Jivaka, A Councilor
Candraprabha, A Councilor
Varsakara, A Councilor
On the Larger Sutra
Venerable Ananda, rising from his seat,
Beheld the majestic radiance of the World-honored one;
Amazed, with a rare feeling of wonder emerging in him,
He realized he had never witnessed such radiance before.
he had never seen: he had never beheld such a countenance before.
Sakyamuni’s splendor was rare and auspicious;
Ananda, rejoicing immensely,
Asked its meaning, whereupon the Buddha revealed
The fundamental intent of his appearance in the world.
Sakyamuni’s splendor: the Tathagata’s light and especially wondrous features are rare and magnificent.
Having entered the Samadhi of great tranquility,
The Buddha’s countenance was wondrous in its radiance;
Observing the depth of Ananda’s discernment,
He praised him for his insightful question.
Samadhi of great tranquility: the reason for the Buddha’s inner stillness and quietude, which is now more excellent than usual, is that he has appeared in the world solely to teach the Name of Amida; thus, his particularly excellent and auspicious features.
The fundamental intent for which the Buddha appeared in the world
Was to reveal the truth and reality of the Primal Vow.
He taught that to encounter or behold a Buddha
Is as rare as the blossoming of the udumbara.
Udumbara: The udumbara is called “the mysterious, auspicious flower.” The udumbara tree always bears fruit, but the flower blossoms very rarely. Since a Buddha’s appearance in the world occurs only with extreme rarity, it is likened to the udumbara flower.
It is taught that ten kalpas have now passed
Since Amida attained Buddhahood,
But he seems a Buddha more ancient
Than kalpas countless as particles.
Kalpas countless as particles: Suppose a great thousandfold world is [ground into powder and] made into ink, and with this ink one passes [through a thousand lands], then deposits a dot of it in one land with the tip of a brush, passes through another thousand lands, then deposits another dot of it, until all the ink is used up. If all the lands passed through were ground into dust and counted, the number of particles would be that of the kalpas expressed, “kalpas countless as particles.”
The Buddha of Inconceivable Light, under Lokesvararaja Buddha,
Selected the best qualities from among
All the pure lands of the ten quarters
To establish the Primal Vow.
Selected (sesshu): setsu means to especially choose and take up; shu means to distinguish and discard.
The light of the Buddha of Unhindered Light
Harbors the lights of purity, joy, and wisdom;
Its virtuous working surpasses conceptual understanding,
As it benefits the beings throughout the ten quarters.
Unhindered: not obstructed by karmic evil and blind passions.
Purity, joy, and wisdom: since it saves one from the blind passion of greed and eliminates the karma of greed, it is called purity and joy. Since it saves one from the blind passion of anger, it is called joy. Since it saves one from the blind passion of folly, it is called wisdom.
Encouraging the beings of the ten quarters with the words,
“With sincere mind entrust yourselves and aspire for birth,”
Amida established the Vow beyond conceptual understanding
And made it the cause of birth in the true and real fulfilled land.
Note: This is the meaning of the Primal Vow – the Eighteenth, selected Primal Vow.
Beings: the sentient beings of the twenty-five forms of delusional existence.
Those who attain true and real shinjin
Immediately join the truly settled;
Thus having entered the stage of nonretrogression,
They necessarily attain nirvana.
True and real shinjin: shinjin of sincere mind and entrusting. “True and real” signifies sincere mind.
So profound is Amida’s great compassion
That, manifesting inconceivable Buddha-wisdom,
The Buddha established the Vow of transformation into men,
Thereby vowing to enable women to attain Buddhahood.
Note: This is the meaning of the Thirty-fifth Vow
Provisionally guiding sentient beings of the ten quarters with the words,
“Aspire with sincere mind and desire to be born,”
Amida revealed the temporary gate of various good acts
And vowed to appear before them [at the time of death].
Note: This is the meaning of the Nineteenth Vow – birth through various practices.
Aspire with sincere mind and desire to be born: The Nineteenth Vow. This Vow is called “the Vow of Buddha’s appearance and guidance to birth,” “the Vow of Buddha’s appearance at death,” and also “the Vow of Buddha’s coming to receive us.”
Based on Amida’s Vow to appear at the time of death,
Sakyamuni presented all the various good acts
In one scripture, the Contemplation Sutra,
To encourage those who perform meditative and nonmeditative practices.
All the good acts and myriad practices,
Because they are performed with a sincere mind and aspiration,
Become, without exception, provisional good
That will lead to birth in the Pure Land.
Provisionally guiding sentient beings of the ten quarters with the words,
“Direct your merits with sincere mind, desiring to be born,”
Amida revealed the “true” gate of the Name,
Vowing to enable beings ultimately to attain birth.
Note: This is the meaning of the Twentieth Vow. Amida made a Vow concerning self-power nembutsu.
Based on the Vow that beings ultimately attain birth,
Sakyamuni presented, in the Amida Sutra,
The root of good and the root of virtue,
Encouraging those of the One Vehicle.
Root of good and the root of virtue: root of good in the causal stage; that in the resultant stage is called “root of virtue.”
Those of the One Vehicle: they will be brought to birth in the fulfilled land [through the nembutsu].
Those who say the Name in self-power, whether meditative or nonmeditative –
Having indeed taken refuge in the Vow that beings ultimately attain birth
Will spontaneously, even without being taught,
Turn about and enter the gate of suchness.
Ultimately attain: Amida vowed that those who say the Name with a mind of self-power will ultimately attain birth.
Turn about and enter the gate of suchness: to turn, changing into one who will attain the enlightenment of dharma-body.
Those who, though aspiring for the Pure Land of happiness,
Do not realize shinjin that is Other Power,
Doubt the Buddha’s inconceivable wisdom and therefore dwell
In the borderland or the realm of indolence and pride.
Borderland: womblike birth resulting from doubt is called the “borderland.” After passing five hundred years there, one will go to the fulfilled land. People who seek to attain birth through various practices fall into the realm of indolence and pride. Of these, rarely will there be one who, after immeasurable spans of time, advances to the fulfilled land.
It is difficult to encounter a time when a Tathagata appears in the world,
And difficult to hear the teaching of the Buddhas;
It is rare to hear the excellent dharma for bodhisattvas,
Even in a span of countless kalpas.
Excellent dharma: the six paramitas. To encounter them is also, for us, extremely rare.
It is difficult to meet true teachers
And difficult for them to instruct.
It is difficult to hear the teaching well,
And more difficult still to accept it.
More difficult even than trust in the teachings of Sakyamuni’s lifetime
Is the true entrusting of the universal Vow,
The sutra teaches that it is “the most difficult of all difficulties,”
That “nothing surpasses this difficulty.”
Attaining Buddhahood through the nembutsu is the true essence of the Pure Land way;
The myriad practices and good acts are the temporary gate.
Unless one distinguishes the accommodated and the real, the temporary and the true,
One cannot possibly know the Pure Land that is naturalness (jinen).
Sentient beings, having long followed the Path of Sages –
The accommodated and temporary teachings that are provisional means
Have been transmigrating in various forms of existence;
So take refuge in the One Vehicle of the compassionate Vow.