Buddhist teaching of cultivation: “self-reward resulting from self-acts”
For Buddhist practitioners, the foundation for Dharma practice is belief in the Law of Cause and Effect in the Three Periods of Time. This is the universal law governing all activities in the Saha World, the world in which we live.
For ordinary beings in the Three Domains and the Six Realms of the Saha World, the primary cause of becoming of a hell being, a hungry ghost, or an animal is hatred, greed, and delusion, respectively. To be born as a human being or as a celestial being, one must practice the Five Precepts (or the Five Human Virtues) and the Ten Wholesome Deeds, respectively.
Where the Sacred Domains are concerned, rebirth as an arhat and a pratyekabuddha needs to have the roots of virtues and meritorious blessings attained through the practice of the Four Noble Truths and the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination in order to dwell in the Expedient Land of Residual Eternity.
Bodhisattvas, meanwhile, cultivate the Six Paramitas and thereby attain a myriad of merits and virtues, which are the main causes for them to dwell in the Land Adorned with Real Reward.
But what must sentient beings practice to attain the necessary roots of virtues and meritorious blessings in order to be born as buddha-like beings and dwell in a buddha-land like Amitabha’s Land of Bliss?
According to the Law of Cause and Effect, if a sentient being does not possess the abundant roots of virtues and meritorious blessings, he cannot attain rebirth and dwell in a pure buddha-land, as stated in the Amitabha Sutra.
Amitabha’s teaching of deliverance: “self-reward resulting from another’s acts”
When we consider the main causes and practices that lead to the attainment of perfect enlightenment and buddhahood, there are basically two paths. One is extremely difficult and the other is incredibly easy. The former is achieved by one’s own power (self-power) and the latter is achieved by another’s power (buddha-power), as discussed in my previous article.
Let us discuss the difficult one first. On the path of self-power, a person should genuinely set forth the bodhi-mind and make vows and attain all necessary merits and virtues without generating attachment to any form (known as the Nature of Emptiness in the Three Wheels) through various bodhisattva practices.
That person must dedicate allmerits and virtues and benefit allsentient beings in the ten directions in order to benefit himself. The above scenario is governed by the Law of Cause and Effect, and is known as “self-reward resulting from self-acts.”
However, this path is virtually impossible for an ordinary being like us to accomplish. As Master Shandao said in his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra:
Though an ordinary being appears to be diligently practicing kindness and benevolence, and commences to practice the threefold karma, this karma is called “virtues mixed with poison.” It is also called “unreal practice,” and is not real karma.
In spite of our inability to complete the self-power path, Amitabha Buddha can! As taught by Master Shandao:
Dharmakara Bodhisattva [the former body of Amitabha Buddha] genuinely cultivated his bodhisattva practices of the threefold karma in the causal ground with a true and genuine mind. . . . Thus, all merit and virtues that he dedicates to sentient beings are real, and those that sentient beings pray and ask for are also real.
It should be noted that the original intention of Dharmakara Bodhisattva is to allow ordinary beings to become buddhas. So he made vows, practiced, and dedicated us all the merit and virtues in countless eons that enable each of us to be reborn in his buddha-land and attain perfect enlightenment.
The Adornment Sutra (another version in the translation of the Infinite Life Sutra) says:
“When I attain the perfect enlightenment, my buddha-name shall be Amitayus. All sentient beings who hear this name will come to my land. Their bodies will be golden in color like the Buddha and their forms splendid, perfect, and complete. Moreover, they will benefit various kinds of sentient beings with the mind of great compassion.”
This scenario, like the difficult path of self-power, is also governed by the Law of Cause and Effect, but in the reverse perspective. It is known as “self-reward resulting from another’s acts” and fully manifests the bodhisattva spirit of Mahayana Buddhism.
Only Amitabha’s Land of Bliss is created for others’ enjoyment
Generally speaking, a Pure Land is a reward land adorned by the merits and virtues of a buddha who has accomplished his vows and practices in the causal ground. A buddha must attain perfect enlightenment and achieve buddhahood so that the splendors of his merits and virtues become the rewards (that is, the adornments of his Pure Land) for his own enjoyment. However, there is an exception to this rule. Amitabha Buddha made an extremely great and heavy vow that surpassed the vows of all buddhas: all sentient beings of the ten directions (including hell beings) can be reborn in his buddha-land, and become buddha-like beings there, otherwise he will not attain the perfect enlightenment, as stated in his 18th Vow.
In his 18th Vow, Dharmakara Bodhisattva made his achievement of buddhahood conditional upon the rebirth of sentient beings in his Pure Land through the mere recitation of his Name. No other bodhisattva dares make such a vow as it could potentially halt their progress toward buddhahood. Indeed, Dharmakara Bodhisattva took the risk of never becoming a buddha had he failed to accomplish his Great Vow of Deliverance.
A vow such as Dharmakara’s is an unimaginably difficult task that is almost impossible to achieve. The numbers of sentient beings in the ten directions are inconceivable, their karmic offenses are inconceivably heavy, and the merits and virtues needed for them to become buddha-like beings are inconceivably many.
However, after deep meditative practice for five kalpas, and bodhisattva practices spanning uncountable kalpas, Dharmakara Bodhisattva fulfilled his 48 vows, including the 18th Vow, accomplished the buddha-land called the Land of Bliss, and became the buddha with the Name: Amitabha.
Even today, Amitabha continues to practice the boundless and immeasurable bodhisattva virtues on behalf of sentient beings in order to deliver them all without exception.
So among all the pure lands of all the buddhas, only Amitabha’s Land of Bliss is created for the enjoyment of others. If you wish to be reborn in a pure land, Amitabha’s Land of Bliss is the only choice. It also serves as an access point for all other buddha-lands of the Dharma realm.