Thought and Ideas

A pure land on earth

◎ Master Sheng Yen

Good Luck

The concept of a pure land on Earth that Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM) promotes is no illusion or fantasy, like a castle in the air. Rather, it is a reality that each and every one of us can experience in real life.

The intention of building a pure land on Earth is not to move the pure lands of the Buddhas in other parts of the universe to Earth, nor does it set out to manifest on Earth of today the scenery of pure lands as described in the Amitabha Sutra, the Medicine Buddha Sutra, the Akshobhya Buddha’s Land Sutra, and the Sutra of Maitreya’s Descending to Our World. Instead, it applies the concepts of the Buddhadharma to purify people’s minds, and applies the exemplary lifestyle of Buddhists to purify our societies. By means of purifying our thoughts, life, and minds and by putting in step-by-step, persistent endeavor, we work to achieve the purification of the social and natural environment.

On many occasions I have emphasized that as long as your mind is pure for the duration of one thought, you will be in a pure land for the duration of that very thought. If your mind can be pure for the duration of ten or hundred or thousand thoughts, then in that time you will experience the pure land. In the environment we live in, if there is only one person whose mind is pure for one thought, then there will be one person who sees the pure land during one thought; if there are ten or hundred or thousand people sharing the same aspiration, and wish to experience purity during one thought, then there will be ten or hundred or thousand people who see the pure land in that time. This idea can be found in Zongjing Lu (the Records of the Axiom Mirror) Chan Master Yongming Yanshou (904-975 AD), which repeatedly states, “When your mind accords during one thought, you are the Buddha in one thought. When your mind accords from one thought to another, you are the Buddha from one thought to another.” In the late Ming dynasty, Master Ouyi Zhixu (1599-1655 AD) also quoted the same two sentences several times in his work, Lingfeng Zonglun (Lingfeng’s Discussion on the Teachings).

In modern times Master Taixu advocated humanistic Buddhism and promoted the Maitreya Pure Land. Venerable Master Dongchu, my late teacher, carried on this thought to found Humanity Magazine, and upheld the cause of humanistic Buddhism. The advocacy of Venerable Master Yinshun (1906-2005) that “the Buddha was in the human world” is based on the saying of the Ekottara-Agama Sutra that “all Buddhas come from the human world.” I have followed in the steps of the sages of the past to advocate the pure land on Earth. In addition to expressing in various ways the viability of building a pure land on Earth, I have also given lectures on the topic to articulate the necessity of building a pure land on Earth.

A pure land on Earth is the Buddha’s core message

The Shakyamuni Buddha that we read of in the earliest Buddhist canon, including the four Agama Sutras and the various divisions of the vinaya canon, was a sage with a most humanistic spirit. The examples he set by his verbal teachings and physical actions are all directed to the purpose of purifying people’s minds and purifying society, guiding people how to live in a pure, diligent, simple, and peaceful manner. For example, the primary content articulated in the Agamas covers the five fields for progressing spiritually: virtue, faith, precepts, meditation, and wisdom. It encourages everyone, including lay people, to embrace at the very least virtue, faith, and the five precepts (from not killing up to abstaining from drinking alcohol). If they can further practice meditation and wisdom, they will be able to achieve liberation. If all humanity can embrace the Buddha’s advice, then although not everyone may achieve liberation, there will be no more wars, massacres, mutual deceit, terror, evil, and other negative behavior. Well, doesn’t this add up to a pure land on Earth? The various divisions of Vinaya codes are set down to purify the conducts of humanity, and echo the teachings of the Agamas.

A pure mind is a pure land


Everywhere in the Mahayana sutras it states that as long as a person’s thoughts and behavior are purified, he or she will perceive the world as a pure Buddha land. The Avatamsaka Sutra starts by saying, “At a certain time the Buddha attained the supreme enlightenment at the tranquil bodhi site in the kingdom of Magadha. The ground was as solid like a diamond, and completely magnificent and pure.” That is to say, upon achieving Buddhahood, the world where the Buddha resides is a pure land for the Buddha.

The Expedient Means Chapter in the Lotus Sutra says, “The Buddhas appear in the evil worlds of the five impurities,” which refers to real worlds. They utilize the power of expedient means to guide the humankind and sentient beings in those impure worlds “to enter the Buddha path.” It even says, “If persons with scattered minds enter a stupa or temple and chant ‘homage to the Buddha’ one single time, they will all have achieved the Buddha path.” That is to say, even when an ordinary person whose mind is filled with scattered, deluded thoughts enters a Buddhist monastery and recites the phrase “homage to the Buddha” only once, then the one thought that he or she generates is identical to the Buddha path, and he or she will dwell in a Buddha land too.

The Buddha Land Chapter in the Vimalakirti Sutra states, “By relying on the Buddha’s wisdom, one can see that the land of this Buddha is pure.” “Because they don’t rely on the Buddha’s Wisdom, they perceive this land as impure.” It also says, “If a person’s mind is pure, he will see the merit and magnificence of this land.” “The Buddha’s wisdom” mentioned above is identical to the quality of the higher wisdom referred to in the Agamas. The teachings in the Mahayana and Theravada canons are all based on the precepts, concentration, wisdom, which are the Three Studies without outflows, and their teachings on the eightfold noble path, six paramitas, and three doors to liberations are all applied to working toward the Buddhist practice goal of developing the Buddha’s wisdom. Regardless of which schools and denominations they belong to, all the Buddhist teachings ultimately regard the development of the Buddha’s wisdom as the consummation of practice.

Methods for building a pure land on Earth

Once we look at the world with the Buddha’s wisdom, we will perceive that the pure land is everywhere. Most of us have not yet developed the Buddha’s wisdom, but if we can learn to apply the concepts and methods for uncovering the Buddha’s wisdom, we’d try our utmost to steer away from harboring evil intentions, doing evil deeds, and creating evil karma. Although we are unable to achieve complete purity all at once, it will make it much easier to avoid engendering evil thoughts and deeds from within compared to people will not accept Buddhism, and don’t want to learn and practice it. In Mahayana Buddhism, the Vimalakirti Sutra advocates that “When the mind becomes pure, the Buddha land also becomes pure,” while the Avatamsaka Sutra asserts that “One should contemplate the nature of all things in the Dharmadhatu, and realize that they are all created by the mind,” and that “The mind, like a skillful painter, paints all sorts of skandhas.” They all emphasize that humanity’s purity or impurity of mind will cause our outlook on life and on the world to change, thereby determining the purity or impurity of the world we live in.

Therefore, in order to purify the world, we should focus on purifying people’s minds; in order to save humanity and world; we should rescue the minds of humanity. Shakyamuni Buddha preached the Dharma for over forty years with the purpose to saving the minds of humanity, too. We at Dharma Drum Mountain have also launched a Protecting the Spiritual Environment campaign, that actually applies Shakyamuni Buddha’s legacy. In accordance with the fundamental Buddhist tenets of suffering, emptiness, impermanence, and no-self, we conduct the transmission of Bodhisattva precepts, and promote spiritual practice activities such as recitation of the Buddha’s name, repentance ceremonies, and in particular different types and levels of Chan retreats and spiritual growth camps. We advocate an equal emphasis on Buddhist studies and practice in daily life; we encourage striking a balance between the cultivation of compassion and wisdom, and demonstrating devotion to benefiting ourselves and benefiting others in tandem. At the same time we have launched the Protecting the Social Environment campaign, in order to develop from inner purification to its implementation in external deportment, and through the implementation of external deportment to manifest inner purification. This applies Buddhist ideas and methods to work toward reforming unwholesome social customs in the hope of uplifting the character of the people and upholding the dignity of humanity.

(Excerpts from the article “What Is a Pure Land on Earth?” and the booklet “A Pure Land on Earth” by Master Sheng Yen)