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Lions Roar : May 2006
There are six realms in samsara, and infinite Pure Lands, or paradises, outside samsara. We go where our karma impels. Nagarjuna says: Greed, hatred, and ignorance give rise to unvirtuous deeds. (Thoughts with) no greed, hatred, and ignorance give rise to virtuous deeds. Unvirtuous deeds cause all suffering and (births in) inferior realms. Virtuous deeds (cause births in) higher realms and happiness in all our lives. In particular, Nagarjuna explains: Hatred leads you to the hell realm. Greed leads you to the hungry ghost realm. Ignorance mostly leads you to the animal realm. Some modern Buddhists don’t accept rebirth and karma. These teachings, however, go back to the Buddha. The Lankavatara Sutra says: There are six realms of transmigration where beings take birth. They are the realms of gods, demigods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell. You take birth in those realms because of superior, middling, and evil karmas. There is much evidence to support the notion of rebirth. Many masters remember their past lives and see where they will be reborn. Apang Terton (1895–1944/5) told his family, “I will be reborn in the Sakya family. Come visit me when I am three.” Sure enough, Kyabje Sakya Trizin (1945–) was later born in the Sakya family and remembered details of his life as Apang Terton. When my own teacher, Kyabje Dodrup- chen Rinpoche, was a toddler, he described details of his previous life and Guru Padmasambhava’s Pure Land, which he had visited between lives. Tibet also has a remarkable tradition of delogs, or returners from death. Delogs travel extensively in other worlds until they revive, days later, to share what they learned. My new book, Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth, includes eleven such first-hand accounts. Although these delogs never met, their descriptions of the six realms, Pure Lands, and bardo are strikingly similar. Pure Lands It is at death that merit makes the greatest difference for our future. If we made merit and aspirations, we could go to a Pure Land, a paradise of light and love where beings become enlightened in one lifetime. Many of us like it here on Earth. For all its attributes, however, the human realm is filled with struggle and uncertainty. Who knows, if we come back here in our next life, whether we will have the leisure to practice? Also, human beings are highly emotional. There is no telling whether, in a fit of passion, we might make some big mistake and regress. However, in the Pure Lands, where we are supported by countless enlightened beings, we never regress or experience negative emotions. We evolve until we become enlightened. It is the ultimate example of positive karma building on itself until perfection is attained. Some people have the misimpression that going to the Pure Land is selfish. When beings first take rebirth there, they have clairvoyance and can help those with whom they were linked in their previous lives. As they grow, they do even more. When they become enlightened, they become a source of boundless service for all beings through infinite manifestations. Their manifestations appear wherever they can help. As the Vimalakirtinirdesha Sutra says, “It is impossible to liberate others while you are bound. It is possible to liberate others when you are free.” In Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth, I focus on Sukhavati, the Blissful Pure Land, as the easiest Pure Land to take rebirth in. Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, the body of love and wisdom, manifested it so that beings with good karma could take rebirth there without needing high spiritual realization. All we need are four causes. First we need to repeatedly think in detail about and visualize Amitabha and his Pure Land. If these perceptions become part of our mental habit, they will arise before us when we die. Second, we need merit, as the fuel to ferry us there. Third, we need to commit to lead all beings to the Pure Land, thus magnifying our merit. Fourth, we need to make strong aspirations and dedicate our merit as the cause of our and all beings’ rebirth in the Pure Land. This augments our merit many times and ensures that our merit goes towards rebirth there. Sometimes our obstructions and resistance to practice feel insurmountable. But if we stay on the path of training, accepting the teachings as they are, we will be making progress—whether we can see it or not—and the goal of peace, joy, and enlightenment will be ours to share with all. ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 65