And there is more, [Shariputra]—celestial music is constantly playing in this Buddha-land, and the ground is made of pure gold. Heavenly flowers rain down at all hours of the day and night. In the morning the sentient beings of this land fill their robes with multitudes of wondrous flowers and make offerings to hundreds of billions of Buddhas in other worlds. When it is mealtime, they return to their own land, to eat, and circumambulate the teaching assembly.
This passage talks about celestial joy: music that plays naturally, the making of offerings to hundreds of billions of Buddhas, and heavenly flowers that float down to rest on the golden ground. Luminescent, the flowers cover the ground like a soft carpet. When we step on them, they sink by a few inches. When we lift our foot, the flowers rise as well. When it is time for new flowers to fall, those already on the ground naturally disappear.
In Sanskrit, the flowers are called mandara, which means as one wishes. This name indicates to us that there is no suffering arising from unfulfilled wishes. Unfulfilled wishes is another of the eight sufferings that we undergo in our world. As mandara flowers, they take the form of whatever we wish. If we prefer jasmine, the flowers will be jasmine; if we prefer roses, the flowers will be roses.
The flowers “rain down at all hours of the day and night.” Why speak of night when there is no night in a land always glowing with light? The phrase “day and night” accords with the habits of us human beings and how we think of time. Thus, the Buddha described the falling flowers in terms that we could relate to.
“In the morning,” the beings collect wondrous flowers to “make offerings to hundreds of billions of Buddhas in other worlds. When it is mealtime, they return to their own land, to eat, and [to] circumambulate the teaching assembly.” This description illustrates how quickly the beings can visit and make offerings to Buddhas in other lands and then return to the Pure Land. Since this takes so little time, we know that even those in the lower of the four lands comprising the Pure Land have extraordinary powers. These include the ability to be anywhere at will, to see all forms, to hear all sounds, to know the thoughts of others, and to do anything by willing it.
When visiting the Buddhas in other worlds, the beings do not have to return immediately to the Pure Land. If they have good affinities with the beings or the Buddha in another land, they may stay there longer to truly help those beings or to learn from the Buddha. If their affinities are light, they can return sooner. The decision to stay longer or return sooner is based not on attachments but on Dharma affinities.
This is so unlike us ordinary people who, while wishing to help others, lack the necessary abilities, impartiality, and wisdom to do so. Our minds are fickle, our good fortune inadequate. Therefore, when we attempt to help others, we are hindered by our attachments and aversions, which seem only to increase even as we try to do something good. It is little wonder that we often fail in our attempts to help others.
Once we are reborn in the Pure Land, all this will change. Like the beings in the Pure Land who are able to accumulate great good fortune and merit by making daily offerings to many Buddhas, we too will be able to accumulate merit. Listening to Amitabha’s teachings and asking questions whenever we want, we will remain enthusiastic and progress steadily. And like everyone there, with Amitabha’s support, our enjoyment, wisdom, and abilities will be similar to those of Eighth Ground Bodhisattvas, beings who are just a few levels below Buddhas!
This is all possible thanks to Amitabha’s causal vows, the vows he made before becoming a Buddha, and his support for us. Having read the sutra, we should realize that we too need to have the great vow to help all beings. Realize also that the extraordinary abilities we attain in the Pure Land are actually already in our true nature. By chanting “Amituofo,” we will uncover this true nature and receive Amitabha’s support as well as that of all Buddhas. This is why chanting and being mindful of “Amituofo” are the foremost extraordinary abilities.