The Vow that All the Buddhas Say the Name
The True Practice of the Pure Land Way
The Practice Selected in the Primal Vow
A Collection of Passages Revealing
The True Practice of the Pure Land Way
Compiled by Gutoku Shinran
Disciple of Sakyamuni
1 Reverently contemplating Amida’s directing of virtue for our going forth to the Pure Land, I find that there is great practice, there is great shinjin.
The great practice is to say the Name of the Tathagata of unhindered light. This practice, embodying all good acts and possessing all roots of virtue, is perfect and most rapid in bringing about birth. It is the treasure ocean of virtues that is suchness or true reality. For this reason, it is called great practice.
This practice arises from the Vow of great compassion, which is known as “the Vow that all Buddhas extol the Name,” “the Vow that all Buddhas say the Name,” and “the Vow that all Buddhas praise the Name.” It might also be called “the Vow of directing virtue for our going forth” and “the Vow in which the saying of the Name is selected.”
[THE SUTRA PASSAGES]
2 The Vow that all the Buddhas say the Name is stated in the Larger Sutra:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters do not all praise and say my Name, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.
3 The sutra further states:
When I have fulfilled the Buddha-way,
My Name shall pervade the ten quarters;
If there be any place it is not heard,
I vow not to attain the supreme enlightenment.
For the sake of all beings I will open forth the treasure-store
And give away universally its treasure of virtues.
Among the multitudes of beings
I will always preach the dharma with a lion’s roar.
4 The sutra passage declaring the fulfillment of this Vow states:
The Buddha-tathagatas throughout the ten quarters, countless as the sands of the Ganges, are one in praising the majestic power and the virtues, inconceivably profound, of the Buddha of immeasurable life.
5 The sutra further states:
Boundless is the majestic power of the Buddha of immeasurable life. This Buddha is praised by every one of the Buddha-tathagatas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters, whose number, incalculable and limitless, is beyond conception.
6 Further it states:
The power of the Buddha’s Primal Vow is such
That those who, hearing the Name, aspire for birth
All reach that land-
Their attainment of non-retrogression coming about of itself.
7 The Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life states:
Before Lokesvararaja Tathagata I have now declared my universal Vows;
May he verify that they will be the cause of supreme enlightenment.
Should I not fulfill these matchless Vows,
May I not become the incomparable honored one, possessed of the ten powers.
Those with minds incapable of the constant practice of giving-
Those impoverished- I will save universally and relieve of all suffering;
I will benefit the world, bringing peace and happiness…
As the one supremely able, I will perform and fulfill all practices;
To those impoverished I will be a hidden treasure-store.
Carrying all good acts to perfect completion, I will be unrivaled;
Among the multitudes I will preach with a lion’s roar.
8 Further it states:
Ananda, because of this benefit, the innumerable, incalculable, inconceivable, and peerless Buddha-tathagatas throughout the countless worlds are one in praising the virtues of the Buddha of immeasurable life.
9 It is stated in the Sutra of Salvation through the Perfect Enlightenment of Amida, Supreme among Buddhas:
Fourth, I vow: When I attain Buddhahood, I will cause my Name to be heard throughout the countless Buddha-lands of the eight quarters, the zenith, and the nadir. All Buddhas will preach my virtues and the perfections of my land to the multitudes of monks in their own lands. There will be none among devas, human beings, and even insects that fly, crawl, or creep, who, upon hearing my Name, fails to awaken a heart of compassion. Dancing with joy, they will all be enabled to come and be born in my land. Fulfilling this Vow, I will attain Buddhahood; if it not be fulfilled, may I ultimately not attain Buddhahood.
When I attain Buddhahood, I will cause my Name to be heard throughout the countless Buddha-lands of the eight quarters, the zenith, and the nadir. All of the Buddhas will extol my virtues and the goodness of my land among followers in their own lands. Those devas and human beings, and even the species of crawling things, who dance and leap [with joy] when they hear my Name, will all be enabled to come and be born in my land. If it not be so, may I not attain Buddhahood.
When I attain Buddhahood, people of other Buddha-lands- whether they have listened to my Name with evil intentions in previous lives or whether they indeed aspire to be born in my land for the sake of enlightenment – will be kept from returning once more to the three evil courses when their lives end. They will instead all attain birth in my land, which is the desire they cherish in their hearts. If it not be so, may I not attain Buddhahood.
Prince Ajatasatru and the five hundred sons of a wealthy man heard the Twenty-four Vows of the Buddha of immeasurable purity. Overwhelmed with gladness, they all danced with joy, and in their hearts they spoke their aspiration: “When we attain Buddhahood, may we too all be like the Buddha of immeasurable purity.”
Sakyamuni Buddha, knowing their aspiration, declared to the monks, “Prince Ajatasatru and these five hundred sons of a wealthy man will, after innumerable kalpas, all attain Buddhahood and be like the Buddha of immeasurable purity.”
The Buddha said, “Prince Ajatasatru and these five hundred sons of a wealthy man have practiced the bodhisattva path for innumerable kalpas, during which they have each made offerings to forty billion Buddhas. Now once again they come to make offerings to me. Prince Ajatasatru and these five hundred were all disciples of mine formerly, in the time of Kasyapa Buddha. Now, again, they all gather here and we meet.”
All the monks, on hearing the Buddha’s words, danced with joy in their hearts, and there was non who did not rejoice…
Such people as these, hearing the Buddha’s Name,
Will be fully at peace and obtain the supreme benefit.
Beings like ourselves, too, will receive that virtue,
And gain what is excellent, each in our own lands.
The Buddha of immeasurable enlightenment bestows the prediction of our attainment:
“In my former life I made my Primal Vow;
All people, if they hear my teaching of the dharma,
Will without exception come and be born in my land.
Thus, what I have vowed will all be fulfilled;
Those who wish to come from the other lands
Will all reach this place,
Attaining non-retrogression after one lifetime.”
Swiftly one transcends [birth-and-death]
And is able to attain the world of happiness;
Reaching the land of immeasurable light,
One makes offerings to countless Buddhas.
People not possessed of this virtue
Are unable to hear the name of this sutra;
Only those who have observed the precepts without fault
Have now come to hear the right dharma.
Those of evil, arrogance, the hindrance of passions, and indolence
Will have difficulty entrusting themselves to this dharma;
But those who have encountered Buddhas in previous lives
Will joyfully listen to the teaching of the World-honored one.
Rare is it to obtain human life,
And difficult to encounter a Buddha’s appearance in the world;
Hard is it to attain the wisdom of entrusting:
Should you meet with and hear this teaching, pursue it with diligence.
If a person, hearing and never forgetting this dharma [of the Name],
Sees, reveres, and attains it, and greatly rejoices,
Then he or she is my excellent, close companion;
Therefore awaken aspiration for enlightenment!
Even when the world is filled with a great fire,
Pass through it and seek to hear the dharma;
Then you will unfailingly become a world-honored one
And free all beings from birth, aging, and death.
11 The “Chapter on Great Beneficence,” scroll two, in the Sutra of the Lotus of Compassion states:
I vow that when I have attained supreme enlightenment, the sentient beings of the countless, innumerable, incalculable Buddha-lands who hear my Name will all cultivate roots of good and aspire for birth in my land. Further, I vow that after their lives have ended, I will unfailingly bring them to attainment of birth. Excepted are those who commit the five grave offenses, who slander the sages, or who destroy the right dharma.
[ON SAYING THE NAME]
12 These passages reveal that saying the Name breaks through all the ignorance of sentient beings and fulfills their aspirations. Saying the Name is the right act, supreme, true, and excellent. The right act is the nembutsu. The nembutsu is Namu-amida-butsu. Namu-amida-butsu is right-mindedness. Let this be known.
[Passages from the Masters: Nagarjuna]
Some declare that the samadhi called “all Buddhas’ presence” and great compassion are the “home of the Buddhas.” All Tathagatas are born from them. Of the two, the samadhi of all Buddhas’ presence is the father and great compassion is the mother. It is also said that the samadhi of all Buddhas’ presence is the father and insight into the non-origination of all existence is the mother. In Aid to Enlightenment it is stated:
The samadhi of all Buddhas’ presence is the father;
Great compassion and non-origination are the mother:
All the Tathagatas
Are born from these two.
Since the home is free of all fault, it is possessed of purity. “Purity” refers to the six paramitas and the four abodes of virtue. Skillful means and prajnaparamita are the superb wisdom. The samadhi of all Buddhas’ presence, great compassion, and the insights -these are pure and altogether free of fault. Hence the home is said to be pure. Because the bodhisattvas make these their home, it is completely without fault.
Turning from the paths of the world, they enter the highest, supra-mundane path: the paths of the world are the paths traveled by foolish beings. Turn from means to abandon. The paths of foolish beings do not ultimately lead to nirvana, but ceaselessly come and go in birth-and-death; hence they are called “paths of foolish beings.” Supra-mundane path refers to the way by which one is able to go out from the three realms; hence it is called the “supra-mundane path.” It is highest because it is excellent. Enter means to practice this way truly. With such a mind one enters the first stage; it is called “the stage of joy.”
Question: Why is the first stage called “joy”?
Answer: Like the person of the first fruit,
Who will ultimately reach nirvana
Bodhisattvas who attain this stage
Always greatly rejoice in their hearts.
Within them the seed of all Buddha-tathagatas
Naturally increases and grows;
Hence, such a person
Is called good and wise
Like the person of the first fruit: that is, like persons who gain the stage of srota-apanna. For them, the gates to the three evil courses are decisively closed off. They see the dharma, attain the dharma, and abide in the firm dharma, from which they can never be moved, and thus they ultimately reach nirvana. They eliminate the blind passions that are to be eliminated by insight into true reality; hence they greatly rejoice in their hearts. Even though they may give themselves to sleep and sloth, still they will never be subject to further samsaric existence for a twenty-ninth time.
Split a hair into a hundred strands, and with a single strand draw up water from the broad ocean. The amount of suffering already extinguished at the first stage is like two or three drops drawn thus, while the waters of the vast ocean represent the amount yet remaining to be extinguished. The mind equal to those two or three drops greatly rejoices. The case of the bodhisattva is like this.
To have reached the first stage is called being born into the home of the Tathagatas. Persons born into this home receive the offerings and the homage of all devas, nagas, yaksas, gandharvas,…sravakas, and pratyekabuddhas. Why? Because the home is free of all fault, and for this reason the bodhisattvas have turned from worldly paths and entered the supra-mundane path. With only joyful reverence for the Buddhas, they attain the four abodes of virtue and receive the recompense of performing the six paramitas. Nourished by the rich taste of this, the seed of all Buddhas [within them] is never severed; hence they greatly rejoice in their hearts. The remaining suffering that the bodhisattvas will experience seems but two or three drops of water. Although they must pass through a hundred thousand kotis of kalpas in attaining the supreme, perfect enlightenment, the remaining suffering seems like two or three drops when compared with the suffering they have gone through in birth-and-death since the beginningless past, though in fact the suffering to be eliminated is like the water of the vast ocean. Therefore this stage is called “joy.”
Question: Bodhisattvas in this first stage of joy are called “those who greatly rejoice.” Since the attainment of many virtues occurs here, joy is taken to be the name of this stage. [In this stage] they should rejoice in the dharma. What is there that brings joy?
Answer: To think constantly on the Buddhas
And on the great faculties of the Buddhas
Is the rare practice of the definitely settled;
Hence, one greatly rejoices.
Because of such causal sources of joy, the bodhisattvas in the first stage greatly rejoice in their hearts.
Think on the Buddhas means to think on the Buddhas of the past such as Dipamkara, the Buddhas of the present such as Amida, and the Buddhas of the future such as Maitreya. When they think constantly on the Buddhas, the world-honored ones, it is as though the Buddhas were actually before their eyes. The Buddhas are foremost among beings of the three realms, excelled by none; hence the bodhisattvas greatly rejoice.
Think on the great faculties of the Buddhas: briefly stated, there are forty faculties possessed exclusively by Buddhas. First, their ability to fly freely accords with their own will. Second, their ability to transform themselves freely is unlimited. Third, their ability to hear freely is without impediment. Fourth, they have incalculable means by which they freely know the minds of all sentient beings…
Concerning the phrase, Bodhisattvas who think on definite settlement: when bodhisattvas have received a prediction of their attainment of supreme enlightenment, they enter the stage of the dharma and realize insight into non-origination. An army of millions of kotis of maras cannot defeat or confuse them. Attaining the mind of great compassion, they fulfill the acts of a great being…. Such are those called “bodhisattvas who think on definite settlement.”
Think on the rare practice means to think on the highest, rare practice of the definitely settled bodhisattva. To think on it causes one to rejoice in one’s heart. This practice is beyond the capability of all ordinary beings, and no sravaka or pratyekabuddha is able to perform it. It reveals the unhindered emancipation of the Buddha-dharma, and also the wisdom of the all-knowing one. Further, since one thinks on all the practices performed in the ten stages, one is said to “greatly rejoice in one’s heart.” Therefore, the first stage attained by bodhisattvas is called “joy.”
Question: There are ordinary beings who have yet to awaken the aspiration for supreme enlightenment, and those who awaken the mind of enlightenment but have not yet attained the stage of joy. Such people may also experience joy when thinking on the Buddhas and the great faculties of the Buddhas, or on the definitely settled bodhisattvas and their rare practice. How does the joy of a bodhisattva who has attained the first stage differ from the joy of such people?
Answer: If bodhisattvas attain the first stage,
They will greatly rejoice in their hearts;
They will think, “I also am definitely to obtain
The immeasurable virtues of the Buddhas.”
The definitely settled bodhisattvas who attain the first stage, in thinking on the Buddhas, see that the Buddhas possess immeasurable virtues, and they consider, “I will indeed unfailingly attain the same thing.” This is because they reflect, “I have already attained this first stage and thus joined those who are definitely settled.” This thought does not occur to the others. Because of it, the bodhisattvas of the first stage greatly rejoice. This is not the case with the others. How is it so? Although others may think on the Buddhas, they are incapable of having the thought, “I will indeed unfailingly attain Buddhahood.” Take, for example, the case of the cakravartin prince. He is born into the house of the cakravartin king and possesses the marks of the cakravartin king. Thinking of the virtues and nobility of the cakravartin kings of the past, he considers, “Now I also have these marks, and I will indeed attain that wealth and nobility,” and he rejoices greatly in his heart. If he lacked the marks of the cakravartin king, he would not have such joy. Likewise, when the definitely settled bodhisattvas think on the Buddhas, on their great virtues, and on their nobility of deportment, they reflect, “I have these marks and will indeed unfailingly attain Buddhahood,” and they greatly rejoice. This does not take place with the others. The mind [definitely] settled refers to the mind that, penetrating deeply into the Buddha-dharma, is never shaken.
What does it mean that the power of entrusting becomes dominant? When one accepts firmly what one hears and sees and does not doubt, it is said that the power of entrusting has become “dominant.” It is also described as “excellent.”
Question: There are two ways of being dominant: in abundance and in excellence. Which does the present explanation refer to?
Answer: It refers to both. Since the bodhisattvas obtain a taste of all virtues when they enter the first stage, the power of entrusting becomes increasingly dominant. With this power of entrusting, they fathom the depth and excellence of the immeasurable virtues of the Buddhas, and profoundly entrust themselves to and accept them. Hence, this mind of entrusting is both abundant and excellent.
When they deeply practice great compassion, pity for sentient beings penetrates their bones and marrow; hence, “deeply.” Since they seek the enlightenment of the Buddha for the sake of all sentient beings, the word “great” is used. The compassionate heart constantly seeks to benefit beings and to bring them tranquility. There are three kinds of compassion…
In the Buddha’s teaching there are countless gates. Just as there are difficult and easy among the paths of this world – for journeying overland is full of hardship while sailing on board of a boat is pleasant – so it is with the paths of bodhisattvas. Some engage in rigorous practice and endeavor; others quickly reach the stage of non-retrogression through the easy practice of entrusting as the means [for attaining it]…
If a person desires quickly to attain
The stage of non-retrogression,
He or she should, with a reverent heart,
Say the Name, holding steadfast to it.
If bodhisattvas desire to realize the supreme, perfect enlightenment through attaining the stage of non-retrogression while in their present existence, they should think on the Buddhas of the ten quarters. The saying of the Name is taught thus in “Chapter on Non-retrogression” of the Sutra of the Questions of the Lad Ratnacandra:…
In the west is the Good Land;
The Buddha there is named Immeasurable Light.
The Buddha’s bodily radiance and wisdom are luminous,
Shining everywhere without limit.
Those who hear the Buddha’s Name
Immediately attain the stage of non-retrogression…
Countless kalpas in the past,
There was a Buddha named Ocean of Virtue,
Under whose guidance the Buddhas of the present
All established their vows.
The Buddha’s life is without measure,
And light unbounded;
The Buddha’s land is exceedingly pure.
If one hears the Name, one definitely attains Buddhahood…
Question: When persons simply hear the names of these ten Buddhas, hold steadfast to them, and keep them in their hearts, they immediately attain non-retrogression [in progress] toward the supreme, perfect enlightenment. Does one also attain non-retrogression with the names of other Buddhas and bodhisattvas?
Answer: It is thus,
When, saying their names, one thinks single-heartedly
On Amida, the other Buddhas,
And the great bodhisattvas,
One attains the stage of non-retrogression.
One should revere and pay homage to Amida and the other Buddhas and say their names. I will now expound in detail the Buddha of immeasurable life.
There is Lokesvararaja Buddha (and the other Buddhas). These world-honored Buddhas at present in the pure realms of the ten quarters all say the Name of Amida Buddha and are mindful of the Primal Vow, which states:
If persons think on me and say my Name, spontaneously taking refuge in me, immediately they enter the stage of the definitely settled and will realize the supreme, perfect enlightenment.
Hence you should constantly be mindful of Amida. I offer praise in a gatha:
O Buddha, the wisdom of immeasurable light,
Whose body is like a mountain of pure gold,
I now in body, speech, and thought,
Place hands together and bow my head in worship!…
Those who think on Amida Buddha’s
Immeasurable power and virtues
Immediately enter the stage of the definitely settled;
For this reason I constantly think on Amida…
If persons aspire to attain Buddhahood
And think on Amida in their hearts,
At that moment the Buddha will appear before them;
For this reason I take refuge
In the power of that Buddha’s Primal Vow.
The bodhisattvas throughout the ten quarters also
Go to Amida’s land to make offerings and hear the dharma;
For this reason I bow my head to Amida…
When persons doubt as they plant roots of good,
The lotus [in which they gain birth] will not open;
But for those whose shinjin is pure,
The flower opens, and immediately they see the Buddha.
The Buddhas of the present throughout the ten quarters,
Each in their own way,
Praise the virtues of that Buddha;
For this reason, I now take refuge and worship…
Carried on the ship of the Eightfold Path,
One crosses the ocean difficult to cross.
One crosses oneself, and also ferries others across;
For this reason I worship Amida, the one freely working.
Even were all Buddhas to praise Amida’s virtues
For kalpas beyond reckoning,
They still would fail to exhaust them;
For this reason I take refuge in the one of purity.
Now, in this way, I extol
Amida’s immeasurable virtues;
Through the merit of this praise,
May the Buddha constantly think of me.
Relying on the sutras
In which the manifestation of true and real virtues is taught,
I compose a gatha of aspiration, a condensation,
That accords with the Buddha’s teaching…
Contemplating the power of the Buddha’s Primal Vow,
I see that no one who encounters it passes by in vain;
It quickly brings to fullness and perfection
The great treasure ocean of virtues.
Know that the bodhisattva, having entered the first four gates, has fulfilled the practice of self-benefit, and having emerged into the fifth gate, has fulfilled the practice of directing virtue and benefiting others. For by having thus performed the practices of the five gates and accomplished both self-benefit and benefiting others, the bodhisattva has swiftly realized the supreme, perfect enlightenment.
Reverently contemplating the Commentary on the Ten Bodhisattva Stages of Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, I find it stated that there are two paths by which bodhisattvas seek the stage of non-retrogression – the path of difficult practice and the path of easy practice.
With the path of difficult practice, it is seeking non-retrogression in this world of five defilements at a time when there is no Buddha that is difficult. This difficulty appears in many ways; I will indicate what is meant by roughly listing several of them.
- The apparent good practiced in non-buddhist ways is confused with the dharma of the bodhisattva.
- The sravaka’s concentration on self-benefit diverts a bodhisattva’s practice of great compassion.
- Evildoers lacking self-reflection subvert the excellent merits of others.
- The results of good acts undertaken with inverted thinking nullify the bodhisattva’s pure practice for enlightenment.
- The path of difficult practice is based solely on self-power and lacks the support of Other Power.
Such problems as these, which may be seen everywhere, are examples of the difficulty. Thus the path of difficult practice may be compared in its hardship to journeying overland on foot.
In the path of easy practice, one aspires to be born in the Pure Land with solely one’s entrusting oneself to the Buddha as the cause, and allowing oneself to be carried by the power of the Buddha’s Vow, quickly attains birth in the land of purity. Supported by the Buddha’s power, one immediately enters the group of the truly settled of the Mahayana. The stage of the truly settled is none other than the stage of non-retrogression. Thus the path of easy practice may be compared in its comfort to being carried over waterways in a ship.
This treatise, the Upadesa on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life, indeed holds the ultimate of the Mahayana; it is a sail with which to catch the favorable wind toward non-retrogression.
“Immeasurable Life” is a name of the Tathagata of the Pure Land of happiness. Sakyamuni Buddha, while residing at Rajagrha and Sravasti, taught the assembly about the virtues that adorn the Buddha of Immeasurable Life. The Buddha’s Name forms the essence of those sutras. Later, the sage Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, reverently heeding [Sakyamuni] Tathagata’s greatly compassionate teaching, composed a gatha of aspiration for birth in the Pure Land based on these sutras.
Vasubandhu’s aspiration is not undertaken lightly. How could it ever be fulfilled without the support of the Tathagata’s majestic power? Here Vasubandhu entreats the Tathagata to lend his majestic power; hence he reverently addresses him, saying, “O World-honored one!”
The words, Single-heartedly I, are Bodhisattva Vasubandhu’s profession of personal commitment. They mean that in Vasubandhu’s thinking on the Tathagata of unhindered light and aspiring to be born in the land of happiness, thoughts on the Buddha succeed one another without any other thoughts intermingling.
Concerning the words, [I] take refuge in the Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters: take refuge manifests the gate of worship, and Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters manifests the gate of praise.
We know that to take refuge is also to worship because Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, in composing gathas to Amida Tathagata, sometimes states “I bow in worship,” sometimes “I take refuge,” and sometimes “I take refuge and worship.” Moreover, in the exposition section of the Treatise Bodhisattva Vasubandhu speaks of “practicing the five gates of mindfulness,” and worship is numbered among these five gates. Since he indeed aspires for birth in Amida’s Pure Land, is it not natural that he should worship the Buddha? For these reasons, we know that taking refuge manifests itself as worship. Worship itself, however, is only to pay homage and does not necessarily imply taking refuge; rather, taking refuge expresses itself in worship. From this we can infer that taking refuge is central. In the gatha, Vasubandhu expresses his personal aspiration; thus it is natural for him to say, “[I] take refuge.” In explaining the meaning of the gatha in the exposition, he generally uses the term “worship.” The two terms, “take refuge” and “worship,” complement each other, revealing the basic meaning all the more clearly.
How do we know that the Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters expresses the gate of praise? It is stated later in the exposition:
How does one “praise”? One says the Name of the Tathagata in accord with the Tathagata’s light, which is the embodiment of wisdom, wishing, by practicing in accord with reality, to be in correspondence with the significance of the Name…
Here Vasubandhu states, Tathagata of unhindered light filling the ten quarters. This is to offer praise in accord with the working of the Tathagata’s light, which is the embodiment of wisdom, through the Tathagata’s Name. Hence we know that these lines manifest the gate of praise. The line [I] aspire to be born in the land of happiness manifests the gate of aspiration and expresses Bodhisattva Vasubandhu’s taking of refuge.
Question: In the Mahayana sutras and treatises it is frequently taught that sentient beings are in the final analysis unborn, like empty space. Why does Bodhisattva Vasubandhu express aspiration for “birth”?
Answer: The statement, “Sentient beings are unborn, like empty space,” is open to two interpretations. First, what ordinary people see – such as sentient beings, which they conceive as real, or the acts of being born and dying, which they view as real – is ultimately non-existent, like imaginary “tortoise fur,” or like empty space. Second, since all things are “born” from causal conditions, they are actually unborn; that is, they are non-existent, like empty space.
The “birth” to which Bodhisattva Vasubandhu aspires refers to being born through causal conditions. Hence it is provisionally termed “birth.” This does not mean that there are real beings or that being born and dying is real, as ordinary people imagine.
Question: In what sense do you speak of birth in the Pure Land?
Answer: For the provisionally-called “person” in this world who practices the five gates of mindfulness, the preceding thought is the cause of the succeeding thought. The provisionally-called “person” of this defiled world and the provisionally-called “person” of the Pure Land cannot be definitely called the same or definitely called different. The same is true of preceding thought and succeeding thought. The reason is that if they were one and the same, then there would be no causality; if they were different, there would be no continuity. This principle is the gate of contemplating sameness and difference; it is discussed in detail in the treatises. Here ends the explanation of the three gates of mindfulness manifested in the first stanza.
[Next Vasubandhu] states:
Relying on the sutras
In which the manifestation of true and real virtues is taught,
I compose a gatha of aspiration, a condensation,
That accords with the Buddha’s teaching…
What does he rely on? Why does he rely on it? How does he rely on it? What Vasubandhu relies on is the sutras. He relies on them because what the Tathagata [taught in the sutras] is the manifestation of true and real virtues. As to how he relies on them, he does so by being in accord with them through practicing the five gates of mindfulness… Sutras refers to the direct teaching among the twelve divisions of scripture; in addition to the Four Agamas or the Tripitaka, the Mahayana scriptures are also called “sutra.” The words relying on the sutras refer to Mahayana sutras not included in the Tripitaka; they are not the Agamas.
Concerning the manifestation of true and real virtues: there are two kinds of virtue. First, there is virtue that is produced from a defiled mind and that does not accord with dharma-nature. Whether with regard to their cause or to their fruition, the good acts of foolish human beings and devas and the recompense of human beings and devas are all inverted, empty, and false. Hence, they are called untrue virtue. The second kind of virtue arises from the wisdom and pure deeds of the bodhisattva and adorns the Buddha’s activity. It is in accord with suchness and culminates in purity. It is not inverted or false; hence, it is termed true and real virtue. Why is it not inverted? Because it is in accord with suchness and in conformity with the twofold truth. Why is it not false? Because it takes in all beings and brings them into the ultimate purity.
I compose a gatha of aspiration, a condensation, that accords with the Buddha’s teaching: in the term condensation (literally: all-holding), “holding,” means to keep from scattering or losing. “All” indicates holding much with a little…Aspiration means to aspire for birth…That accords with the Buddha’s teaching means to fit together, like a box and lid…
The Treatise states:
How is directing of virtue accomplished? It is by never abandoning any sentient being in suffering, but constantly aspiring in the heart to fulfill the mind of great compassion, taking the directing of virtue as foremost.
The directing of virtue has two aspects: that for going forth to the Pure Land and that for return to this world. “Directing for going forth” means to give one’s virtues to all sentient beings and to aspire to bring them all to birth in Amida Tathagata’s Pure Land of happiness.
It is declared in the Sutra of the Buddha-Contemplation Samadhi:
[Sakyamuni] urged his father the King to practice nembutsu-samadhi. His father the King said to the Buddha, “Why do you not have me, a disciple of yours, practice the virtue attained in the Buddha-stage -suchness, true reality, the highest virtue of emptiness?” The Buddha answered his father, “The virtue attained by the Buddhas is a realm unfathomably profound and excellent, where one attains supernatural powers and emancipation [from blind passions]. Since this is not a realm to be practiced by foolish beings, I encourage you, my father the King, thus to practice nembutsu-samadhi.” His father the King asked the Buddha, “What are the characteristics of the working of the nembutsu?” The Buddha replied to his father the King, “Suppose there is a forest of eranda trees forty yojanas square, in which there is a single gosirsa-candana tree. The candana has roots and sprouts, but has yet to arise forth from the soil. The eranda forest emits only foul odors, without the least trace of a pleasant scent. If one should ingest its flowers or fruit, one goes insane and dies. In time, the roots and sprouts of the candana gradually shoot forth, and just as it grows into a tree, its fragrance fills the air, finally transforming the forest and imparting everywhere its own fragrance. Sentient beings who see this are struck with wonder.” The Buddha said to his father the King, “Thus is the heart of the nembutsu for all sentient beings in birth-and-death. If one simply engages in the nembutsu and does not cease, without fail one will be born in the Buddha’s presence. Once one has attained birth, all one’s evils are immediately transformed and one realizes great compassion. This is likened to the transformation of the eranda forest by the fragrant tree.
The eranda tree here represents the three poisons and the three hindrances within the bodily existence of each sentient being and the innumerable acts of grave karmic evil arising from them. The candana stands for the heart of the nembutsu. “Just growing into a tree”: when any sentient being simply accumulates the practice of the nembutsu without ceasing, the causal act [for attainment of birth] will unfailingly be fulfilled.
Question: By measuring the working of one sentient being’s nembutsu one knows that of all. How is it that the working of a single nembutsu can destroy all hindrances, just as a single fragrant tree can transform a forty-yojana eranda forest and make all within it fragrant?
Answer: The inconceivable working of nembutsu-samadhi may be clarified by quoting from various Mahayana scriptures. The Garland Sutra states:
Suppose a person strings a lute with the sinews of a lion. When he strikes but a single note, all other kinds of string rend. Likewise, when a person practices nembutsu-samadhi in the aspiration for enlightenment, all blind passions and hindrances are sundered and destroyed. Again, suppose a person takes milk from a cow, a ewe, and an ass, and places it all in a single vessel. If he casts in a single drop of milk from a lion, the lion’s milk will immediately pass unhindered through all the other milk, and the various kinds of milk will be broken down and transformed into pure water. Likewise, if a person simply practices nembutsu-samadhi in the aspiration for enlightenment, he or she immediately passes by all evil demons and obstructions without the least hindrance.
Further the sutra states:
Suppose there is a person who has a potion that renders him invisible. As he travels about from place to place, other travelers cannot see him. Likewise, when persons practice nembutsu-samadhi in the aspiration for enlightenment, they are not seen by any evil demons or obstructions, and wherever they go there is nothing that can impede them. This is because putting nembutsu-samadhi into practice is none other than the king of all samadhis.
21 Further it states:
A Mahayana work declares,
It is not that all other samadhis are not samadhis. For there is a samadhi that can eliminate only greed but is incapable of eliminating anger and folly; a samadhi that can eliminate only anger but is incapable of eliminating folly and greed; a samadhi that can eliminate only folly but cannot eliminate anger. There is a samadhi that can eliminate the obstructions of the present but not all the obstructions of the past and future. But if one constantly practices nembutsu-samadhi, one eliminates all the obstructions of past, present, and future without distinction.
A gatha on the Larger Sutra declares,
If persons hear the virtuous Name of Amida, Praise the Buddha with joy, and wholeheartedly take refuge Even but a single thought-moment, they gain the great benefit. That is, they come to possess the treasure of virtues.
Even though the great thousandfold world be filled with fire, Pass through immediately to hear the Buddha’s Name! If one hears “Amida,” on will never retrogress. For this reason I wholeheartedly bow my head in worship.
Again, as declared in the Sutra of the Questions of Maudgalyayana,
The Buddha said to Maudgalyayana, “In every stream and river there are grasses and trees, and regardless of which follows or which goes before, all are carried down to gather in the vast ocean. So it is with this world. Though one may freely enjoy power, station, riches, and pleasure, one cannot escape either birth, aging, sickness, or death. Simply because of failure to follow the Buddha’s teaching, one born as a human being in the next life will still suffer great hardship and be incapable of attaining birth in the lands of the thousand Buddhas. For this reason I teach thus: The land of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life is easy to go to, easy to attain; nevertheless, there are people incapable of practicing and being born there, for they devote themselves instead to the ninety-five false paths. I call such people ‘those without eyes’ and ‘those without ears’.”
Such is the teaching of the sutra. Why then do people not abandon the difficult and rely on the path of easy practice?
It is declared in the Prajnaparamita Sutra Preached by Mañjusri,
I will elucidate the samadhi of single practice. I encourage you simply to sit alone in a quiet place and, abandoning all confused thoughts, concentrate your mind on the one Buddha. When, without contemplating the Buddha’s features, you solely utter the Name, in your single-hearted practice you will be able to see Amida Buddha and all the other Buddhas.
Question: Why do you not have a person perform contemplation but rather directly encourage solely saying the Name?
Answer: Because the hindrances of sentient beings are grave and, though objects of contemplation are subtle, there minds are coarse, their souls are agitated and their spirits fly aloft, so that it is difficult for them to fulfill contemplative practice. For this reason the Great Sage, taking pity on them, directly encourages them solely to say the Name. Saying the Name is indeed easy; accordingly, one continues in it and attains birth.
Question: In solely saying the Name of one Buddha, why does a person see many? Is this not the mixing of wrong and right contemplation, a confused appearance of one and many?
Answer: The Buddhas have attained realization equally; among them there is no differentiation in form. What fundamental principle is violated by thinking on one and seeing many?
Further, the Contemplation Sutra states:
I urge you to sit and practice contemplation, worship, and utterance. In all of these it is best to face the west. A tree falls in the direction that the top leans; it necessarily follows its bent. Thus, when there is an obstruction that prevents persons from facing the west, it is enough for them simply to turn toward the west in their thoughts.
Question: All Buddhas realize the three bodies in the same way, and their compassion-wisdom is perfectly fulfilled, without any differentiation among them. By worshiping and thinking on one Buddha and saying the Buddha’s name, whatever direction one happens to be facing, one will attain birth. Why do you praise only the west and encourage us solely to worship and say the nembutsu?
Answer: What is realized by all Buddhas is the same and single, but since each of them has reached attainment through their own vow and practice, each has in fact their own causal conditions. Thus the world-honored Amida originally established deep, momentous Vows, taking in and saving all beings throughout the ten quarters with light and Name. When Amida brings sentient beings to realize shinjin and aspire for birth, then by saying the Name to the end of one’s life or down to but ten voicings or a single voicing, one easily attains birth through the power of the Buddha’s Vow. For this reason, Sakyamuni and the other Buddhas urge us to face the west in particular. You should understand that this in no way means that one cannot eliminate hindrances or eradicate one’s evil by uttering the names of other Buddhas. But when, as explained above, people continue utterance upon utterance of Amida’s Name to the very end of their lives, then if there are ten people, ten will be born; if one hundred, one hundred will be born. This is because there are no obstructing conditions. It is because they realize right-mindedness; because they are in accord with the Buddha’s Primal Vow; because they do not deviate from the teaching; because they follow the Buddha’s words.
The ocean of Amida’s Vow of wisdom
Is deep, vast, unfathomable;
Those who hear the Name and aspire for birth
All reach Amida’s land…
Even though the great thousandfold world be filled with fire,
Pass through immediately to hear the Buddha’s Name!
Those who hear the Name, rejoice, and praise,
Will all attain birth in that land.
After ten thousand years the Three Treasures will disappear,
But this sutra will remain for a hundred years thereafter;
People of that time who hear and say the Name even once
Will all attain birth in that land.
I am in reality a foolish being of birth-and-death, possessed of deep and heavy karmic evil and transmigrating in the six courses. The suffering is beyond words. Now, encountering a true teacher, I have been able to hear the Name that embodies Amida’s Primal Vow. The Buddha instructs me to say the nembutsu single-heartedly and aspire for birth. May the Buddha’s compassion, never abandoning the universal Primal Vow, grasp me, a disciple.
Question: What virtues and benefits in the present life accrue from saying Amida’s Name and worshiping and contemplating the Buddha?
Answer: If one utters a single voicing of “Amida Buddha,” one immediately eradicates the grave karmic evil that will bind one to eighty billion kalpas of birth-and-death. Worshiping and thinking on Amida and performing the other acts bring about the same result. It is declared in the Sutra of the Ten Ways of Attaining Birth:
When sentient beings think on Amida Buddha and aspire for birth, the Buddha immediately sends the twenty-five bodhisattvas to protect them; whether those beings are walking or sitting, standing or lying down, whether it is day or night, at all times and in all places, evil spirits and evil deities are given no chance to obstruct them.
Further, it is declared in the Contemplation Sutra:
When practicers say Amida’s Name, worship and think on the Buddha, and aspire to be born in the Buddha’s land, the Buddha immediately sends innumerable manifestation-bodies of Buddhas, of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, and of Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta to protect them. Together with the twenty-five bodhisattvas mentioned before, they surround the practicers a hundredfold, a thousandfold, and never part from them, whether they are walking, standing, sitting, or lying, at all times and in all places, whether it is day or night.
Now, since there are these excellent benefits, entrust yourself! May all practicers, accepting Amida’s sincere mind, seek birth in the Pure Land!
Further, the Sutra of Immeasurable Life states:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters say my Name even ten times but do not attain birth, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.
The Buddha is now actually there in the Pure Land, and has attained Buddhahood. Know that the momentous Primal Vow is not in vain, and that when sentient beings say the Name, they unfailingly attain birth.
Further, the Amida Sutra states:
If sentient beings hear someone preach the teaching of Amida Buddha, they should hold steadfast to the Name. For one day, or two days, up to seven days, they should single-heartedly say the Name of the Buddha and not be disturbed by other thoughts. When their lives are about to end, Amida Buddha will appear before them with all the saintly host. At the time of death, their minds will not be inverted, and they will immediately attain birth in the Pure Land.
Sakyamuni Buddha said to Sariputra, “Seeing these benefits, I say: If a sentient being hears this teaching, he or she should awaken aspiration and desire to be born in that land!”
Following this the sutra states:
The Buddhas of the eastern quarter, countless as the sands of the Ganges, as well as the countless Buddhas of each of the other quarters – south, west, north, zenith, and nadir – each in their own lands, extending their tongues and covering all the great triple-thousandfold worlds, preach these true and sincere words: “All you sentient beings should accept this sutra of all Buddhas’ protection!”
Why is it called [the sutra of] “protection”? It is taught that if sentient beings say Amida’s Name and think on the Buddha, for seven days, or one day, down to one voicing – even to ten voicings or a single utterance – they will unfailingly attain birth. [The Buddhas] give witness to this; hence the words, “sutra of all Buddhas’ protection.”
Following this is the statement:
The person who, saying the Name of the Buddha, attains birth, is constantly protected by the Buddhas throughout the six directions, countless as the sands of the Ganges; hence the words, “sutra of all Buddhas’ protection.”
Now, since we have this supreme Vow, you should entrust yourself to it. Why do not all disciples of the Buddha endeavor in their hearts to go forth [to the Pure Land]?
Concerning the “universal Vow,” it is as set forth in the Larger Sutra. The attainment of birth of all foolish beings, whether good or evil, is always, without exception, by being carried by the karmic power of Amida Buddha’s great Vow and accepting it as the decisive cause.
Namu means “to take refuge.” It further signifies aspiring for birth and directing virtue. Amida-butsu is the practice. Because of this import, one necessarily attains birth.
Concerning the expression, Each living thing being grasped by Amida, a manifestation of the decisive cause of birth: it is declared among the Forty-eight Vows taught in the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life, “If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters, aspiring to be born in my land, saying my Name even down to ten times, and being carried by the power of my Vow, were not to be born there, then may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.” This means that practicers who aspire to be born are grasped by the power of the Vow and brought to attainment of birth when their lives end. Hence the expression, Each living thing being grasped by Amida, a manifestation of the decisive cause of birth.
The Buddhas desire to bring all foolish beings, whether good or evil, to turn about at heart, express this in practice, and so attain birth. This is the witness to birth through the nembutsu, a manifestation of the decisive cause of birth in the Pure Land.
The dharma-gates, each distinct, number eighty-four thousand,
But the keen blade for severing ignorance, its effects, and the karmic causes of suffering,
Is the Name of Amida:
In a single utterance, one’s karmic evil is completely swept away.
Gone are countless traces of past karma and the designing thoughts arising from them;
Even without being instructed, we turn and enter the gate of suchness.
Gaining freedom from long kalpas of suffering in this Saha world
Is above all the benevolence of Sakyamuni, the true teacher; Using various skillful means, carefully devised,
He selected the gate of Amida’s universal Vow and enabled us to enter it.
34 From these passages we see that the word Namu means to take refuge. In the term to take refuge (kimyo), ki means to arrive at. Further, it is used in compounds to mean to yield joyfully to (kietsu) and to take shelter in (kisai). Myo means to act, to invite, to command, to teach, path, message, to devise, to summon. Thus, kimyo is the command of the Primal Vow calling to and summoning us.
Aspiring for birth and directing virtue indicates the mind of the Tathagata who, having already established the Vow, gives sentient beings the practice necessary for their birth.
The practice is the selected Primal Vow.
One necessarily attains birth elucidates the attainment of the stage of non-retrogression. Concerning this, the [Larger] Sutra states, “Immediately attains,” and [Nagarjuna’s] commentary, “definitely settled.” “Immediately” reveals the ultimate brevity of the instant in which the true cause of one’s birth in the fulfilled land becomes definitely settled through one’s hearing the power of the Vow. “Definitely” characterizes the realization of the diamondlike mind.
[Sakyamuni] Tathagata preached the teaching fully or in summary according to the capacities of the listeners, but this was in order to lead all to reality in the end. For the person who seeks to realize true non-origination, who else can give the teaching? Indeed, nembutsu-samadhi is the true supreme and profound gate. With the Name fulfilled through the Forty-eight Vows of Amida, the Dharma-king, the Buddha saves sentient beings, taking the power of the Vow as central…
[Sakyamuni] Tathagata, always dwelling in the sea of samadhi, raised his soft, slender hand and said to his father the King:
O King, now you should perform seated meditation and simply say the nembutsu. Why should you seek no-thought by freeing yourself from thought, or non-origination by freeing yourself from origination, or the formless dharma-body by freeing yourself from forms, or emancipation by freeing yourself from words?…
How great it is! The true dharma, the ultimate reality, is oneness, and yet in saving beings and benefiting people, one Buddha’s great vows differ from another’s. For this reason, Sakyamuni is born accommodating himself to this defiled world and Amida manifests himself in the Pure Land. Although their realms differ, one being defiled and the other pure, the benefit they bestow on beings is the same. Truly it is the teaching-gate of the Pure Land alone that is easy to practice and easy to realize. That western quarter is most excellent, an incomparable land. It is adorned with lotuses of a hundred jewels that open forth in nine different ways, and take people into them. This is due to the Name of the Buddha…
Hymns according to the Sutra of the Praise of the Pure Land by Fa-chao, disciple of Sakyamuni:
The sacred Name of the Tathagata is exceedingly distinct and clear;
Throughout the worlds in the ten quarters it prevails.
Solely those who say the Name all attain birth;
Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta come naturally to welcome them.
The Primal Vow of Amida was established to be supremely excellent;
With skillful means, in compassion, Amida draws forth foolish beings.
Every sentient being gains emancipation;
When we say the Name, immediately our karmic evil falls away.
When foolish beings reach the western quarter,
Their karmic evil, from kalpas countless as particles, disappears;
Gaining the six supernatural powers, they are able to act at will;
Rid forever of aging and sickness, they are free from impermanence.
Hymns according to the Sutra of the Life of the Buddha by Fa-chao:
What is to be called the right dharma?
What accords with truth is the true essence of the teaching.
Now is the time to determine and select right from wrong;
Test each particular one by one and allow no indistinctness.
The right dharma surpasses all things of the world!
Observance of precepts and seated meditation are called the right dharma,
But attainment of Buddhahood through the nembutsu is the true essence of the teaching.
Doctrines that do not accept the Buddha’s words are non-Buddhist ways;
Views that reject the law of cause and effect are nihilistic.
The right dharma surpasses all things of the world!
How can precepts and meditation be the right dharma?
Nembutsu-samadhi is the true essence of the teaching.
To see reality and awaken to mind, this is Buddha;
How could nembutsu-samadhi not accord with truth?
Hymns according to the Amida Sutra:
In permitting advance upon the way, the western land excels this Saha world,
For it is free of the five desires and of evil spirits.
To become a Buddha, one does not labor in the various good acts,
But solely sits on a lotus dais and thinks on Amida.
Practice in this world of the five defilements is full of regressions;
Nothing can equal saying the nembutsu and going to the west.
Once there, one naturally realizes perfect enlightenment;
Returning to the world of suffering, one becomes a bridge for others.
Among the myriad practices, it is the quick and essential;
For swift attainment, the Pure Land gate is unexcelled.
Not only is it the teaching from the golden lips of the Master;
All Buddhas throughout the ten quarters transmit and witness it.
When, in this world, a person says the Name of the Buddha,
In the western land a lotus immediately rises;
If only such persons do not regress, but say the Name constantly all their lives,
Those flowers come here among us to welcome them.
Hymns according to the Sutra of the Samadhi of All Buddhas’ Presence by Master Tz’u-min:
Those gathered in the dharma-hall today!
You have all passed in birth-and-death for kalpas countless as the sands of the Ganges.
Considering then this human existence – hard is it to obtain;
It is like the blossoming of the udumbara.
Truly we have come now to hear the Pure Land teaching so rare to encounter;
Truly we have encountered the opening of the dharma-gate of the nembutsu.
Truly we have encountered the call of Amida’s universal Vow;
Truly we have encountered the gathering’s aspiration in shinjin.
Truly we have come today to praise the nembutsu in accord with the sutra;
Truly we have come to pledge to be born on the high lotus dais.
Truly we have encountered no evil spirits in the hall of the dharma;
Truly we have all been able to come here free of sickness.
Truly we have encountered the fulfillment of the virtue of seven-days’ nembutsu;
The Forty-eight Vows will unfailingly take us to the Pure Land.
Thus I encourage all those of the same practice in this hall of the dharma:
Let us strive, and turn about at heart, and aspire to go to the Pure Land!
If we ask, “Where is our true home?”
It is the seven-treasure dais in the pond of the land of bliss.
Amida Buddha, in the causal stage, made the universal Vow:
When beings hear my Name and think on me, I will come to welcome each of them to my land,
Not discriminating at all between the poor and the rich and wellborn,
Not discriminating between the inferior and the highly gifted;
Not choosing the learned and those upholding pure precepts,
Not rejecting those who break precepts and whose evil karma is profound.
When beings just turn about at heart and often say the nembutsu,
It is as if bits of rubble were turned into gold.
I address these words to the gathering before me:
Those alike having ties with the teaching and thus departing this world, quickly ask each other –
Question: Where should we seek to go?
Answer: To Amida’s Pure Land.
Question: What cause enables you to be born there?
Answer: The nembutsu naturally does.
Question: Countless are the acts of karmic evil in this life that obstruct you; how can one such as you enter there?
Answer: When we say the Name, our karmic evil is eradicated; It is like a shining lamp entering the dark.
Question: Is it possible for a foolish being to attain birth or not? How is it that in one utterance the darkness becomes light?
Answer: Cast aside your doubts and often say the nembutsu; Then naturally Amida will always be near you.
Hymns newly composed according to the Sutra of Contemplation on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life by Fa-chao:
Persons of utter foolishness, committing the ten transgressions and five grave offenses,
Have been sinking for long kalpas in the sea of birth-and-death, dwelling in the dust of blind passions.
But when they say the Name of Amida even once, and thus attain
The Pure Land, they become one with the dharma-body as suchness.
There are two parts to Sakyamuni Tathagata’s full exposition in the Larger Sutra. First, he teaches in detail about the result attained by Amida Tathagata, namely, the Pure Land; in other words, that which was practiced and fulfilled. Next, he clarifies in detail the cause and result of sentient beings’ birth in the Pure Land; in other words, their being grasped and benefited.
It is declared in “Chapter on the Bodhisattvas’ Receiving Prophecies” in the Sutra of the Lotus of Compassion:
At that time, Ratnagarbha Tathagata praised the cakravartin king, saying, “Excellent, excellent!…Great king, in the western quarter, past a hundred thousand billion Buddha-lands, there is a world called the Well-Undefiled Land. In that land there is a Buddha named Indraghosesvara…Now, at present, he is preaching the right dharma for all the bodhisattvas…It is a land of the genuine, single great vehicle, pure and unmixed. Sentient beings are born there transformed, all becoming alike. Further, there are no women, nor even the word for woman. The virtues possessed by that Buddha-world are adornments of purity. They are all just as the great king vowed, not differing at all…Now your name will be changed to ‘Immeasurable Purity.'”
The Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life states:
In this way Amida broadly established the great universal Vows and has already fulfilled them all. They are rare in this world. Having made these Vows, Amida, dwelling in repose in accord with reality, has consummated many and various virtues and with them adorned the vast, pure Buddha-land of majestic virtues.
Amida, having fulfilled the two adornments of merit and wisdom, gives the practice for attainment of birth to all sentient beings fully and equally. Because the Buddha benefits sentient beings with what he himself has performed, he has brought his virtues to fulfillment in them.
Through causes nurtured for us over long ages, we now encounter the Buddha and hear the dharma; we should rejoice at this.
The people are sages and the land is excellent. Who would not exert every effort to go there? Therefore do what is good and aspire for birth. Through good, the Pure Land has already been established. Does not attainment of the fruit, then, come about of itself? Hence the word jinen. There is no discrimination between the lofty and the humble; all are brought to birth. Hence the phrase, There is no above or below.
To go is easy and yet no one is born there.
Never at variance with that land,
One is drawn there by its spontaneous working.
When the causal act is performed, one goes to the Pure Land; when it is not performed, seldom is birth there attained. In performing the causal act and going to be born, no discord arises. That is, to go is easy.
Because of the power of the Primal Vow means that going to the Pure Land comes about through the power of the Vow. Because of the Vow, which is perfectly complete: because there is nothing lacking in the Vow. Because of the Vow, which is luminously clear: because there is no futility in seeking to fulfill it. Because of the Vow, which is steadfast and firm: because no condition can impede it. Because of the Vow, which is thoroughgoing and ultimate: because the result will necessarily be attained.
In general, because of the desire to make foolish and inferior beings strengthen their aspiration for birth, one should reveal the excellent qualities of that land.
The sutra already declares, “It is in this world that they performed bodhisattva practices.” By this we are to know that King Aranemi lived here in this world. So did Samudrarenu.
The military officer Chang-lun declares:
The Name of the Buddha is exceedingly easy to keep and say; the Pure Land is exceedingly easy to reach. Among the eighty-four thousand dharma-gates, none compares with this quick path to birth there. By just setting aside moments of the early morning for the nembutsu, one can ultimately make an aid for attaining the eternal and indestructible. That is, one’s exertion of effort is exceedingly slight, and yet one’s obtaining of virtue is inexhaustible. What pains do sentient beings suffer, that of themselves they abandon the nembutsu and do not take it up? Ah, all is dream and illusion, and void of reality! Life is short and hard to preserve! An instant between breaths is when the next life begins. Once we lose human existence, we will not repeat it for ten thousand kalpas. If at this time we do not realize enlightenment, what can even the Buddha do to save us sentient beings? May all people think deeply on impermanence and act so that they do not vainly harbor regrets! Thus I, Chang-lun, known as Layman Ching-yo, urge those with whom I have ties.
Because the Buddha’s Name arises from the body of true reality and of fulfillment, because it arises from the ocean of compassion, because it arises from the ocean of the Vow, because it arises from the ocean of wisdom, because it arises from the ocean of the dharma-gates, simply to say the Name of this one Buddha wholeheartedly is itself to say the names of all Buddhas. Because it embodies immeasurable virtues, it eradicates the obstructions of our karmic evil and enables us to be born in the Pure Land. Why should there be any doubt?
It goes without saying that in his great compassion our Buddha revealed the Pure Land way, and with loving concern widely spread it through the teachings of the great vehicle. Though we see it with our eyes and hear it with our ears, we give rise to doubts and slander. We are self-complacent in our own sinking and drowning, without longing to overcome and rise. The Tathagata taught for the sake of such pitiful beings as ourselves. Truly our doubts arise because we do not realize that this dharma is unique and beyond the ordinary. It does not discriminate between wise and foolish; it does not differentiate between priesthood and laity; it does not question the length of one’s performance of practice; it does not take into account the weight of the karmic evil one has committed: only definitely settled shinjin is required as the cause-seed of birth.
Now, the sutras of the Pure Land teaching are in accord in not speaking of maras; hence, we know that with this teaching one clearly encounters no maras. In Dharma-gate of True Faith by Master Ch’ing-wen of Shan-yin, this is taken up in great detail. Let us quote the discussion at length:
There are people who say, “It is claimed that at the time of death, one beholds the approach of the Buddha and the bodhisattvas, radiant with light and bearing a dais; that there is heavenly music and wondrous fragrance, as they come to welcome one to birth in the Pure Land. But this is all the work of maras.” Is this assertion true?
Answer: According to the Sutra of the Samadhi of Heroic Advance, when one performs samadhi, maras of the five skandhas may appear. According to the Treatise on the Mahayana, when one performs samadhi, exterior maras (heavenly maras) may appear. According to the Treatise on Samatha and Vipasyana, when one performs samadhi, time spirits may appear. All of these occur because people who practice meditation avail themselves of self-power, and the seeds of maras’ work are unfailingly made active at that time. When you clearly recognize this and apply the proper remedy, you can make them disperse immediately. If you assume that you have gained the wisdom of sages, you will be beset with the obstruction of maras. (The above answer reveals that one who seeks to realize enlightenment here in this world stirs up the activity of maras.)
With the nembutsu-samadhi that we are practicing, we rely on the power of the Buddha. If persons are close to the king, no one will dare assault them; so it is with us. This is, in short, because Amida Buddha has the power of great compassion, the power of great Vows, the power of great wisdom, the power of great samadhi, the great majestic powers, the great power to destroy wrong, the great power to subdue maras, the power of the divine eye to see far, the power of the divine ear to hear at great distance, the power to look penetratingly into people’s minds, the power of light shining everywhere and grasping sentient beings. Amida Buddha has all these powers of inconceivable virtue. Why then should Amida not be able to protect persons of the nembutsu and keep them from hindrances up until death? If Amida were to fail to protect the practicer, what would it mean for the Buddha to have the power of compassion? If Amida were unable to disperse the obstructions of maras, what would it mean for the Buddha to have the power of wisdom, the power of samadhi, the majestic powers, the power to destroy wrong, the power to subdue maras? If Amida were unable to perceive the maras’ activity to obstruct us and did not destroy it, what would it mean for the Buddha to have the divine eye’s power to see far, the divine ear’s power to hear at great distance, and the power to look penetratingly into people’s minds? The [Contemplation] Sutra states:
The light emanating from Amida Buddha’s features and marks shines everywhere throughout the worlds of the ten quarters, grasping and never abandoning sentient beings of the nembutsu.
If one were beset by the obstructions of maras at the time of death even though one said the nembutsu, what would it mean for Amida to have the power of light shining everywhere and grasping sentient beings? Moreover, what people of the nembutsu perceive at the point of death is revealed in many sutras, which are all the words of the Buddha. How can we dismiss it as the state of being obstructed by maras? Mistaken doubts have now been completely obliterated; let us awaken the true faith.
(Here ends the question from Master Ch’ing-wen.)
The conclusive expositions of the One Vehicle all designate the land of bliss as their culmination. The resultant Name stands alone as most excellent in embodying the perfect accomplishment of a myriad practices.
Truly, Dharmakara, from the time of his causal stage, established his Vows, held fast to his aspiration, pursued his practice to fulfillment, and embraced the benevolence to save beings for countless kalpas. There is no place at all – even so small as a mustard seed – where he did not abandon his life for our sake. Practicing the six paramitas of compassion and wisdom, he took in and guided all sentient beings without exception. With the two kinds of possessions – those within and without oneself – he unfailingly responded to what beings sought. Bringing to maturity thus the opportunity and condition for saving each being, he fulfilled his practices and consummated his virtues, and thereupon perfectly realized the three Buddha-bodies simultaneously. All the myriad virtues manifest themselves in the four characters, [Amida-butsu].
Needless to say, our Buddha Amida grasps beings with the Name. Thus, as we hear it with our ears and say it with our lips, exalted virtues without limit grasp and pervade our hearts and minds. It becomes ever after the seed of our Buddhahood, all at once sweeping away a koti of kalpas of heavy karmic evil, and we attain the realization of the supreme enlightenment. I know truly that the Name possesses not scant roots of good, but inexhaustible roots of good.
Concerning right-mindedness, the way foolish people face death shows no control over their consciousness. The karmic seeds of past good and evil acts unfailingly rise up and manifest themselves. Some awaken evil thoughts, or fall into wrong views, or cherish attachments, or go insane with ugly features. Surely these can all be called causes of invertedness. If they had recited the Buddha’s Name beforehand, their karmic evil would have been eradicated and their obstructions swept away; within, the pure act of saying the Name would be fragrant, while from without, the compassionate light would grasp them, and in an instant, they would break free of all suffering and realize joy. Thus, the next passage [of the Contemplation Sutra] encourages us to seek birth and teaches that the benefit of the Name lies in bringing us to attainment of it.
Master Tz’u-yun declares:
Only the nembutsu is quick and true as the pure act that brings one to the land of peace; therefore, practice it. If the four classes of Buddhists desire to break through their ignorance swiftly and eradicate forever all the karmic evil – heavy and light – arising from their commissions of the five grave offenses and the ten transgressions, they should practice this teaching. If people desire to abide continuously in pure observance of Mahayana or Hinayana precepts, to realize nembutsu-samadhi, and to fulfill the bodhisattva’s practice of the paramitas, they should train themselves in this dharma. If people desire that they be free of all fear at the time of death, that with both body and mind in repose, the host of sages appear before them and extend their hands to guide them, and that, rid of defiling passions for the first time, they reach non-retrogression at once, so that without passing long kalpas, they immediately realize no-birth, then they should study this dharma.
Who would not follow the dharma-words of this ancient sage? With the five topics discussed above, I have briefly presented the essential points of the Contemplation Sutra. I am not giving a full explanation here; a detailed commentary appears below.
According to the K’ai-yüan Era Catalog of Scriptures, there were two translations of the Contemplation Sutra. The first has been utterly lost, and the one that survives is by Kalayasas. The Biography of Monks states that Kalayasas’ name was translated “Shih-ch’eng” (Time-praise), and that he went to the capital toward the beginning of the Yuan-chia era of the Sung dynasty, during the reign of Emperor Wen.
Among full expressions of the truth, this is the fullest;
Among consummate sudden teachings, this is the most consummate and sudden.
It is the consummate, sudden teaching of the One Vehicle;
It is genuine and single, free of mixture.
Concerning the Buddha’s Name: practices were performed and accumulated for kalpas, and those myriad virtues were all taken and manifested in the four characters, [Amida-butsu]. Therefore, when one says the Name, one acquires no small benefit.
If one says the auspicious Name of the one Buddha and thinks on that Buddha now, one will unfailingly be possessed of the immeasurable virtues accumulated from the time Bodhisattva Dharmakara was in his causal stage until he reached the fulfillment of Buddhahood.
All the Buddhas, after passing countless kalpas in practice, awaken to the reality of things as they are, and yet they grasp not a single thing; hence when, on making great vows that are formless, they perform their practices they do not abide in those excellent acts. When they realize enlightenment, they do not attain it. When they take abode, they do not adorn lands. When they manifest their powers, their supernatural powers are not supernatural powers. Hence, spreading their tongues over the great thousandfold world, they teach the non-teaching. Thus they urge us to entrust ourselves to this Amida Sutra. This is utterly impossible for us to fathom with our minds or discuss with our lips. I believe that these inconceivable virtues of the Buddhas are instantaneously embodied in Amida’s two kinds of fulfilled adornments. Moreover, the practice of holding to a Buddha’s name, though performed with the other Buddhas, always includes Amida.
Question: How is it possible for nembutsu-samadhi to eradicate so much karmic evil?
Answer: Amida Buddha possesses immeasurable virtues. One’s immeasurable karmic evil is eradicated because one thinks on the Buddha’s immeasurable virtues.
All the Buddhas invest their names with their virtues. To say their names is to praise their virtues. Just as their virtues eradicate karmic evil and give rise to merit, so it is with their names. When one entrusts to a Buddha’s name, it is certain beyond all doubt that the name produces good in one and eradicates one’s evil. What question can there be of attaining birth through saying the Name?
The virtue of the nembutsu-samadhi is supreme. Because it is chief of all practices, it is called the king of samadhis.
It is taught that among the various acts performed by the three levels of practicers presented in the two-fascicle [Larger] Sutra, some are shallow and others are profound, but the act common to all is “wholehearted exclusive utterance of the Name of the Buddha of immeasurable life.”
Third, among the Forty-eight Vows is one that, established especially for the gate of the nembutsu, declares, “If sentient beings say my Name even ten times and yet are not born, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.”
Fourth, the Contemplation Sutra states, “For those most heavily burdened with karmic evil, there is no other way. By Simply saying the Name of Amida, one attains birth in the land of bliss.”
We should refer to the Buddha’s six kinds of virtue presented in the Sutra of Contemplation on the Mind-ground: The Buddha is 1) the supreme, great field of virtues, 2) the supreme, great benefactor, 3) the most honored among sentient beings without legs, with two legs, or with many legs, 4) the one as extremely rare to encounter as the blossoming of the udumbara, 5) the only one appearing in all the great triple-thousandfold worlds, 6) the one who has perfectly fulfilled all worldly and supramundane virtues. With these six kinds of virtue, [Amida] constantly benefits all sentient beings.
1. Think on the Buddha’s virtue! All who say “Namu-butsu!” even once have already fulfilled the Buddha-way; hence, I take refuge in and worship the supreme, great field of virtues.
2. Think on the Buddha’s virtue! The Buddha’s regard for each sentient being with eyes of compassion is equal, as though each one was the Buddha’s only child; hence, I take refuge in and worship the unsurpassed mother of great compassion.
3. Think on the Buddha’s virtue! All the mahasattvas of the ten quarters bow reverently to Amida, the honored one; hence, I take refuge in and worship the supreme honored one among beings of two legs.
4. Think on the Buddha’s virtue! Hearing the Buddha’s Name even once is rarer than encountering the udumbara in bloom; hence, I take refuge in and worship the one exceedingly rare to encounter.
5. Think on the Buddha’s virtue! Two honored ones do not appear at the same time in the one hundred kotis of worlds; hence, I take refuge in and worship the great Dharma-king rarely met with.
6. Think on the Buddha’s virtue! The ocean of virtues of the Buddha-dharma is one and the same throughout past, present, and future; hence, I take refuge in and worship the honored one who has perfectly fulfilled the myriad virtues.
When a robe is scented for a single day with flowers of the palijata tree, its fragrance cannot be equaled by the flowers of campaka or varskika, though it be scented by them for a thousand years.
It is like one measure of elixir transforming a thousand measures of copper into gold. In the Himalayas there is a herb called “forbearance.” If a cow eats it, it will produce milk of the finest taste (manda). If the silk tree faces the constellation Krttika, it bears fruit.
Namu-amida-butsu: as the act that leads to birth in the Pure Land, the nembutsu is taken to be fundamental.
If you desire to free yourself quickly from birth-and-death, of the two excellent teachings leave aside the Path of Sages and choosing, enter the Pure Land way. If you desire to enter the Pure Land way, of the two methods of practice, right and sundry, cast aside all sundry practices and choosing, take the right practice. If you desire to perform the right practice, of the two kinds of acts, true and auxiliary, further put aside the auxiliary and choosing, solely perform the act of true settlement. The act of true settlement is to say the Name of the Buddha. Saying the Name unfailingly brings about birth, for this is based on the Buddha’s Primal Vow.
69 Clearly we know, then, that the nembutsu is not a self-power practice performed by foolish beings or sages; it is therefore called the practice of “not-directing virtue [on the part of beings].” Masters of the Mahayana and Hinayana and people burdened with karmic evil, whether heavy or light, should all in the same way take refuge in the great treasure ocean of the selected Vow and attain Buddhahood through the nembutsu.
In that land of happiness, every single being is born transformed from the pure lotus of Amida Tathagata’s perfect enlightenment, for they are the same in practicing the nembutsu and follow no other way.
71 Thus, when one attains the true and real practice and shinjin, one greatly rejoices in one’s heart. This attainment is therefore called the stage of joy. It is likened to the first fruit: sages of the first fruit, though they may give themselves to sleep and to sloth, will still never be subject to samsaric existence for a twenty-ninth time. Even more decisively will the ocean of beings of the ten quarters be grasped and never abandoned when they have taken refuge in this practice and shinjin. Therefore the Buddha is called “Amida Buddha.” This is Other Power. Accordingly, the mahasattva Nagarjuna states [that such persons] “immediately enter the stage of the definitely settled.” Master T’an-luan states [that they] “enter the group of the truly settled.” We should reverently entrust ourselves to this [practice and shinjin]; we should single-heartedly practice it.
72 Truly we know that without the virtuous Name, our compassionate father, we would lack the direct cause for birth. Without the light, our compassionate mother, we would stand apart from the indirect cause of birth. Although direct and indirect causes may come together, if the karmic-consciousness of shinjin is lacking, one will not reach the land of light. The karmic-consciousness of true and real shinjin is the inner cause. The Name and light – our father and mother – are the outer cause. When the inner and outer causes merge, one realizes the true body in the fulfilled land. Therefore master [Shan-tao] states:
[Amida] takes in and saves all beings throughout the ten quarters with light and Name; [Amida] brings sentient beings to realize shinjin and aspire for birth.
Further, [Fa-chao] states:
Attainment of Buddhahood through the nembutsu: this is the true essence of the Pure Land way.
Further, [Shan-tao states:]
Difficult to encounter is the true essence of the Pure Land way.
Let this be known.
73 Concerning the practice and shinjin that Amida directs to us for our going forth: in practice there is “one utterance” (ichinen), and in shinjin there is “one thought-moment” (ichinen). The one utterance of practice reveals, in terms of the number of voicings, the consummation of the easy practice selected in the Primal Vow.
The Buddha said to Maitreya, “If there are persons who, having heard the Name of that Buddha, leap and dance with joy and say it even once, know that they receive the great benefit; that is, they acquire the unexcelled virtues.”
Deep mind is true and real shinjin. One truly knows oneself to be a foolish being full of blind passions, with scant roots of good, transmigrating in the three realms and unable to emerge from this burning house. And further, one truly knows now, without so much as a single thought of doubt, that Amida’s universal Primal Vow decisively enables all to attain birth, including those who say the Name even down to ten times, or even but hear it. Hence it is called “deep mind”…
77 In the [Larger] Sutra, the term “even” (naishi) is used, while [Shan-tao’s] commentary uses “down to” (geshi). Although the words “even” and “down to” differ, their significance is the same.
Even is used to indicate all-inclusiveness, embracing both once and many. Great benefit is used in contrast to small benefit. Unexcelled is used in contrast to excelled. Truly we know that the unexcelled great benefit is the true and real benefit of the One Vehicle. Excelled, small benefit refers to the eighty-four thousand provisional gates. Wholehearted thought in [Shan-tao’s] commentary is single-heartedness, and indicates being free of double-mindedness. Exclusive utterance is the single practice, and indicates not engaging in dual practice.
The saying of the Name once (ichinen) entrusted to Maitreya is one voicing. One voicing is one utterance. One utterance is single practice. Single practice is right practice. Right practice is the right act. The right act is right-mindedness. Right-mindedness is nembutsu: this is Namu-amida-butsu.
78 Thus, when one has boarded the ship of the Vow of great compassion and sailed out on the vast ocean of light, the winds of perfect virtue blow softly and the waves of evil are transformed. The darkness of ignorance is immediately broken through, and quickly reaching the land of immeasurable light, one realizes great nirvana and acts in accord with the virtue of Samantabhadra. Let this be known.
“Continuing for ten utterances” is simply the Sage’s expression for a number. Thus, when persons accumulate practice of the nembutsu, concentrate their thoughts, and do not think of other matters, their causal act [for attainment of birth] is brought to fulfillment, leaving nothing more to be done. We are not to take the trouble of keeping count of our utterances. It is said that the nembutsu of those of long practice may often be done in accordance with the above. In the nembutsu practice of beginners, it is permissible to keep count of the number of utterances. This conforms with the sacred scriptures.
80 These passages are clear testimony revealing the true and real practice. We know indeed that this practice embodies the Primal Vow, in which the nembutsu was selected and adopted. It is the supreme practice, rare and all-surpassing. It is the true and wondrous right dharma in which all virtues are perfectly fulfilled. It is the great practice, ultimate and unhindered. Let this be known.
Power of the Primal Vow: the great bodhisattva, having realized the dharma-body, always dwells in samadhi and thus manifests various bodies, various transcendent powers, and various ways of teaching the dharma. All of this arises from the power of the Primal Vow. It may be likened to an asura’s harp, which, though no one strokes it, spontaneously gives forth music. This is the fifth aspect of virtue, namely, the state of teaching and guiding.
Know that the bodhisattva, having entered the first four gates, has fulfilled the practice of self-benefit: fulfilled means that self-benefiting has been completed. Know means we should know that, by fulfilling self-benefit, he performs the benefiting of others; it is not that he benefits others without being capable of self-benefit.
Know that the bodhisattva, having emerged into the fifth gate, has fulfilled the practice of directing virtue and benefiting others: fulfilled means to reach the fruition, the stage of teaching and converting, through the directing of virtues, which acts as the cause. Whether with regard to the cause or to the fruition, there is nothing whatever that does not work to benefit others. Know means we should know that, by fulfilling the benefiting of others, he performs self-benefit; it is not that he performs self-benefit without being capable of benefiting others.
For by having thus performed the practices of the five gates and accomplished both self-benefit and benefiting others, the bodhisattva has swiftly realized anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. The dharma that a Buddha realizes is called anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. He is called Buddha because he has realized this bodhi. He swiftly realized anuttara-samyak-sambodhi means that he quickly attained Buddhahood. An means “un-,” uttara means “excelled,” samyak means “right,” sam means “all-pervading,” and bodhi is translated “way.” Taken together, the term is translated “unexcelled, right, all-pervading way.” “Unexcelled” means that this way thoroughly penetrates true reality and reaches the ultimate nature of things; nothing surpasses it. Why? Because it is perfect. “Right” refers to enlightened wisdom. Because it knows things just as they are, it is called “right wisdom.” Because dharma-nature is formless, enlightened wisdom is no-knowing. “All-pervading” has two meanings: first, the enlightened mind knows all things everywhere; second, the dharma-body universally fills the dharma-realm. Neither the body nor the mind ever fails to be present everywhere. “Way” refers to “unhindered way.” The [Garland] Sutra states, “Those unhindered throughout the ten quarters have gone beyond birth-and-death upon the one way.” “One way” is the one unhindered enlightenment. “Unhindered” means to know that birth-and-death is itself nirvana. Such dharma-gates as this one teaching entrance into non-duality reveal the unhinderedness of enlightenment.
Question: What is the reason for saying, The bodhisattva has swiftly realized anuttara-samyak-sambodhi?
Answer: The Treatise states it is because he has performed the practices of the five gates and accomplished both self-benefit and benefiting others. Further, when we seek the basis for this [swift realization], truly Amida Tathagata is to be considered the decisive cause. “Other’s benefiting” (ta-ri) and “benefiting others” (ri-ta) are two ways of saying the same thing. If we speak from the standpoint of the Buddha, the term “benefiting others” should be used. If we speak from the standpoint of sentient beings, the term “Other’s benefiting” should be used. Here, it is the Buddha’s power that is being discussed; hence, the term “benefiting others” applies. One must grasp the significance of this. Generally stated, it is because birth in the Pure Land, and the practices performed by the bodhisattvas, human beings, and devas there as well, are all brought to fulfillment by the Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata. If one asks why this should be so, the reason is that were it not for the Buddha’s power, the Forty-eight Vows would have been made in vain. Here, let us verify this by taking up the three relevant Vows.
The Buddha vowed:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters, with sincere mind entrusting themselves, aspiring to be born in my land, and saying my Name perhaps even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment. Excluded are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right dharma.
Through the power of the Buddha’s Vow, one says the Name ten times an accordingly attains birth in the Pure Land. Because one attains birth, one escapes from transmigration in the three realms. Because one is released from transmigration, it is said one “swiftly” realizes enlightenment. This is the first proof.
The Buddha vowed:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, the human beings and devas in my land do not dwell among the settled and necessarily attain nirvana, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.
Through the power of the Buddha’s Vow, one comes to dwell among the truly settled. Because one dwells among the truly settled, one attains nirvana without fail. One is released from all the adversities of wandering in birth-and-death, and for this reason, it is said one “swiftly” realizes enlightenment. This is the second proof.
The Buddha vowed:
When I attain Buddhahood, the bodhisattvas of other Buddha-lands who come and are born in my land will ultimately and unfailingly attain [the rank of] “succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime” – except for those who, in accordance with their own original vows, freely guide others to enlightenment, don the armor of universal vows for the sake of sentient beings, accumulate roots of virtue, emancipate all beings, travel to Buddha-lands to perform bodhisattva practices, make offerings to all the Buddhas and Tathagatas throughout the ten quarters, awaken sentient beings countless as the sands of the Ganges, and bring them to abide firmly in the unexcelled, right, true way. Such bodhisattvas surpass ordinary ones, manifest the practices of all the bodhisattva stages, and discipline themselves in the virtue of Samantabhadra. Should it not be so, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.
Through the power of the Buddha’s Vow one surpasses ordinary bodhisattvas, manifests the practices of all the bodhisattva stages, and disciplines oneself in the virtue of Samantabhadra. Because one surpasses ordinary bodhisattvas and manifests the practices of all the stages, it is said that one “swiftly” realizes enlightenment. This is the third proof.
Inferring from these proofs, we see that Other Power is to be taken as the decisive cause. How could it be otherwise?
Further, the following illustration will point out the characteristics of self-power and of Other Power. Out of fear of falling into the three evil courses, people undertake the observance of the precepts. Because of their observance of the precepts, they are able to perform meditation. Because they perform meditation, they acquire transcendent powers. Because they have transcendent powers, they are able to wander freely throughout the four continents – such is termed “self-power.”
Again, a person of inferior powers astride a donkey cannot rise up off the ground, but when following an outing of a cakravartin king, is able to ride in the air and wander freely throughout the four continents with no obstruction – such is termed “Other Power.” How foolish are scholars of these latter times! Hear the teaching that you should ride upon Other Power and awaken shinjin. Do not confine yourself to your own powers.
In breaking through delusion and realizing true reality in this world, one employs self-power; hence, [self-power practices] are taught in various Mahayana and Hinayana sutras. In going to the other world to listen to the dharma and realize enlightenment, one must rely on Other Power; hence, birth in the Pure Land is taught. Although these two ways differ, they are both means [provided by Sakyamuni] for leading one to realization of one’s mind.
[Ocean of the One Vehicle]
84 In the term “ocean of the One Vehicle,” One Vehicle refers to the great vehicle (Mahayana). The great vehicle is the Buddha vehicle. To realize the One Vehicle is to realize the highest perfect enlightenment. The highest perfect enlightenment is non other than the realm of nirvana. The realm of nirvana is the ultimate dharma-body. To realize the ultimate dharma-body is to reach the ultimate end of the One Vehicle. There is no other tathagata, there is no other dharma-body. Tathagata is itself dharma-body. Reaching the ultimate end of the One Vehicle is without bound and without cessation. In the great vehicle there are no “two vehicles” or “three vehicles.” The two vehicles and three vehicles lead one to enter the One Vehicle. The One Vehicle is the vehicle of highest truth. There is no One Vehicle other than the One Buddha-Vehicle, the Vow.
Good people, true reality is called the great vehicle; that which is not the great vehicle cannot be called true reality. Good people, true reality is what the Buddha teaches. It is not what is taught by maras. What maras teach is not the Buddha’s teaching and hence cannot be called true reality. Good people, true reality is the single way, pure and undefiled; there is no other way.
How does a bodhisattva accept and accord with the one reality? A bodhisattva knows that all sentient beings are led to enter the single way. The single way is none other that the great vehicle. The Buddhas and bodhisattvas divide it into three for the sake of sentient beings. This, a bodhisattva accepts and accords with it without going against it.
Good people, the term “ultimate” has two meanings; first, the ultimate is the process of consummation; second, the ultimate that has been consummated. The first is the ultimate in the realm of the mundane, the second is the ultimate in the realm of the supramundane. The ultimate that has been consummated is the One Vehicle that all sentient beings will realize. The One Vehicle is called Buddha-nature. For this reason, I teach that all sentient beings have Buddha-nature. All sentient beings, without exception, posses the One Vehicle. Because it is covered over by their ignorance, they are unable to see it.
Why is Buddha-nature “one”? Because all sentient beings are possessed of the One Vehicle. Why is it “not-one”? Because the three vehicles are taught. Why is it neither “one” nor “not-one”? Because it is the dharma beyond count.
The dharma realized by Mañjusri is constantly such as it is;
The dharma-king is himself the one dharma.
All the unhindered ones
Have gone out from birth-and-death by means of the single way;
The bodies of all the Buddhas
Are solely the one dharma-body.
Their minds are one, their wisdoms are one;
So are their powers and fearlessnesses.
91 Concerning the term “ocean”: since the infinite past, the river waters of the sundry practices and disciplines performed by ordinary people and sages, and the ocean waters of the ignorance-infinite as the sands of the Ganges-of those who commit the five grave offenses, who slander the dharma, or who lack the seed of Buddha-hood, have been transformed into the waters of the great treasure ocean of all the true and real virtues-countless as the sands of the Ganges – of the great wisdom-compassion of the Primal Vow. This is likened to an ocean. We know truly, then, that it is as a sutra states, “The ice of blind passions melts and become the water of virtues.”
The ocean of the Vow does not keep within it the dead bodies of the sundry good acts of the two vehicles, that is, the middle and lower vehicles. Hardly does it keep, then, the corpses of the empty, transitory, false, and deceitful good acts and the poisoned and impure minds of human beings and devas.
Sravakas and even bodhisattvas
Are unable to know thoroughly the enlightened mind;
They are like persons born without sight
Desiring to guide others.
The ocean of the Tathagata’s wisdom
Is deep, vast and without limit or bottom.
It cannot be fathomed by those of the two vehicles;
Only Buddhas alone can fully comprehend it.
What is the fulfillment of the adornment, “the virtue of sustaining without any futility”? The gatha states:
Contemplating the power of the Buddha’s Primal Vow,
I see that no one who encounters it passes by in vain;
It quickly beings to fullness and perfection
The great treasure ocean of virtues.
The fulfillment of the virtue of sustaining without any futility refers to the power of Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow. The meaning of “sustaining without any futility” will be revealed by briefly illustrating with examples that [sentient beings’] activities are futile and cannot be sustained….Sustaining without any futility is based on the Forty-eight Vows that Dharmakara Bodhisattva made in the past in the causal stage and on Amida Tathagata’s transcendent powers freely working in the present. The Vow gives rise to the power; the power fulfills the Vow. The Vow has not been made in vain; the power has not been actualized in futility. Power and Vow accord with each other and are never in conflict. Hence, the “fulfillment” [of this virtue].
The term “ocean” signifies that the Buddha’s all-knowing wisdom is profound, vast, and fathomless; it does not keep within it the dead bodies of the sundry good acts of the two vehicles, that is, the middle or lower vehicles. This is likened to an ocean. For this reason, it is said:
The immovable ones among devas and human beings
Are born from the ocean of pure wisdom.
“Immovable” means that those devas and human beings, having actualized the root of the great vehicle in themselves, cannot be moved.
I rely on the bodhisattva-pitaka,
The sudden teaching, the ocean of the One Vehicle.
In the Ornament Sutra the gradual teaching is expounded;
Performing practices for a myriad kalpas, one attains the stage of nonretrogression.
What is taught in the Contemplation and the Amida Sutras
Is the sudden teaching, the bodhi[sattva]-pitaka.
One grain of elixir transforms iron into gold; one word of truth transforms evil karma into good.
Easy, in contrast to difficult;
Sudden, in contrast to gradual;
Crosswise, in contrast to lengthwise;
Leaping across, in contrast to fording;
Accordant, in contrast to opposing;
Great, in contrast to small;
Many, in contrast to few;
Superior, in contrast to inferior;
Intimate, in contrast to remote;
Close, in contrast to distant;
Profound, in contrast to shallow;
Strong, in contrast to weak;
Momentous, in contrast to trivial;
Vast, in contrast to narrow;
Pure, in contrast to mixed;
Direct, in contrast to roundabout;
Quick, in contrast to slow;
Special, in contrast to general;
Nonretrogressive, in contrast to retrogressive;
Straightforward exposition, in contrast to incidental explanation;
The Name, in contrast to meditative and non meditative practices;
Exhaustive of truth, in contrast to not exhaustive in truth;
Encouraged, in contrast to not encouraged;
Uninterrupted, in contrast to interrupted;
Unceasing, in contrast to ceasing;
Continuous, in contrast to non-continuous;
Unsurpassed, in contrast to surpassed;
Highest of the high, in contrast to the lowest of the low;
Inconceivable, in contrast to conceivable;
Resultant virtue, in contrast to causal practices;
Buddha’s exposition, in contrast to those of others;
Not-directing merit, in contrast to directing merit;
Protected, in contrast to unprotected;
Witnessed, in contrast to unwitnessed;
Praised, in contrast to unpraised;
Entrusted, in contrast to unentrusted;
Fully expressed teaching, in contrast to that not fully expressed;
Able to eradicate evil, in contrast to unable;
Selected, in contrast to unselected;
True, in contrast to provisional;
Buddha’s deathlessness, in contrast to Buddha’s extinction;
Unperishing dharma, in contrast to perishing;
Beneficial, in contrast to nonbeneficial;
Other Power, in contrast to self-power;
Embodying the Vow, in contrast to not embodying the Vow;
Practicer grasped, in contrast to not grasped;
Practicer entering the stage of the truly settled, in contrast to not entering;
Fulfilled land, in contrast to transformed land.
Such are the contrast. However, when I consider the ocean of the One Vehicle of the Primal Vow, I see it is the teaching that is perfect, complete, instantaneous, unhindered, absolute, and incomparable.
Entrusting, in contrast to doubt;
Good, in contrast to evil;
Right, in contrast to wrong;
Suitable, in contrast to unsuitable;
Real, in contrast to empty;
True, in contrast to false;
Pure, in contrast to defiled;
Intelligent, in contrast to dull;
Quick, in contrast to slow;
Lofty, in contrast to mean;
Bright, in contrast to dark.
Such are the contrast. However, when I consider the practicer of the ocean of the One Vehicle, I see that the one who has realized diamondlike shinjin is the absolute and incomparable practicer. Let this be known.
100 Respectfully I say to all people who aspire to be born in the Pure Land: The ocean of the One Vehicle, the universal Vow, has consummated the highest virtue, which is unhindered, unbounded, supreme, profound, inexplicable, indescribable, and inconceivable. How can this be? It is because the Vow surpasses conceptual understanding.
The Vow of compassion is life vast space, for all its excellent virtues are broad and boundless.
It is like an immense cart, for it carries all people – whether ignorant or wise – wherever they may be.
It is like an wonderful lotus blossom, for it is not stained by anything in the world.
It is like the clearsight tree, the king of medicines, for it overcomes all the diseases of blind passions.
It is like a sharp sword, for it rends the armor of pride and arrogance.
It is like the banner of a valiant general, for it subdues all the armies of maras.
It is like a keen saw blade, for it fells all the trees [in the forest] of ignorance.
It is like a sharp ax, for it lops off all the branches of suffering.
It is like a true teacher, for it unknots all the ropes of birth-and-death.
It is like a guiding master, for it informs foolish beings of the essential way of liberation.
It is like a spring, for it wells forth with the waters of wisdom, which are inexhaustible.
It is like a lotus, for it is not tainted by any karmic evil.
It is like a swift wind, for it dispels the fogs of all hindrances.
It is like a good nectar, for it perfectly possesses all tastes of virtue.
It is like the right path, for it leads the multitudes of beings into the capital of wisdom.
It is like a magnet, for it draws to itself the virtues originating from the Primal Vow.
It is like Jambunada gold, for it overwhelms all the good of the conditioned world with its brightness.
It is like a hidden treasure-store, for it embraces the dharmas of all the Buddhas.
It is like the great earth, for all the Tathagatas of the past, present, and future throughout the ten quarters arise from it.
It is like the light of the sun, for it breaks through the darkness and ignorance of all foolish beings and gives rise to shinjin in them.
It is like the supreme ruler, for it stands above all those of the upper vehicle.
It is like a strict father, for it gives guidance to all, both the ignorant and the wise.
It is like a compassionate mother, for it gives birth to and nurtures the true and real cause of birth in the fulfilled land for all, both the ignorant and the wise.
It is like a nursing mother, for it raises and protects all people who aspire for birth, both the good and the evil.
It is like the great the great earth, for it sustains the birth of all beings.
It is like the great waters, for it washes away the scum of all blind passions.
It is like the great fire, for it burns the firewood of all views.
It is like the great wind, for it goes everywhere in the world and is without hindrance.
[The Vow] liberates one form the castle of the fetters of the three realms of existence and closes the gateways to the twenty-five forms of existence. It brings one to attainment of the true and real fulfilled land and distinguishes the wrong from the right path. It dries up the ocean of ignorance and cases beings to flow into the ocean of the Vow. It brings one to ride on the ship of all-knowing wisdom, so that one sails out in tot he ocean of beings. It brings to perfect fulfillment the sore of merit and wisdom and opens the store of provisional means. Truly we should reverently receive and accept it.
[Preface to the Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu]
101 Generally stated, with regard to the Vows, there is true and real practice and shinjin, and there is practice and shinjin that are provisional means. The Vow on which true and real practice is based is the Vow that all Buddhas say the Name. The Vow on which true and real shinjin is based is the Vow of sincere mind and trust. These are the practice and shinjin of the selected Primal Vow. Its practicers are all the good and the evil, the sages of the Mahayana and the Hinayana, and the foolish. Their birth is birth that is inconceivable. The Buddha and land are fulfilled Buddha and fulfilled land. All of this is none other than the ocean of true reality or suchness, the inconceivable Vow. This is the central purport of the Larger Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, the genuine significance of the true essence of Other Power.
Here, then, wishing to realize the Buddha’s benevolence and to respond in gratitude to the Buddha’s virtue, I turn to Master [T’an-luan’s] Commentary, which states:
The bodhisattva takes refuge in the Buddha, just as filial children obey their parents and loyal retainers follow their rulers, with their behavior not self-centered and their acts always according with reason. Since the bodhisattva is aware of the Buddha’s benevolence and responds in gratitude to the Buddha’s virtue, he naturally addresses the Buddha first. Moreover, Vasubandhu’s aspiration is not undertaken lightly. How could it ever be fulfilled without the support of the Tathagata’s majestic power? Here Vasubandhu entreats the Tathagata to lend his majestic powers; hence he reverently addresses him, saying, “O World-honored one!”
Thus, taking refuge in the true words of the Great Sage and turning to the commentaries of the revered patriarchs, I realize the depth and vastness of the Buddha’s benevolence and compose the following hymn.
I take refuge in the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life!
I entrust myself to the Buddha of Inconceivable Light!
Bodhisattva Dharmakara, in his causal stage,
Under the guidance of Lokesvararaja Buddha,
Searched into the origins of the Buddhas’ pure lands,
And the qualities of those lands and their men and devas;
He then established the supreme, incomparable Vow;
He made the great Vow rare and all-encompassing.
In five kalpas of profound thought, he embraced this Vow,
Then resolved again that his Name be heard throughout the ten quarters.
Everywhere he casts light immeasurable, boundless,
Unhindered, unequaled, light-lord of all brilliance,
Pure light, joyful light, the light of wisdom,
Light constant, inconceivable, light beyond speaking,
Light excelling sun and moon he sends forth, illumining countless worlds;
The multitudes of beings all receive the radiance.
The Name embodying the Primal Vow is the act of true settlement,
The Vow of entrusting with sincere mind is the cause of birth;
We realize the equal of enlightenment and supreme nirvana
Through the fulfillment of the Vow of attaining nirvana without fail.
Sakyamuni Tathagata appeared in this world
Solely to teach the ocean-like Primal Vow of Amida;
We, an ocean of beings in an evil age of five defilements,
Should entrust ourselves to the Tathagata’s words of truth.
When the one thought-moment of joy arises,
Nirvana is attained without severing blind passions;
When ignorant and wise, even grave offenders and slanders of the dharma, all alike turn and enter shinjin,
They are like waters that, on entering the ocean, become one in taste with it.
The light of compassion that grasps us illumines and protects us always;
The darkness of our ignorance is already broken through;
Still the clouds and mists of greed and desire, anger and hatred,
Cover as always the sky of true and real shinjin.
But though light of the sun is veiled by clouds and mists,
Beneath the clouds and mists there is brightness, not dark.
When one realizes shinjin, seeing and revering and attaining great joy,
One immediately leaps crosswise, closing off the five evil courses.
All foolish beings, whether good or evil,
When they hear and entrust to Amida’s universal Vow,
Are praised by the Buddha as people of vast and excellent understanding;
Such a person is called a pure white lotus.
For evil sentient beings of wrong views and arrogance,
The nembutsu that embodies Amida’s Primal Vow
Is hard to accept in shinjin;
This most difficult of difficulties, nothing surpasses.
The masters of India in the west, who explained the teaching in treatises,
And the eminent monks of China and Japan,
Clarified the Great Sage’s true intent in appearing in the world,
And revealed that Amida’s Primal Vow accords with the nature of beings.
Sakyamuni Tathagata, on Mount Lanka,
Prophesied to the multitudes that in south India
The mahasattva Nagarjuna would appear in this world
To crush the views of being and non-being;
Proclaiming the unexcelled Mahayana teaching,
He would attain the stage of joy and be born in the land of happiness.
Nagarjuna clarifies the hardship on the overland path of difficult practice,
And leads us to entrust to the pleasure on the waterway of easy practice.
He teaches that the moment one thinks on Amida’s Primal Vow,
One is naturally brought to enter the stage of the definitely settled;
Solely saying the Tathagata’s Name constantly,
One should respond with gratitude to the universal Vow of great compassion.
Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, composing a treatise, declares
That he takes refuge in the Tathagata of unhindered light,
And that relying on the sutras, he will reveal the true and real virtues,
And make widely known the great Vow by which we leap crosswise beyond birth-and-death.
He discloses the mind that is single so that all beings be saved
By Amida’s directing of virtue through the power of the Primal Vow.
When a person turns and enters the great treasure ocean of virtue,
Necessarily he joins Amida’s assembly;
And when he reaches that lotus-held world,
He immediately realizes the body of suchness or dharma-nature.
Then sporting in the forests of blind passions, he manifests transcendent powers;
Entering the garden of birth-and-death, he assumes various forms to guide others.
Turning toward the dwelling of Master T’an-luan, the Emperor of Liang
Always paid homage to him as a bodhisattva.
Bodhiruci, master of the Tripitaka, gave T’an-luan the Pure Land teachings,
And T’an-luan, burning his Taoist scriptures, took refuge in the land of bliss.
In his commentary on the treatise of Bodhisattva Vasubandhu,
He shows that the cause and attainment of birth in the fulfilled land lie in the Vow.
Our going and returning, directed to us by Amida, come about through Other Power;
The truly decisive cause is shinjin.
When a foolish being of delusion and defilement awakens shinjin,
He realizes that birth-and-death is itself nirvana;
Without fail he reaches the land of immeasurable light
And universally guides sentient beings to enlightenment.
Tao-ch’o determined how difficult it is to fulfill the Path of Sages,
And reveals that only passage through the Pure Land gate is possible for us.
He criticizes self-power endeavor in the myriad good practices,
And encourages us solely to say the fulfilled Name embodying true virtue.
With kind concern he teaches the three characteristics of entrusting and non-entrusting,
Compassionately guiding all identically, whether they live when the dharma survives as but form, when in its last stage, or when it has become extinct.
Though a person has committed evil all his life, when he encounters the Primal Vow,
He will reach the world of peace and realize the perfect fruit of enlightenment.
Shan-tao alone in his time clarified the Buddha’s true intent;
Sorrowing at the plight of meditative and non meditative practicers and people of grave evil,
He reveals that Amida’s light and Name are the causes of birth.
When the practicer enters the great ocean of wisdom, the Primal Vow,
He receives the diamondlike mind
And accords with the one thought-moment of joy; whereupon,
Equally with Vaidehi, he acquires the threefold wisdom
And is immediately brought to attain the eternal bliss of dharma-nature.
Genshin, having broadly elucidated the teachings of Sakyamuni’s lifetime,
Wholeheartedly took refuge in the land of peace and urges all to do so;
Ascertaining that minds devoted to single practice are profound, to sundry practice, shallow,
He sets forth truly the difference between the fulfilled land and the transformed land.
The person burdened with extreme evil should simply say the Name:
Although I too am within Amida’s grasp,
Passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see him;
Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and illumines me always.
Master Genku, well-versed in the Buddha’s teaching,
Turned compassionately to foolish people, both good and evil;
Establishing in this remote land the teaching and realization that are the true essence of the Pure Land way,
He transmits the selected Primal Vow to us of the defiled world:
Return to this house of transmigration, of birth-and death,
Is decidedly caused by doubt.
Swift entrance into the city of tranquillity, the uncreated,
Is necessarily brought about by shinjin.
The mahasattvas and masters who spread the sutras
Save the countless beings of utter defilement and evil.
With the same mind, all people of the present, whether monk or lay,
Should rely wholly on the teachings of these venerable masters.
Here ends the Hymn,
120 lines in sixty verses.
Here ends Chapter II:
A Collection of Passages Revealing
The True Practice of the Pure Land Way