Sunday, November 4, 2018

Shakyamuni Buddha’s supreme appearance and the reason for His coming to this world – commentary on the section 3 of the Larger Sutra


Shakyamuni Buddha with
Amida Buddha
on His head 
fragment from my commentary on the Larger Sutra 
                      - this is a work in progress and under constant revision - 
                              
Something very important happens with Shakyamuni Buddha just before starting to teach this sutra, and we must understand its significance:

“At that time all the senses of the World-honored One radiated joy, His entire body appeared serene and glorious, and His august countenance looked most majestic.”[1]

Ananda noticed this and realized that there is a reason, a holy intention of Shakyamuni for manifesting such a wonderful appearance like never before:

Having perceived the Buddha’s holy intention, Venerable Ananda rose from his seat, bared his right shoulder, prostrated himself, and joining his palms in reverence, said to the Buddha,

 ‘World-honored One, today all your senses are radiant with joy, your body is serene and glorious, and your august countenance is as majestic as a clear mirror whose brightness radiates outward and inward. The magnificence of your dignified appearance is unsurpassed and beyond measure. I have never seen you look so superb and majestic as today. With respect, Great Sage, this thought has occurred to me: ‘Today, the World-honored One dwells in the rare and marvellous Dharma; today, the World Hero dwells in the Buddha’s abode; today, the World Eye concentrates on the performance of the leader’s duty; today, the World Valiant One dwells in the supreme Bodhi; today, the One Most Honored in Heaven realizes the Tathagata’s virtue. The Buddhas of the past, present, and future contemplate each other. How can this present Buddha not contemplate the other Buddhas?’ For what reason does His countenance look so majestic and brilliant?’”[2]

The Buddha asked Ananda:

“Tell me, Ananda, whether some god urged you to put this question to the Buddha or whether you asked about His glorious countenance from your own wise observation.’”[3]

Ananda replied: “No god came to prompt me. I asked you about this matter of my own accord.”[4]

Then the Buddha said:

“‘Well said, Ananda. I am very pleased with your question. You have shown profound wisdom and subtle insight in asking me this wise question out of compassion for sentient beings.

Shakyamuni Buddha teaching
the Larger Sutra
As the Tathagata, I regard beings of the three worlds with boundless great compassion. The reason for my appearance in the world is to reveal teachings of the Way and save multitudes of beings by endowing them with true benefits. Even in countless millions of kalpas it is difficult to come upon and meet a Tathagata. It is as difficult as seeing an uḍumbara flower, which blooms very rarely. Your question is of great benefit and will enlighten all heavenly and human beings.’”[5]

So, Ananda asks a question out of compassion for all sentient beings because he wants us all to be aware of the importance of the teaching Shakyamuni Buddha is about to give on Amida’s unconditional salvation. It’s like saying, “hey guys, listen deeply to what the Buddha is about to say now, as this is NOT an ordinary instruction, but the most important teaching of His coming to this world! This is the reason why He now looks so superb and majestic like I have never seen Him in my entire life!”

“‘Today, the World-honored One dwells in the rare and marvellous Dharma” – according to Master Shan-tao[6] these words indicate “the form manifested through the Buddha’s supernatural powers. Not only do His features surpass the ordinary, there is none His equal.”
I think it also means that the Larger Sutra is the most important teaching (Dharma) of Shakyamuni Buddha.

“Today, the World Hero dwells in the Buddha’s abode”. In other translation it appears as “today the World Hero abides where all Buddhas abide”[7] – according to Master Shan-tao these words indicate “abiding in the Samadhi of universal sameness” and that “He subdues all maras, even the powerful demon-king of the sixth heaven”.
 I think it also means that the Larger Sutra contains the wisdom of all Buddhas and is emanated while dwelling in the supreme Dharmakaya of Shakyamuni and all Buddhas.

“Today, the World Eye concentrates on the performance of the leader’s duty” – according to Master Shan-tao these words indicate that He “is unsurpassed in drawing and guiding sentient beings to Enlightenment”.
I think it also means the teaching of the Larger Sutra is Shakyamuni Buddha’s main duty and action as the Leader of all sentient beings.

“Today, the World Valiant One dwells in the supreme Bodhi” – according to Master Shan-tao these words indicate that “the Buddha alone and matchless as He abides in the four forms of wisdom, is completely unrivalled”.
I think it also means that teaching the Larger Sutra is the culmination of Shakyamuni’s perfect Enlightenment.

Today, the One Most Honored in Heaven realizes the Tathagata’s virtue”- according to Master Shan-tao these words indicate that “in His attainment of highest truth, the Buddha is the One most revered in all the heavens” and that “He has awakened to the truth that Buddha-nature is not void[8]”.
I think it also means that the Larger Sutra  contains all the supreme virtues and merits of Shakyamuni Buddha and all Buddhas.

“The Buddhas of the past, present, and future contemplate each other. How can this present Buddha not contemplate the other Buddhas?”
This means that Shakyamuni’s teaching on Amida Buddha from this sutra is in agreement with all Buddhas and is praised by all Buddhas.

Because Shakyamuni Buddha regards “beings of the three worlds with boundless great compassion” the reason for His appearance in the world is to save them all:

 “The reason for my appearance in the world is to reveal teachings of the Way and save multitudes of beings by endowing them with true benefits.”

If this is the reason for His coming to the world, then which of the many teachings and practices that He taught during His life on earth can better bring ALL beings, no matter their spiritual capacities, to the attainment of perfect Enlightenment if not the teaching on Amida’s unconditional salvation which He presented in this sutra!
Because “even in countless millions of kalpas it is difficult to come upon and meet a Tathagata” and “as difficult as seeing an uḍumbara flower, which blooms very rarely” the question asked by Ananda “is of great benefit and will enlighten all heavenly and human beings” showing to them the true reason for Shakyamuni Tathagata’s coming to this world, that is, to teach this sutra on Amida’s unconditional salvation.

Shinran said:

“How is it known that this sutra was the great matter for which Sakyamuni appeared in the world?”[9]

Then he gives all the quotes I myself presented here as well as the whole 3rd fragment of the sutra as testimony, and he says in conclusion:

“These passages give clear testimony that 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, the precious words disclosing perfect, instantaneous fulfilment, 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.”[10]

Shinran also said:

"The teaching of the Pure Land way is found in the Larger Sutra 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. It reveals that Sakyamuni 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 the benefit that is true and real. Assuredly this sutra is the true teaching for which the Tathagata appeared in the world. It is the wondrous scripture, rare and most excellent. It is the conclusive and ultimate exposition of the One Vehicle. It is the right teaching, praised by all the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters. To teach Tathagata's Primal Vow is the true intent of this sutra; the Name of the Buddha is its essence”.[11]

In order to convince us even more to take this sutra very seriously Shakyamuni makes a short reference to His supreme qualities

“’Ananda, you should realize that the Tathagata’s perfectly enlightened wisdom is unfathomable, capable of leading innumerable beings to liberation, and that his penetrating insight cannot be obstructed. With just one meal, He is able to live for a hundred thousand koṭis of kalpas, or an incalculable and immeasurable length of time, or beyond. Even after that lapse of time, His senses will still be radiant with joy and show no signs of deterioration; His appearance will not change and His august countenance will look just the same. The reason for this is that the Tathagata’s meditation and wisdom are perfect and boundless and He has attained unrestricted power over all dharmas[12]. Ananda, listen carefully. I shall now expound the Dharma.’
Ananda replied, ‘Yes, I will. With joy in my heart, I wish to hear the Dharma.’””[13]

Shakyamuni, like any Buddha, is supreme in the universe, with power over all phenomena (dharmas) and possessing perfectly enlightened wisdom so His teaching on Amida’s unconditional salvation (Amida Dharma) should be heard with veneration, devotion and a mind open to receive its wonderful message. This is also the meaning of Ananda’s words,“with joy in my heart, I wish to hear the Dharma”.

to be continued 






[1] 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.7
[2] 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.7-8
[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.8
[4] 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.8
[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.8
[6] The following passages from Master Shan-tao are quoted by Shinran in his Kyogyoshinsho, chapter I, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.9
[7] The translation done by Shin Buddhism Translation Series, volume II of The Three Pure Land Sutras, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 2009, p. 11
[8] “The truth that Buddha-nature is not void” is an extremely important concept and it means that while all phenomena of samsaric existence are ultimately void or empty of their own existence because they come into being according to various causes and conditions, the Buddha nature is the only existent reality which is not void or empty of itself, but only empty of samsaric phenomena, empty of delusion, empty of suffering, empty of ignorance. Buddha nature does not depend on causes and conditions, so in this sense is not empty or void, but truly existent, the only true existent reality. Such a teaching is present in many Mahayana sutras like Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Tathagatagarbha Sutra, Sutra of the Great Dharma Drum, Srimala’s Lion Roar Sutra, Angulimalya Sutra, etc.
[9] Shinran Shonin, Kyogyoshinsho, chapter I, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.7
[10] Shinran Shonin, Kyogyoshinsho, chapter I, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.10
[11] Shinran Shonin, Passages on the Pure Land Way - The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.295-296
[12] When the word “dharma” is used with small “d” it refers to all existence and phenomena in general. When it appears with “D” like in “Dharma” it refers to the teaching of the Buddha.
[13] 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.8-9

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