From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Abhirati (T. mngon dga'/mngon par dga' ba མངོན་དགའ་/མངོན་པར་དགའ་བ་; C. miaoxi/abiluoti 妙喜/阿比羅提). Literally, “delight,” “repose,” or “wondrous joy”. Abhirati is the world system (lokadhātu) and buddha-field (buddhakṣetra) of the buddha Akṣobhya, which is said to be located in the east.

The Princeton Dictionary states:

Abhirati is one of the earliest of the buddha-fields to appear in Buddhist literature and is depicted as an idealized form of our ordinary sahā world. As its name implies, abhirati is a land of delight, the antithesis of the suffering that plagues our world, and its pleasures are the by-products of Akṣobhya’s immense merit and compassion. In his land, Akṣobhya sits on a platform sheltered by a huge bodhi tree, which is surrounded by row after row of palm trees and jasmine bushes. The soil is golden in color and as soft as cotton.[1]

Jan Nattier states:

Though the existence of Aksobhya's eastern paradise is taken for granted in several early Mahayana sutras, it is in the Akṣobhyavyūha that this world is discussed in the greatest detail. [...] It should also be pointed out that the considerably shorter discussions of Aksobhya and his realm contained in texts like the Aṣṭasāhasrikā and the Vimalakīrti conform to the description given in the Akṣobhyavyūha in most of the relevant details. Thus there is every reason to believe that a coherent body of thought concerning the celestial realm of the Buddha Aksobhya was already circulating in India, at least in certain Mahayana circles.
The first point to note is that Aksobhya's realm is not, in the technical sense, a heaven: on the contrary, it comprises an entire world-system (lokadhatu) endowed with heavens of its own. Indeed the sutra makes much of the fact that in Aksobhya's world the human realm and the Trayastrimsa Heaven are connected by a staircase, and that the gods frequently descend to the human realm, drawn by the presence of Aksobhya there. Abhirati is thus a multi-layered universe much like our own Saha world, but with two important exceptions: it lacks the lower three realms, or durgath (hell-beings, animals, and ghosts), and it lacks Mt. Sumeru and the other mountain ranges that are so central to Indian (including Buddhist) cosmology. In other respects, however, Aksobhya's land is clearly modeled on that of Sakyamuni, so much so that the human realm within it is even referred to repeatedly as "that Jambudvīpa." It is thus not a heaven in the traditional Buddhist sense - that is, a realm located in the upper reaches of the Desire Realm or in the realms of Form or Formlessness - but an entire (if slightly truncated) world-system, shorn only of what the Aksobhyavyuha's authors apparently considered to be our own world's most unattractive features.
In a number of respects Aksobhya's world appears simply as a much improved version of our own. Here we find no reference to the "apparitional birth" (hua-sheng) by which living beings are born into the various heaven-realms (or, for that matter, into Sukhāvatī); rather, men and women are born in the normal manner, but without any impurity or suffering on the mother's part. The version preserved in Tibetan translation supplies additional details not found in the Chinese, hastening to add that in Aksobhya's world birth does not result from ordinary sexual intercourse. On the contrary, whenever a man looks at a woman with desire (for in this world desire has not been completely eliminated) his lust is immediately cooled, and he enters into a state of samādhi; as for the woman, she immediately conceives a child.24 All this takes place, in other words, without any physical contact between the "parents" whatsoever.
Just as the manner of conception and birth is simply a more rarefied version of processes that take place here in this Jambudvlpa, so are the other physical aspects of Aksobhya's realm best described as upgraded versions of our own. His land is free of sickness, people are never ugly* and (on a doctrinal note) there are no "heretical religions" there. Jewelry and clothing grow on trees, and once picked these garments always remain fresh and clean, imbued with the scent of heavenly flowers (thus averting the drudgery of laundry). Nor does food need to be planted, harvested, or cooked: like the gods of the Trayastrimsa Heaven, as soon as the inhabitants of Abhirati think of food and drink, they immediately attain whatever they desire. In Aksobhya's world people do not have to exert any effort to earn a living, and buying and selling are unknown. Thus those fortunate enough to be born in Abhirati are free to relax and enjoy a paradise-like climate free from the extremes of heat or cold, where a gentle, scented breeze blows in accord with people's wishes.[2]

Peter Harvey states:

Abhirati is seen to lie to the east, and the Bodhisattva who produced it is said to have been very moral and free from anger. His realm is seen as a beautiful environment, free of inconveniences such as brambles or mountains, menstruation for women, or the need to grow food. Those there may become Arhats or progress towards Buddhahood. A person gains rebirth in this land by assiduous moral and spiritual practice, vowing to be reborn there, dedicating his or her karmic fruitfulness to this, and visualizing Buddhas teaching in their Buddha-fields. Eventually, Akobhya will pass into final Nirvana, though his place will later be taken by another Buddha.[3]


  1. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Abhirati.
  2. Nattier 2000, pp. 80-82.
  3. Harvey 2013, s.v. Chapter 6, section "The Mahayana pantheon".