Thursday, July 4, 2019

The testimony of Ananda and the audience gathered on Vulture Peak to the existence of Amida Buddha and His Pure Land – commentary on the sections 41 and 42 from the Larger Sutra


This painting shows the manifestation of 
the Pure Land as shown to Ananda and 
the audience gathered on Vulture Peak. 
Ananda is in the middle with his 
right shoulder barred and facing Amida. 
Behind him sits a long-haired monk, 
who is Maitreya, the future Buddha. 
On his left sits Buddha Shakyamuni 
surrounded by monks, bodhisattvas and 
deities. A layman and laywoman are seen 
behind Maitreya worshiping Amida. 


As we have seen in this sutra, Shakyamuni not only presented the story of Dharmakara becoming Amida, but described in many details the wonders of the Pure Land as well as the splendor of Amida and the enlightened beings living there. Then, in sections 41 and 42 He went even further and did something more extraordinary – He showed Amida and His Pure Land to the audience!!!

First, before Ananda made his request, and knowing in advance what he will say, Shakyamuni asked him to worship Amida, invoking the testimony of all Buddhas who always praise Amida’s Name and His method of salvation, thus encouraging all beings to entrust to Him and worship Him:

“The Buddha said to Ananda, ‘Rise to your feet, rearrange your robes, put your palms together, and respectfully revere and worship Amitayus (Amida). Buddha Tathagatas in the lands of the ten directions always praise with one accord that Buddha’s virtue of non-attachement and unimpeded activity.’”[1]

He was like saying, “Ananda, worship Amida! I am not the only one encouraging you to worship Amida, but all Buddhas encourage you to worship Amida! If you worship Amida, then you follow not only my teaching but the teaching of all Buddhas!”.
Ananda did as instructed and after that he made the most important request of this sutra for the benefit of himself, the audience, as for us, the disciples of future generations:

 “Ananda stood up, rearranged his robes, assumed the correct posture, faced westward, and, demonstrating his sincere reverence, joined his palms together, prostrated himself on the ground, and worshiped Amitayus. Then he said to Śhakyamuni Buddha, ‘World-honored One, I wish to see that Buddha, His Land of Peace and Bliss, and its hosts of bodhisattvas and sravakas’

As soon as he had said this, Amitayus emitted a great light, which illuminated all the Buddha lands. The Encircling Adamantine Mountains, Mount Sumeru, together with large and small mountains and everything else shone with the same [golden] color. That light was like the flood at the end of the period of cosmic change that fills the whole world, when myriads of things are
submerged, and as far as the eye can see there is nothing but the vast expanse of water. Even so was the flood of light emanating from Amitayus. All the lights of sravakas and bodhisattvas were outshone and surpassed, and only the Buddha’s light remained shining bright and glorious. At that time Ananda saw the splendor and majesty of Amitayus resembling Mount Sumeru, which rises above the whole world. There was no place that was not illuminated by the light emanating from His body of glory [Sambhogakaya or Dharmakaya as compassionate means – Amida’s transcendent body]. The four groups of followers of the Buddha in the assembly saw all this at the same time. Likewise, those of the Pure Land saw everything in this world.[2]

The passage is clear and can’t be misinterpreted. Ananda asked Shakyamuni to see Amida and His Pure Land - “I wish to see that Buddha, His Land of Peace and Bliss”, and then he actually saw Him – “Ananda saw the splendor and majesty of Amitayus”. In fact, not only him, but all those gathered there on Vulture Peak to listen to the Larger Sutra, saw Amida and the Pure Land – “the four groups of followers of the Buddha in the assembly saw all this at the same time”. Both those in this world and those in the Pure Land, saw each other – “likewise, those of the Pure Land saw everything in this world”.

No sincere follower and reader of the above lines can possibly misinterpret what happened there. The revelation of Amida and His Land really took place, and the audience literally saw them before their very eyes. There is no hidden, metaphorical or symbolical meaning in this. I repeat, the audience literally saw them before their very eyes. Anybody who tells you that you should not actually take into consideration this vision of Amida and His Land, as it was described in the sutra, is a person who lacks faith and who is consciously or unconsciously deceiving you.

Not only that Shakyamuni showed Amida and the Pure Land to the audience, but He also asked Ananda and Maitreya to confirm what they saw and heard:

“Then the Buddha said to Ananda and Bodhisattva Maitreya, ‘Have you seen that land filled with excellent and glorious manifestations, all spontaneously produced from the ground to the Heaven of Pure Abode?’

Ananda replied (in his name and in the name of Maitreya and all the audience), ‘Yes, I have’.

The Buddha asked, ‘Have you also heard the great voice of Amitayus expound the Dharma to all the worlds, guiding sentient beings to the Way of the Buddha?’

Ananda replied, ‘Yes, I have’.

The Buddha further asked, ‘Have you also seen the inhabitants of that land move freely, riding in seven-jeweled airborne palaces as large as a hundred thousand yojanas, to worship the Buddhas of the lands in the ten directions?’

‘Yes, I have’, replied Ananda.

‘Have you also seen that some of the inhabitants are in the embryonic state of rebirth?’

‘Yes, I have. Those in the embryonic state[3] dwell in palaces as high as a hundred joyanas or five hundred joyanas, where they spontaneously enjoy pleasures as do those in the Heaven of the Thirty-three gods’”.[4]
Why do you think Shakyamuni Buddha asked them to confirm what they just saw and heard? Why He insisted to hear Ananda say with his own mouth, “yes I have seen” and “yes, I have heard”? It is because He wanted all beings, including us, disciples of later generations, to accept Amida as a real Buddha, and His Land as a real enlightened place where we should wish to go after death. It was for our sake that He told the story of Amida Buddha and enabled the audience to see Him and His Land, as He said in section 47:

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, do not allow doubt to arise."[5] 

The Larger Sutra was not the only occasion when Shakyamuni offered such visions. According to the Contemplation Sutra, Amida Buddha and His Pure Land were also shown to Queen Vaidehi, wife of King Bimbisara from Magadha[6]. Ananda and Mahamaudgalyayana, two of His main disciples, were themselves present as witnesses of this revelation. Here are the words of this sacred text:

“I [Vaidehi] beseech you, World-honored One, to reveal to me a land of no sorrow and no affliction where I can be reborn. I do not wish to live in this defiled and evil world of Jambudvipa where there are hells, realms of hungry ghosts, animals, and many vile beings. I wish that in the future I shall not hear evil words or see wicked people. World-honored One, I now kneel down to repent and beg you to take pity on me.’

Then the World-honored One sent forth from between his eyebrows a flood of light that was the color of gold and illuminated the innumerable worlds in the ten directions. Returning to the Buddha, the light settled on His head and transformed itself into a golden platform resembling Mount Sumeru. On the platform appeared the pure and resplendent lands of all the Buddhas in the ten directions. […] Innumerable Buddha lands like these, glorious and beautiful, were displayed to her.

Vaideiī then said to the Buddha, ‘O World-honored One, these Buddha-lands are pure and free of defilement, and all of them are resplendent. But I wish to be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss of Amitayus (Amida)’.”[7]

[…]“Vaidehi said to the Buddha, “World-honored One, through the Buddha’s power, even I have now been able to see that land’”.[8]

[…]  The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, ‘Listen carefully, listen carefully and ponder deeply. I will expound for you the method of removing suffering. Bear my words in mind and explain them to the multitude of beings.’
When these words were spoken, Amitayus appeared in the air above, attended on His left and right by the two mahasattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta. So brilliant was their radiance that it was impossible to see them in detail. They could not be compared even with a hundred thousand nuggets of gold from the Jambu River.
After she had this vision of Amitayus, Vaidehi knelt down in worship at Shakyamuni’s feet and said to Him, “World-honored One, through your power I have been able to see Amitayus and the two Bodhisattvas”.[9]

After the Contemplation Sutra was delivered to Queen Vaidehi, Shakyamuni Buddha returned with His companions to the Vulture Peak. There, Ananda told the audience all that happened, including the vision with Amida Buddha and His Pure Land:

“Then the World-honored One returned to Vulture Peak through the air. There Ananda fully explained to the assembly what had happened. Innumerable humans, devas, nagas, yaksas, and all other beings greatly rejoiced to hear the Buddha’s teaching”.[10]

As disciples who read and hear this teaching, long after Shakyamuni “passed into Nirvana”, we must be on guard against those false teachers and deluded scholars who are incapable of accepting the story of Dharmakara becoming Amida as it was told by Shakyamuni, and the testimony of Ananda, Mahamaudgalyayana, queen Vaidehi and the entire audience from the Vulture Peak who literary saw Amida Buddha and His Pure Land. No matter what nice or sophisticated words such people might use, we must by no means, be confused by them.
Namo Amida Bu

to be continued 




[1] 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.65.
[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.65
[3] The inhabitants of the Pure Land who are in embryonic state and “dwell in palaces as high as a hundred joyanas or five hundred joyanas” are beings born in the border land of the Pure Land who although enjoy immense pleasure, they are still not enlightened, while the inhabitants who move freely, riding in seven-jeweled airborne palaces as large as a hundred thousand yojanas, to worship the Buddhas of the lands in the ten directions” are those born in the true fulfilled land of the Pure Land or the “center” of the Pure Land and they are perfectly enlightened, thus being able to travel everywhere in the ten directions either to save beings or worship and make offerings to all Buddhas. The beings in the first category entered the Pure Land with a faith mixed with doubt, saying Nembutsu while still clinging to their self-power, or through following mixed practices (followers of the 19th and 20th vows), while the beings in the latter category entered the Pure Land through the Gate of Faith or the Gate of the Primal Vow and immediately attained perfect Enlightenment, thus becoming Buddhas who manifest as Bodhisattvas. I will explain this difference between the two categories in my commentary on the next section of the Larger Sutra. 
[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.65-66.
[5] 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
[6] According to the story of this sutra, the queen and her husband were imprisoned by their son Ajatasatru, at the advice of Devadatta. Out of despair, the queen faced towards the place where Shakyamuni was staying at that moment and prayed that He send two of His major disciples to comfort her. Shakyamuni did this immediately, and He himself came to her through the air. The teaching He gave to the queen has been known since then as the Sutra on Visualization of the Buddha of Infinite Life (in short, the Contemplation Sutra):

“Vaidehi, thus confined, grew emaciated with grief and despair. Facing Vulture Peak, she worshiped the Buddha from afar and said, “O Tathagata, World-honored One, you used to send Ananda to comfort me. Now I am in deep sorrow and distress. Since there is no way of my coming to look upon your august countenance, World-honored One, I pray you send Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana and Venerable Ananda here to see me.”
When she had said these words, tears of sorrow streamed down her cheeks like rain. Then she bowed toward the Buddha in the distance. Even before she raised her head, the World-honored One, who was then staying on Vulture Peak, knew Vaidehi’s thoughts and immediately ordered Mahamaudgalyayana and Ananda to go to her through the air; He himself disappeared from the mountain and reappeared in the inner chamber of the royal palace”.

Rennyo Shonin explained that at the time Vaidehi made her request, Shakyamuni Buddha was preaching the Lotus Sutra on Vulture Peak:

“Long ago, when Shakyamuni expounded the Lotus Sutra, the wondrous text of the One Vehicle, on Vulture Peak, Devadatta provoked Ajatasatru to acts of treachery; Shakyamuni then led Vaidehi to aspire to the Land of Serene Sustenance. Because Shakyamuni withdrew from the assembly gathered at Vulture Peak where He was expounding the Lotus Sutra, descended to the royal palace, and graciously set forth the Pure Land teaching for Vaidehi’s sake, Amida’s Primal Vow has flourished to this day. This is why we say that the teachings of the Lotus and the nembutsu were given at the same time”.
(Rennyo Shonin Ofumi: The Letters of Rennyo, IV-3, BDK English Tripitaka Series, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, p. 104)
[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.70-71
[8] 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.79.
[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.83-84.
[10] 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.100.

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