Two Rivers and White Path

The parable of the two rivers and the white path is a powerful expression of Pure Land Buddhist beliefs. This 13th century Japanese painting resides in the collection of the Cleveland Art Museum (1955.44) and appears here courtesy of a CC0 1.0 license.

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Two Rivers and White Path
Amida in Sukhavati Amida Welcoming River of Fire Water River Shakyamuni Encouraging White Path Dangerous Beasts Bandits Birds Human Life

Amida in Sukhavati

The top of the painting represents the final destination of the traveler, Sukhavati (the Land of Bliss), where the Buddha Amida sits with two bodhisattvas, Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta. Once here, the traveler is assured of effortless progress on the Buddhist path and eventually complete release from suffering, due to Amida's power.

For more details on how to contemplate and meet Amida in Sukhavati, see the Taima Mandala. For another reference to Amida in Sukhavati as the means to escape the sufferings of this world, see the top left corner of the wheel of existence.

Amida Welcoming

On the far shore of the two rivers and white path stands Amida with two bodhisattvas, calling to the traveler and welcoming him. Through Amida's encouragement, the traveler generates the confidence to progress.

See a related scene of Amida welcoming a new birth in Sukhavati in the Taima Mandala.

River of Fire

The two rivers, one of fire, one of water, represent the twin poisons of attraction and aversion. These psychological factors tend to guide one's actions and distract from the difficult path to awakening.

For more on these poisons, see the very center of the wheel of existence.

Water River

The two rivers, one of fire, one of water, represent the twin poisons of attraction and aversion. These psychological factors tend to guide one's actions and distract from the difficult path to awakening.

For more on these poisons, see the very center of the wheel of existence.

Shakyamuni Encouraging

On the near shore of the two rivers, the Buddha Shakyamuni stands encouraging the traveler to cross the white path to Amida's land. Shakyamuni was the historical Buddha of our world, and while he has since passed from it, his teaching remain to encourage practitioners forward.

For another depiction of Shakyamuni helping humans in this world, see a detail of the human realm in the wheel of existence.

White Path

An inches-wide white path offers the traveler a singular but difficult route past the dangers of the two rivers and for escape from the beasts and bandits of the near shore. This path represents a pure aspiration to rebirth in Sukhavati, the best means to salvation.

Dangerous Beasts

The dangerous beasts and bandits on the near shore represent factors like the sense organs, the types of conscioussness, and the elements of self-identity that root sentient beings to the endless cycle of birth and suffering in our world. The need to escape from them is powerful and immediate.

For another reference to the dangers posed by sense faculties and consciousness, see the outer rim of the wheel of existence.

Bandits

The dangerous beasts and bandits on the near shore represent factors like the sense organs, the types of conscioussness, and the elements of self-identity that root sentient beings to the endless cycle of birth and suffering in our world. The need to escape from them is powerful and immediate.

For another reference to the dangers posed by sense faculties and consciousness, see the outer rim of theĀ wheel of existence.

Birds

Sukhavati, the Land of Bliss, famously contains birds whose song teaches the Dharma, the lessons of Buddhism. Because all beings born in Sukhavati are guaranteed enlightenment, these birds are not actually sentient beings, but rather mere apparitions generated by Amida's power. This is in direct contrast to the animals represented in the wheel of existence.

Human Life

Among other scenes on the near shore at the bottom of the painting is a depiction of two musicians in a building.