How many species of living beings are there in the Land of Bliss?

- through Francois Leclercq

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According to Buddhist teachings, there are 10 kinds of living beings in the world (or Dharma Realm), namely: hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, asuras, human beings, celestial beings, arhats (sravakas), pratyekabuddhas, bodhisattvas and buddhas.

The first three types of living beings live in the Three Wretched Realms. The first six types are "ordinary beings" who reincarnate into the Six Realms (also known as the Three Realms). The last four types of living beings are "sacred beings" who are not subject to samsara, the cycle of birth and death.

This classification is based on the mental state of the being in question, resulting from individual karma according to the law of cause and effect. For example, the main causes of becoming an infernal being, a hungry ghost or an animal are hatred, greed and delusion respectively. To be born as a human or celestial being, one must practice the good karma of the Five Precepts (or the Five Human Virtues) and the Ten Wholesome Actions, respectively.

The Sacred Realm is a realm for those who have already been freed from the cycle of birth and death. Arhats et pratyekabuddhaWe did this by practicing the Four Noble Truths and the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination respectively. Dwelling in the highest realms of the Sacred Domain, bodhisattvas cultivate the Six Paramitas and a myriad of practices.

Our world is known as the Land of Saha, which is a conditioned realm subject to the endless cycle of birth and death. “Saha” means “endurance in suffering”.

Thus, Shakyamuni Buddha always advises and exhorts us to aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, where Amitabha Buddha lives. How many species of living beings are there in the Land of Bliss?

Some Buddhists, based on Amitabha's first vow—the non-existence of the three miserable realms—and subtract three of the ten types of living beings in the land of Saha. Thus, it is asserted that there are seven kinds of living beings in the Land of Bliss.

Four Types of Beings in the Fourfold Land

Most people examine the 48 vows of Amitabha, and they find that "four" kinds of living beings are mentioned, namely: (1) human and celestial beings, (2) sravakas(3) bodhisattvas and (4) Amitabha Buddha.

Following the doctrinal teaching of the Tiantai school, the patriarchs set up a model of the Quadruple Earth to accommodate the "four" kinds of living beings in the Land of Bliss:

1. Land for ordinary and sacred beings – the four species living together there as in the Land of Saha.

2. Opportunity Land of Non-Ultimacy – only Sravakas or above can access this quadruple land tier.

3. Earth Adorned with True Reward – restricted access to bodhisattvas and Amitabha Buddha only.

4. Land of constant light in stillness – only for Amitabha Buddha for his own pleasure.

This model is logical and commonly accepted by most Buddhists because its interpretation of the Land of Bliss is based on a conventional bodhisattva teaching that a Dharma practitioner cultivates the mind in stages toward Buddhahood in the Dharma realm.

Three types of beings mentioned in the Amitabha Sutra

Other Pure Land practitioners disagree with the model referenced above and support their position with these statements from the Amitabha Sutra:

1. “An immeasurable and unlimited number of sravaka followers”;

2. “His assembly of bodhisattvas is equally broad and deep”;

3. “All sentient beings born in the Land of Bliss inhabit the Stage of Non-Regression (Bodhisattva of the 48th Stage). Many of them are on the stage of becoming a Buddha after one more life (51st stage bodhisattva).

Thus, there should be no human and heavenly beings in the Land of Bliss. Moreover, none of the three Pure Land Sutras mention the Quadruple Earth pattern in reference to the Land of Bliss.

Since sutra mention " sravaka disciples", it must refer to those who are disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha, to of Amitabha Buddha. " Sravakadesignates their status in the Land of Saha before their birth in the Land of Bliss. Once they are reborn in the Land of Bliss, they become bodhisattvas at the Stage of Non-Regression. This interpretation is also aligned with Nagarjuna Bodhisattva's classification of the Pure Land teaching in his chapter on the easy path.

But these points raise a serious question: if all sentient beings who are reborn in the Land of Bliss remain at the Stage of Non-regression, are there two types of Bodhisattvas in the Land of Bliss, one being at stage 48, and the other at stage 51?

The land of bliss is the realm of unconditioned nirvana – equal in one form

Let us refer to a paragraph of Infinite Life Sutra:

This land of Buddha, like the realm of unconditioned Nirvana, is pure and serene, resplendent and happy. The sravakas, bodhisattvas, celestial beings and humans have lofty and brilliant wisdom there and are masters of supernatural powers. They are all of the same form, without any difference, but are called "heavenly beings" and "humans" simply by analogy with the states of existence in other worlds. They have a noble and majestic face, unequaled in any world, and their appearance is superb, unequaled by any being, celestial or human. They are all endowed with bodies of Natural, Emptiness and Infinity.

This quote from sutra clearly explains that the Land of Bliss is a realm where Buddhas dwell, so it is the realm of unconditioned Nirvana (i.e., a realm of no birth and no death). It is absolute because the beings there naturally attain the same form, without any difference separating them.

The so-called "human and celestial beings" and "sravakasand 'Bodhisattvas' are simply mentioned by analogy with the states of existence in other worlds before they were born in the Land of Bliss.

Thus, in Amitabha's Land of Bliss, a "land of reward" adorned with Amitabha's unequaled and splendid merit and virtues, the only type of "living being" exists in the form of light, the same as Amitabha Buddha!

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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