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"May You Be Born in the West in Sukhavati" by Larry Cappel

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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In two of the dedication prayers that we often sing at Sukhasiddhi we ask to go to the purelands at the end of this life. In Milarepa's song we sing, "Next life, may we meet in the pure realm," referring to Akshobya's pure realm, and in Khenpo Tsultrim's song we sing, "May you be born in the west in Sukhavati," which in Sanskrit is the Buddha Amitabha's pureland, also

known in Tibetan as Dewachen. Sukhavati is considered to be the most accessible pureland for humans to gain entry into. Of the five Buddha families, Buddha Amitabha is the main Buddha of the Lotus family, usually portrayed in the western direction of the Buddha family mandala. Every Buddha has a pureland but it is taught that they have much more difficult entry requirements then the Sukhavati pureland.


Today what is called the Pureland approach to Buddhism is most commonly found in Japanese Buddhist traditions. The Pureland schools of Buddhism are sometimes called the "other power" school of Buddhism, focusing on surrender, faith, and devotion as the path to enlightenment. This is in contrast to the Zen tradition which historically focused more on "self-power," doing the

hard work of meditating and working to resolve your own issues as the path to enlightenment. The Tibetan tradition holds both of these views as two of many skillful means for attaining enlightenment. In both of these songs by our great masters we are encouraged to develop faith and devotion as well as doing the hard work of meditation.


According to what Buddha Shakyamuni taught in The Larger and Smaller Sukhavati Sutras, many ages ago the monk Dharmakara vowed that once he attained Buddhahood, all who believed in him and called upon his name could be born into his paradise (the Pureland) and reside there until achieving Nirvana. Dharmakara then spent many eons obtaining the necessary merit and wisdom to

become a Buddha. He then "cashed it in" to create Sukhavati, thus completing his vow and becoming the Buddha Amitabha. As a result of his vow, his Pureland, Sukavati, came into being and is considered the most accessible pureland for us ordinary beings. Reaching it depends on the strength and sincerity of our wish to go there, our devotion, and in training in the

practice of Phowa, the transference of consciousness practice. Devotion to Buddha Amitabha means devotion to what he represents: the limitlessness of compassion and the infinite responsiveness of the awakened state to the sufferings of living beings. In the Vajrayana tradition we consider Amitabha to be inseparable with the awakened mind of our own teacher(s).


Buddha Shakyamuni went on to explain that Sukhavati is the ideal environment to study and practice the dharma and to gain enlightenment. In the short Sukhavati Sutra Buddha Shakyamuni stated to his disciple Sariputra:


Those living beings who hear should vow, 'I wish to be born in that country.' And why? Those who thus attain are all superior and good people, all coming together in one place. Sariputra, one cannot have few good roots, blessings, virtues, and causal connections to attain birth in that Land. Sariputra, if there is a good man or good woman who hears spoken 'Amitabha Buddha'

and holds the name, whether for one day, two days, three, four, five days, six days, as long as seven days, with one heart unconfused, when this person approaches the end of life, before him will appear Amitabha Buddha and all the assembly of Holy Ones. When the end comes, his heart is without inversion; in Amitabha Buddha's Land of Ultimate Bliss he will attain rebirth. Sariputra, because I see this benefit, I speak these words: If living beings hear this spoken they should make the vow, 'I will be born in that land.'


It would not be entirely correct to think of Sukhavati as a physical place, some kind of world that we go to. In order to understand this we need to remember the teachings on emptiness and remember that all the six realms of existence exist in the mind, something that is hard to remember when our everyday circumstances seem to conform perfectly to our karmic projection

patterns. From a relative point of view we talk about Sukhavati as a place created by the Buddhas for our benefit. But from an absolute point of view the pureland is our pure vision. So, when we "go" to Sukhavati we are not going to a different physical world. Instead we are transferring our consciousness to a new awareness with different perceptions, a state of mind more

receptive to attaining enlightenment. Sukhavati is not complete enlightenment, but a place where the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas constantly provide dharma teachings in the best possible environment for development on the path. We experience the earth and our realm as being very real, and Sukhavati or Dewachen can be as real to us as the earth and human realm are to us now. They are both real in a relative sense: they are apparent reality, which in actuality is inseparable with what we call emptiness.


In the longer Sukhavati Sutra Buddha Shakyamuni describes in great detail what Sukhavati is like. It sounds like a glorious place where the birds sing the dharma, beautiful bathing pools automatically adjust their depth and temperature, all the plants have delicious edible fruit, the teachings of the dharma sound themselves spontaneously, and many many other glorious details.

All this, of course, is done to create an ideal environment to study and practice the dharma without the distractions that we experience here in the desire realm. As dedicated dharma students who study diligently and develop the qualities of devotion, merit and wisdom we are all welcome in Sukhavati. May we all meet again in the pure realms and aspire to do as Khenpo Tsultrim instructs in his song: "And once you're born there, complete the bhumis (stages of the bodhisattva path) and the paths (five paths: accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation, and completion.)"


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