Hymns Based on Gathas in Praise of Amida Buddha

[Composed by] Gutoku Shinran



Amida has passed through ten kalpas now
Since realizing Buddhahood;
Dharma-body’s wheel of light is without bound,
Shining on the blind and ignorant of the world.


The light of wisdom exceeds all measure,
And every finite living being
Receives this illumination that is like the dawn,
So take refuge in Amida, the true and real light.

wisdom (chie): Chi refers to thinking by reflection and judgment, discriminating this as this and that as that. E refers to no-activity attained through stilling such thought, so that there is no mental activity grasping this and that; it is Samadhi of no-activity.
finite: All things in the world are limited; hence, they are said to be finite (literally, “subject to quantification”). Buddha-dharma is without any limit or bound; hence, it is said to be without measure.
true and real: True means free of falsehood and flattery. Real means that things will unfailingly reach fruition.


The liberating wheel of light is without bound;
Each person it touches, it is taught,
Is freed from attachments to being and nonbeing,
So take refuge in Amida, the enlightenment of nondiscrimination.

wheel: that which eradicates
liberation: to attain enlightenment and become a Buddha.
[liberating wheel of light] expresses the eradicating of our karmic evil and blind passions by Amida’s light.
freed from attachments to being and nonbeing: to part from wrong views.
enlightenment of nondiscrimination: Amida, being dharma-body, is called “enlightenment of nondiscrimination”.


The cloud of light is unhindered, like open sky;
There is nothing that impedes it.
Every being is nurtured by this light,
So take refuge in Amida, the one beyond conception.

nurtured by this light: Because we are shone upon by this light, wisdom emerges in us.
beyond conception: beyond the reach of conceptual thought.


The light of purity is without compare.
When a person encounters this light,
All bonds of karma fall away;
So take refuge in Amida, the ultimate shelter.

purity: Being that which acts to eradicate the karmic evil of greed, it is called “the light of purity.”
ultimate shelter: The enlightenment of dharma-body has reached complete and thorough fulfillment.


The Buddha’s light is supreme in radiance;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha, Lord of Blazing Light.”
It dispels the darkness of the three courses of affliction,
So take refuge in Amida, the great one worthy of offerings.

three courses: hell, hungry spirits, animals.


The radiance of enlightenment, in its brilliance, transcends all limits;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of the Light of Purity.”
Once illuminated by this light,
We are freed of karmic defilements and attain emancipation.

radiance: Amida’s light is supreme in brightness.
karmic defilements: karmic evil and blind passions.
attain emancipation: realize enlightenment. Emancipation means to reach Buddhahood, to become Buddha.


The light of compassion illumines us from afar;
Those beings it reaches, it is taught,
Attain the joy of dharma,
So take refuge in Amida, the great consolation.

light of compassion: compassion is likened to the compassion of one’s father.
attain the joy of dharma: to rejoice in dharma.
joy: Buddha of the Light of Joy is the joy of dharma. It is that which acts to eliminate the darkness of greed, anger, and folly.
great consolation: a name of Amida. All the sorrows, griefs, and evils of sentient beings are eliminated and they are comforted.


The light dispels the darkness of ignorance;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of the Light of Wisdom.”
All the Buddhas and sages of the three vehicles
Together offer their praise.

Buddha of the Light of Wisdom: Encompassing all the wisdom of the Buddhas, Amida is called Light of Wisdom. All the Buddhas attain Buddhahood through the wisdom of Amida.
sages of the three vehicles: sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas.


The light shines everywhere ceaselessly;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of Uninterrupted Light.”
Because beings hear [and apprehend] this power of light,
Their mindfulness is enduring and they attain birth.

hear: entrust themselves to Amida’s Vow. The constant, enduring mind of entrusting that arises out of hearing this dharma.
enduring: the mind aspiring for enlightenment is enduring.
mindfulness: the mind of entrusting oneself to Amida’s Vow.


The Buddha’s light cannot be fathomed;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of Inconceivable Light.”
All the Buddhas, in acclaiming a person’s attainment of birth,
Extol Amida’s virtues.

cannot be fathomed: (shikiryo naki): without limit in measurement. Shiki denotes inexhaustible depth. Ryo implies knowing a numerical measurement.
Buddha of Inconceivable Light: the Buddha is completely beyond conception.


The majestic light, transcending form, is beyond description;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of Inexpressible Light.”
All the Buddhas praise this light –
The cause by which Amida’s Buddhahood was fulfilled.

transcending forms: Light is formless. Majestic light refers to Amida. Amida’s form is altogether impossible to explain.
Buddha of Inexpressible Light: [Amida Buddha] is completely beyond verbal expression.
this light – the cause by which Amida’s Buddhahood was fulfilled: Vowing that that light be infinite, Amida became Buddha of Unhindered Light.


The light is more luminous than the heavenly bodies;
Thus Amida is called “Light that Surpasses the Sun and the Moon.”
Even Sakyamuni’s praise cannot exhaust its virtues,
So take refuge in the one without equal.


When Amida, on becoming a Buddha, first taught the dharma,
The sages present were numerous beyond reckoning;
All who aspire to be born in the Pure Land,
Take refuge in Amida, of the vast assembly.

vast assembly: The sentient beings of the ten quarters will all attain Buddhahood in the land of bliss; this is the significance of dharma-body.


The countless great bodhisattvas of the land of happiness
Have reached “succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime”;
Entering the compassionate activity of Samantabhadra,
They unfailingly work to save beings in defiled worlds.

succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime: If one goes to the land of bliss, one becomes the highest disciple of Amida.
compassionate activity of Samantabhadra: We sentient beings, if we attain the land of bliss, will awaken great love and great compassion, and going throughout the ten quarters, will benefit sentient beings. The supreme, perfect compassion of Buddhas is referred to by [the name of the bodhisattva] Samantabhadra.


Amassing a stock of virtues from the Buddhas
For sentient beings of the ten quarters,
They bring them to entrust themselves to the universal Primal Vow;
So take refuge in Amida, the oceanlike great mind.

oceanlike great mind: Amida Buddha’s mind is vast and deep, boundless and without limit.


Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta
Together illumine the world with the light of compassion,
Never resting even for a moment
From bringing to nirvana those with mature conditions.


Those who reach the Pure Land of happiness
Return to this evil world of the five defilements,
Where, like the Buddha Sakyamuni,
They benefit sentient beings without limit.


The free working of their supernatural powers
Cannot be fathomed,
For they are possessed of virtues that surpass conception;
So take refuge in Amida, the supremely honored one.


In the land of happiness, sravakas, bodhisattvas,
Human beings, and devas all possess luminous wisdom,
And their bodily features and adornments are all the same;
Different terms are used for them only in accord with the forms of existence in other worlds.


Their countenances, dignified and wonderful, are beyond compare;
Their bodies, delicate and subtle, are neither human nor deva.
Theirs is the body of emptiness, the body of boundlessness,
So take refuge in Amida, the power of nondiscrimination.

countenances, dignified and wonderful: the excellence of the form of persons of the Pure Land.
body of emptiness: dharma-body which is without limit; dharma-body Tathagata.


People who aspire for the land of happiness
Dwell in the stage of the truly settled.
None in that land are falsely settled or unsettled;
Therefore the Buddhas offer Amida their praise.

falsely settled: refers to birth attained through various practices and good acts of self-power; this is the teaching of the Contemplation Sutra.
unsettled: refers to the import of the Amida Sutra. Although the practice is beyond conceptual understanding, because it is performed through one’s self-power it is taught that one is unsettled.


When sentient beings in the various forms of existence throughout the ten quarters,
On hearing Amida’s Name of transcendent virtues,
Come to attain true and real shinjin,
They greatly rejoice at what they have heard.

various forms of existence: sentient beings of the twenty-five forms of existence. We sentient beings will go beyond the twenty-five forms of existence and be born in the Pure Land.
true: genuine.
real: bearing fruit.
True means not false, not temporary. “False” implies deceit or flattery.
Real means not empty, not vain.
Heard refers to the mind of trust; they attain shinjin and rejoice.


Because of the Vow, “If they should not be born…,”
When the moment of genuine entrusting has come
And people attain the one thought-moment of joy,
Their birth becomes completely settled.

If they should not be born: If those who entrust themselves to my Vow should not be born [in my land], I shall not become Buddha.
joy: to rejoice after realizing shinjin.


The two kinds of fulfillment of the Buddha land of happiness – the beings and adornments –
Were formed through the power of Dharmakara’s Vow.
They have no equal in the heavens or on earth,
So take refuge in Amida, the power of the great mind.

adornments: the various jewel-trees and jewel-ponds; all the various adornments of the Pure Land.
beings: If we go to the land of bliss, we will be able to exercise supernatural powers freely.


Sakyamuni Buddha states
That even with his unhindered eloquence,
The adornments of the land of happiness cannot be fully expounded;
So take refuge in Amida, the inexpressible Buddha.

inexpressible Buddha: it is impossible to describe the Buddha fully in words.


Beings born in the Pure Land in the past, present, and future
Are not solely from this world;
They come from Buddha lands throughout the ten quarters
And are countless, innumerable, beyond calculation.


Those who, hearing Amida Buddha’s Name,
Rejoice in it with reverence and praise,
Receive its treasure of virtues;
The great benefit acquired with one utterance is supreme.

rejoice (kangi): kan means to rejoice in body; gi means to rejoice in mind.
great benefit: to attain nirvana.


Those who hear the Buddha’s Name –
Going even through flames that fill
The great thousandfold world to do so –
Attain forever the stage of nonretrogression.


The Buddhas, infinite in number, all praise Amida,
Whose majestic powers are boundless;
From the eastern Buddha lands, countless as the sands of the Ganges,
Innumerable bodhisattvas go to pay homage.

majestic powers: the free working of Amida’s majestic powers is boundless.


Bodhisattvas of the Buddha lands in the nine other quarters
Likewise go to pay homage to Amida;
Sakyamuni Tathagata has taught in verse
The praise of the Buddha’s immeasurable virtues.

go to pay homage: They go and are born there, where they behold Amida. From the ten quarters bodhisattvas go to the land of bliss and are able to behold Amida.


The countless bodhisattvas throughout the ten quarters,
To cultivate roots of virtue,
Revere and praise Amida in song;
Let us all take refuge in the Bhagavat.

revere: to worship reverently; to venerate with wonder.
praise in song: song implies extolling aloud; praise means to praise in one’s heart.
Bhagavat: a title for Buddha. In India, Buddha is called Bhagavat.


The hall and bodhi-tree of seven precious materials
Belong to the Pure Land of the transformed Buddha-body, a provisional means;
Numberless are the beings born there from throughout the ten quarters,
So pay homage to the sacred hall and bodhi-tree.

hall: house of learning.
bodhi-tree: The courtyard of the Buddha’s enlightenment refers to the place where “birth beneath the twin sala trees” is attained.
Pure Land of the transformed Buddha-body: the borderland, the realm of indolence and pride, the Pure Land of the city of doubt and the womb-palace.


The wondrous land, vast beyond measurement,
Is made up of adornments fulfilled through the Primal Vow,
So bow down to and take refuge in Amida,
The pure one who broadly grasps all beings.


Amida’s self-benefit and benefit of others have been perfectly fulfilled as the Pure Land,
The compassionate means skillfully adorned to lead us to take refuge.
It cannot be grasped by the mind or by words,
So take refuge in the Honored-one beyond conceptual understanding.

self-benefit: Amida’s becoming a Buddha.
benefit of others: bringing sentient beings to birth in the Pure Land.
perfectly fulfilled: full of the working of turning good and evil, without discrimination, into good. For both oneself and sentient beings to attain Buddhahood is expressed “perfectly fulfilled.”


The Buddha’s majestic power and Primal Vow –
Fulfilled, luminous, resolute, and ultimate –
Are means of compassion beyond conceptual understanding,
So take refuge in Amida, the truly immeasurable one.

resolute (kengo): Ken refers to firmness of shinjin, go refers to firmness of mind; the diamondlike mind.


The delicate, wondrous sounds of jewel-trees in the jewel-forests
Are a naturally pure and harmonious music,
Unexcelled in subtlety and elegance,
So take refuge in Amida, the music of purity.

sounds: the branches of the trees, the waters of the ponds, and the things that work and move – these all, without exception, produce the sound of dharma.
pure and harmonious: the softness of the sounds of the notes, kung, shang, chiao, cheng, and yu [of the ancient Chinese scale].


Trees of seven precious materials fill the land,
Mutually reflecting each other’s brilliance;
The flowers, fruits, branches, and leaves all shine thus,
So take refuge in Amida, the store of virtues fulfilled through the Primal Vow.


Pure winds blow in the jewel-trees,
Producing the five tones of the scale.
As those sounds are harmonious and spontaneous,
Pay homage to Amida, the one imbued with purity.


Beams of light, thirty-six hundred
Thousand billion in number,
Shine brilliantly from within each flower;
There is no place they do not reach.


Buddha-bodies, equal in number
To the thirty-six hundred thousand billion
Beams of light, emerge from each flower;
Their features and marks are like mountains of gold.

features: the major characteristics of a Buddha.
marks: the minor characteristics of a Buddha.


Each feature and mark releases, throughout the ten quarters,
A hundred thousand beams of light;
Thus the Buddhas constantly teach and spread the excellent dharma
And lead beings into the Buddha’s path.


The jewel-ponds, formed of seven precious materials, are limpid
And brimming with waters of eight excellent qualities;
The undefiled adornments of the land surpass conceptual understanding,
So take refuge in Amida, the treasury of virtues.

undefiled: free of blind passions.


The afflictions of the three evil courses are forever eliminated,
And only spontaneous, delightful sounds are heard.
For this reason the Buddha’s land is called “Happiness”;
So take refuge in Amida, the ultimately honored one.


Those of immeasurable wisdom throughout the ten quarters – past, present, and future –
All, without exception, having grounded themselves in oneness,
Equally attain the enlightenment of perfection in the two aspects of wisdom;
Their salvation of beings according to conditions is beyond conception.

two aspects of wisdom: both the wisdom of this Saha world and the wisdom of the Buddha’s enlightenment.


When we take refuge in the Pure Land of Amida,
We take refuge in all the Buddhas.
To praise the one Buddha, Amida, with the mind that is single
Is to praise all the unhindered ones.

unhindered ones: those whose body is Amida’s dharma-body.


When, in even a single thought-moment of sincere mind,
You have attained shinjin and joy, gladdened by what you have heard,
Bow down in homage at the feet
Of the Buddha of Inconceivable Light!

joy: to rejoice in shinjin beforehand.
gladdened by what you have heard: to rejoice after having attained shinjin.


I praise Amida’s wisdom and virtue
So that beings with mature conditions throughout the ten quarters may hear.
Let those who have already realized shinjin
Constantly respond in gratitude to the Buddha’s benevolence.

Amida’s wisdom and virtue: great love and compassion and virtue.

Forty-eight Hymns
by Gutoku Shinran