Why Pure Land Bodhisattvas Are Able To Safely Manifest In Defiled Lands 净土菩萨为何能安全化生于秽土

Why Pure Land Bodhisattvas Are Able To Safely Manifest In Defiled Lands

In the Sūtra That [Is] Spoken [By] Vimalakīrti’s《维摩诘所说经》Chapter Twelfth [On] Sight [Of] Akṣobhya Buddha (见阿閦佛品第十二) are the following teachings (with notes).


At that time, Śariputra asked Vimalakīrti, ‘You, from where, died and came [to be] born here?’


Vimalakīrti said, ‘[Does] your that attained Dharma has death [and] birth?’

[Note 1: To have ‘attained Dharma’ is to have attained understanding about ‘the Dharma’, in terms of truths(s) within the Buddha’s teachings, such as understanding about ‘dharmas’, in terms of truth(s) about the phenomena of mind and matter.]


Śariputra said, ‘[It is] without death [and] birth.’

[Note 2: Dharma understanding attained, in terms of realisation, is beyond birth and death, and leads to transcendence of the cycle of birth and death. This is so as the Dharma, in terms of truth(s), is constant, beyond change, thus leading to liberation that is likewise.]


‘If all dharmas [are] without death’s [and] birth’s forms, why [do you] ask, “You, from where, died and came [to be] born here?” What [do you] think of [this]? For example, like [an] illusionist, [with] illusions creating [a] man [and] woman, how [can they have] death [and] birth?’


Śariputra said, ‘[They are] without death [and] birth.’


‘How can you [have] not heard [the] Buddha speak [of] all dharmas [to be] like illusory forms?’

[Note 3: All dharmas (i.e. phenomena of mind and matter), are like illusory mental and physical forms as they are impermanent (无常) and without self (无我), with constant changing in (all) time, thus lacking substantiality in (all) space. ‘All dharmas being illusory’ in these terms should not be mistaken as the Dharma (i.e. these truth/s) about ‘all dharmas being illusory’, as truths are true – permanent and substantial.]


[In] reply, ‘[They] are thus.’


‘If all dharmas [are] like those illusory forms, why [do you] ask, “You, from where, died and came [to be] born here?” Śariputra, those [with] death are false dharmas, [with] forms of destruction. Those [with] birth are false dharmas, [with] forms of continuous succession. Bodhisattvas, although [with] death, [do] not exhaust [their] good roots, [and] although [with] birth, [do] not grow [in] all evils.’

[Note 4: As all dharmas (i.e. phenomena) are impermanent and without self, they are illusory, thus ‘false’, only appearing to be destroyed and born cyclically. Exactly since they are impermanent and without self, there is no permanent self being born in the ‘beginning’, just as there is no such impermanent self dying in the ‘end’ – as there is only beginningless changing, which is also endless changing. With realisation of this, there is liberation from the cycle of rebirth and ‘redeath’. Non-Arising Of Dharmas’ Forbearance (无生法忍) will be realised via reaching of Amitābha Buddha’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land Of Ultimate Bliss (极乐世界).]

[Note 5: Bodhisattvas who have trained via reaching of Pure Lands, such as that of Amitābha Buddha, having attained non-retrogression (不退转) in progress towards Buddhahood, are definitely capable of manifesting ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ without diminishing their good roots when appearing in defiled lands with many evil influences. However, aspiring and new Bodhisattvas who attempt to do so without training in Pure Lands are very likely to retrogress, thus exhausting their good roots, even growing in many evils.

Just as we cannot recollect even a single memory from our immediate past lives in this life, if we cannot recollect even a single Dharma teaching learnt in this life in our immediate future lives here, how can we steadily progress on the Bodhisattva path towards Buddhahood for sure? Not being able to remember our practice is already a key marker of spiritual retrogression. In Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land however, with his empowerment, all past lives’ memories of everything learnt will be recollected, thus expediting our progress all the way.]


At this time, [the] Buddha told Śariputra, ‘[There] is [a] land named Wonderful Joy [i.e. Abhirati], [with a] Buddha named Immovable [i.e. Akṣobhya: 阿閦]. [It] is [where] Vimalakīrti, in that land, died and came [to be] born here.’

[Note 6: It is traditionally said that Vimalakīrti is also Golden Grain Thus Come One’s (金粟如来) Manifestation Body (化身), as a model householder lay Bodhisattva (在家居士菩萨), who manifested in this land to assist the Buddha in propagating these teachings.]


Śariputra said, ‘[This is] never before [seen]. World-Honoured [One], this person [is] even able [to] renounce [a] Pure Land, and come joyfully [to] this place [with] much anger [and] harm.’

[Note 7: Vimalakīrti is able to do so as he had already trained well in the Pure Land, and was thus completely ready to depart from it, to confidently re-enter heavily defiled lands, without fear of being tainted by the defilements of their beings, to skilfully guide them to liberation (via reaching of Pure Lands too).]

[Note 8: This teaching should not be mistaken as to ‘give up’ the aspiration to reach any Pure Land in the first place, before returning to any defiled land – which is likelier to further taint (than purify) oneself. Doing so is thus spiritually reckless and dangerous, especially if the defiled land returned to, such as ours, is already in the Dharma-Ending Age (末法时期) of an Evil Period (恶世) with all Five Defilements (五浊) now. This is why all Buddhas repeatedly urge all beings to reach Pure Lands, so that they can swiftly attain the best spiritual training via Buddhas personally, to guide one and all to liberation.]


Vimalakīrti said [to] Śariputra, ‘What [do you] think? When sunlight emits, [does it] with darkness combine?’


[In] reply, ‘No. When sunlight emits, [it is] immediately without all darkness.’

[Note 9: This also represents the principle of the light of wisdom (or truth) being more powerful than the darkness of ignorance. While darkness cannot ‘devour’ bright light, light can vanquish the darkest darkness.]


Vimalakīrti said, ‘That sun, [for] what reason moves [in] Jambudvīpa?’


[In] reply, ‘Desiring [to], with brightness illuminate, for it [to] eliminate darkness.’


Vimalakīrti said, ‘Bodhisattvas are like this. Although born [in] impure Buddha lands, for transforming sentient beings thus, [are] not with ignorance’s darkness then together combining, however destroying sentient beings’ afflictions’ darkness only.’

[Note 10: Again, these Bodhisattvas are not merely aspiring or new Bodhisattvas. If not yet seen, see Note 5 on who they usually are.]

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

Related Teachings:

《维摩诘经》: 在此秽土见净土
Sight Of This Defiled Land As A Pure Land In The Vimalakīrti Sūtra

The Practices Of All Bodhisattvas For Establishing Pure Lands In The Vimalakīrti Sūtra

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