Sunday, April 15, 2012

Short explanation of the 13th Vow - the Infinite Life of Amida Buddha


 
last revised September 19th 2019

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, my life-span should be limited, even to the extent of a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of kalpas[1], may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”[2]
the 13th Vow

This vow simply means that His transcendent manifestation (Sambhogakaya body or Dharmakaya as compassionate means)[3] will last forever for the benefit of all beings.
It is very important to understand that a Buddha like Amida is not an abstract concept, nor a symbol or metaphor, but a living Buddha who has a transcendent body (Sambhogakaya) with multiple manifestations (multiple Nirmanakayas or transformation/adaptation bodies) for the sake of sentient beings. This body (Sambhogakaya aspect) and His Pure Land are the result of His vows which, upon His Enlightenment, were fulfilled and transformed into useful tools for delivering sentient beings.


It is a grave mistake to speak about Amida Buddha only in terms of His ultimate reality beyond form (Dharmakaya as suchness) and forget His transcendent manifestation (Sambhogakaya or Dharmakaya as compassionate means[4]) in form and Name, because without the form and Name of Amida there would be no possibility for us, sentient beings, to attain Buddhahood. We simply cannot have access to ultimate Dharmakaya or Buddha nature just like that, in this present life and with this very body. So we need a transcendent bridge from this world of birth and death (Samsara) to Buddhahood. This transcendent bridge is Amida Buddha and His Pure Land. We first entrust in Amida Buddha as an Enlightened Person, go in His Pure Land after death and there we become Buddhas ourselves.

As long as one is unenlightened, one cannot have faith in the Dharmakaya as suchness or ultimate Buddha nature. In Dharmakaya as suchness one can only dwell when he becomes a Buddha himself because in that state there is a transcendence of any duality. This is what those who deny the reality of Amida in His transcendental form (Sambhogakaya aspect) and of His Pure Land, do not understand.

Only in Amida Buddha with a form and Name, that is, in Amida as described in the Larger Sutra, can one have true faith. Shinran Shonin also talked about Amida in ultimate terms but he encouraged people to entrust themselves to Amida as described in the Larger Sutra whose story told there he fully accepted.

This transcendent bridge, Amida Buddha as an Enlightened Person with His transcendent body (Sambhogakaya), will last eternally as the 13th Vow promises. Even “a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of kalpas” is still limited time when measuring the life span of Amida, so this symbolical number is mentioned again to suggest the infinite and impossible to calculate life of this Buddha’s body. Shakyamuni said in the passage showing the fulfilment of this vow:

“The lifespan of Amitayus (Amida) is so long that it is impossible for anyone to calculate it. To give an illustration, let us suppose that all the innumerable sentient beings in the worlds of the ten directions were reborn in human form and that every one became a sravaka or pratyekabuddha. Even if they assembled in one place, concentrated their thoughts, and exercised the power of their wisdom to the utmost to reckon the length of the Buddha’s lifespan by the number of kalpas, even after a thousand million kalpas they could still not reach its limit.”[5]

Also, the Infinite Life of Amida means that He will have enough patience and enough time to help all beings. This Vow is in accord with the well known Mahayana verse:

“As long as space endures and unenlightened beings exist,
 may I too remain to dispel the miseries of the world”.

So, Amida’s Infinite Life stands for Infinite Compassion. He will endlessly work to save us all, without the small break in His activity, as He himself said:

“If I should not become a great benefactor
In lives to come for immeasurable kalpas
To save the poor and the afflicted everywhere,
May I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”[6]




[1] “Kalpa” is an impossible to calculate notion of time. “Kotis of nayutas of kalpas” is often used to mean an infinite period.
[2] The Three Pure Land Sutras, A study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Nagata Nunshodo, Kyoto, 1995, p.243
[3] See my explanations at the chapter “The doctrine of the three Buddha Bodies and two Buddha bodies in relation with Amida Buddha and His Pure Land” from my book, The True Teaching on Amida Buddha and His Pure Land”, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2015, p.88
[4] We cannot understand ‘Dharmakaya as suchness’ but ‘Dharmakaya as compassionate means’ makes himself known in Light and Name. Dharmakaya as compassionate means is still Dharmakaya, but Dharmakaya in action for the sake of sentient beings. 
[5] 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.26
[6] 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.20

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