“Furthermore, Śāriputra, when Tathāgata Akṣhobhya expounds the Dharma, he can skillfully subdue countless sentient beings, making them all attain Arhatship; numerous are those who will dwell in the meditation of the eightfold liberation.
“Śāriputra, Tathāgata Akṣhobhya, the Worthy One, the Perfectly Enlightened One, has a host of Śrāvakas incalculable in number. I cannot find any arithmetician or any arithmetician’s disciple able to compute how many hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of trillions of Śrāvakas there are in the host. Śāriputra no one can ascertain the total number of the Śrāvakas in terms of those figures. Śāriputra, just as the number of good men who have attained the fruit of a Stream-enterer, the fruit of a Once-returner, or the fruit of a Nonreturner in my land is difficult to ascertain, so is the number of good men who have attained the fruit of an Arhat in that land.
The Lanka teaches that “the term “Arhat” applies to the Śrāvaka who makes straightway for the path of cessation, and to no others.” As worthy disciples of the Tathāgata Akṣhobhya, these innumerable Śrāvakas described here have their own Dharma-stream, being no ordinary arhats but are Śrāvakas who have self-realized and have entered the stream of Ultra-Arhatship; they are, as described earlier, Transcendental Nirvanists, and as such are distinguished as the Worthy-Ones, fully capable of opening Akṣhobhya’s Dharma-door. Buddhas, too, have the epithet of an Arhat—a fully Accomplished One.
“Śāriputra, [in my land,] indolent people can attain the fruit of a Stream-enterer. They will be born as humans seven more times and be further taught the Dharma before they can attain the superior fruit [of an Arhat]; therefore, I call then people of seven rebirths.’ Śāriputra, in the land of Tathāgata Akṣhobhya, indolent people can attain the fruit of a Stream-enterer at Tathāgata Akṣhobhya’s first discourse on the Dharma, the fruit of a Once-returner at the second discourse, the fruit of a Nonreturner at the third discourse, and the fruit of an Arhat at the fourth discourse. They are said to be indolent because they fail to end all their defilements at one sitting.
“Śāriputra, in that Buddha-land, those who have attained the fruit of a Stream-enterer will be cleansed of all defilements in one lifetime, unlike the Stream-enterers of this world, who have to go through seven more births. Those who have attained the fruit of a Once-returner will be freed from all suffering in one lifetime, unlike those called Once-returners in this world, who have to go through one more birth. Those who have attained the fruit of a Nonreturner will become Arhats in one lifetime, unlike those called Nonreturners in this world, who have to be born in the upper realms [before they are liberated], though they will not return to this earth.
[*A Nonreturner will not return to this world, the Realm of desire, before he is liberated. But he will be born in either the Realm of Form or the Realm of Formlessness. FN]
*All of this is based on the seven grades of learners:
Those who are approaching the fruit of a stream-enterer, and those who have obtained it; those who are approaching the fruit of a once-returner, and those who have obtained it; those who are approaching the fruit of a non-returner, and those who have obtained it; and those who are approaching the fruit of one beyond learning, i.e., an Arhat.
“Furthermore, Śāriputra, in that Buddha-land, there are steps made of three precious materials-gold, silver, and lapis lazuli-extending from Jambudvīpa to the Heaven of the Thirty-Three. Śāriputra, when the gods of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three desire to see Tathāgata Akṣhobhya, to worship and make offerings to him, they can descend the precious steps to the Buddha’s place. When they find that the people of [that] Jambudvīpa are rich, prosperous, and have everything they need, they will become desirous and say, ‘We gods have the good fortune of gods, and the people of Jambudvīpa have the good fortune of human beings. Now I see that their fortune is as excellent as ours. What is more, the people of Jambudvīpa have a good fortune even surpassing ours: Tathāgata Akṣhobhya is expounding of the true Dharma there. This is why we gods always prefer the human world.’
Jambudvīpa: the terrestrial continent as envisioned in Buddhist Cosmology.
Buddhism expounds that it is truly an auspicious occasion to be born as a human. Indeed, the road to enlightenment and eventual liberation and transcendence can only occur in this fashion. That is why the gods yearn to be reborn as a human, for usually gods can never become a Buddha. Even the Godhead of Jesus first had to become “human” in order to achieve self-transcendence and thus liberation.
“Śāriputra, the people of that Jambudvīpa have no desire at all to be born in the heavens. Why? Because [they think,] ‘ln the human world, Tathāgata Akṣhobhya constantly expounds the true Dharma to benefit us, and our good fortune is not different from that of the gods. The gods of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three are no match for us.’
Another auspicious and salient observation. The Buddhas do not proclaim the Buddhadharma in the heavens of the gods, but only within their own Buddha-lands that are peopled with sentient beings who can win their transcendent freedom; the gods, as such, do not have similar opportunities in their light-heavens.
“Śāriputra”, in that land, by the Buddha’s divine power, gods and humans can see each other. Just as the people of this Jambudvīpa see the moon and stars, so, Śāriputra, the people there can look upward and see the palaces of the gods above. Sariputra, this is also achieved by the power of the original vows which Tathāgata Akṣhobhya made when he was cultivating the Bodhisattva practices.
“Śāriputra, the voice of the Buddha expounding the Dharma spreads over the entire billion-world universe, and is heard everywhere by the four kinds of devotees.
the four kinds of devotees: monks, nuns, lay men and lay women. Of course, one also needs to be aware here that these devotees have different genetic-traits in their sentient appearance throughout the galaxies.
“Śāriputra, the Śrāvakas there wish for no other food than Dharma-food. When listening to the Dharma, they are single-minded and calm; they do not feel tired physically or mentally, whether sitting or standing. Śāriputra, Tathāgata Akṣhobhya stays in midair when expounding the Dharma to the assembly. The Śrāvakas, whether or not they themselves have miraculous power, all stay in midair by the awesome power of the Buddha when they listen to the essence of the Dharma, bearing themselves with dignity in the three deportments What are the three? Walking, standing and sitting.
“When these Śrāvakas intend to enter parinirvāṇa, they sit cross-legged and then immediately enter it. At that moment, the earth quakes. After their parinirvāṇa, all gods and humans come to make offerings to them.
wish for no other food than Dharma-food: there is no greater nourishment than the Buddhadharma.
stay in midair: similar to levitation in other spiritual traditions.
“When the Arhats are ready for parinirvāṇa, they produce fire from their bodies to cremate themselves; or become extinct spontaneously, leaving no relics behind; or roam in the sky like clouds of five colors, and then disappear in an instant, without leaving a trace; or stand in the sky and then vanish like rain falling to the ground.
Similar to the Rainbow Body of Light (although particles of fingernails and hair are left behind) in the Bön traditions.
“Śāriputra, this is also because, while cultivating the Bodhisattva practices in the past, Tathāgata Akṣhobhya, the Worthy One, the Perfectly Enlightened One, made this vow: ‘lf I realize supreme enlightenment, the Śrāvakas [in my land] will enter parinirvāṇa with dignity in the three deportments.‘
“Furthermore, Śāriputra, many Śrāvakas of that Buddha-land have attained the four fearlessnnesses and even more have attained the four bases of miraculous powers. Śāriputra, the Śrāvakas of that land have accomplished these complete merits.”
At that time, Śāriputra said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, illustrious, great, and vast indeed are the merits accomplished by the Śrāvakas of Tathāgata Akṣhobhya, the Worthy One, the Perfectly Enlightened One.”
These truly are exceptional Śrāvakas, for in that Buddha-land they have procured what is normally reserved (particularly in the first illustration) for Bodhisattvas:
- (1) Fearlessness in continually memorizing the Buddhist teachings, and in expounding the meaning of these teachings, (2) fearlessness in perceiving the people’s inherent capacities, and in expounding the teachings according to those capacities, (3) fearlessness in resolving the people’s doubts, and (4) fearlessness in answering any question.
- Four bases of miraculous powers: intention, diligence, attention, and discernment.