Commentary on the Amitabha Sutra
Originally Translated by Dr. J. C. Cleary ---- Mind-Seal of Buddhas
Humbly Revised by Hsingmean (Edwin) Sha 沙行勉 based on my understanding of the scriptures.
Version: Dec. 4, 2007. This one has the Main part. The Essence and Introduction are in another file.
[Main portion of AMITABHA sutra]
The main body of the sutra is divided into three parts. The first part presents a full-scale description of the wonders of the Pure Land and of Amitabha in order to arouse our faith. The second part makes a special point of urging sentient beings to seek rebirth in the Pure Land, in order to get them to vow to do so. The third part teaches Pure Land practitioners to recite the Buddha-name in order to establish their practice.
The essential message of the sutra as a whole is to develop faith and vows and recite the Buddha-name. Vows and faith are acts of wisdom, and reciting the Buddha-name is an act of practice. Whether we achieve rebirth in the Pure Land depends entirely on whether or not we have faith and vows. How high we rank in the Pure Land depends entirely on how deeply we recite the Buddha-name. Thus, the act of wisdom is the guide, and the act of practice is true cultivation: they go together like eyes and feet.
[Description of the Pure Land]
The first part of the main body of the sutra has two sections: the first describes the wonders of the Pure Land, and the second describes the wonders of Amitabha and the people born there.
Now let us look at the first part. [Buddha says to Sariputra:]
Buddha says to Sariputra: "Why is this land called Ultimate Bliss"?
Next comes the explanation, in two parts: an explanation of the beneficiaries of the Pure Land, and an explanation of what they receive.
It is called "Ultimate Bliss" because the sentient beings in this land are free from the myriad sufferings, and only receive every kind of joy.
Sentient beings are the ones who receive [the benefits of the Pure Land]. All sentient beings below Buddha, from highest rank of Bodhisattva, can be called such. Here we can regard them as ordinary people in the Land, using the lowest case to include all cases.
In this mundane world of ours, the world called "Endurance", suffering and happiness intermingle. The happiness in the Endurance world is not ultimate happiness, where the suffering is painful suffering because it harries the body and the mind, and the happiness is deteriorating happy since happiness does not remain for long. When we are neither
suffering nor happy, we still suffer the pain of transience, since all things are transitory by nature.
The Pure Land is forever removed from these three kinds of suffering. The happiness in the Pure Land is not the same as the happiness in our world, which is only relative to suffering, so it is called ultimate bliss.
Roughly describe the joys in each land in the world of Ultimate Bliss. In the Land of Saints and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together, people have little five turbidities; there are no birth-death and eight kinds of sufferings: birth 生, aging 老, sickness 病 and death 死, separation from that which we love 爱别离苦, association with that which we hate 怨憎会苦, Inability to fulfill our desires 求不得苦 and the suffering from the instability of the five skandhas (aggregates) 五阴盛苦. They will receive joys of no sickness, no aging, traveling freely, heavenly food and clothing, and assembly with Saints.
People reaching this Expedient Land personally experience void through subtlety, with no attachment of still void but with the joy of freedom. People reaching the Reward Land have realized their nature completely, with no attachment of differentiation of dharma, but with the joy of inconceivable no-obstruction. People in the Quiescent Light Land have reached the equal understanding of Buddha, with no shortcoming of any leakage of Absolute Reality, but with the ultimate joy and complete enlightenment.
For the people in Land where Saints and Ordinary Beings Dwell together, because the Buddha-name they recite enable them to receive the same good roots, meritorious virtues as Buddha, they reach the same purity and receive the same joys as people in other three lands. Thus, the most wonderful feature of the World of Ultimate Bliss lies in the Dwelling-Together Land, not the upper three lands because this land has the similar benefits as the upper three lands and the only difference among them are just particulars. Moreover, the comparison between the Dwelling-Together Land and our inferior mundane world is obvious. Therefore, people are delighted to reach there from our mundane world and enjoy the total environment of World of Ultimate Bliss. This is why the Buddha is talking about “Bliss” here.
Next, Buddha explains what sentient beings experience in Amitabha's Land of Ultimate Bliss:
Furthermore, this land is called "Ultimate Bliss" because it is surrounded by seven rings of railings, and seven layers of nets, and seven rows of trees, all made of the four precious jewels.
The seven rings, seven layers, and seven rows represent the seven categories of the aids to enlightenment [the four bases of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four bases of miraculous power, the five roots, the five powers, the seven factors of Enlightenment, and the eightfold right path]. The four precious jewels represent the four qualities of enlightenment: permanence, bliss, real self and purity.
The word "surrounded" stands for the innumerable abodes of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The fact that the surroundings are all made of the four precious jewels indicates that the sentient beings in the Pure Land have their own deep meritorious virtues, and the fact that these precious things surround them stands for the holy ones who are everywhere in this Land of Ultimate Bliss.
[Additional Comment： ［一、四念处］，念即想念，处即身受心法也。一、身念处，谓观此色身，皆是不净也。二、受念处，谓观领受好恶等事，悉皆是苦也。三、心念处，谓观此识心生灭无常也。四、法念处，谓观诸法从因缘生，皆无有我也。 ［二、四正勤］，正谓不邪，勤谓不怠。一、已生恶，令永断。谓一切恶法，若已生者，当精勤一心决剔，令其永断除也。二、未生恶，令不生。谓一切恶法，若未生时，当精勤一心遮止，令其不复萌生也。三、未生善，令生。谓诸善法，若未生时，当精勤一心勇猛，令其发生也。四、已生善，令增长。谓诸善法，若已生者，当精勤一心修习，令其增长也。 ［三、四如意足］，谓所修之法，如愿满足也。一、欲如意足，谓希慕所修之法，如愿满足也。二、精进如意足，谓于所修之法，专注一心，无有间杂，如愿满足也。三、念如意足，谓于所修之法，记忆不忘，如愿满足也。四、思惟如意足，谓心思所修之法，不令忘失，如愿满足也。 ［四、五根］，根即能生之义，谓此五根，能生一切善法也。一、信根，谓信于正道也。二、精进根，谓修正法无间无杂也。三、念根，谓于正法记忆不忘也。四、定根，谓摄心不散也。五、慧根，谓于诸法观照明了也。
［五、五力］，力即力用，谓能破恶成善也。一、信力，谓信根增长，能破诸疑惑也。二、精进力，谓精进根增长，能破身心懈怠，成办出世之事也。三、念力，谓念根增长，能破诸邪念，成就出世正念功德也。四、定力，谓定根增长，能破诸乱想，发诸禅定也。五、慧力，谓慧根增长，能遮止三界见、思之惑，发真无漏也。（三界者，欲界、色界、无色界也。见、思惑者，分别曰见惑，贪爱曰思惑也。真无漏者，谓阿罗汉断见、思惑尽，不漏落三界生死，异于初果等，故名真也。） ［六、七觉分］，觉即觉了，分即支分。谓此七法，各有支派分齐也。一、择觉分，谓拣择诸法之真伪也。二、精进觉分，谓修诸道法，无有间杂也。三、喜觉分，谓契悟真法，得欢喜也。四、除觉分，谓断除诸见烦恼也。五、舍觉分，谓舍离所见念着之境也。六、定觉分，谓觉了所发之禅定也。七、念觉分，谓思惟所修之道法也。 ［七、八正道］，不邪曰正，能通曰道。一、正见，谓能见真理也。二、正思惟，谓心无邪念也。三、正语，谓言无虚妄也。四、正业，谓白净善业也。五、正命，谓依法乞食活命也。六、正精进，谓修诸道行无间杂也。七、正念，谓专心忆念善法也。八、正定，谓一心住于真空之理也。]
[ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY (after Master Hsuan Hua): The railings represent the precepts (prohibiting evil and preventing error) the netting represents concentration (because one does not enter or emerge from true concentration) and the trees represent wisdom (it you have wisdom, you are said to be tall).]
Here is to explain the causes and the bodies of these sublimities in each land. In Dwelling-Together Land, it is caused by the karma of exceedingly good deeds, and is also caused by the results of five deeds expounded by the Round Section. The sublimity is embodied by the karma-generated marvelously-splendid environment perceived by their five sensory organs.
[天台智者大师，立六即佛义，以示由凡夫修行，乃至佛果的位次，即 一、理即佛，一切众生，虽轮回六道，日处尘劳烦恼中，与觉体相背，然而佛性功德，仍然具足，故名“理即佛”。 二、名字即佛，或从知识处，或由经典中，得闻即心本具不生不灭的佛性，于名字中，通达了解，知一切法，皆为佛法，一切众生，皆可成佛，点头会意，豁然有悟，故名“名字即佛”。 三、观行即佛，这是圆教五品外凡位，不但解知名字，更进一步依教修观，知一切法皆是佛法，心观明了，理慧相应，故名“观行即佛”。 四、相似即佛，这是圆教十信内凡位，初信断见惑，七信断思惑，八九十信断尘沙惑，在此位上的行者，于观行中，愈观愈明，愈止愈寂，虽未真悟实证，而于理仿佛，有如真证，故名“相似即佛”。
In Expedient Land, the sublimity is caused by the wisdom that sees everything’s essence void, and is also caused by the efforts made by three true views. The sublimity is embodied by the marvelously-true reality of all phenomena and the no-delusion environment perceived by Beings there.
In the Real Reward Land, the sublimity is caused by the wisdom understanding that the essence of all phenomena and internal principles are merely name references, and is also caused by the partial realizations of Buddhahood from three delicate views. The sublimity is embodied by the marvelously-expedient reality of everything, and the environment that is endless.
In the Eternally Quiescent Land, the sublimity is cased by the wisdom of merging-center that contemplates void and name-reference identical, and is also caused by the ultimate three views. The sublimity is embodied by the marvelously-central reality and true-nature environment.
[Comment: ﹝出金光明经玄义﹞ 谓天台智者大师所立也。观即照了之义。观达一念之心，即具三谛之法也。若观心空，则一切法皆空，即是真谛；若观心假，则一切法皆假，即是俗谛；若观心中，则一切法皆中，即是中谛。此之三观，全由性发，实匪修成。故于一心，宛有三用，所谓一心三观也。 ［一、空观］，空者，离性离相之谓也。谓观一念之心，不在内，不在外，不在中间，名之为空。由观一念空故，一空一切空，无假、无中而不空，以三观皆能荡相故也。盖空荡见、思之相，假荡尘沙之相，中荡无明之相，三相皆荡，即毕竟空，是名空观。（见、思、尘沙、无明，即三惑也。） ［二、假观］，假者，无法不备之谓也。谓观一念之心具足一切诸法，名之为假。由观一念假故，一假一切假，无空无中而不假，以三观皆能立法故也。盖空立真谛之法，假立俗谛之法，中立中谛之法；三法皆立，即为妙假，是名假观。 ［三、中观］，中即中正，绝二边对待之谓也。谓观一念之心，非空非假，即空即假，名之为中。由观一念中故，一中一切中，无空无假而不中；以三观当处皆能绝待故也。盖言空则空外无法，言假则假外无法，言中则中外无法，三皆绝待，即为圆中，是名中观。]
（修三观） （破三惑） （证三智） （成三德） 生 ┌修空观────破见思惑────证一切智────成般若德┐ 菩 死─┤ 修假观────破尘沙惑────证道种智────成解脱德├─ 提 烦 └修中观────破无明惑────证一切种智───成法身德┘ 涅 恼 槃
又曰圆融三观，不可思议三观，或不次第三观。为天台圆教之观法，利根菩萨之所修习。原出于大智度论二十七所谓三智一心中得之文。又得中论观四谛品，众因缘生法，我说即是无，亦为是假名，亦是中道义之意，天台智者大师之义因之而立。天台观经疏曰：“一心三观者，此出释论。论云：三智实在一心中，得秪一观而三观，观于一谛而三谛，故名一心三观。类如一心而有生住灭，如此三相，在一心中。此观成时，证一心三智。” 又摩诃止观五上曰：“一空一切空，无假中而不空，总空观也。一假一切假，无空中而不假，总假观也。一中一切中，无空假而不中，总中观也。即中论所说不可思议一心三观。” 盖天台之意，在对于别教隔历之次第三观，而明圆教之不次第三观也。别教之说，先修空观，破见思之惑，得一切智，而证真谛之理，次修假观，破尘沙之惑，得道种智，而知假谛恒沙之法门，后修中观，破无明之惑，得一切种智，而证中道法身，故三观次第而用之。圆教之说则不然，三观融即于一心，不纵不横，恰如伊字之三点，又如一刹那之法，有生住灭之三相，三即非三一即非一。是故举一观，即圆具三观。谓举一空观，则假中亦空。以三观悉能荡相著故也。举一假观，则空中亦假。以三观皆有立法之义故也。举一中观，则空假亦中。以三观之当处皆为绝对故也。是即三观只在一心，故得一一之观，任运具三。如是三一圆融，修性泯绝，非次第而入，非并别而观，故得三惑破于一时，三智发于一心。所以称为不可思议之三观也。维摩经玄疏三，明一心三观，有三意：一、所观之境，即一念无明之心，因缘所生之十法界也。二、能观，观此一念无明之心，圆照三谛之理。三、证成，证一心三观，即是一心三智五眼也。古来惟天台一家，立一心三观之论目。其余诸教，绝不说一心三观之旨。又见维摩经略疏七及止观辅行五之三。]
The comparisons made here are just for the ease of explanation. Actually the sublimity of four lands is just caused by karma. They all are identical in terms of void, name-reference and canter. Thus the pure environment of the Dwelling-together land encompasses all true, expedient realities as the other thee lands. All lands are in one, endless to decipher.
Question: As the essence of Eternally Quiescent Land is of noumenon, why does the land have this sublimity of phenomena? Answer: Each sublimity of phenomena fully
embodies inner noumenon, and each inner noumenon completely encompasses sublimity. Thus, the ultimate environmental results must have both phenomena and inner noumenon. If people think that the Quiescent Land does not have the marvelously-splendid environment, this concept is not different from the bias that everything is nothing but void, and only void.
Next the sutra gives two broad explanations: first, an explanation of what sentient beings receive in the Pure Land, and second a combined explanation of the recipients and what they receive.
The first explanation is also in two sections: a description of where sentient beings are born in the Pure Land, and a summary of the powers of Amitabha Buddha.
Moreover, the Land of Ultimate Bliss has seven-treasure ponds filled with the waters of eight virtues. The bottom of each of the ponds is floored by sands of pure gold, and the stepped walkways along four sides of ponds are made of gold, silver, lapis lazuli and crystal. Above ponds there are towers which are adorned with gold and silver and lapis lazuli and crystal and shells of giant clams (Tridacna clams) and red pearl and agate. In the ponds there are lotus flowers as big as cart wheels: blue ones shining with blue light, yellow ones shining with yellow light, red ones shining with red light, and white ones shining with white light, each emitting a subtle pure fragrance.
Earlier on the sutra described where sentient beings live in the Pure Land; now it describes where they are born.
The jewel ponds and the things made of gold and silver and so on in the Pure Land are not the same as the earth and stones in our mundane world.
The eight virtues of the water that fills the jewel ponds in the Pure Land are the following: 1. it is pure and limpid, unlike the turbid water of our world; 2. it is clear and cool, unlike the water of our world, which is either too cold or too hot; 3. it has a sweet pleasing taste, unlike the water of our world, which has an inferior taste, being either salty or alkaline; 4. it is light and soft, unlike the water of our world, heavy and hard; 5. it is moist and nutritious, unlike the murky water of our world, which shrink and rot things and is erosive; 6. it is peaceful, unlike the turbulent water of our world; 7. it eliminates hunger and thirst, unlike the water of our world which makes us shiver; 8. it always nurtures the capacities of sentient beings, unlike the water of our world which easily damages their capacities, and can be stagnant and insalubrious, and drown people and so on.
The water in the Pure Land always keeps the jewel ponds perfectly full, unlike the water in our world, which can dry up or overflow. The bottom of the jewel ponds is pure gold sand, unlike the mud and muck on the bottom of ponds in our world. The walkways that lead up from all four sides of each of the ponds are made of precious things, unlike the brick and stone walkways in our world. The pavilions above the ponds are adorned with seven treasures, unlike the pavilions in our world.
These pavilions are dwelling places, and they are also places where teaching assemblies are held. As soon as a person is reborn in the Pure Land, and comes forth from one of the lotus-wombs in one of the jewel ponds, that person can reach one of the four lands, enter a teaching assembly, see Amitabha Buddha, and hear the Dharma.
The lotus flowers are as big as cart wheels. The size of a cart wheel can be as large as 40 miles, actually picking it as the smallest one for reference. If we follow the other Pure Land Sutras, the sizes of these lotus flowers are hard to measure because the sentient beings born in the Dwelling Together Lands have various kinds of different features. Here uses the colors in our Mundane World to represent those subtle colors that are emitted from lotus in the Pure Land.
The bodies that are born from these lotuses are shining with light, and thus the lotus-wombs themselves are also shining with light.
The colored lights of lotus flowers in the Land of Ultimate Bliss are infinitely varied, and here the sutra just mentions them in brief.
The "subtle pure fragrance" of the lotus flowers is emblematic of their special virtues: they are ethereal with no forms, unobstructed, formless with no dust. Since the lotus-wombs are like this, we can understand what the bodies born from them must be like.
In the next sentence, the sutra sums up the powers of Amitabha Buddha.
The Land of Ultimate Bliss is complete with all these merits and adornments.
All the adornments of the dwellings in the Pure Land and the settings in which sentient beings are reborn in the Pure Land are created by the inherently real merits of the great vows and great deeds of Amitabha Buddha. That's why he can adorn all the Four Pure Lands, and embrace all the ordinary people and saints of all the worlds of the past, present, and future, and enable them to be reborn in the Pure Land.
With his great vows, Amitabha creates the causal basis for the multiplication of good roots of sentient beings, and with his great deeds he creates the conditions for the increase of merits of sentient beings. Thus those who develop faith and vows and recite the Buddha-name, from moment to moment, achieve these merits. All this is already accomplished: it is not just happening now, nor is it yet to happen.
All the adornments of Amitabha act as an augmenting substance that stimulates the development of all the adornments within the minds of sentient beings. Amitabha in total merges with sentient beings: all his powers merge with ours. Thus the sutra says that the Pure Land "is complete with all these merits and adornments."
Next the sutra explains the sentient beings in the Pure Land, and what they receive. This section has two parts. First it explains what sentient beings in the Pure Land experience in terms of the five sense-faculties and five sense-objects. Next it explains this in terms of hearing and sounds.
Again, the first part can be divided in two: the explanation itself, and the summary. Here is the first passage:
And there is more -- celestial music is constantly playing in this Buddha-land, and the ground is made of gold. Flowers like Mandarava flowers rain down at all hours of the day and night. Every morning the sentient beings of this land use flower baskets to contain multitudes of wondrous flowers and make offerings to hundreds of billions of Buddhas in other worlds. When it is meal time, they return to their own lands, to eat and circumambulate [the teaching assembly].
Music represents the sense-object sound, the ground represents the sense-object form, the flowers represent the two sense-objects form and scent, food represents the sense-object flavor, and decorating garments, making offerings and circumambulating represent the sense-object touch. It is obvious that the sense-faculties of sentient beings [here in the Pure Land] are paired with sense-objects.
The music is "constantly playing", twenty-four hours a day. The ground is made of gold, because Amitabha's Pure Land is a world adorned with precious things, whose basic substance is gold.
The sutra says that flowers rain down at all hours of the day and night. But since both the Pure Land and its inhabitants shine with light, and do not depend on sun and moon for illumination, how can there be a division of day and night? This is just said provisionally to accord with the distinctions we make in our mundane world.
The Sanskrit name for the Mandarava flowers means both "as we wish" and "white flowers". The flower baskets are used to contain flowers. Multitude of wondrous flowers shows many varieties of flowers other than Mandarava flower. This should be as four flowers that were said in Lotus Sutra, which represent four causal stages.
[谓佛将说法华，故天雨四华，以表十住、十行、十回向、十地诸菩萨，当获成佛之因，故名雨华瑞。经云：天雨曼陀罗等四华。 是也。（十住者，发心住、治地住、修行住、生贵住、方便具足住、正心住、不退住、童真住、法王子住、灌顶住也。十行者，欢喜行、饶益行、无嗔恨行、无尽 行、离痴乱行、善现行、无著行、尊重行、善法行、真实行也。十回向者，救一切众生离众生相回向、不坏回向、等一切佛回向、至一切处回向、无尽功德藏回向、 随顺平等善根回向、随顺等观一切众生回向、真如相回向、无缚解脱回向、法界无量回向也。十地者，欢喜地、离垢地、发光地、焰慧地、难胜地、现前地、远行 地、不动地、善慧地、法云地也。梵语曼阤罗，华言适意，又云白华。四华者，曼阤罗华、摩诃曼阤罗华、曼殊沙华、摩诃曼殊沙华也。）]
Making offerings to Buddhas in other worlds symbolizes that through having a true causal basis, we can attain the ultimate fruit, and that the virtues of this ultimate attainment extend everywhere. From our mundane world, passing through hundreds of billions of Buddha lands, after we are reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, it will not be hard for us still to make offerings to Sakyamuni Buddha and Maitreya Buddha. If we are strengthened by the supernatural power of Amitabha, there is no place too far for us to reach.
The time for eating is the morning, so the sutra says the inhabitants of the Pure Land return to their own land when it is time to eat to show their supernatural power of unimpeded bodily function. They go to all the worlds in the ten directions and return to their own land without taking any time.
This passage shows that in the Pure Land every sound, every sense-object, every moment, and even every step and every snap of the fingers, interpenetrate without obstruction, and
are in accord with the three Jewels [Buddha, Dharma and Sangha] of all the worlds of the ten directions.
It also shows that in our mundane world, the defilements and obstructions are so serious that our world is separated off from the Land of Ultimate Bliss, even though from the view of the Land of Ultimate Bliss, the mundane is not really separated from it. When we are reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, our merit and virtues will be so great that we will not be separated from this mundane world since we reach the mundane world in an instant.
For the sentient beings, born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, food will come as they feel like eating, with no pre-arrangement, and the bowls will be gone when meals are over, with no need to wash the bowls. After eating, they walk quietly and slowly in the gold Buddha Land. With the flowers and joys around, they are just studying dharma and improving themselves naturally.
Again, the sutra sums things up:
The Land of Ultimate Bliss is complete with all these merits and adornments.
Next the sutra explains what is experienced in the Pure Land in terms of hearing sound. Because the people in our mundane world are the most sharp in hearing ability, the sutra expounds the voices teaching Dharma in particular. In fact, the Land of Ultimate Bliss encompasses the potential of the Dharmadhatu – Dharma Realms (cosmos). All the sense-objects are perfect and wondrous there, and produce all the teachings.
This passage in the sutra is also divided into two parts: a particular explanation, and a general summation. The particular explanation discusses the sounds that come from sentient beings, and the sounds that come from inanimate things. It tells of the sounds of the birds bringing the benefits of the Dharma, and then briefly answers a question.
Here is the first part:
And there is more still - in this land there are birds of all sorts of wondrous variegated colors: white cranes, peacocks, parrots, orioles, kalavinka birds which can produce wondrous sounds, jivajiva birds with two heads in one body. All these birds bring forth harmonious songs day and night. Their songs communicate such Buddhist teachings as the five roots, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, the eightfold path, as well as other teachings.
When the sentient beings in this land hear the voices of the birds, they are mindful of the Buddhas, mindful of the Dharma [Buddha's teachings], and mindful of the Sangha [Community of Seekers of Enlightenment].
“All sorts of variegated colors” means plentiful and beautiful. Six types are briefed in the text. It is possible that “Sheli” bird refer to orioles as Chan Master Chi said. Kalavinka birds, referring to “wondrous sound”, can produce sounds prettier than other birds. Jivajiva birds, referring to “sharing lives”, have two heads in one body, different senses but with the same karma. These two types of birds can be found in snowy mountains in the west of our world. The birds listed in the text, though they are appeared in our world, are used to show the similar wonders of the birds that are appreciated by people. From “Singing day and night”, we know that in the pure land birds as well as all sentient beings do not rest in the “nights.” Because all bodies in the pure land were born by lotus flowers, there is no need of sleeps.
The five roots, et al. are parts of thirty-seven aids to enlightenment. They are: The Four Bases of Mindfulness, the Four Right Efforts, the Four Bases of Supernatural Powers, the Five Roots, the Five Powers, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, and the Eightfold Holy Path.
The Four Bases of Mindfulness: Mindfulness of body, mindfulness of sensation, mindfulness of thought, and mindfulness of phenomena.
The Four Right Efforts: Getting rid of existing evil, working not to produce evil, to work at producing goodness, and to work at nurturing goodness.
The Four Bases of Supernatural Powers: (1) desire power, the desire to gain excellent meditation; (2) effort power, the effort to gain excellent meditation; (3) mindfulness power, the gaining of control over thoughts and (4) wisdom power, the good function of analytical meditation.
The Five Roots of Goodness are described as follows. The faith in right ways and various aids to goodness refers to the root of faith. The continuing effort in practicing right ways and aids to goodness refers to the root of effort. The single mindfulness of right ways and various aids to goodness refers to the root of mindfulness. The concentration of thoughts in right ways and various aids to goodness refers to the root of concentration. The wisdom of observing four noble truths refers to the root of wisdom.
[The four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the arising of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering and the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering.]
The Five Powers obtained by the practice of five roots are described as follows. The power of faith: increase of the root of faith that can break doubts, wrong concepts and delusions. The power of effort: increase of the root of effort that can break various laziness of our body and mind to accomplish the success of breaking life-and-death cycle. The power of mindfulness: increase of the root of mindfulness that can break various evil minds to accomplish all kinds of out-of-life-cycle virtues and merits. The power of concentration: increase of the root of concentration can break chaotic thoughts to develop meditation that correctly contemplates phenomena and noumenon. The power of wisdom: increase of the root of wisdom that can remove the doubts of intermediate teachings (common doubts to all and particular doubts to Mahayana Buddhists) to reveal the true Buddha wisdom.
The Seven Factors of Enlightenment, also called Seven Bodhi Shares, are described as follows. 1. Correctly evaluating the teaching: when using wisdom observes various phenomena, we can differentiate the true and the false, and will not accept various deceptive teachings. 2. Making effort at practice: when vigorously practicing various aiding methods to enlightenment, we realize that we should not practice useless austerities and always reside our mind in the practice of true dharma. 3. Rejoicing in the truth: we feel joyful when we realize the true dharma, not deceptive dharma. 4. Freeing from illusions: when removing various illusions, we can be free from deception without hurting our virtuous root. 5. Detachment of all thoughts from external things: when detaching thoughts that come from our observation and thinking, we can realize the falsity of these thoughts and never try to keep. 6. Concentration: when mind is in various meditation states, we can realize the falsity of these states, and do not feel like to attach with them. 7. Keeping proper awareness: when practicing dharma, we balance the wisdom and concentration; if our mind is sinking, we know how to use the first three factors of enlightenment: selection of teaching, making effort at practice and rejoicing in the truth, to investigate and recover our mind; if our mind is floating and vibrating, we
know how to use the later three factors of enlightenment, freeing from illusions, detachment of thoughts and concentration, to sustain and stabilize it. Thus, we know how to keep our mind in harmony and balance.
The noble eightfold path, also known as the correct eightfold path is described as follows. 1. Right view: conduct uncontaminated observation and understand clearly four noble truths. 2. Right thought: use uncontaminated mind matches with our thought to generate realization of awareness, so the progress is raised to reach enlightenment. 3. Right speech: use uncontaminated wisdom to remove four wrong types of livelihood and to absorb four types of wrong actions related to speeches, so the speeches can be always right. 4. Right action: use uncontaminated wisdom to remove all wrong actions, so we can always conduct clean and correct actions. 5 Right livelihood: use uncontaminated wisdom to remove the five types of wrong livelihood (make a living by showing unusual phenomena, saying his own virtues and merits, fortune telling, intimidating others with power and words, and alluring people with the benefits of giving.) from action, speech and thought, so the correct livelihood can be maintained. 6. Right effort: use uncontaminated wisdom to match with diligence and continuing effort, and to practice the methods for reaching enlightenment. 7. Right mindfulness: use uncontaminated wisdom to match with the mindfulness of direct methods and aiding methods to enlightenment. 8. Right concentration: use uncontaminated wisdom to match with concentration.
[四邪命: 四种的邪命食。比丘不乞食，亦不弘法，但作不如法之事，以维持其生命，叫做“邪命”。 一、种植田园，和合汤药，名下食。 二、仰观星宿，推测盈虚，名仰口食。 三、谄媚豪贵，游说四方，名方口食。 四、以咒术呼召鬼神，以及卜卦、算命、看相为业者，名维口食。]
These aids to enlightenments belong to Elementary (Hinayana) teaching (Lesser Vehicle) when they are based on the practice of birth-and-death four noble truths. They belong to Common teaching when they are based on the practice of no-birth four noble truths. They belong to Particular teaching when they are based on the practice of unlimited four noble truths. They belong to Round teaching when are based on the practice of un-constructed four noble truths.
[生灭四谛: 台宗所立四种四谛之一。此系三藏教之说，主张因缘生灭实有；认为苦、集、道三谛依因缘实有而生灭，灭谛亦可视为实有灭法。亦即指立于实生实灭上四谛。即1. 苦谛：苦，逼迫义；有三苦、八苦等。即观色、心等诸法无常逼迫而知生死实苦。2.集谛：即观烦恼惑业，实能招集生死之苦。3.灭谛：即观涅槃理，而将生死 诸苦归于寂灭。4.道谛：即观戒、定、慧之道，而断尽惑业，生起正智以证入涅槃为旨趣。
无生四谛: 无生四谛系通教之说，认为因缘诸法，悉皆幻化，当体即空而无有生灭，以此观苦、集、灭、道四谛，故称无生四谛，以异于藏教之生灭谛。1.苦谛：谓观一切生死皆空，而无逼迫相。2.集谛：谓观一切惑业皆空，没有和合，不生苦果。3.灭谛：谓观因缘诸法皆空，昔本无生，今亦无灭! 4.道谛：道，即戒定慧道。谓观一切道行皆空，能治之道，泯亡不存。
The Elementary (Hinayana) teaching named “half-way dharma gate,” seems not necessary to be used in Pure Land for the land has light defilement. Or it might be used temporarily for those who prefer Elementary teaching. The Common teaching, named “beginning gate of Mahayana teaching,” is followed by people in all three vehicles (Shravaka, Pratyekabuddha and Bodhisattva) （声闻、缘觉、菩萨）. It is taught usually in Dwell-Together land. The Particular teaching, named “gate particular for Bodhisattva,” is taught usually in Expedient Land. The Round teaching, named “ultimate supreme Buddhist dharma,” is heard by people with sharp faculties in all four Lands.
The Buddhist teachings communicated by birds as put in the Sutra text include all those thirty-seven aids to enlightenment as previously described as well we endless Dharma gates such as Four methods of attracting people learning Buddhism, Six perfections (Paramitas) (charity, morality, patience, effort, meditation, wisdom), Ten kinds of powers possessed by the Buddha, etc.
[四摄: 布施摄、爱语摄、利行摄、同事摄。布施摄是对钱财心重的人，用财施，对于求知心重的人，用法施，使双方情谊逐渐深厚，而达到我度化对方的目的；爱语摄是随著 众生的根性，以温和慈爱的言语相对，令他生欢喜心，感到我和蔼可亲而与我接近，以达到我度化对方的目的；利行摄是修菩萨道者，要身口意诸行皆有利于人，以 损己利人的行为，感化众生共修佛道，以达到我度人的目的；同事摄是修菩萨道者，要深入社会各阶层中，与各行各业的人相接触，做其朋友，与其同事，在契机契 缘的情况下，而度化之。菩萨济度众生，必须先行此四摄法，使众生爱我敬我信我，然后方能听我劝导，修行佛道。]
[六度: 六种行之可以从生死苦恼此岸得度到涅槃安乐彼岸的法门，即布施、持戒、忍辱、精进、禅定、般若。布施能度悭贪，持戒能度毁犯，忍辱能度嗔恚，精进能度懈怠，禅定能度散乱，般若能度愚痴。兹列表说明如下： ]
[十力: 指如来所具有的十种力用。 一、知觉处非处智力，即能知一切事物的道理和非道理的智力； 二、知三世业报智力，即能知一切众生三世因果业报的智力； 三、知诸禅解脱三昧智力，即能知各种禅定及解脱三昧等的智力； 四、知诸根胜劣智力，即能知众生根性的胜劣与得果大小的智力； 五、知种种解智力，即能普知众生种种境界不同的智力； 六、知种种界智力，即能普知众生种种境界不同的智力； 七、知一切至所道智力，即能知一切众生行道因果的智力； 八、知天眼无碍智力，即能以天眼见众生生死及善恶业缘而无障碍的智力； 九、知宿命无漏智力，即知众生宿命及知无漏涅槃的智力； 十、知永断习气智力，即于一切妄惑余气，永断不生，能如实知之的智力。]
Although all Buddhist methods are subsumed under the thirty-seven aids to enlightenment, the potentials and circumstances of sentient beings all differ。 Different forms of the Buddhist teaching have been devised for each individual. The Teaching is expressed effectively to all sentient beings according to what they are ready to hear. This enables those who hear the Teaching to become mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. It enables them to develop the Bodhi Mind [aspiration for enlightenment for the benefit of self and others], and to put an end to afflictions and delusions.
They vividly see the inconceivable mercy and the awe-inspiring character of the Buddha, and so they become mindful of the enlightened ones. The joy of the Dharma enters their hearts, and they are filled with the flavor of the Dharma, and so they become mindful of the teaching of enlightenment. They listen to the teaching together, and accept it as a community, and wholeheartedly cultivate realization, and so they become mindful of Sangha, the community of seekers.
What enables us to be mindful of comes from three forms of contemplation (on emptiness, on dependent arising, and on the middle) and what are we mindful of are three objects of contemplation (the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha). They all have different aspects
with the four levels of the teaching (Elementary, Common, Particular, and Round teachings) but the same essence.
We should understand the different way to see into the three levels of truth (emptiness, dependent arising, and the middle) either expediently or truly from the four types of Teachings as described briefly.
In the next passage the sutra briefly answers a question:
Do not think that these birds were born as birds due to karmic retribution for past misdeeds. Why not? In this Buddha-land, the three evil realms (as animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings) do not exist. In this Buddha-land even the names of the evil realms do not exist, much less the realities. All these birds are the creations of Amitabha Buddha, fashioned in order to broadcast the sounds of the Dharma.
From the question and answer of the scripture, we can understand the meaning of these birds
Question: Are the names of birds [as animals] not names of creatures belonging to one of the evil realms?
The answer is: These birds in the Pure Land are not birds as a result of karmic retribution for having committed evil. All the birds in Pure Land are communicating the ultimate merits of the Tathagatas (Buddha). They can be called "birds of the ultimate", and this is a beautiful appellation conveying their innate virtues, not some pejorative name [connoting creatures born in a low realm].
Question: What does it mean that Amitabha fashions these birds?
The answer is: The reason is to provide the four modes whereby the Buddha preached the Dharma to all sentient beings.
[First], ordinary people take delight in these birds and can listen to them, since this suits their feelings, and makes them happy. [Second], when people think that even the birds can express the Dharma, and thus the listeners are easy to produce virtuous thoughts. [Third], by making people realize that we should not think of these birds in a pejorative way, it counteracts our tendency to make arbitrary distinctions. [Fourth], the birds represent Amitabha, which lets us realize the everywhere-equal nature of the Dharmakaya, which possesses everything, and creates everything.
This passage shows us that all the sounds [in the Pure Land], such as the sound of the breeze and the rustling of the trees and the jewel nets, as well as everything about the Pure Land environment and the Buddha who presides there, whether a provisional expedient or an absolute reality -- all these things are in their very essence identical to Amitabha Buddha with his Dharma Body, Reward Body, and Emanation Body -- all these things are no different from the four virtues of Amitabha Buddha, which are permanence, bliss, self and purity.
[四悉檀: 智度论说，四悉檀总摄一切十二部经、八万四千法藏。四是四个方法，悉是普遍之义，檀是梵语檀那之简称，亦即布施之义。佛以四法普施众生，以令一切众生完成佛道，叫做“四悉檀”。 一、世界悉檀，佛开始时，先顺世界之凡情，宣说浅近之事理，以令闻者欢喜和信受； 二、各各为人悉檀，佛审察众生的根机，及程度之浅深，而说各人所须要之法，令众生发起正信，增长善根； 三、对治悉檀，对嗔多者教以慈悲观，痴多者教以因缘观，障多者教以念佛观，如是普施种种之法药，以去除众生的恶病； 四、第一义悉檀，佛见众生的机缘既熟，便为之说诸法实相，以令众生一起悟入圣者之道。]
In this Buddha-land, there is a slight breeze that stirs the rows of jewel trees and jewel nets, so that they emit subtle wondrous sounds, like hundreds and thousands of melodies playing all at once. All those who hear these sounds spontaneously develop the intention to be mindful of the Buddha, mindful of the Dharma, and mindful of the Sangha.
[In the Pure Land], both the sentient beings and the inanimate things communicate the wondrous Dharma together, and simultaneously expound the innumerable methods of the four types of Buddha’s teachings. They offer explanations to all beings according to their kind, enabling their audiences to become mindful of the Three Jewels -- Buddha [the Enlightened One], Dharma [the Teaching of Enlightenment], and Sangha [the Community of Seekers].
To become mindful of Three Jewels, sentient beings benefit from the ways whereby the Buddha teaches Dharma to sentient beings. When ordinary people first hear the teaching, their bodies leap with delight: this is the benefit of joy. When their vital energy makes contact with the Three Jewels, they are sure to be able to develop the Bodhi Mind: this is the benefit of becoming virtuous. Using this to conquer afflictions is the benefit of destroying evil. Realizing the Three Jewels [Buddha, Dharma and Sangha] as one single essence is the benefit of understanding the supreme truth.
At this point the sutra sums up the foregoing presentation with the line:
This Buddha-land is complete with all these merits and adornments.
The sutra sums things up again and again so that we can believe with profound faith that all the adornments of the Pure Land are brought into being by the vows and actions of our guiding teacher Amitabha, and manifested by his wisdom, and that they are also brought about by our own pure karma, as manifestations of consciousness. The Buddha-mind and the minds of sentient beings are reflections of each other, just as the lights of many lamps both individually reach everywhere and seem to merge into one. Inner truth forms all kinds of phenomena, and all phenomena as a whole are identified with inner truth. Our entire true nature gives rise to genuine religious practice, and genuine religious practice in its entirety lies within our true nature. This is something we should constantly ponder deeply.
How can anyone talk as if there is another "Pure Land that is Mind Alone" apart from this Pure Land? If you do this you are indulging in empty babbling.
This is the end of the section in the sutra describing the wonders of the Pure Land environment.
[Description of the wonders of Amitabha]
Next the sutra takes up the wonders of Amitabha Buddha himself. First Buddha poses a question, and then proceeds to explain Amitabha's name:
What do you think: why is this Buddha called Amitabha?
This sutra teaches the wondrous practice of reciting the name of Amitabha, so it makes a special point of explaining the name. The intent of the sutra is that people should develop deep faith in the inconceivable powers of this great name and its myriad virtues, and singlemindedly recite the Buddha-name without any further doubts or diversions.
The next passage gives two explanations of the name "Amitabha" -- as "infinite light" and as "infinite life". The literal translation of "Amitabha" is "infinite", and infinity is actually unexplainable. Here in the sutra our teacher Sakyamuni Buddha uses the meanings "infinite light" and "infinite life" to encompass all sorts of infinity.
Infinite light extends through space in all directions; infinite life extends through time and reaches through past, present, and future. The dimensions of space and time interpenetrating are the body of the universe. This body as a whole is the body and land of Amitabha, and this body as a whole is used as the name of Amitabha.
Thus, the name of Amitabha is the inherently enlightened true nature of sentient beings (Innate Enlightenment), and reciting the name of Amitabha merge the Actualized Enlightenment into the Innate Enlightenment. The internal force that begins the efforts to be enlightened is actually the inherent enlightenment itself, just as sentient beings and Buddhas are not two different things. Thus if we are in accord [with our inherently enlightened true nature] for a moment, we are Buddhas for a moment, and if we are in accord [with our inherently enlightened true nature] moment after moment, we are Buddhas moment after moment.
[﹝出起信论﹞ ［一、本觉］，谓一切众生自性清净心源，离于妄念，即寂而照，等虚空界，无所不遍，法界一相，即是如来平等法身，故名本觉。 ［二、相似觉］，谓圆教十信位中，由始觉之功，见、思粗惑既已断竟，尚余无明细惑未破，所觉之理，非真本觉，唯得名为相似，故名相似觉。（十信者，信心、念心、精进心、慧心、定心、不退心、护法心、回向心、戒心、愿心也。） ［三、随分觉］，谓圆教十住、十行、十回向、十地、等觉位中， 分破无明之惑，故得分分是真本觉，故名随分觉。（十住者，发心住、治地住、修行住、生贵住、方便具足住、正心住、不退住、童真住、法王子住、灌顶住也。十 行者，欢喜行、饶益行、无嗔恨行、无尽行、离痴乱行、善现行、无著行、尊重行、善法行、真实行也。十回向者，救一切众生离众生相回向、不坏回向、等一切佛 回向、至一切处回向、无尽功德藏回向、随顺平等善根回向、随顺等观一切众生回向、真如相回向、无缚解脱回向、法界无量回向也。十地者，欢喜地、离垢地、发 光地、焰慧地、难胜地、现前地、远行地、不动地、善慧地、法云地也。） ［四、究竟觉］，谓圆教极果，妙觉位中，无明之惑既尽，本觉之体全彰，得心见性，心即常住，是名究竟觉。]
First, the sutra gives the definition of the name of Amitabha as "Infinite Light":
The light of this Buddha is infinite, and shines on all lands throughout the universe without obstruction. Thus this Buddha is called Amitabha.
The true nature of mind is still but always shining with awareness; hence it is a light. The idea here is that Amitabha Buddha penetrates to the infinite essence of the true nature of mind, so his light is infinite. All the Buddhas penetrate to the true nature of mind, and they all shine through all the worlds in the ten directions, so they all could be called "Infinite Light".
But the Buddhas in the causal stages [i.e., as Bodhisattvas] differ in the power of their vows, and they are named differently according to their circumstances. When Amitabha [in his previous incarnation in the distant past] was the monk Dharmakara, he made forty-eight vows, among them the vow that his light would forever shine through all the worlds in the ten directions. Now that he has achieved Buddhahood, what he vowed has been accomplished.
[阿弥陀佛在因地做法藏比丘时，于世自在王佛所建立的誓愿。因译者不同，故在排列上先后略有不同。 1、根据曹魏时康僧铠所译的无量寿经的排列是： 一、无三恶趣愿， 二、不更恶趣愿， 三、悉皆金色愿， 四、无有好丑愿， 五、宿命智通愿， 六、天眼智通愿， 七、天耳智通愿， 八、他心智通愿， 九、神足无碍愿。 十、不贪计身，速得漏尽愿，十一、住正定聚愿，十二、光明无量愿， 十三、寿命无量愿， 十四、声闻无数愿，十五、眷属长寿随愿修短愿， 十六、无诸不善愿， 十七、诸佛称扬愿，十八、至心信乐念佛往生愿, 十九、至心发愿，来迎引接愿，二十、至心迥向系念定生愿， 二十一、三十二相愿，二十二、一生补处愿，二十三、供养诸佛愿，二十四、供具如愿愿， 二十五、说一切智愿，二十六、那罗延身愿，二十七、所须严净愿，二十八、见道场树愿， 二十九、诵经得辩才智愿，三十、智辩无穷愿，三十一、国土清净照见十方愿，三十二、国土严饰愿，
三十三、触光柔软愿，三十四、闻名得忍愿，三十五、脱离女身愿，三十六、常修梵行愿， 三十七、人天致敬愿，三十八、衣服随愿愿，三十九、乐如漏尽愿，四十、树现佛刹愿， 四十一、他方闻名，诸根具足愿，四十二、他方闻名，清净解脱三昧，住定供佛愿，四十三、他方闻名，生尊贵家愿，四十四、他方闻名，具足德本愿， 四十五、他方闻名，普等三昧，住定见佛愿，四十六、随意闻法愿，四十七、他方闻名，得不退转愿，四十八、他方闻名，得三法忍愿。 2、根据近代夏莲居的会集本的排列是：[参考罢了，非真经文，因有流通，故此画蛇添足] 一、国无恶道愿；二、不堕恶趣愿；三、身悉金色愿；四、三十二相愿， 五、身无差别愿；六、宿命通愿，七、天眼通愿；八、天耳通愿， 九、他心通愿；十、神足通愿，十一、遍供诸佛愿，十二、定成正觉愿， 十三、光明无量愿，十四、触光安乐愿，十五、寿命无量愿，十六、声闻无数愿， 十七、诸佛称叹愿，十八、十念必生愿，十九、闻名发心愿，廿、 临终接引愿， 廿一、悔过得生愿，廿二、国无女人愿，廿三、厌女转男愿，廿四、莲花化生愿， 廿五、天人礼敬愿，廿六、闻名得福愿，廿七、修殊胜行愿，廿八、国无不善愿， 廿九、住正定聚愿，卅、 乐如漏尽愿， 卅一、不贪计身愿，卅二、那罗延身愿， 卅三、光明慧辩愿，卅四、善谈法要愿，卅五、一生补处愿，卅六、教化随意愿， 卅七、衣食自至愿，卅八、应念受供愿，卅九、庄严无尽愿，四十、无量色树愿， 四十一、树现佛刹愿，四十二、彻照十方愿，四十三、宝香普熏愿，四十四、普等三昧愿， 四十五、定中供佛愿，四十六、获陀罗尼愿，四十七、闻名得忍愿，四十八、现证不退愿。]
The light of the Dharmakaya (Dharma Body) is boundless, and the light of the Sambhogakaya (Reward Body) is in accord with true nature--in this all the Buddhas are the same. The light of the Nirmanakayas [Response Body such as Sakyamuni] differs in scope: in some Buddhas it shines for a hundred miles, in other Buddhas it shines a million times further; in some Buddhas it illuminates one world, in other Buddhas it illuminates a million worlds. Only Amitabha's light shines universally. Thus Amitabha in particular is named "Infinite Light". Still, the three Buddha-bodies are neither one nor different. These distinctions are made only to benefit sentient beings.
Here explains “No obstructions.” This refers to people. From the point of view of ordinary people, if their affinity with Amitabha Buddha is deep, then the light will reach them everywhere, and always appear to them in its complete fullness in all worlds.
处 于实报土，胜应身处于方便土。劣应身处于同居土。法华论曰：“一者示现应佛菩提故，随所应见而为示现。二者示现报佛菩提，十地行满足得常涅槃证故。三者示 现法佛菩提，谓如来藏性常涅槃常恒清凉不变等义。”天台光明玄曰：“法报应是为三，三种法聚故名身。所谓理法聚名法身，智法聚名报身，功德法聚名应身。”止观六曰：“就境为法身，就智为报身，起用为应身。”文句九曰：“法身如来名毗卢舍那，此翻遍一切处。报身如来名庐舍那，此翻净满。应身如来名释迦文，此翻度沃燋。”辅行一之一曰：“从体，三身相即无暂离时，既许法身遍一切处，报应未尝离于法身，况法身处二身常在，故知三身遍于诸法，何独法身乎？”]
Next the sutra gives the definition of the name Amitabha as "Infinite Life":
Also, the life span of this Buddha and his people is an infinite number of immeasurable eons, and so he is called Amitabha.
The true nature of Mind is shining with awareness yet ever still: hence it is life. The idea here is that Amitabha Buddha penetrates to the infinite essence of the true nature of Mind, so his life span is infinite. The life of Dharma body is endless with no beginning, and the life of Reward body is endless with beginning. These are the same for all Buddhas. So all Buddhas can be called “infinite life,“ while the Response bodies might have different life spans dependent on the purpose of the responses each time.
When Amitabha was Dharmakara, the king of vows, he made a vow that the life spans of both Buddhas and sentient beings [in his realm] would be infinite. Now what he vowed has been accomplished [in the Pure Land], and he is given the special name "Infinite Life". In the sutra scripture, the life span is numbered by an extremely large number. This large number for us to perceive can be regarded as “infinitely countable.” However, we must know that the life span of Response body can be also regarded as “infinitely uncountable” because all three Buddha bodies are intrinsically the same. The “people” in the sutra scripture refer to those reaching the status below “Equal Enlightenment”. It says that the life spans of Buddha and the people are all infinite.
We must understand that the names "Infinite Light" and "Infinite Life" are both based on the attributes of sentient beings. Because sentient beings and Buddhas are inherently equal, those who invoke the name of Amitabha will be no different from him either in their light or in their life span.
Moreover, given the truth of infinite light, when sentient beings are born in Amitabha's Land of Ultimate Bliss, they are also born in all the lands of the ten directions, and when they see Amitabha Buddha, they are also seeing all the Buddhas of the ten directions. Thus when they are saved themselves, they can bring benefits to all.
Given the truth of infinite life, the people in the Land of Ultimate Bliss are in the position that they are certain of attaining complete enlightenment in a single lifetime, and will not be reborn in different forms.
We must realize that there is no such a name of Amitabha apart from our mind of infinite light and infinite life that is before us now at this moment, and there is no way for us to penetrate the mind of infinite light and infinite life that is before us now at this moment apart from the name of Amitabha. I hope you will ponder this deeply!
Now comes the section of the sutra that describes Amitabha and his retinue:
Amitabha Buddha attained enlightenment ten eons ago.
This explains the accomplishment of the dharma master of the land of Ultimate Bliss. But the Dharma body cannot be said to be accomplished at any time. The Reward body can be said to be accomplished when the cause and result is compete. The Response body can be said to attain enlightenment for the purpose of showing the result to people. Thus, “attained enlightenment ten eons ago” refers to these two bodies.
However, the Dharma body also can be said to be attained after a period of time because it is discovered after our cultivation. In another sense, the Reward body and the Response body cannot be said to be attained because the Reward body is nothing new to be attained and the Response body is like a moon reflection on water.
The origins and traces of each Buddhas might have their own, and the origins are inconceivable. Here it just shows the trace of the Land of Ultimate Bliss. It means that when all three Bodies are attained, everything is attained. It also means that the attainment is not attained and is not un-attained.
The life span of Amitabha Buddha is infinite, and here the sutra just speaks of ten eons. Thus, the current teaching is right to the present time, far away from the end. Here I urge all the sentient beings of the past, present, and future to quickly seek birth in the Pure Land, share in the infinite life of the Buddha, and accomplish this all in one lifetime.
The sutra goes on to speak of Amitabha's innumerable disciples who are Arhats, Bodhisattvas, and final-stage Bodhisattvas. All of them achieved their status during the past ten eons. Here the sutra is really illustrating that throughout all the worlds of the ten directions in the past, present and future, many sentient beings achieve birth in the Pure Land with no falling back, and do so easily.
Moreover, this Buddha has innumerable Shravaka disciples, all of whom are Arhats, and whose numbers are incalculable. Amitabha also has a following of innumerable Bodhisattvas.
Sentient beings in other worlds who are set in their ways as followers of the Lesser Vehicles do not get to be born in Amitabha's Pure Land. But if those who have studied the practices of the Lesser Vehicles in their early lives turn toward enlightenment when they are facing death, and make great vows, they will be reborn in the Pure Land.
Buddhas teach according to the people’s levels and preference. Those who have removed the affliction developed from views and thoughts are called Arhats. They accomplish the similar level as people in Particular section who have reached the Seventh stage (The abiding of no-backsliding) of Ten Abidings, so they are not just the followers of Lesser Vehicles. The followers in Lesser Vehicles never heard of any Buddhas other than Sakyamuni. After they heard the name of Amitabha Buddha and developed faith and vows to be born there, they can be regarded to be covered by the Particular Section and Round Section of Buddha’s teaching.
Again, the sutra sums things up:
The Land of Ultimate Bliss is complete with all these merits and adornments.
Amitabha Buddha himself, his disciples, and the Bodhisattvas who follow him, are all within the causal ground of Amitabha, created by his vows and his actions. At the level of results, when one is formed, all are formed. Thus Amitabha Buddha himself, his disciples, and the Bodhisattvas, are neither identical to nor different from each other: self and others are not two. Thus [after describing Amitabha Buddha himself, his disciples, and the Bodhisattvas who follow him] the sutra says, "The Land of Ultimate Bliss is complete with all these merits and adornments." Amitabha can enable those who have faith and vows and recite his name to become complete with all these merits after each of their mindfulness of the Buddha.
This is the end of the first part of the sutra, which gives a broad account of the wondrous fruits of the Pure Land environment and Amitabha and his retinue, in order to arouse our faith.
[Seeking rebirth in Pure Land]
In the next section of the sutra Buddha urges all sentient beings to seek rebirth in the Pure Land and to make vows. The first part reveals the supreme causal basis for people in the Pure Land to reach enlightenment, and the second part urges people to be reborn there.
What a special excellence of the Pure Land is that Sentient beings can be reborn there carrying their karmic load with them, and thereby transcend the three realms "horizontally." In the pure land, the land where saints and ordinary beings dwell together includes all Four Lands [the Land where Saints and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together, the Land of Expedient Liberation, the Land of Real Reward, and the Land of Eternally Quiescent Light], and reveals the four teachings [elementary, common, particular, and round].
Sentient beings who are born in Amitabha's Pure Land completely reach the Four Lands, see the three Buddha-bodies, and fully arrive at the point where they cannot fall back from their position, from their practice, or their mindfulness. All the people in Amitahha's Pure Land will attain enlightenment in one lifetime.
All these special features of the Pure Land are pointed out in the next two sections of the sutra. You should study them carefully.
Now the first passage:
[﹝出华严孔目﹞ 界，限也、别也。谓三界分限各别不同，故名界也。 ［一、欲界］，欲有四种：一者情欲，二者色欲，三者食欲，四者淫欲。下极阿鼻地狱，上至第六他化天，男女相参，多诸染欲，故名欲界。（梵语阿鼻，华言无间。第六他化天者，假他所化而自娱乐也。 ［二、色界］，色即色质，谓虽离欲界秽恶之色，而有清净之色， 始从初禅梵天，终至阿迦腻吒天，凡有一十八天，并无女形，亦无欲染，皆是化生，尚有色质，故名色界。（梵语阿迦腻吒，华言质碍究竟。一十八天者，梵众天、 梵辅天、大梵天、少光天、无量光天、光音天、少净天、无量净天、遍净天、无云天、福生天、广果天、无想天、无烦天、无热天、善见天、善现天、色究竟天 也。） ［三、无色界］，谓但有心识而无色质也。始从空处，终至非非想处，凡有四天。但有受想行识四心，而无形质，故名无色界。（四天者，空无边处天、识无边处天、无所有处天、非非想处天也。）]
[此乃明菩萨修行的阶位，诸经论所说不一，自古广为大乘诸家所采用的，其名数为：一、十信心，即信心、念心、精进心、慧心、定心、不退心、回向心、护法心、戒 心、愿心。二、十心住，即发心住、治地心住、修行心住、生贵心住、方便心住、正心住、不退心住、童真心住、法王子心住、灌顶心住。三、十行心，即欢喜心 行、饶益心行、无嗔恨心行、无尽心行、离痴乱心行、善现心行、无著心行、尊重心行、善法心行、真实心行。四、十回向心，即救护一切众生离相回向心、不坏回 向心、等一切佛回向心、至一切处回向心、无尽功德藏回向心、随顺平等善根回向心、随顺等观一切众生回向心、如相回向心、无缚解脱回向心、法界无量回向心。 五、十地心，即四无量心、十善心、明光心、焰慧心、大胜心、现前心、无生心、不思议心、慧光心、受位心。第四十一地之心称为入法界心，即为等觉。第四十二 地之心称为寂灭心，即为妙觉。此中，十住、十行、十回向、十地、等觉与妙觉，依次配习种性、性种性、道种性、圣种性、等觉性、妙觉性等。见梁译《摄大乘论 释》卷七，《瑜伽师地论略纂》卷十二，《华严经探玄记》卷五。]
[修行佛道过程中，以既得悟之功德，而入于不退失之地位称为不退。三不退即：1.位不退：既修得之位不退失。2.行不退：所修之行法不退失。3.念不退：正念不退转。此三不退配以菩萨之行位，诸宗说法不一。 台宗则以别教之初住至第七住为位不退，在此间断灭见思惑而永超三界 生死；以第八住至十回向之终为行不退，在此间破除尘沙惑而不退失利他之心；又以初地以上为念不退，此时既断多品无明惑，永不退失中道之正念! 如配以圆教， 则初信至第七信为位不退；第八信至第十信之终为行不退；初住以上为念不退。]
None of the sentient beings who are born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss ever fall back into a lower realm [i.e., they are avaivartika]. Many among them have only one more lifetime [to go before enlightenment]. These beings are very numerous, and their number is incalculable: they can be spoken of as innumerable.
The sutra uses a Sanskrit word, "avaivartika", which means "not falling back". [There are three senses of this "not falling back" that apply to sentient beings in the Pure Land.] First,
they do not fall hack from their status: having entered the sagehood, they do not fall back to the level of ordinary beings. Second, they do not fall back from their practice: as followers of the Bodhisattva path they continue to work for the salvation of all beings, and do not fall back to the level of the Lesser Vehicles [with their concern limited to individual salvation]. Third, they do not fall back from their mindfulness: from mind-moment to mind-moment, they flow into the ocean of all-inclusive wisdom, i.e. Buddha’s wisdom.
[（术语）智度论所说：一、一切智，声闻缘觉之智也。知一切法之总相者。总相即空相也。二、道种智， 菩萨之智也。知一切种种差别之道法者。三、一切种智，佛智也。佛智圆明，通达总相别相化道断惑一切种之法者。天台以之配于空假中三谛之观智。然三智就人分 别，虽如上各别，而就法之胜劣分别之，则以上兼下，于一切种智中容余二智，犹如五眼中之佛眼容余四眼也。智度论二十七曰：“一切智是声闻辟支佛事，道智是 菩萨事，一切种智是佛事。”止观三曰：“佛智照空如二乘所见，名一切智。佛智照假如菩萨所见，名道种智。 佛智照空假中皆见实相，名一切种智。故言三智一心中得。”四教仪集注下曰：“三智圆明，五眼洞照。”又，一、世间智。是凡夫外道之智也。于一切法分别种 种，执著有无，不能出离世间，故名。二、出世间智，是声闻缘觉二乘之智也。发无漏智，照偏真之四谛，能出离世间，故名。三、出世间上上智，是佛菩萨之智 也。观察一切诸法之实相，能得妙觉，超出二乘之智，故名。说见楞伽经三。]
If we speak of our own world, “not falling back from their status” is reached by the people in our world who enter the first-fruit status in Elementary teaching, the fourth stage of Bodhisattva in Common teaching, the first abiding stage in Particular teaching, or the first faith stage in Round teaching. “Not falling back from their practice” is reached by people in our world who enter the ninth stage of Bodhisattva in Common Teaching, a stage of ten practices in Particular teaching, a stage of ten faiths in Round teaching. “Not falling back from their mindfulness” is reached by the people in our world who enter the first level of the ten-stage of Bodhisattva’s path in Particular teaching or the first abiding stage in Round teaching.
[沙行勉：”别十行”. 此乃据印光大师校订的“十要本”。上海版为“别十向“。窃以为十行较妥， 因为已证十行，入回向，自然应已行不退。若依“别十向“，已证十向，即入地位，则已至念不退矣。另依据天台四教仪， 八住以上至十回向为行不退。故此列十行较妥。精确的说是别八住，圆八信，名行不退。]
[声闻、缘觉、菩萨三乘所共有的十地，叫做“共十地”。 一、干慧地，三乘之人，初居外凡之位时，未得真空之理水，乃观慧干涸之位；性地，三乘之人，进入内凡之位，于真空法性之理，颇有解悟之位； 三、八人地，人者忍也，三乘之人，欲断三界之见惑，于预流向起八忍智之位； 四、见地，三乘之人，见到四谛真空之理，已断三界见惑之位（声闻乘谓之预流果）； 五、薄地，三乘之人，断欲界上六品之思惑，欲与惑逐渐微薄之位（即声闻乘之一来果）； 六、离欲地，三乘之人，断欲界下三品之思惑，已完全脱离欲惑之位（即声闻乘之不还果）； 七、已办地，三乘之人，断尽上二界之思惑，更无所断，所作已办成立位（即声闻乘之阿罗汉果）； 八、辟支佛地，是缘觉乘之极果，观智锐利，不但断烦恼之体，更进而渐断习气之位； 九、菩萨地，三祇之间，福慧双修，将得一切种智，并断烦恼之习气，如仅余少灰之位；
[菩萨五十二位修行中，第三个十位名十行，因菩萨经十信十住，已成佛子，满足自利，复须长养利他功行，故名十行，亦名十长养。 一、随顺众生，随喜功德，名“欢喜行”。 二、饶利众生，使得法利，名“饶益行”。 三、等视众生，不见其过，名“无嗔恨行”。 四、三际十方，化身无尽，名“无尽行”。 五、了达法门，悉无错误，名“离痴乱行”。 六、既离痴乱，则能现诸相，同异圆融，名“善现行”。 七、十方虚空，满足微尘，于一尘中，现十方界，尘界交现，不相留碍，名“无著行”。 八、缘般若故，成无著行，故六度中，特尊般若，名“尊重行”。 九、妙观慧中，显圆融德，能入诸佛法轨中，名“善法行”。 十、圆融德相，清净无漏，真无为性，妙契真实，名“真实行”。]
In Amitabha's Pure Land, even those who dwell in its lowest level, and have been born in there bringing along their karmic burdens, do not fall back from their status, from their practice, or from their mindfulness.
According to the doctrines of the non-Pure Land Buddhist scriptures, normal beings are not saints who reached the first-fruit status. People who are following Lesser Vehicle are not Bodhisattvas who follow Greater Vehicles. Those whose mindfulness does not match with Buddha’s nature cannot be said that they have obtained the same nature as Buddha’s. Similarly, those who have reached “not falling back from their mindfulness” cannot be said that their mindfulness is different from Buddha’s. Those who have reached “not falling back from their practice” are beyond the levels of saints in Lesser Vehicles. Those who have reached “not falling back from their status” are no longer normal beings. It is a major error and a deviation from the established terminology to speak of skipping stages.
It is only in Amitabha's Pure Land that people are not in any of these stages, and yet in all of them. Such transcendence of names and forms does not exist in any other Buddha-land: this definition of stages and levels, this teaching, does not exist in any other Buddha-land. But how could any of this exist if not from the ultimate reality of the true nature of mind, if not from the special effect of reciting the Buddha-name, if not from the great vows of Amitabha?
[In the non-Pure Land Buddhist scriptures] the stage of having only one lifetime to go before enlightenment is attributed only to final-stage Bodhisattvas such as Bodhisattva Maitreya and Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanyi). But everyone in the Land of Ultimate Bliss will achieve enlightenment in one lifetime. Everyone in the Pure Land is sure to experience the stage of having only one lifetime to go before enlightenment, and among them are countless numbers of such superlative [Bodhisattvas].
Among the teachings given by Sakyamuni Buddha in this era, only the Flower Ornament [Avatamsaka] Sutra explains perfect realization in a single lifetime. The basis for perfect realization is explained in the Chapter on the "Vows of Samantabhadra", in the Ten Great Vows showing the way back to the land called "Peaceful Nurturing" [another name for Amitabha's Pure Land]. The Flower Ornament [Avatamsaka] Sutra is thus urging the whole assembly in the Flower Treasury World (cosmos) on toward the Pure Land.
How amazing! Ordinary people [in the Pure Land] reach the stage of having only one lifetime to go before enlightenment, just like the great Bodhisattvas. What a sublime teaching -- it is truly unfathomable! What was presented to us in the Flower Ornament [Avatamsaka] Sutra is here in the Amitabha Sutra. Yet from ancient times until now, few have believed in it, and many have doubted it. Complex writings have been produced, but the meaning is hard to express. All I can do to set things right is work my heart out.
At this point in the sutra, Buddha gives a specific advice:
When sentient beings hear [of the Land of Ultimate Bliss], they must take a vow to be born in this land. Why so? So they can be together with all these beings of superior goodness.
The Arhats and the Bodhisattvas the sutra talks about at the beginning [as part of the assembly listening to Buddha who expounds the sutra] can be called "good people". But only those with only one lifetime to go before enlightenment, those who are at the top level of the causal ground for enlightenment, are called "beings of superior goodness" (beings of the highest virtue). The sutra says "all these beings of superior goodness" because their number is large. "Being together" expresses the idea that in the Pure Land the ordinary and the saints live together.
In the ordinary lands, holy sages live together with the ordinary people when sages pursuing to be Arhats still carry some past impure karma, and sages pursuing to be Bodhisattvas deliver their vows of great compassion. When the impure karma is over or the deliver has no chance, the holy sages and ordinary people differ widely in levels of attainment, and of bliss. Then, those who can see and hear [such holy sages] are few, and among those who do have the good fortune to see or hear them, few can approach them closely.
When a Buddha is in the world, there may be relatively many holy ones [helping to spread the teaching], but after all they are still rare jewels, and they cannot cover the whole world like the stars of the firmament. But even though sometimes in other lands saints and ordinary beings can dwell together, what they do and what they act and accomplish there are far from the same.
Those who have been born in the Pure Land are together due to their stainless karma and inconceivable deeds. These beings act as one another's teachers, and work in harmony, so that they may end ignorance together, and together achieve wondrous enlightenment.
The ordinary lowly ones born in the Pure Land, by virtue of not falling back from mindfulness, have transcended [many levels of Bodhisattvahood]. If we say they are ordinary people, [this is wrong, because they are beyond the cycle of rebirth]; they are on the verge of becoming enlightened, and are no different from the great Bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta. Although they are going to attain enlightenment in one lifetime, still, they must be called ordinary people, and they cannot be called final-stage Bodhisattvas. This state of affairs cannot be encompassed by the systems of the non-Pure Land sutras, and has no precedent in Buddha-lands other than Amitabha's Pure Land.
We must realize that in our great mission to reach enlightened, this barrier to the Land Where Saints and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together is the hardest to cross over. The Land of Ultimate Bliss, Amitabha's Pure Land Where Saints and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together, is unique -- it goes beyond all the other lands where saints and ordinary beings live together.
Only when we comprehend this can we have deep faith in the power of the vows of Amitabha. Only when we believe in the power of Amitabha Buddha can we have deep faith in the merits of his name. Only when we believe in the effect of the name of Amitabha can we have deep faith that the True Nature of our own minds is actually inconceivable. Only when we have this deep faith can we make great vows.
The text of the sutra says sentient beings must take a vow to be born in the Pure Land. This word "must" points to deep faith. Making vows with deep faith is precisely the Awakening Mind. The combination of faith and vows is truly the guiding compass to the Pure Land. By such faith and vows to consistently invoke the Buddha-name is correct practice.
If your faith and vows are solid and strong, then even you recite the Buddha-name only ten times, or only once, as you are on the brink of death, you are sure to attain birth in the Pure Land. Without faith and vows, even if you recite the Buddha-name until [you achieve a level of concentration the Zen literature describes as] "wind cannot enter you and rain cannot wet you" and "you stand like a silver wall or an iron wall", you will still not have a way to be born in the Pure Land.
Those who cultivate Pure Land practices must realize this truth. The Longer Amitabha Sutra also takes vows as essential and is identical in meaning to this section.
Now the sutra directly teaches practitioners that reciting the Buddha-name is the way to practice. First it shows the working of supreme cause and effect, and then it reiterates its admonition to recite the Buddha-name.
One cannot be born in this land through minor good roots, meritorious virtues and causal connections.
If there are good men or good women who hear of Amitabha Buddha, and recite his name singlemindedly and without confusion, for one day or two days or three days or four days or five days or six days or seven days, then when these people are about to die, Amitabha Buddha and all the sages who are with him will appear before them. When these people die, their minds will not fall into delusion, and they will attain rebirth in Amitabha Buddha's Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Bodhi minds with right (Bodhisattva) path are good roots, the direct causal basis. Other meritorious actions that promote the path, such as charity, discipline, and meditation, bringing merits and virtues, are the supportive conditions.
Literalist disciples of the Lesser Vehicle (Shravakas) and Pratyeka, have few good roots. The meritorious deeds and virtues of human beings and gods, defiled as they are, are also few. These will not be born in the Pure Land because of the lake of causal basis and conditions. Only if you have faith and vows and recite the Buddha-name will each and every repetition of the Buddha-name be amply supplied with good roots and meritorious virtues. Even if you invoke the Buddha-name in a scattered state of mind, the merits and good roots are still incalculable -- how much the more so when you invoke the Buddha name singlemindedly without confusion.
[By invoking the Buddha-name], you will bring on a response -- the shape is made and the function of mold is then accomplished -- Amitabha and his holy retinue come to you without coming, and extend a hand to lead you off. As the Amitabha Buddha is in your mind, you go to the Pure Land without going, placing yourself in a jewel lotus there.
When the sutra speaks of "good men and good women", it does not matter whether they are monks and nuns or householders, or whether they are high-ranking or low-ranking or old or young. No matter what your station and forms in life, all you have to do is hear the Buddha-name, and the good roots you have accumulated over many eons immediately ripen, and all forms of evil and perversity are transformed into virtues.
"Amitabha Buddha" is the all-inclusive term for the myriad virtues. When you use the name of Amitabha to summon virtues, all the virtues is included. Thus, reciting the name of Amitabha is the correct practice, and you do not need to get involved with other practices such as visualization or meditation. Reciting the name of Amitabha is the simplest and most direct method.
If you hear [the Buddha-name] and believe in it, if you believe in it and make vows, then you are fit to recite the Buddha-name. If you do not have faith and do not make vows, it is as if you never heard [the Buddha-name] at all. Merely hearing the name of Amitabha [without faith and vows] may become a long-term causal basis [for your enlightenment], but it cannot be called the "wisdom that comes from hearing".
The practice of reciting the Buddha-name enables us to be mindful of the Buddha-name from moment to moment, and thus bring forth the “wisdom".
There are two levels of practice in reciting the Buddha-name: reciting the Buddha-name at the phenomenal level and reciting the Buddha-name at the level of inner truth (noumenon).
1. Reciting the Buddha-name at the phenomenal level means believing that Amitabha exists in his Pure Land in the West, but not yet comprehending that he is a Buddha in our Mind, and that this Mind is Buddha. It means you resolve to make vows and to seek birth in the Pure Land, like a child longing for its mother, and never forgetting her for a moment.
2. Reciting the Buddha-name at the level of inner truth (noumenon) means believing that Amitabha and his Pure Land in the West are inherent features of our own [pure] Minds, the reflection of our own [pure] Minds. It means using the great name of Amitabha, which is inherent in our Minds and the creation of our Minds, as a focal point to concentrate our minds on, so that we never forget our own pure mind for a moment.
The sutra speaks of reciting the Buddha-name for one to seven days, defining a period of time in which we should accomplish the work. This passage can be interpreted in two ways.
[One interpretation is that] those with sharp faculties will be able to reach complete undisturbed Buddha-remembrance after one day of invoking the Buddha-name. Those will dull faculties will only be able to reach complete undisturbed Buddha-remembrance after seven days of invoking the Buddha-name. Those of middling faculties may take from two to six days to reach complete undisturbed Buddha-remembrance.
Another [interpretation of this passage is that] those with sharp faculties will be able to achieve complete undisturbed Buddha-remembrance for seven days, those will dull faculties will only be able to achieve it for a single day, and those of middling faculties may achieve it for from two to six days.
There are also two categories for the One Mind [i.e. singleminded practice].
i) Regardless of whether you recite the Buddha-name at the phenomenal level or the inner truth level, if you invoke the name of Amitabha until you subdue all afflictions (anger, greed, ignorance...) and put an end to delusions of views and thoughts, this is the One Mind at the phenomenal level.
ii) Regardless of whether you recite the Buddha-name at the phenomenal level or the inner truth level, if you invoke the name of Amitabha until your mind opens and you see inherent Buddhahood, this is the One Mind at the level of inner truth.
The One Mind at the phenomenal level is not tainted by delusions of views and thoughts, and the One Mind at the inner truth level is not deluded by the supposed dualisms [of essence and form, nirvana and samsara, Buddhas and sentient beings]. This is "the wisdom that comes from cultivating practice".
When you are not deluded by delusions of views and thoughts [at the moment of your death], the response you get is that Amitabha Buddha will appear before you in his Emanation (Response) Body, along with his whole retinue of holy ones. Your mind will no longer create the delusions appeared in three realms of this mundane world "Endurance", and you will go to be reborn in either the Pure Land Where Saints and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together, or the Pure Land of Expedient Liberation.
When you are not deluded by dualisms [at the moment of your death], the response you get is that Amitabha Buddha will appear before you in his Reward Body, along with his whole retinue of holy ones. Your mind will no longer create the delusions of Samsara and Nirvana, and you will go to be reborn in either the Pure Land of Real Reward, or the Pure Land of Eternally Quiescent Light.
二、色有，即色界的生死； 三、无色有，即无色界的生死。 2、本有、当有、中有。本有指现生的身心；当有指未来的身心；中有指本有与当有之间所受的身心。]
We must realize that reciting the name of Amitabha is not only a method that is simple and direct, it is also a method that is sudden and complete for Enlightenment. Since the Buddha-name reciting merges with Buddha from moment to moment, without bothering with visualization or meditation, you immediately witness perfect illumination, with no excess and no lack. Those of the highest faculties cannot go beyond this level while those of the lowest capabilities are also able to reach it. Of course the way Amitabha appears to people and the level of the Pure Land they are born in is not the same.
We can say that the method of reciting the name Amitabha fully encompasses all the varieties of Buddhism, the "eight teachings and five periods" [i.e., all the teachings of the Buddha's during his lifetime, according to the T'ien--t'ai schema]. In so doing, it is the most complete expression of the Buddha's compassionate heart, teaching spontaneously without being asked. What incredible power!
Question: The Meditation Sutra is devoted to explaining visualization. Why do you say not to bother with visualization?
Answer: This idea comes from the Meditation Sutra itself. Because the superior forms of visualization [focusing on the Reward Body of Amitabha] are beyond the mental power of ordinary people, that sutra in the thirteenth contemplation also introduces a lower grade of visualizing the form of Amitabha [focusing on the Response Body, that is, the physical form, of Amitabha]. However those whose karmic barriers are heavy cannot even focus on Amitabha in that way, so in the sixteenth contemplation, the sutra teaches the method of invoking the name of Amitabha. The Amitabha Sutra concentrates on the Buddha-name-recitation method of the sixteenth contemplation because it is the Dharma Ending Age, and there are many people with heavy karmic obstructions.
We should know that though people have dull faculties, the images and the name of Amitabha Buddha are all created by our mind and inherent to our mind (The same One Mind). Thus the method to visualize the lower form of Buddha image is effective enough without the need to visualize the superior form of Buddha. Similarly, the method to recite the name of Amitabha Buddha is also effective enough without the need to conduct any visualization.
Question: Masters like Tien-Chi and Du-feng have proposed meditating on the Zen question, "Who is the one reciting the Buddha-name?" Why do you say that it is not necessary to practice such a Zen meditation?
Answer: This idea comes from Master Tien-Chi himself as well as other masters. Master Tien-Chi did not want to stand idly by while people reciting the Buddha-name failed to comprehend the compassion of Sakyamuni Buddha [in teaching Buddha-name-recitation], so he posed this question to help them wake up [to the real sense of reciting the Buddha-name]. When he taught this it was like the dawn returning after a long night.
If we are unwilling to still our minds in order to recite the Buddha-name with complete concentration, we are taking hold of "a fragment of tile with which to knock on a door to hit out at our own parents [our Mind]": we are rebelling against our own patriarchal teachers and doing evil, rather than obeying them and being good. [This fragment of tile represents Mater Tian-Chi’s question: “Who is the one reciting the Buddha-name?”]
Question: What you said make sense for those who are willing to still their minds by reciting the Buddha name will be alright. But how are about those who are unwilling to recite Buddha name?
Answer: Alas! Master Tien-Chi is asking you to recite the Buddha name for reaching accord with the Buddha's Mind precisely because you are not yet willing to do so. Since you have not yet developed true faith, it is as though you are wearing thick leather blinders, and cannot cut through them. You must realize that those with eyes have no
reason to light a lamp when the sun is shining -- why should those without eyes struggle to find a lamp in broad daylight?
The Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta [one of the three Pure Land sages] said that without using any other expedients than Buddha recitation, you manage to open your own mind. This is like a great mass of fire coming from the "Buddha recitation Samadhi": Whoever touches this fire of Samadhi will be subsumed by it.
Question: When Amitabha Buddha appears to Pure Land practitioners when they are on the brink of death, how can they be sure it is not a demon?
Answer: If a Buddhist is not meditating on the Buddha, and yet Buddha suddenly appears unexpectedly, this is called a demon (delusion). A Pure Land practitioner sees the Buddha while focusing on the Buddha. In his case [cause and effect coincide] and his mind is in unison with the appearance of the Buddha. The appearance of the Buddha is therefore not a demon. Moreover, the brink of death is not the time to cause the appearance of demon. There is no need to worry about this.
Question: When the sutra speaks of reciting the Buddha-name singlemindedly for seven days, does this refer to ordinary times, or to the time when we are about to die?
Answer: This refers to ordinary times.
Question: If we recite the Buddha-name for seven days, singlemindedly and without confusion, but later we again become confused and create bad karma, will we still achieve birth in the Pure Land?
Answer: A person who has actually managed to recite the Buddha-name singlemindedly will not give rise to confusion or create bad karma again.
Question: The Longer Amitabha Sutra speaks of attaining birth in the Pure Land through ten repetitions of the Buddha-name. The Treatise of the Precious King of Samadhi speaks of attaining birth in the Pure Land through a single repetition of the Buddha-name. Are they referring to ordinary times, or to the time when we are about to die?
Answer: Attaining birth in the Pure Land through ten repetitions of the Buddha-name applies to both times. If we recite the Buddha-name ten times each morning, this is an ordinary occasion. On the other hand, the Longer Amitabha Sutra speaks of attaining birth in the Pure Land through ten repetitions (and this is the same as what the Meditation Sutra says) -- this refers to when we are on the brink of death. As to passage in the "Treatise of the Precious King of Samadhi" about attaining birth in the Pure Land through a single repetition of the Buddha-name, this refers to the time when we are about to die.
[印光大师法语：十念法门: 增广文钞卷一与陈锡周居士书 若或事务多端，略无闲暇。当于晨朝盥漱毕，有佛则礼佛三拜，正身合掌念南无阿弥陀佛。尽一口气为一念，念至十口气，即念小净土文。或但念愿生西方净土中四 句偈。念毕礼佛三拜而退。若无佛即向西问讯，照上念法而念。此名十念法门。乃宋慈云忏主为王臣政务繁剧，无暇修持者所立也。何以令尽一口气念。以众生心 散，又无暇专念。如此念时，借气摄心，心自不散。然须随气长短，不可强使多念，强则伤气。又止可十念，不可二十三十，多亦伤气。以散心念佛，难得往生。此 法能令心归一处，一心念佛，决定往生。念数虽少，功德颇深。（增广文钞卷一）]
Question: If we can attain birth in the Pure Land through ten repetitions of the Buddha name, or even a single repetition, why do we need seven days of reciting the Buddha-name, as the Amitabha Sutra says?
Answer: If we have not done the work of reciting the Buddha-name singlemindedly for seven days during ordinary times, how can we reach the Pure Land through ten repetitions or a single repetition when we are on the brink of death?
It would not be more than one chance in a million if someone who had committed many evils were to have a causal basis from past lives ripen as he was on the brink of death, enabling him to meet a spiritual friend, hear his teaching, and develop faith and vows. How could people rely on this slim chance of luck? [Master Tien Ru book] Doubts and Questions about the Pure Land has refuted this idea of waiting till death to practice Buddha recitation in great detail. People these days should read that book.
[元维则《净土圣贤录》维则，字天如，姓谭，永新人。出家后，嗣法中峰本禅师。至正初，住苏州师子林。屡召问，称疾不赴。则既密契单传，复推天台永明之旨，兼宏净土之教，著净土或问， 破诸疑惑，策进修行。今录其尤警切者。或问，一生造恶，临终念佛，带业得生，又无退转。然则我且做世事，待临终念佛，可乎。答曰，苦哉，苦哉。赚自己，又 赚天下僧俗男女，皆此言也。逆恶凡夫，临终念佛，是夙有善根，故遇善知识，而得念佛。此等侥幸，万中无一。（苏州府志，净土或问。）]
Question: If Amitabha's Pure Land is a hundred billion worlds away from here, how can we be reborn there instantly?
Answer: The land that is a hundred billion worlds away is not beyond one moment of thought, since fundamentally there is nothing outside the True Mind. When we rely on the power of Buddha that is inherent in our own mind, what is so hard about being born in the Pure Land instantly?
It is like a many layered scene of mountains and rivers and towers reflected in a mirror: all the layers appear there in the mirror, and in reality there is no near and far. All are reflected at once, appearing without before or after. When the sutra says "West of here, past a hundred billion Buddha-lands, there exists a world called 'Ultimate Bliss''', it is also like this. When the sutra says "In this land there exists a Buddha called Amitabha, who is expounding the Dharma right now", it is also like this.
It is also like this when a person [who has developed faith and vows and recited the Buddha-name] is about to die, and Amitabha and all his retinue of saints appear before that person. It is also like this when the person dies without his or her mind falling into delusion, and the person is immediately born in Amitabha's Land of Ultimate Bliss.
We must recognize that every word in the sutra is said in the Ocean-Seal Samadhi and the Wisdom of Great-Perfect-Mirror.
Question: Reciting the Buddha-name is a part of practice, an auxiliary practice. Why do you call it a principal practice?
Answer: Basing ourselves on the One Mind, we speak of faith, vows, and practice. There is however no order of precedence here, nor is naming three aspects a set definition. Without vows and practice, we cannot speak of true faith. Without practice and faith, we cannot speak of true vows. Without faith and vows, we cannot speak of true practice.
Relying fully on our faith and our vows, we recite the Buddha-name. Thus faith, vows, and practice seem to be three things, but all three are fully present in every repetition of the Buddha-name. This is why the sutra says the phrase of many good roots, meritorious virtues and causal connection. The Meditation Sutra means this when it says that by invoking the Buddha-name, from moment to moment we are clearing away the bad karma of eighty million eons of birth and death. Without great merits, virtues and good roots, how could we clear away bad karma on such a grand scale?
Question: With the intensity that comes [to reciting the Buddha-name] on the brink of death, we can clear away a lot of bad karma. Can we achieve the same result in ordinary times if we invoke the Buddha-name singlemindedly?
Answer: When the sun comes out, all darkness disappears. When we invoke the great name of Amitabha, myriad evil deeds are wiped away.
Question: Can we also clear away bad karma if we invoke the Buddha-name with a scattered mind?
Answer: The merit and virtue of the Buddha-name are inconceivable, so how could they not clear away bad karma? But reciting the Buddha-name with a scattered mind does not guarantee being reborn in the Pure Land, since the good roots created by a diffuse,
scattered recitation is no match for the bad karma that have accumulated from time “without beginning.”
We must understand that all of space could not contain our accumulated bad karma, if they took on physical form. Every repetition of the Buddha-name might wipe away the bad karma of eighty millions eons of birth and death, but even if we recited the Buddha-name days and nights for a hundred years, the amount of bad karma which would be wiped out is like the amount of dirt under a fingernail, while the amount of bad karma remaining is like all the dirt on earth.
The only way [to eliminate all bad karma] is to recite the Buddha-name to the point of singleminded concentration. Then it is like a powerful warrior breaking out of encirclement, so even three armies cannot hem him in any more. In all instances however, invoking the Buddha-name is a seed for becoming enlightened. It is like an indestructible diamond that will last.
When Sakyamuni Buddha was in the world, there was an old man who asked to become a monk. The congregation of five hundred arhats all said the old man was lacking in good karmic roots. Buddha however said: "Countless ages ago this man was being pursued by a tiger, and cried out "Nam Mo Buddha!" Now the good roots from that occasion have become ripe: he has met me and found the path. This is not something that followers of the Lesser Vehicle can perceive." This story and the teachings of the Lotus Sutra show that even those who invoked the Buddha-name in a scattered and confused state of mind have planted the seed of Buddhahood. How can we not believe them?
It is my humble hope that no matter whether you are a layperson or a monk or nun, no matter whether you are smart or stupid, [you will adopt a positive attitude] toward this simple, direct, supreme round and sudden Pure Land teaching. Do not look upon it as difficult, and shrink away from it. Do not look upon it as easy, and become complacent and not try hard enough. Do not look upon it as shallow, and wrongly despise it. Do not look upon it as profound, and not dare to accept it as your task.
The name of Amitabha which we recite is truly inconceivable [because it is our True Mind]. The True Mind of those who recite it is also truly inconceivable. If you recite the
Buddha-name once, it is inconceivable. If you recite it ten or a hundred or a thousand or a million times, or countless times, every one is inconceivable.
In the next passage in the sutra, Buddha reiterates his admonition:
I have seen this benefit, and so I speak these words. If sentient beings hear what I say, they must make a vow to be born in that land.
Buddha says, "I have seen this benefit." The vision of the Buddha is the ultimate in clarity. The benefit he has seen is that through reciting the Buddha-name sentient beings can transcend the world of Five Defilements, completely purify the Four Lands, and reach the end of levels where they do not fall back from their position. This is the benefit brought about by the inconceivable merit of the Amitabha’s Pure Land.
With reference to what happens when we die, this benefit is that our minds do not fall into delusion and error. It is known that if we cultivate practice in this polluted world through our own effort, it is extremely hard to gain power over the crucial juncture of birth and death.
If there is the least bit of bad tendency that you have not cleared away [by the time you are about to die], you will plunge into an untoward rebirth following the strongest force -- this applies no matter whether you have ignorantly cultivated a misguided practice and trusted in your deluded intellect, or whether you have had some profound awakenings and your conduct has been consistent and correct. As Pure-land Patriarch Yung-ming said, "Nine out of ten people who practice Zen meditation miss the road: scenes of delusion appear before them [at death], and in an instant they follow them off." This is truly a chilling prospect! Even Arhats become deluded again as they emerge from the womb
and even Bodhisattvas can become benighted between death and a subsequent rebirth. Here [at the point of death], how can you forcibly act the master? If you expect to be so lucky, you are a fool.
The only way out is to have faith and vows and recite the Buddha-name because of the help from Other-power. Amitabha's vows of compassion are certainly not empty promises. If we have faith and vows and recite the Buddha-name, when we die Amitabha and the assembly of saints will appear before us to comfort us and lead us away. That way we will not fail, and we will be free to be reborn in the Pure Land.
Buddha saw that sentient beings' greatest suffering is to fall into confusion at the moment of death, and so he vouchsafed this Pure Land teaching to us. This is why he urged us again and again to take vows: because vows can guide us.
Question: If Buddha is a creation of the Mind, if Buddha is the Mind, why do you not speak of our own inherent Buddha as supreme? Why do you insist that another Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, is better?
Answer: This Pure Land teaching is all a matter of comprehending that Amitabha Buddha is precisely our own Buddha Nature, our Mind. If we mistakenly refer to the Buddha as "other", we would fall into one form of delusive view. If we were to overemphasize our own inherent Buddha, this would be another form of delusive view. Both are wrong.
Consider the four modes whereby the Buddha preached his dharma. The later three modes cannot be established without the first mode (worldly mode), preaching according to the conventional understanding of the world, which allows us to deeply develop our faith. Without this worldly mode, we cannot build up our willingness and determination of detachment, not to mention to understand the inner truth of Buddhahood.
[一、世界悉檀，佛开始时，先顺世界之凡情，宣说浅近之事理，以令闻者欢喜和信受； 二、各各为人悉檀，佛审察众生的根机，及程度之浅深，而说各人所须要之法，令众生发起正信，增长善根； 三、对治悉檀，对嗔多者教以慈悲观，痴多者教以因缘观，障多者教以念佛观，如是普施种种之法药，以去除众生的恶病； 四、第一义悉檀，佛见众生的机缘既熟，便为之说诸法实相，以令众生一起悟入圣者之道。]
Through our invoking the Buddha-name at the phenomenal level, we can reach the level of inner truth (noumenon). Then, Amitabha and his retinue of saints appear before us: this is our inherent True Nature becoming manifest. Also, we are born in the Pure Land and see Amitabha and hear his teaching: this is perfecting the body of wisdom of our True Nature. This is not awakening through something other than us.
The Pure Land teaching is profound and wondrous. It destroys all sophistry and cuts off all delusive views. Only those with the wisdom of Ashvaghosha, Nagarjuna, Chih-i and Yung-ming can take it up completely. Those of worldly intelligence, the common followers of Confucianism and the fans of Zen, may try to figure it out to the limit of their powers, but the more they think about it, the farther off they get. In terms of being able to reach the wisdom of the Buddhas and mesh with the wonders of the Path, such intellectuals are not as good as simple men and women who recite the Buddha-name in all sincerity.
"I have seen this benefit and so I speak these words". Buddha's eye and Buddha's voice clearly affirm this truth, so how can we dare to go against it? Shouldn't we accept it?
This concludes the commentary on the main body of the sutra.