Larger Sukhāvatīvyūha Sutra | 6

Shakyamuni's encouragement to do good

[32] The Buddha said to the Bodhisattva Maitreya and to devas and humans:

"I have told you the truth about people of the world. Such being their mode of life, they are unable to enter on the Way. Therefore, you should think deeply and try to avoid various evil acts; choose the good and diligently practice it.

A life of addiction to desires or a life of pomp and vainglory cannot last long. All must part; there is nothing you can truly enjoy.

Since you have encountered a Buddha in this world, you should assiduously practice the Way. Anyone who sincerely desires birth in the Land of Peace and Bliss is able to attain purity of wisdom and supremacy in virtue.

You should not follow the urges of passions, break the precepts, or fall behind others in the practice of the Way.

If you have doubts and are not clear about my teaching, ask me, the Buddha, about anything and I shall explain it to you."

The Bodhisattva Maitreya prostrated himself on the ground and said:

"Your majestic glory, O Buddha, is awe-inspiring, and your exposition is most pleasing to me.

Having heard your teaching, I feel deeply that people of the world are just as you have described. Your compassionate revelation of the Great Way has opened our eyes and ears, awakening us to emancipation.

Those who have heard your teachings are all filled with joy. Devas, humans and lesser beings, including even those that crawl, have all been blessed by your compassionate guidance and have thereby attained deliverance from suffering and affliction.

"The Buddha's admonition is indeed profound and appropriate, and his wisdom clearly surveys things in the eight quarters, above and below, penetrating all in the past, present and future.

Our emancipation in the present life is entirely due to the Buddha's perseverance and painstaking efforts in his former lives when he was seeking the Way.

His benevolence covers the whole world, and the extent of his merit is majestic and glorious. His light penetrates to the utmost ends of space and guides people to Nirvana. He reveals the sutras, destroys wrong views and subdues demons.

Thus his influence extends boundlessly in the ten quarters. The Buddha is the King of the Dharma; his virtue surpasses that of all the sages. He is the Teacher of all devas and humans and enables them to enter on the Way according to their wishes.

Having been able to meet you, O Buddha, and also to hear the Name of Amitāyus, we have all attained joy and illumination."

Shakyamuni's admonition against evil acts

[33] The Buddha said to Maitreya:

"What you say is true. Those who adore and revere a Buddha attain great merit. Buddhas very rarely appear in the world.

Having become a Buddha in this life, I have taught the Dharma, expounded teachings of the Way, cleared people's doubts, eradicated the causes of lust and desire, and blocked the source of all evils.

Visiting various places in the three worlds, I encounter no obstructions. The wisdom disclosed in the scriptures provides for all ways of life. It keeps essential principles together and clearly reveals the truth.

 I have explained the reality of the five realms, thereby freeing those who have not yet attained deliverance and distinguishing between the paths of Samsara and Nirvana. 

"Maitreya, you should know that you have, for innumerable kalpas, been perfecting bodhisattva practices to save sentient beings. Incalculable indeed is the number of beings who under your guidance have attained the Way and reached Nirvana.

From time immemorial, you and all the devas and humans in the ten quarters and the four groups of followers have been floundering in the five realms of Samsara, undergoing indescribable troubles and afflictions.

Until you were born in this life, you, too, underwent endless cycles of birth-and-death. Now you have encountered a Buddha, listened to his expositions of the Dharma, and been able to learn about Amitāyus. What pleasure and joy this is for you and for me to share. "

It is time for all to seek deliverance from the pains of birth, death, old age, and sickness. Outflows of depravity and defilement are everywhere, and there is nothing in which you can find true joy.

You should resolutely do worthy deeds with decorum, strive to do more good, control and purify yourselves, wash off the mind's defilements, be sincere in word and deed, and allow no contradiction between what you think and what you do.

Seek your own emancipation and then turn to saving others; straightforwardly aspire to be born in the Pure Land and accumulate roots of virtue. However hard you may practice in this life, it can only be for a short while.

In the life to come you will be born in the land of Amitāyus and enjoy endless bliss there. Being forever in accord with the Way, you will no longer be subject to birth-and-death and be free of the afflictions caused by greed, anger and stupidity.

If you wish your life to be as long as a Kalpa, a hundred kalpas, or ten million kalpas, it will be just as you please. You will dwell in effortless spontaneity and attain Nirvana.

You should each diligently seek to realize your aspiration.

Do not entertain any doubt or give up your endeavour, lest as a result of that fault you should be born into the seven-jewelled palace in the border region of the Pure Land and be subject to various disadvantages for five hundred years."

Maitreya said to the Buddha:

"Having received your considerate admonition, we will diligently practice the Way and follow your teaching. We will not allow any doubt to arise."

Admonition against five evils

[34] The Buddha said to Maitreya:

"If here in this world you are upright in thought and will, and abstain from doing evil, then you will attain the utmost virtue, unsurpassed in all the lands throughout the ten quarters.

Why is this so?

Devas and humans in the Buddha-lands naturally do good and rarely commit evil, and so, it is easy to teach and train them.

Having become a Buddha in this world, I now dwell in the midst of the five evils, the five sufferings, and the five burnings.

This is extremely painful for me. I will teach multitudes of beings, making them abandon the five evils, avoid the five sufferings, and escape from the five burnings.

I will train their minds and lead them to practice the five good deeds, so that they may acquire merit and virtue and attain emancipation, long life, and Nirvana."

"The Buddha continued:

What are the five evils? What are the five sufferings? What are the five burnings? What is the way to extinguish the five evils and lead people to practice the five good deeds, so that they may acquire merit and virtue and attain emancipation, long life, and Nirvana?"

1) first evil

[35] The Buddha said:

"The first evil is this:

Devas, humans and lesser beings, including even those that crawl, are bent on doing evil. There is no being that is not. The strong subdue the weak; all inflict serious injuries and kill each other, all devour their prey.

Not knowing how to do good, they commit evil and do outrageous and unruly deeds. Later, they receive retribution; it is natural that they should be destined to evil realms.

Demigods keep records of offenders' acts and make sure that they are punished.

That is why some are poor and destitute, corrupt, beggarly, lonely, deaf, dumb, blind, stupid, wicked, physically handicapped, deranged, or subnormal. But others are honourable, noble, wealthy, intelligent, or clever.

This is the result of good and meritorious acts of benevolence and the performance of their duties to their parents in past lives.

"In this world prisons are set up by the law, and those who are unafraid of them and commit offenses are sent there for punishment. However desperately they may wish to escape, it is impossible to do so. Such is retribution in this world, but in the lives to come, punishment is longer and more severe for such evildoers.

The suffering of transmigration through dark and dismal realms is comparable to the severest and most painful punishment ever enforced by law.

"Thus, through the natural working of karma, they undergo immeasurable suffering in the three evil realms.

In successive transmigrations they are reborn into different forms; their life-spans are sometimes long and sometimes short. Their transient selves, vital energy and consciousness transmigrate through the natural working of karma.

Although each individual is reborn alone, those bound by common karma come to be born together and take revenge upon each other. So this condition persists endlessly and, until the effect of their evil karma is exhausted, there is no possibility of avoiding their enemies. Floundering in Samsara, they have no chance of escape or of attaining emancipation. The pain that they must undergo is indescribable.

Since this law naturally obtains everywhere between heaven and earth, even if good or evil acts do not immediately bring about reward or retribution, they will certainly result sooner or later.

This I call the first great evil, the first suffering, and the first burning. Those afflictions are such that they are comparable to a huge fire burning people alive.

"If in the midst of this, one controls one's thoughts with single-mindedness, does worthy deeds with proper demeanour, commits no evil, and performs only good, then with the merit and virtue acquired one reaches emancipation and is able to escape from this world, be reborn in heavenly realms, and finally reach Nirvana. This is the first great good."

2) second evil

[36] The Buddha continued:

"The second evil is that people of the world --parents, children, brothers and sisters, members of a family, husbands and wives -- all lack moral principles, break laws, conduct themselves arrogantly, commit licentious and unruly acts, pursue their own pleasures, enjoy themselves as they will, and deceive each other.

What they think contradicts what they say; they speak without sincerity, flatter others with deceitful intention, fawn upon others with artful words, envy the reputation of sages, abuse the virtuous, and entrap people by dishonest means.

"Masters are unwise in appointing retainers, who, exploiting the situation, seek every opportunity for trickery and deceit. Rulers, being unrighteous, are deceived by ministers and foolishly remove loyal and faithful subjects. This is contrary to the will of Heaven.

Ministers betray their rulers; children deceive their parents; brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, kinsmen and friends deceive each other. They harbour greed, anger, and stupidity, and, desiring many possessions, seek their own advantage.

All people are the same at heart, whether they are men of high and honourable positions or of lower and despised classes. They bring their homes and themselves to ruin and recklessly destroy their kindred.

Although there are family members, friends, villagers, townspeople, ignorant and vulgar groups working together, all seek to gain their own profit, thereby incurring the anger and enmity of others.

When people grow rich, they become miserly and uncharitable. Greedily attached to their wealth, they toil with mind and body to retain it.

When their end comes, they find nothing to rely on. Ultimately they are born and depart alone, with nobody to accompany them.

Bliss or misery resulting from good or evil acts follows them in their future lives. Thus they are reborn in pleasant or painful states. Even if they later show regret, what good will that do?

"People of the world, being dark-hearted and lacking insight, hate and abuse good people and show them no respect.

They are attached to wrongdoing and wilfully commit unlawful acts. They always covet the wealth of others and harbour intentions of stealing. After spending and squandering what they have robbed from others, they seek to regain it.

Because of their own hidden motives and dishonesty, they slyly study the reactions shown on the faces of others. Since they are unable to think far ahead, when things go wrong, they become despondent with chagrin.

"In this world there are prisons established by the law where offenders are sent to receive punishment according to their offenses.

In their previous lives they neither believed in the Way nor cultivated roots of virtue. In this life, too, if they commit evil, demigods know and keep records of their acts; when they die, they fall into evil realms.

Thus, because of the natural working of karma, there are the three evil realms and innumerable sufferings through which evildoers must pass, life after life, for many kalpas, with no end in sight.

It is indeed difficult for them to attain release. The pain they must undergo is indescribable.

This is called the second great evil, the second suffering, and the second burning. The afflictions are such that they are comparable to a huge fire burning people alive.

"If in the midst of this one controls one's thoughts with single-mindedness, does worthy deeds with proper demeanour, commits no evil, and performs only good, then with the merit and virtue acquired one reaches emancipation and is able to escape from this world, be reborn in heavenly realms and finally reach Nirvana. This is the second great good."

3) the third evil

[37] The Buddha continued:

"The third evil is this:

People of the world live together, inhabiting this realm between heaven and earth, with a limited life-span.

On the one hand, among the higher levels there are wise, rich, honourable, noble, and wealthy people. On the other hand, among the lower levels there are people who are poor, debased, crude and foolish.

Besides, there are evildoers who always harbour vicious thoughts and think only of self-gratification; they are full of worries, sunk in lust and attachment, are restless in their daily lives, greedy and miserly, and desirous of what they have no right to possess.

They gloat over fair-skinned women, behave licentiously and commit obscene acts with them, hate their own wives, and secretly frequent brothels. Consequently, after squandering all their resources, they begin to break the law. They form bands, start riots, engage in fighting, unlawfully attack and kill people and plunder property.

"Some have evil designs on the possessions of others. Without working at their own occupations, they acquire things through theft. Driven by desire, they commit further offenses. Feverishly agitated, they intimidate and rob people to support their own wives and children with the goods thus acquired.

Obeying only the dictates of their passions, they become addicted to wanton pleasures. They also disregard seniority in kinship, causing sorrow and anguish to other family members and relatives; furthermore, they take no account of the laws of the State.

"But such evils are known to others and also to demons. The Sun and the Moon recognize them and demigods keep records of their doings.

Thus, because of the natural working of karma, there are three evil realms and innumerable sufferings through which evildoers must pass, life after life, for many kalpas, with no end in sight.

It is indeed difficult for them to gain release. The pain they must undergo is indescribable.

This is called the third great evil, the third suffering, and the third burning. The afflictions are such that they are comparable to a huge fire burning people alive.

"If in the midst of this one controls one's thoughts with single-mindedness, does worthy deeds with proper demeanour, commits no evil, and performs only good, then with the merit and virtue acquired one reaches emancipation and is able to escape from this world, be reborn in heavenly realms and finally reach Nirvana. This is the third great good."

4) the fourth evil

[38] The Buddha continued:

"The fourth evil is this:

People of the world do not think of doing good:

They incite each other to commit various kinds of evil -- uttering harsh and abusive words, telling lies, and engaging in idle talk. They slander others and cause contention.

They hate and envy good men and ruin the wise, while they rejoice in watching this behind the scenes. They are neglectful of their parents, make light of their teachers and elders, fail to win the trust of their friends, and lack sincerity.

Holding themselves in high esteem, they think that they are virtuous, but act waywardly in an overbearing manner and despise others. Unaware of their own evil, they never feel ashamed of themselves. Boastful of their physical strength, they demand respect and fear from others.

Taking no heed of Heaven, Earth, demigods, or the Sun and the Moon, they disdain to do any good. So they are difficult to train and convert.

Holding themselves in high esteem, they demand their own way. Arrogant and afraid of nothing, they always assume a haughty attitude.

But demigods keep record of their evils.

Perhaps there was some meritorious act in their past lives, and they can count on the effect of that small amount of good.

But, since they commit evil again in this life, their stock of merit is soon exhausted; good divinities forsake them, leaving them alone and with no one on whom to depend.

When their lives end, all their evil recoils upon them and forces them, through the natural working of karma, to descend to the evil realms.

Again, as the exact record of their deeds in the hands of the demigods dictates, their karmic transgressions and offenses condemn them to hellish realm. Retribution for evil comes about naturally and nothing can stop it.

They must go into the red-hot cauldrons, where their bodies are melted down with the utmost torment and anguish. Even if at that time they repent of their evil deeds, what good will that do? The Way of Heaven takes its inevitable course without mistake.

"Thus, because of the natural working of karma, there are the three evil realms and innumerable kinds of suffering through which evildoers must pass, life after life, for many kalpas, with no end in sight.

It is indeed difficult for them to gain release, and the pain they must undergo is indescribable. This is called the fourth great evil, the fourth suffering, and the fourth burning. The afflictions are such that they are comparable to a huge fire burning people alive.

"If, in the midst of this, one controls one's thoughts with single-mindedness, does worthy deeds with proper demeanour, commits no evil, and performs only good, then with the merit and virtue acquired one reaches emancipation and is able to escape from this world, be reborn in heavenly realms, and finally reach Nirvana. This is the fourth great good."

5) the fifth evil

[39] The Buddha continued:

"The fifth evil is this:

People of the world are indecisive and slothful, reluctant to do good, lacking in self-discipline and not working hard at their occupations, so their families and dependents are left to suffer from hunger and cold.

When reproached by their parents, they retort angrily with scornful looks.

With such conflicts they are far from peaceful; they can be as violent and frenzied as enemies confronting each other, and, as a result, parents wish that they had no children.

"In dealing with others, they are licentious and wayward, causing trouble and annoyance to many. Even when they are morally obliged to others, they neglect their duties and have no intention of repaying their indebtedness.

Destitute and driven to the most desperate ends, they have no way of regaining their wealth. Although eager to obtain much profit and appropriate the riches of others, they waste their money on wanton pleasures.

As this becomes a habit, they grow accustomed to acquiring property illegally and to spending their ill-gained profits on personal luxuries; indulging in wine and sumptuous food, they eat and drink to excess.

Profligate and contentious as they are, they engage in foolish quarrels. Unable to understand others, they forcibly impose their will upon them.

"When they come upon people who are good, they hate and abuse them.

Lacking ethics and decorum, they do not reflect on their conduct, and so are presumptuous and insistent, refusing to take the advice and admonitions of others. They are unconcerned if their kinsmen, from the closest to the sixth blood-relative, have no means of livelihood. They disregard their parents' benevolence, and do not fulfil obligations to their teachers and friends.

They think only of doing evil; their mouths continuously speak malice; and with their bodies, they are forever committing evil. In their whole lives they have not done even one good deed.

"Furthermore, they do not believe in the ancient sages, nor the Buddhist teachings, nor the path of practice leading to emancipation.

Neither do they believe that after death one is reborn into another state of existence, that good deeds bring about good rewards, or that evil acts bring about evil consequences.

They plot to murder an Arhat, to cause disruption in the Sangha, and even think of killing their parents, brothers, sisters or other relatives. For this reason, even their kinsmen, from the closest to the sixth blood-relative, hate them so much as to wish them dead.

"Such people of the world are all of the same mind:

They are foolish and ignorant, lacking the wisdom to know whence they have come into life nor whither they are going after death.

Neither humane toward others nor obedient to their elders, they revel against the whole world. Nevertheless, they expect good fortune and seek long lives, only to meet death in the end.

Even if someone compassionately admonishes them, trying to lead them to thoughts of goodness, and teaches them that naturally there are good and evil realms of Samsara, they will not believe him.

However hard one may try to persuade them, it is useless. Their minds are closed, and they refuse to listen to others or understand their teachings.

When their lives are about to end, fear and revulsion arise in turn. Not having previously done any good, they are filled with remorse when they come to their end. But what good will that do then?

"Between heaven and earth, the five realms are clearly distinguishable. They are vast and deep, extending boundlessly.

In return for good or evil deeds, bliss or misery ensues. The result of one's karma must be borne by oneself alone and no one else can take one's place. This is the natural law.

Misfortune follows evil deeds as their retribution, which is impossible to avoid:

Good people do good deeds, and so enjoy pleasure after pleasure and proceed from light to greater light. Evildoers commit crimes, and so suffer pain after pain and wander from darkness to deeper darkness. No one, except the Buddha, knows this completely.

Even though someone admonishes and teaches them, very few believe; and so the cycles of birth-and-death never cease and the evil paths continue endlessly. The karmic consequences for such worldly people are beyond description in detail.

"Thus, because of the natural working of karma, there are innumerable kinds of suffering in the three evil realms through which evil beings must pass, life after life, for many kalpas, with no end in sight.

It is indeed difficult for them to gain release, and the pain they must undergo is indescribable. This is called the fifth great evil, the fifth suffering, and the fifth burning. The afflictions are such that they are comparable to a huge fire burning people alive.

"If in the midst of this, one controls one's thoughts with single-mindedness, does worthy deeds with proper demeanour, mindfully recollects, harmonizes words and deeds, acts with sincerity, utters true words, speaks from the heart, commits no evil, and performs only good, then with the merit and virtue acquired one reaches emancipation and is able to escape from this world, be reborn in heavenly realms, and finally reach Nirvana. This is the fifth great good."