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 Where is the Buddha?

 

       Respectable Masters. Lotus Friends.

      Normally, we have no dharma-lectures during the Seven-day Nianfo[1]retreat. But today is a little different. It is Amitabha Buddha’s birthday, and I wish to convey to you the correct and in-depth understanding of the Pure Land doctrine. The primary purpose is to let us integrate nianfo into our daily lives—whether we are traveling, standing, sitting, or lying down—our families, and all walks of life and occupations, so we can achieve “nianfo is life, life is nianfo;” not that you must come to the dharma-site to practice nianfo, on the Buddha’s birthday, or during the Seven-day Nianfo retreat.

       The topic that we will discuss today is, “Where is the Buddha?”

       We will explain it in seven parts, quoting scriptures from sutras and discourses.

       Some people may ask: “You have such deep faith in Amitabha Buddha, and constantly recite his name. Have you ever seen the Buddha? Where is he?

      Many of us might be at a loss as to how to respond to such a question. Today, we will focus on this issue. Besides, if we understand where Amitabha Buddha is, we will strengthen our faith in the Buddha and his compassionate deliverance and practice nianfo more actively and enthusiastically.

      If we say Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land is ten trillion Buddha-lands away, which is way beyond astronomers’ knowledge, would people believe it? If we say the Buddha is right in front of you, have you seen him? People who intone the Buddha name all their lives may never behold the Buddha unless there is an exceptional opportunity to do so. Most of us will not see the Buddha in our lifetimes.

      Even Buddha reciters sometimes wonder if Amituofo hears their recitations. Does he see me when I am worshiping him? Does he know when I am thinking of him? How can I expect that Amitabha Buddha will bless me, have mercy on me when he is so high above, and I am so low beneath? The Buddha is so pure, sublime, and noble. Will Amitabha Buddha really accept me and never forsake, when I am such a filthy, lowly creature? Where exactly are you, Buddha? Are we related or far apart? What is your relationship with me? There is a saying: “The Buddha is right in front of me in my first year of studying Buddhism; in the second year, he is out in the great hall, and in the third year, he has gone to the Western Heaven. Where exactly is the Buddha? This is one of the questions that make many people inevitably confused.

       In fact, for the Buddha reciters, Amitabha is always in their hearts and minds. Those who study the Sages-path also believe that the Buddha is in their minds; the so-called “Pure Land Pure Mind” recognizes that the Buddha and the Pure Land exist in one’s Self-nature. But this is just an idea, a conceptualization.

       How shall we put it? Amitabha became a Buddha; first, he spent five kalpas planning, resulting in the proclamation of the forty-eighty great vows. Then he practiced the virtuous bodhisattva way and accomplished innumerable virtues and merits over immeasurable kalpas. For this, he is the king of all buddhas, the supreme of all buddha lights, unrivaled by any other buddhas. One day, we will attain perfect enlightenment and realize the same buddha-nature, but the kind of buddhas we will become is not comparable to Amitabha Buddha.

       From the Dharma of Equality, all buddhas are equal, for the paths to buddhahood are one and the same; all practitioners eradicate the same karmic ignorances to attain the same perfect enlightenment to be buddhas. But in their causal-grounds, the way to cultivate and the vows to deliver sentient beings may differ in contents, scopes, and the opportunities at the time and under the circumstances. Consequently, their power to deliver sentient beings may vary. Therefore, within the Dharma of Equality, there is the Dharma of Difference. Even though we know we all have buddha-nature, and we can talk all about emptiness, we are still mortals, and our greed, anger, and ignorance remain unbroken, and we still have mortal’s temperament and disposition in every situation.

       There is a verse saying, “

Do not seek the Buddha in the Spiritual Mountain from afar 
for the mountain is in your heart.
Everyone has a spiritual pagoda and you can cultivate under it.

       But this is a doctrine of Sages-path, which requires one’s own effort, and difficult to practice because our thoughts and feelings run counter to the pagoda, and our vexations are entangled; in our minds, the delusions are fleeing everywhere.

        Where is Amitabha Buddha? Let me explain it in seven points.

  1. The Buddha is in the Western Pure Land, says the scriptures.
  2. The Buddha is in the lands of all directions, being the infinite light and infinite life.
  3. The Buddha is in the name, for the name and the noumenal body is one.
  4. The Buddha is in nianfo, when we recite his name.
  5. The Buddha is on the top of the head, for the reciter.
  6. The Buddha is in the reciter’s body, to grant him real and genuine benefits.
  7. The Buddha is in our minds, for Buddha and sentient beings are one.

       We will quote passages from sutras under each of the seven points; they include almost all the core passages from the pristine Pure Land Dharma.

  1. The Buddha is in the Western Pure Land, says the scriptures.

       Quotations:

       The Shorter Sutra:[2] 

In the far west, as many as ten trillion Buddha-lands away, there is a world called Ultimate Bliss, and there is a Buddha whose name is Amitabha, who is there, even now, expounding  the dharma.”

       The Longer Sutra:[3] 

The Buddha says to Ananda, Dharmakara Bodhisattva is now a Buddha residing in the far west, as many as ten trillion Buddha-lands away, in the land called Peace and Bliss.”

       The Solemnity Sutra:[4] 

That Buddha, the Tathagata is neither coming nor going, non-arising, non-annihilating, not of the past, nor the future, nor the present. His presence in the world is to fulfill his vows of delivering all sentient beings. He now dwells in the western quarter of the cosmos.

       The Contemplation Sutra:[5] 

All these Buddha-lands are alike in their pureness and brightness, but I would like to be born in Amitabha Buddha’s Land of Ultimate Bliss.

       The above passages quoted from the Pure Land sutras clearly state that “Amitabha Buddha is in the Western Pure Land.”

       The Shorter Sutra is The Sutra of Amitabha. Shakyamuni Buddha took the initiative to call upon Shariputra thirty-six times, telling him his message without being asked, which shows his sincere compassion. From the beginning, he points out the direction and location of the Land of Ultimate Bliss and that there is a Buddha named Amitabha who is and will always be calling us again and again to accept his compassionate and unconditional deliverance. Says Shakyamuni Buddha: “In the far west, as many as ten trillion Buddha-lands away, there is a world called Ultimate Bliss.” These three short sentences clearly indicate the direction and location. That is “pointing out the direction,” our destination, a home we belong to, with no ambiguity. If the Land of Bliss is also in the west and east, above and below, then we would be at a loss as to what to do. Shakyamuni Buddha simply points out that it is in the West that is our only choice and destiny from beginning to end. And that is the purpose of pointing out the direction.

There is a Buddha whose name is Amitabha.

       This is to establish the form, the appearance of the Buddha. The Buddha is high above the world, pure and untainted, while we sentient beings are defiled and lowly. When Shakyamuni Buddha tells us, “there is a Buddha whose name is Amitabha,” it provides sentient beings a supreme object to hold on to because we always cling and are used to differentiation and Obstination. We thus know we can follow and rely on him wholeheartedly and be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

      The Pure Land teachings speak of “two existences”: the existence of the Buddha-land in the West, and the presence of Amitabha Buddha in that land. We, therefore, emphasize “pointing the direction and establishing the form.” We follow the “existences” by way of differentiation, seeking rebirth first. After rebirth in the Pure Land, we can attain perfect enlightenment, the true self-nature through the Dharma of Equality and Non-discrimination.

        If we think that our self-nature is Buddha, once our mind is purified, the mind is the Pure Land, and there is no need to seek rebirth in the Pure Land. If we hold such a view, we would never be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

      “Death is upon us when the next breath is no more. To regain a human body may take thousands of kalpas.” In the endless cycle of birth and death, life after life, we have created countless karmic deeds by greed, wrath, and ignorance, the roots of evil. Although we all possess buddha-nature, we won’t realize it, for we cannot eradicate the three poisons through our own efforts since we are controlled by them. Without being enlightened, the so-called “Pure Mind Pure Land, Self nature is Buddha” becomes trite and banal.

       So say the scriptures: “The Three-Virtuous and Ten-Sagely[6] reside in the Land of Real-Reward, only the Buddha in his pure land.” In other words, the Sravakas (Hearers) and Pratyekabuddhas, even Dharmakaya Bodhisattvas, are still in the karmic process of rewards and retributions, cultivating merits step by step towards the final stage of Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Only after attaining the unsurpassed, equal, and perfect enlightenment may the Pure Land manifest.

       The Pure Land teachings are different from other Buddhist schools in that it resolutely asserts that there is a land called Ultimate Bliss and a Buddha named Amitabha. Therefore, the framework of Pure Land Buddhism is “pointing to the direction, establishing the form.” It contrasts with Chan Buddhism, which does not allow for nianfo in fear of confusing their teachings, claiming instead, “one chant of the Buddha requires gargling the mouth for three days.”

       “Who is there, even now,  expounding the Dharma.” When is it now? It is the 17th day of the 11th month in the lunar calendar of the Republic of China. As Amitabha Buddha is now preaching the Dharma, the sound of enlightening dharma permeates all the lands in the ten directions. Because what is spoken in the Land of Ultimate Bliss propagates in the entire cosmos, for “the broad and vast tongues”[7] encompassing all the Trichiliocosms[8] in the infinite universe.”

       What Dharma is Amitabha Buddha telling us? He tells us: “All sentient beings, you must concentrate on nianfo and be quickly reborn in my land. Only then you may attain perfect, ultimate, and eternal peace and happiness.” That is also what The Solemnity Sutra says:

Let all sentient beings in the samsara of the uncountable worlds
be quickly reborn in my land, and
enjoy peace and happiness, and soon be buddhas.
With great compassion,
I shall deliver all afflicted beings from Avici Hells.

       This is the call of Amitabha Buddha, as explained by Master Shandao’s parable of the Buddha’s call in the “white narrow pass between the rivers of raging waves and fires”:

Come straightforward to me with a righteous mind.
In my protection, you shall not fall into the abyss of the fire and water.”

        The Longer Sutra also reads:

The Buddha tells Ananda, Dharmakara has now already become the Buddha of Infinite Life and resides in a land named Peace and Joy, one trillion worlds away in the West.

       The Shorter Sutra calls the Buddha-land the Land of Ultimate Bliss, The Infinite Life Sutra, the Land of Serenity and Bliss, Peace and Joy, The Contemplation Sutra, the Land of Ultimate Bliss, and The Treatise of Rebirth, the Lotus Treasury World. All these names have the same content, but Bliss means something entirely different from what we comprehend. To mortals, bliss or happiness is in the relative sense to afflictions. After happiness, it is always back to sorrow and suffering. In the Buddha-land, bliss is absolute. Only buddhas enjoy total and complete happiness in the entire dharma universes. The Sravaka (Hearers), Pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas in their reward lands are still in the advancing stages because they always look forward to their next stages, more enjoyable and gratifying, which differentiates happiness to be relative.

       The realm of Buddha is pure and perfect without defect or blemish, for there is no-birth and no-death. The only kind of real happiness is the “non-contriving” joy in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Hence, Master Shandao calls it the “Non-contriving Nirvana of Ultimate Bliss.”

       The Amitabha Buddha’s land is of non-contriving, with no-birth and no-death, and no need to go through time, stages, or artificiality. Once reborn in that land, every joy, every pleasure comes naturally, for that is the way that is; hence, the “Realm of Non-contriving Nirvana.” So, what is the cause of such blissful consequences?

       As Master Shandao comments: “it is unlikely to achieve rebirth by following random Yuans[9], and practicing a sundry of dharma paths. Hence, the Tathagata chooses the appropriate path.” That appropriate path is what Shakyamuni Buddha, in The Sutra of Amitabha, tells us, nianfo, that is,to recite Namo Amitabha Buddha exclusively and persistently. If you have time today, recite the Buddha solely today, but attempt no other sect practices. Maybe today is the day you will be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. If your life continues, recite it the day after, the seventh day, the seventh year… Recite it a lifetime for as long as you live. Simple, easy, and uncomplicated. Just concentrate on nianfo and avoid distractions, and we will be born in the Land of Peace and Bliss, Serenity and Beatitude, and Lotus Treasury. There is no need to cultivate the dharma paths of other Buddhist schools.

       As a Buddhist, practicing nianfo or not, we must comply with the ethics and fulfill all Pure Land and Sages schools' obligations. Our code of conduct says: “To abide by the ethics of social orders with due diligence, and to maintain a righteous mind, abandoning all incorrect thoughts. To comply with the law and serve the people of the world.” That is also the fundamental conduct of humans that has little to do with rebirth. The principal cause of rebirth is “To hold fast to the name of the Buddha.”

        If we think being reborn in the realm of non-contriving nirvana by nianfo alone is not secure,  we must also practice other paths and dedicate the merits to rebirth. This would be what we have just discussed: “Following random Yuans and practicing a sundry of  dharma paths.”

        The Solemnity Sutra reads:

That Buddha, the Tathagata is neither coming nor going, non-arising, non-annihilating, not of the past, nor the future, nor the present. His presence in the world is to fulfill his vows of delivering all sentient beings. He now dwells in the western quarter of the cosmos.

       Actually, Amitabha was a Buddha a long time ago. It matters not where he comes from, where he goes, when he made the vows, how long he has practiced, or when he became a Buddha. In other words, he is beyond time. It is so inconceivable and indescribable that we cannot even begin to discuss such matters. For instance, how would we discuss things like “naturalness” or “buddha-nature”? They are beyond the reach of our imagination.

      “His presence in the world is to fulfill his vows of delivering all sentient beings. He now dwells in the western quarter of the cosmos.” The Buddha manifests himself in the West to requite his vow to deliver sentient beings. He appears wherever and whenever the Yuan is ripe, and the opportunity presents itself. Only now, he “appears in the West.”

       The Contemplation Sutra also reads:

All these Buddha-lands are alike in their pureness and brightness, but I would like to be born in Amitabha Buddha’s Land of Ultimate Bliss.All sentient beings who wish to cultivate the pure conduct will attain rebirth in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss.”

       The above passages from The Contemplation Sutra show how Lady Vaidehi replies to Shakyamuni Buddha, who at her request displays with supernatural power the Buddha-lands of the ten directions in his Buddha-light emitted from between his eyebrows. After she examined and discerned all the lands, Vaidehi replies: “All these Buddha-lands are alike in their pureness and brightness,” while all Buddha-lands being pure and bright, Amitabha Buddha’s land is exceptionally sublime. So, she decides: “I would like to be born in Amitabha Buddha’s Land of Ultimate Bliss.”

        And Shakyamuni Buddha says to her: “All sentient beings who wish to cultivate pure conduct will attain rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.”

       The Contemplation Sutra speaks of three dharma paths. The first two are the thirteen Meditative and three Non-Meditative Visualizations, which, if the practitioner dedicates the merit, his achievement level notwithstanding, it will lead to their rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. The third is the recitation of Amitabha Buddha exclusively, which is the conclusion in the sutra’s last chapter, The Circulation of the Sutra, the so-called “A dragon coming afar must be in want of a lair,” and “Bringing the painted dragon to life by the final touch of its pupils.” Here, Shakyamuni Buddha tells Ananda the path of nianfo: “Bear these words well in mind. To bear these words in mind is to hold fast to the Name of Amitabha Buddha.” All the sixteen visualizations are about pure conduct that serves as skillful expedience that leads sentient beings to rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss solely by means of nianfo.

       Why? Because the Land of Ultimate Bliss is pure and non-contriving nirvana, it is impossible to be born in that land by our own efforts. How then can we get into that land? The compassionate and empathic Buddha tells us: “It is all right. All you have to do is to dedicate your merit to rebirth, and I, with my supernatural power, will receive you into that land.” There is an implication in these words:  we mortals have no pure conduct. So, where is it? It is the Amitabha Buddha. Then again, where is the Buddha? He is in the six-character name of Namo Amituofo.[10] As long as we hold fast to his name, we will be born in his Pure Land. Such is the cause, and such is the consequence. To be close to Amituofo is to respond to the Buddha’s primal vows.

       In the Ninth Visualization of the Commentary on the Visualization Sutra, Master Shandao adopts a self-referential question and answer to explain the superiority of reciting the Buddha-name exclusively:

So long as we dedicate the merits to rebirth through practicing various Dharma paths, all will be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

        “Various Dharma paths” include any or all of the thirteen meditative visualizations and the three pure conducts and nine grades. “So long as we dedicate the merits to rebirth,” we will be reborn in that land. It also indicates that we will not be reborn in the Buddha-land if we do not dedicate the merits.

        Next, the Master turned around and said:

The Buddha light shines everywhere, but why does it embrace only Buddha reciters?

      Meaning: Since rebirth is accomplishable by cultivating any Dharma path, why does the Buddha light enwrap only those who intone the Buddha, not others? That is because reciting the Buddha name has a direct relationship that corresponds to Amitabha Buddha’s fundamental vow, and the name of the Buddha is the light, so one who chants his name is in his light. People who practice other Dharma paths but do not recite his name would have nothing to do with the Buddha; hence, his universally illuminating light cannot embrace them.

       “Pure conduct,” generally speaking, includes “three pure karmic acts of merit”: the worldly merit, the disciplinary merit, and the cultivation merit.

First: Caring for one’s father and mother, attending to one’s teachers and elders, compassionately refraining from killing, and performing the ten good deeds.
Second: Taking the “Refuge in the Three Jewels,[11] observing the precepts, refraining from breaking the rules of conduct.
Third: Awakening to the aspiration to bodhi-mind (enlightenment), profoundly believing the law of causation, reading the Mahayana scriptures, and encouraging others to endeavor on the Dharma-path.

       Shakyamuni Buddha skillfully leads step by step those who practice other Dharma paths to nianfo so that they will be close and dear to Amitabha Buddha and receive the Argumentative Yuan for rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

       Therefore, Shakyamuni Buddha, at the end of the sutra, specifically calls upon Maitreya Bodhisattva and tells him, “From this world, there are six billion and seven hundred million non-retrogressive bodhisattvas who achieved rebirth in that land. Each of them has already made offerings to innumerous buddhas following just after you, Maitreya.” These are Bodhisattvas of Equal Enlightenment (only one-birth away from buddhahood); even they aspire to rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, let alone all lesser bodhisattvas.

       And the Buddha continues: “Even lesser bodhisattvas and those, who have cultivated small acts of merit, whose number is beyond calculation, will also be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.”

       Of the Bodhisattvas of Equal Enlightenment aspiring to rebirth, as far as we understand, the first two are Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattvas. The other two are attendants of Shakyamuni Buddha, Manjusri and Samantabhadra Bodhisattvas, who led countless bodhisattvas in the world to aspire to rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

       If based on the concluding sutra of the Three Pure Land Sutras, The Sutra of Amitabha, which is dedicated to nianfo solely, Shakyamuni Buddha, again and again, persuades sentient beings to aspire rebirth to the Land of Ultimate Bliss. The scriptures say:

All sentient beings who hear of this should awaken to the aspiration to be born in that Buddha-land.
Those who hear this teaching should aspire to be born in that land.
For those who have faith should aspire to rebirth in that land.

       Because Shakyamuni Buddha’s primal intention is to teach sentient beings to seek rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, which is also our purpose of studying Buddhism, they both correspond to Amitabha Buddha’s goal of being Buddha. His goal is the universal delivery of all sentient beings to his Land of Ultimate Bliss. He calls on us and expects us to concentrate on nianfo, not the miscellaneous practices of other paths so that all of us will achieve rebirth in his land.

       This is not to say that other Dharma paths are not superb, but rather to speak from the standpoint of the correct cause and successful way of achieving rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. As far as holding the five precepts and the ten virtuous conducts are concerned, it is every Buddhist’s obligation; there are no contradictions. Everyone, under his or her circumstances, should do the right thing. The so-called “Do no evil; do all good” is Buddhism’s fundamental doctrine; all of us must have a correct understanding.

       The objective of these passages we have quoted is to give us a direction, a place of belonging, to awaken us to desiring the rebirth in the Buddha-land without reservation. That is what we call “Approaching the form by establishing the name,”With the form and name being the Budda established, we can practice nianfo: Buddha-recitation and Buddha-remembrance.

  1. The Buddha is in the lands of all directions, being the infinite light and infinite life.

       What! That is contradictory. If Amitabha Buddha is in the West, how can he be also in the East, let alone in all the ten directions? The Buddha transcends time and space, and, therefore, limited by neither. It is sentient beings’ delusive, karmic view that manifests time and space. In this world, there are sunrises and sunsets, days and nights, and the cycle of four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. All these affect our minds, creating the elusive sense of birth, aging, sickness, death, and the baffling of time and space.

       To the enlightened, particularly the Buddha, according to the scriptures, space and time are neither existing nor binding, and the three ages of time—the past, the present, and the future—are but one unity, and the space-time dimensions exist merely in their minds:

       The Longer Sutra reads,

Infinitely vast, glorious and exquisite, unsurpassed by any land in its marvels, without limit.

       The Commentary on Rebirth reads,

Precisely as the void, boundless, and limitless.

       The Shorter Sutra reads,

The Buddha’s radiant light is infinite, and it illuminates the worlds of the ten directions without hindrance.

This Buddha's lifespan and the denizens of that land are of immeasurable, boundless, incalculable eons.  That’s why he is called Amitabha.

Dharmakaya[12] is formless and quiescent; it transcends space and time, non-arising non-annihilating, permanent and eternal.
Amitabha Buddha keeps sentient beings in his mind always; his presence is everywhere all the time; his voice calls everyone, his eye sees everything, his ear hears every sound, and his infinite light shines every world and every corner unhindered.
He always calls out to me, protects me, waits for me; he is ready to receive me wherever I will be.

      How vast is the Land of Ultimate Bliss of the West? As the sutra says, it is like the entire space, infinitely vast without limit. It is so glorious and exquisite, unique and inconceivable that no other pure lands in all directions can match.

       That means, even if we are not born in that land, we are not left out either; that is, while we are still in the Saha world, we are also in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. This is the so-called “being in the same place, having different perceptions,” the “four different views of one river” — different beings in the same place, seeing the same thing, experience differently. To heavenly beings, humans, ghosts, and animals in the river, they see water differently. To celestial beings, the water is colored glaze; to humans, water; to ghosts, bloody pus; to the animals in the water, it is just their living space.

       The above passages describing the Land of Ultimate Bliss being vast, boundless and limitless, are based on the Dharma of Equality from the Buddha’s perspective. When we say the Land of Ultimate Bliss is in the Western cosmos, it is from our mortal point of view, based on the Dharma of Difference, but it serves the purpose of offering us a real home.

       The above two passages from The Shorter Sutra describe the power of the Buddha’s name—the infinite light and the infinite life—which is the only way to describe the virtue and merit of Amitabha Buddha, and the power and functionality of the name of Amitabha Buddha, for they are boundless and limitless, indescribable and inconceivable.

       The Buddha’s name is established by virtue; his name is his virtue, and his dharma-body. Amitabha Buddha surpassed all the buddhas of the ten directions in his compassion, wisdom, supernatural power, the power of his vows, eloquent speech, delivering sentient beings, his light, or expressions.  How can we even begin to describe Amitabha Buddha’s name? It is exceedingly difficult because the virtue and merit of the Buddha’s name are infinite and indescribable, so we just adopt “the infinite light and the infinite life.”

       For us, sentient beings, our names and bodies are separate entities, and they often do not match. For instance, Mr. Zhou’s given name is Fugui, meaning wealthy and noble. Is he or will he be wealthy and noble, for life? Or Chanshou, meaning long life. Will he? Jiankan, healthy? Meihui, beautiful and wise? Unlikely. But the Buddha is different. He is real and true in his name.  

Dharmakaya[13] is formless and quiescent; it transcends space and time, non-arising non-annihilating, permanent and eternal.

       All Buddhas possess three bodies, the Trikāya. What about us? We too, have the dharma-body and reward/retribution bodies but not the incarnated or transformed bodies. Sentient beings and Buddhas share the dharma-body. For Buddhas, it is pure Dharmakaya.[14] For us, it is buddha-nature, only our Dharmakaya is obstructed by defilements, and the Sambhogakāya is a body with leaky karma—afflictions. We are in the endless cycle of rebirth; if not born in the realm of humans, it would be in the realms of hungry ghosts, animals, or hells. Even a life in the heavens, enjoying a lifespan of 500 years in the first heaven up to 84,000 kalpas in the highest heaven (28th), will end and remain in the six-realm of samsara.

       Not only do Buddhas have three bodies, but they are also fully and perfectly attained. As far as Dharmakaya is concerned, buddhas and sentient beings share the same dharma-body, for “the nature of minds,  buddhas and  sentient beings are one,” no difference between.” The dharma-body has no form, no sound; it is non-arising, non-annihilating, transcends time and space, eternal, and extends throughout the entire dharma cosmos.

       A bodhisattva who realizes[15] the dharma-body will have his reward-body match his vows and merits, and his capability of manifesting various incarnated bodies in different realms.

       Amitabha Buddha’s Dharmakaya is formless and quiescent, which is invisible to us. And he would be unable to help us if that is his only state of existence. Therefore, he must manifest a land of peace and beatitude and “establish the name and form” for us. That will be accomplished through his reward-body.

       In fact, the Buddha’s dharma-body and reward-body are one, not two. The dharma-body attests to the functionality of the reward-body, and the reward-body is the basis of all the virtues and merits; the two are inseparable.[16] With regard to Pure Land Buddhism, the Buddha’s reward-body is also called the “expedience dharma-body.[17]” To distinguish the two, the dharma-body itself is called “self-nature” or “dharma-nature dharma-body,” and the other aspect of “dharma-body” is called the “expedience dharma-body” or the “other dharma-body.” In “establishing the name and form,” the “six-character name” is Amitabha Buddha’s “expedience dharma-body.” It should be understood here that the word “expedience” refers to Dharmakaya, not skillful expedience. It is for the benefit of sentient beings so we may hear, comprehend, and recite his name.

Amitabha Buddha keeps sentient beings in his mind always; his presence is everywhere all the time; his voice calls everyone, his eye sees everything, his ear hears every sound, and his infinite light shines every world and every corner unhindered.

       Because of his expedience dharma-body, Amitabha Buddha projects to us a visible form.

       “Keeps sentient beings in his mind always.” What is Buddha’s mind? The Contemplation Sutra reads:

The Buddha’s mind is the great compassion and empathy, delivering sentient beings indiscriminately and unconditionally. 

        Amitabha Buddha always keeps us in his mind, with no conditions, no interruptions.

       “His presence is everywhere all the time.” That is because his presence transcends both time and space. The Amitabha Sutra reads:

The Buddha’s radiant light is infinite, and it illuminates the worlds of the ten directions without hindrance.

        The Buddha’s light, compassion, and transcendent wisdom are the noumenon of the Buddha. His light radiates the entire space throughout the dharma-cosmos, everywhere, all the time; hence, “infinite light.”

      “His voice calls everyone.” The Buddha calls upon and delivers sentient beings of the ten directions. With infinite life, he surpasses the time to deliver beings of the three ages. Therefore, the scriptures say, “keeps sentient beings in his mind always,” “his presence is everywhere all the time,” and “his voice calls everyone.

     How do we hear the voice of Amitabha Buddha? There are two ways. The first is the real voice coming from the Buddha. For instance, we hear it in our dreams or deep quiescence. But that would happen only in particular causes and conditions, often momentarily. The second is a long-lasting call because of faith and a comprehensive understanding of Pure Land Buddhism’s doctrine. The doctrine expressed in the three Pure Land sutras is consistent that we will be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss as long as we recite the Buddha’s name. Like Master Shandao’s description of the Buddha’s voice: “Come straightforward to me with a righteous mind. I shall protect you.” That Buddha’s voice continues forever, uninterrupted. Such a faithful reciter, it is said, will have his rebirth assured and his tasks accomplished in this lifetime.

       “His eye sees everything, his ear hears every sound, and his infinite light shines on every world and every corner unhindered”: When Amitabha Buddha tells us, “So-and-so, you should recite my name and be born in my land,” and that person listens to the Buddha, corresponding to his primal vow, recites his name solely, and aspires the rebirth in his Pure Land, the Buddha will have seen and heard his nianfo, and illuminate him with his light. Of course, Amitabha Buddha does not actually make a special or conscientious effort to see, hear, or shine his light on that person. All are accomplished naturally and effortlessly without design or contrivance. Like electricity, it is in the circuit; if you turn the switch on, as the light bulb induced by the electricity source, the light comes on.

       The dharma relationship between sentient beings and Amitabha Buddha is “responding and inducing.” We emphasize “nianfo by the primal vow” because the Buddha wishes us to recite his name. As soon as a thought of nianfo arises, our minds respond to the Buddha’s primal vow, naturally without any design.

       As Master Shandao tells us:

Recite Amitabha Buddha’s name exclusively, whether you are traveling, standing, sitting, or lying down, regardless of the date or season; recite it repeatedly and unwilling to stop, for it is the “correct path to rebirth.”

       Why? Because such a practice agrees with the Bhddua’s intended vow, that is, have faith and accept the deliverance of Amitabha Buddha.

       “He always protects me, waits for me; he is ready to receive me wherever I will be.” That is the function and capacity of the power of the Buddha’s vow, which is natural, requires no planning, not even to wait for us to pray or plead.

       When we say, we desire “rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss,” as if we are beseeching Amitabha Buddha, we are not. In fact, it is a pre-arranged request of the Buddha to us. He bespoke us over ten kalpas ago. To fulfill his wishes, he cultivated for us virtues and merits and built the Land of Ultimate Bliss. The Buddha has arranged everything and accomplished all for sentient beings. Therefore, we need not implore but follow his vows.

       Like the relationship between a child and his parents, there is no need to pray; his parents will raise him, nurture him, educate him because it is the nature of parenthood. All he has to do is listen to his parents. Only outsiders need asking.

      Our relationship with the Buddha is of “responding and inducing” dharma relationship.” All we need to do is recite his name, and the Buddha will respond to protect us, wait for us, and receive us to his Pure Land. It does not mean, though, we will die immediately and be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss if we desire the rebirth.

       Some people might think I am young and I have responsibilities to meet. I cannot make the vow now and soon die. What about my elder parents? My spouse? My young children? Well, it is not like that. As long as you have not completed your rewards and retributions in this life, you would remain alive in this world, even if you wish to die and be born in that land sooner. Therefore, you should aspire to rebirth now, fulfill your obligations; only afterward may you be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

       For each of us, lifespan is determined by our yin-yuan-guo-bao. It is possible to prolong or shorten it. How? One possibility is if the practitioner enters the state of quiescence through nianfo samadhi.

       However, the Land path is “Accomplished in this life, never to regress.” It is easy as long as we desire it and recite his name solely. When our time is up, Amitabha Buddha will appear to us. If it is not, even though we may not see him, the Buddha is always with us, protecting us, waiting for us, never parting from us.

      Anyone who understands the horror and sorrow of the cycle of birth and death, the eternity and peace of that land, and the Buddha’s compassionate and unconditional deliverance, will naturally accept the Buddha’s offer, be under his embracement and his protection, and be reborn in his land.

  1. The Buddha is in the name, for the name and the body is one.

       The Shorter Sutra:

The name of the Buddha of Infinite Life is his inconceivable virtues and merits.

       Master Honen:

No noumenon exists outside the name; no name exists outside the noumenon. The subtle noumenon of ten thousand virtues is the six-character name. To practice nianfo is to receive the virtues and merits.

       Master Kuiji of the Tang Dynasty:

The Buddha achieved this name by his immeasurable virtuous practices. Nianfo contains all his virtues and merits, enabling the rebirth in his land.

       Master Lianchi of the Ming Dynasty:

To unfold the name is to display all virtues and merits. To uphold the name only is to engage all dharma practices.

       Master Ouyi of Ming Dynasty:

Amitabha is the name of ten thousand virtues; to brandish the name is to include all virtues.

       Master Yinguan:

Amitabha Buddha is the name of ten thousand virtues, and the name summons all virtues.
The name of Amituofo holds all buddhas, bodhisattvas, and their teachings: “A” being the buddhas of all directions and the three ages; “mi” all bodhisattvas; “tuo” all the dharma-paths

       The first passage is from The Sutra of Amitabha. There are two translations of this sutra: one by Kumarajiva of India, the other by Master Xuanzang of the Tang Dynasty but with a different title: The Sutra on Praise of the Pure Land and Protection by Buddhas. The two differ in style, but not in content.

       Master Xuanzang translates:

The name of the Buddha of Infinite Life is his inconceivable virtues and merits.  

       Master Kumarajiva translates:

If there are good men and good women, hear the name of Amitabha Buddha.

       While Master Kumarajiva’s translation is concise and simple, using only six words, “hear the name of Amitabha Buddha,” Master Xuanzang’s translation is in greater detail. That means Amitabha Buddha’s noumenon has boundless and inconceivable virtue; all of the virtue is contained in his name. The name is the noumenon of Amitabha Buddha; Amitabha Buddha’s noumenon is the name. To the Buddha, “The name and his noumenon are inseparable, one, not two.

       So, where is Amitabha Buddha?

       He is in the six-character name: Namo Amituofo.

       As Master Honen says:

No noumenon exists outside the name; no name exists outside the noumenon. The subtle noumenon of ten thousand virtues is the six-character name. To practice nianfo is to receive the virtues and merits

       To find Amitabha Buddha, one finds it in the chanting of the six-character name because it is the noumenon, the dharma-body of Amitabha Buddha. By nianfo, one merges with the Buddha as an inseparable unity.

       “The subtle noumenon of ten thousand virtues”: These include the three studies, the six pāramitās,[18] and tens of thousands of virtuous practices, which may be summarized in the bodhisattvas’ four solemn vows:

Sentient beings are innumerable; I vow to deliver them all.
Afflictions are inexhaustible; I vow to exterminate them all.
Dharma teachings are boundless; I vow to master them all.
Enlightenment is unsurpassable; I vow to attain buddhahood.

        “Subtle noumenon” is the inconceivable dharma-body of the Buddha. Amitabha achieved buddhahood after five kalpas of designing and immeasurable kalpas of cultivating the way of the bodhisattva to accumulate uncountable virtues and merits for sentient beings. Therefore, at the time of attaining the perfect enlightenment, his body is the subtle noumenal body, and his name is the infinite virtues and merits dedicated to sentient beings who recite his name.

       I must stop here because of the time constraint. You may study the handouts for the rest of the lecture.

       Namo Amituofo.

 

(Translated by the Pure Land School Translation Team;
edited by Kevin Orro (Fozhu))

 

 

[1] Nian-Fo in Chinese pinyin. Nian means to recite or to think of, and Fo is the Buddha; hence, nianfo means to recite the Buddha vocally or mentally.

[2] The Shorter Sutra is another name of The Sutra of Amitabha.

[3] The Longer Sutra is The Infinite Life Sutra. “Infinite life” in Sanskrit is Sukhāvatīvyūha.

[4] The Sutra of Mahayana Solemnity of the Infinite Life, which is another translation of The Longer Sutra.

[5] The Sutra of the Visualization of the (Buddha of) Infinite Life.

[6] The Three-Virtuous and Ten-Sagely are Dharmakaya Bodhisattvas who are progressing to realizing the Reality-Body in forty-one stages. The Three-Virtuous are the first thirty stages of the Ten Abodes, the Ten-Practices, and the Ten-Dedications; the Ten-Sagely are the Ten-Grounds plus Equal Enlightenment, which is the final stage before buddhahood.

[7] “Broad and vast tongue” symbolizes speaking the truth.

[8] Trichiliocosm in Buddhist cosmology is a Buddha-land, which is a “third-order” universe containing one thousand second-order clusters, which are made of one thousand first-order clusters, which are in turn made of a thousand worlds each. Billion-fold universe. Each of the Billion-fold worlds, called a small world, consists of four earthly planets with human-like inhabitants.

[9] Yin (因) and Yuan (緣) in Chinese pinyin: Yin is the principal cause; and Yuan the subsidiary cause, the predestined condition or relationship. A Yin combining a Yuan leads to the consequence or Guo (果), the reward/retribution that is Bao (報). In Buddhism, Yin-Yuan-Guo-Bao (cause-condition-consequence-reward/retribution) is a fundamental concept and the law of nature.

[10] In Chinese pinyin: A-mi-tuo means Amitabha, and Fo means Buddha.

[11] Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

[12] Trikāya in Sanskrit means the three aspects or bodies of the Buddha: Dharmakaya is the dharma-body, the body of reality which is formless and transcendental, synonymous with suchness and emptiness; Sambhogakāya: the body of enjoyment and reward is the celestial body of the Buddha; and Nirmāņakāya: the incarnated or transformed body of the Buddha is for the benefit of sentient beings.

[13] Trikāya in Sanskrit means the three aspects or bodies of the Buddha: Dharmakaya is the dharma-body or the body of reality which is formless and transcendental, synonymous with suchness or emptiness; Sambhogakāya: the body of enjoyment and reward, the celestial body of the Buddha; and Nirmāņakāya: the incarnated or transformed body of the Buddha for the benefit of sentient beings.

[14] Dharmakaya for Buddhas is of pure and quiescence, shining with awareness, achieved by cultivating in the causal grounds immeasurable virtues and merits, attaining perfect enlightenment.

[15] To realize the dharma-body one must overcome the obstacles of ignorance, the forty-one grades of nesciences corresponding to the forty-one stages of dharma-body Bodhisattvas, from the Ten Abodes up to the Equal Enlightenment. Annihilating one grade of nescience, one realizes one grade of dharma-body. After all forty-one grades of nesciences are annihilated, the practitioner realizes full and perfect Dharmakaya, attaining buddhahood.

[16] The only difference being, the dharma-body has no beginning no ending, the reward-body has a beginning, no ending.

[17] In the theory of “Consciousness-Only,” the expedience-body is called the “other dharma-body,” the basis of all pure virtues and merits.

[18] Three studies are precepts, total absorption of meditation, and transcendent wisdom (prajna); the six perfect practices or pāramitās are: Perfections of charity dāna, precepts śīla, forbearance kşāti, endeavor vīrya, meditation dhyāna, and wisdom prajna.

 

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Master Huijing

Master Huijing

Master Jingzong

Master Jingzong

Guiding Principles

Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings