Between heaven and earth, the Five Paths are separate and distinct. Good retribution, bad retribution, good fortune, and misfortune intermingle continually with one another. One has to bear them alone. No one else can take one’s place.
“Between heaven and earth, the Five Paths are separate and distinct.” “Between heaven and earth” refers to the universe. In the universe, there are infinite planets where human beings and advanced living beings live. The entire Dharma Realm is a place of our activity.
“The Five Paths” refers to the Six Paths. Asuras are found in four paths—the heavenly path, the human path, the animal path, and the path of hungry ghosts—but not in the hells path. So, these paths are called the Five Paths as the asura path is not counted as an additional path. When we talk about the Six Paths, we are referring to these paths: heavenly, human, asura (this refers specifically to the heavenly asuras), animal, hungry
ghosts, and hells. The Surangama Sutra talks about the Seven Paths, which are the Six Paths plus the path of immortals.
The heavenly path, the human path, the animal path, the path of hungry ghosts, and the hell path are the Five Paths that are separate and distinct.
“Good retribution, bad retribution.” This talks about the origin and the phenomena of the Five Paths. A virtuous mind and conduct will bring about rebirth into the heavenly or the human path. These are the good paths. An evil mind and conduct will bring about rebirth into the Three Evil Paths. Although people are in the human path, they are all different: there are those who are rich and those who are poor, those of high position and those of low position. This is because people have different individual karmas.
People born in the human path have the same shared karma. But in past lifetimes, they cultivated different goodness and good fortune. Those who cultivated great good fortune enjoy a good life in this lifetime. Those who cultivated little good fortune suffer many hardships and difficulties.
Causes and their resultant effects are very complex. Transmigration in the Six Paths is entirely the result of one’s good and bad deeds. If one’s physical, verbal, and mental karmas are virtuous, one will be reborn in the Three Good Paths. If the three karmas are bad, one will fall into the Three Evil Paths.
“Good fortune, and misfortune intermingle continually with each other.” There is good fortune in misfortune and misfortune in good fortune. Only a person with wisdom can clearly see this and adeptly make use of this.
An example of good fortune in misfortune is one who lives in poverty and is not sure when the next meal will be. As a result, this person feels that life is filled with suffering and wants to get out of this world—he or she lets go of all worldly concerns, sincerely chants the Buddha-name, attains rebirth in the Western Pure Land, and eventually attains Buddhahood. Thus, this person has good fortune.
[The Buddha said:] “Discipline oneself with a hard life.” As a result, one will have no attachment to this world and will be even more earnest in seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land and meeting Amitabha Buddha. Oftentimes, one obtains good fortune because of misfortune.
One who enjoys wealth and prestige in this world may chant the Buddha-name but this person’s every thought is still attached to the Saha world—thus causing the opportunity of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime to slip by.
“One has to bear them alone. No one else can take one’s place.” No one can do these matters for us. Everyone must cultivate for themselves. We must understand this and practice diligently.