In the Land of Bliss, all living beings are like Amitabha Buddha
In my previous article, we saw that the Land of Bliss is a realm of unconditioned Nirvana, which is totally different from the Land of Saha or the realm of conditioned birth and death.
Therefore, all living beings in the Land of Bliss are endowed with lofty and brilliant wisdom, and are masters of supernatural powers. Endowed with bodies of naturalness, emptiness, and infinity (as taught in the Infinite Life Sutra), they are all of one form without any differences between them.
Their bodies are golden in color like the Buddha’s: splendid, perfect, and complete. Moreover, they benefit various kinds of sentient beings with the mind of great compassion. They have the 32 marks and 80 marks of splendor like the Buddha, and can likewise expound on the teachings and practice the bodhisattva path like the Buddha.
Transcending and manifesting the practice of all bodhisattva stages
Although humans, heavenly beings, sravakas, and bodhisattvas all receive mention in Amitabha’s 48 vows and the Pure Land sutras, these names are used only in accord with beings’ former states of existence prior to rebirth in the Land of Bliss. There is a very logical reason for this.
In order to attract the various types of sentient beings to Amitabha’s Pure Land, Shakyamuni uses these different names to address those who would seek rebirth there. Some vows speak of benefits that will attract humans or heavenly beings, while others mean to attract sravakas and bodhisattvas.
As the sutra says: “In the Land of Bliss, all living beings are in the Stage of Non-Retrogression. Many are in the Stage of Becoming a Buddha after One More Life.” Actually, all living beings transcend the course of practice of ordinary bodhisattvas, manifest the practices of all bodhisattva stages, and cultivate the virtues of universal benevolence, as stated in Amitabha’s 22nd Vow.
All are born by manifestation in the lotus flower of Amitabha Tathagata
Vasubandhu Bodhisattva states in his Treatise on Rebirth:
Those reborn into the Great Vehicle Realm of wholesome roots
Abide in equanimity, free of slanderous names and evil reputations;
Neither effeminate nor of diminished capacity,
They cannot produce the lesser seeds of the Two Vehicles.
Master Tanluan explains this verse in his Commentary on the Treatise on Rebirth as follows:
In the world of miscellaneous karma, variable causes and conditions determine whether one is born by embyro, by egg, by moisture, or by manifestation. Because of this miscellaneous karma, such beings experience ten-thousand levels between joy and suffering.
But in that Land of Peace and Joy, all are born by manifestation in the lotus flower of Amitabha Tathagata. They know only purity and perfect enlightenment because their cause of rebirth is the same—through Amitabha-recitation alone. All of them are siblings extending throughout the Dharma Realm.
Here, it is clearly stated that all living beings reborn in the Pure Land are the same; they are parts of the Dharma Body of Amitabha Buddha, like the cells of a human body. Why are they the same? It is because they have the same of cause of rebirth, resulting from the same merit and virtues contained in Amitabha’s Name.
The facial appearance and bodily form of the inhabitants of the Land of Bliss are splendid and perfect, exactly the same as those of Amitabha Buddha. They realize the same auspicious marks, infinite light, infinite wisdom, infinite compassion, infinite merit and virtues, infinite life, and the same profound vows, extensive supernatural powers, and unimpeded eloquence.
In other words, once reborn, all living beings are just the same as bodhisattvas that have completed the Buddhist path. No traces of ignorance or delusive karma remain. Their lives are infinite. They can travel to the worlds of the ten directions with the speed of thought, and can manifest everywhere at the same time.
They come and go as they wish. If they want to see their parents or children from this present life, or relatives and friends from past lives, they can do so. They can also assist, protect, and deliver them by various skillful means. They can transform themselves as they wish and expound the wonderful teachings to deliver sentient beings.
From this it should be clear that rebirth in the Land of Bliss does not merely involve leaving samsara (reincarnation within the Six Realms). Nor is it only achieving the Bodhisattva Stage of Non-retrogression. In fact, it means becoming a buddha-to-be!
Rebirth in lotus bud (by embyro) and rebirth by lotus blossom (by manifestation)
Generally speaking, living beings in the Land of Bliss are reborn by manifestation in the lotus flower of Amitabha Tathagata. However, as taught in the Infinite Life Sutra, some living beings attain rebirth through the dedication of mixed merits and virtues. They have engaged in self-powered practices such as the Three Meritorious Deeds, the aspiration for rebirth, and others, and dedicated the resulting merits toward rebirth in the Land of Bliss.
According to Shakyamuni Buddha, such mixed practice constitutes the offence of doubt because these living beings did not rely single-mindedly and exclusively on Amitabha’s Name and Fundamental Vow. Thus, their lotus flowers cannot blossom. Until they repent of the offence, they must remain in the bud, which is like an embryo. Confined in this way, they suffer three obstructions. They are unable to see the true body of Amitabha Buddha, unable to listen to the supreme Dharma, and unable to travel and make offerings to the various Buddhas.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that even those born in the lotus buds are the same as other living beings in the Land of Bliss!
It is only a matter of time before the offence of doubt is expunged and their lotus opens. This is why the Amitabha Sutra says, “All sentient beings that are reborn in the Land of Bliss dwell in the Stage of Non-retrogression. Many of them are in the Stage of Becoming a Buddha after One More Life.”
Those who “dwell in the Stage of Non-Retrogression” include those born in an embryo, while “the Stage of Becoming a Buddha after One More Life” includes those who are reborn by manifestation in the lotus flower of Amitabha Tathagata. Isn’t it inconceivable?