Saturday, March 31, 2012

Short explanation of the 12th Vow - the Infinite Light of Amida Buddha


 last revised September 18th 2019


If, when I attain Buddhahood, my light should be limited, unable to illuminate at least a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha-lands, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.[1]
the 12th Vow

This is the Vow in which Dharmakara, the actual Amida Buddha promises that His Light as a Buddha will be infinite. This infinite Light embraces, protects and brings the wisdom of faith (shinjin) into the hearts and minds of people who are open to Amida’s message of salvation. 
In the Contemplation Sutra, section 17, it is said:


“Buddha Amitayus possesses eight-four thousand physical characteristics, each having eighty-four thousand secondary marks of excellence. Each secondary mark emits eighty-four thousand rays of light; each ray of light shines universally upon the lands of the ten directions, embracing and not forsaking those who are mindful of the Buddha.”[2]

Shinran Shonin also said in the Hymns of Benefit in the Present:

“Countless Amida Buddhas reside
In the light of the Buddha of Unhindered Light;
Each one of these transformed Buddhas[3]  protects
The person of true and real shinjin”[4]

This Light of Amida dispels the darkness of the minds of sentient beings giving them the capacity of seeing themselves as they really are, that is, with no chance of attaining Buddhahood by any self power practice, and of perceiving the salvation of Amida as true and real, capable of liberating them forever from birth and death. This twofold vision is the effect of Amida’s Light into the minds and hearts of the devotees. This is what we feel, understand and accept when we become open to the Light of Amida, that is, when we receive shinjin (faith). The Light of Amida also protects us from wrong understanding of the teaching. False teachers can’t influence us and we’ll never distort the essentials of the Jodo Shinshu Dharma in our presentations.

The Light of Amida is always sent toward beings in all the corners of the universe – “hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha-lands”.  “A thousand kotis” is a symbol for infinite, “kotis” being an incomprehensible number, beyond our capacity to calculate. “Buddha lands” are all the places and worlds in the universe as it is considered that each world system is governed or taken care of by a Buddha who appears and turns the wheel of Dharma there. Some world systems are lower or higher on the scale of spiritual evolution while some are especially manifested by the Enlightenment and Vows of great Buddhas, like the Medicine Buddha (Yakushi Nyorai), Green Tara’s Land, etc. The devotees of each great Buddha who owns a special Pure Land will go there through various practices that make them connected with that specific place and once born there they continue their practice under the guidance of that Buddha. But in all these Pure Lands the Light of Amida is also seen and praised, especially by the Buddhas who govern those lands and who show it to their devotees. This is because all Buddhas are aware of the wonderful method of Amida’s salvation and recommend it to all beings[5].

The passage showing the fulfilment of this vow is to be found in section 11:

“The Buddha said to Ananda, ‘The majestic light of Buddha Amitayus (Amida) is the most exalted. No other Buddha’s light can match His. The light of some Buddhas illuminates a hundred Buddha lands, and that of others a thousand Buddha lands. Briefly, that of Amitayus illuminates the eastern Buddha lands as numerous as the sands of the Ganges River. In the same way, it iluminates the Buddha lands in the south, west, and north, in each of the four intermediate directions, and above and below. […]

For this reason, Amitayus is called by the following names: the Buddha of Infinite (Immeasurable) Light, the Buddha of Boundless Light, the Buddha of Unhindered Light, the Buddha of Incomparable ( Unequaled) Light, the Buddha of Light that is Lord of Blazing Light, the Buddha of Pure Light, the Buddha of the Light of Joy, the Buddha of the Light of Wisdom, the Buddha of Uninterrupted Light[6], the Buddha of  Inconceivable Light, the Buddha of Inexpressible Light[7], and the Buddha of  Light Surpassing the Sun and Moon.[8]

So, Amida’s Infinite Light is a transcendent manifestation capable to go anywhere in the universe. It can be felt in the hearts and minds of the believers in the aspect of shinjin (faith). Amida’s Light is a permanent presence upon beings everywhere, opened or not opened to it. Through His Light Amida tries permanently to influence beings and make them accept His salvation contained in the Primal Vow (18th). It is like an immense magnet attracting all beings to him. Some become opened to it sooner while others will do so in the future. Amida will continue sending it until all hells are empty and all beings will become Buddhas.



[1] The Three Pure Land Sutras, A study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Nagata Nunshodo, Kyoto, 1995, p.242-243
[2] The Three Pure Land Sutras - A Study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p.87
[3] Manifestations of Amida Buddha which accords with the particularity of each being.
[4] Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Pure Land (Jodo Wasan) - Hymns of the Benefits in the Present, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.355
[5] See my explanation of the 17th Vow from this book.
[6] This is how was translated by Hongwanji - The Three Pure Land Sutras, volume II, The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, Japan, 2009, p.36
 In the edition translated by Inagaki it appears as “Buddha of Unceasing Light”; The Three Pure Land Sutras - A Study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p.25-26
[7] This is how was translated by Hongwanji - The Three Pure Land Sutras, volume II, The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, Japan, 2009, p.35
In the translation done by Inagaki it appears as “Buddha of Ineffable Light”; The Three Pure Land Sutras - A Study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p.25-26
[8] The Three Pure Land Sutras - A Study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p.25 and The Three Pure Land Sutras, volume II, The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, Japan, 2009, p.36

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