Larger Sukhāvatīvyūha Sutra | 4

Bodily appearance of the inhabitants and the pleasures they enjoy

[17] "Ānanda, 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.

"At mealtimes, plates made of the seven jewels -- namely, gold, silver, beryl, agate, ruby, coral, and amber, and also moon-bright 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 smelt, 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 reappears at the next mealtime.

"That Buddha-land, like the realm of unconditioned Nirvana, is pure and serene, resplendent and blissful.

The shravakas, 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 the 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."

Karmic rewards of a beggar and a king

[18] The Buddha said to Ānanda, "If a beggar in extreme poverty sits by the side of a king, how can their appearances be compared?"

Ānanda replied:

"If such a man 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.

What is the reason for this?

The conditions of 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 in human contact -- are all the result of his misdeeds in former lives.

In the past he did not cultivate roots of virtue, but instead, accumulated riches without giving anything to others.

He became more miserly as his wealth increased, desired to obtain more, insatiably hankered after further acquisitions and gave no thought to good actions.

Thus he piled up a mountain of evil karma.

When his life ended, all his wealth was gone, and what he had accumulated with great toil and worry was of no avail to him; all passed in vain into the possession of others.

Having no stock of merit on which to depend and no virtue on which to rely, after death he 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.

"The king of a country is the most Honoured of all men:

This 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.

When that life ended, he was rewarded by rebirth into a higher state. Born in a heavenly realm, he enjoyed bliss and happiness.

His accumulated virtues produced such a surplus of goodness that, when he was reborn as a man in this life, his birth was, deservedly, into a royal family.

Being naturally noble, his dignified and majestic demeanour commands the respect of his people, and superb clothes and sumptuous food are prepared and served to him as he pleases.

All this is a reward for virtues from his past lives."

Comparison between heavens and the Pure Land

[19] The Buddha said to Ānanda:

"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 thousands 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.

If the lord of the Sixth Heaven is compared with a bodhisattva or a shravaka dwelling in the land of Amitāyus, his countenance and appearance will be far from matching those of the bodhisattva or shravaka, being a thousand million Koṭis of times or even incalculable times inferior."

Pleasures in the Pure Land

[20] The Buddha said to Ānanda:

"Devas and humans in the land of Amitāyus 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.

In that Buddha-land there are innumerable jewelled nets, all adorned with skeins of gold thread, pearls, and a hundred thousand kinds of rare and marvellous treasures. All around the nets hang jewelled bells of the utmost beauty, which shine brilliantly.

When a natural breeze of virtue arises and gently blows, it is moderate in temperature, neither cold neither hot, refreshing and soft to the senses, and moves neither too slowly nor too quickly.

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. If one smells those fragrances, one's impurities and passions spontaneously cease to arise. If touched by the breeze itself, one enjoys the same pleasure as a monk who has entered the Samādhi of Extinction.

Flowers and innumerable rays of light emitted from them

[21] "Again, as the breeze blows, flowers are scattered throughout the Buddha-land; they spontaneously divide into different colours, 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 colours –

blue lotuses glow with a blue light, white ones with a white light, and, likewise, dark blue, yellow, red, and purple lotuses glow with lights of their respective colours.

The brilliance of these lights is so magnificent that it outshines the sun and the 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 quarters, thus setting innumerable beings on the right Path of the Buddha.

Fulfilment of the 11th, 17th, and 18th vows

[22] The Buddha said to Ānanda:

"Sentient beings who are born in that Buddha-land all reside among those assured of Nirvana. The reason is that in that land there are neither beings who are destined to adverse conditions nor those whose destinies are uncertain.

"All Buddhas, Tathagatas, in the ten quarters, as numerous as the sands of the River Ganges, together praise the inconceivable, supernal virtue of Amitāyus.

All sentient beings who, having heard his Name, rejoice in faith, remember him even once and sincerely transfer the merit of virtuous practices to that land, aspiring to be born there, will attain birth and dwell in the Stage of Non-retrogression.

But excluded are those who have committed the five gravest offenses and abused the right Dharma."

Three grades of aspirants

(1. The higher grade)

[23] The Buddha said to Ānanda:

"Devas and humans in the worlds of the ten quarters who sincerely aspire to be born in that land can be classified into three grades:

The higher grade of aspirants are those who leave their homes and abandon worldly desires to become monks. Having awakened aspiration for Enlightenment, they single-mindedly remember Amitāyus and perform meritorious practices, aspiring to be born in his land.

When they are about to die, Amitāyus, together with a host of sages, will appear before them. Then they will follow him and attain birth in his land. At once they will be born by transformation spontaneously from within seven-jewelled lotus-flowers.

They will dwell in the Stage of Non-retrogression, attain steadfast wisdom and be capable of freely exercising supernatural powers.

For this reason, Ānanda, sentient beings who wish to see Amitāyus while in this world should awaken aspiration for the highest Enlightenment, do meritorious deeds, and aspire to be born in his land."

(2. The middle grade)

[24] The Buddha said to Ānanda:

"The middle grade of aspirants are the devas and humans in the worlds of the ten quarters who sincerely desire to be born in that land.

Although unable to become monks and cultivate much merit, they awaken aspiration for the highest Enlightenment, single-mindedly think on Amitāyus, perform some good deeds, observe the precepts of abstinence, build stupas, donate Buddhist statues, give alms to mendicants, hang banners, light candles, scatter flowers, burn incense, and so forth.

They transfer the merit of those practices to his land, aspiring to be born there.

When they are about to die, Amitāyus will manifest his transformed body, which is fully possessed of the same radiance and physical characteristics and marks as those of the real Buddha, and make it appear before them, together with a host of sages.

Then they will follow this transformed Buddha and be born in the Pure Land, where they will dwell in the Stage of Non-retrogression. Their virtue and wisdom will be next to those of the higher grade of aspirants."

(3. The lower grade)

[25] The Buddha said to Ānanda:

"The lower grade of aspirants are devas and humans in the worlds of the ten quarters who sincerely desire to be born in that land.

Although unable to do many meritorious deeds, they awaken aspiration for the highest Enlightenment and single-mindedly concentrate on Amitāyus even ten times, desiring birth in his land.

When they hear the profound Dharma, they joyfully accept it and do not entertain any doubt; and so, remembering the Buddha even once, they sincerely aspire to be born in that land. When they are about to die, they will see the Buddha in a dream.

Those aspirants, too, will be born in the Pure Land. Their merit and wisdom will be next to those of the middle grade of aspirants."

Bodhisattvas' visit to the Pure Land from other lands

[26] The Buddha said to Ānanda:

"The majestic virtue of Amitāyus is boundless. All the innumerable, uncountable and inconceivable Buddhas, Tathagatas, in the worlds of the ten quarters praise him.

Innumerable and uncountable bodhisattvas in the Buddha-lands of the eastern quarter, as numerous as the sands of the River Ganges, all without exception, visit Amitāyus in order to worship and make offerings to him and to the assembly of bodhisattvas and shravakas.

Having heard the teaching, they expound it to lead people into the Path of the Buddha. As in the eastern quarter, so it is in the southern, western and northern, as well as in the four intermediate quarters, above and below."

Verses on Bodhisattvas' visit

[27] Then the World-Honoured One spoke the following verses:

In the eastern quarter there are Buddha-lands,
As numerous as the sands of the River Ganges;
Bodhisattvas dwelling in those lands
Go to pay homage to Amitāyus, the Enlightened One.

So it is in the southern, western, and northern quarters,
The intermediate quarters, above and below;
Bodhisattvas dwelling in those lands
Go to pay homage to Amitāyus, the Enlightened One.

All those bodhisattvas, taking with them
Exquisite heavenly flowers,
Precious incense and priceless robes,
Make offerings to Amitāyus, the Enlightened One.

Playing heavenly music in concert,
Producing harmonious and delicate sounds,
They praise the Most Honoured One with hymns
And make offerings to Amitāyus, the Enlightened One:

'You have perfected supernatural powers and wisdom,
With which you freely enter the gates of the profound Dharma;
You also possess stocks of merit and virtue
And unparalleled supreme knowledge.

Illumining the world with the sun of wisdom,
You disperse the clouds of birth-and-death.'
Having reverently walked round him three times,
They pay homage to the Unsurpassed One.

Having seen the glorious Pure Land,
Wonderfully resplendent,
They are led to awaken supernal aspiration
And wish their lands to be like his.

Then Amitāyus, the Enlightened One,
Changes his countenance and smiles;
From his mouth come forth innumerable rays of light,
Which illuminate the worlds in the ten quarters.

These rays of light return, encircle his body
Three times, and enter the crown of his head.
All devas and humans are delighted to see this
And are filled with great joy.

Avalokiteshvara, the Exalted Being, having respectfully arranged
His clothes and bowed his head,
Asked the Buddha, 'Why are you smiling?
Reverently I enquire. Please tell me why.'

The Buddha's majestic voice was like thunder,
Producing wonderful sounds in eight qualities of voice;
'Because I am about to give predictions to the bodhisattvas.
I now explain to you. Listen carefully!

I am fully aware of the vows of the bodhisattvas
Who come from the ten quarters;
They seek to glorify their pure lands.
After receiving my predictions, they will become Buddhas.

While realizing that all dharmas are like a dream,
An illusion or an echo,
They will fulfill their excellent vows
And surely establish pure lands such as this.

Knowing that dharmas are like a flash of lightning or a shadow,
They will pursue the Bodhisattva Path to its end
And amass a stock of merit. After receiving
My predictions, they will become Buddhas.

While thoroughly knowing that the nature of all dharmas
Is empty and without substance,
They will single-mindedly seek to produce their pure lands
And will surely establish lands such as this.'

The Buddhas tell the bodhisattvas to go and pay homage
To the Buddha of the Land of Peace and Provision.
'Listen to his teaching, joyfully receive and practice it,
And then quickly reach the Realm of Purity.

When you go to his glorious Pure Land,
You will instantly acquire supernatural powers.
Having, without fail, received predictions from Amitāyus,
You will attain perfect Enlightenment.

By the power of that Buddha's Original Vows,
All who hear his Name and desire birth,
Will, without exception, be born in his land
And effortlessly enter the Stage of Non-retrogression.

Bodhisattvas, if you make vows
That your lands will be like this,
While aspiring to save all beings everywhere,
Your name will be renowned throughout the ten quarters.

In order to serve millions of Tathagatas,
You can assume various forms and fly to those lands;
After worshipping them with joyful hearts,
You will return to the Land of Peace and Provision.'

Without a stock of goodness from past lives,
One cannot hear this sutra;
But those who have strictly observed the precepts
Can hear the right Dharma.

One who has met a World-Honoured One in the past
Can accept this teaching.
Such a person respectfully worships, hears
And upholds it, and rejoices so greatly as to dance.

Arrogant, corrupt and indolent people
Cannot readily accept this teaching.
But those who have met Buddhas in their past lives
Rejoice to hear it.

Neither shravakas nor bodhisattvas are able to know
The Sage's Mind exhaustively;
They are like those who are born blind
And yet wish to guide others.

The ocean of the Tathagata's wisdom
Is deep, vast and boundless.
Even sages of the Hinayana cannot fathom it;
Only the Buddha clearly knows it.

Let us suppose that all human beings,
Without exception, have attained Enlightenment
And, with pure wisdom, realized original emptiness.
Even if they pondered on the Buddha's wisdom for myriads of kalpas,

And expounded it with the utmost effort all through their lives,
They would not come to exhaustive knowledge of it.
The Buddha's wisdom is thus limitless
And pure to its depths.

To obtain human life is difficult in the extreme;
To meet a Buddha in this world is also difficult;
It is difficult, too, for a man to attain faith and wisdom.
Once you have heard the Dharma, strive to reach its heart.

If you have heard the Dharma and do not forget it,
But adore and revere it with great joy,
You are my good friend. For this reason,
You should awaken aspiration for Enlightenment.

Even if the whole world is on fire,
Be sure to pass through it to hear the Dharma;
Then you will surely attain the Buddha's Enlightenment.
And everywhere deliver beings from the river of birth-and-death.