Lesson Four

The Pure Land Teaching by Mipham Rinpoche

 

A commentary by Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche

 

Lesson Four

 

Someone may believe: The Sukhavati surpasses other pure lands, and those who are reborn there possess numerous qualities such as never-failing memory, samadhi, and clairvoyance. It follows that unless one is a sage, one cannot possibly be reborn in Sukhavati. 

Refute: Now that you have accepted that the scripture says all beings in Sukhavati possess excellent qualities, why do you choose to ignore the causes for attaining rebirth, which are also taught in the scriptures? Beings reborn in Sukhavati can manifest incredible abilities and qualities without effort; this feat is made possible only through the wisdom of Buddha Amitabha and the power of his vows. It is not accomplished by a sentient being’s Self-Power.

Some people counter: The scriptural saying that one can take rebirth in Sukhavati by reciting the Buddha’s name implies taking rebirth at “another time,” meaning, in a hidden sense, that only when one reaches the sage’s level (at or above the 1st Bhumi) will rebirth in Sukhavati happen.

Refute: It is stated in the scriptures, “By merely reciting the Buddha’s name, one will attain rebirth in Sukhavati.” Some people have chanted Buddha Amitabha’s name, but they do not achieve rebirth in Sukhavati immediately when they die; however, according to the Buddha’s unfailing words, they will, eventually, be reborn there. On other occasions, a swift rebirth on the deathbed has indeed happened to a person full of strong faith and devotion. Hence, the Buddha’s assertion of rebirth at death can be taken literally or interpreted as happening at a future time. No one can state categorically that the rebirths of all Pure Land practitioners occur only at another time. Sentient beings vary greatly in their karma, connection, and propensity; accordingly, the Buddha teaches and displays his power in myriad ways. Therefore, no valid reasoning can refute the point that people can attain rebirth in Sukhavati instantly at the moment of death through having heard the Buddha’s name.

Some people think: If practitioners have attained a sage’s realization, they will be reborn in Sukhavati as soon as they die. However, at present I do not possess any of these supreme qualities; therefore, I’ll be barred from taking instant rebirth in Sukhavati when I die.

Refute: If superior beings who have reached or are about to reach the sage’s stage of realization, no doubt they are bound to be reborn in Sukhavati, even if they have not added anew other easy practices such as reciting Buddha Amitabha’s name. Here, the sutra clearly states: “All aspiring sentient beings, other than those who commit the five gravest offenses and abuse the Dharma, can be reborn in Sukhavati. Moreover, when people hear the Buddha’s name, as long as they arouse a vivid faith that cleanses the mind and are inspired to take rebirth in Sukhavati, they will be reborn there, even if they have not fully comprehended its significance. Hence, the scripture encourages ordinary beings to attain rebirth in Sukhavati by hearing and reciting the Buddha’s name; it does not prescribe the same practice for the sages.

Someone states: The secret meaning of the sutra is that ordinary beings’ aspiration for rebirth in Sukhavati serves only as a seed. For them, rebirth will not come to fruition until they reach the level of the Bodhisattvas.

Refute: If only Bodhisattvas reaching the Bhumi levels can be reborn in Sukhavati, why does the sutra say that by relying on faith and devotion alone one can attain rebirth?

Again, others contend: Faith and devotion alone will not guarantee rebirth. However, if one has established faith and strong aspirations, one will gradually realize the wisdom level of Bodhisattvas and later be reborn in Sukhavati. This is the secret meaning of the sutra.

Refute: The scripture says that rebirth in Sukhavati can be attained by relying on faith and devotion alone. No valid reasoning can disprove this point directly. Based on Buddha Amitabha’s powerful wisdom and compassionate vows, if people at the moment of death hear the name of Buddha Amitabha and arouse strong yearning for rebirth, a vision of the Sugata can appear to them. Moreover, when they become utterly focused with fervent devotion, their five faculties can be transformed into the five powers and, in no time, they attain the supramundane wisdom of the noble ones. It is known that seeds that have been blessed by mantras can accelerate to maturation. By the same token, one can obtain sagehood suddenly without expending much effort. If this were not the case, a number of problems would arise. For example, the many profound methods of the Mantrayana, the inconceivable power of the sacred mantras, and the immaculate strengths of the Sugatas would become equivocal. Normally, accomplishment obtained with minimal effort is highly unlikely. However, when facts demonstrate otherwise, then a rebirth in Sukhavati propelled by faith and devotion can also be established. To give an example, once a mother and her daughter were swept away by a river current when they were trying to cross a river junction. As they were drowning, both of them aroused compassionate wishes for each other, and as a result of their positive thoughts, they were both reborn in the celestial realm of Brahma, even though in life they had not accomplished any of the samadhi that was usually required for taking rebirth in the Brahma realm. The sutra also taught that when this kalpa draws closer to the time of destruction, sentient beings may attain samadhi effortlessly through the power of ultimate reality. Additionally, through the simple act of placing their hands upon the heads of devotees, Sugatas and Bodhisattvas can confer blessings of excellent qualities, such as samadhi, that would otherwise take millennia to achieve. All of these work on the same principle cited above.

 

 


 

This Pure Land Teaching is a relatively concise discourse in Tibetan Buddhism. As discussed earlier, four causal conditions, with a special emphasis on faith and resolve, are required to attain rebirth in Sukhavati. In addition, there are three obstacles that hinder such a rebirth: not knowing the magnificence of Sukhavati, knowing it but mistakenly harboring wrong views, and having doubts about it. We must be cautious of these three hindrances. Today we’ll continue our discussion of them.

“Someone may believe: The Sukhavati surpasses other pure lands, and those who are reborn there possess numerous qualities such as never-failing memory, samadhi, and clairvoyance. It follows that unless one is a sage, one cannot possibly be reborn in Sukhavati.” Sukhavati outshines many other pure lands, such as the Eastern Pure Land of Azure Radiance and the Tushita Heaven, and beings reborn there are endowed with qualities of unfailing memory, samadhi and clairvoyance. Thus, people may presume that this place is reserved only for great masters like Venerable Lian-chi, Master Ou-I, and Chagme Rinpoche. An ordinary person burdened by heavy negative karma could never be reborn there, let alone suddenly manifest these superb qualities on their deathbed.

Actually, these days many people harbor this kind of suspicion, yet they are either too embarrassed to ask, or have no opportunity to pose their questions at all. Even if they manage to air their doubts, they get no answer. Here, Mipham Rinpoche applied a debating narrative to refute such doubts and establish the validity that commoners can attain rebirth in Sukhavati. Venerable Zhi Zhe, the great master of the Tian-tai School, also composed a treatise named Ten Questions on Pure Land, which basically addressed similar issues. But the two masters differed in their style of presentation: Mipham Rinpoche first presented the opponent’s wrong view and then refuted it, while Master Zhi Zhe used a question and answer format to make the point.

“Refute: Now that you have accepted that the scripture says all beings in Sukhavati possess excellent qualities, why do you choose to ignore the causes for attaining rebirth, which are also taught in the scriptures?” This is an outstanding method of reasoning: You acknowledged that after people take rebirth in Sukhavati, they immediately manifest superb qualities of samadhi, clairvoyance and so forth. Where is the source of this information? It is the Pure Land scripture. However, in the exact same scripture, it also delineates the causes for attaining rebirth in Sukhavati-faith, bodhichitta, dedicating the merit for rebirth, and accumulating merit and wisdom. But you don’t seem to acknowledge the latter part. Aren’t you accepting one half of the scripture while rejecting the other half?  That doesn’t make sense, does it?

“Beings reborn in Sukhavati can manifest incredible abilities and qualities without effort; this feat is made possible only through the wisdom of Buddha Amitabha and the power of his vows.” Is it reliance on Self-Power or reliance on Other-Power that is the key to achieving rebirth in Sukhavati? In the Han Pure Land School, there are scores of debates on this issue. From the perspective of ordinary beings, if one is receptive to Buddha Amitabha’s power of blessing and practices with great faith, then it is the Self-Power that actualizes rebirth. However, from the perspective of Buddha Amitabha, it is the power of Buddha Amitabha’s vows and wisdom that makes rebirth for sentient beings possible. Why? Because, if Buddha Amitabha had not made his compassionate vows to create the Sukhavati in the first place, none of us would have a pure land to go to at all, regardless of how strong our faith and desire might be. Considering this point, it is the Other-Power that matters.

In the same vein, the Commentary on the Ten Stages Sutra explicates the Easy Path of practice and the Difficult Path of practice. The Easy Path relies on Other-Power. That is, practitioners will attain accomplishment swiftly by relying on Buddha Amitabha’s power of blessing. The Difficult Path, on the other hand, relies on Self-Power and is riddled with five obstacles: meeting evil friends, encountering harsh circumstances, becoming greedy with worldly possessions, veering into sravakas’ pursuits, and failing to arouse bodhichitta. Accomplishment on this path is always delayed due to the impediments caused by these obstacles.

Therefore, in a way, rebirth in Sukhavati is caused solely through the power of Buddha Amitabha’s wisdom and compassionate vows. “It is not accomplished by a sentient being’s Self-Power. Otherwise, it would imply that even if Buddha Amitabha had not made his vows, we could be reborn in a pure land by our own strengths alone. This definitely is not the case. The chance for rebirth arises only on the premise that Buddha Amitabha made his vows and bestowed his blessings.

Not long ago a student asked: Suppose a dying person did not have a strong desire for rebirth in Sukhavati but was able to attain it through the transference ritual performed by an accomplished master. In this case, would this rebirth be caused by Self-Power or by Other-Power? Here is what I think: If people exert not even the slightest effort and are completely dependent on the help of a spiritual master, rebirth could be a bit difficult. However, even if people lack a strong desire for Sukhavati at first, but on their deathbed they have a master perform the transference of consciousness (phowa) for them, upon hearing the name of Buddha Amitabha during the ceremony, they might suddenly arouse faith in Buddha Amitabha and generate bodhichitta through Buddha Amitabha’s blessing. By the coalescence of these factors, they can accomplish the four requisite factors and attain rebirth right away.

In fact, virtues such as having faith in Buddha Amitabha, arousing bodhichitta, and generating an aspiration for rebirth cannot arise in our mind out of the blue. Rather, it is intimately associated with the blessings of gurus, Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas, without which we would have no affinity for or faith in the Pure Land doctrine. Therefore, the fact that a dying person can accomplish the four requisite factors rapidly is inseparable from the Buddha’s blessings. With that, even though in life we may not be particularly inclined to the idea of rebirth, we may, nonetheless, give rise to an earnest faith and aspiration at the moment of death, thus making us a strong candidate for rebirth. This is an undeniable possibility.

Please think over these matters carefully; you’ll find plenty of information to work with in the Han Buddhist scriptures. Try to challenge yourself. When the thought “I can never be reborn in Sukhavati” pops up in your mind, tackle it with wisdom. In this process, people with superior abilities will be able to resolve their own doubts, and the middling ones will have to rely on the help of their teachers and spiritual kindred. Inferior persons, however, will not feel the slightest interest in this matter, since they are concerned only with eating well and living comfortably in this life. Anything else is a non-issue for them. We spiritual seekers must consider our future and other paramount matters. Apparently, most of you here are no longer young; some of you are quite old already. As householders, you have to worry about families, jobs, or other obligations, and as monastics, you are occupied only by how to advance on the Dharma path and how to benefit sentient beings. In both cases, you must be concerned with what to do at the time of death. Through contemplation, you will find attaining rebirth in Sukhavati is the best option. However, you may be skeptical about your odds of attaining rebirth there. If doubt creeps in, you must investigate why you feel that way. Challenge yourself. This is a very good exercise to go through.

“Some people counter: The scriptural saying that one can take rebirth in Sukhavati by reciting the Buddha’s name implies taking rebirth at “another time,” meaning, in a hidden sense, that only when one reaches the sage’s level (at or above the 1st Bhumi) will rebirth in Sukhavati happen.” Some people think: The scripture says that by reciting the Buddha’s name, one will be born in Sukhavati. However, this does not mean one will be reborn there in the very next life but, instead, implies at some point in the future (at “another time,” Skt. kalantara). Generally, ordinary beings start the spiritual path by reciting the Buddha’s name and continuing to practice for one great kalpa until they become Bodhisattvas of the 1st Bhumi who possess clairvoyance and many miraculous powers. By manifesting their accomplishments, they can freely pass the Saha world and arrive at Sukhavati, which lies beyond 100 million worlds. Commoners lack sufficient merit to accomplish this. How can they be reborn in Sukhavati if they are only reciting Buddha’s name? When one’s life force is running out, trying to travel to the United States is daunting enough, let alone going to the utterly far-flung Sukhavati! Therefore, this scriptural teaching on rebirth is only a provisional one, promising lazy people a future rebirth in Sukhavati in order to motivate them to practice.

The Mahayana sutras Entering the Middle Way and the Sutra of Elucidating the Profound Secret elucidate the terms of “definitive meaning” and the “provisional meaning.” Those of you who have studied them should know well their definitions and demarcations. The “definitive meaning” is the true meaning, the ultimate truth. In contrast, a teaching of the “provisional meaning” is taught as an expedient means, thus it can be invalidated by reasoning and requires interpretation. The proposition of an instant rebirth in Sukhavati at the time of death, however, is beyond refutation by reasoning. This point will be further elaborated upon.

There was once an old khenpo in our Academy who is now dead. Once, he said to our Guru Wish Fulfilling Jewel, “I doubt rebirth in Sukhavati can be attained that swiftly. It must mean rebirth at a future time.” Hearing this, our Lama Rinpoche appeared quite displeased, and he admonished the old khenpo: “Even though you’ve studied some Buddhist logic, you still barely grasp its meaning. If you deem this Pure Land teaching to be a provisional one, give me your reasoning why!” The old khenpo deliberated for a long time but could not come up with an answer. Later, our Guru criticized him a few more times in class, which created quite an impact on us students. At that time many people were similarly doubtful, thinking rebirth can’t happen just like that, and that these scriptural teachings must belong to the category of “provisional meaning,” which the Buddha gave to suit the capacities and tendencies of certain groups in his audiences. In the following, Mipham Rinpoche uses sharp analysis and reasoning to contest these incorrect views.

“Refute: It is stated in the scriptures, ‘By merely reciting the Buddha’s name, one will attain rebirth in Sukhavati.’” The Buddha’s teaching that one can attain rebirth in Sukhavati by merely reciting the Buddha’s name can be interpreted on two levels: The first scenario is: “Some people have chanted Buddha Amitabha’s name, but they do not achieve rebirth in Sukhavati immediately when they die; however, according to the Buddha’s unfailing words, they will, eventually, be reborn there.”  This applies to people who have committed the five crimes with immediate retribution, slandered the Dharma, or have weak faith and bodhichitta. Lacking sufficient supportive causes and conditions, they cannot attain immediate rebirth when they die, even if they have recited the Buddha’s name many times on a daily basis. However, through Buddha Amitabha’s mighty blessings, they will ultimately be reborn there for sure; this is the undeceiving promise of the Buddha. This kind of situation can be called “at another time.” That is, without favorable conditions, some people will not attain immediate rebirth, but will definitely do so in some future lifetime.

Another scenario is this: “On other occasions, a swift rebirth on the deathbed has indeed happened to a person full of strong faith and devotion.” This situation applies to those who have fulfilled the four requirements for rebirth, are free from the three obstacles and the two defilements, and who are brimming with faith and devotion. When these people die, they arrive at Sukhavati instantly. Therefore, the Buddha’s words are unequivocal.

Hence, the Buddha’s assertion of rebirth at death can be taken literally or interpreted as happening at a future time. No one can state categorically that the rebirths of all Pure Land practitioners occur only at another time.” This statement deserves our special attention. Who among us dares to proclaim that all Pure Land practitioners will take rebirth at “another time”? Now, suppose a person has accomplished the four requisite factors for rebirth, yet, instead of immediately being reborn in Sukhavati at death, he or she has to wait for many more lifetimes. Who is audacious enough to say this will be the case? Please come forward if you’re the one. Of course, you must have ample reasoning to support your claim.

“Sentient beings vary greatly in their karma, connection, and propensity; accordingly, the Buddha teaches and displays his power in myriad ways.” The karma, inclinations, circumstances, and roots of virtue of sentient beings differ in infinite ways; correspondingly, Buddha Amitabha manifests his blessings, miraculous powers, and mighty wisdom in limitless ways. “Therefore, no valid reasoning can refute the point that people can attain rebirth in Sukhavati instantly at the moment of death through having heard the Buddha’s name.” Cases of instant rebirth at the moment of dying have certainly been reported among the many devotees of the Pure Land School. As long as practitioners have fulfilled the four factors, they are destined for birth in Sukhavati, and no reliable reasoning can be found in this world to invalidate it.

However, it does not mean everyone who chants Buddha’s name will be reborn in Sukhavati. Even the Han Pure Land School has never unanimously guaranteed rebirths for its many followers. Be that as it may, we should still firmly believe that as long as we chant Buddha’s name wholeheartedly without distraction, fulfill the four requirements, and dispel the obstacles to rebirth, we will attain rebirth in Sukhavati, regardless of how heavy our negative karma is or how ensnared we are by our afflictions. If someone asserts otherwise, they will need to show us the hard evidence!

This is a rather critical issue, and I implore you to think deeply about this after the class. We’re always plagued by many discursive thoughts, such as “All rebirths in Sukhavati are meant to occur at a distant time.” When this happens, we must check to see if there is sound evidence to support this statement. Here, Mipham Rinpoche applies Buddhist logic and reasoning to debate this issue. The point is, we must not blindly concur that chanting Buddha’s name will ensure a rebirth in Sukhavati simply because our master or the Pure Land School says so. Rather, we should establish its validity by relying on the scriptural teachings and Buddhist logical reasoning. In this process, if there are sufficient reasons and valid evidence, no one will be able to vilify the proposition. Actually, in this Dharma-declining age, the use of logical reasoning is highly recommended. Otherwise, people will assume that the chanting of Buddha’s name cannot bear the scrutiny of the younger generation and therefore, relegate it to be a mere pastime for older folks. Nothing can be further from the truth.

“Some people think: If practitioners have attained a sage’s realization, they will be reborn in Sukhavati as soon as they die. However, at present I do not possess any of these supreme qualities; therefore, I’ll be barred from taking instant rebirth in Sukhavati when I die.” This statement, on the whole, is similar to what we’ve just discussed. Some people think: “If I recite Buddha’s name diligently and visions of Sukhavati appear to me, then I will, no doubt, be reborn in Sukhavati when I die. However, so far I have not witnessed any such indicative signs, so I gather an instant rebirth will not happen to me, no matter how hard I have recited the Buddha’s name.” Such a defeatist mindset is quite prevalent among us and is, in fact, one of our biggest problems. Specifically, some of you may have conceded: “It goes without saying that only extraordinary masters—for example, our Guru Wish Fulfilling Jewel—who are impeccable in their advanced meditation and rich in various attainments, will surely attain rebirth in Sukhavati. However, for an ordinary being like me, such a probability is zero. I might as well take up another kind of practice.” Entertaining such a self-deprecating thought makes no sense! No matter how grave your karma is, how rampant your afflictive emotions are, you should never give up on yourself. The fact that we have encountered this teaching indicates we’re quite rich in merit, and we should take to heart the affirmation from many reliable scriptures that ordinary beings full of afflictions do have a chance to take rebirth in Sukhavati. From now until we die, we must earnestly recite the name of Buddha Amitabha and amass virtue through hearing, contemplating, and meditating on the Dharma. Moreover, we must also understand that the purpose of rebirth is not for our own enjoyment, but rather, for bringing benefit to all sentient beings. Once we have gathered these favorable conditions, we cannot help but be reborn instantly in Sukhavati. These are the diamond-like words uttered by Buddha Shakyamuni, so shouldn’t we, as Buddhists, place full trust in them?

“Refute: If superior beings who have reached or are about to reach the sage’s stage of realization, no doubt they are bound to be reborn in Sukhavati, even if they have not added anew other easy practices such as reciting Buddha Amitabha’s name.” Noble beings who have reached, or are on the verge of reaching, the sage’s level of realization are automatically entitled to take rebirth in the Pure Land, since they have already cultivated faultless faith, bodhichitta, and other virtues on the path. Therefore, for such highly accomplished sages, fulfilling the four requirements is like gilding the lily. In fact, Bodhisattvas nearing the 1st Bhumi or above are able to travel to any Buddhafield freely. Therefore, there’s no need for them to recite the Buddha’s name to attain rebirth in Sukhavati.

In the Buddhist canon, many teachings given by the Buddha were tailored for the salvation of ordinary, unenlightened commoners, and not for sages. For instance, some people hold that tantric practice was meant for Bodhisattvas of the 8th Bhumi and higher. This simply is not the case. If so, there is no need to formulate tantric samayas since by definition Bodhisattvas at the 8th Bhumi have already eradicated all mental afflictions. In the same vein, if rebirth in Sukhavati is reserved for the sages only, then all the stipulations—to recite the Buddha’s name, to ban wrong views and doubts, to refrain from slandering the Dharma and committing the five hellish crimes—are utterly superfluous for Bodhisattvas of the 1st Bhumi and higher.

“Here, the sutra clearly states: ‘All aspiring sentient beings, other than those who commit the five gravest offenses and abuse the Dharma, can be reborn in Sukhavati.’” The aspiration to take rebirth in Sukhavati can be actualized by everyone, except those who have committed the five crimes of immediate retribution and slandered the Dharma. This is a pivotal issue, which I have raised time and again. To ensure a rebirth in Sukhavati, our Guru Wish Fulfilling Jewel demanded that each of us accumulate mantra recitations—three million of “Namo Buddha Amitabha” or one million of Buddha Amitabha’s name in Tibetan, plus four hundred thousand recitations of the Vajrasattva mantra to repent and purify our defilements. Khenpo Yeshe Phuntsok has also advocated a massive accumulation of the Vajrasattva mantra by group participation. In fact, if we persevere and do as instructed, not only will we enhance our wisdom, but we will also make good progress in our practice. Let’s recite mantras at all times and in all places, and never let go of any chance to do prostrations. In my earlier teaching on the Two Codes of Conduct, I said that if we could recite the Vajrasattva mantra ten thousand times every day, in thirty years we’ll amass one hundred million mantras, which will purify all the defilements accumulated from time immemorial. After hearing this, some of you seriously took it upon yourself to do this recitation without interruption and have accrued seven or eight million repetitions to date. It’s rather commendable! Yet, people vary in disposition. Some impulsive person might recite the mantra ten thousand times right after the class, but neglect it the very next day, and my words might impact them for one month or half a year at best. However, we can never be sure if our mind stream is littered with the crimes of denigrating the Dharma or having wrong views, and we’re always full of tenacious habits and skewed concepts. Therefore, it’s best to commit ourselves to daily practices to purify our sins and obscurations.

Our Guru Wish Fulfilling Jewel was superb in his meditation and theoretical understanding of the Dharma; furthermore, he was extremely assiduous in his daily recitation of the yidam’s mantra, the Vajrasattva mantra, as well as reciting Buddha Amitabha’s name. Besides keeping up the recitation himself, he also persuaded others to do likewise. Leading as an exemplary model, our Guru caused a wave of Dharma practice and meditation discipline, previously unseen, to surge throughout many Tibetan and Han areas. As our Guru’s disciples, listening to and contemplating the Dharma should never remain perfunctory; instead, we must internalize them in real action, such as reciting the yidam’s mantra on a daily basis. That’s the way to go!

“Moreover, when people hear the Buddha’s name, as long as they arouse a vivid faith that cleanses the mind and are inspired to take rebirth in Sukhavati, they will be reborn there, even if they have not fully comprehended its significance.” The Aspirational Prayer to the Realm of Great Bliss says that people who have doubts can also be reborn in Sukhavati eventually. However, after their rebirth they will only hear the voice of Buddha Amitabha preaching and will not be able to enjoy the privilege of beholding Buddha Amitabha’s magnificent form. “Hence, the scripture encourages ordinary beings to attain rebirth in Sukhavati by hearing and reciting the Buddha’s name; it does not prescribe the same practice for the sages.” Not only are such passages unseen in the scriptures, but we can also deduce indirectly that the sages were not their intended audience. For instance, the scripture did not say: “Bodhisattvas of the 1st Bhumi who have not committed the five crimes of immediate retribution and slandered the Dharma can attain rebirth in Sukhavati;” or  “Bodhisattvas of the 1st Bhumi can attain rebirth in Sukhavati if they have heard the Buddha’s name;” or “Bodhisattvas of the 1st Bhumi who make a pure aspiration to take rebirth in Sukhavati will be reborn there.”  These conditions simply do not apply to Bodhisattvas of the 1st Bhumi. Obviously, they are meant for ordinary, unenlightened beings.

“Someone states: The secret meaning of the sutra is that ordinary beings’ aspiration for rebirth in Sukhavati serves only as a seed. For them, rebirth will not come to fruition until they reach the level of the Bodhisattvas.” The questions Mipham Rinpoche posed basically address different aspects of the same issue. In Master Zhi Zhe’s Ten Questions on Sukhavati, which I have read, the point of “whether rebirth happens to ordinary people” was hotly debated. Indeed, many people had doubts. Therefore, in explaining the scripture, we must first establish our supposition: ” Ordinary beings can attain rebirth in Sukhavati.”

“Refute: If only Bodhisattvas reaching the Bhumi levels can be reborn in Sukhavati, why does the sutra say that by relying on faith and devotion alone one can attain rebirth?” If rebirth is reserved for beings who have attained the Bodhisattva levels, then why would the sutra bother to say that by relying on faith and devotion alone one will attain rebirth in Sukhavati? This is entirely unnecessary for Bodhisattvas.“Again, others contend: Faith and devotion alone will not guarantee rebirth. However, if one has established faith and strong aspirations, one will gradually realize the wisdom level of Bodhisattvas and later be reborn in Sukhavati. This is the hidden meaning of the sutra.” Some people consider the teaching in the Amitabha Sutra-that rebirth can happen to ordinary beings-to be a provisional teaching with a hidden meaning behind it.  Such a presumption is unfounded.

“Refute: The scripture says that rebirth in Sukhavati can be attained by relying on faith and devotion alone. No valid reasoning can disprove this point directly.” When we say a teaching is provisional, first, it must have been taught out of necessity, and second, it can be invalidated by reasoning. Let check whether the sutra’s saying “rebirth in Sukhavati is attainable by relying on faith and devotion alone” can be invalidated directly by reasoning. Does rebirth contradict valid reasoning? The answer is an absolute no. Both Buddhist Logic and the Middle Way specify that only a provisional viewpoint can be subject to invalidation by reasoning. However, the Pure Land sutras transcend these arguments, since they are the most definite and reliable scriptures.

“Based on Buddha Amitabha’s powerful wisdom and compassionate vows, if people at the moment of death hear the name of Buddha Amitabha and arouse strong yearning for rebirth, a vision of the Sugata can appear to them. Moreover, when they become utterly focused with fervent devotion, their five faculties can be transformed into the five powers. “ At the time of death, before we breathe our last, if our minds are imbued with faith in Buddha Amitabha, we will immediately manifest the sage’s five strengths: faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Bodhichitta will arise instantly in those who lacked it previously, and the merit that would otherwise take hundreds and thousands of kalpas to accumulate will be gained instantaneously. Therefore, the sutra states that by simply reciting the Buddha’s name, one will be able to cast off the heavy karma accumulated for eight billion kalpas.

“In no time, they attain the supramundane wisdom of the noble ones.” If a dying person arouses a fierce faith in Buddha Amitabha in that fleeting moment when the outer breath has stopped but the inner breath is still continuing, all accumulated karma can be immediately purged through the power of that faith and the power of the Buddha. At the same time, miraculous powers, clairvoyance, and other innumerable qualities will instantaneously manifest in the dying person. That is, one can go from being an ordinary being in one moment to becoming a sage in the next.

You may wonder: “How is it possible that a being who has not yet reached the level of a sage be endowed with perfect qualities with a snap of the fingers?” Again, your lack of scriptural understanding is to blame. If you had studied them extensively, you would have understood the basic principles of how things work. From time to time, miracles do happen in the mundane world, to say nothing of the domain of Buddhism! Through the immense power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and the blessings of mantras, many tasks have been accomplished in a breeze that would otherwise be a long haul. In olden days, it might take a year to reach a certain place on foot. Today, with the advent of modern transportation, it takes only a few days or even a couple of hours to cover the same distance. In the past, traveling from China to Canada seemed insurmountable with all the mountains and waters to cross; yet, the same trip can be made swiftly today. Modern technologies are enabling us in many ways. Rebirth in Sukhavati works on the same principle.

“It is known that seeds that have been blessed by mantras can accelerate to maturation.” Powerful magicians can make seeds sprout by reciting mantras to them. Cases where seeds have magically sprouted ahead of their time through the blessing power of mantras have been amply recorded in Buddhist scriptures.  Similarly, in modern times new varieties of crops have been developed through cross breeding or using various chemicals. In a way they are also the products born of magical powers, since this would not happen if one relied solely on the ability of the seed alone.

“By the same token, one can obtain sagehood suddenly without expending much effort.” As with the accelerated maturation of seeds, it is possible for ordinary beings to reach the path and levels of a sage very quickly, without having to exert strenuous efforts over the span of a kalpa.

“If this were not the case, a number of problems would arise. For example, the many profound methods of the Mantrayana, the inconceivable power of the sacred mantras, and the immaculate strengths of the Sugatas would become equivocal.” The Mantrayana is replete with many profound skillful means. For instance, spiritual adepts have attained realization in six months by doing the practices of subjugation and union (many such accounts are recorded in The Incredible Biography of the Great Tantric Siddhas). Other unique approaches-those that are normally kept secret from unsuitable recipients, such as the use of powerful mantras uniting wisdom and skillful means-can empower the practitioners to accomplish all their goals, including the activities of pacifying, enhancing, magnetizing, and subjugating. In addition, reciting the Vajrasattva mantra, the Avalokiteshvara mantra, or other sacred mantras can eradicate defilements accumulated in the mind-stream over millennia and make manifest one’s innate wisdom awareness. If people refuse to acknowledge that ordinary beings can be reborn in Sukhavati and swiftly manifest superb qualities, then the incredible power of the mantras and Buddhas’ blessings will be thrown into doubt. “Normally, accomplishment obtained with minimal effort is highly unlikely. However, when facts demonstrate otherwise, then a rebirth in Sukhavati propelled by faith and devotion can also be established.”

“To give an example, once a mother and her daughter were swept away by a river current when they were trying to cross a river junction. As they were drowning, both of them aroused compassionate wishes for each other, and as a result of their positive thoughts, they were both reborn in the celestial realm of Brahma, even though in life they had not accomplished any of the samadhi that was usually required for taking rebirth in the Brahma realm.According to Abhidharma-kosa Shastra, to be born as a god of the form realm, one must have accomplished the samadhi of the first to the fourth meditative state, without which a birth in the upper realms is unlikely.  However, there were special circumstances. A story was cited in the Bodhicharyavatara and in the Words of My Perfect Teacher: Once a mother was crossing a wide river with her daughter when both of them were swept away by the current. The mother thought: “It’s not that important if I am carried away by the water, as long as my daughter is saved!” At the same time, the young girl was thinking, “It doesn’t matter if I get swept away, as long as my mother doesn’t drown!” They both perished in the water, but as a result of those compassionate thoughts for each other, they were both reborn in the celestial realm of the Brahma. In this case, birth in the celestial realm was achieved, even though the requisite cause of samadhi cultivation had not been met. In the same way, even if in life we have not attained the sage’s level of accomplishment, but on the verge of our death we’re mindful of Buddha Amitabha, hear and chant the Buddha’s name, and give rise to fierce faith and devotion, we’ll be propelled to Sukhavati instantly by the incredible force that is created.

This Pure Land Teaching of merely a dozen pages of text may not seem like a big deal. However, in reality it covers teachings from both the Sutrayana and Mantrayana traditions and is especially profound and powerful. As Buddhists, we aspire to realize wisdom, but even more so, we must also engender faith and devotion. Otherwise, even if we don monastic robes, we’ll be like worldly scholars who are able to deliver impressive lectures but bring no benefit whatsoever to the minds of ourselves and others.

Why? It is because you refuse to acknowledge the existence of Buddha Amitabha and his Pure Land. Likewise, it is very painful to observe that nowadays many academic intellectuals or even famous spiritual masters often speak with little concern for the principle of cause and effect. If you denigrate Buddhism to be a kind of superstition and deny the truth of rebirth in Sukhavati from reciting Buddha’s name, how do you explain all the scriptures on the Pure Land that were taught by the Buddha? How can you deem those teachings that have been spoken clearly and precisely in the scriptures to be superstitious? How can you be proud of your conceptual thoughts, enthroning them as supreme? You are, indeed, in dire need of wisdom!

The sutra also taught that when this kalpa draws closer to the time of destruction, sentient beings may attain samadhi effortlessly through the power of ultimate reality.” This is taught in the Abhidharma-kosha-shastra. “Additionally, through the simple act of placing their hands upon the heads of devotees, Sugatas and Bodhisattvas can confer blessings of excellent qualities, such as samadhi, that would otherwise take millennia to achieve. All of these work on the same principle cited above.” In the Avatamsaka Sutra it says: After the Buddha touched Youth Sudhana’s head, Youth Sudhana immediately perceived directly the splendid, limitless Pure Lands of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, uttered the Aspiration Prayer of Samantabhadra, and aroused great aspiration. Throughout history, many eminent masters often touched their disciples’ heads as a way to confer blessings. Anyone who regards this bestowal to be meaningless should expand his or her reading lists.

We’ll stop here today. Let’s dedicate our merits together…

 

Study Questions

19. Some people think: “The Sukhavati is full of pure radiance and immaculate adornments; thus, it is a place reserved for sages’ rebirths only, and ordinary beings like us absolutely won’t have a chance.”  Is this opinion correct? Why? Please analyze from different angles.

20. Is it Self-Power or Other-Power that facilitates rebirth in Sukhavati? Please share your thoughts on it.

21. Suppose a dying person did not have a strong desire for rebirth in Sukhavati but was able to attain it through the transference ritual performed by an accomplished master.  Please analyze specifically whether this rebirth relied on Self-Power or Other-Power.

22. What is meant by fruition “at another time”? Does the scriptural saying “by reciting Buddha Amitabha’s name, one will take birth in Sukhavati” belong to this category? Why? Please explain from two perspectives.

23. If people do not accept that ordinary beings can be reborn in Sukhavati and swiftly attain superb qualities, should the belief in the incredible power of the mantras and Buddhas’ blessings also be cast away? Please give examples to explain.