A Collection of Passages
on the Types of Birth in
the Three Pure Land Sutras

 

[ Birth in accord with the Larger Sutra ]

^Birth in accord with the Larger Sutra is ^[brought about by] the Tathagata’s selected Primal Vow, the inconceivable oceanlike Vow. This is Other Power. ^In other words, by the cause of the Vow of birth through the nembutsu, we gain the fruit of the Vow of necessary attainment of nirvana. ^In this life we dwell in the stage of the truly settled and we necessarily attain the true and real fulfilled land. ^Thus, because of the true cause―Amida Tathagata’s directing of virtue for our going forth―we realize the enlightenment of supreme nirvana. ^This is the true intent of the Larger Sutra. Hence, it is termed “birth in accord with the Larger Sutra,” and also “birth that is inconceivable.”

[ AMIDA’S DIRECTING OF VIRTUE FOR
OUR GOING FORTH TO THE PURE LAND ]

[ Practice ]

^Concerning the Tathagata’s directing of virtue for our going forth, there is the true and real act of practice. It is expressed in the compassionate Vow that all the Buddhas say the Name. ^The compassionate Vow of saying the Name is stated in the Larger Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life:

^If, when I attain Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters do not all praise and say my Name, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

 ^The passage teaching the fulfillment of the compassionate Vows of saying the Name and of true entrusting is stated in the sutra:

^The Buddha-tathagatas throughout the ten quarters, countless as the sands of the Ganges, are one in praising the majestic power and the virtues, inconceivably profound, of the Buddha of immeasurable life.

 ^All sentient beings, as they hear the Name, realize even one thought-moment of shinjin and joy, which is directed to them from Amida’s sincere mind, and aspiring to be born in that land, they then attain birth and dwell in the stage of nonretrogression. Excluded are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right dharma.

[ Shinjin ]

^Further, there is true and real shinjin. It is expressed in the compassionate Vow of birth through the nembutsu. ^The compassionate Vow of true entrusting is stated in the Larger Sutra:

^If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters, with sincere mind entrusting themselves, aspiring to be born in my land, and saying my Name perhaps even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment. Excluded are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right dharma.

^In the Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life, another translation of the same sutra, this Vow is stated:

^If, when I have realized the supreme enlightenment, living beings in other Buddha lands should hear my Name, I will with sincere mind direct all my roots of good to them. Aspiring to be born in my land, they shall say may Name perhaps even ten times. If they should not be born there, may I not attain enlightenment. Excluded are those who commit evil acts that condemn them to Avīci hell and those who slander the right dharma or the sages.

[ Realization ]

^Further, there is true and real realization. It is expressed in the compassionate Vow of necessary attainment of nirvana. ^The compassionate Vow of realization is stated in the Larger Sutra:

^If, when I attain Buddhahood, the human beings and devas in my land do not dwell among the settled and necessarily attain nirvana, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

^In the Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life, another translation of the same sutra, this Vow is stated:

^If, when I become Buddha, the sentient beings in my land do not decidedly attain the equal of perfect enlightenment, so that they realize great nirvana, may I not attain enlightenment.

^The Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life states:

^When, upon hearing the Name of the Tathagata of immeasurable life, sentient beings of the Buddha-lands of other quarters awaken one thought-moment of pure shinjin, rejoice, and―cherishing Amida’s directing of his roots of good to them―aspire to be born in the land of immeasurable life, then all shall be born in accord with their aspiration, attaining the stage of nonretrogression and, ultimately, the supreme perfect enlightenment. Excluded are those who commit the five evil acts that condemn them to Avīci hell and those who slander the right dharma or the sages.

 ^The passage teaching the fulfillment of the Vow of necessary attainment of nirvana, of realization of great nirvana, is stated in the Larger Sutra:

^The sentient beings born in that land all dwell among the truly settled, for in that Buddha-land there is not one who is falsely settled or not settled.

^Further, in the Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life, it is stated:

^All the sentient beings of that land and those to be born there are brought to thorough fulfillment of supreme enlightenment and reach the abode of nirvana. Why is this? Because those who are falsely settled or not settled cannot comprehend [the Buddha’s intent in] establishing the cause [of birth there].

 ^The Buddha has vowed that persons who realize this true and real saying of the Name and true and real entrusting shall immediately be brought to dwell in the stage of the truly settled. ^Dwelling among the truly settled is also taught to be attainment of the stage equal to perfect enlightenment. Attainment of the stage equal to perfect enlightenment is taught to be attainment of the same stage as Maitreya Bodhisattva, who is in the rank of succession to Buddhahood. ^Thus, the Larger Sutra states [that such a person] is “next [to enlightenment], like Maitreya.”

^The Treatise on the Pure Land states:

^Concerning “the fulfillment of the adornment of the virtue of wondrous sound,” the gatha states:

The land’s pure sound deeply enlightens beings far and wide;

Subtle and wondrous, it is heard throughout the ten quarters.

^Why is this inconceivable? The sutra declared, “Those who, simply hearing of the purity and happiness of that land, earnestly desire to be born there, and those who attain birth, immediately enter the stage of the truly settled.” This shows that the land’s very name performs the Buddha’s work [of saving others]. How can this be conceived? . . .

^Concerning “the fulfillment of the adornment of the virtue of fellow beings,” the gatha states:

The beings of the Tathagata’s pure lotus

Are born transformed from the lotus of perfect enlightenment.

^Why is this inconceivable? In this world of miscellaneous modes of births, whether beings are born from womb, egg, or moisture or by sudden metamorphosis, their fellow beings are numerous, and these fellow beings experience pain and pleasure in a myriad variations because of their diverse karmas. In that land of happiness, every single being is born transformed from the pure lotus of Amida Tathagata’s perfect enlightenment, for they are the same in practicing the nembutsu and follow no other way. This extends even to this world, so that all nembutsu practicers within the four seas are brothers and sisters. The fellow beings are innumerable. How can this be conceived?

^Further, it states:

^Although there are initially nine grades among those aspiring for birth, now [in the Pure Land] there are no distinctions whatever. It is like the waters of the Tzu and Sheng becoming one in taste upon entering the sea. How can this be conceived?

^Further, the Treatise states:

^Concerning “the fulfillment of the adornment of the virtue of purity,” the gatha states:

Contemplating the features of the world,

I see that it transcends the three realms.

^Why is this inconceivable? When foolish beings possessed of blind passions attain birth in the Pure Land, they are not bound by the karmic fetters of the three realms. That is, without severing blind passions, they realize nirvana itself. How can this be conceived?

 ^We see [expressed in the above passages] the selected Primal Vow that embodies Amida Tathagata’s directing of virtue for our going forth. [The birth in accord with the working of] this Vow is called “birth that is inconceivable.” Understanding this, know that Other Power is such that no working is true working.

[ AMIDA’S DIRECTING OF VIRTUE FOR
OUR RETURN TO THIS WORLD ]

^Second, there is Amida’s directing of virtue for our return. Concerning it, the Treatise on the Pure Land states:

^[Our return] is brought about by the directing of virtue through the power of the Primal Vow; it is called “the fifth gate of emergence.”

^This is the directing of virtue for our return. It is expressed in the compassionate Vow of attainment of the rank of “succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime.”

 ^The Vow of great love and great compassion is stated in the Larger Sutra:

^When I attain Buddhahood, the bodhisattvas of other Buddha-lands who come and are born in my land will ultimately and unfailingly attain [the rank of] “succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime”―except for those who, in accordance with their own original vows freely to guide others to enlightenment, don the armor of universal vows for the sake of sentient beings, accumulate roots of virtue, emancipate all beings, travel to Buddha-lands to perform bodhisattva practicers, make offerings to all the Buddhas and Tathagatas throughout the ten quarters, awaken sentient beings countless as the sands of the Ganges, and bring them to abide firmly in the unexcelled, right, true way. Such bodhisattvas surpass ordinary ones, manifest the practices of all the bodhisattva stages, and discipline themselves in the virtue of Samantabhadra. Should it not be so, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

^This compassionate Vow is the Vow of the Tathagata’s directing virtue for our return to this world.

 ^The person who realizes true and real shinjin* through the Tathagata’s two aspects of directing virtue necessarily dwells in the stage of the truly settle; hence, this is called Other Power. ^Thus, the Gatha of Aspiration for Birth: An Upadeśa on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life states:

^How is directing of virtue accomplished? It is by never abandoning any sentient being in suffering, but constantly aspiring in the heart to fulfill the mind of great compassion, taking the directing of virtue as foremost.

 ^Vasubandhu teaches this to be the true intent of the Larger Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life. It is birth that is inconceivable.

[ Birth in accord with the Contemplation Sutra ]

^Concerning birth in accord with the Contemplation Sutra, ^through the Vow of performing meritorious acts, one is brought to awaken sincere mind and aspiration and, directing one’s own good accumulated through the myriad good acts and practices, to aspire for the Pure Land. ^Thus, in the Sutra of Contemplation on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, the various kinds of good acts―meditative and nonmeditative good, the three types of meritorious conduct and the good acts done by the nine grades of beings―and the saying of the nembutsu in self-power are expounded, and the ways of birth of the nine grades of beings are taught. ^The sutra takes self-power within the Other Power teaching as its central purport. ^For this reason, the kinds of birth in accord with the Contemplation Sutra are all birth into the provisional transformed lands. This is called “birth attained beneath twin śāla trees.”

 ^The Vow of sincere mind and aspiration is stated in the Larger Sutra:

^If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters―awakening the mind of enlightenment and performing meritorious acts―should aspire with sincere mind and desire to be born in my land, and yet I should not appear before them at the moment of death surrounded by a host of sages, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

^Further, the “Chapter on Great Beneficence” in the Sutra of the Lotus of Compassion states:

^I vow that when I have attained supreme enlightenment, if sentient beings of the countless, innumerable, incalculable other Buddha-realms should awaken the mind aspiring for highest, perfect enlightenment, practice roots of good, and desire to be born in my realm, I will appear before them surrounded by a host of sages. Upon seeing me, those people will, in my presence, attain joy in their hearts. Because they see me, they will be freed of all their obstructions and will immediately be born in my realm when their lives end.

^The passage declaring the fulfillment of the Vow of sincere mind and aspiration is stated in the Larger Sutra:

^The Buddha said to Ānanda, “There are devas and human beings throughout the ten quarters who, with sincere mind, aspire to be born in that land. There are three levels. Those of the highest level, abandoning their homes and discarding desires, become monks. Awakening the mind aspiring for enlightenment, they wholeheartedly think solely on the Buddha of immeasurable life, perform various virtuous acts and spire to be born in that land. When these sentient beings are about to die, the Buddha of immeasurable life, together with a host of sages, appears before them. . . . Ānanda, there are sentient beings who, while in this world, desire to behold the Buddha of immeasurable life. They should, awakening the mind aspiring for supreme enlightenment, practice virtuous acts in aspiration for birth in that land.”

 ^The Buddha said to Ānanda, “Those of the middle level are devas and human beings of the worlds throughout the ten quarters who, with sincere mind, aspire to be born in that land. Although incapable of performing practices, becoming monks, and accomplishing great virtue, they should, awakening the mind aspiring for supreme enlightenment and wholeheartedly thinking solely on the Buddha of immeasurable life, perform some good, observe precepts of abstinence, raise stupas and statues, give alms to monks, hang temple banners, light lamps, scatter flowers, and burn incense. Directing the merit of these acts, they should aspire to be born in that land. When these people are about to die, . . . fully like the true Buddha, a host of sages will appear before them. . . .”

 ^The Buddha told Ānanda, “Those of the lowest level are devas and human beings of the worlds throughout the ten quarters who, with sincere mind, desire to be born in that land. Even though they may not be able to do various virtuous acts, they should indeed, awakening the mind aspiring for supreme enlightenment, wholeheartedly and with singleness of mind think on the Buddha of immeasurable life even ten times and aspire to be born in that land. When they hear the profound dharma, they rejoice and entrust themselves to it without giving rise to even a single thought of doubt, and thinking on the Buddha, with sincere mind they aspire to be born in that land. When these people are about to die, they, seeing the Buddha in a dream, also attain birth. In virtue and wisdom, they are next to those of the middle level.”

^The Larger Sutra states:

^If, when I attain Buddhahood, any bodhisattvas [in my land], even those of little virtue are unable to perceive the bodhi-tree of immeasurable light and countless colors and four million miles in height, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

^The passage declaring the fulfillment of the Vow of the bodhi-tree states:

^Further, the bodhi-tree of the Buddha of immeasurable life is four million miles in height, with a girth, at its base, of fifty yojanas. Its branches and leaves spread two hundred thousand miles in the four directions. It is formed naturally of a composite of all kinds of gems. The kings of gems―the moon-radiant mani-jewel and the ocean-supporting-wheel gem―adorn it. Everywhere amid its branches hang jewel adornments. There are a hundred thousand myriads of colors that change in various ways. Immeasurable light illuminates without bound. Nets of rare and wondrous jewels cover it. . . . All attain profound insight into existence and dwell in the stage of nonretrogression. Until they attain the enlightenment of Buddhahood, their six sense organs are clear and penetrating and they are free of all affliction and sickness.

^In Essentials for Attaining Birth by [Genshin,] the Master of Shuryōgon-in, the Commentary of Master Huai-kan is cited:

^Question: The Sutra of the Bodhisattvas’ Dwelling in the Womb, fascicle two, states:

In the western quarter, twenty kotis of nayutas from this Jambudvīpa continent, is the realm of indolence and pride. . . . Sentient beings who have awakened aspiration and desire to be born in Amida Buddha’s land are all deeply attached to the land of indolence and pride and cannot advance to birth in Amida’s land. At times only one of millions upon millions of beings is able to attain birth in Amida’s land.

Based on this sutra, the question arises of whether it is possible to attain birth at all?

 ^Answer: In Response to Various Questions Concerning the Pure Land Teaching, the previously cited passage of Master Shan-tao is quoted to answer this criticism, and further the author himself adds:

The next passage in the sutra states, “For since they are indolent and complacent, their resolve lacks firmness.” Thus we know that those who engage in sundry practices are people of infirm resolve. For this reason they are born in the realm of indolence and pride. If you do not engage in sundry practices, but solely perform this act, then you are firm of resolve and will definitely attain birth in the land of bliss. . . . Further, those born in the fulfilled Pure Land are extremely few; those born in the transformed Pure Land are many. Therefore, the different teachings in the sutras are in fact not at variance with each other.

 ^You should well understand the “Birth attained beneath twin śāla trees” taking into consideration the meaning of these passages.

[ Birth in accord with the Amida Sutra ]

^Concerning birth in accord with the Amida Sutra, ^through the Vow of cultivating the root of virtue, one enters the “true” gate of ultimate attainment of birth in the Pure Land; choosing the Name that is the root of good or of virtue, one leaves aside the small good of the myriad good acts and practices. ^Nevertheless, the practicers of meditative and nonmeditative good by self-power doubt the inconceivable wisdom of the Buddha and do not accept it. Taking the Name of the Tathagata as their own root of good, they direct their own merit toward birth in the Pure Land and rely on the Vow that beings ultimately attain birth. ^While saying the inconceivable Name, they doubt the Vow of great compassion, which is indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable. Their offense being grave and heavy, they are chained in a prison made of the seven precious materials, where they pass five hundred years. During that time, they are unable to act freely and do not see or devote themselves to the three treasures; this Śākyamuni has taught. ^But because they say the Tathagata’s Name, they are still able to remain in the womb-palace. Because it comes about through the virtuous Name, it is called “birth that is noncomprehensible.” Know that, because of the offense of doubting the inconceivable Vow, it is not called “birth that is inconceivable.”

 ^The Vow of cultivating the root of virtue is stated in the Larger Sutra:

^If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters, on hearing my Name, should place their thoughts on my land, cultivate the root of all virtues, and direct their merits with sincere mind desiring to be born in my land, and yet not ultimately attain it, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.

^The Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life, another translation of the same sutra, states:

^If, when I become Buddha, all the sentient beings of the countless lands should hear my Name being expounded and, taking it as their own root of good, direct their merits toward the land of bliss, and yet not attain birth, may I not attain enlightenment.

^The passage declaring the fulfillment of this Vow is stated in the [Larger] Sutra:

^“Those who attain womblike birth dwell in palaces a hundred yojanas or five hundred yojanas in extent. Within, they each enjoy pleasures like those of Trāyastriṃśa heaven, all of which arise naturally.”

 ^Then Bodhisattva Maitreya said to the Buddha, “World-honored one, what cause or condition leads to the distinction between womblike birth and transformative birth among the human beings of that land?”

 ^The Buddha said to Maitreya, “Suppose there are sentient beings who, with minds full of doubts, aspire to be born in that land through the practice of various meritorious acts; unable to understand the Buddha-wisdom, the inconceivable wisdom, the ineffable wisdom, the all-encompassing wisdom of the Mahayana, the unequaled, peerless, and supremely excellent wisdom, they doubt these wisdoms and do not entrust themselves. And yet, believing in [the recompense of] evil and good, they aspire to be born in that land through cultivating the root of good. ^Such sentient beings will be born in the palace of that land, where for five hundred years they will never see the Buddha, hear the dharma of the sutras, or see the sacred host of bodhisattvas and sravakas. Hence, in that land this is known as womblike birth. . . . ^Know, Maitreya, that those of transformative birth are superior in wisdom; that those of womblike birth lack wisdom. . . .”

 ^The Buddha said to Maitreya, “Consider the case of the noble cakravartin-king, who possesses a prison embellished with the seven precious substances. It is adorned in manifold ways, furnished with a canopied bed, and hung with many silken banners. If young princes commit offenses against the king, they are imprisoned there and bound with gold chains. . . .”

 ^The Buddha said to Maitreya, “These sentient beings are precisely like that. Because they doubt the Buddha’s wisdom, they are born in a womb-palace. . . . ^If these sentient beings become aware of their past offenses and deeply repent, they desire to leave that place. . . . ^Know, Maitreya, that if even bodhisattvas embrace doubt, they lose the great benefit.”

^Further, the Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life states:

^The Buddha said to Maitreya, “Suppose there are sentient beings who, being possessed of doubts, accumulate roots of good and seek to realize the Buddha-wisdom, the universal wisdom, the inconceivable wisdom, the peerless wisdom, the majestically virtuous wisdom, the vast, all-encompassing wisdom. In their attachment to their roots of good, they cannot entrust themselves [to Buddha-wisdom]. For this reason, they dwell within the palace for five hundred years. . . ^As you see, Ajita, those of excellent wisdom have received transformative birth in lotus flowers of enlightenment through the power of vast wisdom and sit with legs crossed and soles upturned. When you see the inferior, . . . they have failed in their practice of meritorious acts. For this reason, without having fulfilled the true cause [of birth], they serve the Buddha of immeasurable life. All such people have come to be so through the past condition of embracing the faults of doubt. . . .”

 ^The Buddha said to Maitreya, “It is so, it is so. They may, being possessed of doubts, accumulate roots of good and seek to realize [various kinds of] wisdom, from Buddha-wisdom to the vast, all-encompassing wisdom; in their attachment to their roots of good, they cannot entrust themselves [to Buddha-wisdom]. Although they give rise to trust through hearing the Buddha’s Name and thus are born in that land, they cannot emerge from within the lotus bud. These sentient beings, enclosed within the flower-womb, feel as though they were within a garden or palace.”

^The Commentary of Shan-tao, the Master of Kuang-ming temple, states:

^They are enclosed within the flower and cannot emerge, or are born in the borderland, or fall into the womb-palace.

^Master Kyeong-heung states:

^It is because of doubting the Buddha-wisdom that, although born in that land, you remain in the borderland and are unable to receive the Buddha’s guidance. If you are to receive womblike birth, you must definitely part from it.

^You should well understand noncomprehensible birth taking into consideration these passages expressing the true teaching.

Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu

 

Copied on the second day of the third month,
Kōgen 2 [1257]

GUTOKU SHINRAN
At age 85