Home » Excerpts » [1] Do Pure Land Aspirants Forsake Other Beings?

The Treatise On Ten Doubts About Pure Land

Written by Sui Dynasty’s Tiantai Tradition’s Great Master Zhizhe (538–597 CE)
Translated to English by Upāsaka Shen Shi’an (2014 CE)
[This improved version replaces previous versions]

第一疑: 舍离众生疑
The First Doubt: Doubt Of Forsaking Sentient Beings

问曰: 「诸佛菩萨以大悲为业。若欲救度众生,只应愿生三界,于五浊三途中,救苦众生。

Question: All Buddhas1 and Bodhisattvas2 accord with great compassion3 for their actions. If desiring to save and deliver sentient beings, we should only aspire for birth in the three spheres,4 within the five defilements5 and three paths,6 to save suffering sentient beings.


For what cause should we seek birth in [the] Pure Land7 [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo)], to personally abide in peace? Forsaking sentient beings is thus without great loving-kindness8 and compassion, to focus on self-benefits that obstruct the Bodhi9 path.


Answer: Bodhisattvas are of two kinds.


The first, for a long time, have cultivated the Bodhisattva path, and already attained the Patience Of Non-Birth.10 Truly, they should be responsible [for saving suffering sentient beings].


The second, are those who have yet to attain it, and also ordinary beings, who have just given rise to Bodhicitta.11 Ordinary Bodhisattvas need to constantly be with, and never leave Buddha[s]. When the power of patience is accomplished, then can they abide in the three spheres, within this evil period,12 to save suffering sentient beings.


Thus, the Perfection Of Wisdom Treatise13 says, ‘For bound14 ordinary beings, who have the mind of great compassion, and aspire for birth in this evil period, to save suffering sentient beings, this is not possible.


Why is this so? Afflictions of this evil period’s world are powerful. Personally without the power of patience, the mind will, with conditions be transformed, thus by sounds and forms bound. Personally falling into the three paths, how is one able to save sentient beings?


If attaining birth within the human realm, the sagely path15 is difficult to attain. One might, by generosity, upholding of precepts16 and cultivation of blessings, attain birth within the human realm, to become a country’s king or great official, with wealth, honour and ease. Even if one meets good-knowing friends,17 one may not be willing to have faith in them, or benefit from them.


With greed and delusion unrestrained, extensively creating all kinds of transgressions,18 riding on this evil karma,19 once entering the three paths, passes through immeasurable kalpas.20 Departing from the hells,21 one receives a poor and lowly body.

若不逢善知识,还堕地狱。如此轮回,至于今日,人人皆如是。』 此名难行道也。

If not coming across good-knowing friends, one will still fall into the hells. Thus reborn, so far as to this present day, everyone is like so.’ This is named the Path Of Difficult Practice.22


Thus, the Vimalakīrti Sūtra23 says, ‘[If your] personal sickness is not able to be relieved, how moreover, [are you] able to relieve all sick persons?’


Moreover, the Perfection Of Wisdom Treatise says, ‘For example, there are two persons, each having relatives, by waters being drowned. One person, feeling anxious, directly enters the water to save them. Due
to being without the power of expedient means,24 with one another, they all sink.


One other person has expedient means, and goes to get a boat. Riding on it to receive and save, all attain liberation from the adversity of being drowned by water.

新发意菩萨,亦复如是,未得忍力,不能救众生。为此常须近佛。得无生忍已,方能救众生,如得船者。 』

Newly aspiring Bodhisattvas are likewise so, yet to attain the power of patience, and not able to save sentient beings. Due to this, they constantly need to be near Buddha[s]. After attaining the Patience Of Non-Birth, then are they able to save sentient beings, like the one who attained the boat.’


Moreover, the Treatise says, ‘For example, a baby should never leave the mother. If even the mother is left behind, the baby might fall into a pit or well, and die from thirst for milk.


Moreover, like a baby bird, with wings not yet developed, who can only lean on trees and stick to branches, he is not able to go far. With the feathers and quills accomplished, then is he able to fly to the sky, with ease and without obstructions.’


Ordinary beings without power, can only, with focused mindfulness of Amitā[bha] Buddha [Amituofo], enable accomplishment of Samādhi.25 With this karma thus accomplished, when approaching the end of life with gathered mindfulness, they will attain birth [in his Pure Land]. Definitely and without doubt, they will see Amitā[bha] Buddha [Amituofo].


After realising the Patience Of Non-Birth, they return to the three spheres, riding on the boat of Patience Of Non-Birth, to save suffering sentient beings, extensively practise generosity, and accomplish the Buddha’s activities, at will and with ease.


Thus, the Treatise says, ‘Travelling freely with ease in the hells, practitioners born in that [Pure] Land, after attaining the Patience Of Non-Birth, return to enter the lands of birth and death, for teaching and transforming hell-beings, to save [these and other] suffering sentient beings.’


With these causes and conditions, seek birth in [that] Pure Land [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo)], and aspire to understand its teachings. Thus, the Ten Abodes Vibhāṣā Treatise26 names this the Path Of Easy Practice.27


1 Buddha: An awakened or fully enlightened one, who has attained liberation from all suffering, having perfected compassion and wisdom with all other virtues, for guiding all sentient beings to the same
2 Bodhisattva: One who aspires for Buddhahood, while guiding all sentient beings to it
3 Great compassion: Wish and action to remove suffering of all sentient beings
4 … of desire, form and formlessness
5 … of kalpa, views, afflictions, sentient beings and lifespans
6 Realms of hell-beings, hungry ghosts and animals
7 World created by a Buddha’s perfect compassion, wisdom and merits (meritorious virtues) for swiftly guiding sentient beings to Buddhahood without fail
8 Wish for all sentient beings to be well and happy
9 Full awakening; supreme enlightenment; Buddhahood
10 Insight of the non-origination (and non-cessation) of dharmas (phenomena of mind and matter), that leads to non-retrogressible progress towards Buddhahood
11 Aspiration to attain Buddhahood while guiding all sentient beings to the same goal
12 … with the five defilements (See Note 5 on Page 13)
13 Mahā Prajñā Pāramitā Śāstra 大智度论: Treatise On The Great Perfection Of Wisdom
14 … by afflictions of thoughts, speech and actions with attachment, aversion and delusion that cause suffering
15 … to attainments towards/of liberation of self and/or others (relying only on Self-Power)
16 … of moral conduct to avoid evil (and do good)
17 Spiritual friends
18 Immoral misgivings
19 … which leads to retribution of suffering
20 Kalpa: An inconceivably long period of time; one world cycle: time for a world to be formed and destroyed
21 Hell(s): Realm with greatest and longest suffering
22 … due to many obstacles and recurring high tendency to backslide
23 Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra 维摩诘所说经: Discourse On Teaching Spoken By Vimalakīrti
24 Skilful methods from compassion and wisdom synergised
25 Right concentration from connecting to Amitā(bha) Buddha’s (Amituofo) blessings
26 Daśa Bhūmika [Grounds] Vibhāṣā [Compendium] Śāstra 十住毘婆沙论
27 … due to few obstacles and no tendency to backslide

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