One of the most outstanding characteristics of the practice of Buddha mindfulness is that it enables one to be swiftly born in Pure Land within this life (if one truly aspires and practises accordingly with the right faith). And upon reaching Pure Land, one is able to swiftly attain Buddhahood, without backsliding or obstacles. It is truly the expressway to Buddhahood.
Usually, for ordinary beings to become Buddhas, we need to go through 52 stages of attainments (菩萨五十二位) - namely, the 10 Faiths (十信), 10 Abodes (十住), 10 Practices (十行), 10 Transferences (十回向), 10 Grounds (十地) and Universal Enlightenment (等觉; highest Bodhisattvahood), before reaching Supreme Enlightenment (妙觉; Buddhahood). In terms of time, this requires 3 great Asankya-Kalpas (阿僧祗劫). [1 Asankya-Kalpa is 1000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000, 0000 Maha-Kalpas (or 1048 Maha-Kalpas) while 1 Maha-Kalpa (大劫) is 13, 4384, 0000 years. 3 great Asankya-Kalpas is thus 13, 4384, 0000 x 1048 years.] As this calculation is from the first stage of the 10th Abode onwards, the time spent in prior unsubstantial or trial-and-error practice is not added yet! As such, the time needed for ordinary beings to practise to become a Buddha is more than 3 great Asankya-Kalpas.
However, in the Amitabha Sutra (佛说阿弥陀经), we know that Amitabha Buddha attained Buddhahood (and created his Pure Land) only 10 Maha-Kalpas (130, 4384, 0000 years) ago. This is tremendously shorter than 3 great Asankya-Kalpas. Yet, according to the sutra, despite this short period of time, 'In the Land of Ultimate Bliss, among the beings born there, all are Avaivartikas, many of whom are in the Stage of Becoming a Buddha after One More Life (Stage of Universal Enlightenment). Their numbers are great and cannot be known by calculation, but can be spoken of with [the time of] immeasurable and boundless Asankya-Kalpas.' (极乐国土，众生生者，皆是阿鞞跋致，其中多有一生补处，其数甚多，非是算数所能知之，但可以无量无边阿僧祇说。) What is inconceivable is that within just 10 Maha-Kalpas, there are already countless beings in Pure Land who are on the brink of Buddhahood. This bears testimony to the efficiency of Pure Land in training beings for Buddhahood.
Though the stages attainable in Pure Land are in greater detail below, they should not be a key concern, as whatever stage one first realises there will be non-retrogressible and only lead towards steady progression in spiritual practice. Due to the supremely blessed environment of Pure Land, it is not necessary to ascend all the 52 stages to Buddhahood one by one. Pure Land is as such, the most accelerated and thus swiftest path towards Buddhahood.
The Contemplation Sutra (佛说观无量寿佛经) states that beings of the lower level of the lower grade of birth (下品下生) [who have done the 5 heinous misdeeds (五逆罪) and the 10 unwholesome deeds (十恶业), who repent and practise (行) sincerely with faith (信) and aspiration (愿) for birth in Pure Land) will be reborn there from lotuses after 12 Maha-kalpas, and give rise to irreversible Bodhicitta (菩提心; aspiration for Buddhahood). This is in sharp contrast with being reborn in Avici hell (阿鼻地狱) to suffer relentlessly for an unimaginably long duration of no certain limit, thereafter being reborn gradually in better lives to 'restart' spiritual cultivation. Due to the bountiful merits of Amitabha Buddha which he is ready to share, mindfulness of Buddha is the only way to escape from otherwise certain rebirth into the hells, including the worst, as above. The middle level of the lower grade of birth (下品中生) requires 6 Maha-Kalpas to give rise to Bodhicitta, while the higher level of the lower grade of birth (下品上生) requires only 10 Small Kalpas (160,798,000 years) to realise the First Ground (初地) of Bodhisattvahood. If we are sincere and proficient Dharma practitioners, we are likely to be born in higher levels and grades, thus taking even less time to realise Buddhahood.
For the lower level of the middle grade of birth (中品下生), one realises the Stage of Stream-Winner (入流) after 7 days of birth and the Stage of Arhathood (阿罗汉) after 1 Small Kalpa (小劫; 16,798,000 years). For the middle level of the middle grade of birth (中品中生), one realises the Stage of Stream-Winner after 7 days of birth and the Stage of Arhathood after half of 1 Small Kalpa. For the higher level of the middle grade of birth (中品上生), one realises the Stage of Arhathood almost immediately when born.
For the lower level of the higher grade of birth (上品下生), one is born from a lotus after 1 day and 1 night, and able to realise the Stage of the First Ground (初地) of Rejoice (喜地) after 3 Small Kalpas. For the middle level of the higher grade of birth (上品中生), one realises the Stage of the Eighth Ground (八地) of Unshakability (不动地) after 7 days and realises the Patience of the Non-birth of Dharmas (无生法忍) after 1 Small Kalpa. For the higher level of the higher grade of birth (上品上生), one will realise the Patience of Non-birth of Dharmas (which is equivalent to the Eighth Ground) upon birth, immediately becoming a Dharmakaya Bodhisattva (法身大士). Even great Bodhisattvas who have realised Universal Enlightenment like Samantabhadra (普贤) and Manjusri (文殊) need to practise mindfulness of Buddha, to aspire to be born in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land – because the path to Buddhahood there is very swift and cannot be compared with other worlds.
All beings who reach Pure Land are Avaivartika (阿鞞跋致) because they are non-retrogressible (不退转) in three ways (三不退) – in terms of attainment (位不退: one will never backslide to rebirths in the lower realms and is bound for at least Arhathood), practice (行不退: one will never backslide to goals lesser than Buddhahood), and mindfulness (念不退: one will never backslide from moment-to-moment mindfulness of awakening, and is aligned in every thought with the vast and deep ocean of the wisdom of Buddhas. A remarkable aspect of being born in Pure Land is that though one might not have technically realised non-retrogression in all three ways immediately when it is reached, one is nevertheless on the non-retrogressible path of realising them fully.
From the above, we can note that beings who can be born in Pure Land are unlimited in nature. They range from those who have done great evil, to those who are average, to those who are not even Stream-winners yet, to those who are good Dharma practitioners, to those on the brink of Buddhahood (Bodhisattvas who have realised Universal Enlightenment - who can reach there instantly via mindfulness; not via lotus births). As indicated in the Contemplation Sutra, the first attainment one realises in Pure Land depends on one's prior diligence in Dharma practice. They range from Stream-entry to Arhathood, from giving rise to irreversible Bodhicitta to realising the First Ground (up to the Eighth Ground). All these will lead up to Universal Enlightenment, and Supreme Enlightenment upon 'graduation' from Pure Land. With the practice of Buddha mindfulness, the aspiration for Buddhahood will no longer be a distant dream for anyone!
Can Samsara Lead to Buddhahood More Efficiently than Pure Land?
Are Purelanders Truly One Life from Buddhahood?
- Namo Amituofo, Shen Shi’an