The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra 


Text Translated by Disciple Upasaka I Kuo Jung 
Commentary translated by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng Yin 
Edited by Disciple Tun Kuo Hsun

Continued from issue 35

A Sutra is called a "tallying text," because it tallies with the wonderful principles of all Buddhas above, and with the opportunities for teaching living beings below. Each time I explain a Sutra I add more meanings to the word. If I told you all of its meanings at once, you would never remember them, or if you did, then next time I spoke about it you would say, "I know all about it, a Sutra strings together, attracts, is permanent, and is a method. The Master certainly is repetitious!" So I explain the term "Sutra" bit by bit; in this commentary on the Amitabha Sutra I will discuss five of its meanings: 1) Basic Dharma, 2) Subtle Dharma, 3) Bubbling Spring, 4) Guideline, and 5) Linking Together.
            1) Basic Dharma, The Buddha reveals the origin of Dharma with this teaching by means of Four Kinds of Complete Giving;

a. Mundane, using ordinary methods of expression;

b. Curative, curing each living being of his particular problem;

c. Speaking for everyone, teaching for the sake of all living beings;

d. Primary meaning, giving the highest principle to all living beings.

Ultimately the Dharma cannot be spoken because there is no Dharma to speak, but using the Four Kinds of Complete Giving, the Buddha reveals the Dharma. Thus the word Sutra has the meaning of Basic Dharma.

2) Subtle Dharma. Unless the profound and wonderful doctrines are elucidated by the Sutras, no one knows of them. 

3) Bubbling Spring. Principles flow from Sutras like artesian waters gush from the earth.

4) Guideline. To make guidelines, ancient carpenters and stone masons used a string covered with black ink, held the string taut, pulled it up, let it snap, and made a straight, black line. A Sutra is also like a compass and a square, used for guiding people.

5) A Garland. The principles are linked together in the Sutras like flowers woven into a garland.

The word Sutra has four additional meanings:

1) Stringing Together. Sutras string together the principles of the Buddhadharma.

2) Attracting. Sutras attract living beings who need the teaching.

3) Method. The methods of cultivation, which have been used from ancient times until the present, are set forth in the Sutras.

4) Permanent. Sutras are unchanging; not one word can be left out or added to them, and heavenly demons and non Buddhist religions cannot harm them.

The word Sutra also means "a path." If you wanted to go to New York, and didn't know the way, you might run west instead of east. You could run all your life, but you would never get to New York. Cultivating is also this way. Unless you know the road, you may practice forever, but will never arrive at Buddhahood.

Sutras are also a canon, fixed documents to rely upon when cultivating according to Dharma. Sutras also explain worldly dharmas. You can find any doctrine you wish in the Sutras.

Sutras are everyone's breath; without them men are lost. We should step outside of our stuffy rooms to breathe the fresh air of the Sutras. People can't live without air, or Sutras.

You ask, "I don't study Sutras or the Dharma, so I don't breathe that air, do I?"

You breathe it, too, because the Dharma air fills the world and, whether or not you study it, you breathe it all the same. Everyone shares the air. Students of the Buddhadharma exhale Buddhadharma-air and non-students breathe it in. You can't escape this mutual relationship.

Sutras are also food for the spirit, and have many uses. When melancholy or depressed, recite a Sutra, for they explain the doctrines in a wonderful way, which dispels your gloom and opens your heart.

Sutra is the common name of all Sutras; Amitabha is this Sutra's particular name. There are many Sutra names, because the Buddha left limitless unbounded Dharma jewels in the world, but of these hundred of thousands of Sutras none go beyond the Seven Classifications of Sutra Titles.


In order to clarify their content, Sutra titles are divided into seven types by their reference to person, dharma, and analogy.

I. Single Three. Three of the seven titles are established by reference to either person, dharma, or analogy.

A. The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra 1 refers only to people. The Buddha and Amitabha are people who have attained enlightenment.

B. The Great Parinirvana Sutra 2 is an example of a title established only by reference to dharma. Nirvana is the dharma of non-production and non-extinction.

C.The Net of Brahma Sutra 3 is an example of a title established only by reference to analogy, the analogy of the net surrounding the Great Brahma King. The net in the Brahma heaven has many holes in it, like a fish net, and there is a gem in every hole. Each gem shines more brilliantly than an electric light and they shine on each other. This mutual illumination is called, "Light on light, shining; space in space, intertwining." They inter-illumine and co-operate without conflict. One lamp would not say to another, "I hate your light, lamp. This is terrible! I'm the only one who can have light around here." Lamps don't fight with each other like people do.

The Net of Brahma is an analogy for the precepts. Each precept is like a gem and those who have left home are one of the Triple Jewel because they keep the pure precepts. Members of the Sangha Jewel cultivate to have no improper thoughts concerning their environment. Thus they transcend the material world, attain purity, and shine like the gems in the Net of Brahma.

II. Double Three. Titles established by reference to a combination of either person and dharma, person and analogy, or dharma and analogy are called "double three."

D. The Sutra of the Questions of Manjusri 4 is a title established by reference to person, the greatly wise Bodhisattva Manjusri, and the Dharma he requested, Prajna. Only this most intelligent Bodhisattva knew to ask about the meaning of Prajna. One of great wisdom requesting the dharma of great wisdom classifies this Sutra title according to person and dharma.

E. The Lion's Roar of the Thus Come One (Tathagata) Sutra 5 is a title established by reference to a person, the THUS Come One, and an analogy, the Lion's Roar. The Buddha speaks Dharma like the lion's roar and when the King of Beasts roars, the wild beasts tremble:

"The roar of the lion if the single fearless speaking;

When the wild beasts hear it, their heads split wide open.

Elephants run wild and lose their decorum,

But meditating gods and dragons hear it with delight." 6

The Buddha speaks Dharma like the fearless lion roars. When the lion roars, the other animals are so scared that they can't even more. Terrified, they wet, fart, and all their weaknesses come forth. Elephants are basically quite sedate, but when they hear the lion's roar, they lose their authoritarian image. Gods, dragons, and the eight-fold division, 7 however, are happy to hear it.

F. The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom Sutra 8 is an example of a title established by reference to dharma and analogy, since the Wonderful Dharma is analogous to a lotus flower.

III. Complete in One. The seventh classification contains references to all three subjects: person, dharma, and analogy.

G. The Great Universal Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra. 9 "Great" and "Universal" refer to the wonderful Dharma of realizing Buddhahood. The "Flower Adornment" is analogous to the use of the ten thousand conducts to adorn the supreme result virtue, and the Buddha is a person.

--To be continued-

1 Sukhavativyuha-sutra   -fo shuo o mi t'o ching, T. 366.
2 Mahaparinirvana-sutra.  ¡Vta po nieh p'an ching, T. 374.
3 Brahmajala-sutra    -fan wang ching, T. 21.
4 Manjusripariprrcha-sutra, -wen shu(shih li) wen ching T. 468.
5 Simhanadika-sutra-shih tzu hou ching, T. 836.
6 From the Great Master Yung Chia¡¦s Ch'eng Tao Ko, ¡§Song of Enlightenment,¡¨ T. 2014, p. 396a:7.
7 The eight-fold division, or eight classes of supernatural beings: 1)gods, 2) dragons, 3) yaksa ghosts, 4)gandharvas (musical spirits), 5)kinnaras, (also musical spirits), 6) asuras (beings who like to fight), 7)garudas (great golden-winged birds), and 8) mahoragas (giant snakes).
8 Saddharma-pundarika-sutra, miao fa lienhuaching,T. 262.
9 Mahavaipulyabuddhavatamsaka-sutra,ta fang kuang fohuayenching,T. 278, 279, and 239.