Friday, March 8, 2019

The Nirvanic features of the Pure Land and its inhabitants – commentary on sections 14-21 of the Larger Sutra (part 2)



As I mentioned earlier, the five senses of samsaric beings (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling) lead to delusion, attachment, dissatisfaction and suffering, but when the inhabitants of the Pure Land see, hear, touch, smell or taste things belonging to that realm, - because those are enlightened manifestations and their own minds and sense organs are also enlightened, - the states of mind they experience are themselves enlightened and pure.
ANY element in samsara can be both useful or an obstacle to our life and practice, but in the Pure Land EVERYTHING there is conducive to perfect Enlightenment and is a manifestation of perfect Enlightenment.   

We already talked about the effects of seeing the Bodhi Tree or hearing the Dharma sounds produced by the gentle breeze which wafts through its branches and leaves. However, Dharma sounds are not limited to the Bodhi Tree. They are also produced by the seven jeweled trees:

“when a fresh breeze wafts through them, exquisite sounds of the pentatonic scales, such as gong and shang, spontaneously arise and make symphonic music”,

 by the ripples of the water in the ponds:

“the rippling water forms meandering streams, which join and flow into each other. Their movement is peaceful and quiet, neither too fast nor too slow, and their ripples spontaneously produce innumerable wonderful sounds. One can hear whatever sound one wishes. For example, some hear the sound ‘Buddha, some hear the sound ‘Dharma,’ some  ‘Sangha’, others hear ‘tranquility,’ ‘emptiness and no-self[1],’ ‘great compassion,’ ‘paramita,’ ‘ten powers,’ ‘fearlessness,’ ‘special qualities,’ ‘supernatural powers,’ ‘non-activity,’ ‘neither arising nor perishing,’ ‘insight into the nonarising of all dharmas,’ and so on until the various sounds of the wonderful Dharma, such as ‘the sprinkling of nectar upon the head of a Bodhisattva,’ are reached. As one hears those sounds, one attains immeasurable joy and accords with the principles of purity, absence of desires, extinction, and reality. One is in harmony with the Three Treasures, the Buddha’s powers, fearlessness, and special qualities, and also with supernatural powers and other methods of practice for Bodhisattvas and sravakas. Not even the names of the three realms of suffering are heard there, but only nirvanic sounds of bliss. For this reason, that land is called ‘Peace and Bliss.”

by the “breeze of virtue” which wafts over the innumerable jewelled nets:

“when the breeze wafts over the nets and the various jewelled trees, countless excellent sounds of the Dharma are heard, and ten thousand kinds of delicate fragrances of virtue are diffused.”

and are found everywhere in the Pure Land:

“in that land there are thousands of varieties of spontaneous music, which are all, without exception, sounds of the Dharma”.

Comparing the sounds of the Pure Land with those of higher samsaric planes of existence, Shakyamuni said:

“A king of this world possesses a hundred thousand kinds of music. From the realm ruled by a wheel-turning monarch up to the sixth heaven [of the world of desire], the sounds of the music produced in each higher realm are ten million koṭis of times superior to those of a lower one. The thousands of varieties of musical sound produced in the sixth heaven are a thousand koṭis of times inferior to one sound produced by the seven-jeweled trees in the land of Amitayus. Again, in that land, there are thousands of varieties of spontaneous music, which are all, without exception, sounds of the Dharma. They are clear and serene, full of depth and resonance, delicate, and harmonious; they are the most excellent sounds in all the worlds of the ten directions.”

How the sense of smell helps us in samsara? It is useful to detect poisonous things or if the food is old or expired but it can also support our greed for luxurious perfumes and fragrances which lead to more attachments. However, in the Pure Land the fragrances are pure and virtuous, automatically destroying the seeds of blind passions:

“When the breeze wafts over the nets and the various jeweled trees,[...]  ten thousand kinds of delicate fragrances of virtue are diffused. If one smells those fragrances one’s impurities and passions spontaneously cease to arise.”

Also related with seeing, smelling or touching, which in samsaric realms give rise to blind passions and attachments, in the Pure Land they express enlightened states and activities:

“If touched by the breeze itself, one enjoys the same pleasure as a monk who has entered the samadhi of extinction.”

Here “extinction” does NOT mean annihilation, but the extinction of delusion and blind passions.

Shakyamuni said:

“Again, as the breeze blows, flowers are scattered throughout the Buddha land; they spontaneously divide into different colors, not mixed together. They are soft and pleasant to touch, glow brilliantly, and diffuse rich fragrances. When one’s foot is placed on them they sink down four inches, but when the foot is lifted they rise to their former level. When the flowers have served their purpose the earth opens up and they vanish, leaving the ground clean and without trace of them. At the right moment, six times a day, the breeze wafts, scattering the flowers in this way. Moreover, lotus flowers of various jewels fill the land; each has a hundred thousand koṭis of petals with lights of numerous colors - green lotuses glow with a green light; white ones with a white light; and likewise dark blue, yellow, red, and purple lotuses glow with lights of their respective colors. The brilliance of these lights is so magnificent that it outshines the sun and moon. Each flower emits thirty-six hundred thousand koṭis of rays of light, each sending forth thirty-six hundred thousand koṭis of Buddhas. The bodies of these Buddhas are purple gold, and their physical characteristics and marks are superb beyond compare.
Each Buddha emits a hundred thousand rays of light and expounds the wonderful Dharma to beings in the ten directions, thus setting innumerable beings on the right path of the Buddha.”

In samsara some flowers may have thorns or be poisoned. Even the most beautiful and harmless of them do not last long and when they wither their perfume becomes a rotten stench. Also, if not thrown away quickly they dirty the place which they previously decorated. However, the flowers emanated in the Pure Land harmoniously co-exist with the inhabitants and the rest of the realm.
More than this, they emit uncountable rays of light, each ray manifesting innumerable Buddhas who are active in helping sentient beings in the ten directions to encounter and follow “the right path of the Buddha”, which means the Dharma that all Buddhas praise - Amida Dharma.

About the taste of the Pure Land we find bathing ponds of various length, breadth and depth which, “are full to the brim with the water that possesses the eight excellent qualities, clear, fragrant, and tasting like nectar”.
                        
This water adapts to the forms manifested by the inhabitants of the Pure Land:

“ if Bodhisattvas and sravakas in that land enter the jeweled ponds and wish the water to rise to their ankles, it rises to their ankles. If they wish it to rise to their knees, it rises to their knees. If they wish it to rise to their waists, it rises to their waists. If they wish it to rise to their necks, it rises to their necks. If they wish it to pour over their bodies, it spontaneously pours over their bodies. If they wish it to recede, it recedes.”

and,

“its temperature is moderate, cool, or warm according to their wishes. The water comforts the body and refreshes the mind, washing away their mental defilements. Clear and pure, the water is so transparent that it seems formless. The jewel sand shines so brightly that even the depth of the water cannot prevent its brilliance from being seen.  The rippling water forms meandering streams, which join and flow into each other. Their movement is peaceful and quiet, neither too fast nor too slow, and their ripples spontaneously produce innumerable wonderful sounds.”

How is water in samsara? It clears away thirst and gives comfort, but it may often become an obstacle when it rains too much. Water here in samsara can be muddy, or too deep, possessing turbulent streams or dangerous creatures may live in it.
In the Pure Land every element, including water, is in perfect harmony with the inhabitants, never going against them, but adjusting to their form or the Dharma activity they wish to perform. Thus, water is “peaceful and quiet, neither too fast nor too slow”, refreshing not only for the body but also for the mind. The enlightened beings in the Pure Land do not need to have their minds refreshed or cleaned from mental defilements, but these qualities of the water are mentioned to show that it is not ordinary water like we have here in samsara. On the contrary, the water in the Pure Land is “clear and pure” that is, not produced by the karma of unenlightened beings and it is “so transparent that it seems formless” which means its nature is ultimate Dharmakaya beyond form.

Also, the food in the Pure Land, unlike in samsara, leads to freedom from the attachment to the sense of taste:  

“At mealtimes, plates made of the seven kinds of jewels - gold, silver, beryl, agate, ruby, coral, and amber, and also of moonbright pearl - spontaneously appear, filled with food and drink of a hundred tastes according to one’s wishes. Although the food is offered no one actually eats it. Once it has been seen and smelled, one naturally feels that it has been eaten and so is satisfied; thus one feels relaxed in mind and body, free from attachment to the sense of taste. When the meal is over everything disappears, but it reappears at the next mealtime.”

As it is clear from the above passage, no one actually needs food in the Pure Land – “although the food is offered no one actually eats it” because no one ever gets hungry. This is the meaning of “once it has been seen and smelled, one naturally feels that it has been eaten and so is satisfied; thus one feels relaxed in mind and body, free from attachment to the sense of taste”. Food which leads to non-desire for food free from attachment to the sense of taste” is actually NOT food in the samsaric sense of the word, but a Nirvanic manifestation which appears spontaneously and without a need for it.

Not only the food, but everything in the Pure Land is a spontaneous apparition, including the houses and various adornments:

“Again, the halls, monasteries, palaces, and pavilions are spontaneous apparitions, all adorned with the seven kinds of jewels and hung with curtains of various other jewels, such as pearls and moonbright maṇi-gems.”

“Ananda, those born in that Buddha land are endowed with such bodies of purity and provided with various exquisite sounds, supernatural powers and virtues. The palaces in which they dwell; their clothing, food, and drink; the wonderful flowers; and the various kinds of incense and adornments are like those naturally provided in the sixth heaven of the world of desire.”

Again a comparison is made here with a samsaric element in order to show an even greater and better aspect of the Pure Land. The sixth gods realm of the world of desire[2] is the Heaven of Free Enjoyment of Manifestations by Others (Paranirmitavasavartin). There too, everything appears  naturally for the enjoyment of the dwellers, but unlike the Pure Land, that god realm and its inhabitants are subject to impermanence and the things they receive increase their attachments and blind passions. The comparison is made only to show that the mechanism of appearance is the same - naturally provided, but this does NOT mean that the things in the Pure Land are similar with those in the sixth heaven. As we have seen until now, all elements of the Pure Land are enlightened and automatically destroy all delusions and blind passions in those who enter into contact with them. The inhabitants of the Pure Land who enjoy such “naturally provided” elements have “bodies of purity” that is, they are Enlightened and have enlightened bodies (Sambhogakayas) in the Pure Land which surpass the beautiful yet samsaric and impermanent bodies of those born among the sixth heaven in the world of desire or in any god realm.

The fact that beings born in the Pure Land are enlightened and that any comparison with other beings and realms is only for the sake of description and for a better understanding, is also supported by the next passage which comes immediately after that with the meals[3]:

“That Buddha land, like the realm of unconditioned Nirvana, is pure and serene, resplendent and blissful. The sravakas, Bodhisattvas, heavenly beings, and humans there have lofty and brilliant wisdom and are masters of the supernatural powers. They are all of one form, without any differences, but are called ‘heavenly beings’ and ‘humans’ simply by analogy with states of
existence in other worlds. They are of noble and majestic countenance, unequalled in all the worlds, and their appearance is superb, unmatched by any being, heavenly or human. They are all endowed with bodies of naturalness, emptiness, and infinity.”

That Buddha land, like the realm of unconditioned Nirvana, is pure and serene, resplendent and blissful” - the fact that the Pure Land is Nirvanic in its essence was also stated by Dharmakara, before proclaiming His 48th vows in section 5 of the Larger Sutra, and before becoming Amida:

My land, being like Nirvana itself,
Will be beyond comparison.”[4]

This means that all the manifestations of the Pure Land are grounded in the perfect Enlightenment of Amida Buddha, and are conducive to Enlightenment. We ourselves will attain Enlightenment when we are born in the Pure Land, because the essence of the Pure Land is Enlightenment/Nirvana/ultimate Dharmakaya itself. Otherwise, if the Pure Land was not an enlightened realm, it would produce only sensorial attachments, like other samsaric realms do, but Shakyamuni Buddha[5] and our Masters[6] were very clear that this is not the case.

Also, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu stated in his Jodoron[7]:

"The adornments of the Land of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life are the wondrous manifestations of the ultimate reality".

And in the Essentials of Faith Alone, Master Seikaku said:

“The Land of Bliss is the realm of Nirvana, the uncreated”.

The “uncreated” refers to ultimate Dharmakaya beyond forms, which is the essence of all Buddhas and their lands. From this Dharmakaya emerge all the manifestations for the sake of saving sentient beings in accordance with the specific vows of different Buddhas. In our case, the Pure Land appeared when Dharmakara attained perfect Enlightenment (became Amida Buddha)  and thus brought His 48 vows to fulfilment. In that moment, His land took the form and manifestations described in the sutra and especially in His 31st and 32nd Vows, while also maintaining its formless Dharmakaya essence.

The fact that all the inhabitants of the Pure Land “are of one form, without any differences” shows that the analogies made by Shakyamuni with other beings or realms were only for the sake of a better description: ‘they are all of one form, without any differences, but are called ‘heavenly beings’ and ‘humans’ simply by analogy with states of existence in other worlds”.
In truth, those born in the Pure Land are “unequalled in all the worlds, and their appearance is superb, unmatched by any being, heavenly or human”, and are “endowed with bodies of naturalness, emptiness, and infinity” which again shows that they are Enlightened Persons whose essence is ultimate Dharmakaya beyond form.

There is a comparison made in section 18th and 19th to emphasize even more the difference between samsaric beings and those born in the Pure Land. Shakyamuni asked Ananda:

“If a beggar in extreme poverty sits by the side of a king, how can their appearances be compared?”
Then Ananda replied by showing the huge differences between the two and the karmic causes which lead to birth as a “beggar in extreme poverty - being at the lowest social level, with barely enough clothes to cover his body, scarcely enough food to sustain his life, with hunger and cold always tormenting him and having almost lost human contact” and birth as a king who “is the most honored of all men, having “dignified and majestic demeanour” which “commands the respect of his people”, and for whom “superb clothes and sumptuous food are prepared and served to him as he pleases”.

If the condition of the beggar is “the result of his misdeeds in former lives”, of not cultivating roots of virtue, but instead “accumulating riches without giving anything to others”, desiring more as his wealth increased, the condition of the king “is the reward for virtues accumulated in former lives, in which he, with a compassionate heart, gave generously to many, saved people from suffering through kindness and benevolence, performed good deeds with sincerity, and never disputed with others”.

After a life of avarice the actual beggar “fell into one of the evil realms, where he suffered pain for a long period. When his karmic retributions ended, he was able to escape but was reborn into a lower class; being foolish, base, and inferior, he barely maintains the appearance of a human being.” After a life of generosity, the actual king “was rewarded with rebirth into a higher state. Born in a heavenly realm, he enjoyed bliss and happiness. His accumulated virtues produced such a surplus of good that when he was reborn as a man in this life his birth was, deservedly, into a royal family.”

Thus, as Ananda said, because of their different karmas, “if such a man (a beggar) sits by the side of a king, his emaciated, mean, and ragged appearance cannot be compared with the king’s. His appearance is a thousand million koṭis or even incalculable times inferior to the king’s”.

Then Shakyamuni continued with the comparison even further:

“‘What you say is true. Even though a king is the noblest of all men and has a regal countenance, if he is compared with a wheel-turning monarch he will appear as base and inferior as a beggar beside a king. Likewise, however excellent and unrivalled the majestic appearance of such a monarch may be, if he is compared with the lord of the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods, he will also appear incomparably inferior, even ten thousand koṭis of times more so. Again, if this heavenly lord is compared with the lord of the sixth heaven, he will appear a hundred thousand koṭis of times inferior.”

This is how the higher you climb on the scale of samsaric realms, the better and glorious becomes the condition of the inhabitants. However, because they are free from samsara, those born in the Pure Land go beyond even the highest gods in any unenlightened realm:
                                              
“If the lord of the sixth heaven is compared with a Bodhisattva or a sravaka dwelling in the land of Amitayus (Amida), his countenance and appearance will be far from equal to that of the Bodhisattva or sravaka, being a thousand million koṭis of times or even incalculable times inferior.’

The Buddha said to Ananda, ‘Devas and humans in the land of Amitayus are each provided with robes, food and drink, flowers, perfume, ornaments, silken canopies, and banners, and are surrounded by exquisite sounds. Their abodes, palaces, and pavilions are exactly in accordance with the size of their bodies. One, two, or even innumerable jewels appear before them, as soon
as they wish. In addition, beautiful jewelled fabric covers the ground where all the devas and humans walk.”

Again, as I said at the beginning of this chapter, every manifestation of the Pure Land is in perfect harmony with the beings born there  - “their abodes, palaces, and pavilions are exactly in accordance with the size of their bodies”,  unlike in samsara where everything, even the most beautiful element might become an obstacle sooner or later, and where things never fit perfectly to the needs of the inhabitants.

For those born in the enlightened realm of Amida, everything is the manifestation of enlightenment and supports the enlightened activities performed there or who start there and are continued in the various realms of samsaric existence.

to be continued 



[1]All elements of samsara, because they appear according to causes and conditions, are considered empty and having no real self or no inherent existence. Contrary to this, the Buddha nature is truly existent as it is neither created nor dependent on causes and conditions. 
[2] The realms of the gods are divided into three: 1) gods of the Realm of Desire, 2) gods of the Realm of Form and 3) gods of the Realm of Non-form. For a detailed explanation see my book The Four Profound Thoughts Which Turn the Mind Towards Amida Dharma, pages 146-160.
[3] It is not accidentally that the fragment related with food is preceded and followed by passages explaining the enlightened nature of the Pure Land and its inhabitants.
[4] The Three Pure Land Sutras - A Study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p.9-10
[5] For example, when He explained the role and origin of the wonderful birds of the Pure Land, Shakyamuni said:
“Shariputra, you should not assume that these birds are born as retribution of their evil karma. The reason is that none of the three evil realms exists in that Buddha-land. Shariputra, even the names of the three evil realms do not exist there; how much less the realms themselves? These birds are manifested by Amida Buddha so that their singing can proclaim and spread the Dharma”.
[6] For example, Master T’ao-ch’o said in his An Le Chi, „The streams, birds, and forests all expound the Dharma, which awaken people to the principle of non-arising.”
[7] Treatise on the Pure Land, in The Pure Land Writings, vol I – the Indian Masters, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 2012, p. 57

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