The Collected Lectures of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua on
The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra
translated by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng Yin
Sakyamuni, the Buddha who proclaims this sutra, speaks about the Buddha Amitabha because living beings haven't heard of Amitabha's vows to accept all living beings.
In addition to the seven Sutra Title Classifications, the entire Tripitaka may be classified into twelve divisions. They are, prose, verse-repetition, predictions of Buddhahood, interjections, matters spoken without request, causes and conditions, analogies, past lives of Buddhas, present lives of Buddhas, universal writings, new writings, and commentaries.
The Twelve Divisions of Sutra Text
1. “Prose lines",
2. "Verse-repetition" of the meanings in the prose lines makes the text easy to remember.
3. "Predictions of Buddhahood." Although future Buddhas have not yet realized Buddhahood, the present Buddha predicts their accomplishment and gives them each a name.
4. "Interjections" do not fit with the principles that come before or after them. They arise alone, like the short verses at the end of the Vajra Sutra.
5. The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra belongs to the category of Sutras "spoken without request." The Sravakas, Sound Hearer disciples who become enlightened upon hearing the Buddha teach the Sour Holy Truths were not ready to understand the doctrine of the Pure Land Dharma door„ nor had the Bodhisattvas conceived of this method. Everyone said that reciting the Buddha's name was an old women's pastime and that those with wisdom did not need to study it. This is a serious mistake, because unless you recite the Buddha's name, you continue to have useless, scattered, lustful, and desire—ridden thoughts. Reciting the Buddha's name gets rid of discursive thought. One who recites the Buddha's name all day long will have no discursive thought. The absence of discursive thought is wonderful. The wonderful dharma purges us of greed, hatred, and stupidity. When I was seventeen I wrote a verse:
The king of all dharmas is the one word ‘Amitabha;'
The five periods and the eight teachings are all contained within it.
One who can singleminedly remember and recite his name,
Will enter into the still, bright, unmoving field.
Reciting the Buddha's name is much better than all your crazy ideas.
This Sutra describes practices leading to the Buddha's Pure Land. Bodhisattvas did not ask for this dharma because they simply did not understand the subtle advantages of reciting the Buddha name. Since no one asked for this wonderful Dharma, Sakyamuni Buddha spoke without request.
6. "Causes and conditions" are also spoken by the Buddha.
8. "The past lives of Buddhas," perhaps of Sakyamuni Buddha, or of Bodhisattvas, makes up another division.
9. The "present lives of Buddhas" are also discussed.
10. "Universal writings" (vaipulya), explain principle in an especially expansive way.
11. "New Sutras" are those which have never been spoken before.
message of this Sutra teaches us to recite, "Nano Amitabha Buddha."
Amitabha Buddha has great affinity with living beings of the Saha world. Before
realizing Buddhahood, he made forty-eight vows, and each one involved taking
living beings, across to Buddhahood. At that time, as a Bhiksu named Dharma
Treasury,1 he said, “After I have realized Buddhahood, I vow that all living
beings who recite my name will also realize Buddhahood. If they do not, then I
1The T'ien Tai School divides the Buddha's teaching into five periods: the Avatamsaka, the Agamas, the Vaipulyas, the Prajna period, and the Lotus Blossom, Nirvana period. It also divides the teaching into eight categories, four according to the teaching methods: 1) sudden, 2) gradual, 3) secret, and 4) unfixed, and four according to the nature of the teaching. 1) Three-division teaching, 2) connecting teaching, 3) discriminatory teaching, 4) perfect teaching.
This is similar to Kuan Yin (Avalokitesvara) Bodhisattva's affirmation upon speaking the Great Compassionate Heart Dharani Sutra that said: "If anyone who recites this spiritual mantra does not obtain whatever he seeks; than this cannot be the Great Compassionate Dharani."
By the power of his vows, Amitabha Buddha leads all living beings to rebirth in his country to realize Buddhahood. This power attracts living beings to the Land of Ultimate Bliss, just as a magnet attracts iron filings. If living beings do not attain enlightenment, he, himself, won't realize Buddhahood. Therefore, all who recite his name can realize Buddhahood.
This Dharma door of reciting the Buddha's name, "receives those of all three faculties and accepts both the intelligent and the deluded." People with wisdom have superior faculties, ordinary people have average faculties, and stupid people have inferior faculties.
Intelligent people who recite the Buddha's name will be transformationally born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, where they endure none of the sufferings, but enjoy every bliss. They won't pass through the womb, but will enter a lotus flower, live in it for a time, and then realize Buddhahood. Whether you are stupid or wise, you can realize Buddhahood.
You say, "I don't believe you can realize Buddhahood simply by reciting the Buddha's name. It's too easy. It's like borrowing Amitabha's power to realize Buddhahood."
You should not scoff at this, because a long time ago, Amitabha signed an agreement with us which said, "After I realize Buddhahood, you can recite my name and realize Buddhahood too." Since we signed our names if we recite, we are sure to become Buddhas.
Furthermore, reciting the Buddha's name establishes a
firm ground, and "plants good roots." For example, there was once an
old man who wanted to leave home. He was about seventy or eighty years old,
could not get around very well, and was aware of his impending death. He thought
he could easily leave home and be a High Master of Buddhism. When he arrived at
the Garden of Anathapindada, Sakyamuni Buddha had gone out to receive offerings.
His disciples, the Arhats, opened their heavenly eyes and took a look at this
man's past causes. Seeing that he hadn't done a single good deed in the past
eighty thousand great kalpas, they told him that he couldn't leave home.
Hearing this, the old man's heart turned cold and he ran away thinking, "If I can't leave home, I'll kill myself." Just as he was about to throw himself into the ocean, Sakyamuni Buddha caught him and said, "What are you doing?"
"I wanted to leave home," cried the man, "but the Buddha wasn't at the garden and the great bhiksus told me that I couldn’t leave home because I have no good roots. My life is meaningless. I'm too old to work and no one takes care of me. I might as well be dead."
Sakyamuni Buddha said, "Don't throw yourself into the ocean. I'll accept you."
"You will?" said the man, "Who are you? Do you have the authority?"
Sakyamuni Buddha said, "I am the Buddha and those Bhiksus are my disciples; certainly none of them will object." The old man wiped his eyes and blew his nose. "There's hope for me," he said.
The old man's head was shaved; he became a monk/and immediately certified to the first stage of Arhatship. Why? When he heard that he could not leave home, he had decided to drown himself; although he did not really die, he was as good as dead. "I've already thrown myself into the sea," he said, and relinquished all his attachment to life. He saw right through everything, won his independence, and certified to the first stage of Arhatship.
This bothered the bhiksus. "How strange," they murmured, "this man has no good roots. We wouldn't let him leave home, but the Buddha accepted him and now he's certified to Arhatship. People without good roots can't do this. Let's go ask the Buddha."
Then they went before the Buddha, bowed reverently, and asked, "We are basically clear-minded. How could this old man without good roots certify to Arhatship? How can the Buddhadharma be so inconsistent?"
Sakyamuni Buddha said, "As Arhats, you see only the events of the past eighty thousand kalpas. More than eighty thousand great kalpas ago, this man was a firewood gatherer. One day in the mountains, he was attacked by a tiger and quickly climbed a tree. The tiger leapt, and snapped his jaws, but missed.
"This tiger was smarter than the average tiger. 'I'll show you,' he growled. 'I'll chew the tree in half and eat you when you fall.'
"Now, if a mouse can gnaw through wood, how much the more so can a tiger. Tigers can make powder out of human bones. It chewed half way through the tree in a couple of bites and terrified the old man who thought, 'In times of great danger people recite the Buddha's name,' and so he called out "NAMO BUDDHA!' which scared the tiger away and saved his life. After that he forgot to recite, and so on this side of eighty thousand great kalpas, he failed to plant good roots. However, that one cry of 'NAMO BUDDHA' was the good seed, which has now ripened and allowed him to leave home and certify to the fruit.
It is not easy to leave home because one must have
planted the causes of Bodhi in many lives. For example, the five people who went
to Taiwan, to receive the complete precepts and be ordained as bhiksus and
bhiksunis had been tested for a long time before I permitted them to go. I don't
know if they have planted good roots in the past eighty thousand great kalpas,
but I do know that in this life they have changed many of, their faults. They
have planted good roots, reciting the Surangama Mantra from memory everyday and
bowing ceremonies of repentance in order to wipe away their bad karma. Because I believe that they all can realize Buddhahood, I have allowed
them to leave home. But whoever plants good roots should watch over them and not
(To be continued)