Monday, February 12, 2018

The meaning of "sentient beings of the ten quarters" from the Primal Vow


"If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten quarters who sincerely entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and say my Name even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the supreme Enlightenment. (The Primal Vow of Amida Buddha) 

This shows that the Promise of Amida Buddha is addressed to ALL beings, without any discrimination or distinction between them. All are the object of Amida's Primal Vow, no matter how high or low they are on the scale of spiritual evolution, and especially if they are the lowest of the low:

"Know that the Primal Vow of Amida makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil; only shinjin (faith) is essential. For it is the Vow to save the person whose karmic evil is deep and grave and whose blind passions abound."[1]
(Shinran Shonin)

"The power of the Vow is without limit;
Thus, even our karmic evil, deep and heavy, is not oppressive.
The Buddha's wisdom is without bounds;
Thus, even those of distracted minds and self-indulgence are not abandoned".[2]
(Shinran Shonin)

"The heinous will be saved and the venal embraced by Amida Buddha; the bad will be saved and the good embraced; those who will live far will be saved and those who live near embraced; those who live long after Buddha Shakyamuni's entrance into Parinirvana will be saved and those who lived shortly after, embraced. The profundity and extensiveness of the great compassionate Primal Vow are beyond verbal description. Believe in it in the depth of your heart and validate the truth within yourself."[3]
(Honen Shonin)

"Sentient beings of the ten quarters" also means that the Primal Vow was made not only for humans but for non-human beings too, like spirits, gods, etc. As we know very well when Shakyamuni Buddha delivered His sutras, many non-human beings were present in the assembly, and it is also recorded that He went to teach the Dharma to gods realms, too.

Shinran Shonin also mentioned that beings in ALL forms of existence can „hear” (whatever „hearing” may mean in various realms), Amida’s message of salvation and (if they become open) entrust to Him:

"When sentient beings in the various forms of existence throughout the ten quarters,
On hearing Amida's Name of transcendent virtues,
Come to attain true and real shinjin (faith),
They greatly rejoice at what they have heard".[4]

"Beings born in the Pure Land in the past, present, and future
Are not solely from this world;
They come from Buddha lands[5] throughout the ten quarters
And are countless, innumerable, beyond calculation".[6]


a related article, 




[1] Shinran Shonin, Tannisho,  chapter I, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.661
[2] Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Dharma Ages (Shozomatsu Wasan), The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.408
[3] Honen Shonin, An Outline of the Doctrine for Birth in the Pure Land  - 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.110-111
[4] The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.331
[5] According to the Buddhist teaching, there are an infinite number of world systems where  rebirth takes place. These were classified into three categories: 

  1. one small universe, which is traditionally called  “a small one thousand-world”. It consists of one thousand worlds. Each single world (sometimes called “a Sumeru-world”) contains the various realms/dimensions of hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras and gods.
  2. one middle universe, which is traditionally called “a medium one thousand-world”. It consists of  one thousand small universes (or “a thousand small thousand-worlds”).
  3. one large universe, which is traditionally called,  “a great one thousand-world”. It consists of one thousand middle universes (or a thousand medium thousand-worlds).
These various worlds pass through and endless cycle of formation, existence, destruction, and annihilation after which they are again formed, come to existence, are destroyed, annihilated, and so on.
One Buddha may assume responsibility for the spiritual care of one large universe (“a great one thousand-world”), which then becomes that Buddha’s field of action, or “Buddha-field” (Buddhakshetra in Skt). This is also called a “Buddha-land”. The one large universe in which we ourselves live together with many kinds of visible, invisible and non-human beings, is called “Saha”.  The sutras say that an infinite number of such large universes, or Buddha-lands, exist in the ten directions. As they are inhabited by beings in various stages of spiritual development, it should not be confounded with the Pure Land (Sukhavati), which is an Enlightened realm (outside of Samsara) manifested by Amida Buddha.
[6] The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.332

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