“Śāriputra, a venomous snake subjugated by a magic spell cannot hurt anyone, and insects or worms will not be worried or afraid upon seeing it. Yet, harmless as it is, it is still called a venomous snake because it has received the form of a snake as a result of its previous karmas. Śāriputra, the same is true with the celestial demon Pāpiyān. When Tathāgata Akṣhobhya was following the Bodhisattva practices in the past, he vowed to dedicate his good roots thus: ‘When I realize supreme enlightenment, I will subjugate all demons so that they will not cause hindrances or troubles. They will not hinder or trouble the Bodhisattvas, Śrāvakas, ordinary people, or others in the whole billion-world universe. [Subjugated as they are], the demons remain in demons’ forms because of their previous karmas. They regret this in the heaven where they are born, and blame themselves for being incarnated as beings called ‘demons’ owning to their previous karmas performed from beginningless time. In spite of the power they enjoy, they loathe their state. When that Tathagata expounds the Dharma, the demons and their retinues are often among the listeners. After hearing the Dharma, they become pure in mind and yearn to be Śrāvakas, thinking, ‘How can we, too, abide in tranquility, have few desires, and be content?’ Because those demons have a constant desire to leave the household life and have no intention of hindering others, the Śrāvakas, Bodhisattvas, and ordinary people in that land can all abide in peace and happiness. This is also due to the awesome power of that Buddha’s previous vigor and great vows. Śāriputra, this is also a superb adornment of Akṣhobhya Buddha’s land. . . .
Demons are who they are due to past karmic consequences. Yet, when they come into contact with the Buddhadharma—just hearing it preached produces great waves of remorse for their evil deeds. They begin to loathe their present state and yearn to become Śrāvakas, since hearing (dhammasota) the Word of the Buddha produces an inner-revulsion, a great “turn-about” from their evil forms and actions. This is deeply profound and the effects of dhammasota have been written elsewhere in these blogs. It is through Akṣhobhya’s own meritorious vows that the evil-effects of demons become nullified—like being “subjugated by a spell” as indicated at the top.
“Śāriputra, those Bodhisattvas who have received my prophecy and attained nonregression will be born in Akṣhobhya Buddha’s land. However, Śāriputra, this does not mean that I forsake the Bodhisattvas born in that Buddha-land. If an anointed kṣatriya king learns that the army of a hostile nation is coming to steal his wealth and throne, he will think, ‘My queen, concubines, and beloved children are not strong enough to resist the enemy. I will keep them, together with mv treasures, in the palace, out of harm’s way.’ Then he will overcome his enemy, so that his country is blessed with peace and freed from danger, and there is no longer any fear of disaster. Śāriputra, just as the king docs not abandon his treasures, beloved children, queen, and concubines, so I do not forsake the Bodhisattvas, and those who follow the Bodhisattva practices should know this. Like the palace, that Buddha-land is free from fear; like the leader of the enemies, the celestial demon Pāpiyān [in my land] tries in every way to hinder those who follow the Bodhisattva practices; and like the great king who is not disturbed by the invading enemies, the Tathāgata is not harassed by the celestial demons.
The Blessed-One assures Śāriputra that even those Bodhisattvas who have advanced to Akṣhobhya’s Buddha-land are never far away from his own concern for them. It’s most reassuring to know that in the myriad Buddha-lands the one commonality is the shared-blessings from innumerable Buddhas; also their wings of protection never leave the Bodhisattvas’ side when the forces of evil try to assert themselves.
“Śāriputra, suppose a man, afraid of his creditor, runs far away to the frontier. He will be spared persecution at the hands of the creditor and others concerned. Why? Because the creditor and his family cannot reach him, due to the great distance and danger involved. In the same way, the Bodhisattvas born in the Land of Wonderful Joy are beyond the reach of Pāpiyān, who is kept away by the insurmountable difficulty of the journey.
“Śāriputra, in this billion-world universe, the celestial demon Pāpiyān hinders Bodhisattvas and Śrāvakas in every way. In the Land of Wonderful Joy, the celestial demons do not do devilish deeds. The Bodhisattvas born there in the past, present, and future are free from fear forever. Why? Because when that Tathāgata was following the bodhisattva-path, he dedicated all his good roots thus: ‘When I realize supreme enlightenment, the celestial demons will not hinder anyone or do any devilish deeds.’ Śāriputra just as poison loses its toxicity and becomes food for a strong man who can take it skillfully and digest it, so the celestial demons of that land, instead of doing harm, are always beneficial.
“Śāriputra, innumerable such merits are achieved in that Buddha-land.”
Pāpiyān is the chief celestial demon—like a general in Māra’s evil army. He leads the assault and can incur great harm, even in Śākyamuni’s Buddha-land. In Akṣhobhya’s realm, his power is rendered ineffectual. All forms of fear are also rendered powerless in his Realm; yea, when one invokes the abiding Power of Akṣhobhya’s Immovable Vajra—all forces of evil are immobilized and kept at bay.
At that time, Śāriputra thought, “Now I wish to see Tathāgata Akṣhobhya, the Worthy One, the Perfectly Enlightened One, and the Śrāvakas of that Buddha-land”. Thereupon, perceiving what was in Śāriputra’s mind, the World-Honored One, by his divine power and without rising from his seat, caused Śāriputra to see all of them.
The Buddha asked Śāriputra, “Have you seen them now?”
Śāriputra answered, “Yes, I have.”
The Buddha asked Śāriputra,” Do you see any difference such as superiority or inferiority, among those gods and humans?”
Śāriputra answered, “No, I do not. Why? Because I see that the clothing, food and drink, and valuable objects enjoyed by the humans of the Land of Wonderful Joy are gods’ implements of pleasure. Tathāgata Akṣhobhya, expounding the Dharma to the assembly, is like a gold mountain, shining brilliantly. There are innumerable, limitless Śrāvakas. Just as the horizons in the four directions arc boundless in the eyes of one sailing upon the great ocean, so the Śrāvakas there are limitless in number to the beholder. When those Śrāvakas are listening to the Dharma, they keep their bodies and minds as still as if they had entered dhyāna, unlike the people in this world, who sway and stir, sometimes even in meditation.” . . .
Once again we find the emphasis upon the Śrāvakas of the Land of Wonderful Joy. Their import far surpasses that of a Bodhisattva in this particular sutra—this is given the fact they are conferred a special place of honor even in the introductory chapter. To reemphasize—they are those Śrāvakians who have realized no-ordinary Arhatship. They have been sealed with a singular anointment and are thus counted among the Worthy Ones—Transcendental Nirvanists.
At that time, a thought occurred to Ānanda: “Now I should test the power of Venerable Subhūti’s eloquence With this in mind, he said to Subhūti, “We should have a look at Tathāgata Akṣhobhya, his disciples, and his Buddha-land.”
Subhūti told Ānanda, “If you want to see that Tathāgata, you should look upwards.”
After Ānanda had looked upwards, he said to Subhūti, “I have looked upwards as far as I could, but I saw nothing except emptiness and stillness.”
Subhūti said, “Tathāgata Akṣhobhya, his disciples, and his Buddha-land are similar to what you saw when you looked upwards.”
It’s no accident that the disciple, Subhūti, has entered into the equation. He is one of the premier disciples who is well-attuned in the prajñapāramitā—appearing in the Diamond Sutra. Of course, in the Heart Sutra, Śāriputra becomes better attuned with it as well. Up until now the sutra has been presenting Akṣhobhya’s Buddha-land through ordinary lenses. Now, at this junction, we discover how its “Ultimate-Nature” is Self-empty of all nominally-perceived attributes.
Then Śāriputra said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, as the Buddha has said, the Bodhisattvas in this world whose attainments of Buddhahood has been prophesied are not different from the Bodhisattvas born in that land. World-Honored One, now I do not know why they are equal.”
The Buddha told Śāriputra, “Because of the equality of the dharmadhatu, there is no difference between them.”
Yea, in all the Buddha-lands of the Tathāgatas, there is not one among them that is other-than the Premier Element of the Dhamadhātu—Ultimate Reality—the Imageless-land of the Dharmakāya.