Friday, September 27, 2019

Returning from the Pure Land - explanation of the 22nd Vow of Amida Buddha


Section from the Larger Amida Sutra Mandala. Samantabhadra is seen near
 the Shakyamuni Buddha on his white elephant.Maitreya and Manjushri are 
also depicted in the right and left of the Buddha.

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the Buddha-lands of other directions who come and are born in  my land[1] should not ultimately and unfailingly reach the Stage of Becoming a Buddha after One More Life, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment. Excepted are those who wish to teach and guide sentient beings in accordance with their original vows. For they wear the armour of great vows, accumulate merits, deliver all beings from birth and death, visit Buddha-lands to perform the bodhisattva practices, make offerings to Buddha Tathagatas, throughout the ten directions, enlighten uncountable sentient beings as numerous as the sands of the River Ganges, and establish them in the highest, perfect Enlightenment. Such bodhisattvas transcend the course of practice of the ordinary bodhisattva stages and actually cultivate the virtues of Samantabhadra”.[2]
the 22nd Vow

The passage showing the fulfillment of the 22nd  Vow is in section 28 of this sutra:

“The Buddha said to Ananda, ‘All the Bodhisattvas in the land of Amitayus will ultimately attain the stage of becoming a Buddha after one more life. Excepted are those who have made original vows for the sake of sentient beings, resolving to cultivate the merit of realizing their great vows to save all sentient beings.’”[3]

The meaning of this great vow is that those who entered the Pure Land through the gate of Faith (Gate of the Primal Vow) and who immediately attained Buddhahood upon birth there (11th Vow) will return as Enlightened Bodhisattvas (Buddhas who manifest as Bodhisattvas) to lead all beings to Enlightenment by continually playing in various universes the same role Shakyamuni had and Maitreya will have in our universe and/or by using other methods in accordance with the general bodhisattva vows and their specific vows and wishes. “Excepted” here means that some may chose to help beings to attain Enlightenment in other ways than playing the role of becoming a Buddha or that they actually apply multiple ways in the same time. For example, one may play the role of Shakyamuni in one universe and manifest as something else in another universe without even moving from the Pure Land. Multiple roles, methods and manifestations can be used to help others by those who are born in the Pure Land through the Gate of Faith (Gate of the Primal Vow), but all are in accordance with the “original vows” and “great vows” of the Bodhisattva Path. Also, while doing this activity of delivering beings from birth and death, they also visit Buddhas throughout the ten directions to assist them or make offerings to them in gratitude for having been guided by them when they were unenlightened, as all Buddhas work to help beings to entrust to Amida and be born in His Pure Land.

It is extremely important to know that attaining Buddhahood in the Pure Land means to automatically realize the Three Buddha Bodies (aspects). So, when we become perfectly enlightened Buddhas there we’ll have access to the ultimate reality beyond forms (Dharmakaya/Buddha nature), we’ll dwell forever in transcendent form (Sambhogakaya) in Amida’s Pure Land, and in the same time we’ll go in all the places of the universe in various Bodies of Accomodation or Transformation (Nirmanakayas) to save all beings, make offerings to or assist another Buddha in His Dharma work, or to take upon ourselves the role of a Buddha and turn the Wheel of Dharma in another universe or universes.

A key element in understanding this vow is the 2nd section of the sutra where I already explained the enlightened qualities of the Bodhisattvas in the audience (Maitreya, Majushri, Samantabhadra and others) when Shakyamuni delivered this sutra  and how they are working to save and guide sentient beings, so please study my comments on that section very carefully. As we read there, those Bodhisattvas are already Enlightened („all the Bodhisattvas in the assembly had reach the shore of Emancipation”), but continuously play the role of pretending to start on the Path, dwell in Tusita heaven like Shakyamuni and Maitreya, then descend into their mother womb, are born, take seven steps, leave palace, attain Enlightenment, teach various Dharma gates, then die and enter Parinirvana, only to start this again in another world ad infinitum while they never actually leave the Enlightened state, nor the world where they made Dharma activities. 

So, again, the Stage of Becoming a Buddha after One More Life”, promised in the 22nd Vow, represents the capacity of those who attain Buddhahood in the Pure Land to endlessly manifest themselves in various places in the universe and become active Buddhas there for the sake of sentient beings. When we are born in the Pure Land we automatically gain the capacity to always playing the role of becoming Buddhas and teaching the Dharma like Shakyamuni himself. Shinran Shonin explained this in his Hymns of the Pure Land:

“Those who reach the Pure Land of happiness
Return to this evil world of the five defilements,
Where, like the Buddha Shakyamuni,
They benefit sentient beings without limit.”[4]

It’s a logical conclusion that only someone who already became a Buddha can play this role of always becoming a Buddha. Clearly, one who is only a bodhisattva in aspiration cannot do all these saving activities, and so, the 22nd Vow describes only what those who become Buddhas in the Pure Land will do. As Buddhas from the Pure Land, we will manifest ourselves as Bodhisattvas, that is, as Buddhas who do not remain secluded in their own Enlightenment, but continually take any role and form to help all beings.

Shakyamuni explains in section 2:

“Each of these Bodhisattvas, following the virtues of the Mahasattva Samantabhadra, is endowed with the immeasurable practices and vows of the Bodhisattva Path, and firmly dwells in all the meritorious deeds”.[5]

Also, the 22nd Vows says:

“Such Bodhisattvas transcend the course of practice of the ordinary bodhisattva stages and actually cultivate the virtues of Samantabhadra.”

So, the 22nd Vow clearly mentions that Bodhisattvas of the Pure Land are NOT ordinary bodhisattvas or bodhisattvas in aspiration and NOT even the highest bodhisattvas on the ten stages (bhumis), but Enlightened Bodhisattvas, that is, Buddhas who manifest as Bodhisattvas like Samantabhadra and others in the audience.

Now let’s take a look at the vows of the Bodhisattva Path. In Mahayana there are two main lists.

I.                   The four main Bodhisattva vows:

1. No matter how perfect a Buddha would be, I vow to become like Him.
2. No matter how profound the Dharma (the teaching) would be, I vow to fully understand it all.
3. No matter how numerous the passions would be, I vow to conquer them all.
4. No matter how numerous the beings would be, I vow to save them all.

and

II.                The ten vows or pledges of Samantabhadra:

1.
To pay homage and respect to all Buddhas.
2.
To praise all the Buddhas.
3.
To make abundant offerings. (i.e. give generously)
4.
To repent misdeeds and evil karmas.
5.
To rejoice in others' merits and virtues.
6.
To request the Buddhas to continue teaching.
7.
To request the Buddhas to remain in the world.      
8.
To follow the teachings of the Buddhas at all times.
9.
To accommodate and benefit all living beings.
10.
To transfer all merits and virtues to benefit all beings.

All these fourteen vows represent the aspiration to become a Buddha for the benefit of oneself and all beings. They also show how an Enlightened person will act in His endless career of helping sentient beings. It is very important to understand that these are exactly the original vows” or the great vows” mentioned in the 22nd Vow.

The term “original” does not mean a personal vow which is somehow separated from the vows mentioned before, but a vow in accordance with the authentic Bodhi mind (the aspiration to attain Buddhahood for all beings). So, no matter you now aspire to go to the Pure Land to especially save your mother or your friend from this present life, after you are born in the Pure Land you will spontaneously feel that all beings are as important as your friends or your mom, and you will naturally feel the urge to include them all into your salvation activities.

Those who will be born in the Pure Land, yourself included, and who naturally wish to teach and guide sentient beings in accordance with their original vows”, thus wearing the armor of great vows”, will do their saving activities by traveling to all places in the universe and will use skillful means in accordance with the particularities of each being to be saved. This traveling shows that birth in the Pure Land is not a final destination but a permanent return in various forms to help all beings. This is why Shinran Shonin called the 22nd vow, “the vow of directing virtue for our return to this world”. In his Kyogyoshinsho he quoted Vasubandhu, our 1st Indian Patriarch:

“With great compassion, one observes all sentient beings in pain and affliction, and assuming various transformed bodies to guide them, enters the gardens of birth-and-death and the forests of blind passions; freely sporting there with transcendent powers, one attains the state of teaching and guiding. This is brought about by the directing of virtue through the power of the Primal Vow”.[6]

He then quoted from T’an-luan:

"Directing virtue for return to this world" means that after being born in that land, and gaining the power of compassionate means, one returns and enters the thick forests of birth-and-death, teaches and guides all sentient beings, and brings all to enter the Buddha-way together.”[7]

So, exactly like the great Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas described in section 2 of the Larger Sutra, and as Amida promised in His 22nd vow, we’ll act like Samantabhadra who is himself an Enlightened Bodhisattva or a Buddha manifesting himself as Bodhisattva. As Shinran himself explained:

"Thus, when one has boarded the ship of the Vow of Great Compassion (when one entrusts to Amida in accordance with His 18th Vow) and sailed out on the vast ocean of light, the winds of perfect virtue blow softly and the waves of evil are transformed (one receives Amida’s transference of merits). The darkness of ignorance is immediately broken through, and quickly (at the moment of death) reaching the Land of Immeasurable Light, one realizes great Nirvana (11th Vow) and acts in accord with the virtue of Samantabhadra (22nd Vow). Let this be known."[8]

 “We sentient beings, if we attain the Land of Bliss, will awaken great love and great compassion, and going throughout the ten quarters, will benefit sentient beings. The supreme, perfect compassion of Buddhas is referred to by the name of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra”.[9]

The last sentence, the supreme, perfect compassion of Buddhas is referred to by the name of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra”, clearly shows that Samantabhadra attained and represents Buddhahood and that we, after attaining the same Buddhahood in the Pure Land, will manifest ourselves like Him.

Exactly like Samantabhadra and in accordance with the four main Bodhisattva vows, we will always pay homage to all Buddhas (the 1st pledge of Samantabhadra), praise them ( 2nd pledge), make offerings without any trace of ego (3rd pledge), ask all Buddhas to continue manifesting in the world (7th pledge) and teach the Dharma (6th pledge), which is something that ourselves will always do as we benefit beings according to their conditions (the 9th pledge). We will always be in accord with the teachings of the Buddhas, especially the Primal Vow which is what all Buddhas teach, and encourage others to be in accord with it (8th pledge), guide beings everywhere to lead a moral life according to the Buddhist precepts (4th pledge), rejoice in their good deeds and devotion towards the Dharma (5th  pledge), help them to receive Amida’s transference of merits (the 10th pledge), that is, guiding them to entrust to Amida, which will actually be our main goal in doing all our enlightened activities.






[1] “…who come and are born in my land” is the Hongwanji translation  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.23, while the Inagaki edition reads “who visit my land”, The Three Pure Land sutras, A Study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Nagata Bunshodo, Kyoto, 1995, p. 244. I used the Inagaki’s version with the exception of the above words.
[2] The Three Pure Land sutras, A Study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Nagata Bunshodo, Kyoto, 1995, p. 244
[3] The Three Pure Land sutras, translated into English by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, revised second edition, BDK English Tripitaka12-II, II, IV, Numata Center for Buddhist translation and Research, 2003, p.41
[4] Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Pure Land, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.329 
[5] The Three Pure Land sutras, translated into English by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, revised second edition, BDK English Tripitaka12-II, II, IV, Numata Center for Buddhist translation and Research, 2003, p.3-4
[6] The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.158
[7] The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.159
[8] The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.56
[9] Shinran Shonin, note to his 17 verse of the Hymns of the Pure Land, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.329

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