Home » Excerpts » [5] How Can Ordinary Beings Reach Pure Land?

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]

疑: 具缚得生
The Fifth Doubt: Doubt Of Attaining Birth Despite Being Bound


Question: Bound ordinary beings have evil karma that is thick and heavy, with all afflictions, that are not in the least severed. As the Western Pure Land [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo)] transcends the three spheres, how can bound ordinary beings attain birth there?


Answer: There are two kinds of conditions. The first, is Self-Power. The second, is Other-Power.


Practitioners with Self-Power, who cultivate the path in this world, in reality, still cannot attain birth in [the] Pure Land [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo)].


Thus, the Garland Sūtra81 says, ‘From the beginning as bound ordinary beings, they have yet to know the Triple Gem,82 also not knowing the causes of good and evil, and their effects. Those who have just given rise to Bodhicitta, [should cultivate] faith83 as their fundamental practice.


To abide in the family of the Buddha[s],84 [they should uphold the] precepts as their fundamental practice. Receiving the Bodhisattva precepts,85 life after life continually, if the practice of precepts is not transgressed, passing one kalpa, two kalpas, three kalpas, then can they attain the First Abode Of Aspiration To Bodhicitta.


Thus cultivating the Ten Faiths,86 Ten Pāramitās87 et cetera, with immeasurable practices and vows, continually and without interruption, fully for ten thousand kalpas, then can they attain the Sixth Abode Of Right Mind. If they progress even further, they will attain the Seventh Abode Of Non-Retrogression, which is the Stage Of Seed-Nature.’88


This is about Self-Power. After all, they still cannot attain birth in [the] Pure Land [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo)].


Practitioners with Other-Power, if they have faith that Amitā[bha] Buddha’s [Amituofo] great compassionate power of vows, can gather sentient beings mindful of [Amitā(bha)] Buddha [Amituofo], and are able to give rise to Bodhicitta, practise the Samādhi From Mindfulness Of Buddha, have Revulsed Renunciation89 of this body in the three spheres, begin practising generosity, upholding of precepts and cultivating of blessings, and in the course of each practice, dedicate the meritorious virtues for the aspiration to be born in that Pure Land of Amitā[bha] Buddha [Amituofo], riding on the Buddha’s power of vows, there will be correspondence of potential and response, and they will immediately attain rebirth there.


Thus, the Ten Abodes Vibhāṣā Treatise says, ‘In this world, there are two kinds of ways to cultivate the path. The first, is the Path Of Difficult Practice. The second, is the Path Of Easy Practice.


Practitioners of the Difficult Practice, in this evil period of the five defilements, and the ages of immeasurable Buddhas, seek the fruit of Avaivartikas,90 which is extremely difficult to attain. These difficulties, innumerable as motes of dust and grains of sand, cannot be completely spoken of. To briefly state are a few.


The first, is that external paths’ forms of practices resembling goodness confuse Bodhisattvas’ Dharma practices.


The second, is that shameless evil persons destroy their excellent virtues.


The third, is that inverted fruits of goodness are able to destroy pure practices.


The fourth, is that they might seek Śrāvakas’91 self-benefits, which obstruct great loving-kindness.


The fifth, is that they only have Self-Power, without Other-Power for support.


For example, a lame person walking on foot in a day cannot go beyond a number of miles. With extremely great hardship, this is the meaning of Self-Power.

易行道者,谓信佛语,教念佛三昧,愿生净土。乘弥陀佛愿力,摄持决定, 往生不疑也。

For practitioners of the Path Of Easy Practice, this means having faith in the Buddha’s words, that teach the Samādhi From Mindfulness Of Buddha, and aspiring for birth in Pure Land. Riding on Amitā[bha] Buddha’s [Amituofo] power of vows, which will definitely gather and protect, they will be reborn [in his Pure Land], without any doubt.


Like a person by a waterway travelling, thus relying on the power of a boat, in a short while reaching one thousand miles, this is the meaning of Other-Power.


For example, an inferior man, following a Wheel-Turning King,92 can within one day and one night, traverse around the four continents, not with Self-Power, but the Wheel-Turning King’s power.’


If one says ordinary beings with outflows93 cannot attain birth in that Pure Land, this likewise says ordinary beings with outflows should not be able to attain sight of the Buddha’s body. However, with the Samādhi From Mindfulness Of Buddha, together with good roots without outflows arising, ordinary beings with outflows, to corresponding degrees, can attain sight of the coarse form of the Buddha’s body, while Bodhisattvas see his extremely subtle form.


That Pure Land is likewise so. Although arising from good roots without outflows, ordinary beings with outflows who give rise to unsurpassable Bodhicitta, and thus seek birth in that Pure Land by constant mindfulness of Buddha, to subdue and extinguish their afflictions, can attain birth in that Pure Land, and to corresponding degrees, attain sight of its coarse forms, while Bodhisattvas see its subtle and wonderful forms. Of this, what is there to doubt?


Thus, the Flower Adornment Sūtra says, ‘All Buddha Lands are equally and universally magnificent and pure. As sentient beings’ karmic actions differ, that seen by each is not the same.’ This is its meaning.


81 Bodhisattva Keyura Parikarman Sūtra 菩萨璎珞本业经: Discourse On Bodhisattvas’ Garland’s Fundamental Karma
82 Buddha(s), (Buddha)dharma, (Ārya)saṃgha [Saṅgha]: Buddhas, their teachings and the community of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen with various levels of enlightenment
83 … in the Triple Gem (See Note 82 above)
84 … as ‘Dharma children’ or true disciples of the Buddhas
85 … for avoiding harming of any sentient being, and for guiding all sentient beings to Buddhahood
86 Ten Stages Of: [1] Faith [2] Mindfulness [3] Diligence [4] Concentration [5] Wisdom [6] Precepts [7] Dedication Of Of Merits (Meritorious Virtues) [8] Protection Of Dharma [9] Renunciation [10] Aspiration
87 Ten Perfections (十度): [1] Generosity [2] Morality [3] Patience [4] Diligence [5] Concentration [6] Wisdom [7] Expedient Means [8] Aspiration [9] Spiritual Power [10] Knowledge
88 … with non-backsliding progress assured of Buddhahood
89 Healthy spiritual ‘aversion’ to being trapped in rebirth
90 Those in the Stage Of Non-Retrogression, with non-backsliding progress assured of Buddhahood
91 ‘Voice-Hearers’ of the Buddha’s teachings; disciples of the Buddha seeking Arhathood
92 Universal king who turns the Dharma wheel by ruling with Dharma practice and teaching
93 Those having afflictions due to defilements that ‘flow out’ to form deluded experiences

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