Essence of the Infinite Life Sutra – Excerpt Twenty-Six

[Those Bodhisattvas] have a mind of great compassion and of bringing benefits to all beings. They discard all attachments and accomplish infinite merits and virtues.

“Great” refers to a pure and impartial mind—such a mind is free of discrimination and attachment. Great compassion is compassion from a pure mind and an impartial mind.

This excerpt tells us that the bodhisattvas of the Western Pure Land have the ability to travel to all the Buddha Lands and to any place in the entire Dharma Realm. The sutras teach that the past has no beginning and the future has no end. From this, we know that space (in Buddhism it is called Dharma Realm) is immensely vast. This is the area the bodhisattvas cover in their travels—the vastness of the Dharma Realm. If they have an affinity with a place, they will manifest themselves there to benefit the beings.

The conditions are mature for some beings but are not for others. If a being does not have the conditions, one should help the being develop the conditions. If the conditions of a being are not yet mature, one should help them mature. If the conditions of a being have matured, one should guide that being to attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land.

The standard for mature conditions in the Pure Land school is different from those in other schools. In other schools, a practitioner needs to completely eradicate all afflictions and attain great awakening. In the Pure Land school, a practitioner needs to have true belief, be willing to make the vow, and sincerely chant the Buddha-name. Such a practitioner is a being whose conditions have matured. This cultivation is easier than in other schools.

Throughout the boundless worlds in the ten directions, the bodhisattvas of the Land of Ultimate Bliss (1) seek the Buddha-dharma and (2) help all beings. When they seek the Buddha dharma, they are not attached to the act of seeking. When they help beings, they are not attached to the act of helping. They discard all attachments and teach all beings. This way, they are able to attain infinite merits and virtues.

In “merits and virtues,” “merits” refers to effort, and “virtues” refers to result. “Merits” is the cause; “virtues” is the result. How does one cultivate merits? The Buddha taught us these three principles—which are the Three Learnings to preserve [our merits and virtues]: precepts, meditative concentration, and wisdom.

One practices according to the precepts, meditative concentration, and wisdom. For example, if one observes the precepts and attains meditative concentration, precept observation is “merits” [effort], and meditative concentration is “virtues” [result]. If one cultivates meditative concentration and attains awakening, the cultivation of meditative concentration is “merits,” and awakening is “virtues.”

If one observes the precepts but does not have meditative concentration, then this is not considered as “merits and virtues.” There is “merits” [effort] but no “virtues” [result]. Here, precept observation will turn into good fortune—one will have good fortune in the human or heavenly path in the next lifetime.

If one cultivates meditative concentration but does not attain awakening, one will have the karmic result of being reborn in the heavens, in the Form Realm or the Formless Realm—one will not transcend the Three Realms. This good fortune [of being reborn into the heavens] is minuscule. If one attains enlightenment and uncovers one’s true nature, one will transcend the Three Realms.

“Infinite merits and virtues” signifies the attainment of Buddhahood. Only when one is a Buddha will one be replete with “infinite merits and virtues.” This is our ultimate goal in learning Buddhism.

How do we accomplish infinite merits and virtues? By discarding all attachments. From this we can see that the reason why we cannot succeed in our practice is due to our not being able to let go of our attachments. Therefore, we should not be attached to either worldly phenomena or supramundane teachings. If we can discard all wandering thoughts and attachments, we will attain infinite merits and virtues.

If there is even one thing that we cannot discard or let go of, we will not have any achievement. But to let go is truly hard. Because of this, infinite great compassion arose in Amitabha Buddha, and he established a special cultivation place in the Dharma Realm for learning and practice—for beings like us who cannot let go to also have achievement. This is inconceivable!

With the cultivation places of all the other Buddhas in the ten directions, one must let go of both worldly phenomena and supramundane teachings before one can be reborn there. But, only in the land of Amitabha Buddha, [while letting go is ideal,] not letting go is also alright. This way, everyone will be truly helped and awakened.

When we get to the Western Pure Land, Amitabha Buddha and the beings of superior goodness (in other words, the great bodhisattvas) will help us discard all our attachments so that we can attain supreme enlightenment.