An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: "Furthermore Shariputra, this land is called Ultimate Bliss . . ." (Part Two)
This truly wondrous living environment in the Pure Land is symbolized by the “four precious jewels” of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, and crystal. These gems represent the four attributes of nirvana: permanence, joy, true self, and purity.
Permanence, the first attribute of nirvana, means constancy. In this passage, the Buddha was describing the unchanging, permanent environment in the Western Pure Land. With the slight exception of those newly reborn in the Pure Land, the beings in that land have either suppressed or eliminated their discriminations, attachments, and wandering thoughts. This results in permanence.
In marked contrast, our world is impermanent. Not only have we not suppressed our thoughts, much less eliminated them; we are, instead, overwhelmingly immersed in them. The thoughts of people here are rising and falling at the incredible rate of many thousands per second. Our discriminations, attachments, and wandering thoughts are constantly moving, ceaselessly changing.
The Buddha often spoke of the Nine Dharma Realms, which consist of the hells, hungry spirits, animals, asuras, humans, heavens, sound hearers, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. These nine come about according to the grades practitioners achieve in their cultivation of the Ten Virtuous Karmas. The Buddha further explained that all phenomena in the paths are “manifested by the mind and altered by the consciousness.” “The mind” refers to the true mind, and “the consciousness” refers to the false mind. Actually, the true mind and the false mind are the same mind. When one is completely awakened and is no longer deluded, one’s mind is the true mind. When one is not yet awakened and is still deluded, one’s mind is the false mind.
In the Western Pure Land, as well, phenomena are manifested by the mind. But “the mind” in that land is “not altered by the consciousness.” Thus beings in the Pure Land do not use the consciousness, the false mind. The true mind is unchanging. This, in turn, explains why there is permanence in the Pure Land and impermanence in the Nine Dharma Realms. Permanence occurs when beings use the true mind, which is wisdom. Impermanence occurs when beings use the consciousness, which is the false mind.
Consciousness has eight components, each with its respective function. The function of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body consciousnesses are sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, respectively. The function of the sixth consciousness, the mind, is discrimination. That of the seventh consciousness is attachment. That of the eighth consciousness is to store. The eighth stores the seeds of our past physical, verbal, and mental karmas. These residual karmas include our wandering thoughts—all our impressions from countless lifetimes over innumerable kalpas. The eight consciousnesses, all together, comprise the “consciousness,” the false mind that we beings in the Nine Dharma Realms use.
Beings who use the true mind still see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, but these sense consciousnesses do not plant any new seeds in their eighth consciousness. In other words, these beings have no wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments.
With the true mind one may see and hear as one likes but no wandering thoughts, discriminations, or attachments will arise.