The 9 Grades of Lotuses are spoken of in the “Sutra of the Contemplation of Amitayus”, i.e., “The Amitayurdhyana Sutra”. In Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land of Utmost Happiness/Ultimate Bliss – you are not born from a mother’s womb, but born transformationally from Lotuses – by this Buddha’s power. And there are Superior, middle and inferior grades of lotus:
22. Buddha then spoke to Ananda and Vaidehi: ‘
Grade 1: Superior Grade – Superior Form
The beings who will be born in the highest form of the highest grade (i. e. to Buddhahood) are those, whoever they may be, who wish to be born in that country and cherish the threefold thought whereby they are at once destined to be born there. What is the threefold thought, you may ask.
- First, the True Thought;
- Second, the Deep Believing Thought;
- Third, the Desire to be born in that Pure Land by bringing one’s own stock of merit to maturity.
Those who have this threefold thought in perfection shall most assuredly be born into that country.
- You have to be True – not fake. This should be part of your daily life anyway – being upright and honest.
- You need to deeply believe that you can be reborn in the Pure Land of Utmost Happiness of Amitabha Buddha – this why I’m sharing all these real life stories of people who have already been reborn there – to provide you with true accounts – real life evidence – that people have actually been born there.
- You need to want to be born there AND you need to dedicate the merit that you have acquired to being reborn there (this is like having saved up your good karma, you are now directing your good karma to be used for a travel to the Pure Land)
‘There are also 3 classes of beings who are able to be born in that country. What, you may ask, are the 3 classes of beings ?
- First, those who are possessed of a compassionate mind, who do no injury to any beings, and accomplish all virtuous actions according to Buddha’s precepts;
- Second, those who study and recite the Sutras of the Mahayana doctrine, for instance, the Vaipulya Sutras;
- Third, those who practice the sixfold remembrance.
These 3 classes of beings who wish to be born in that country by bringing (their respective stocks of merit) to maturity, will become destined to be born there if they have accomplished any of those meritorious deeds for one day or even for seven days.
- If you don’t harm any living beings – you are worthy of being born there.
- If you uphold the precepts – you are worthy of being born there.
- If you study and recite the Mahayana Sutras – you are worthy of being born there. You are studying a Mahayana Sutra now. What are Mahayana Sutras? Maha means great. Mahayana means Great Vehicle – it’s usually the Sutras studied in China and Tibet (as opposed to the Theravadan Suttas studied in South East Asia in countries like Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka – where they study the 4 Noble Truths and Dependent Origination).
So you if you want to be born in the Highest Grade’s Highest Form – you need to study the Mahayana Sutras like the Shurangama Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra.
‘When one who has practiced (these merits) is about to be born in that country, Buddha Amitayus, together with the two Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta, also numberless created Buddhas, and a hundred thousand Bhikkhus and Sravakas, with their whole retinue, and innumerable gods, together with the palaces of seven jewels, will appear before him out of regard for his diligence and courage;
Avalokitesvara together with Mahasthamaprapta, will offer a diamond seat to him; thereupon Amitayus himself will send forth magnificent rays of light to shine over the dying person’s body. He and many Bodhisattvas will offer their hands and welcome him, when Avalokitesvara, Mahasthamaprapta, and all the other Bodhisattvas will praise the glory of the man who practiced the meritorious deeds, and convey an exhortation to his mind.
When the new-comer, having seen these, rejoicing and leaping for joy, looks at himself, he will find his own body seated on that diamond throne; and as he follows behind Buddha he will be born into that country, in a moment. When he has been born there, he will see Buddha’s form and body with every sign of perfection complete, and also the perfect forms and signs of all the Bodhisattvas; he will also see brilliant rays and jewel forests and hear them propounding the excellent Dharma, and instantly be conscious of a spirit of resignation to whatever consequences may hereafter arise.
Before long he will serve every one of the Buddhas who live in the regions of the ten quarters. In the presence of each of those Buddhas he will obtain successively a prophecy of his future destiny. On his return to his own land Sukhavati, in which he has just been born he will obtain countless hundreds of thousand Dharanis — such are those who are to be born in the highest form of the highest grade to Buddhahood.
So this definitely corresponds to the real life account of the immediate previous blog post – where the Venerable saw a Diamond Throne come with all 3 Sages of the West appearing before him – Amitabha, Gwan Yin and Great Strength Bodhisattva as well as countless numbers of Bodhisattvas.
Grade 2: Superior Grade – Middle Form
23. ‘Next, the beings who will be born in the middle form of the highest grade are those who do not necessarily learn, remember, study, or recite those Vaipulya Sutras, but fully understand the meaning of the truth contained in them, and having a firm grasp of the highest truth do not speak evil of the Mahayana doctrine, but deeply believe in (the principle of) cause and effect; who by bringing these good qualities to maturity seek to be born in that Country of Highest Happiness.
When one who has acquired these qualities is about to die, Amitayus, surrounded by the two Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta, and an innumerable retinue of dependents, will bring a seat of purple gold and approach him with words of praise, saying: “O my son in the Dharma! you have practiced the Mahayana doctrine; you have understood and believed the highest truth; therefore I now come to meet and welcome you.” He and the thousand created Buddhas extend their hands all at once.
‘When that man looks at his own body, he will find himself seated on that purple gold seat; he will, then, stretching forth his folded hands, praise and eulogize all the Buddhas. As quick as thought he will be born in the lake of seven jewels of that country. That purple gold seat on which he sits is like a magnificent jewel-flower, and will open after a night; the new-comer’s body becomes purple gold in color, and he will also find under his feet a lotus-flower consisting of seven jewels.
Buddha and the Bodhisattvas at the same time will send forth brilliant rays to shine over the body of that person whose eyes will instantaneously be opened and become clear. According to his former usage (in the human world) he will hear all the voices that are there, preaching primary truths of the deepest significance.
‘Then he will descend from that golden seat and make obeisance to the Buddha with folded hands, praising and eulogizing the World-Honored One.
After seven days, he will immediately attain to the state of the highest perfect knowledge, anuttarasamyaksambodhi, from which he will never fall away; next he will fly to all the ten regions and successively serve all the Buddhas therein; he will practice many a Samadhi in the presence of those Buddhas.
After the lapse of a lesser kalpa he will attain a spirit of resignation to whatever consequences may hereafter arise, and he will also obtain a prophecy of his future destiny in the presence of Buddhas.
Grade 3: Superior Grade – Lowest Form
24. ‘Next are those who are to be born in the lowest form of the highest grade: this class of beings also believes in the principle of cause and effect, and without slandering the Mahayana doctrine, simply cherishes the thought of obtaining the highest Bodhi and by bringing this good quality to maturity seeks to be born in that Country of Highest Happiness.
When a devotee of this class dies, Amitayus, with Avalokitesvara, Mahasthamaprapta and all the dependents, will offer him a golden lotus-flower; he will also miraculously create 500 Buddhas in order to send for and meet him. These 500 created Buddhas will all at once extend their hands and praise him, saying: “O my son in the Dharma! you are pure now; as you have cherished the thought of obtaining the highest Bodhi, we come to meet you.” When he has seen them, he will find himself seated on that golden lotus-flower. Soon the flower will close upon him; following behind the World-Honored One he will go to be born in the lake of seven jewels.
- After 1 day and 1 night the lotus-flower will unfold itself.
- Within 7 days he may see Buddha’s body, though his mind is not as yet clear enough to perceive all the signs and marks of the Buddha, which he will be able to see clearly after three weeks;
Then he will hear many sounds and voices preaching the excellent Dharma, and he himself, travelling through all the ten quarters, will make obeisance to all the Buddhas, from whom he will learn the deepest significance of the Dharma.
After 3 lesser kalpas he will gain entrance to the knowledge of a hundred divisions of nature and become settled in the first joyful stage of Bodhisattva.
The perception of these three classes of beings is called the meditation upon the superior class of beings, and is the Fourteenth Meditation.
Grade 4: Middle Grade – Highest Form
25. ‘The beings who will be born in the highest form of the middle grade are those who observe the five prohibitive precepts, the eight prohibitive precepts and the fasting, and practice all the moral precepts; who do not commit the five deadly sins, and who bring no blame or trouble upon any being; and who by bringing these good qualities to maturity seek to be born in the World of Highest Happiness in the western quarter.
On the eve of such a person’s departure from this life, Amitayus, surrounded by Bhikkhus and dependents, will appear before him, flashing forth rays of golden color, and will preach the Dharma of suffering, non-existence, impermanence, and non-self.
He will also praise the virtue of homelessness that can liberate one from all sufferings. At the sight of Buddha, that believer will excessively rejoice in his heart; he will soon find himself seated on a lotus-flower. Kneeling down on the ground and stretching forth his folded hands he will pay homage to Buddha. Before he raises his head he will reach that Country of Highest Happiness and be born there. Soon the lotus-flower will unfold, when he will hear sounds and voices praising and glorifying the Four Noble Truths of suffering. He will immediately attain to the fruition of Arhatship, gain the threefold knowledge and the six supernatural faculties, and complete the eightfold emancipation.
So here, Amitabha is teaching about anicca, dukkha, anatta and the 4 Noble Truths – so it sounds like precept keeping Theravadans who can recite Amitabha’s name can be reborn in the Middle Grades. For the Superior Grades, you must read and study the Mahayana Sutras and put them into practice.
Grade 5: Middle Grade – Middle Form
26. ‘The beings who will be born in the middle form of the middle grade are those who either observe the eight prohibitive precepts, and the fasting for one day and one night, or observe the prohibitive precept for Sramanera for the same period, or observe the perfect moral precepts, not lowering their dignity nor neglecting any ceremonial observance for one day and one night, and by bringing their respective merits to maturity seek to be born in the Country of Highest Happiness.
On the eve of departure from this life, such a believer who is possessed of this moral virtue, which he has made fragrant by cultivation during his life, will see Amitayus, followed by all his retinue; flashing forth rays of golden color, this Buddha will come before him and offer a lotus-flower of seven jewels.
‘He will hear a voice in the sky, praising him and saying: “O son of a noble family, you are indeed an excellent man. Out of regard for your obedience to the teachings of all the Buddhas of the three worlds, I now come and meet you.” Then the newcomer will see himself seated on that lotus-flower. Soon the lotus-flower will fold around him, and being in this he will be born in the jewel-lake of the World of Highest Happiness in the western quarter.
‘After seven days that flower will unfold again, when the believer will open his eyes, and praise the World-Honored One, stretching forth his folded hands. Having heard the Dharma, he will rejoice and obtain the fruition of a Srotapanna.
‘In the lapse of half a kalpa he will become an Arhat.
Grade 6: Middle Grade – Lowest Form
27. ‘Next are the beings who will be born in the lowest form of the middle grade to Buddhahood. If there are sons or daughters of a noble family who are filial to their parents and support them, besides exercising benevolence and compassion in the world, at their departure from this life such persons will meet a good and learned teacher who will fully describe to them the state of happiness in that Buddha country of Amitayus, and will also explain the forty-eight prayers of the Bhikkhu Dharmakara. As soon as any such person has heard these details, his life will come to an end. In a brief moment he will be born in the World of Highest Happiness in the western quarter.
‘After 7 days he will meet Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta, from whom he will learn the Dharma and rejoice. After the lapse of a lesser kalpa he will attain to the fruition of an Arhat.
The perception of these three sorts of beings is called the meditation of the middle class of beings, and is the Fifteenth Meditation.
Grade 7: Lowest Grade – Highest Form
28. ‘Next are the beings who will be born in the highest form of the lowest grade. If there be any one who commits many evil deeds, provided that he does not speak evil of the Mahayana Sutras, he, though himself a very stupid man, and neither ashamed nor sorry for all the evil actions that he has done, yet, while dying, may meet a good and learned teacher who will recite and laud the headings and titles of the twelve divisions of the Mahayana scriptures. Having thus heard the names of all the Sutras, he will be freed from the greatest sins which would involve him in births and deaths during a thousand kalpas.
‘A wise man also will teach him to stretch forth his folded hands and to say, “Adoration to Buddha Amitayus” ( Namo Amitabhaya Buddhaya, or Namu Amida Butsu ). Having uttered the name of the Buddha, he will be freed from the sins which would otherwise involve him in births and deaths for fifty million kalpas.
Thereupon the Buddha will send a created Buddha, and the created Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta, to approach that person with words of praise, saying: “O son of a noble family, as you have uttered the name of that Buddha, all your sins have, been destroyed and expiated, and therefore we now come to meet you.” After this speech the devotee will observe the rays of that created Buddha flooding his chamber with light, and while rejoicing at the sight he will depart this life. Seated on a lotus-flower he will follow that created Buddha and go to be born in the jewel-lake.
‘After the lapse of seven weeks, the lotus-flower will unfold, when the great compassionate Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta will stand before him, flashing forth magnificent rays, and will preach to him the deepest meaning of the twelve divisions of the scriptures. Having heard this, he will understand and believe it, and cherish the thought of attaining the highest Bodhi.
In a period of ten lesser kalpas he will gain entrance to the knowledge of the hundred divisions of nature and be able to enter upon the first joyful stage of Bodhisattva. Those who have had an opportunity of hearing the name of Buddha, the name of the Dharma, and the name of the Sangha – the names of the Three jewels – can also be born in that country.’
Grade 8: Lowest Grade – Middle Form
29. Buddha continued: ‘Next are the beings who will be born in the middle form of the lowest grade. If there is any one who transgresses the five and the eight prohibitive precepts, and also all the perfect moral precepts; he, being himself so stupid as to steal things that belong to the whole community or things that belong to a particular Bhikkhu and not be ashamed nor sorry for his impure preaching of the Dharma (in case of preacher), but magnify and glorify himself with many wicked deeds – such a sinful person deserves to fall into hell in consequence of those sins.
At the time of his death, when the fires of hell approach him from all sides, he will meet a good and learned teacher who will, out of great compassion, preach the power and virtue of the ten faculties of Amitayus and fully explain the supernatural powers and brilliant rays of that Buddha; and will further praise moral virtue, meditation, wisdom, emancipation, and the thorough knowledge that follows emancipation. After having heard this, he will be freed from his sins, which would involve him in births and deaths during eighty million kalpas; thereupon those violent fires of hell will transform themselves into a pure and cool wind blowing about heavenly flowers. On each of these flowers will stand a created Buddha or Bodhisattva to meet and receive that person. In a moment he will be born in a lotus-flower growing in the lake of seven jewels. After six kalpas the lotus-flower will open, when Avalokitesvara and Mahasthama will soothe and encourage him with their Brahma-voices, and preach to him the Mahayana Sutras of the deepest significance.
‘Having heard this Dharma, he will instantaneously direct his thought toward the attainment of the highest Bodhi.
Grade 9: Lowest Grade – Lowest Form
30. ‘Finally, there are the beings who will be born in the lowest form of the lowest grade. If there is any one who commits evil deeds, and even completes the ten wicked actions, the five deadly sins and the like; that man, being himself stupid and guilty of many crimes, deserves to fall into a miserable path of existence and suffer endless pains during many kalpas.
On the eve of death he will meet a good and learned teacher who will, soothing and encouraging him in various ways, preach to him the excellent Dharma and teach him the remembrance of Buddha, but, being harassed by pains, he will have no time to think of Buddha.
This means that he will be taught how to be mindful of Amitabha Buddha but because of the pain he or she is in, will forget to be keep their mind on Amitabha Buddha.
Some good friend will then say to him: “Even if you cannot exercise the remembrance of Buddha, you may, at least, utter the name, “Buddha Amitayus.” Let him do so serenely with his voice uninterrupted; let him be (continually) thinking of Buddha until he has completed ten times the thought, repeating the formula, “Adoration to Buddha Amitayus” (Namah Amitabha Buddhayah, Namu Amida Butsu). On the strength of his merit of uttering that Buddha’s name he will, during every repetition, expiate the sins which involved him in births and deaths during eighty million kalpas. He will, while dying, see a golden lotus-flower like the disk of the sun appearing before his eyes; in a moment he will be born in the World of Highest Happiness.
After twelve greater kalpas the lotus-flower will unfold; thereupon the Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta, raising their voices in great compassion, will preach to him in detail the real state of all the elements of nature and the law of the expiation of sins.
On hearing them he will rejoice and will immediately direct his thought toward the attainment of the Bodhi — such are the beings who are to be born in the lowest form of the lowest grade to Buddhahood.
The perception of the above three is called the meditation of the inferior class of beings, and is the Sixteenth Meditation.’
Source for all the quoted text above: The Sutra on the Contemplation of Amitayus
So the lowest form of the lowest grade is meant for people who have committed the most evil of crimes – the 5 parajikas AND they can only manage 10 sincere recitations of Amitabha’s name. If you can at least recite more than 10 times of Amitabha’s name with utmost sincerity – at least you can be born in a more superior grade of lotus!
So all 3 inferior grades are for people who have committed evil/harmful actions in their lives.
The Superior grades are for people who study, recite and practice the Mahayana Sutras.
The middle grades are for people who have kept the precepts.