The Vow of Necessary Attainment of Nirvana
The Birth that is Inconceivable
A Collection of Passages Revealing
The True Realization of the Pure Land Way
Compiled by Gutoku Shinran
Disciple of Sakyamuni
1 To reveal, with reverence, the true realization: It is the wondrous state attained through Amida’s perfect benefiting of others; it is the ultimate fruition of supreme nirvana. It arises from the Vow of necessary attainment of nirvana, also known as the Vow of realization of great nirvana.
When foolish beings possessed of blind passions, the multitudes caught in birth-and-death and defiled by evil karma, realize the mind an practice that Amida directs to them for their going forth, they immediately join the truly settled of the Mahayana. Because they dwell among the truly settled, they necessarily attain nirvana. To necessarily attain nirvana is [to attain] eternal bliss. Eternal bliss is ultimate tranquility. Tranquility is supreme nirvana. Supreme nirvana is uncreated dharma-body. Uncreated dharma-body is true reality. True reality is dharma-nature. Dharma-nature is suchness. Suchness is oneness. Amida Tathagata comes forth from suchness and manifests various bodies – fulfilled, accommodated, and transformed.
[The Sutra Passages]
2 The Vow of necessary attainment of nirvana is stated in the Larger Sutra:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, the human beings and devas in my land do not dwell among the settled and necessarily attain nirvana, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.
3 The Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life states:
If, when I become Buddha, the sentient beings in my land do not decidedly attain the equal of perfect enlightenment, so that they realize great nirvana, may I not attain enlightenment.
4 The passage declaring the fulfilment of this Vow in the Larger Sutra states:
The sentient beings born in that land all dwell among the truly settled, for in that Buddha-land there is not one who is falsely settled or not settled.
5 Further it states:
That Buddha-land is pure and tranquil, wondrous and delightful. It is not apart from the enlightenment of uncreated nirvana. The sravakas, bodhisattvas, devas, and human beings there all possess lofty and brilliant wisdom, and their transcendent powers are thoroughly realized. They are all of a single kind, with no distinction in appearance. The words “human beings” and “devas” are used simply in accordance with usage elsewhere. Their countenances are dignified and wonderful, surpassing things of this world. Their features, subtle and delicate, are not those of human beings or devas; all receive the body of naturalness (jinen) or of emptiness, the body of boundlessness.
6 Further [the Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life] states:
All the sentient beings of that land and those to be born there are brought to thorough fulfilment of supreme enlightenment and reach the abode of nirvana. Why is this? Because those who are falsely settled or not settled cannot comprehend [the Buddha’s intent in] establishing the cause [of birth there].
[Passages from the Masters: Vasubandhu and T’an-luan]
7 The Treatise on the Pure Land states:
Concerning “the fulfilment of the adornment of the virtue of wondrous sound,” the gatha states:
The land’s pure sound deeply enlightens beings far and wide;
Subtle and wondrous, it is heard throughout the ten quarters.
Why is this inconceivable? The sutra declares, “Those who, simply hearing of the purity and happiness of that land, earnestly desire to be born there, and those who attain birth, immediately enter the stage of the truly settled.” This shows that the land’s very name performs the Buddha’s work [of saving others]. How can this be conceived?
Concerning “the fulfilment of the adornment of the virtue of the lord,” the gatha states:
Amida, the perfectly enlightened,
Being dharma-king, makes [the Pure Land] abide and sustains it with his good.
Why is this inconceivable? Amida, the perfectly enlightened, surpasses conceivability. The Pure Land of happiness is sustained by the power of the good of Amida, the perfectly enlightened. How can this be conceived?
Abide means not to change or perish; sustain means to keep from scattering or losing. If a salve that prevents spoilage is applied to seeds, they will not rot though placed in water, nor burn though placed in fire, and later, under proper conditions, they will sprout immediately. Why? Because of the salve’s power. People, once born in the Pure Land of happiness, later conceive in their hearts the wish to be born in the three realms to teach and guide sentient beings; they then abandon their life in the Pure Land and receive birth in accord with their aspiration. Though they are born into the flames of various births in the three realms, the seed of supreme enlightenment will never rot. Why? Because they are sustained by the good of Amida, the perfectly enlightened.
Concerning “the fulfilment of the adornment of the virtue of fellow beings,” the gatha states:
The beings of the Tathagata’s pure lotus
Are born transformed from the lotus of perfect enlightenment.
Why is this inconceivable? In this world of miscellaneous modes of birth, whether beings are born from womb, egg, or moisture or by sudden metamorphosis, their fellow beings are numerous, and these fellow beings experience pain and pleasure in a myriad variations because of their diverse karmas. In that land of happiness, every single being is born transformed from the pure lotus of Amida Tathagata’s perfect enlightenment, for they are the same in practicing the nembutsu and follow no other way. This extends even to this world, so that all nembutsu practicers within the four seas are brothers and sisters. The fellow beings are innumerable. How can this be conceived?
Although there are initially nine grades among those aspiring for birth, now [in the Pure Land] there are no distinctions whatsoever. It is like the waters of the Tzu and Sheng becoming one in taste upon entering the sea. How can this be conceived?
9 Further, the Treatise states:
Concerning “the fulfilment of the adornment of the virtue of purity,” the gatha states:
Contemplating the features of that world,
I see that it transcends the three realms.
Why is this inconceivable? When foolish beings possessed of blind passions attain birth in the Pure Land, they are not bound by the karmic fetters of the three realms. That is, without severing blind passions, they realize nirvana itself. How can this be conceived?
10 Passages on the Land of Happiness states:
The majestic powers of the two Buddhas, Amida and Sakyamuni, are equal. Sakyamuni Tathagata, however, speaks not of his own capacities, but purposely reveals Amida’s excellence; this is from his desire that every single sentient being be equally brought to take refuge in Amida. Hence, in various sutras Sakyamuni praises and leads beings to take refuge in Amida; we must recognize this to be the Buddha’s intent. Master T’an-luan’s fundamental intention, then, was indeed to take refuge in the West. He therefore expresses praise in hymns based on the Larger Sutra:
The sravakas and bodhisattvas of the land of happiness,
And the human beings and devas also, all perfectly attain wisdom;
In bodily appearance and adornments they do not differ at all.
The terms for them differ simply in accordance with usage elsewhere.
Their countenances, dignified and wonderful, are beyond compare;
Delicate and subtle, their bodies are not human beings’ or devas’.
Theirs are the body of emptiness, the body of boundlessness;
Therefore, I pay homage to the one possessing the power of equality.
11 The Commentary of the Master of Kuang-ming temple states:
Concerning the “universal Vow,” it is as set forth in the Larger Sutra. The attainment of birth of all foolish beings, whether good or evil, is always, without exception, by being carried by the karmic power of Amida Buddha’s great Vow and accepting it as the decisive cause. Further, the Buddha’s innermost intent is vast and profound; hence, his teachings are difficult to grasp. It cannot be fathomed by the three classes of the wise or the ten classes of sages. Much less, then, can it be fathomed by us, petty foolish beings who have not reached even the stages of understanding. How should we know its significance?
As I reverently reflect, I see that Sakyamuni exhorts us on this shore, and that Amida, from that land, comes to welcome us. From there we are beckoned to, from here we are urged on; how could we refuse to go? Just earnestly devote yourself to this dharma with life’s limit as the end, and abandoning completely this defiled existence, immediately realize the eternal bliss of dharma-nature.
The city of bliss, tranquil and uncreated, in the West,
Is ultimately free and peaceful, far removed from being and nonbeing;
Great compassion imbues the heart, so that one sports in the dharma-realm;
Transforming oneself into various bodies, one benefits all beings equally, without discrimination.
Manifesting transcendent powers, one teaches the dharma;
Realizing Buddha’s features and marks, one enters nirvana without residue.
Miraculously created adornments are manifested at will;
Those sentient beings who see them have all their karmic evil swept away.
Further, it states in praise:
Let us return! Do not abide
In this homeland of maras. Since innumerable kalpas ago
We have been transmigrating
Passing through all the six courses.
Nowhere has there been any pleasure;
We hear only the voices of grief and sorrow.
After this present lifetime has ended,
Let us enter the city of nirvana!
[Conclusion to the Aspect of Going Forth]
13 As I contemplate the teaching, practice, shinjin, and realization of the true essence of the Pure Land way, I see that they are the benefit that the Tathagata directs to us in his great compassion.
Therefore, whether with regard to the cause or to the fruition, there is nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through Amida Tathagata’s directing of virtue to beings out of his pure Vow-mind. Because the cause is pure, the fruit is also pure. Reflect on this.
[The Aspect of Return to this World]
14 Second is Amida’s directing of virtue for our return to this world. This is the benefit we receive, the state of benefiting and guiding others. It arises from the Vow of necessary attainment of the rank of succession to Buddhahood, also know as “the Vow of succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime.” It may further be called “the Vow of directing virtue for our return to this world.” Since this Vow appears in the Commentary on the Treatise, I will not quote it here; see the passages from the Commentary [that follow].
15 The Treatise on the Pure Land states:
Concerning “the fifth gate of emergence”: With great compassion, one observes all sentient beings in pain and affliction, and assuming various transformed bodies to guide them, enters the gardens of birth-and-death and the forests of blind passions; freely sporting there with transcendent powers, one attains the state of teaching and guiding. This is brought about by the directing of virtue through the power of the Primal Vow; it is called “the fifth gate of emergence.”
16 The Commentary on the Treatise states:
“Directing virtue for return to this world” means that after being born in that land, fulfilling samatha and vipasyana, and gaining the power of compassionate means, one returns and enters the thick forests of birth-and-death, teaches and guides all sentient beings, and brings all to enter the Buddha-way together. Whether with regard to the aspect for going forth or the aspect for return, all is entirely for the sake of bringing sentient beings across the ocean of birth-and-death. Thus it is stated, “It is to fulfil the mind of great compassion, taking the directing of virtue as foremost.”
Because they see the Buddha, the bodhisattvas who have not yet realized pure mind will ultimately attain dharma-body of equality. For they will ultimately realize tranquility and equality like the bodhisattvas of pure mind or the bodhisattvas of higher stages.
Dharma-body of equality refers to bodhisattvas of the eighth stage or above, who have bodies arising from dharma-nature. This is dharma that is tranquility and equality. Because they realize this dharma of tranquility and equality, they are termed “dharma-body of equality.” Because bodhisattvas of dharma-body of equality attain it, it is called “dharma of tranquility and equality.” These bodhisattvas attain the samadhi called “arising as the fruit [of dharma-body].” With the transcendent powers of this samadhi, they are able, while remaining in one place, to be everywhere throughout the worlds of the ten quarters in one instant, at the same time, and to make offerings in various ways to all the Buddhas and the ocean of beings in the Buddha’s great assemblies. They can, in places throughout the innumerable worlds where there is no Buddha, no dharma, and no sangha, manifest themselves in various forms to teach, guide, and bring all sentient beings to emancipation, thus ever performing Buddha’s work. From the very beginning, however, they have no thought of going and coming, not thought of making offerings, no thought of emancipating. For this reason this body is called dharma-body of equality. This dharma is called dharma of tranquility and equality.
Bodhisattvas who have not yet realized pure mind: bodhisattvas of the first to the seventh stages. These bodhisattvas are, again, able to manifest bodies, in a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a million, or a hundred thousand million lands where there is no Buddha, and to perform Buddha’s work. However, it is necessary for them to enter into samadhi through exertion of mind; they are not without such exertion. Because of this exertion of mind, they are said to be “bodhisattvas who have not yet realized pure mind.” These bodhisattvas aspire to be born into the Pure Land of happiness and to see Amida Buddha. When they have seen Amida Buddha, they will ultimately become equal in body and equal in dharma to all the bodhisattvas of the higher stages. It is precisely for this reason that Bodhisattva Nagarjuna and Bodhisattva Vasubandhu aspired for birth there.
Question: In reflecting on the Sutra of the Ten Stages, I find that the bodhisattvas’ advance through stages is attained only after gradually acquiring immeasurable merit over numerous kalpas. How is it that if they see Amida Buddha, ultimately they will be equal in body and equal in dharma to bodhisattvas of the higher stages?
Answer: Ultimately does not mean “immediately equal.” Ultimately, without fail, they will be equal; for this reason, they are said to be equal.
Question: If they are not immediately equal, how can they be called bodhisattvas? When bodhisattvas attain the first stage, then by gradually advancing they will naturally become equal to the Buddhas; how can it be provisionally said that they are equal to bodhisattvas of the higher stages?
Answer: Within the seventh stage, bodhisattvas attain great tranquility; above, they see no Buddhahood that must be attained, below, they see no sentient beings who must be saved. They desire to abandon the Buddha-way and [immediately] realize reality-limit. At that time, if they do not receive encouragement through the transcendent powers of the Buddhas of the ten quarters, they immediately enter nirvana and come to be no different from [those of] the two vehicles. If bodhisattvas are born in the land of happiness and see Amida Buddha, they do not encounter this fault. Hence, they are ultimately equal.”
Further, among Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vows in the Sutra of Immeasurable Life is the following:
When I attain Buddhahood, the bodhisattvas of other Buddha-lands who come and are born in my land will ultimately and unfailingly attain [the rank of] “succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime” – except for those who, in accordance with their own original vows freely to guide others to enlightenment, don the armor of universal vows for the sake of sentient beings, accumulate roots of virtue, emancipate all beings, travel to Buddha-lands to perform bodhisattva practices, make offerings to all the Buddhas and Tathagatas throughout the ten quarters, awaken sentient beings countless as the sands of the Ganges, and bring them to abide firmly in the unexcelled, right, true way. Such bodhisattvas surpass ordinary ones, manifest the practices of all the bodhisattva stages, and discipline themselves in the virtue of Samantabhadra. Should it not be so, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.
Reflecting on this sutra passage, we may infer that the bodhisattvas of that land do not advance from stage to stage. What is spoken of as the process of the ten stages is merely an accommodated method of guidance that Sakyamuni Tathagata used in this Jambudvipa continent; what necessity is there that it be thus in the pure lands of other quarters? Among the five inconceivabilities, the Buddha-dharma is the most inconceivable. If one says that bodhisattvas must necessarily advance from stage to stage, and that there is no principle of leaping, then one still lacks understanding.
There is a tree called “great firmness.” It takes one hundred years for this tree to send forth a shoot from the ground, but when it does it grows one hundred yards a day. It grows thus day by day. How can its measure after a hundred years be compared even to tall pines? Since pine trees grow no more than an inch a day, people hearing of this “great firmness” tree surely doubt it can grow thus in a single day. A person hearing that Sakyamuni Tathagata brought a man to realization of arhatship with but one sermon, or brought another to insight into the nonorigination of all existence in but the time before breakfast, will take this as words of inducement and not a presentation of fact. Hearing the above exposition [of the Treatise], one will surely not believe it. Extraordinary words do not find entrance into the ears of the ordinary; they think it cannot be so. That cannot be helped.
I have briefly explained eight passages, showing that the Tathagata’s virtues and adornments for self-benefit and benefiting others have been fulfilled in due order. Reflect on this.
What is the due order? The preceding seventeen passages treat the fulfillment of the adornments of the virtues of the land. We know already the features of the land; hence, we must know the master of the land. For this reason, next we contemplate the virtues of the Buddha’s adornments. If the Buddha has completed his adornments, where does he sit? Thus, first we contemplate his seat. When we have come to know the seat, then we must know the seated master. Thus, next we contemplate the Buddha’s adornment of bodily activity. Having come to know the bodily activity, we must know what name the Buddha has. Thus, next we contemplate the Buddha’s adornment of verbal activity. Having come to know how the Name is heard, we must know the origins of the Name’s acquisition. Thus, next we contemplate the Buddha’s adornment of mental activity. Having come to know that the Buddha possesses these three modes of activity, we must know which people are able to receive the guidance of the great teacher of human beings and devas. Thus, next we contemplate the virtue of the great assembly. Having come to know the countless virtues possessed by the great assembly, we must know who the leader is. Thus, next we contemplate the leader. The leader is the Buddha. We come to know that the leader is surely the same for long kalpas; thus, next we contemplate the master. Having come to know the master, we must know what supreme virtue the master possesses. Thus, we next contemplate his adornment of sustaining without any futility. Thus, the due order of the eight passages is established.
Concerning contemplation of the bodhisattvas:
How does one contemplate the fulfillment of virtues that adorn the bodhisattvas? When contemplating the fulfillment of the virtues that adorn the bodhisattvas, you should, contemplating those bodhisattvas, reflect that they possess the fulfillment of virtues resulting from the performance of four kinds of right practice.
Suchness is the true essence of all existence. The essence of all existence is suchness, and yet [the bodhisattvas] perform practices; hence, it is not-practicing. Practicing while not practicing is termed “practicing in accord with reality.” The essence is simply oneness, but its function is divided into four. Hence, the four practices are rightly taken to be unified as one.
What are these four? First, without moving bodily from one Buddha-land, the bodhisattvas go throughout the ten quarters, assuming various transformed bodies and practicing in accord with reality, and thus constantly performing the Buddha’s work. As the gatha states:
The land of happiness is pure and immaculate;
There, the undefiled wheel is turned contantly;
Transformed Buddhas and bodhisattvas there are like suns,
And further, like Mount Sumeru, abide [immovable].
This is to unfold blossoms from the muddy ponds of sentient beings.
Bodhisattvas of the eighth stage and above abide constantly in samadhi, and with the power of samadhi, they go throughout the ten quarters without moving their bodies from their original place, making offerings to the Buddhas and teaching and converting sentient beings.
The undefiled wheel is the virtue of the stage of Buddhahood. The virtue of the stage of Buddhahood is undefiled by habit-energy and blind passions. For the sake of all bodhisattvas, the Buddha constantly turns this wheel of dharma. And with this wheel of dharma the great bodhisattvas awaken and guide all beings to enlightenment without even brief rest. Hence it is said that the wheel is turned constantly.
The dharma-body is like the sun, and the light of accommodated and transformed bodies pervades all the worlds. Sun is inadequate for expressing immovability; hence, it is further said, like Mount Sumeru abide [immovable].
Concerning blossoms from the muddy ponds, the [Vimalakirti] Sutra states, “The lotus does not grow in the solid ground of lofty plateaus, but in the muddy ponds of the lowland marshes.” This is an analogy meaning that foolish beings live in the mud of blind passions, but awakened and guided by bodhisattvas, they are able to put forth the blossoms of the Buddha’s perfect enlightenment. Truly they make the three treasures flourish and keep them ever from decline.
Second, their accommodated and transformed bodies, at every moment, neither before nor after, radiate in one thought and one moment a great light that reaches everywhere throughout the worlds of the ten quarters, and they teach and guide sentient beings. They perform practices and acts with a variety of skillful means and eradicate the pain of all sentient beings. As the gatha states:
The undefiled adornment of light,
In one thought-moment, one instant,
Illumines the assemblies of the Buddhas everywhere
And benefits all sentient beings.
Earlier it was stated that the bodhisattvas reach [everywhere] without moving. This might be taken to mean that in going about, there is succession of before and after. Therefore it is said here, “in one thought-moment, one instant” and “without before or after.”
Third, in all worlds without exception, they illuminate the assemblies of the Buddhas and the members of the great assemblies, all without exception, vastly and incalculably; they make offerings and pay homage to and praise the virtues of the Buddha-tathagatas. As the gatha states:
Showering heavenly music, flowers, robes,
And excellent fragrances, they make offerings to
And praise the Buddha’s virtues
Without the least trace of discriminative thought.
Without exception means that they go to all worlds and all the assemblies of the Buddhas everywhere, and that there is not one world or Buddha-assembly they do not reach. Seng-chao states:
The dharma-body, being formless, takes on all forms. Further, it conforms with the ultimate expression. It being without words, profound writings spread more and more widely. Deep and subtle means, being without calculation, work to bring about the benefiting of beings.
It is precisely this that is meant here.
Fourth, in places throughout the worlds of the ten quarters where the three treasures do not exist, they sustain and adorn the great ocean of virtue of the treasures of Buddha, dharma, and sangha, and manifesting them everywhere, they lead beings to realization of practice in accord with reality. As the gatha states:
In whatever worlds
The treasure of virtue of Buddha-dharma does not exist
May I be born in all of them
And, like Buddha, manifest Buddha-dharma.
The preceding three passages speak of “reaching everywhere,” but they all refer to lands where there are Buddhas. If [the virtue expressed in] this passage were lacking, the dharma-body would not wholly be dharma, and the supreme good would not wholly be good. This concludes the section on practice of contemplation on the features.
Next is the fourth section of the explanation of the meaning of the gatha; it is titled “The pure [adornments] originating in the Vow-mind.”
Concerning The purity contained in the Vow-mind, the Treatise states:
Previously I have explained the act of observing the fulfilled virtue of the Buddha-land’s adornments, the fulfilled virtue of the Buddha’s adornments, and the fulfilled virtue of the bodhisattva’s adornments. These three kinds of fulfillment are the adornments produced by the Vow-mind. Reflect on this.
Concerning the phrase, Reflect on this, we should reflect that these three types of fulfilled adornments were originally accomplished by the adorning activity of the pure Vow-mind expressed as the Forty-eight Vows; hence, because the cause is pure, the fruition is also pure. It is not that there is no cause or that there is some other cause.
It is because, stated in brief, they enter into the phrase “one-dharma.”
The preceding seventeen phrases on the land’s adornments, eight phrases on the Tathagata’s adornments, and four phrases on the bodhisattvas’ adornments are “extensive.” That they enter into the phrase “one-dharma” is termed in brief. Why is it explained that extensive and brief interpenetrate? Because all Buddhas and bodhisattvas have dharma-bodies of two dimensions: dharma-body as suchness and dharma-body as compassionate means. Dharma-body as compassionate means arises from dharma-body as suchness, and dharma-body as suchness emerges out of dharma-body as compassionate means. Those two dimensions of dharma-body differ but are not separable; they are one but cannot be regarded as identical. Thus, extensive and brief interpenetrate, and together are termed “dharma.” If bodhisattvas do not realize that extensive and brief interpenetrate, they are incapable of self-benefit and benefiting others.
The phrase “one-dharma” is the phrase “purity.” The phrase “purity” is “true and real wisdom or uncreated dharma-body.”
These three phrases mutually interpenetrate. For what reason is [“one-dharma”] termed “dharma”? It is pure. For what reason is purity so termed? It is true and real wisdom or uncreated dharma-body. True and real wisdom is wisdom that is true reality. Because true reality is formless, true wisdom is no-knowing. Uncreated dharma-body is the body of dharma-nature. Because dharma-nature is tranquility, dharma-body is formless. Because it is formless, it never fails to manifest every kind of form. Therefore, the adornment of the Buddha’s features and marks is itself dharma-body. Because it is no-knowing, it never fails to know all things. Therefore, all-knowing wisdom is itself true and real wisdom. That the true and real is termed wisdom shows that wisdom is neither active nor nonactive. That dharma-body is described as uncreated shows that dharma-body is neither form nor nonform. When negation is negated, is negation of negation affirmation? It is no-negation that is indeed affirmation. It is affirmation in and of itself, without anticipation of a negation of affirmation. It is neither relative affirmation nor relative negation; one hundred negations cannot disclose it. Hence it is said, the phrase “purity.” The phrase “purity” is true and real wisdom or uncreated dharma-body. The Treatise states:
This purity has two aspects. Reflect on this.
In the mutual interpenetration of phrases discussed before, we saw that through one-dharma, purity is entered. Through purity, dharma-body is entered. Now, purity is divided and two aspects set forth; hence, Reflect on this.
What are the two aspects? The first is the purity of the world as environment (literally, “vessel”), the second is the purity of the world as sentient beings. “Purity of the world as environment” refers to the seventeen kinds of fulfillment of the virtues of the adornments of the Buddha-land explained earlier; these are called “purity of the world as environment.” “Purity of the world as sentient beings” refers to the eight kinds of fulfillment of the virtues of the adornments of the Buddha and the four kinds of fulfillment of the virtues of the adornments of the bodhisattvas; these are called “purity of the world as sentient beings.” The phrase “one-dharma” holds the significance of these two kinds of purity. Reflect on this.
Sentient beings are bodies that are individual recompense; the land is enjoyment that is shared recompense. Body and enjoyment are not one; hence, Reflect on this.
All dharmas, however, are produced from the mind; there is no other realm. [Thus,] sentient beings and environment are neither different nor identical. They are not identical, for they are distinct in meaning; they are not different, for they are the same purity. Vessel refers to enjoyment. Because the Pure Land is what is enjoyed by those pure sentient beings, it is termed “vessel.” If an impure vessel is used for pure food, because the vessel is impure, the food becomes impure. If a pure vessel is used for impure food, because the food is impure, the vessel becomes impure. The two must both be clean in order to be called pure. In this way, one term “purity” invariably embraces two aspects.
Question: The purity of [the world as] sentient beings refers to Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Is it possible for human beings and devas there to be included in the purity?
Answer: They may be termed pure, but they are not actually pure. Consider, for example, that sages who have renounced homelife are called “bhiksu” because they have slain the villainous blind passions, but those renouncing homelife who are yet foolish beings are also called “bhiksu.” It is like this. Further, a prince who is to be anointed possesses at birth the thirty-two marks of excellence [of a cakravartin king] and the seven treasures belong to him. Although he cannot yet perform the kingly offices, still he is called “cakravartin king,” for he is certain to become king. So it is with all those human beings and devas [of the Pure Land]. They join the truly settled of the Mahayana and ultimately realize dharma-body of purity. Because they will realize it, they may be called “pure.”
Concerning “grasping and guiding by skillful means,” it is said:
Such bodhisattvas, by fulfilling the practice, in observing both the extensive and brief, of samatha and vipasyana, attain the mind that is pliant and gentle.
The mind that is pliant and gentle: by performing harmoniously the practices of calming the mind and discerning the real, by which they observe the extensive and the brief, they realize the mind of nonduality. It is like water holding a reflection; purity and stillness help each other in bringing it about.
[The Treatise] states:
They know all things – the extensive and the brief – as they truly are.
They know…as they truly are: they know things in their true reality. Of the twenty-nine phrases of the extensive and the one phrase of the brief there is none that is not true reality.
[The Treatise] states:
In this way, they have fulfilled the directing of virtue through skillful means.
In this way: in such a way that the extensive, discussed first, and the brief, discussed after, are all true reality. Because they know true reality, they know the characteristics of the false state of sentient beings of the three realms. Because they know the false state of sentient beings, they awaken true and real compassion. Because they know the true and real dharma-body, they give rise to true and real taking of refuge in it. Skillful means based on compassion and taking refuge is discussed below.
What is the bodhisattvas’ directing of virtue through skillful means? It is shown as five kinds of practice, such as worship. With all the virtues and roots of good that they accumulate thus, they do not seek the sustained bliss for their own sake, but think only of freeing all sentient beings from pain; hence, they aspire to grasp all sentient beings and to bring them all together to birth in the Buddha-land of happiness. This is termed the fulfillment of the bodhisattvas’ directing of virtue through skillful means.
In reflecting on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life taught at Rajagrha, it is clear that although among the three levels of practicers some are superior in practice and some inferior, not one has failed to awaken the mind aspiring for supreme enlightenment. This mind aspiring for supreme enlightenment is the mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood. The mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood is the mind to save all sentient beings. The mind to save all sentient beings is the mind to grasp sentient beings and brings them to birth in the land where the Buddha is. Thus, the person who aspires to be born in the Pure Land of happiness must unfailingly awaken the mind aspiring for supreme enlightenment. Suppose there is a person who, without awakening the mind aspiring for supreme enlightenment, simply hears that bliss is enjoyed in that land without interruption and desires to be born there for the sake of the bliss; such a person will not be able to attain birth. Thus it is said, They do not seek the sustained bliss for their own sake, but think only of freeing all sentient beings from pain. Sustained bliss means that the Pure Land of happiness is sustained by the power of Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow, and that the enjoyment of bliss is without interruption.
In general, the term directing virtue may be interpreted as meaning that the bodhisattva gives all the virtues he has gathered to sentient beings and brings them to enter the Buddha-way together.
Skillful means: the bodhisattva vows, “With the fire of wisdom, I shall consume the grasses and shrubs of all sentient beings’ blind passions. If there is even one sentient being who does not attain Buddhahood, I shall not become Buddha.” Thus, for a bodhisattva to become Buddha himself while there are sentient beings who have still not all attained Buddhahood may be likened to a firing torch that, though meant to eliminate completely the grasses and shrubs, is exhausted before all the grasses and shrubs are consumed. In putting himself last, he is in the fore; hence, the term skillful means is applied.
Means here refers to awakening aspiration, grasping all sentient beings, and bringing them all together to birth in the Buddha-land of happiness. That Buddha-land is the path to ultimate attainment of Buddhahood, and is the unexcelled means.
Concerning “obstruction to the gate of enlightenment”:
Because the bodhisattvas know fully that the directing of virtue has been fulfilled, they become free of the three kinds of divergence from the gate of enlightenment. What are these three? First, by following the gate of wisdom, they refrain from seeking their own pleasure and become free of egocentric attachments to self.
[Concerning wisdom (chie):] To know advance and guard against regression is termed chi; to realize emptiness and no-self is termed e. Through chi, one does not seek one’s own pleasure; through e, one becomes free of egocentric attachments to self.
Second, they follow the gate of compassion. They eliminate all sentient beings’ pain and become free of thoughts that do not bring peace [to other beings].
[Concerning compassion (jihi):] To eliminate pain is termed ji; to give happiness is termed hi. Through ji, one eliminates the pain of all sentient beings; through hi, one becomes free of thoughts that do not bring them peace.
Third, they follow the gate of skillful means. This is the heart and mind that looks compassionately on all sentient beings. They become free of thoughts of paying homage to and revering self.
[Concerning skillful means (hoben):] To be right and straightforward is termed ho; to cast oneself aside is termed ben. Since one is right and straightforward, one looks compassionately on all sentient beings; since one casts oneself aside, one becomes free of thoughts of paying homage to and revering oneself. Hence,
This is termed, becoming free of the three kinds of divergence from the gate to enlightenment.
Concerning “accord with the gate of enlightenment,” it is stated [in the Treatise]:
The bodhisattvas become free of the three kinds of divergence from the gate of enlightenment and are able to fulfill the three kinds of accord with the gate to enlightenment. What are these three? First, the undefiled pure mind, [so termed] because [the bodhisattvas] do not seek various delights for themselves.
Enlightenment is the undefiled realm of purity. If one seeks pleasures for one’s own sake, one diverges from enlightenment. For this reason, the undefiled pure mind is in accord with the gate to enlightenment.
Second, the peace-bestowing pure mind, [so termed] because [the bodhisattvas] eliminate all sentient beings’ pain.
Enlightenment is the realm of purity that brings peace to all sentient beings. If one did not exert one’s mind to extract and free all sentient beings from the pain in birth-and-death, one would diverge from enlightenment. Hence, to eliminate all sentient beings’ pain is to accord with the gate to enlightenment.
Third, the blissful pure mind, [so termed] because they cause all sentient beings to realize great enlightenment – because [the bodhisattvas] grasp sentient beings and bring them to birth in that land.
Enlightenment is the realm of ultimate, eternal bliss. If one did not bring all sentient beings to realize ultimate, eternal bliss, one would diverge from enlightenment. What does one follow to realize this ultimate, eternal bliss? One follows the gate of the Great Vehicle. The gate of the Great Vehicle is the Buddha-land of happiness. Hence it is stated, Because they grasp sentient beings and bring them to birth in that land.
This is termed fulfilling the dharma of the three gates that accord with enlightenment. Reflect on this.
Concerning the “inclusiveness and correspondence of terms and meanings,” it is stated:
It has been taught above that the three gates – wisdom, compassion, and skillful means – include prajna (wisdom), and prajna includes upaya (skillful means). Reflect on this.
Prajna is a term for insight (e) that realizes suchness; upaya is a term for intelligence (chi) that thoroughly knows the accommodated and temporary. If one realizes suchness, one’s mental activity becomes quiescent. If one knows the accommodated and temporary, one sees beings in full particularity; while the intelligence (chi) that sees beings fully adapts itself to them, it is no-knowing. Insight of quiescence is also no-knowing and yet sees in full particularity. Thus, prajna (chie) and upaya, through their mutual dependence, are active, and through their mutual dependence are tranquil. Because of the working of prajna, activity does not lose tranquility; because of the power of upaya, tranquility does not abolish activity. Hence, wisdom, compassion, and skillful means include prajna, and prajna includes upaya.
Reflect on this: it should be known that prajna and upaya are the father and mother of bodhisattvas; if bodhisattvas do not depend on prajna and upaya, the way of the bodhisattva cannot be fulfilled. Why? Because if they lacked prajna when performing acts for the sake of sentient beings, they would fall into invertedness. If they lacked upaya when contemplating dharma-nature, they would [be satisfied with] attaining reality-limit. Hence, Reflect on this.
Above, becoming free of egocentric attachments to self, becoming free of thoughts that do not bring peace [to other beings], and becoming free of thoughts of paying homage to and revering self have been taught. These three signify becoming free of thoughts that are obstructions to enlightenment. Reflect on this.
Everything, in its own way, has the aspect of being an obstruction. The wind obstructs quiet; earth obstructs water; moisture obstructs fire; the five evil acts and the ten transgressions obstruct birth as a human being or deva; the four kinds of invertedness obstruct the sravaka’s attainment of the fruit. These three [obstructions] signify not becoming free of thoughts that obstruct enlightenment.
Reflect on this: know that if one seeks to attain nonobstructedness, one should become free of these three kinds of obstruction.
Above, the undefiled pure mind, peace-bestowing pure mind, and blissful pure mind have been taught. These three minds – taken in brief and unified – are fulfilled as the wondrous, joyous, excellent, true mind. Reflect on this.
There are three kinds of joy: 1) external joy; this is joy produced by the five senses; 2) internal joy; this is joy produced by the consciousness in the first, second, and third stages of meditation; 3) joy of dharma music; this is joy produced by wisdom. The joy produced by wisdom arises from love of the Buddha’s virtue. The three minds – becoming free of egocentric attachments, becoming free of thoughts that do no bring peace to others, and becoming free of thoughts of self-homage – are pure and, developing and taken in brief, they form the wondrous, joyous, excellent, true mind.
The term wondrous means good. This joy is such because it arises from perceiving Buddha. Excellent means that it surpasses the joys within the three realms. True means not empty or false, not inverted.
Concerning “the fulfillment of aspiration for birth,” the Treatise states:
Such bodhisattvas, with the mind of wisdom, the mind of skillful means, the unobstructed mind, and the excellent, true mind, attain birth in the Buddha-land of purity. Reflect on this.
Reflect on this: Know that these four kinds of pure virtue bring about attainment of birth in that Buddha-land of purity, and that they do not attain birth through other causes.
This is expressed as the bodhisattva-mahasattvas’ according with the five dharma-gates and freely fulfilling those acts as they desire. For the bodily acts, verbal acts, mental acts, acts of wisdom, and acts of the wisdom of skillful means that were explained before accord with the dharma-gates.
Freely…as they desire: the power of the virtue resulting from the five dharma-gates brings about birth in the Buddha-land of purity, and enables one freely to enter and emerge from it. Bodily acts refers to worship, verbal acts to praise, mental acts to aspiration, acts of wisdom to discernment, and acts of the wisdom of skillful means to directing virtue. It is stated that these five kinds of acts are harmoniously united, and being in accord with the dharma-gate of birth in the Pure Land, they bring about the fulfillment of free activity.
Concerning “perfect fulfillment of the practice of benefiting”:
Again, there are five gates. [The bodhisattva] has fulfilled these five kinds of virtue in order. Reflect on this. What are these five gates? First, the gate of approach. Second, the gate of the great assembly. Third, the gate of the grounds. Fourth, the gate of residence. Fifth, the gate of the state of sporting in the gardens and forests.
These five show the order in entering and emerging. In the aspect of entrance, the first attainment of the Pure Land is the aspect of approach. This means that to join the truly settled of the Mahayana is to approach highest, perfect enlightenment. After one has entered the Pure Land, one immediately joins the Tathagata’s great assembly. After one has joined the assembly, one reaches the grounds where one attains the settled mind of practice. After one has entered the grounds, one reaches the residence of abiding in practice. After practice has been fulfilled, one attains the state of teaching and guiding. The state of teaching and guiding is the state of the bodhisattva’s own play and delight. Hence, the gate of emergence is called the gate of the state of sporting in the gardens and forests.
Concerning these five gates, the first four gates are the fulfillment of the virtue of entrance and the fifth gate is the fulfillment of the virtue of emergence.
What are the virtues of entrance and emergence? They are explained:
In the first gate of [the virtue of] entrance, one worships Amida Buddha with the desire to be born in the Pure Land; thereby, one is enabled to attain birth in the realm of happiness. This is termed the first gate.
To worship the Buddha and aspire for birth in the Buddha’s land is the first aspect of virtue.
In the second gate of [the virtue of] entrance, one praises Amida Buddha, saying the Tathagata’s Name in accord with the Name’s significance and practicing in correspondence with the Tathagata’s light, which is the embodiment of wisdom; thereby, one is able to join the great assembly. This is termed the second gate of entrance.
To offer praise in accord with the significance of the Tathagata’s Name is the second aspect of virtue.
In the third gate of [the virtue of] entrance, one thinks solely [on Amida] with singleness of heart and aspires to be born in the Pure Land, and being born there, one performs the practice of samatha, the samadhi of tranquility; thereby, one is able to enter the lotus-held world. This is termed the third gate of entrance.
Because one practices tranquility, the calming of the mind, one aspires single-heartedly to be born in the Pure Land; this is the third aspect of virtue.
Concerning the fourth gate of [the virtue of] entrance: thinking solely on the wondrous adornments and contemplating them, one practices vipasyana; thereby, one is able to reach that place and enjoy the delights of the various tastes of dharma. This is termed the fourth gate of entrance.
Delights of the various tastes of dharma: in vipasyana there is the taste of contemplation on the Buddha-land’s purity, the taste of the Mahayana that takes in and receives all sentient beings, the taste of ultimate sustenance [of beings] without any futility, and the taste of performing practice by accommodating oneself to beings and vowing to establish a Buddha-land. There are countless such tastes of adornments of the Buddha-way; hence, various. This is the fourth aspect of virtue.
Concerning the fifth gate of [the virtue of] emergence: with great compassion, one observes all sentient beings in pain and affliction, and assuming various transformed bodies to guide them, enters the gardens of birth-and-death and the forests of blind passions. Sporting freely there with transcendent powers, one attains the state of teaching and guiding. This is brought about by the directing of virtue trough the power of the Primal Vow; it is called the fifth gate of emergence.
Assuming various transformed bodies to guide [sentient beings]: this is like Avalokitesvara’s manifestation in various forms presented in the Lotus Sutra. Sporting freely has two meanings. First, it means being free and unrestricted. The bodhisattva’s saving of sentient beings is like a lion’s taking of a deer; the action is free of the slightest hesitation and is performed as if in play. Second, it means that in saving, one perceives no object of salvation. The bodhisattva, in observing sentient beings, sees that in the final analysis they are nonexistent. Although he saves countless sentient beings, in reality there is not a single sentient being who realizes nirvana. Manifesting the act of saving sentient beings is thus like play.
Power of the Primal Vow: the great bodhisattva, having realized dharma-body, always dwells in samadhi and thus manifests various bodies, various transcendent powers, and various ways of teaching the dharma. All of this arises from the power of the Primal Vow. It may be likened to an asura’s harp, which, though no one strokes it, spontaneously gives forth music. This is the fifth aspect of virtue, namely, the state of teaching and guiding.
18 Thus we know truly from the words of the Great Sage that realization of supreme nirvana is brought about by the directing of virtue through the Vow’s power. Benefiting in the aspect of return expresses the true intent of benefiting others. Accordingly, the author of the Treatise, Vasubandhu, proclaims the vast and unhindered mind that is single, thereby universally awakening the multitudes of this passion-defiled world of endurance. Master T’an-luan clarifies Amida’s compassionate directing of virtue for our going to the Pure Land and our return to this world; and he widely teaches, with care and concern, the profound significance of benefited by the Other and of benefiting others. Reverently embrace these words; receive them in deepest homage.
Here ends Chapter IV:
A Collection of Passages Revealing
The True Realization of the Pure Land Way