Why Do Pure Lands Have The ‘Superior’ & ‘Inferior’? 为何净土有‘优劣’?

问曰 :十方诸佛,断惑无殊,行毕果圆,亦应无二。何以一种净土即有斯优劣也?

Question: [The] ten directions’ all Buddhas, [are with] severance [of] confusions without difference, [with] practices completed [and the Buddha] fruit perfect, [that] likewise should [be] without two. How is it that [there is] one kind [of] Pure Land then, [that] has this superior [and that] inferior?

[Note 1: In other words, the question asks, ‘Since all Buddhas are equally spiritually perfect in terms of compassion, wisdom and meritorious virtues (功德), how it that they have Pure Lands that are not equal, thus not being equally supreme?’]

答曰 :佛是法王,神通自在,优之与劣,非凡情所知。

Answer: [The] Buddhas are Dharma Kings, [having] supernormal powers [with] ease, [of] that superior and inferior, [they are] not [those] that ordinary [beings] know.

[Note 2: It is possible that all Pure Lands are equally perfect, while Buddhas are able to manifest some to seem superior, while others seem inferior, as skilful means that unenlightened beings might not directly understand, to help them choose which to most appropriately aspire towards.

Note 3: The natures of various Pure Lands are known by studying relevant sūtra(s) about them. These descriptions are usually based on various Buddhas’ past fundamental vows (本愿) on how their Pure Lands will be. However, when they have attained Buddhahood, it is possible that their Pure Lands become equally supreme, if not so before, as previously planned on their causal grounds (因地).

Note 4: If all Pure Lands are thereafter equally perfect, the only difference left would be the ease of entering them. Again, what we know is based on studying relevant sūtra(s) about them. With this in mind, as detailed in the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》, Āmítuófó’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land is indeed the easiest to enter, through which all other Pure Lands can be reached. This itself is reason enough for all Buddhas to most readily recommend reaching it, as reaching it is to reach all Pure Lands.]


Appearing [and] disappearing according [to the] situation, hoping [to] save, transform [and] benefit, [they are] perhaps able [to] intentionally [have] hiding of that superior, only appearing [with the] Western [Pure Land] as supreme…

[Note 5: That perceived as superior by an ordinary being might not be the supreme choice for him or her, according to the Buddhas’ wisdom. However, as below, according to the Immeasurable Life Sūtra, it can be known that there is no Pure Land superior to that of Āmítuófó.]


[With] Āmítuófó’s fundamental causes [of his] forty-eight vows, [with] each and every vow, all given rise [for] increasing [of] supreme causes, relying [on these] causes giving rise to supreme practices, relying [on these] practices connecting [to the] supreme fruit, relying [on this] fruit connecting [to] accomplishing [of the] supreme reward, relying [on this] reward connecting [to] accomplishing [of the Land Of] Ultimate Bliss, relying [on the Land Of Ultimate] Bliss manifesting supernormal [powers with] compassion transforming, relying on compassion transforming, manifesting opening of [the] door [to] wisdom.

[Note 6: This is how Āmítuófó accomplished Buddhahood and his Pure Land, through which he helps others accomplish birth in his Pure Land, to accomplish Buddhahood too.] 


Afterwards, [with] compassion’s mind inexhaustible, [and] wisdom likewise inexhaustible, [with] compassion [and] wisdom both practising, immediately extensively opening [with] ambrosia, thus [with] this Dharma’s moisturisation, universally gathering all sentient beings.

[Note 7: The Dharma teachings of reaching his Pure Land is like ambrosia that moisturises the otherwise dry and under-nourished spiritual lives of sentient beings, that help to nuture them, to bring them to life.]


Many other sūtras, [are with] parts [with] exhortation [of reaching] Āmítuófó’s [Pure Land] many, [with] all noble [ones being of] one mind, all together pointing [to and] praising [it].

[Note 8: This is so because it is indeed the universally easiest Pure Land to reach, upon which all other Pure Lands are reachable, while by itself offering the swiftest progress to Buddhahood.]


Having these causes [and] conditions, leading [to the] Thus Come [One] secretly sending [the] Queen, [to] specially choose [it].

[Note 9: For the above reasons, Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) skilfully aided Queen Vaidehī (韦提希) to choose Āmítuófó’s Pure Land after review of immeasurable Pure Lands in a vision. However, it should also be noted that in the Immeasurable Life Sūtra, Dharma Treasury Bodhisattva (法藏菩萨), who was Āmítuófó on the causal ground, already made an ‘absolute vow’ to create the supreme Pure Land, as follows,

‘If I become a Buddha, my land will be the foremost. Its assembly will be unique and wonderful, in a place for realising the path surpassing. My land will be like Nirvāṇa, and without equal or two. I will, with empathy, deliver and liberate all.’ (令我作佛,国土第一。其众奇妙,道场超绝。国如泥洹,而无等双。我当愍哀,度脱一切。)

Note 10: After doing so, by King Of World With Ease Buddha (世自在王佛), he was given teachings and vision of two hundred and ten koṭīs of all Buddha lands, with their good and evil, coarseness and subtle wonders. For five kalpas, he then contemplated his forty-eight great vows, for accomplishing his Pure Land. (According to the Lotus Flower Treasury World’s [莲华藏世界] classification system, ‘two hundred and ten koṭīs’ represents the ten directions’ immeasurable lands’ number.)

Note 11: In short, it was only after learning from so many Pure Lands, deemed enough by a Buddha, that he became a Buddha, to shape his Pure Land accordingly, with all superior aspects of Pure Lands and with no inferior aspects of defiled lands.

Note 12: Vaidehī, therefore, even after seeing immeasurable Pure Lands, was without any other choice, naturally with the direct choice, of the foremost Pure Land. As this choice represents that with wisdom, good enough even for a royal, hesitating sentient beings should choose it too.]

《观经四贴疏》: 卷二:序分义

Pure Land Tradition’s 2nd Patriarch Great Master Shàndǎo
(Commentary [On The] Contemplation Sūtra [In] Four Fascicles):
Scroll Two: Preface Section’s Meaning

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

Related Commentary:

Why Particularly Seek One Pure Land?

Why Be Particularly Mindful Of One Buddha?

Related Verses:

Verses On Only Choice

Verses On Pure Land Choice

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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