, which is not easy?

A5: The right translation of the criteria to reach it, according to the Amitābha Sūtra《阿弥陀经》, is to be ‘wholehearted without being scattered’ (一心不乱), which is Practice with utmost sincerity in mindfulness of the name of Amitābha Buddha (阿弥陀佛), 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 connecting to Amitābha Buddha.

Q6: Is it so that as reaching the Inner Court does not need Bodhicitta (菩提心) or the mind of renunciation (出离心), it is truly open to all, while those without Bodhicitta cannot reach Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land?

A6: According to the sūtras, reaching Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land does not require Bodhicitta as a must, though having it will lead to higher grades of birth there. Even if renunciation of the Three Realms (三界) is not needed to reach the Inner Court, as above, the criteria is still high. Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land is thus that truly open to most.

Q7: Do Śrāvaka (声闻) practitioners generally not believe or know about Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land?

A7: There is seldom speak of Śrāvaka practitioners who aspire to meet Maitreya Bodhisattva, while the Pure Land sūtras do list many great Arhats (大阿罗汉) present to receive teachings connected to Amitābha Buddha.

Q8: Is it so that as the Inner Court and our world are close, with both in the Desire Realm (欲界), reaching it is easier, without need to pass through many Buddha Lands (佛土)?

A8: Physical closeness does not equate to ease of reach. As above, there is high criteria. Physical distance also does not equate to difficulty of reach. For instance, just because Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land is a hundred thousand koṭis (十万亿) of Buddha Lands away does not mean it is that number of times harder to reach – since reach relies upon Amitābha Buddha’s instantaneous reception and guidance (接引), not through personal journeying alone.

Q9: Will it not be too long for those born in the Inner Court to return here, unlike other Pure Lands, with timings unknown?

A9: As Maitreya Bodhisattva will manifest as a Buddha about 5.6 billion years later, it is not that it will ‘not be too long’ before returning to this world with him being a Buddha. Even if attaining just an average grade of birth in Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land by the end of this life, one will already be a liberated Bodhisattva much earlier, able to travel with ease.

Q10: Is birth in the Inner Court the most precious?

A10: The easiest Pure Land to enter is Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land, as seen in his 18th vow, which requires only Practice (行) with utmost sincere mindfulness of his name (念佛), with joyful Faith (信) and Aspiration (愿), as the minimum criteria. Faith, Aspiration and Practice are known as the Three Provisions (三资粮). Note that the Ten Wholesome Deeds or even the Five Precepts (五戒) are not needed for this lowest criteria, though having them can qualify for higher grades of birth there. Birth in this Pure Land is thus the truly most precious, therefore recommended by all Buddhas of all worlds most readily and often, including by our fundamental teacher (本师) Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛).

Q11: Is it so that as the Inner Court is not a typical heaven, though a Desire Realm’s heaven (欲界天), it will be safe to try to be born there?

A11: According to the Treatise On Ten Doubts About Pure Land《净土十疑论》by Great Master Zhìzhě (智者大师), it can be challenging to try entering the Inner Court, due to many heavenly distractions of the Outer Court (外院), which might lead to spiritual retrogression (退转) instead of definite progression.

Q12: Is it so that Buddhasiṃhá (师子觉; 佛陀僧诃) practised to enter the Inner Court, but ended up in the Outer Court enjoying sensual pleasures?

A12: This case was stated in the Great Táng’s Western Regions’ Record (Fifth Scroll: Six Countries)《大唐西域记》(卷第五:六国)by the Tripiṭaka Dharma Master Xuánzàng (三藏法师), with the key line being – [Vasubandhu Bodhisattva (世亲菩萨) said to Asaṅga Bodhisattva (无著菩萨)], ‘[At Tuṣita heaven (兜率天)], I… saw Buddhasiṃhá at [the] outer assembly within, indulging [in] attachment [to the five] desires’ joys [of wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep].’(我… 见师子觉在外众中,耽著欲乐…)

The above was also mentioned in the Seventh Doubt’s (第七疑) answer, in the Treatise On Ten Doubts About Pure Land, which is a celebrated and widely studied text written by Great Master Zhìzhě, who was the actual founder (实际开创者) of the Tiāntái tradition (天台宗), widely regarded as the Little Śākyamuni Buddha Of The Eastern Land (i.e. China) (东土小释迦), for having synthesised and categorised the Buddha’s teachings, in a system that all subsequent Buddhist traditions continue to appreciate and use.

There were also specific mentions of the Inner Court by Master Xuánzàng, as recorded in the Great Táng’s Dàcí’ēn Monastery’s Tripiṭaka Dharma Master’s Biography’s 10th Scroll《大唐大慈恩寺三藏法师传》(第十卷) in Śramaṇa Huìlì’s version [with] Shì Yàncóng’s notes (沙门慧立本,释彥悰笺):

Dharma Master Xuánzàng said, ‘May [I], with all cultivated blessings [and] wisdom, [be] dedicated, given [to] sentient beings, [with] all sentient beings together [be] born [as] Tuṣita Heaven’s Maitreya’s Inner [Court’s] family members within, [to] attend to [the] honoourable [one with] loving-kindness, [and] when [he to be a] Buddha descends [to be] born, also wishing [to] follow [his] descent, [to] widely do Buddha’s matters, even [until attainment of] unsurpassable Bodhi.’「愿以所修福慧回施有情,共诸有情同生睹史多天弥勒内眷属中奉事慈尊,佛下生时亦愿随下广作佛事,乃至无上菩提。」Later, disciple Guāngděng (弟子光等) asked ‘[Will the] master definitely attain birth [in] Maitreya’s Inner Court [or] not?’ 「和上決定得生弥勒內院不?」[The] Dharma Master replied (法师报云), ‘[Will] attain birth.’「得生。」

Conclusion: It is therefore easier to reach Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land than Tuṣita heaven’s Inner Court. With Amitābha Buddha’s great Other-power (他力) for support (加持), as the Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng (净土宗十三祖印光大师) taught, it is even easier to reach Pure Land, than to be reborn human (which requires at least the Five Precepts). Thus, it is surely also easier to reach Pure Land, than to be reborn in a heaven, with all heavens being lower than Pure Lands.


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