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How Can Buddhas Deliver All Sentient Beings, Including Us, to Buddhahood?


All Pure Land aspirants should feel deep shame and remorse!

Master Shandao says in the beginning of In Praise of Pratyutpanna:

I humbly tell all Pure Land aspirants: You should feel deep shame and remorse! Shakyamuni Buddha is actually your kind and compassionate parents who provide various expedient teachings in order to arouse your unsurpassed faith.

He further says:

Moreover, he speaks of various expedient teachings, not just one, because ordinary beings have upside-down views. However, if we can follow any one of his teachings and practice accordingly, they can see the Buddha and be born in the Land of Bliss.

Why should we Pure Land aspirants feel ashamed in remorse? It is because, due to our upside-down views, we fail to follow any of his 84,000 expedient teachings spoken in the sutras, and practice accordingly, thus we cannot see the Buddha, and cannot be born in the Land of Bliss.

What is Shakyamuni Buddha’s purpose in providing various expedient teachings to us? Master Shandao said it is for the purpose of arousing our unsurpassed faith! “Unsurpassed faith” refers to faith in the Buddha, although we may not understand and practice the profound Buddhist teachings.

To aspire, manifest, attain and enter the wisdom and insight of a buddha

In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni says to his disciples of the Three Vehicles (sravakas, prateyabuddhas, and bodhisattvas):

The buddhas appear in this world for one great causal purpose alone: they wish to cause sentient beings to ASPIRE toward purity; to MANIFEST the wisdom and insight of the buddhas; and to ATTAIN and ENTER the path of the wisdom and insight of a buddha. For this great reason alone have the buddhas appeared in this world.

Strictly speaking, the 84,000 teachings of the Three Vehicles spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha are “expedients” that guide us to the teaching of One Buddha Vehicle, which is “real.” However, the true wisdom and insight of the buddhas is ineffable and inconceivable.

Without the appearance of a buddha, no sentient being can conceive of what a buddha is. The category of being known as a “buddha” must be revealed and demonstrated by a buddha. Without the Buddha’s guidance and empowerment, none can attain or enter the path of the wisdom and insight of a buddha.

To become a buddha by delivering others to become buddhas

Generally speaking, bodhisattvas of different stages in the causal ground have set forth the unsurpassed bodhi-mind: to deliver themselves by delivering others, provided that they don’t retrogress in the path of buddhahood. They strive to cultivate the Six Perfections with a myriad of practices.

If those bodhisattvas can follow any one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings and practice accordingly in cultivation of their mind, they can see the Buddha and be born in the Pure Land. As said in the Vimalakirti Sutra: “If bodhisattvas wish to have pure lands, the lands they dwell in will be pure when their minds are pure.”

Sravakas and pratyekabuddhas are those who practice Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, respectively. They aim at liberating themselves from samsara (reincarnation within the Six Realms) and may be reluctant to liberate others from samsara.

Moreover, liberation from samsara is not ultimate. In order to attain perfect enlightenment and unsurpassed buddhahood—which entails a “return” to the buddha-land for ultimate emancipation—one has to benefit oneself by benefiting others and become a buddha by delivering others to become buddhas.

Actually, in the Dharma Assembly, 5,000 bhikshus (sravakas) left before Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Lotus Sutra. In order to motivate and encourage his disciples of sravakas and pratyekabuddhas to set forth the bodhi-mind, Shakyamuni Buddha uses expedient means to convert and deliver them.

The difficulty of delivering ordinary beings who lack virtuous roots

Converting and delivering all sentient beings—not just those of the Three Vehicles, but ordinary beings like us—is the sole purpose for which all buddhas appear in the world. It is the primary mission and great task of all buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Ordinary beings are attached to “self.” They are self-centered and conceited. Upon hearing the Buddhist teachings, they are most concerned with their own interest and benefits in the mundane world. Many ordinary beings do not know or care about the afterlife, or liberation from samsara, not to mention becoming a buddha.

Obviously, it is difficult for Shakyamuni Buddha to convert and deliver ordinary beings who lack worldly and Buddhist virtuous roots. In the Infinite Life Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha talks again about his original intent of appearing in the world for the benefit of all sentient beings in the Land of Saha:

As the Tathagata, I regard beings of the Three Domains with boundless great compassion. The reason for my appearance in the world is to reveal teachings of the Way and save multitudes of beings by endowing them with true benefits.

This refers to “to see the Buddha and be born in the Land of Bliss.” “Endowing” is giving and donating, and “true” is the opposite of “expedient.” “True benefits” refers to the merit and virtues related to the One Buddha Vehicle—the wisdom and insight of a buddha, and a “return” to the buddha-land for ultimate emancipation.

How does Shakyamuni Buddha endow ordinary beings with true benefits?

How does Shakyamuni Buddha endow us with true benefits? In the Infinite Life Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha introduces Amitabha Buddha, who made 48 vows for all sentient beings in the ten directions, including human and celestial beings, and accomplished the Land of Bliss where they may be reborn.

In the Amitabha Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha urges all sentient beings three times to aspire and attain assured rebirth in the Land of Bliss, by upholding the recitation of Amitabha’s name single-mindedly and without confusion. It is the one and only means for ordinary beings like us to “return” to the buddha-land for ultimate emancipation.

So all Pure Land aspirants should feel deep shame and remorse because they are “losers”—that is, we try to practice Shakyamuni Buddha’s expedient teachings and to liberate ourselves. Without the endowment of Shakyamuni Buddha’s true benefits, we have no causal condition to be liberated from samsara and attain rebirth in the Land of Bliss.

Related features from BDG

Why are Two Buddhas Needed to Deliver All Sentient Beings?
How Did the Body of Amitabha Differ from That of Shakyamuni When They Became Buddhas?
Buddhism is a Path that Leads Us to Become a Buddha

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6 days ago

There are no sentient beings to awaken.“Subhuti, what do you think? You should not claim that the Tathagata has the thought, ‘I will liberate sentient beings.’ Subhuti, do not have such a thought. Why? There are in fact no sentient beings for the Tathagata to liberate. If there were sentient beings liberated by the Tathagata, it would mean that the Tathagata holds the notions of a self, a person, a sentient being, or a life span. Subhuti, when the Tathagata says ‘I’, there is actually no ‘I’. Yet ordinary beings think there is a real ‘I’. Subhuti, the Tathagata says that ordinary beings are in fact not ordinary beings. Therefore they are called ordinary beings” – Diamond Sutra