The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra

Commentary translated by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng Yin

Text Translated by Disciple Upasaka I Kuo Jung

Edited by Disciple Upasika Tun Kuo Hsun

--Continued from issue 34

            In this Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha, the teacher of the Saha world, speaks of the adornments of the Land of Ultimate Bliss and of its teacher, Amitabha Buddha.

Saha is a Sanskrit term which means, "to be endured."1 The world in which we live has so much suffering that living beings find it hard to endure, and so it is named Saha.

Sakyamuni Buddha's name, also Sanskrit, is explained in two parts. Sakya, his family name, means "able to be humane."2 The Buddha is able to use humaneness to bestow happiness and compassion, which relieve suffering, and to teach and transform living beings. There are three kinds of compassion:

1. An Attitude of Loving Compassion. Average men love and empathize with those close to them, but not with strangers. Seeing relatives or friends in distress, they exhaust their strength to help them but when strangers are suffering, they pay them no heed. Having compassion for those you love is called an Attitude of Loving Compassion.

      There is as well an Attitude of Loving Compassion, which extends to those of the same species, but not to those of other species. For example, not only do people have no compassion for animals such as oxen, pigs, chickens, geese, or ducks, but they even go so far as to eat animals' flesh! They snatch away animals' lives in order to nourish their own. This is not a true Attitude of Loving Compassion. Fortunately, as yet people do not eat each other. They may eat pork, mutton, beef, chicken, duck, and fish, but they don't catch, kill, and eat each other, and so they are a bit better off than animals that turn on members of their own species for food. People may not eat each other, but they certainly have no true Attitude of Loving Compassion towards animals.
1-k'an jen. These definitions are based on the traditional Chinese explanations of the Sanskrit terms.

2-neng jen.

      2. Compassion which Come s from Understanding Conditioned Dharmas. Those of the Hinayana have the Compassion, which Comes from Understanding Conditioned Dharmas as well as an Attitude of Loving Compassion. They contemplate all dharmas as arising from causes and conditions and know that:

"Causes and conditions have no nature;

Their very substance is emptiness."

Contemplating the emptiness of conditioned dharmas, they compassionately teach and transform living beings without becoming attached to teaching and transforming. They know that everything is empty. This is the Compassion which Comes from Understanding Conditioned Dharmas of the Hinayana.

3. The Great Compassion which Comes from Understanding the Identical Substance of all Beings. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have yet another kind of compassion. The Dharma body parvades all places and; so the Buddha s and Bodhisattvas are one (substance) with all living beings; the Buddha's heart and nature are all pervasive and so all living beings are contained within it. We are the living beings within the Buddha's heart and he is the Buddha within our hearts. Our hearts and the Buddha's are the same, exhausting the ten directions: north, east, south, west, the directions in between and the zenith and nadir. Therefore, the Buddha and living beings are the same substance without distinction. This is called the Great Compassion which Comes from Understanding 'the Identical Substance of all Beings.

Sakya, the Buddha's family name, includes these three kinds of compassion in its meaning. If one chose to speak about it in more detail, there are limitless and unbounded meanings.

Muni is the Buddha’s personal name. Translated it means "still and quiet."1 Still and unmoving, he is silent with no words from the mouth, nor even any thoughts from the mind; this is an inconceivable state. The Buddha speaks the Dharma without speaking; he speaks and yet does not speak, does not speak and yet he speaks. This is still and silent, still, silent, and unmoving, yet responding in accord; responding in accord and yet always, always silent and still. This is the meaning of the Buddha's personal name, Muni. All Buddhas have the common name "Buddha," but only this Buddha has the name Sakyamuni.

1-chi mo (mei).




      Continuing the explanation of the title we shall now investigate the meaning of speak. In Chinese, the word speak  -shuo is made up of the radical  -yen, which means "words," and the element   -tui. Tui has two dots, on the top which were originally the word  -jen, "man." The strokes below, could also represent the 
word -jen, "man." The representation of:
the words---
one man's---
mouth, said to--- 
another man--- 
makes up the word, "speak."---

What does the Buddha say? Whatever he pleases, but happy to say what he wants to say, he always speaks the Dharma.

Having already become Buddhas, Sakyamuni Buddha and the Buddhas of the ten directions are called "already enlightened ones,” as they were the first to understand and awaken from their dreams. While we are still sound asleep and dreaming, not enlightened or awake, the Buddha is greatly enlightened, greatly awakened. Using his Buddha-wisdom there is nothing he does not know; using his Buddha-vision there is nothing he does not see. This is the meaning of his great enlightenment, which came from cultivating, and this is the result to which he has certified. He has walked the road, he has been through it, he is an already enlightened one.

The methods of cultivation he used to attain the fruit of enlightenment he then uses to lead all living beings to attain to and certify that ultimate, complete result of Bodhi, which is Buddhahood. That is why he spoke the Dharma, and why, having done so, he is happy to have spoken.

What does he say?

Right now he speaks of Amitabha: The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra.




      Amitabha is a Sanskrit word which means "limitless light."1 Amitabha's other name, Amitayus, means "limitless life."2

"But," you might ask, "the Sutra says that it has been ten kalpas since Amitabha realized Buddhahood. Ten kalpas is a definite length of time. Why do you speak of 'limitless life' and then measure it out in time?"

"Limitless life" refers to his blessings and virtue, and "limitless light" to his wisdom. His wisdom light is limitless and bright. Limitless life, limitless light. Not only are his blessings, virtues, and wisdom limitless, but so are his spiritual powers, his eloquence, his attributes, and his teachings. There is no way to count them because they are infinite nowhere present and nowhere not present.

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      Where did this limitlessness come from? Mathematicians should know the limitless comes from the one. One is many and many are one. Large numbers are written by starting with one, and then employing many place-holding zeros. Keep adding zeros until you fill the space between heaven and earth. Write all over your walls, cover your floors. When the floor has been covered, what is the total? Numbers are endless.

Amitabha Buddha's life, wisdom, merit, virtue, and Way power are all infinite and unbounded. If you want a big figure, go ahead and write columns of zeros.

Knowing that there could be no definite total, the Buddha, who is the perfection of intelligence, just said, "Limitless and uncountable." Mathematics can explain infinity, and scientists have sent men into empty space to study it, but having arrived in empty space, there's still more empty space beyond. There's no end to it. Numbers go on infinitely, and in this way we can understand the vast expanse of Amitabha Buddha's blessedness, his virtue, and his wisdom. Therefore he is called "Amita."

Both Amitabha and Sakyamuni Buddha were people who became Buddhas. They did not descend from the heavens or ascend from the earth. As people they cultivated, and now they are sages.

In the seven Sutra title classifications, (which will be discussed in the next issue of Vajra Bodhi Sea) this Sutra is established by reference to a person only. But this person is not like us. He is a sage. Living beings who have not realized Buddhahood are cultivators,3 but upon realizing Buddhahood, one is a sage. This sage's name, Amitabha, is used to classify the title of this Sutra.

--To be continued

3-yin ren.

1Chinese: -wu liang kuang, from the Sanskrit, amita, "unmeasured" and abha, "splendor, light."

2Chinese: -wu liang shou, from the Sanskrit, amita and ayus, lifespan, "life." 


During the 1973 summer, the Sino-American Buddhist Association, Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, and Vajra Bodhi Sea Publications will jointly sponsor three five-week Sutra Study and Meditation Sessions. During these sessions daily explanations of important Buddhist Sutras will be made, complemented by approximately five hours of meditation in addition to chanting sutras and mantras. The dates for the sessions follow:

Sunday, June 3rd through Saturday, July 7th;

Sunday, July 8th through Saturday, August 11th;

Sunday, August 12th through Saturday, September 15th.

The final week of each session will be given over solely to practice of a single dharma, either Ch'an meditation or recitation of a mantra or the Buddha's name.