Q&A

Nine Questions And Answers On Entering, Exiting And Re-entering Āmítuófó’s Pure Land

Question [1]: Why re-enter Saṃsāra (i.e. the cycle of birth and death: 生死轮回) after reaching Pure Land (净土)?

Answer:
 After learning and practice (修学) in and via a Buddha’s Pure Land (such as that of Āmítuófó: 阿弥陀佛: Amitābha Buddha), one’s Buddhahood is manifested in Saṃsāra, as an example to illustrate walking of the path to Buddhahood, and to guide other sentient beings there, to be liberated by reaching the Pure Land too. This is the fastest path to Buddhahood for all, as the Pure Land is the best Dharma school in the universe.

Question [2]: Can there be stay in the Pure Land forever, without departure from it?

Answer: The Buddhist concept of Pure Land should not be confused with the non-Buddhist concept of an ‘eternal’ heaven for ‘eternal’ stay. In the Buddha’s teachings, as birth in all heavens depend on the individual’s limited good karma, one’s stay there is karmically limited. Despite being relatively long-lived in comparison to life in the human realm, many heavens are also subject to natural destruction. Thus, to attain a heavenly rebirth is not to attain liberation.

Pure Lands are however truly eternal in nature, as they are the lasting fruits of Buddhas’ Buddhahood. Although individuals’ stay there is also not eternal, they have immeasurable life (无量寿), able to use as much time as needed to learn and practise the Dharma there. That said, mastery of the Dharma there will be the swiftest possible for all, as it is the most efficient Dharma school.

Question [3]: The Pure Land is thus not a final ‘stop’?

Answer: The Pure Land is not a ‘retirement home’ for staying indefinitely in. It is a spiritual school for learning and ‘graduating’ from. Just as graduates leave school to put what learnt to good use, so will those who ‘graduate’ from Pure Land leave to guide others. With Bodhicitta (i.e. Bodhi Mind: 菩提心) naturally inspired, fully given rise to for all beings, they will gladly manifest return to Saṃsāra to guide them to Pure Land too.

This return to Saṃsāra is not saṃsāric in nature. It is not to karmically fall back into the cycle of rebirth with suffering, as all from Pure Land will already be liberated. Having mastery of the Dharma, guiding of others will be with great skilful means (方便), joy (欢喜) and ease (自在) too; not tiresome at all. All who have left Pure Land without full mastery of the Dharma can return to it for further learning and practice at any time too.

Question [4]: Can Buddhahood be attained in a Buddha’s Pure Land, without returning to Saṃsāra?

Answer: 
After learning and practice in another Buddha’s Pure Land, even with progress towards Buddhahood attainable in and via it, one’s own Buddhahood is always physically manifested outside that Pure Land – in Saṃsāra, as there is only one Reward Body Buddha (报身佛) in each Pure Land, as the master of his Reward Land (报土). This is to avoid confusion of who is the one host (主) and who are the guests (客), who is the one principal teacher and who are the students. It is possible to have more than one Buddha in a Buddha’s Pure Land, but with only one appearing as a Buddha at any one time. (See below for more on ‘ancient Buddhas’.)

It is possible to realise Buddhahood spiritually in another Buddha’s Pure Land, but one’s Buddhahood is always manifested physically outside the Pure Land. Becoming a Buddha is more of via another Buddha’s Pure Land, but not in his Pure Land. Sometimes it is spoken for convenience to be as if in it, but what there can be is utmost and swiftest progress towards Buddhahood in it, to become the greatest Bodhisattvas possible, to reach the Position Of One Life To Replacement (一生补处), the rank just before Buddhahood, before manifesting as Great Bodhisattvas (大菩萨) walking the path to Buddhahood beyond.

As Buddhahood is the perfection (圆满) of compassion (慈悲), wisdom (智慧) and skilful means to guide other beings to Buddhahood, all Buddhas and Buddhas-to-be (Bodhisattvas) will naturally enter Saṃsāra with these virtues and means to help others. If not, they will be at most be like Arhats (阿罗汉), who have yet to perfect their compassion, wisdom and skilful means, unlike Buddhas and Great Bodhisattvas.

Thus, if one does not manifest out of Pure Land, one is definitely not yet a Buddha, and not yet a Buddha-to-be. Even Āmítuófó, despite having his Reward Land for ten kalpas (十劫) already, continually manifests immeasurable manifestation bodies (化身) outside his Pure Land, to guide beings, including us, to enter it. (Every other Buddha is also capable of creating one’s own Pure Land to skilfully guide beings who have more affinity with it.)

Just as good schools offer ‘field trips’ to expedite practical learning and ‘on the job’ practice (as ‘interns’), Buddhas-to-be in Pure Land can easily, joyfully and safely return to Saṃsāra, according to Āmítuófó’s Vow #22 in the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》.

【第二十二:菩萨一生补处愿】

【法藏菩萨】: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]

[Dharma Treasury Bodhisattva]: If I attain Buddhahood, 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 Bodhisattva. If it is not thus, I shall not obtain Right Awakening.

Having reached Pure Land before, one can surely also return to Pure Land thereafter, going to and fro indefinitely. Note that the Pure Land sūtras teach on the ability to reach the Position Of One Life To Replacement in the Pure Land, which is the position just before Buddhahood; not the position of Buddhahood itself. Although they are ancient Buddhas (古佛) re-manifesting as Bodhisattvas in the Position Of One Life To Replacement, even the greatest Bodhisattvas, such as Contemplator Of The World’s Sounds Bodhisattva (观世音菩萨) and Great Power Arrived Bodhisattva (大势至菩萨), do not manifest Buddhahood there, in the presence of Āmítuófó.

Even Universal Virtue (Samantabhadra) Bodhisattva (普贤菩萨) as a Great Bodhisattva aspired to reach Pure Land, to expedite his final learning and practice for Buddhahood, as taught in the Practices’ And Vows’ Chapter《行愿品》.

【普贤菩萨行愿品偈颂】摘录

【普贤菩萨】:

[48] 愿我临欲命终时,尽除一切诸障碍,面见彼佛阿弥陀,即得往生安乐刹。
[49] 我既往生彼国已,现前成就此大愿,一切圆满尽无余,利乐一切众生界。

[50] 彼佛众会咸清净,我时于胜莲华生,亲睹如来无量光,现前授我菩提记。
[51] 蒙彼如来授记已,化身无数百俱胝,智力广大遍十方,普利一切众生界。
[55] 即常远离恶知识,永离一切诸恶道,速见如来无量光,具此普贤最胜愿。
[62] 我此普贤殊胜行,无边胜福皆回向,普愿沉溺诸众生,速往无量光佛刹。

Excerpt From [Universal Virtue Bodhisattva’s Practices’ And Vows’ Chapter’s Verses]

[Universal Virtue Bodhisattva]: [48] May I, when approaching, almost at life’s end, completely eradicate all obstacles, face and see that Amitā[bha] Buddha, immediately attain rebirth in the Land Of Peace And Bliss. [49] I, since reborn in that land already, will manifest presently accomplishment of these [ten] great vows, all perfectly and completely, without remainder, bringing benefits and joy to all sentient beings’ realms. [50] In that Buddha’s assembly with all pure, I will then, from a supreme lotus flower be born, personally see the Thus Come One Of Immeasurable Light, manifest presently to predict my Bodhi. [51] Having received that Thus Come One’s prediction already, manifesting bodies of innumerable hundreds of koṭis, with wisdom’s power vast and great, everywhere in the ten directions, universally benefiting all sentient beings realms. [55] Immediately and constantly far departing from evil-knowing friends, forever departing from all evil paths, quickly seeing the Thus Come One Of Immeasurable Light, to complete these Universal Virtue’s most excellent vows. [62] With my these Universal Virtue’s especially excellent practices, their boundless supreme blessings all dedicating, universally wishing all sinking and drowning sentient beings, to quickly be reborn in Immeasurable Light Buddha’s land.

With the above teachings, it can be said that although progress towards Buddhahood is attainable in the Pure Land, up to its last stage, it is always practically manifested outside of it (unless already in one’s own Pure Land). For Buddhahood to be attained, all beings need to nurture and express perfect compassion for all other beings. This is to fully give rise to Bodhicitta, and to express this aspiration by guiding one and all to Pure Land.

Following Universal Virtue Bodhisattva’s example above, there can be a combination of learning and practice, inside and outside of the Pure Land, to master the Dharma in principle (by personal realisation) and practice (by guiding other beings). [1] If staying in the Pure Land to learn and practise, one will definitely reach the Position Of One Life To Replacement there. [2] If leaving and not returning to the Pure Land, one will attain the Position Of One Life To Replacement elsewhere. [3] If leaving and returning to the Pure Land, no leaving thereafter, one will attain the Position Of One Life To Replacement there. All three methods of swift progress towards Buddhahood pivot upon reaching the Pure Land first.

Question [5]: Are the lotuses in the Pure Land for ‘hibernation’ or spiritual practice?

Answer: The lotuses are not for resting or sleeping there. Other than those with the highest grade of birth, who have lotuses immediately open, they are intermediate dwellings for eradicating negative karma. This can be done most swiftly with focus on continual mindfulness of Buddha, which one was already practising to enter the lotus. (Unless having done great evil, most will emerge in 49 days or less.) Further training is done when out of the lotus, on the Pure Land’s land itself, to learn from the Buddha and his great assembly personally.

Question [6]: Must one upgrade oneself through the nine grades of lotus births in the Pure Land?

Answer: The lotus grades are not a sequence for physical progression in Pure Land. There is only one most appropriate grade for one’s one-time birth there, as one’s vehicle of birth. Once born from it, spiritual progress continues outside it, in the Pure Land, without entering another lotus, even if there is repeated exiting and re-entering of Pure Land later, as there will be direct connection to it. Before birth there, meritorious virtues dedicated can lead to a higher lotus grade of birth, with swifter blossoming.

Question [7]: How does one know if one is spiritually ready to depart from the Pure Land?

Answer: Being able to see the Buddha easily, all can ask him directly. With swift realisation from personal learning and practice there, all will naturally know too. Departure from the Pure Land is always safe as there will be constant protection by Āmítuófó’s 22nd Vow above.

Question [8]: Can one guide beings in Saṃsāra if leaving the Pure Land before full enlightenment?

Answer: (Full enlightenment is Buddhahood, which is not needed before leaving Pure Land, due to reasons stated above.) Leaving without full training is not a problem as once having reached it, the Pure Land can be returned to at any time, for further training. Training can also include practices of learning from other Buddhas and guiding of other beings outside the Pure Land.

As taught in Amitābha Sūtra《阿弥陀经》, ‘those sentient beings born [in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land], are all Avaivartikas’ (众生生者,皆是阿鞞跋致). This means they will no longer spiritually backslide (退转) from progress towards Buddhahood – even if they leave the Pure Land, as it is impossible to backslide from the stage of non-backsliding, no matter where one is.

According to one’s ability, one will be able to guide accordingly. Even the well-learned and well-practised in our world, who have yet to reach Pure Land can guide others to reach it – what more those who have returned from Pure Land, who already experienced and know the path to reach Pure Land.

Question [9]: Can one stay in the Pure Land while guiding beings in Saṃsāra?

Answer: There is a false dichotomy (i.e. unnecessary division) with thinking that one is either in Pure Land or in Saṃsāra, there or here, when one can be in both places at the same time. According to Vow #9, in the Pure Land, there will be ‘attaining [of] supernormal feet, in one thought moment… able to surpass a hundred thousand koṭis of nayutas of all Buddha lands’ (得神足,于一念顷… 能超过百千亿那由他诸佛国). With supernormal travel made possible with Āmítuófó’s blessings, this includes the ability to have multiple manifestations or division bodies (分身). This means one can be in the Pure Land and in Saṃsāra at the same time. Examples of those able to do so are Contemplator Of The World’s Sounds Bodhisattva (观世音菩萨) and Great Power Arrived Bodhisattva (大势至菩萨), who stay to teach in the Pure Land while guiding beings in Saṃsāra to enter the Pure Land simultaneously.

Related Articles:

Should I Worry About Taking A Long Time To Have My Lotus Birth In Pure Land?
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https://purelanders.com/2021/12/should-i-worry-about-taking-a-long-time-to-have-my-lotus-birth-in-pure-land 

The Fastest Way to Buddhahood is Via Birth in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land (With More Technical Details)
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How Soon Can I Return From Pure Land To Console Others?
https://purelanders.com/2017/03/how-soon-can-i-return-from-pure-land-to-help-others 

Does Āmítuófó’s Pure Land Offer The Quickest Way To Buddhahood?
https://purelanders.com/2015/08/24/does-amituofos-pure-land-offer-the-fastest-way-to-buddhahood 

Can Saṃsāra Lead to Buddhahood More Efficiently Than Pure Land?
https://purelanders.com/2010/03/can-samsara-better-lead-to-buddhahood-than-pureland

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