III. The Different Types of Pure Lands
[In addition to the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, there are many other pure lands.] The many pure lands can be classified into four main categories: the distinctive pure lands of the Mahayana School, the pure land of the Three Vehicles, the pure land of the Five Vehicles, and the pure land on Earth.
A. The Distinctive Pure Lands of the Mahayana School
The distinctive pure lands of the Mahayana (or the Great Vehicle) School include the Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss and the Medicine Buddha's (i.e., Bhaisajyaguru Buddha) Pure Land of Azure Radiance. In fact, Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss is especially remarkable.
Although there are numerous discussions in Mahayana sutras regarding the many pure lands of the various Buddhas of the ten directions and espousing their many easy-to-travel paths of cultivation, it is the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha that elicits the most awe and wonderment. Of the many Dharma methods discussed in the sutras, the most extraordinary is that of the Pure Land practice where one recites and remembers the name of Amitabha Buddha so that one may be reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. This Dharma method is an unique feature of Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land and is the result of the strength of the forty-eight great vows which Amitabha Buddha made while he was cultivating [to become a Buddha]. With the merits of his compassionate vows, Amitabha Buddha manifests the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. Amitabha Buddha also proclaims categorically that anyone who believes in the great vows of Amitabha Buddha and wishes to be reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss should contemplate the name of Amitabha Buddha, be it for one day, two days, or even just ten times. If the person is sincere and can contemplate the name of Amitabha Buddha with one-pointedness of mind, the strength of Amitabha Buddha will guide the person to be reborn by transformation into a lotus flower in the land of Ultimate Bliss, even though he or she may still be burdened with karma. Once one reaches the Pure Land, [one does not regress back into the wheel of rebirth. This is because in the Pure Land,] one continues to practice so that one will eventually become free from the wheel of rebirth and attain the ultimate bodhi. [Because of the unique features of this Dharma method,] it is said that the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha is most remarkable.
The other pure land is the Medicine Buddha's Eastern Pure Land of Azure Radiance. While the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha symbolizes restoration, the Pure Land of Medicine Buddha symbolizes growth. It says in the sutra that when Medicine Buddha was cultivating the path of Buddhahood, he made twelve great vows. He vowed to help us sentient beings so that we grow in wisdom and are successful in our careers and endeavors; he vowed to help us when we are handicapped, poor, and helpless. He vowed that we will not be lacking in food and other neces-sities, that we do not fall prey to false teachings, that we do not break the law and thus are safe from the pain of punishment, that there is equality between the genders, and that we will become Buddhas. With his great vows, Medicine Buddha manifests the Pure Land of Azure Radiance in the east. Most remarkably, the Bhaisajyaguru Sutra points out that those who recite the name of Medicine Buddha can also be reborn in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha in the west if they so desire and practice accordingly.
Some people may say that the heaven of the Christian religion is the same as the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss in Buddhism. Actually, the two are not the same. Venerable Yin Shun, a contemp-orary master, pointed out two differences between the Buddhist Pure Land and the Christian heaven.1. Complete equality with no class differ-ence. In the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, there is complete equality, with no class difference. This is not true for the Christian heaven, where only God is God and other heavenly beings will never become God. In the Pure Land, everyone can become Buddha. There is no class difference.
2. Continuing practice and not final fulfillment. Christians believe that going to heaven is the final fulfillment or the ultimate state. This contrasts with the Buddhist teachings that one still needs to practice even after being reborn into the Pure Land. In the Pure Land, as one is reborn by transformation into a lotus flower, one must continue to practice until the lotus flower blooms. In other words, one learns the Dharma and practices accordingly until Buddhahood is attained.
ã€€B. The Pure Land of the Three Vehicles
The Pure Land of the Three Vehicles—sravaka, pratyeka-buddha, and Bodhisattva—is the liberation they realize as they practice and cultivate according to the following stages: eliminate defilements, realize the truth, and become liberated from life and death. Although the Pure Land they realize is from the same Dharma and results in the same liberation—just as all rivers entering the sea will acquire the same salty taste of the sea—their state of mind tends to be founded on self-liberation. Though it is true that these holy practitioners do not create any more new karma and will not go through the suffering of life and death again, they should continue to further their practice toward an even more sublime state of mind. The Pure Land of the Three Vehicles is not the ultimate goal; it is only a stop on their way to the destination. Thus, the holy practitioners of the Three Vehicles should also recite the name of Amitabha Buddha and aim for the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss so they can continue on their path to Buddhahood.
C. The Pure land of the Five Vehicles
The Pure Land of the Five Vehicles—human, celestial being, and the three vehicles mentioned in the last section—is in fact the Tusita Pure Land of Maitreya Bodhisattva, whom Sakyamuni Bud-dha had prophesied will be the future Buddha of our world. The Tusita Pure Land, also known as the Inner Court of Tusita, is a majestic, pure heaven within the three realms, where Maitreya Bodhisattva is currently teaching the Dharma. If one is reborn in the Tusita Pure Land, one will be able to see Maitreya Bodhisattva. When Maitreya Bodhisattva becomes the Buddha of our world in the future, one will also follow Maitreya Bodhi-sattva and be reborn into this world. In this way, one has the opportunity to personally listen to the teachings of the Maitreya Buddha.
D. The Pure Land on Earth
An example of the Pure Land on Earth is the one described in the Vimalakirti Sutra. It was said in the sutra that though Vimalakirti lived in the saha world, his state of mind was that of the Pure Land. [So, what does the Pure Land on Earth mean? Before, we explore the answer to this question, we have to first understand the where-abouts of pure lands.]
When we speak of pure lands, be it the Mahayana Pure Land, the heavenly Pure Land, or the earthly Pure Land, we can use the colloquial term "heaven" to speak of them. When people ask where heaven or hell is, they are, in a certain way, also raising the question of the whereabouts of pure lands. In this regard, I would like to make the following three points.
1. Heaven can be found in heaven, and hell can be found in hell.
2. Both heaven and hell can be found among us. There are many of us, who because of previous merits and good causal conditions, enjoy a peaceful and happy life. Is this not life in heaven? Then, there are those who are beset with mental anguish and are afflicted with physical pain. Is this not life in hell?
3. Both heaven and hell are in one's mind. There are people whose minds are filled with grudges, discontentment, mistrust, hatred, greed, and delusion—this is hell. If we can forget about disputes with others, expand our hearts and minds to accept everything, give generously to others, be complimentary of others, or treat others with compassion—this is heaven. As we have not been reborn into the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss at this moment, the way that we can be close to Amitabha Buddha is to work together to transform our saha world into a Pure Land on Earth.
If we want to construct a Pure Land on Earth, we have to start with our minds because "when the mind is pure, the land is also pure." We have to start with eliminating unwholesome attach-ments to the five desires (wealth, beauty, fame, food, and sleep) and the six worldly dusts (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and idea).
Once, Sariputra asked the Buddha, "The Buddha lands of the ten directions are all very pure. Why is our saha world so corrupted and filthy?"
The Buddha replied, "You cannot comprehend the world in which I live." With this, the Buddha pressed the earth with his toe. Immediately, the world became brilliant, pure, and magnificent. The Buddha then continued, "This is the world in which I live."
From this, we can see that while we may be doing the same task in the same place at the time, we all react differently. The worlds within our minds are all different.
Among the different types of pure lands in Buddhism, Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss of the distinctive Mahayana teachings is especially remarkable. While there is the Pure Land of the Three Vehicles, it is biased toward liberation only for themselves. Although the "easily accessible" Pure Land of Maitreya Bodhisattva is open to all, it does not provide the opportunity of "realizing Buddhahood in one lifetime" that is available in Amitabha's Pure Land. Also, as the Maitreya Pure Land is within the Tusita Heaven, it is still within the three realms [of the wheel of rebirth]; in contrast, the Amitabha's Pure Land is one in which those who are reborn into it will never regress [back into the swirl of rebirth.]