Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Vows related with bodhisattvas in other lands (not yet born in the Pure Land)




The following vows refer mainly to highly advanced bodhisattvas in aspiration from various worlds who entrust to Amida Buddha and say His Name in faith, wishing to be born in His Land.  They are already on one of the ten bodhisattva stages (bhumis) and very close to Enlightenment, but still not enlightened. Because they entrust to Amida and are in accord with His Primal Vow - in their case, hearing the Name of Amida means to hear and entrust, to hear with faith and to say Amida’s Name in faith, they will too be born in His Pure Land by transformation (“true fulfilled land/”center” of the Pure Land) where they will attain perfect Enlightenment[1]. The difference between them and us is that they are already very advanced on the Buddhist path and very close to Enlightenment while we are the lowest of the low in terms of spiritual evolution and the similarity is that we both entrust to Amida and dwell in the stage of non-retrogression for entering the Pure Land and attainment of Enlightenment there. However, because their spiritual capacities are already extremely high in comparison with ours and their senses very much purified, when they entrust to Amida and say His Name in faith they automatically receive more benefits than us, ordinary people. These benefits are explained in this category of vows.

I begin with the 34th Vow which does not specifically mention the word “bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions”, but is clearly referring to them: 

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten directions, who have heard my Name, should not gain the bodhisattva's insight into the non-arising of all dharmas and should not acquire various profound dharanis, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.[2] (the 34th Vow)

Sentient beings who are already highly advanced bodhisattvas in aspiration, by hearing the Name of Amida (entrust to Amida and say His Name in faith), attain “insight into the non-arising of all dharmas” even before entering the Pure Land.  

When the word “dharma” is used with small “d” it refers to all existence and phenomena in general. So, a superior bodhisattva who is not yet in the Pure Land, but hears and accepts the Name of Amida, suddenly realizes fundamental truths about the phenomenal existence. The “insight into the non-arising of all dharmas” is the spiritual awakening in which one recognizes that from the perspective of ultimate reality, nothing really arises or perishes. 

The Dharanis are powerful mystic phrases. To “acquire various profound dharanis” means to know them by heart and to benefit automatically from their power just by saying Amida’s Name in faith. Why is that? Because the Name of Amida which is praised by all Buddhas is the most powerful and contains the infinite merits of all practices and sacred formulas. Thus, by saying Amida’s Name in faith one automatically receives the merits (virtues) of all practices and sacred formulas. Master  Ch’ing-wen, quoted by Shinran in his Kyogyoshinsho, said:
                         
" The Name of Amida’s Buddhahood is most distinguished as the embodiment of the perfect
virtues of myriad practices."[3]

Honen Shonin also said:

"All of the merits of the teachings, the meditative practices on the phenomenal aspect of reality and the noumenal principle, the unmatched power acquired through meditation and wisdom, the wisdom of inner realization, and the merit of external activities, as well as all of the virtues and undefiled Enlightenment of Tathagata Amida, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta, Bodhisattva Samanthabhadra, Bodhisattva Manjusri, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, Nagarjuna, and the Bodhisattvas and Sravakas of the Pure Land are encompassed in the three characters of the Name of Amida (A MI DA). This being so, would there be any Dharma not included in the teaching for birth in the Pure Land?"[4]

We too, the lowest of the low who say the Name, also receive the infinite merits of Amida’s Name which contain all practices and sacred formulas, however, because we are not highly advanced on the spiritual path like Bodhisattvas on the ten stages, we cannot come to know all about them from this very life.

Also in the 48th Vow, all the three insights related with the dharmas or phenomenal existence is mentioned:
  
“If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should not instantly gain the first, second and third insights into the nature of dharmas and firmly abide in the truths realized by all the Buddhas, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”[5]

The three insights are explained by Shakyamuni in section 15 of this sutra as also being attained by beings already born in the Pure Land who see the Bodhi tree: “first insight into reality through hearing the sacred sounds; second, insight into reality by being in accord with it; and third, insight into the non-arising of all dharmas (as explained at 34th Vow). These benefits are all bestowed by the majestic power of Amitayus (Amida), the Power of His Original (Primal) Vow, His perfectly fulfilled Vow, His clear and manifest Vow, His firm Vow, and His accomplished Vow”[6]

So, the truths about the nature of all phenomena (dharmas), which are the truths realized by all the Buddhas” also become clear to the bodhisattvas on the ten stages who say Amida’s Name in faith and are in accord with His Primal Vow. As we, the lowest of the low, cannot understand such truths outside the Pure Land, we realize them upon being born there, while these highly advanced bodhisattvas realize them even before birth in the Pure Land. However, the cause of these benefits is the same for them and for us – the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha:

“these benefits are all bestowed by the majestic power of Amitayus, the Power of His Original (Primal) Vow, His perfectly fulfilled Vow, His clear and manifest Vow, His firm Vow, and His accomplished Vow”.

The attainment of the stage from which they cannot retrogress is especially mentioned in the 47th Vow:

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other direction who hear my Name should not instantly reach the Stage of Non-retrogression, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”[7]

Here reference is made to bodhisattvas in aspiration without mentioning their spiritual capacities, so it refers to both ordinary people without any special qualities who wish to attain Buddhahood, as well as to practitioners more advanced on the Buddhist Path. Both categories have one thing in common – they hear Amida’s Name and say it in faith while aspiring to be born in His Pure Land, thus entering “instantlyin the stage of non-retrogression for birth in the Pure Land and attainment of Enlightenment there. This vow actually supports and confirms the first part of the 11th Vow. Faith or hearing the Primal Vow and the Name in faith is also confirmed by sections 46 and 47 of this sutra in which Shakyamuni speaks about non-retrogressive bodhisattvas in aspiration who will be born in the Pure Land through saying the Name of Amida in faith (hearing the Name).

Highly advanced Bodhisattvas who hear and accept Amida’s Name in faith also attain the Samadhi of “universal equality” (samantānugata), in which they can see the innumerable Buddhas, even before being born in the Pure Land and becoming Buddhas themselves. This is promised in the 45th Vow:

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should not all attain the samadhi called 'universal equality' and, while dwelling therein, should not always be able to see all the immeasurable and inconceivable Tathagatas until those bodhisattvas, too, become Buddhas, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”[8]

They also attain the Samadhi called ‘pure liberation’, as promised in the 42nd Vow:

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should not all attain the samadhi called 'pure liberation' and, while dwelling therein, without losing concentration, should not be able to make offerings in one instant to immeasurable and inconceivable Buddhas, World-Honored Ones, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”[9]

This Samadhi is related with the capacity to see in vision innumerable Buddhas, thus being able to make offerings to all of them in the same time.

The 37th Vow states:

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten directions who, having heard my Name, prostrate themselves on the ground to revere and worship me, rejoice in faith, and perform bodhisattva practices, should not be respected by all devas and people of the world, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”[10]

In this case, hearing the Name is related with “rejoice in faith”. Such advanced bodhisattvas who may have the bodies of humans and devas, deserve the respect of all beings first and foremost because they say Amida’s Name in faith. Thus, even people who do not perform bodhisattva practices”, but have a simple faith in Amida also deserve the respect of all devas and people of the world. This is also mentioned in the Contemplation Sutra where Shakyamuni compared them with lotus flowers even if they may be ordinary people:

“You should know that all who are mindful of that Buddha are like white lotus flowers among humankind; Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta become their good friends. They will sit in the seat of Enlightenment (after reaching the Pure Land) and be born into the family of the Buddhas”.[11]

It is important to understand that they are thus called because they say the Nembutsu of faith, and not because they perform bodhisattva practices, that is, not because they have high spiritual and moral capacities. So, the main point of this vow is not “bodhisattva practices”, but hearing the Name or saying the Name in faith which can be done by both ordinary people as well as highly advanced bodhisattvas in aspirations.

Shinran said: "'Hear the Name': is to hear the Name that embodies the Primal Vow. ‘Hear’ means to hear the Primal Vow and be free of doubt. Further, it indicates shinjin (faith)".[12]
So, shinjin (faith) is something that both highly advanced bodhisattvas and ordinary people can equally receive. Some people of shinjin are already on the ten bodhisattva stages, being capable of profound moral and compassionate behaviour and with little traces of ego left, while others don’t have such high realizations. But both, if they have true faith, deserve the respect of all devas and all beings. Thus, we can say that the 37th vow can be placed in this category of bodhisattvas in other lands but in the same time it goes beyond it, referring in essence to all beings who entrust to Amida.

The promise that they will receive the infinite merits of Amida (“acquire stores of merits”), beside the merits they’ve already accumulated due to their dedication on the bodhisattva path is  contained in the 44th Vow, where it is also said that the joy of faith (“rejoice so greatly as to dance”) fills the hearts of such superior beings:

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should not rejoice so greatly as to dance and perform the bodhisattva practices and should not acquire stores of merit, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”[13]

In the 41st Vow it is promised that such bodhisattvas who accept Amida’s Name in faith will never have imperfect bodies until they become Buddhas in the Pure Land:

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should, at any time before becoming Buddhas, have impaired, inferior or incomplete sense organs, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”

It is important to understand that the superior bodhisattvas in aspiration mentioned above, even those on one of the ten bodhisattva stages, are no longer attached to their self power after receiving faith in Amida, but rely exclusively and completely on Him, saying His Name in faith, for their birth in the Pure Land. However, having fewer traces of ego than us they are capable of genuine moral behaviour, are more compassionate towards others and have various supernatural capacities like those mentioned in the above Vows. These spiritual achievements do not make them think they deserve more than others to be born in the Pure Land as they realize that birth there in the true fulfilled land of the Pure Land (“center” of the Pure Land) is due only to Amida’s Power.

However, there are two vows related with highly advanced bodhisattvas in aspiration who still cling to their personal power and do not actually wish to be born in the Pure Land at the moment, but who do receive some great benefits for their respectful attitude towards Amida’s Name. For example, in the 36th Vow it is promised that after their present life ends, such bodhisattvas will always be able to perform sacred practices until they attain Buddhahood. 

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten directions, who have heard my Name, should not, after the end of their lives, always perform sacred practices until they reach Buddhahood, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”[14]

The expression “until they reach Buddhahood” is a proof that these bodhisattvas are spiritually advanced but they are not Buddhas yet. Also, as I said above, they do not wish to be born after death in the Pure Land, so in their case, to hear Amida’s Name is not accompanied by exclusive faith in Amida, exclusive saying of the Name and exclusive wish to be born in His Pure Land, but is only a respectful hearing of Amida’s enlightened activities. This respectful hearing is in itself a karmic cause which makes them never retrogress from their spiritual pursuit. They are bodhisattvas who hold Amida in high esteem, but are not in accord with His Primal Vow, being still attached to their merits and self-power, also doing other practices not related with Amida, so their hearing of Amida’s Name is not leading them to birth in His Pure Land, but only give them the benefit of never abandoning their spiritual practices, which they will follow “until they reach Buddhahood”.

Such bodhisattvas will always be born in noble families, that is, families of devout Buddhists, as “noble” means first and foremost to have the noble aspiration to attain Buddhahood for oneself and others, where they will have the proper conditions for going on with their Buddhist practices, as promised in the 43rd Vow:

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the lands of the other directions who hear my Name should not be reborn into noble families after their death, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.[15]






[1] This was also the case of Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta about whom Shakyamuni said that“they had both performed bodhisattva practices in this world and, at the end of their lives, were born by transformation in that Buddha land” “(section 28). “At the end of their lives” means the end of their life as unenlightened beings, but not the end of their activities to enlighten sentient beings. On the contrary, after attaining Enlightenment in the Pure Land, bodhisattvas of superior capacities will be able to help all beings better than before.
[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.18
[3] Kyogyoshinsho (chapter II)– On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 51
[4] Honen Shonin, Commentary on the Three Sutras of Pure Land Buddhism, 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.83
[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.20
[6] 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.28-29
[7] 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.20
[8] 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.19-20
[9] 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.19
[10] 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.18
[11] 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.100
[12] Shinran Shonin, Notes on Once-calling and Many-calling, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.474
[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.19
[14] 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.18
[15] 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.19

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