Friday, February 23, 2018

Elements of genuine faith: 2) To accept the story of Amida Buddha as told by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Larger Sutra

            - click to return to the main list of the elements of genuine faith in Amida Buddha - 

This sutra explains the apparition of Amida and His Pure Land in terms of cause and effect[1] and cannot be denied, especially because Shakyamuni's main reason of coming to this world was to teach this sutra:

“To reveal the true teaching: It is the Larger Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life. The central purport of this sutra is that Amida, by establishing the incomparable Vows, has opened wide the Dharma storehouse, and full of compassion for small, foolish beings, selects and bestows the treasure of virtues. The sutra further reveals that Shakyamuni appeared in this world and expounded the teachings of the way to Enlightenment, seeking to save the multitudes of living beings by blessing them with this benefit that is true and real[2]. Thus, to teach the Tathagata’s Primal Vow is the true intent of this sutra; the Name of the Buddha is its essence”[3].

The Larger Sutra reveals the true teaching. It is indeed the right exposition for which the Tathagata appeared in the world, the wondrous scripture rare and most excellent, the conclusive and ultimate exposition of the One Vehicle[4], the precious words disclosing perfect, instantaneous fulfillment, the sincere words praised by all the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters, the true teaching in consummate readiness for the beings of this day. Let this be known”[5].

“The reason for the Buddha's appearance in the world
Is, above all, to expound the Primal Vow of Amida, wide and deep as the ocean.
All beings in the evil age of the five defilements
Should believe in the truth of the Buddha's words.[6]

In it, we also acknowledge the testimony of Ananda and all those gathered on Vulture Peak to hear this sutra and who literaly saw Amida Buddha and His Pure Land in a vision, thus attesting of their existence. Shakyamuni Buddha even said that we must accept this sutra in faith, so we should do this, and not criticize nor change it according to our likes or dislikes:

"Thus have I formed my Dharma, thus have I expounded my Dharma, thus have I taught my Dharma. You must receive it and practice it by the method prescribed”.[7]

I have expounded this teaching (sutra) for the sake of sentient beings and enabled you to see Amitayus (Amida) and all in His Land. Strive to do what you should. After I have passed into Nirvana[8], do not allow doubt to arise."[9] 

Even if a great fire were to fill the universe of a thousand million worlds, you should pass through it to hear this sutra, to arouse joyful faith, to uphold and chant it, and to practice in accordance with its teachings.[10]

Most difficult of all difficulties is to hear this sutra, have faith in it with joy, and hold fast to it. Nothing is more difficult than this”[11]

Shinran Shonin said:

"We are encouraged three times[12] to entrust ourselves to the Buddha's teaching. To 'accept my words' is to entrust ourselves to the teaching. For people not to entrust themselves to 'the witness to me of the Buddhas of the ten quarters' would be to take the Buddha's words as false and empty."[13]

„It is stated in the Collection of Passages on the Land of Peace and Bliss:
The supernatural powers of the two Buddhas (Amida and Shakyamuni) are equal. Be that as it may, Shakyamuni Tathagata does not speak of His own capacities but especially reveals Amida’s distinguished capacities, out of His desire to make all sentient beings equally take  refuge in Amida. For this reason, in many sutras Shakyamuni praises Amida and urges beings to take refuge in Him. We ought to be aware of the Buddha’s intent.”[14]

Master Seikaku said:

"Suppose that a man whom one deeply trusts and of whom one has no cause for suspicion whatever tells you about a place which he knows well at firsthand, saying that there is a mountain here, a river there. You believe deeply what he says, and after you have accepted these words, you meet other people who say it is all false. There is no mountain and no river. Nevertheless, since what you heard was said by a person whom you cannot think would speak a mere fabrication, a hundred thousand people might tell you differently but you would not accept it. Rather, you deeply trust what you heard first. This is called trust. Now, believing in what Sakyamuni taught, entrusting yourself to Amida's Vow, and being without any doubt should be like this."[15]

Honen Shonin said:

"I, Hōnen, believe in the words of Buddha Shakyamuni and long for birth in the Pure Land with all my heart."[16]

Even if we do not read this sutra but hear the teaching from somebody and accept the existence of Amida Buddha, entrust to Him, say His Name and wish to go to His Pure Land when we die, then we automatically accept the sutra, because its main intention is exactly to teach the existence of Amida and His Pure Land, as well His method of salvation - faith, nembutsu of faith and wish to be born there (the Primal Vow). As Shinran said:

„The true and real teaching of the easy practice, the Primal Vow of the Pure Land way; this is the teaching of the Larger Sutra[17] of Immeasurable Life.”[18]



[1] You can read the story of Amida Buddha as told by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Larger Sutra  in my book, The True Teaching on Amida Buddha and His Pure Land, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2015, p.66
[2] „The benefit that is true and real” is the infinite merit and virtue of Amida embodied in His Name. To say His Name in faith, desiring to be born in His Land, is what the Primal Vow urges us to do. 
[3] Shinran Shonin, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.7
[4] „One vehicle” („Ichijo” in Jpn or „Ekayana” in Skrt) is the complete and supreme Dharma of the Buddha which provides the method of attaining Buddhahood quickly.
[5] Shinran Shonin, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.10
[6] Shinran Shonin, Hymn of True Faith and the Nembutsu (Shoshinge), The Way of Nembutsu-Faith: A Commentary on the Shoshinge, by Hisao Inagaki, Nagata Bunshodo, Kyoto, 1996, pp. 163-183. The same translation can be found at http://horai.eu/shoshinge-eng.htm
[7] 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.70
[8] Here, to pass into Nirvana means after He leaves His physical body.
[9] 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.70
[10] Idem., p-69-70
[11] Idem., p.70
[12] By Shakyamuni Buddha in the Larger Sutra.
[13] Shinran Shonin, Gutoku's Notes, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.599
[14] Shinran Shonin, Kyogyoshinsho, IV, Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 173
[15] Master Seikaku, Essentials of Faith Alone, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.692
[16] Honen Shonin, The Significance of the Threefold Devotional Heart, The Promise of Amida Buddha - Honen's Path to Bliss; English translation of the Genko edition of the works of Honen Shonin - Collected Teachings of Kurodani Shonin: The Japanese Anthology (Wago Toroku), translated by Joji Atone and Yoko Hayashi, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2011, p.131
[17] There are some who deny the authenticity of the Mahayana sutras in general, and of the three Pure Land sutras, in particular, saying that because they appeared later in written form, they are in fact, the creation of some monks. Many Theravadins share the same opinion on this matter and claim that their Pali canon is the only authentic set of sutras.  However, common sense dictates that the time when a Buddhist sutra was put into written form was not automatically the time of its creation. During Shakyamuni Buddha’s life and later, upon His physical death, His discourses (sutras) were transmitted orally and sometimes by His closest disciples through special states of mind called Samadhi for hundreds of years before they were put into written form. The Pali Canon was, in fact, preserved in the artificial language of Pali (which neither the Buddha nor anyone else ever spoke) while the Mahayana sutras were initially preserved in Sanskrit (a language which Shakyamuni, a highly educated person, may have spoken).  Some make the claim that the Pali Canon of the Theravada school  is the oldest and thus the most reliable collection of sutras. Positing that all the discourses or sutras originated from Shakyamuni, then the fact that some were put into written form earlier than the others is not proof of their exclusive authenticity or superior content. The Mahayana and Pure Land sutras did exist and were transmitted in the same timeframe with the sutras of the Pali Canon.
Each group of Buddhist disciples put into written form their own basket (pitaka) of recognized sutras, some earlier and some later. But no one can prove by documentary evidence that his school’s basket of sutras were actually preached by Shakyamuni while the others’ were not. By the same token, no one can prove that Shakyamuni did not impart some sutras only to a group of special disciples which were open and more prepared to receive them than others and who, in turn, transmitted such sutras to their own chosen disciples in an uninterrupted succession, until one day they decided it was time to give them a written form. 
No one can check and investigate the Buddha’s mind or the minds of His closest disciples and their actions by means of documentary evidence. If we read about the Buddhist councils who compiled orally the discourses of the Buddha after His physical death, we see that the monks who attended such councils could all recite by heart dozens of those discourses and that all were accomplished Masters.
Also, we know from the first passages of the Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (Larger Sutra), that among the assembly gathered on the Vulture Peak, where Shakyamuni delivered it, there were “twelve thousand monks […] all great sages who had already attained supernatural powers.” This aspect is extremely important because it is an indication about who were the monks who heard that sutra and later transmitted it to further generations. They were monks who had “attained supernatural powers,” and it follows that these monks used their mind power to accurately transmit this sutra by Samadhi to others. Among these monks we read the names of Venerable Mahakasyapa, Venerable Sariputra, Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana and Ananda. “All of these were Elders”, says the sutra. But monks with supernatural powers were not the only listeners. Great transcendental Bodhisattvas like Samantabhadra, Manjusri and Maitreya, the future Buddha, were present too, and they all rejoiced at hearing the Amida Dharma, which can only mean they had faith in it and later helped in its promotion.
[18] Shinran Shonin, Gutoku's Notes, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.587

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