Saturday, January 26, 2019

The story of Dharmakara becoming Amida Buddha – commentary on the sections 4 to 10 of the Larger Sutra



Now let’s see what Shakyamuni told us about Amida Buddha and His Pure Land.
In section 4 of the Larger Sutra He first enumerates many Buddhas of the past eons of time who appeared in samsara to teach the Dharma: “in the distant past – innumerable, incalculable and inconceivable kalpas ago…”[1]. Doing so, He showed to us that human history, as we know it, is only a very small fraction of the endless and inconceivable time of the universe and that the various world systems and beings living in them had existed before the appearance of this earth. So He mentioned 52 great Buddhas who appeared in samsara, taught the Dharma and entered Nirvana before the story of Amida actually happened. After these 52 Buddhas, another great Buddha named Lokesvararaja appeared, still in a distant, and impossible to explain, time and place:

“Then there appeared a Buddha named Lokesvararaja, the Tathagata, Arhat, Fully Enlightened One, Possessed of Wisdom and Practice, Well-gone One, Knower of the World, Unsurpassed One, Tamer of Beings, Teacher of Gods and Humans, and Enlightened and World-honored One”.[2]

During the time and place of this Buddha, there lived a king who, after hearing His teaching, renounced the throne and became a monk (bhiksu) named, Dharmakara:

“At that time there was a king who, having heard the Buddha’s exposition of the Dharma, rejoiced in his heart and awakened aspiration for highest, perfect Enlightenment. He renounced his kingdom and throne, and became a monk named Dharmakara”.[3]

As the sutra tells us, this monk, Dharmakara, was already a superior person when he went to see Lokesvararaja Buddha:

“Having superior intelligence, courage, and wisdom, he distinguished himself in the world. He went to see Tathagata Lokesvararaja, knelt down at His feet, walked around Him three times keeping Him always on his right, prostrated himself on the ground, and, putting his palms together in worship, praised the Buddha”.[4]

Then, after a few verses of praise towards Lokesvararaja he informed him about the spiritual decision he took to become a Buddha himself for the sake of all sentient beings:

“I resolve to become a Buddha,
Equal in attainment to you, O Holy King of the Dharma,
To save living beings from birth and death,
And to lead them all to liberation.”[5]

And in fulfilling his aspiration he mentions the creation of a special land:

“When I have become a Buddha,
My land shall be most exquisite.”[6]

where to bring sentient beings everywhere and make them perfectly happy:

“Those who come from the ten directions
Will find joy and serenity of heart;
When they reach my land,
They shall dwell in peace and happiness.”[7]

To make them perfectly happy means, of course, to help them attain Nirvana, His land being in fact, a manifestation of Nirvanic bliss and freedom:

“The seat of Enlightenment will be supreme.
My land, being like Nirvana itself,
Will be beyond comparison.”[8]

After He said the above words, He invites Lokesvararaja Buddha and all Buddhas to see into His mind and heart, and become witness to the truth of His aspiration:

“I beg you, the Buddha, to become my witness
And to vouch for the truth of my aspiration.

The World-honored Ones in the ten directions
Have unhindered wisdom;
I call upon those Revered Ones
To bear witness to my intention
Even though I must remain
In a state of extreme pain,
I will diligently practice,
Enduring all hardships with tireless vigor”.[9]

As Dharmakara needed a practice to fulfil His aspiration to become a Buddha and establish a special land/realm where to bring all beings to Nirvana, He also asked Lokesvararaja Buddha for guidance:

“Having spoken these verses, bhiksu Dharmakara said to the Buddha Lokesvararaja, ‘Respectfully, World Honored One, I announce that I have awakened aspiration for the highest, perfect Enlightenment. I beseech you to explain the Dharma to me fully, so that I can perform practices for the establishment of a pure Buddha land adorned with innumerable excellent qualities. So please teach me how to attain Enlightenment quickly and to remove the roots of the afflictions of birth and death of all.’”[10]

More exactly, he asked Lokesvararaja to show to Him all the Buddha-lands of the ten direction, so that He can better know what to do and how to practice to create His own Buddha-land:

“I sincerely beseech you, World Honored One, to explain in detail the practices by which Buddha Tathagatas established their pure lands. After I hear that, I wish to practice as instructed and so fulfill my aspirations.”[11]

As Shakyamuni Buddha told us in the Larger Sutra, Lokesvararaja Buddha, “recognized Bhiksu Dharmakara’s noble and high aspirations” and “explained in detail the greater and lesser aspects of two hundred and ten kotis of Buddha-lands, together with the good and evil natures of heavenly and human beings living there. He revealed them all to the bhiksu just as he had requested”.[12]

Then, “having heard the Buddha’s exposition of the glorious pure lands and also having seen all of them”, Dharmakara “resolved upon His supreme, unsurpassed vows”.[13]
At this point, the sutra tells us again (for the second time)[14], that Dharmakara was not an ordinary practitioner, when He resolved to make His vows: “his mind being serene and his aspirations free of attachment, he was unexcelled throughout the world”[15].

As Shakyamuni told us, Dharmakara contemplated the vows he was about to make for five full kalpas and then he chose the necessary practices to fulfill them:

For five full kalpas he contemplated the vows and then chose the pure practices for the establishment of his Buddha-land.”[16]

To practice sitting meditation for even 5 hours a day is an extremely hard job for any practitioner of our times, not to mention to sit for one day, seven days, a few months or a year, but to contemplate continuously for five full kalpas is truly beyond our capacity to understand. No wonder then that hearing about the time Dharmakara spent in contemplation, Ananda immediately asked Shakyamuni Buddha to specify how long was the lifespan of beings who belonged to the time and land of Lokesvararaja:

“Ananda asked the Buddha, ‘How long was the lifespan of beings in the land of Buddha Lokesvararāja?’ The Buddha replied, ‘The length of life of that Buddha was forty-two kalpas.’”[17]

So, after five kalpas of contemplation, Dharmakara Bodhisattva “adopted the pure practices that had led to the establishment of the excellent lands of two hundred and ten kotis of Buddhas”.
Thus, being sure about the Vows to take and what practices to follow, He went to inform Lokesvararaja Buddha:

“When He has finished this task, He went to the Buddha, knelt down at his feet, walked around Him three times, joined his palms in worship, and sat down. He then said to the Buddha, ‘I have adopted the pure practices for the establishment of a glorious Buddha-land.’”[18]

Having heard the Dharmakara’s wonderful vows, Lokesvararaja was overjoyed and asked Him to proclaim them to the entire assembly:

“The Buddha said to him, ‘You should proclaim this. Know that now is the right time. Encourage and delight the entire assembly. Hearing this, other bodhisattvas will practice this Dharma and so fulfil their innumerable great vows.’
The bhiksu replied, ‘I beg you to grant me your attention. Now I will fully proclaim my vows.’”[19]

Dharmakara's proclamation of the
48 vows in front of Lokesvararaja Buddha
and the audience. Source:Amida.net
So, the entire section 7 of the Larger Sutra contains the list of the 48 Vows of Dharmakara. A detailed explanation of all these vows can be found in my book The 48 Vows of Amida Buddha - click here to read it. Also, you can find a very detailed explanation of the Primal Vow (18th Vow) in the chapter dedicated to it from my new book The  Meaning of Faith and Nembutsu in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.

After proclaiming the Vows, Dharmakara, the future Amida Buddha, summarized His aspiration in verses[20] and restated His resolution to attain Buddhahood for the sake of all beings. Specifically, He emphasized again that,
- He will be a universal Savior,
- He will transform His Buddha Name in a universal vehicle of salvation, heard and said by all beings.
- He will send His supreme Light everywhere in the universe, attracting all beings to Him, like an immense magnet, trying to make everybody entrust to Him and accept His gift of salvation
- attain supreme wisdom and supreme (“divine”) means of salvation, acting like a true “sovereign of the three worlds”
- become the supreme Teacher of all beings, including devas (gods) and humans
- transfer His perfect merits and virtues to all those who entrust to Him, thus making them capable of attaining birth in His Land
- practice ceaselessly, without any attachments to the ego, endure any hardships for the sake of fulfilling His vows:

“I have made vows, unrivalled in all the world;
I shall certainly reach the unsurpassed Way.
If these vows should not be fulfilled,
May I not attain perfect Enlightenment.

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.

When I attain Buddhahood,
Should there be any place where it is not heard,
May I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”

Free of greed and with profound mindfulness
And pure wisdom, I will perform the sacred practices;
I will seek to attain the unsurpassed Way
And become the teacher of devas and humans.

With my divine power I will display great light,
Illuminating the worlds without limit,
And dispel the darkness of the three defilements;
Thus I will deliver all beings from misery.
Having obtained the eye of wisdom,
I will remove the darkness of ignorance;
I will block all evil paths
And open the gate to the good realms.

When merits and virtues are perfected,
My majestic light will radiate in the ten directions,
Outshining the sun and moon
And surpassing the brilliance of the heavens.

I will open the Dharma storehouse for the multitudes
And endow them all with treasures of merit.
Being always among the multitudes,
I will proclaim the Dharma with the lion’s roar.

I will make offerings to all the buddhas,
Thereby acquiring roots of virtue.
When my vows are fulfilled and wisdom perfected,
I shall be the sovereign of the three worlds.

Like your unhindered wisdom, O Buddha,
Mine shall reach everywhere, illuminating all;
May my supreme wisdom
Be like yours, Most Honored One.”[21]

The last verse of this hymn sung by Dharmakara after proclaiming His Vows is of extreme importance. It says:

“If these vows are to be fulfilled,
Let this universe of a thousand million worlds quake in response
And let all the devas in heaven
Rain down rare and marvelous flowers.”

What Dharmakara actually did here was to ask all existence to bear witness to His honesty and supreme dedication in bringing His vows to fulfillment and transform them into active ways for the salvation of sentient beings.  Shakyamuni told to Ananda that,

“As soon as Bhikṣu Dharmakara spoke those verses, the entire earth quaked in six ways and a rain of wonderful flowers fell from heaven, scattering everywhere. Spontaneous music was heard and a voice in the sky said, ‘Surely you will attain highest, perfect Enlightenment.

Imagine that you are so sincere that you produce a powerful earthquake! That everything around you is vibrating due to the power of your dedication! Of course, nobody can do that, but some honest people do indeed generate a smaller or greater reaction like a vibration in others, and you might have felt something similar in the presence of such a person. Everyone has his or her charisma and some can spontaneously generate a certain level of trust in others, but who can really have such a convincing power that shake the entire universe, make flowers fall spontaneously from the realms of the gods, the universe sing or voices be heard from the sky!

So, here we read about a spontaneous and extremely powerful reaction from the entire universe to the honesty and dedication of Dharmakara, everybody trusting automatically that He will successfully attain Buddhahood (become Amida Buddha) and fulfill His Vows. However, according to Shinran there is still something more here, and this is extremely important! That voice from the sky was not an ordinary one, like the voice of some unenlightened god, but the voice of Dharmakaya or ultimate reality beyond forms and concepts! It was the voice/ the manifestation/ the reaction of ultimate reality itself - the inconceivable Dharmakaya!
According to Shinran, there are three kinds of witness to Dharmakara and His Vows (especially His Primal Vow), and subsequently to Amida Buddha, each testimony given according to the Three Bodies/Aspects of Buddha: 1) witness in regard to Dharmakaya or ultimate reality body of all Buddhas, 2) witness of Sambhogakaya or fulfilled body, which refers to all Buddhas (Tathagatas) of the ten directions, and 3) witness of Nirmanakaya or the transformed body, which refers specificaly to Lokesvararaja Buddha, in whose presence Dharmakara made the aspiration to become Amida and proclaimed the 48 Vows:

"In the giving of witness to the Primal Vow, there are three Buddha- bodies.
The witness of Dharma-body (ultimate Dharmakaya); The Larger Sutra states: ‚From the sky a voice declared in praise, 'You shall decidedly and without fail attain the supreme Enlightenment!'
The witness of fulfilled bodies (Sambhogakaya Buddhas); this refers to the Tathagatas of the ten quarters
The witness of transformed bodies (Nirmanakaya Buddhas); this refers to Lokesvararaja Buddha."[22]

So, here is another indication (the third until now) that Dharmakara was not an ordinary person when He made His vows and aspirations. What kind of ordinary monk or bodhisattva in aspiration can generate such a reaction from the whole universe and from the Dharmakaya, or ultimate reality itself?
Shakyamuni himself said, after presenting the above verses of Dharmakara, that such vows have never been proclaimed in the world before by anybody as they are “great vows, true, unfailing and unsurpassed in the whole world.

Then, after this episode, Shakyamuni described the various practices Dharmakara engaged in for “inconceivable and innumerable kalpas” in order to become a Buddha and manifest His Pure Land:

“Then, Ananda, after proclaiming and establishing those universal vows in the presence of Buddha Lokesvararaja before the multitude of beings, including the eight kinds of superhuman beings, such as devas and dragon spirits, and also Mara and Brahma, Bhiksu Dharmakara was solely intent on producing a glorious and exquisite land. The Buddha land that He sought to establish was vast in extent, unsurpassed, and supremely wonderful, always present and subject neither to decay nor change. During inconceivable and innumerable kalpas, He cultivated the immeasurable meritorious practices of the Bodhisattva path.”[23]

This is extremely important because it shows that the Pure Land which emerged from the practices of Dharmakara when He became Amida Buddha, is “always present”, as the passage says, which means it is always available, including NOW, when we are reading these lines and will be available forever in the never ending future as it is subject neither to decay nor change”.
This is another argument that the Pure Land is NOT an element of mythology, but an ever present reality, a true and real Enlightened place.

The sutra continues with the enumeration of the practices followed by Dharmakara in the process of becoming Amida Buddha:

“He did not harbour any thought of greed, hatred, or cruelty; nor did He allow any ideas of greed, hatred, or cruelty to arise. He was unattached to any form, sound, smell, taste, touch, or idea. Possessed of the power to persevere, He did not avoid undergoing various afflictions. Having little desire for His own sake, He knew contentment. Without any impure thought, enmity, or stupidity, He dwelled continually in tranquil samadhi. His wisdom was unobstructible and His mind free of falsehood and deceitfulness. With expressions of tenderness on His face and with kindness in His speech, He spoke to others in consonance with their inner thoughts. Courageous and diligent, strong willed and untiring, He devoted himself solely to the pursuit of the pure Dharma, thereby benefiting a multitude of beings. He revered the Three Treasures, respected His teachers and elders, and thus adorned His practices with a great store of merit. By so doing, He enabled sentient beings to partake of them.

He dwelled in the realization that all dharmas are empty, devoid of distinctive features, and not to be sought after, and that they neither act nor arise; He thus realized that all dharmas are like magical creations.”[24]

When the word “dharma” is used with small “d” it refers to all existence and phenomena in general. When it’s used with "D" like in "Dharma" it means the Buddha's teaching. So, in this case the passage makes reference to the fact that Bodhisattva Dharmakara realized ultimate reality and dwelled constantly in it, which made Him understand that dharmas or phenomena of samsaric existence are empty, devoid of distinctive features, and not to be sought after, and that they neither act nor arise; He thus realized that all dharmas are like magical creations.”

This is a very important Mahayana Buddhist concept which, in short, refers to the fact that all phenomena of samsaric existence (dharmas) are ultimately void or empty of their own existence because they come into being according to various causes and conditions.  In contrast to this, the Buddha nature or ultimate Dharmakaya 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 and is again taught here too, in the Larger Sutra.

From the point of view of ultimate reality or Dharmakaya (Buddha nature) the various phenomena of samsaric existence are like “magical creations” and seen as “neither act nor arise” because they do not have a real, permanent existence. For Dharmakara Bodhisattva such an understanding of the emptiness of all phenomena of samsaric existence versus the true reality of ultimate Dharmakaya or Buddha nature was not an intellectual one, the product of mind categories and rationalisations, but a genuine realisation in which He dwelt constantly. By having access to this true reality, He could then manifest His Enlightened realm in accordance with His Vows.

Among other practices Dharmakara engaged in, Shakyamuni mentioned:

 ”He avoided all wrong speech that would bring harm upon himself or others or both; He engaged in right speech that would bring benefit to himself or others or both. He abandoned His kingdom and renounced the throne, leaving behind wealth and sensuous pleasures. Practicing the six paramitas[25] himself, He taught others to do the same. During innumerable kalpas, He accumulated merit and amassed virtues.

Wherever He was born, an immeasurable store of treasure spontaneously appeared as He wished. He taught countless sentient beings and guided them on the path of highest, true Enlightenment. He was reborn as a rich man, a lay devotee, a member of the highest caste or of noble family (brahman), a ksatriya king, a wheel-turning monarch (cakravartin), a king of one of the six heavens in the world of desire, or even higher, as a Brahma king. He revered and worshiped all Buddhas by making the four kinds of offerings to them. The merit He thus acquired was indescribably great. Fragrance issued from His mouth as from a blue lotus flower, and every pore of His body emitted the scent of sandalwood, which permeated innumerable worlds. His appearance was majestic and His physical characteristics and marks were truly wonderful. From his hands inexhaustible treasures, clothes, food and drink, rare and exquisite flowers and incense, silken canopies,8 banners, and other ornaments were produced. In such manifestations He was unrivalled among all heavenly and human beings. He thus attained command of all dharmas.[26]

Then, Ananda asked Shakyamuni a direct and very important question for us:
“Ananda asked the Buddha, ‘Has Bodhisattva Dharmakara already attained Buddhahood and then passed into Nirvana? Or has He not yet attained Buddhahood? Or is He dwelling somewhere at present?’

The Buddha replied to Ananda, ‘Bodhisattva Dharmakara has already attained Buddhahood and is now dwelling in a Western Buddha- land called ‘Peace and Bliss,’ a hundred thousand kotis of lands away from here.’

Ananda further asked the Buddha, ‘How much time has passed since He attained Buddhahood?

The Buddha replied, ‘Since He attained Buddhahood about ten kalpas[27] have passed.’’”[28]

It is very important to mention that this is not the only time when Shakyamuni confirms that Dharmakara attained Buddhahood and became Amida (Amitayus/Amitabha). In the Smaller Amida Sutra[29], Shakyamuni also said to Sariputra on the same topic:

“The Buddha then said to Elder Sariputra: ‘If you travel westward from here, passing a hundred thousand kotis of Buddha-lands, you will come to the land called Utmost Bliss, where there is a Buddha named Amitayus. He is living there now, teaching the Dharma’”.[30]

As Shakyamuni confirms, Dharmakara already attained Buddhahood, and from then on in the Larger Sutra or the Smaller Sutra and Contemplation Sutra, He no longer calls Him by this name, but “Amitayus”[31], which means Infinite Life or “Amitabha” - “Infinite Light”. These two aspects, “Infinite Life” (Amitayus) and “Infinite Light” (Amitabha) are merged into the word “Amida[32], which means the Buddha of Infinite Life and Infinite Light. His Infinite Life is the effect of the 13th Vow which He made when He was Dharmakara Bodhisattva, while the Infinite Light is the effect of the 12thVow. So, we cannot separate Amitayus (Infinite Life) from Amitabha (Infinite Light) because these are the two aspects of the same Buddha. In the section 4 from the Smaller Amida Sutra, Shakyamuni explained this to Sariputra:

“For what reason, Sariputra, do you think that Buddha is called Amitabha? Sariputra, the Buddha’s light shines boundlessly and without hindrance over all the worlds of the ten directions. It is for this reason that He is called Amitabha. Again, Sariputra, the lives of the Buddha and the people of His land last for innumerable, unlimited, and incalculable kalpas. It is for this reason that the Buddha is called Amitayus.”[33]

Shakyamuni tells us another important aspect about Dharmakara who became Amida Buddha – He “is now dwelling in a Western Buddha-land called ‘Peace and Bliss,’” – which is to be found not here, but “a hundred thousand kotis[34] of lands away from here”.  
This is extremely important, as it shows that there is a clear distinction between this world with its unenlightened beings, and the Pure Land. Shakyamuni did not explain Amida and His Pure Land in ultimate terms, and did not say that they are to be found in one’s heart/mind or “here and now”, as some nowadays deluded scholars are trying to convince us. On the contrary, Dharmakara who became Amida Buddha is dwelling in His Pure Land, outside of this samsaric realm.

Next, the fact that Amida is now dwelling in His Pure Land, also shows that He is active now in bringing all beings to His realm. This now is everlasting and is referring both to the time when Shakyamuni delivered that discourse (sutra) and also to the time of Shan-tao, Honen, Shinran, Rennyo, we in the XXI century and the future generations that will come after us. Amida is a Buddha of the present in the sense that He has already attained Buddhahood and will act forever for the salvation of all beings. We must not forget that Amida is also the Buddha of “Infinite Life”, so for Him, now is without end.

            After confirming Dharmakara’s attainment of Buddhahood, Shakyamuni makes a general presentation of the Pure Land, so as to assure the audience that the Pure Land too came into existence as a consequence of this attainment:

“He continued,  ‘In that Buddha land, the earth is composed of seven kinds of jewels namely, gold, silver, beryl, coral, amber, agate, and ruby that have spontaneously appeared. The land itself is so vast, spreading boundlessly to the farthest extent, that it is impossible to know its limit. All the rays of light from those jewels intermingle and create manifold reflections, producing a dazzling illumination. Those pure, superb, and exquisite adornments are unsurpassed in all the worlds of the ten directions. They are the finest of all gems and are like those of the sixth heaven. In that land, there are no mountains, such as Mount Sumeru and the Encircling Adamantine Mountains[35]. Likewise, there are neither oceans nor seas and neither valleys
nor gorges. Through the majestic power of the Buddha, however, any of them will appear if one so wishes. Furthermore, there are no hells, no realm of hungry ghosts, no realm of animals, and no other states of affliction. Neither do the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter exist. It is always moderate and pleasant, never cold or hot.’”[36]

Even if the adornments of the Pure Land are described in terms related with human language, in fact they surpass any worldly, samsaric equivalents. They may be described like them for the sake of explanation, but are pure” and “unsurpassed in all the worlds of the ten directions”. For adornments to be pure it means that they are not the product or manifestation of unenlightened karma, nor part of samsara, so the Pure Land is not just another heaven, but an enlightened place.

The fact that the Larger Sutra is filled with detailed descriptions of the Pure Land, and the land itself is  given a direction Western Buddha-land called ‘Peace and Bliss’” shows that Amida’s Pure Land is not a metaphor, but a real place in which people can actually aspire to be born after death.

Some say that the direction “west” and the marvellous descriptions of the Pure Land are a proof for its non-existence or for its existence as a symbol or metaphor only. But the truth is that by making the effort to describe in many words the wonders of the Pure Land and by pointing to a direction where that land is located, Shakyamuni wants to emphasize its actual existence as a place where sentient beings should aspire to be born without worry and doubt.

It is as though I speak to you about a beautiful park I would like you to visit. If I tell you, “it’s there, in the West part of town” and I start describing it to you, then you will have no doubt about its existence and you will wish to see it. It’s the same with the expression “Pure Land of the West” or “Western Buddha-land ”.

The fact that the Pure Land has no “oceans nor seas and neither valleys nor gorges” indicates that it has no obstacles for its inhabitants, as such landscapes are usually considered part of samsaric states of existence. Of course, if the Pure Land dwellers wish such forms to appear, they will be manifested instantaneously through the Power of Amida Buddha who actually sustains that land and everything in it (“through the majestic power of the Buddha, however, any of them will appear if one so wishes”) but these would also be enlightened forms, and not samsaric ones which lead to attachments or difficulties. Also, the non-existence of the four seasons “neither do the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter exist” can be interpreted in the same way. The fact that in the Pure Land “it is always moderate and pleasant, never cold or hot” is a clear indication that it is a nirvanic realm. This is further emphasized in the passage “there are no hells, no realm of hungry ghosts, no realm of animals, and no other states of affliction”. By no other states of affliction it is pointed out that there are no realms of the gods, demigods or humans, too, as these are also contained in the cycle of samsaric existence.

The question Ananda asked when Shakyamuni made this general description is also related with the fact that the Pure Land is not an ordinary (pleasant or unpleasant) realm, sustained by the karma of unenlightened beings:

“Then Ananda asked the Buddha, ‘If, World-honored One, there is no Mount Sumeru in that land, what sustains the Heaven of the Four Kings and the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods?
The Buddha said to Ananda, ‘What sustains Yama, which is the third heaven of the world of desire, and other heavens up to the highest heaven of the world of form?’
Ananda answered, ‘The consequences of karma are inconceivable.’
The Buddha said to Ananda, ‘Inconceivable indeed are the consequences of karma, and so are the worlds of the Buddhas. By the power of meritorious deeds, sentient beings in that land dwell on the ground of karmic reward. That is why those heavens exist without Mount Sumeru.’
Ananda continued, ‘I do not doubt this myself but have asked about it simply because I wished to remove such doubts for the benefit of sentient beings in the future.’”[37]

Mount Sumeru is a cosmological mountain, like an axis of the world. Every samsaric world (sometimes called “a Sumeru-world”), which contains the various realms/dimensions of hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras and gods, has a mount Sumeru[38], or an axis in relation with which all the six planes of existence until the Heaven of the Four Kings are described. The godly planes of existence from the Heaven of the Four Kings upward are located above this Sumeru mountain or axis. In the passage above, Shakyamuni explains to Ananda, that just like those godly realms exist without a Sumeru mountain, and solely on the basis of the karma of beings born there, beings in the Pure Land ( who are above gods or any samsaric being) exist on the basis of the karmic transference from Amida Buddha. In fact, the whole Pure Land is manifested and sustained by the enlightened karmic Power of Amida Buddha. This is of course, inconceivable, and impossible to understand with our limited minds.

 another version of this article appeared here, in my book 
The True Teaching on Amida Buddha and His Pure Land




[1] In the distant past—innumerable, incalculable, and inconceivable kalpas ago—a Tathagata named Dipankara appeared in the world. Having taught and freed innumerable beings and led them all along the Way of enlightenment, he passed into Nirvana. Next appeared a Tathagata named Far-reaching Illumination. After him came Moonlight, and then Sandalwood Incense, King of Beautiful Mountains, Crown of Mount Sumeru, Brilliant like Mount Sumeru, Color of the Moon, Right Recollection, Free of Defilement, Nonattachment, Dragon Deva, Noc turnal Light, Peaceful and Brilliant Peak, Immovable Ground, Exquisite Beryl Flower, Golden Beryl Luster, Gold Treasury, Flaming Light, Fiery Origin, Earth Shaking, Image of the Moon, Sound of the Sun, Flower of Freedom, Glorious Light, Miraculous Power of the Ocean of Enlightenment, Water Light, Great Fragrance, Free of Dust and Defilement, Abandoning Enmity, Flame of Jewels, Beautiful Peak, Heroic Stance, Merit-possessing Wisdom, Outshining the Sun and Moon, Beryl Light of the Sun and Moon, Supreme Beryl Light, Highest Peak, Flower of Enlightenment, Brightness of the Moon, Sunlight, King of the Colors of Flowers, Moonlight on the Water, Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance, Practice of Removing Hindrances, Pure Faith, Storehouse
of Good, Majestic Glory, Wisdom of the Dharma, Voice of the Phoenix, Roar of the Lion, Cry of the Dragon, and Dwelling in the World. All these Buddhas have already passed into Nirvana.”
(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.9)
[2] 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.9-10.
[3] Idem., p.10.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Idem., p.11.
[6] Idem., p.12.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Idem., p.12-13.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] First time, at the begining of the story of Dharmakara, Shakyamuni mentions,“Having superior intelligence, courage, and wisdom, he distinguished himself in the world”. This is important to keep in mind, for when I will explain later the doctrine of the Two Dharma Body of Amida Buddha.
[15] 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.13.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Idem., p.14
[19] Ibid.
[20] We chant these verses in our tradition under the title of Juseige.
[21] 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.20-21
[22] Shinran Shonin, Gutoku's Notes, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.591
[23] 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.22
[24] 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.22
[25] The Six Paramitas (Perfections) called “The Six Types of Practices by which a Bodhisattva achieves Buddhahood” are:1.Charity, generosity (dana) 2. discipline and proper behaviour (sila) 3.  perseverance (ksanti) 4. diligence 5. meditation (dhyana) and 6. higher wisdom (prajna). 
[26] 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.22-23.
[27] In the section 4 of the Smaller Amida Sutra, Shakyamuni also said to Sariputra: “ten kalpas have passed since Amitāyus attained Enlightenment”.
[28] 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.23-24.
[29] The Smaller Amida Sutra was preached at a different time and location – the Jeta Grove of Anathapindada’s Garden in Sravasti.
[30] 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.103.
[31] In the Larger Sutra He calls Him Amitayus.
[32] Chin / O-Mi-T’o-Fo; Jpn / Amida; Vn / A-Di-Đà. The word “Amitabha” is also used in English to represent both   “Amitabha” (“Infinite Light”) and “Amitayus” (“Infinite Life”). (T. Cleary).
[33] 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.104-105.
[34] Koti is a term used in ancient India to express a high numerical value equivalent to one hundred thousand, ten milion, or one hundred milion.
[35] The Encircling Adamantine Mountains”  are the outermost mountain ranges encircling a Sumeru world which contains a representative of each of the six planes of samsaric existence
[36] 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.24 and 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.35
[37] 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.24
[38] 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).  


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