Friday, February 15, 2019

The twelve Lights of Amida Buddha – commentary on the first part of section 11 of the Larger Sutra


Image of Amida Buddha at the altar
of Amidaji temple
  fragment from my commentary on the Larger Sutra

The whole section eleven should be read in connection with my explanation of the 12th Vow where Bodhisattva Dharmakara promised that His Light as a Buddha will be infinite.
Now Shakyamuni himself speaks about the Light of Amida Buddha, praising it as supreme among the lights of all Buddhas and describing it as having twelve special characteristics, corresponding to twelve names:

 “‘The majestic light of Buddha Amitayus (Amida) is the most exalted. No other Buddha’s light can match His. The light of some Buddhas illuminates a hundred Buddha lands, and that of others a thousand Buddha lands. Briefly, that of Amitayus illuminates the eastern Buddha lands as numerous as the sands of the Ganges River. In the same way, it illuminates the Buddha lands in the south, west, and north, in each of the four intermediate directions, and above and below. […]

For this reason, Amitayus is called by the following names: the Buddha of Infinite (Immeasurable) Light, the Buddha of Boundless Light, the Buddha of Unhindered Light, the Buddha of Incomparable (Unequaled) Light, the Buddha of Light that is Lord of Blazing Light, the Buddha of Pure Light, the Buddha of the Light of Joy, the Buddha of the Light of Wisdom, the Buddha of Uninterrupted Light[1], the Buddha of  Inconceivable Light, the Buddha of Inexpressible Light[2], and the Buddha of  Light Surpassing the Sun and Moon.[3][4]

Shinran Shonin explained these twelve features of Amida’s Light in his work The Virtue of the Name of Amida Tathagata (Mida Nyorai myogotoku)[5]. Let’s see what he said:

1)      Infinite (Immeasurable) Light:

Shinran explained this aspect by quoting the Contemplation Sutra and Master Genshin:

"Concerning ‘Immeasurable (Infinite) Light’, the Contemplation Sutra states:
‘The Buddha of Immeasurable (Infinite) Life possesses eighty-four thousand features. Each feature possesses eighty-four thousand marks. Each mark gives forth eighty-four thousand beams of light. Each beam of light shines everywhere throughout the worlds of the ten quarters, grasping and never abandoning sentient beings of the Nembutsu.’

Regarding this light, the Master of Eshin-in (Genshin) states:

‘Each feature gives forth seven hundred five kotis and six million beams of light and appears resplendently ablaze. Such is the light given forth by each feature; know how much greater the light given forth by all the eighty-four thousand features must be. Because of the greatness of the number of beams of light, the expression “immeasurable (infinite) light” is used.”

The beams of Light emanating from the features and marks of Amida’s transcendental body are impossible to calculate, and all numbers given above are just a way to express this impossibility. Thus, there is no end to the Light manifestations and nothing can equal its greatness. This is why it is called, “Immeasurable” or “Infinite”.

2)      Boundless Light:

Shinran explained:

“Concerning 'Boundless Light', because Immeasurable (Infinite) Light thus illumines the ten quarters without bound or limit, the expression 'Boundless Light' is used.”

Each and every place of samsara is touched by Amida’s Light, just not all sentient beings living there can benefit from it due to their closed minds. However, Amida’s Light will be sent constantly towards all, until all become open and entrust to Him.

3)      Unhindered Light

If clouds or any object comes between the light of the sun or the moon and us, then we cannot see it, but the Light of Amida Buddha is not obstructed by anything material, mental or spiritual. Between our universe (Saha world) and the Pure Land there is a distance impossible to describe in human language. Many worlds with their myriad universes, each containing their respective six realms of hells, pretas (hungry spirits), animals, humans, demigods (asuras) and gods are found between us and the Pure Land. However, none of these are obstacles to the Light of Amida Buddha. No matter we are physically far from His Pure Land or that we have myriads of layers of ignorance, blind passions and karmic evil, Amida’s Light is always here, available to all beings equally, but only those who open their hearts and minds to Him can benefit from it.
Shinran explained:

“Next, concerning 'Unhindered Light', with the light of the sun or moon, when something has come between, the light does not reach us. Amida’s light, however, being unobstructed by things, shines on all sentient beings; hence the expression, 'Buddha of Unhindered Light'. Amida’s light is unhindered by sentient beings’ minds of blind passions and karmic evil; hence the expression, 'Buddha of Unhindered Light'. Were it not for the virtue of unhindered light, how would it be for us?

It is taught that one hundred thousand millions of triple-thousandfold worlds lie between the World of Perfect Bliss (the Pure Land) and this Saha world[6]. In each of the triple-thousandfold worlds there are fourfold Encircling Iron Mountains, [the lowest] equal in height to Mount Sumeru. Next, there are Encircling Iron Mountains about each small thousandfold world reaching the sixth heaven of the realm of desire[7] in height. Next, there are Encircling Iron Mountains about each middle thousandfold world reaching the heaven of the first stage of meditation of the realm of form in height. Further, there are Encircling Iron Mountains about each great thousandfold world reaching the heaven of the second stage of meditation in height. Thus, if Amida were not Buddha of Unhindered Light, the light would not pass through even a single world, not to speak of one hundred thousand million. Because the light of the Buddha of Unhindered Light is unhindered in shining through such inconceivable mountains and grasping sentient beings of Nembutsu, the expression 'Unhindered Light' is used.” [...]

In fact, Amida’s Pure Land being an enlightened place, it is completely outside of samsara, and so, we can say that all unenlightened realms and their causes stand between us and the Pure Land. Inside we have the karmic seeds of rebirth in any of the samsaric realms, and these do manifest outside of us as solid projections of inner causes. Inside or outside thus constitute the two faces of the same coin, or the two aspects of the same samsaric dream in which we and all sentient beings are drowned forever without any chance to escape by ourselves. However, Amida’s Light penetrates this inner and outer samsaric delusion and its magical display of universes and worlds.  Once this Light is accepted into our minds and hearts through faith (shinjin) and the Nembutsu of faith, we are saved as we are, because no inside or outside darkness can resist Amida’s Unhindered Light.
As Shinran explained:

“The reason for the expression 'Unhindered Light' is that it is not obstructed or impeded by the minds of karmic evil and blind passions of all sentient beings of the ten quarters. In order to clarify and to bring us to know that the light of Amida surpasses conceptual understanding, the expression 'I take refuge in the Tathagata of Unhindered Light Filling the Ten Quarters'[8] is used.”

"You should understand that Buddha of Unhindered Light is spoken of thus in order to indicate that this Buddha seeks to save all beings, unhindered by their being wretched and evil."[9]

4)      Inconceivable Light and
5)      Inexpressible Light

Shinran explained:
                                                                  
“Concerning 'Buddha of Inconceivable Light', even Shakyamuni Tathagata taught that the virtue of the Light of Amida Tathagata cannot be comprehended. Because it cannot be comprehended, the expression 'Buddha of Inconceivable Light' is used.

Next, concerning 'Inexpressible Light', Shakyamuni states that the virtue of the 'Buddha of Inconceivable Light' is difficult to expound fully. It means that words cannot describe it. For this reason, the expression 'Inexpressible Light' is used. Thus Master T’an-luan, in Gathas in Praise of Amida Buddha, combining Buddha of Inconceivable Light and Buddha of Inexpressible Light, states, 'I take refuge in the Buddha of Inconceivable Light'.  [...]

With one’s own mind of self-power, it is impossible to reach the land of the Buddha of Inconceivable Light. It is taught that only by shinjin (faith) that is Other Power does one reach the land of the Buddha of Inconceivable Light. The person of shinjin aspiring to be born in that land possesses inexpressible, inexplicable, and inconceivable virtues that cannot be thought or described. Hence the expression, 'Buddha of Inconceivable Light'.
Namo Fukashigiko Butsu (I take refuge in the Buddha of Inconceivable Light)”

We are like ignorant peasants who enter a plane for the first time. We do not know how the plane flies, but we trust the pilot and the engineers who built it, and we are certain that they will take us safely to the destination. 

The theme of the inconceivability of Amida Buddha's salvation is often mentioned in the sacred texts. Simply stated, unenlightened minds cannot understand the Enlightened Minds and work of Buddhas, just like an ignorant peasant who never got out of his village and who does not know how to read or write, cannot understand planes or the flying technology. Amida’s Light which manifest everywhere in all the samsaric worlds and universes, and works in mysterious ways to save us, cannot be conceived nor expressed in words, so Amida is called the Buddha of Inconceivable Light and Inexpressible Light.
Just like ignorant peasants who trust the pilot even if they don’t understand how the planes fly, we should have faith in Amida and trust that His Light will destroy the darkness of our evil karma, even if we do not know, like a Buddha knows, the exact way in which He will do that.

When one has faith (shinjin) in Amida (accepts/encounters Amida’s Light), he receives “inexpressible, inexplicable, and inconceivable virtues”. This is called the transference of merit from Amida to the devotee and it has two aspects: 1) it helps one to be born in the Pure Land after death where he attains Buddhahood, and 2) makes him capable to return (as a Buddha) to the samsaric worlds to work for the salvation of all beings. This, again, is inconceivable. How can people who are still blinded by ignorance and filled with evil passions receive the karmic merits and virtues of Amida and be born in His Pure Land?! It sounds crazy and fantastic, but it’s true! This is why Amida’s Light which constantly works upon us, helping us to entrust to Him, and which destroys the evil seeds of our karma, is truly inconceivable.

6)      Light of Purity

Shinran explained:                                    

“Next, concerning 'Light of Purity', it is light that Dharmakara Bodhisattva attained through becoming free of thoughts of greed. There are two kinds of greed: lustful greed and greed for things. It is light attained by becoming free of these two kinds of greed. It is light for eliminating the defilements and impurities of sentient beings. It is for sweeping away the evil of lustful greed and greed for things. Hence, the expression 'Light of Purity' is used.”

Being fully Enlightened, Amida has no more greed in himself, and by bringing to His Pure Land those who have faith in Him, their greed and other impurities will also be eliminated.  But even while they are still in their samsaric bodies, and not yet free of these impurities, He will sterilize their evil karma and stop any defilement from becoming an obstacle to birth in His Pure Land.  

7)      Light of Joy:

Shinran explained:

“Next, concerning 'Light of Joy', it is light attained with roots of good free of anger. Being free of anger means that externally there is no expression of anger or irritation and in the heart and mind there is no feeling of jealousy or envy. It is light attained with such a mind, and has been attained in order to sweep away the karmic evil of sentient beings’ anger, wrath, hatred, and envy; hence the expression 'Light of Joy'.”

Amida, being perfectly Enlightened, He is infinitely superior to those angry and jealous spirits that dominate various non-Buddhist religions and who are hungry for the attention of others[10].  
Having no more anger, jealousy, hatred and envy in himself, Amida will also bring to His Pure Land those who have faith in Him (accept His Light), causing their impurities, to  dissolve instantly. But even while His devotees are still in their samsaric bodies, and not yet free of the above and other limitations, He will sterilize their evil karma and stop any defilement from becoming an obstacle to birth in His Pure Land. 

8)      Light of Wisdom:

Shinran explained:

“Next, concerning 'Light of Wisdom', it is the light that has been attained with roots of good free of folly. 'Roots of good free of folly' means that it has been attained in order to bring all sentient beings to awaken the mind aspiring to learn wisdom and attain supreme Enlightenment. It brings them to realize the mind by which one entrusts oneself to the Nembutsu. To entrust oneself to the Nembutsu is to already have become a person who realizes wisdom and will attain Buddhahood; know that this is to become free of foolishness. Hence the expression 'Buddha of the Light of Wisdom' is used.”

This Light helps sentient beings “to realize the mind by which one entrusts oneself to the Nembutsu”. Here, as usually, the Nembutsu is the Nembutsu of faith or the Nembutsu of the Primal Vow – the Nembutsu said as an expression of complete reliance (faith) on Amida Buddha’s Power. This is NOT the self power Nembutsu. So, to entrust onself in this way and to say the Nembutsu of faith “is to already have become a person who realizes wisdom and will attain Buddhahood; know that this is to become free of foolishness”. Here “wisdom” does not refer to knowledge or realisation attained by self-power practices, but to the wisdom of faith (shinjin). So, Amida’s Light of Wisdom helps beings attain the wisdom of faith. This kind of wisdom has two aspects:

1) to know that we are people of deep karmic limitations, incapable of attaining Buddhahood through our own power;
2) to know that only Amida Buddha can save us through His Vow Power (Other Power), without asking anything from us.
Master Shan-tao said:

“Deep mind is deep entrusting faith. It has two aspects. First, to believe deeply and unwaveringly that we are actually ordinary beings of karmic evil subject to birth and death, ever sinking and ever transmigrating in samsara since innumerable kalpas ago without a chance to escape from it. Second, to believe deeply and unwaveringly that the Forty-eight Vows of Amida Buddha enfold sentient beings, enabling them to board His Vow-Power and attain birth in the Pure Land.”[11]

Master Seikaku also said:

"There are two aspects concerning this mind of trust: the first is to believe oneself to be a foolish being of defiled karma, subject to birth-and-death, from incalculable kalpas past constantly sinking and constantly turning, without any condition that could lead to liberation. The second is to believe deeply and decisively that, since one does not doubt that Amida's Forty-eight Vows grasp sentient beings, one rides on the power of that Vow and will without fail attain Birth.."[12]
                                 
9)      Unequalled Light:

Shinran explained:

“Next, concerning 'Unequalled Light', because there is no light equal to that of Amida, the expression 'Unequalled Light' is used.

Because the Light of a Buddha is His inconceivable instrument in saving sentient beings, the fact that Amida’s Light is Unequalled shows that no other Buddha has such a superior and universal method, really capable to save all beings, even those with the most evil karma. It also shows that He is supreme in the Universe, and no divine figure can equal him. 

10)   Lord of Blazing Light:

Shinran explained:

“Next, concerning 'Lord of Blazing Light', the brilliance of the light is likened to blazing fire at its height. It is stated that it is like flames at their height without any smoke.”

Amida’s Light is like an all-powerful fire which burns the karmic seeds of beings who entrust to Him, causing them to never be born again in the samsaric states of existence. No trace (no “smoke”) of their karma is left and so they are brought to His Pure Land immediately after death.

11)  Uninterrupted Light:
Shinran explained:

“Next, concerning 'Uninterrupted Light', this light shines without discontinuance and without cessation.”

There is NOT a single moment when Amida stops sending His Light towards all sentient beings drowned in samsara.  Being fully focused on each and every one of us, Amida is constantly present everywhere, trying to bring us under the influence of His saving Light

12) Light Surpassing the Sun and Moon:

Shinran explained:

“'Surpass' means that the Light of Amida excels that of the sun and moon. In order to bring us to know that it excels and transcends all other light, the expression 'Surpasses the Sun and Moon' is used.”

No samsaric light, which arise in dependence of various worldly causes and conditions, can equal Amida’s Light which is Enlightened and free, emanated from His perfect Wisdom and Compassion.


to be continued




[1] This is how was translated by Hongwanji - 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.36
 In the edition translated by Inagaki it appears as “Buddha of Unceasing Light”; 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.25-26
[2] This is how was translated by Hongwanji - 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.36
In the translation done by Inagaki it appears as “Buddha of Ineffable Light”; 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.25-26
[3] Besides these twelve names, representing twelve lights, Shinran mentioned another 25, that is, 37 names in total:
 “Amida is called:1) Immeasurable (Infinite) Light, 2) True and Real Light, 3) Boundless Light, 4) Enlightenment of Nondiscrimination, 5) Unhindered Light, 6) Beyond Conception, 7) Unequalled Light, 8) Ultimate Shelter, 9) Lord of Blazing Light, 10) Great One Worthy of Offerings, 11) Light of Purity, 12) Light of Joy, 13) Great Consolation, 14) Light of Wisdom, 15) Uninterrupted Light, 16) Inconceivable Light, 17) Inexpressible Light, 18) Light that Surpasses the Sun and Moon, 19) One who is without Equal, 20) One of the Vast Assembly, 21) Oceanlike Great Mind, 22) Supremely Honored One, 23) Power of Nondiscrimination, 24) Power of the Great Mind, 25) Inexpressible Buddha, 26) Bhagavat, 27) One of the Hall, 28) Pure One who Broadly Grasps All Beings, 29) Honored-one beyond Conceptual Understanding, 30) One of the Bodhi-tree, 31) Truly Immeasurable One, 32) Music of Purity, 33) Store of Virtues Fulfilled through the Primal Vow, 34) One Imbued with Purity, 35) Treasury of Virtues, 36) Ultimately Honored One, 37) Inconceivable Light”
Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Pure Land, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.322
[4] 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.25 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.36
[5][5] The Virtue of the Name of Amida Tathagata (Mida Nyorai myogotoku); The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.655-658
[6] 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. The four periods of cyclic changes are called “kalpas”: 1)Period (kalpa) of Formation or generation (vivartakalpa), 2) Period (kalpa) of Duration or existence (vivarta-siddha kalpa), 3) Period (kalpa) of Destruction (samvarta kalpa), 4) Period (kalpa) of Annihilation (samvarta-diddha kalpa). Each of these periods lasts 20 medium or intermediate kalpas (antara kalpa). Four periods of 20 medium kalpas each, is 80 medium kalpas. 80 medium kalpas is one great kalpa (mahakalpa). So, one cosmic cycle composed of the four periods above is called one great kalpa. 
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.
[7] The samsaric worlds are divided between 1) the world of desire with hells, animals, humans, asuras and some gods, 2) the world of form with highly evolved gods, and 3) the world of non-form with gods who have no specific form and dwell constantly in pleasure provided by concentrated states of mind. For a detailed explanation see chapter “Samsara is suffering” from my book, The Four Profound Thoughts Which Turn the Mind towards Amida Dharma, Dharma Lion Publication, 2018, p 77-195
[8] Ki myo jinjipo mugeko nyorai - I take refuge in the Tathagata of Unhindered Light Filling the Ten Quarters.
[9] Shinran Shonin, A Collection of Letters, Letter 9, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.571
[10] See my explanations on the “powerful pretas (hungry spirits/ghosts) who wish to dominate other beings through religion” from my book, The Four Profound Thoughts Which Turn the Mind Towards Amida Dharma, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, p. 116-123.
[11] Master Shan-tao, as quoted by Shinran Shonin in chapter III of his Kyogyoshinsho, Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 90-91
[12] Master Seikaku, Essentials of Faith Alone, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.692

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