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PART 1:  

According to the instructions of the Tian Tai School, sutras are outlined according to Five-fold Profound Meanings: Explaining the Name, Describing the Substance, Clarifying the Principle, Discussing the Function, and Determining the Teaching Mark. The Five-fold Meanings are called “five-fold” because they unfold, layer after layer.

Explaining the Name

The first is Explaining the Name. Only when you know the sutra’s name can you begin to understand its principles. Just as when you meet a person you first learn his name, so it is with sutras, for each has its own particular name.

The titles of all Buddhist sutras may be divided into two parts, the common title and the special title. The special title of this sutra is the Buddha Speaks of Amitabha, and the word sutra is the common title, as all discourses spoken by the Buddha are called sutras.

Although five kinds of beings may speak sutras,

1) The Buddhas,

2) The Buddha’s disciples,

3) Gods,

4) Immortals, and

5) Transformation beings, that is, gods or Buddhas who transform into human form.

The disciples, gods, immortals, and transformation beings must first receive the Buddha’s certification before they speak a sutra; without certification, what they speak is not truly a sutra. This sutra was spoken by the Buddha, not by those in the other four categories; it came from Shakyamuni Buddha’s mouth.

Because its principles were too profound and wonderful for the Sravakas or Bodhisattvas to comprehend, no one requested the Pure Land dharma-door. Nonetheless, it had to be revealed and so the Buddha spontaneously spoke this very important sutra, doubly important because it will be the last to disappear in the Dharma ending age.

In the future, the Buddhadharma will become extinct. Demon Kings most fear the Shurangama Mantra and so the Shurangama Sutra will be the first to disappear, for without the sutra, no one will be able to recite the mantra. Then, one by one, the other sutras will disappear. We now have the black words of the text on white paper, but in the future, when the Buddhadharma is on the verge of extinction, the words will disappear from the page, as all the sutras vanish.

The last to go will be the Amitabha Sutra. It will remain in the world an additional hundred years and ferry limitless living beings across the sea of suffering to the other shore, which is Nirvana. When the Amitabha Sutra has been forgotten, only the great phrase “Namo Amitabha Buddha” will remain among mankind and save limitless beings. Next, the word “Namo” which is Sanskrit and means “homage to” will be lost, and only “Amitabha Buddha” will remain for another hundred years, rescuing living beings. After that, the Buddhadharma will completely disappear from the world. Because this sutra will be the last to disappear, it is extremely important.

The Special Title: The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha

Who is the Buddha? The Buddha is the Greatly Enlightened One. His great enlightenment is an awakening to all things, without a particle of confusion. A true Buddha has ended karma and transcended emotions. He is without karmic obstacles and devoid of emotional responses. On the other hand we find living beings, who are attached to emotions and worldly love. Common men with heavy karma and confused emotions are simply living beings. The Buddha’s enlightenment may be said to be of three kinds:

        • Basic enlightenment, enlightenment at the root source
        • Beginning enlightenment, the initial stages of enlightenment, and
        • Ultimate enlightenment, complete enlightenment.

You can also say that he is:

        • Self-enlightened, that he
        • Enlightens others, and that he is
        • Complete in enlightenment and practice.

Self-enlightenment. Common men are unenlightened. They think themselves intelligent when they are actually quite dull. They gamble thinking that they will win – who would have guessed that they’d lose? Why are they so confused? It’s because they do things which they clearly know are wrong. The more confused they are, the deeper they sink into confusion; the deeper they sink, the more confused they become.

Everyone should become enlightened. The Buddha is a part of all living beings and is one of them himself, but because he is enlightened instead of confused, he is said to be self-enlightened and not like common men. Sravakas, the disciples of the Small Vehicle, are “independents”; they are self-enlightened, but they do not enlighten others.

Bodhisattvas enlighten others, unlike the Sravakas who think only of themselves. Bodhisattvas choose to benefit all beings and ask for nothing in return. Using their own methods of self-enlightenment, they convert all beings causing them to realize the doctrine of enlightenment and non-confusion. This is the practice of the Bodhisattva conduct.

Sravakas, “sound-hearers”, awaken to the Way upon hearing the sound of the Buddha’s voice. They cultivate the Four Holy Truths,

        • Suffering,
        • Origination,
        • Extinction, and
        • The Way.

They also cultivate the Twelve Causes and Conditions:

        • Ignorance, which conditions
        • Action, action which conditions
        • Consciousness, consciousness which conditions
        • Name and form, name and form which conditions
        • The six sense organs, the six sense organs which condition
        • Contact, contact which conditions
        • Feeling, feeling which conditions
        • Craving, craving which conditions
        • Grasping, grasping which conditions
        • Becoming, becoming which conditions
        • Birth, and birth which conditions
        • Old age and death.

The twelve all arise from ignorance, and ignorance is merely a lack of understanding. Without ignorance, the Twelve Causes and Conditions cease to operate. But if you flounder in ignorance, you are caught in the remaining causes. Those of the Small Vehicle cultivate the Dharma, but Bodhisattvas transcend all successive stages, cultivating the Six Perfections and the Ten-thousand conducts.

The Six Perfections are:

        • Giving. Giving transforms those who are stingy. Greedy people who can’t give should
          practice giving, for if they do not learn to give they will never get rid of their stinginess.
        • Morality. The precepts are guides to perfect conduct and eliminate offenses,
          transgressions, and evil deeds. Keep the precepts.
        • Patience. Patience transforms those who are hateful. If you have an unreasonable
          temper, cultivate being patient and bearing with things. Don’t be an asura, a fighter who
          gets angry all day and is not on speaking terms with anyone unless it’s to speak while
          glaring with fierce, angry eyes. Be patient instead.
        • Vigor. Vigor transforms those who are lazy. If you’re lazy, learn to be vigorous.
        • Dhyana meditation. Dhyana meditation transforms those who are scattered and confused.
        • Wisdom. Prajna wisdom transforms those who are stupid; the bright light of wisdom
          disperses the darkness of stupidity.

Bodhisattvas cultivate the Six Perfections and the Ten-thousand conducts. Selff-enlightened, they enlighten others, and are therefore unlike those of the Small Vehicle.

Complete Enlightenment. This is wonderful enlightenment, the enlightenment of the Buddha. The Buddha perfects self-enlightenment and the enlightenment of others, and when his enlightenment and practice are complete, he has realized Buddhahood.

“You keep talking about the Buddha,” you say, “but I still don’t know who the Buddha is.”

You don’t know? I will tell you.

You are the Buddha.

“Then why don’t I know it?” you ask.

Your not knowing is just the Buddha! But this is not to say that you have already reached Buddhahood. You are as yet an unrealized Buddha. You should understand that the Buddha became a Buddha from the stage of a common person. It is just living beings who can cultivate to realize Buddhahood. The Buddha is the Enlightened One, and when a human being becomes enlightened, he’s a Buddha, too. Without enlightenment, he’s just a living being. This is a general explanation of the word “Buddha.”

The Buddha has Three Bodies, Four Wisdoms, Five Eyes, and Six Spiritual Penetrations. You may be a Buddha, but you are still an unrealized Buddha, for you do not have these powers. The Buddha cultivated from the stage of a common person to Buddhahood, and has all the attributes of Buddhahood.

Some who haven’t become Buddhas claim to be Buddhas. This is the height of stupidity; claiming to be what they are not, they cheat themselves and cheat others. Isn’t this to be a “Greatly Stupid One?” Everyone can become a Buddha, but cultivation is necessary. If one has the Three Bodies and the Four Wisdoms one may call oneself a Buddha. If one has just the Five Eyes, or a bit of spiritual penetration, one may not.

The Three Bodies are:

        • The Dharma body,
        • The Reward body,
        • The Transformation body.

The Four Wisdoms are:

        • The Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom,
        • The Wonderful Observing Wisdom,
        • The Wisdom of Accomplishing What is Done, and
        • The Equality Wisdom.

The Six Spiritual Penetrations are:

        • The Heavenly Eye. The Heavenly Eye can see the gods and watch all their activities.
        • The Heavenly Ear. The Heavenly Ear can hear the speech and sounds of the gods.
        • The Knowledge of Others’ Thoughts. Thoughts in the minds of others which they have
          not yet spoken are already known. This refers to the present.
        • The Knowledge of Past Lives. With this penetration one can also know the past.
        • The Extinction of Outflows. To be without outflows is to have no thoughts of greed,
          hate, stupidity, or sexual desire. In general, once one gets rid of all one’s bad habits
          and faults, one has no outflows. Outflows are like water running through a leaky bottle;
          at the stage of no outflows the leaks have been stopped up.
        • The Complete Spirit. Also called the Penetration of the Spiritual Realm, this is an
          inconceivably wonderful state.

The Five Eyes are:

        • The Heavenly Eye,
        • The Buddha Eye,
        • The Wisdom Eye,
        • The Dharma Eye, and
        • The Flesh Eye.

A verse about the Five Eyes says,

The Heavenly Eye penetrates without obstruction.
The Flesh Eye sees obstacles but does not penetrate.
The Dharma Eye only contemplates the mundane.
The Wisdom Eye understands True Emptiness.
The Buddha Eye shines like a thousand suns.
Although the illuminations differ,
Their substance is one.  

The Heavenly Eye penetrates without obstruction and sees the affairs of eighty-thousand great aeons. It cannot see beyond that. The Flesh Eye can see those things which are obstructed; the Heavenly Eye only sees those things which are not obstructed. The Dharma Eye contemplates the “mundane truth”, all the affairs of worldly existence. The Wisdom Eye comprehends the state of True Emptiness, the “genuine truth.”

Not just the Buddha, but everyone has a Buddha Eye. Some have opened their Buddha Eyes and some have not. The open Buddha Eye shines with the blazing intensity of a thousand suns. Although the Five Eyes differ in what they see, they are basically of the same substance.

So the Buddha has Three Bodies, Four Wisdoms, Five Eyes, and Six Spiritual Penetrations. If one has such talent, one may call oneself a Buddha, but if not, one would be better off being a good person instead of trying to cheat people.

In this sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha, the teacher of the Saha world, speaks of the adornments of the Land of Ultimate Bliss and of its teacher, Amitabha Buddha.

Saha is a Sanskrit term which mean “to be endured.” The world in which we live has so much suffering that living beings find it hard to endure, and so it is named Saha.

Shakyamuni Buddha’s name, also Sanskrit, is explained in two parts. Sakya, his family name, means “able to be humane.” The Buddha shows his humaneness as compassion which relieves suffering, and kindness which bestows happiness by teaching and transforming living beings.

There are three kinds of compassion:

        • An Attitude of Loving Compassion.

Average men love and sympathize with those close to them, but not with strangers. Seeing relatives or friends in distress, they exhaust their strength to help them, but when strangers are suffering, they pay them no heed. Having compassion for those you love is called an Attitude of Loving Compassion.

There is as well an Attitude of Loving Compassion which extends to those of the same species, but not to those of other species. For example, not only do people have no compassion for animals such as oxen, pigs, chickens, geese, or ducks, but they even go so far as to eat animals’ flesh!

They snatch away animals’ lives in order to nourish their own. This is not a true Attitude of Loving Compassion. Fortunately, people rarely eat each other. They may eat pork, mutton, beef, chicken, duck, and fish, but they don’t catch, kill, and eat each other, and so they are a bit better off than animals that turn on members of their own species for food. People may not eat each other, but they certainly have no true Attitude of Loving Compassion towards animals.

Compassion which comes from understanding conditioned dharmas.

Those of the Small Vehicle have compassion which comes from understanding conditioned dharmas as well as the attitude of loving compassion discussed above. They contemplate all dharmas as arising from causes and conditions and they know that:

Causes and conditions have no nature;
Their very substance is emptiness.  

Contemplating the emptiness of conditioned dharmas, they compassionately teach and transform living beings without becoming attached to the teaching and transforming. They know that everything is empty.

The Great Compassion which comes from understanding the identical substance of all beings.

Buddha and Bodhisattvas have yet another kind of compassion. The Buddha’s Dharma body pervades all places and so the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are of one substance with all beings; the Buddha’s heart and nature are all-pervasive and all beings are contained within it. We are living beings within the Buddha’s heart and he is the Buddha within our hearts. Our hearts and the Buddha’s are the same, everywhere throughout the ten directions, north, east, south, west, the directions in between, above, and below. Therefore the Buddha and living beings are of the same substance, without distinction. This is called the Great Compassion.

Sakya, the Buddha’s family name, includes these three kinds of compassion. If one chose to speak about it in more detail, there are limitless and unbounded meanings.

Muni is the Buddha’s personal name. It means “still and quiet.” Still and unmoving, he is silent. No words from the mouth, no thoughts from the mind – this is an inconceivable state. The Buddha speaks Dharma without speaking; he speaks and yet does not speak, does not speak and yet he speaks. This is still and silent, still, still, silent and unmoving, yet responding in accord; responding in accord and yet always, always silent and still. This is the meaning of the Buddha’s personal name, Muni. All Buddhas have the name Buddha in common, but only this Buddha has the special name Shakyamuni.

Continuing the explanation of the title, we shall now investigate the meaning of “speak.” In Chinese, the word speak shuo is made up of the radical yan which means “word,” and the element dui. Dui has two dots on the top which were originally the word ren, person. The strokes below could also represent the word person.

What does the Buddha say? Whatever he pleases, but happy to say what he wants to say, he always speaks the Dharma.

Having already become Buddhas, Shakyamuni Buddha and the Buddhas of the ten directions are called “already enlightened ones,” as they have already understood and awakened from their dreams. While we are still sound asleep and dreaming, the Buddha is greatly enlightened, greatly awakened. With his Buddha-wisdom there is nothing he does not know; using his Buddha-vision there is nothing he does not see.

This is the meaning of his great enlightenment which came from cultivating, and this is the result to which he has certified. He has walked the road, he has been through it, he is an “already enlightened one.” The methods of cultivation he used to attain the fruit of enlightenment he then teaches, to lead all living beings to attain and certify to that ultimate, complete result of Bodhi. That is why he speaks the Dharma, and why, having done so, he is happy to have spoken.

What does he say?

Right now he speaks of Amitabha: the Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra .

Amitabha, the next word in the title, is a Sanskrit word which means “limitless light.” Amitabha’s other name, Amitayus, means “limitless life.”

“But,” you might ask, “the sutra says that it has been ten kalpas since Amitabha realized Buddhahood. Ten kalpas is a definite length of time. Why do you speak of ‘limitless life’ and then measure it out in time?”

Amitayus, “limitless life,” refers to his blessings and virtue. “Limitless light” refers to his wisdom. His wisdom light is limitless and bright. Limitless life, limitless light. Not only are his blessings, virtues, and wisdom limitless but so are his spiritual powers, his eloquence, his attributes, and his teachings. There is no way to count them because they are infinite, nowhere present and nowhere absent.

Where did the limitless come from? Mathematicians should know that the limitless comes from the one. One is many and many are one. A scholar once wrote a book and said, “Large numbers are written by starting with one and then employing many place holding zeros. Keep adding zeros until the space between heaven and earth is filled. When you have written all over your walls and covered your floors, can you determine the total? Couldn’t you still add another zero? Numbers are endless.”

Amitabha Buddha’s life, wisdom, merit, virtue, and Way-power are all infinite and unbounded. If you want a big figure, go ahead and write columns of zeros.

Knowing that there can be no definite total, the Buddha, who is the perfection of intelligence, just said, “Limitless and uncountable.” Mathematics can explain infinity, and scientists have sent men into space to study it, but having arrived in empty space, there’s still more empty space beyond. There’s no end to it. Numbers go on infinitely and in this way we can understand the vast expanse of Amitabha Buddha’s blessedness, his virtue, and his wisdom. Therefore he is called Amita.

Both Amitabha and Shakyamuni Buddha were people who became Buddhas. They did not descend from the heavens or ascend from the depths of the earth. As people they cultivated the Dharma and now they are sages, people who have realized the result. According to the classification of sutra titles, this sutra is established by reference to a person, but not a person like us. He is a Buddha, one who has realized the result. We are living beings; we have not realized the result, but are cultivating the cause of Buddhahood. Once Buddhahood is realized, we will be sages. This sage’s name, Amitabha, is used to classify the title of the sutra.

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