The Collected Lectures of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua on

The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra

--Commentary translated by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng yin
Text Translated by Disciple I Kuo Jung
Edited by Disciple Upasika Tun Kuo Hsun


    Having discussed faith, we will now discuss vows. What is a vow? What do you wish, the tendency of your thoughts, is a vow. In Buddhism there are Four Great Vows:

    I vow to save the limitless living beings.

    I vow to cut off the inexhaustible afflictions.

    I vow to study the immeasurable Dharma doors.

    I vow to realize the supreme Buddha Way.

All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the past, present, and future practiced the Bodhisattva conduct and attained Buddhahood by relying on these four great vows.

    You may make these four vows according to the Four Holy Truths:

    “According to the Truth of Suffering, I vow to save the limitless living beings.”

    “According to the Truth of Origination, I vow to cut off the inexhaustible afflictions.”

    “According to the Truth of the Way, I vow to study the immeasurable Dharma doors.”

    “According to the Truth of Extinction, I vow to realize the supreme Buddha Way.”

    The Four Great Vows come from an awareness of the suffering of living beings. For purposes of classification, suffering is divided into groups of the three, eight, and limitless sufferings.


1.    The three sufferings are:

a.    The suffering within suffering. This is the poverty and misery of all living beings.

b.    The suffering of decay. Living beings may have wealth and honor, but it eventually goes bad.

c.    The suffering of process. Even without the suffering of poverty and decay the bitterness of the life process from birth to the prime of life, to old age and then to death is still suffering. The shift and change of each passing thought is called the suffering of process.

2.    The eight sufferings are:

a.    the suffering of birth,

b.    old age,

c.    sickness, and

d.    death.

It was because Sakyamuni Buddha met with these four that he decided to leave the home life and cultivate the Way.

e.    the suffering of separation from what you love,

f.    of being joined with what you hate. If people are not apart from loved ones, they are involved with enemies. If you don’t like someone, you’ll meet someone else just like him wherever you go.

g.    The suffering of not realizing aspirations.

You worry about getting something, and once you have it you worry about losing it. This suffering is nothing compared with the next,

h.    the suffering of the raging blaze of the five skandhas: form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness.

The five skandhas are like a raging fire. They are a constant shadow, which we cannot escape.


Why are there limitless sufferings besides these eight? In past lives we planted the seeds of suffering, as if they were a friend we were reluctant to leave. Having established causes and conditions for suffering in the past, in the present life we reap a bitter fruit.

    From causes made in lives gone by

    Comes your present life,

    Results you’ll get in lives to come

    Arise from this life’s deeds.

    Plant good causes, reap good results;

    Plant bad causes, reap bad results.

You fear the results. “Oh, I’m suffering too bitterly,” you say, but you suffer because previously, you planted the causes of suffering.

Living beings fear the results, not the causes from which they come, but Bodhisattvas fear the causes, not the results. Bodhisattvas are extremely careful not to plant the causes of suffering and so they do not reap the harvest of suffering. In the past if they unknowingly planted causes for suffering, they endure their present suffering gladly. So Bodhisattvas, too, must sometimes suffer, but they do so willingly, knowing that

Enduring suffering ends suffering;

Enjoying blessings destroys blessings.

Living beings, on the other hand, are not afraid to plant the causes of suffering. "Good causes, bad causes, it doesn't matter," they say, "I'll do it anyway. It's not important." But when the results come, "Oh! I can't stand it," they moan, "how could this happen to me? Such bitterness!"

If you fear suffering you should not plant the causes of suffering. If you do, you will certainly reap its bitter fruit.

When someone is born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, he endures no suffering, but enjoys every bliss. None of the three sufferings, eight sufferings, or the limitless sufferings are found there at all. The people are pure and free of greed, hatred and stupidity. Without these three poisons there are no evil paths of rebirth, because the evil paths are but manifestations of the poisons.

The Buddha saves living beings, but in reality there is not a single living being that he eaves. He resolves to lead everyone to understand the Buddhadharma in order to leave suffering, attain bliss, and wake up. But when you save beings, do not become attached to the mark of saving beings.

Take living beings across, but be apart from marks.

Leave marks, and take beings across.

Do not attach to some mark or sign of what you do and say, "Let's see, I've saved three, four...six, least ten living beings." If you keep count, you've got attachments.

Save, yet do not save;

Do not save, yet save;

This is true crossing over.

You must save the living beings within your own self-nature as well as those outside. There are eighty-four thousand living beings in your self-nature.  Teach them to cultivate, realize Buddhahood, and enter Nirvana.

If you decide to save living beings you will have afflictions; if you don't save them you will also have afflictions. Either way you will have afflictions because there are eighty-four thousand kinds of affliction.

There are three delusions:

1. Delusions of views and thought,

2. Delusions like dust and sand, and

3. Delusions of ignorance.

Living beings have all three. Those of the Hinayana have cut off delusions of views and thought, but retain delusions like dust and sand and delusions of ignorance. Delusions of ignorance are the most difficult. Bodhisattvas have cut off both delusions of views and thought and delusions like dust and sand, but still have delusions of ignorance. Even Bodhisattvas at the stage of Equal Enlightenment who are just on the verge of realizing Buddhahood, still have one hair's breadth of ignorance concerning the production of marks which they have not destroyed. This particle, once destroyed, they attain the Wonderful Enlightenment of Buddhahood.

The delusions of views refers to greed and love for externals. Because external objects are not viewed as empty, they are recognized as real.  Clothing, food, and sleep seem very real. Not understanding what you see, you are greedy for comfort and "good" things. "I love this and I love that," you say, and your endless love keeps you dissatisfied and greedy for externals. This is the delusion of views.

The delusion of thought consists of being confused about principles and giving rise to discriminations. "I don't know what's going on here," someone says. "Is the Dharma Master right? If I do what he says, what's in it for me?" You constantly calculate about personal advantage, and if there's nothing in it for you, you don't want to do it. You can't see three inches beyond your face. Anything four inches away you cannot see. Thought delusions are unclear, muddled thoughts, taking what is wrong as right, and what is right as wrong.

I just said that people with view delusions think clothing, food, and sleep are real. Someone may ask if they are false, and if so, then what is true? These things are all necessities, but if you attach no importance to them, you are relaxed and free. Whenever there is attachment, there is pain if you take it all as unreal, there will be no greed or love, and you will see that your former greed and love were nothing but confused actions in a dream. You should think of them in this way; put everything down; let it all go. If you can't put it down, you're attached, and nothing goes right.

There are eighty-eight parts to the delusions of views and eighty-one parts to the delusions of thought. When the delusion of views is destroyed you certify to the first fruit of Arhatship. If they are not destroyed there is no certification.

Do you have greed and love for externals? Are you greedy for "good" things and repulsed by the bad?

"Absolutely not," you say.

How do you know that you aren't? If you really didn't love the “good" and hate the "bad," you wouldn't know it. If you say, "I know for certain that I have no greed or love," then your greed and love is greater than anyone else’s'. Why? It's because you know that you have none. If you really had none you would not know that you didn't. If you say that you have no self, how do you know that you have no self? Knowing that you have no self, you still have your self. If you say that you have no greed or love, you still have a self and you haven't cut off the eighty-eight parts of the delusion of views, and you haven't certified to the first fruit of Arhatship.  It is not simply a matter of saying it and making it so. You must truly attain this state.

      The delusions of views contain the Five Quick Servants and the delusions of thought contain the Five Dull Servants. The Five Dull Servants are greed, hatred, stupidity, pride, and doubt. The Five Quick Servants are said to be "quick" because they arrive very fast. The Five Dull Servants arrive more slowly.

The Five Quick Servants are:

1. The view of a body. Because one is attached, one thinks, "This is my body, and I'm so think I'm not eating right, I'm not properly dressed, and I don't have a decent place to live. How can I take care of my body?" Attached to the body and holding the view of a body, one schemes for it all day long.

2. The view of extremes. To become attached to either of the two extreme-views of permanence or annihilation is to indulge in this view.   Attached to annihilation, one says, "People die, and that is that. Everything returns to emptiness."

Attached to permanence, one says, "Next life I'll be a person again.  People are always people and dogs are always dogs. Cats are always cats, horses are always horses, trees are always trees, and grass is always grass.  People can't turn into cats, and cats can't turn into people. People can’t turn into animals or ghosts. This is the fixed, eternal, unchanging principle: permanence." Annihilation and permanence are extreme views; they are not the Middle Way.

3. Deviant views. Those with deviant views say that when one does good there is no good retribution and when one does evil there is no evil retribution. They deny cause and effect and do not believe that by doing good deeds one obtains blessings and by doing evil deeds one incurs disaster.

4. The views of restrictive morality. This is to take a non-existent cause for the true cause, for example, teaching others to imitate cows and eat grass instead of food. Having seen a dog or cat reborn in the heavens, one may want to imitate a dog or cat thereby holding deviant knowledge and views.

Sometimes people who have left home are attached to the precepts. “I hold the precepts,” they say, “I am a cause there is a “holder” and “that which is held” they do not understand that the basic substance of morality is empty. They should not have attachments, but the do, and this turns into this servant.

5. The view of grasping at views. Here a non-existent effect is taken to be a true effect. The non-ultimate is considered to be ultimated. The four Dhyana heavens or the four stations of emptiness are mistakenly taken to be Nirvana.

The four Dhyana heavens:

  a. Those who enter the first Dhyana heaven stop breathing. They sit without breathing, but if they think, “Oh, I’m not breathing!” they start to breathe again.

  b. In the second Dhyana heaven, the pulse stops. Without breath and without pulse, one is just like a corpse, but this is not death; it’s the state of the second Dhyana.

  c. In the third Dhyana heaven there is no thought. In the first and second Dhyana heavens, although there is no breath and no pulse, thinking continues. In the third Dhyana heaven there isn’t even thought, and one is always in samadhi.

  d. In the fourth Dhyana heaven there isn’t any thought, only consciousness. While in the third Dhyana there is no coarse thought, but fine thought still remains. In the fourth Dhyana, however, fine thought is cut off as well.

These are just states; they are not the ultimate goal of cultivation, which is certification to the fruit. Even the four stations of emptiness; the station of limitless space, the station of limitless consciousness, the station of nothing whatsoever, and the station of neither perception nor non-perception, are not certification to the fruit. They are simply levels of samadhi.

Those who hole the view of grasping at views think that the above-mentioned states are Nirvana, like the untutored bhiksu who mistook the fourth Dhyana heaven for the fourth fruit of Arhatship. When the merit, which had enabled him to dwell there, was used up and he started to fall, he slandered the Dharma, and because of this he fell into hell.

--To be continued