Therefore, Maitreya, if there is a great fire, that fully fills the three-thousandfold great-thousandfold world, one should cross this, to hear this sūtra’s Dharma, and with joyful faith, accept, uphold, read and recite it, to as said cultivate practice.
– Śākyamuni Buddha
(Immeasurable Life Sūtra)
Towards the end of the ‘Thirty-Seventh Chapter On Those Hearing This Sūtra Obtaining Benefits’ (闻经获益第卅七) of the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》, Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) taught the following to Maitreya Bodhisattva (弥勒菩萨), (who is the next to manifest Buddhahood in our world about 5.67 billion years later) and the others in the great assembly.
[Sūtra]: ‘Maitreya, you should know, that you from innumerable kalpas [i.e. world cycles] since, have cultivated Bodhisattva practices, desiring to deliver sentient beings [to Buddhahood], with this already for a long and distant time. Those from you attaining the path, to reaching of Nirvāṇa, cannot be stated in number. You and the ten directions’ all heavenly and human people’s all four assemblies [of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen], from distant kalpas since, have passed through many of the five paths [of hell-beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings and heavenly beings], with worries, fears and toilsome suffering, that cannot be completely spoken of. And even in this life, with [the cycle of] births and deaths not ending. With the Buddha, encountering one another, hearing and receiving this [Immeasurable Life] Sūtra’s [Pure Land] Dharma, once again, to attain hearing about Immeasurable Life Buddha [who is Amitābha Buddha: Āmítuófó], how happy and extremely good this is, with myself supporting this joy.
[Note 1]: Śākyamuni Buddha contrasted the great suffering resulting from being trapped in the rounds of rebirth for an unimaginably long time, with the great joy of learning about the Pure Land teachings related to Āmítuófó. This is so as the path to his Pure Land, which is the easiest to reach, will immediately end saṃsāric rebirth.
[Sūtra]: ‘You now likewise can personally loathe the pain and suffering of birth, death, ageing, sickness, and their foul fluids that are not pure, without that which can be joyous of. You should personally and decisively sever from them, with upright bodies and right practice, increase doing of all good. Cultivating personal purity, washing to eradicate the mind’s defilements. With speech and actions loyal and trustworthy, with the outwards and inwards corresponding. People able to be self-delivered, can in turn save and aid one another, sincerely and confidently seek their aspirations [to reach Pure Land], to accumulate good roots.
[Note 2]: Buddha continued to urge Maitreya Bodhisattva to have ‘revulsed renunciation of the Sahā World, and to have joyful seeking of the Land Of Ultimate Bliss’ (厌离娑婆，欣求极乐). This is not to be mistaken as to abandon sentient beings here, as those who have reached Pure Land for perfecting their Bodhisattva training will gladly return to most skilfully guide other beings still stranded here, to also reach Pure Land.
[Note 3]: While here now, we should do our best to purify our speech, actions and mind, which is possible through practising mindfulness of Buddha, as purer speech and actions can arise from minds made purer with mindfulness of Buddha directly. Of course, perfect purification will be possible via Pure Land later. Practising and sharing these teachings now is how we can deliver oneself and others, by urging all to also aspire to do their best now, with reach of Pure Land to become the best after.
[Sūtra]: ‘Although with one lifetime of toilsome suffering, it is just a moment in between. Later born in Immeasurable Life Buddha’s Land, it is with happiness and bliss without limit. Constantly with the path’s virtues merged in brightness, forever uprooting births’ and deaths’ roots. Without again with suffering of afflictions from greed, anger and ignorance, desiring lifespan of one kalpa, one hundred kalpas, or one thousand koṭis of ten thousand kalpas, with ease accordingly as wished, all can attain them. Unconditioned and natural, second only to the path of Nirvāṇa…’ [Note: One koṭi is about 10 million.]
[Note 4]: Śākyamuni Buddha ‘consoles’ and assures Maitreya Bodhisattva that even with this single life left with much suffering, it is relatively very brief, in comparison with the immeasurable life that can be realised, and shortened or extended at ease, with immeasurable physical happiness and spiritual bliss in Pure Land. There, all will be liberated from the roots of rebirth, to be one with the swiftest path to Buddhahood.
[Sūtra]: Maitreya said, ‘Having accepted the Buddha’s earnest instructions, I will single-mindedly and diligently cultivate and learn them, with as taught practising, not daring to have doubt.’
[Note 5]: Maitreya Bodhisattva thereupon expressed acceptance of Śākyamuni Buddha’s Pure Land teaching above, assuring that he will focus and persevere in learning and practising faithfully and accordingly. This sincere reply of Maitreya Bodhisattva can also be seen as his Aspiration Text (发愿文) to reach Āmítuófó’s Pure Land. In the Flower Adornment (Avataṃsaka) Sūtra’s《华严经》’Universal Virtue (Samantabhadra) Bodhisattva’s Practices’ And Vows’ Chapter’《普贤菩萨行愿品》is what can be seen as the indirect Accomplishment Text (成就文), as taught by Universal Virtue Bodhisattva (普贤菩萨), which lists the presence of Maitreya Bodhisattva there.
[Sūtra]: ‘In one kṣaṇa [i.e. instant] within, immediately attaining rebirth in the Land Of Ultimate Bliss. Reaching already, immediately seeing Amitā[bha] Buddha, Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva, Universal Virtue Bodhisattva, Contemplating With Ease Bodhisattva, Maitreya Bodhisattva and others.’
[Note 6]: As the Avataṃsaka Sūtra was taught before the Immeasurable Life Sūtra, Maitreya had already reached Āmítuófó’s Pure Land. He was setting an already fulfilled great example to the Immeasurable Life Sūtra’s great assembly, by manifesting in our world to receive and heed Śākyamuni Buddha’s Pure Land teachings. This also expresses ‘taking over’ of these teachings, which he will also teach when he manifests Buddhahood here later, as this world will still not be a Pure Land, making reaching of Āmítuófó’s Pure Land still sensible.
[Note 7]: Maitreya Bodhisattva’s personal reach of Pure Land is also needed for mastering how to create his own Pure Land later. While manifesting in multiple places at once out of great compassion to guide other beings, being the next Buddha-to-be, his ‘Reward Body’ (报身) resides in Tuṣita Heaven’s Inner Court (兜率天内院), which is not to be mistaken as a full-fledged ‘Pure Land’, as he is not yet a Buddha. Following Maitreya Bodhisattva’s great example, we should heed Śākyamuni Buddha’s advice too.
The Buddha, having spoken this sūtra already, of Maitreya Bodhisattva and the ten directions’ all Bodhisattva assemblies, the elder Ānanda, all great Voice-Hearers, and all in the great assembly, none were not joyful.
– Immeasurable Life Sūtra
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Thirty-Seventh Chapter On Those Hearing This Sūtra Obtaining Benefits (Of Immeasurable Life Sūtra)