又舍利弗！极乐国土，七重栏楯、七重罗网、七重行树，皆是四宝周匝围绕，是故彼国名为极乐。[Shariputra, furthermore this land is called “Ultimate Bliss” because it is surrounded by seven rings of railings, and seven layers of nets, and seven rows of trees, all made of the four precious jewels.]
Formerly, we side tracked to explore the 37 limbs of enlightenment. I think interpreting the 37 limbs of enlightenment as being embedded or hidden in the above verse is very beneficial. By doing so, this sutra will accord with the spirit of Buddhist mind-training. Otherwise, Pureland practice becomes a “God worshipping” religious act that promises an eternal heaven in exchange for devotion to Amitabha.
The four precious jewels mentioned in the verse are interpreted differently by different people. A Tibetan source interpreted it as Gold, silver, beryl and crystal. A Chinese source interpreted it as Gold, silver, lapis lazuli and crystal.
From a mundane perspective, this verse impresses upon us; a sense of limitless wealth or abundant resources in Amitabha’s Pureland. Thus, Amitabha’s pureland is a paradise where poverty does not exist and precious materials are being blatantly used for public construction. This message is especially attractive for people who are suffering from poverty or a desire for more riches.
In a way, it encourages people to bear with their unsatisfactory life on Earth with promises of a better afterlife. Such an approach towards Buddhist education is known as the Mahayana method. It soothes our troubled mind while skillfully encouraging us to practice.
又舍利弗！极乐国土，有七宝池、八功德水，充满其中。[Shariputra, moreover, the Land of Ultimate Bliss has 7 types of precious ponds filled with the waters of eight virtues.]
Water is extremely critical for our survival. Without water, we die. In the ancient days and in some part of the world today, water remains a precious commodity. Obtaining water can be an arduous task. Thus, if we read this verse with a mundane perspective; Then Amitabha’s pureland is blissful because it has abundant water that are contained in wonderful ponds made from 7 precious materials. Imagine yourselves, a traveler crossing the desert along the silk road. Isn’t Amitabha’s pureland inviting? Imagine yourselves walking 2 hours to get water every day.
What about fortunate city folk like us? Portable water is from a tap?
Okay, let’s explore the “hidden” meaning that accords with Buddhist philosophies.
Seven precious refers to 7 precious factors that nourishes our spiritual practices. And they are as follows:
- Faith – makes enlightenment possible
- Morality – prevents bad Karma
- Keen effort in learning Dharma – develop wisdom
- Charity – creates good karma (merits)
- Wisdom – leads to Enlightenment
- Self-reflective – being aware of one’s own faults
- Repentance – being capable of correcting one’s mistake
Waters of 8 virtues describe the quality of water in Amitabha’s pureland
- Clear and clean – washes away filth without getting dirty itself
- Temperate in temperature – conducive and pleasant to abiding calmness
- Sweet and pleasant tasting – contentedness
- Soft in texture – conducive to lightness of being
- Nourishing – cure hunger and thirst
- Curative – cure all imperfections
- Peaceful – it doesn’t endanger, such as flood or drown.
- harmonizing – it optimize one’s faculties for practicing
Thus, the above gives us an idea of how our practice should be.
May all be well and happy.