Śākyamuni Buddha’s Pure Land On Spirit Vulture Mountain (And Related Pure Land Concepts)
In the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sūtra《妙法莲华经》, Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) taught the following in its Chapter Sixteen [On The] Thus Come One’s Lifespan (如来寿量品第十六) —「
 ‘Since I [have] attained Buddhahood, that passed many kalpas’ number, [of] immeasurable thousands [of] millions, [of] koṭis’ period asaṃkhyeya [i.e. incalculable],  [I] constantly speak [the] Dharma [to] teach [and] transform, innumerable koṭis [of] sentient beings, enabling [them to] enter [the] Buddhas’ path. Until now, [in] immeasurable kalpas,  for delivering sentient beings thus, [with] skilful means appearing [to enter] Parinirvāṇa, yet truly not [entering] Parinirvāṇa, constantly dwelling here [to] speak [the] Dharma.  I constantly dwell in here, with all supernormal powers, enabling inverted sentient beings [to], although near, yet not see [me].
[Note 1: In the Brahma Net Sūtra’s Bodhisattva Precepts’ Text《梵网经菩萨戒本》，Śākyamuni Buddha taught that, ‘I now [have] come [to] this world [for the] eight thousandth return, for this Sahā World[‘s sentient beings], sitting [on the] vajra flower light king’s throne [to manifest Buddhahood].’ (吾今来此世界八千返，为此娑婆世界，坐金刚华光王座。)]
 All [who] see me [enter] Parinirvāṇa, [who] widely make offerings [to my] śarīras [i.e. relics], [will] all embrace yearning, and give rise [to the] mind [of] looking up reverently [to me].  [For] sentient beings, since [with] faith convinced, upright minds gentle [and] soft, [who] wholeheartedly desire [to see the] Buddha, not personally sparing [their] bodies’ lives,  then, I and [the] assembly’s monastics, [will] together appear [at] Spirit Vulture Mountain, [and] I [will] then say [to these] sentient beings, “[I am] constantly here, not [in] Parinirvāṇa,  with skilful means’ power thus, appearing [to] have Parinirvāṇa [but] not [having] Parinirvāṇa.”
[Note 2: All that the Buddha does is out of skilful means to teach and transform beings, including his continual manifestation of entering Parinirvāṇa, which is to create yearning and reverence for seeing him, to now treasure, learn and practise the Dharma he left behind.]
 [In] other worlds [that] have sentient beings, those [with] reverent faith [and] joy, I again in those within, for [them] speak [the] unsurpassable Dharma.  You [and] others [who do] not hear this, however say I [have entered] Parinirvāṇa. I see all sentient beings, sunken in suffering [and] afflictions,  thus not for [them] appearing [with my] body, enabling them [to] give rise [to] looking up reverently [to me], because [of] their minds [embracing] yearning, then appearing for [them to] speak [the] Dharma.  [With] supernormal powers thus, in asaṃkhyeya kalpas, constantly at Spirit Vulture Mountain, and other all dwelling places.
[Note 3: The Buddha’s re/appearances are not constrained to this world’s Spirit Vulture Mountain only, also able to re/appear anywhere else with his form, at any time. Despite seeing beings with much suffering, he does not always re/appear immediately, so that they can give rise to yearning and reverence for seeing him, thus becoming less inverted, which also reduces their karmic obstacles that prevent them from seeing him.]
 When sentient beings see [the] kalpa end, [with] great fire that burns, my this land [remains] peaceful [and] tranquil, [with] heavenly [and] human [beings] constantly filled fully.  [With] gardens [and] all halls [and] pavilions, all kinds [of] treasures adorned, treasure trees, many flowers [and] fruits, that sentient beings play joyfully [with].  [With] all heavenly [beings] striking heavenly drums, constantly making all kinds [of] music, raining mandārava flowers, [that] scatter [on the] Buddha and [the] great assembly.  My Pure Land [will] not [be] destroyed, yet [with] sentient beings seeing [here] burning completely, [with] worries, fear, all [kinds of] suffering [and] afflictions, thus [with] all filled fully.
[Note 4: Even when this land is destroyed by (karmic) nature’s fire, the Buddha’s Pure Land here remains unharmed, with its splendour and blissful Dharma activities undisturbed.]
 All these transgressive sentient beings, with evil karmas’ causes [and] conditions, passing asaṃkhyeya kalpas, [will] not hear [the] Triple Gem’s name.  All [who] have cultivation [of] meritorious virtues, those gentle, harmonious [and] upright, [will] then all see my body, at here then speaking [the] Dharma.  Perhaps then for this assembly, speaking [of the] Buddha’s lifespan [being] immeasurable, for those [for] long, then seeing [the] Buddha, speaking [of the] Buddha [being] difficult [to] meet.  [With] my wisdom’s power thus, [is] wisdom’s light’s illumination immeasurable, [with] lifespan [of] innumerable kalpas, [through] long cultivation [of] karmas [with] that attained.
[Note 5: The more evil karma there is, the longer the duration will be, without hearing about and/or seeing the Triple Gem.]
 You [and] those others having wisdom, [should] not of this give rise [to] doubt, [and] should sever [it], enabling [it to be] forever ended, [as the] Buddha’s speech [is] true [and] not false.  Like [the] doctor [with] skilful means, for curing [his] delirious sons thus, [was] truly present yet saying [he was] dead, none [is] able [to] say [he was] false.  I likewise, as [the] world’s father, [for] saving all those suffering [with] misfortunes, for ordinary beings inverted, [am] truly present, yet speaking [of] Parinirvāṇa.  With [those] constantly seeing me thus, then giving rise [to] arrogant [and] indulgent minds, [with] laxity [and] attachment [to the] Five Desires [for wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep], falling into evil paths within.
[Note 6: The Buddha was referring to his earlier taught Parable Of The Doctor And His Sons (医子喻), when he spoke of an excellent and skilful doctor with many sons. When he had to go far away, they happened to drink some poison, which left them in agony. Upon his return, they greatly rejoiced and reverently requested him to save them.
He then searched for beneficial herbs that looked, smelled and tasted good, and made medicine for them, asking them to take it quickly, to never be sick again. Those not delirious understood and took it immediately. Those delirious did not understand and refused to take it.
Knowing this is due to them being severely poisoned, the father skilfully tells them that as he as is now old, weak and dying, he will leave the medicine behind for them, and that if they take it, they need not worry about not recovering.
He then leaves and sends a messenger home, to inform that he has already died. Thinking they now have no one to rely on, through grieving, their minds became clear, as they recognised that the medicine looked, smelled and tasted good, taking it immediately. Upon hearing that his sons have all recovered, the father reappears.
The Buddha says that he is like the father, who was not lying, as he too uses a similar skilful means, in immeasurable kalpas manifesting entering of Parinirvāṇa. (This is to urge beings to have faith in the Buddha’s teachings, to treasure, learn and practise them swiftly, so as to attain Buddhahood sooner than later, for the benefit of one and all.)]
 I constantly know sentient beings, [who] practise [the] path [and] not practise [the] path, according [to] those responding [with what] can deliver [them], for [them] speaking all kinds [of] Dharma.  Always naturally giving [rise to] this thought, “With what [can I] enable sentient beings, [to] attain entering [of] unsurpassable wisdom, [to] quickly accomplish [the] Buddha’s body?”‘
[Note 7: As the Buddha has all-knowing wisdom (omniscience), he knows which beings practise the Dharma (or not), thus able to know what to skilfully say and do (or not), so as to deliver them (or create future conditions to deliver them). As the embodiment and expression of perfect compassion, he constantly considers how best to guide each and every being to Buddhahood.]
Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) also taught the following in its Chapter Seventeen [On] Differentiated Meritorious Virtues (分别功德品第十七) –
‘If good men [and] good women, [who] hear me speak [of my] lifespan [being] far-reaching, [have the] profound mind [of] faith [and] understanding, then will [I] make [them] see [the] Buddha constantly at Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa [i.e. Spirit Vulture Mountain], together with Great Bodhisattvas’ and all Voice-Hearers’ assemblies surrounding, speaking the Dharma. Also seeing this Sahā World, its ground [to be] lapis lazuli, smooth, even [and] straight, [with] Jāmbūnada’s golden colour as boundaries [of its] eight paths, [with] treasure trees [in] rows lined, all terraces [and] high towers all [by] treasures composed, [with] their Bodhisattva assemblies all dwelling within them. If [there] are those able [to] thus contemplate, [it] should [be] known [that they are] with profound faith [and] understanding’s forms.’
[Note 8: Those with deep faith and understanding of the Buddha’s immeasurable lifespan will always see the Buddha at Spirit Vulture Mountain speaking the Dharma to his great assembly, but with the physical attributes of a Pure Land. Those with deep faith and understanding are those who are able to contemplate thus.]
(i) Even with the Buddha not causing inverted beings to not see him here and now, their invertedness (i.e. inversions) that creates evil karmic obstacles would naturally prevent themselves from seeing him.
(ii) The collective criteria to be able to see the Buddha at Spirit Vulture Mountain is to have –
(a) deep faith and understanding (in the Buddha, and that he has immeasurable life),
(b) upright minds, harmonious, gentle and soft,
(c) wholehearted (i.e. sincere) desire to see the Buddha,
(d) willingness to forgo this life itself,
(e) cultivation of meritorious virtues, and
(f) contemplation of the Pure Land’s details.
Note that the criterion (d) alone is not easy to meet at all. If the Buddha is not seen, which is the case for the vast majority of us, despite making pilgrimages to the mountain, this means the criteria is still not met, as we are still not pure enough. (Note that there are not many historical records of even later Great Masters who saw the Buddha still teaching on the mountain.)
(iii) These principles in (ii) are based on this teaching by the Buddha in the Vimalakīrti Sūtra《维摩诘经》— ‘According [to] that mind’s purity, thus [is the] Buddha Land pure.’ (随其心净，则佛土净) Generally speaking, the more defiled the mind is, while dwelling in an accordingly defiled land too, the more difficult is it to see a Pure Land. (See chart below for details.) Those with Self-power (自力) relying on the Buddha’s Other power (他力) of blessings, are all able to see the Buddha and his Pure Land. (自仗佛他力者，皆能见佛净土。)
(iv) The principles in (iii) also mean that Buddhas, with their completely purified minds, can see everywhere, here and there, essentially as Pure Land(s), even if a place is a defiled land to others. They are able to see the all lands essentially without all their defilements. Beneath different defiled lands, without all defilements, is the same one completely Pure Land, as seen by all Buddhas. (不同秽土下，无诸污秽，即是诸佛所见，同一全净土。) This can be called the Pure Perception Mode (净见模式). (See chart below for details.)
Out of empathy, at the same time, the Buddhas are also able to see how we defiled beings see here, this defiled land as so, and relate to our experiences. This can be called the Defiled Perception Mode (秽见模式). With this, they are able to urge and guide us, who are otherwise trapped with such defiled perceptions, to connect with them, so as to see this land as pure, even if just for a while, or more easily and importantly, reach a completely Pure Land, for more sustainable great benefits in the long run.
The Buddha’s Pure Land co-exists in the same space and time as the land we experience now, but at a different perceptual ‘frequency’ (or Perception Mode). While inverted beings perceive a defiled land that is karmically vulnerable to the elements, as they only have the Defiled Perception Mode, the upright Buddha and his noble assembly can perceive a Pure Land that is invulnerable, as they already have the Pure Perception Mode.
Buddhas can also empower beings in pure and defiled lands to have one-way projected or two-way ‘window’ views of other directions’ pure and defiled lands, by enabling them to perceive through their Pure Perception Mode for a while.
(v) According to the Perfection Of Great Wisdom Treatise《大智度论》, ‘[As] Pure Lands’ fruits’ rewards, [are] without [worldly] desires thus, [it is] not [in the] Desire Realm; [are also with those] ground-dwelling thus, [it is not in the] form realm [only with those sky-dwelling]; has shapes [and] forms thus, [it is] not [in the] Formless Realm.’ (净土果报，无欲故，非欲界；地居故，非色界；有形色故，非无色界。) (See chart below for details.)
(vi) According to (iv), Pure Land(s) can overlap with defiled lands. According to (v), Pure Lands do not overlap with defiled lands, (by being ‘independent’). To combine these principles, Pure Lands can both overlap and not overlap with defiled lands. (See chart below for details.)
(vii) It is also extremely difficult to contemplate the Pure Land’s many intricate details, as listed as criterion (f) at (ii) above. As the Pure Land Tradition’s 2nd Patriarch Great Master Shàndǎo (净土宗二祖善导大师) taught, ‘[As the] Dharma-Ending [Age’s] sentient beings, [are with] consciousnesses [that] “fly” [all over, with] minds [that are] coarse, [while the] realm [to visualise (i.e. contemplate) is] refined, visualisation [is] difficult [to] accomplish. [It] is with [the] Great Sage’s [i.e. Śākyamuni Buddha] compassionate empathy, [that he] especially encouraged focused upholding [of the] name. With reciting [of the] name easy thus, [with it in] continuous succession [is] immediate birth [in Pure Land].’ (末法众生，神识飞扬，心粗境细，观难成就。是以大圣悲怜，特劝专持名号。以称名易故，相续即生。）
(viii) The much easier way to see a Buddha (such as Amitābha Buddha: 阿弥陀佛) is with mindfulness of the Buddha’s name directly, including when approaching life’s end. This is so as it is easiest to be utmost (c) wholehearted then, with full (d) willingness to forgo this life. (The other criteria listed at (ii) above can be cultivated in everyday life.)
(ix) Seeing Amitābha Buddha come to receive and guide to his Pure Land, is how and where there will sustainable perception of the Buddha and his Pure Land, as his constant blessings there will empower to make this constantly possible. This contrasts with having possibly only momentary vision of the Buddha at Spirit Vulture Mountain due to having limited sustainable purity, along with many opposing distractions in this defiled land.
Unfortunately, we are also already in the Dharma-Ending Age (末法时期) in this Five Defilements’ (五浊) evil period (恶世). This contrasts with the Right Dharma Age (正法时期) without these defilements in Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land, where even the name of evil is not heard.
(x) From Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land, with constant disabling of evil karma’s function and empowered purity of perception, all other Buddhas and their Pure Lands can be perceived directly, including the Buddha at Spirit Vulture Mountain. If not aspiring and practising to reach Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land, which is the easiest Pure Land to enter, and where all past experiences will be remembered, there might be forgetting of these teachings in the next life here. These are just some of immeasurable good reasons why the Buddha repeatedly urged us (in more than three hundred sūtras) to reach Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land, much more than urging us to see him at Spirit Vulture Mountain, which seems to be for the very spiritually advanced only. (We only need to make a pilgrimage to know if we qualify.)
(xi) The Buddha spoke of possibly seeing him still teaching this same teaching now. This suggests the timeless, repetitive and tireless nature of his enlightened activities. Although what seen could be a replayed scene from the past, this does not hint of actual time-travel, with it being ‘recollection’ empowered by him. If the Buddha does give a fresh teaching, it is then a truly ‘live’ vision of him.
(xii) According to the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra《大般涅槃经》, prior to Śākyamuni Buddha’s remanifestations in our world, he already attained Buddhahood elsewhere and established his Pure Land – ‘[To the] Western [direction] from this Sahā World, passing thirty-two Ganges River’s sands [of] many other Buddha Lands, there is [a] world named “Unsurpassable”… I, from that land appeared in [this] life, for transforming sentient beings thus, in this world [of] Jambudvīpa within, appearing [to] turn [the] Dharma wheel.’ (西方去此娑婆世界，度三十二恒河沙等诸佛国土，彼有世界名曰无胜。… 我于彼土出现于世，为化众生故，于此界阎浮提中，现转法轮。)
This means Śākyamuni Buddha actively teaches in his other ‘actual’ Pure Land now, while also manifesting elsewhere to teach, such as in this defiled land. Likewise, Amitābha Buddha does the same – teaching in his Pure Land, while also manifesting in various worlds such as ours to teach. Such is the complete and perfect compassion of all Buddhas.
(xiii) For comparative study, in the main Pure Land Sūtras (净土经), there are two incidents of beings in this defiled land (秽土) having sight of Amitābha Buddha’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land, as empowered by Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛).
Both incidents were also near and on Spirit Vulture Mountain. The incident recorded in the Contemplation Sūtra《观经》was with the Buddha’s teleportation from it to Rājagṛha City’s (王舍城) royal palace nearby, while the incident in the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》was on the mountain.
Note that these incidents contrast with the Buddha merely speaking of the mountain as his Pure Land in the Lotus Sūtra, without empowering anyone to see it. From this, it can be concluded that the Buddha more highly encourages us to seek birth in Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land. For more on this, see https://purelanders.com/2022/06/08/sight-of-amitabha-buddhas-pure-land-in-this-defiled-land.
There is also an incident of the Buddha empowering the assembly to see this defiled land as a Pure Land in the Vimalakīrti Sūtra《维摩诘经》, as extended to the rest of this world system. For more on this, see
For more on this, see https://purelanders.com/2022/06/10/sight-of-this-defiled-land-as-a-pure-land-in-the-vimalakirti-sutra.
Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an
Sight Of Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land In This Defiled Land
Sight Of This Defiled Land As A Pure Land In The Vimalakīrti Sūtra
Three Pure Land Questions About The Lotus Sūtra
Did Śākyamuni Buddha First Attain Buddhahood Here?
Does Śākyamuni Buddha Have His Own Pure Land?
How The Buddha Is Gone Yet Not Gone For Good
How Pure Lands Transcend The Three Realms
Where Is Āmítuófó’s Pure Land?
How Are Śākyamuni Buddha And Amitābha Buddha Related?