The Collected Lectures of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua on
The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra
Commentary translated by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng Yin (from issue 36)
Text Translated by Disciple Upasaka I Kuo Jung
Edited by Disciple Upasika Tun Kuo Hsun
Holding and reciting the Buddha's name, one should, as it says in the Doctrine of the Mean, "Grasp it tightly in your fist." Do not let it go." Thought after thought, recite the name. There are four methods of Buddha Recitation:1
1. Contemplating and Thinking,
2. Contemplating the Image,
3. Real Mark, and
4. Holding the Name.
The first, Contemplating and Thinking Buddha Recitation, consists of the contemplation of Amitabha Buddha:
Amitabha Buddha's body is of golden hue,
His fine marks radiant beyond compare,
The white light high as five Mount Sumerus,
His clear purple eyes as vast as four great seas.
Countless transformation Buddhas appear within his light,
With transformation Bodhisattvas, also limitless.
His forty-eight vows take living beings across
In nine grades of lotuses to ascend the other shore.
Buddha's appearance is the result of the perfection of his merit and virtue. He
has all of the thirty-two marks and the eighty minor characteristics of a Buddha
and his bright light is incomparable. Between his eyebrows there are fine white
beams of light as big as five Mount Sumerus, and his eyes are as large as four
great seas. How big do you think his body is?
The nine grades of lotuses are:
1. Superior superior
2. Middle superior
3. Inferior superior
4. Superior middle
5. Middle middle
6. Inferior middle
7. Superior inferior
8. Middle inferior
9. Inferior inferior
Each of these nine grades also has nine ranks making eighty-one in all. Living beings in all of these grades are led to the other shore--Nirvana.
The second kind of Buddha recitation, Contemplating the Image, consists of making offerings to an image of Amitabha Buddha and reciting his name while contemplating it. Contemplate, and in time you will have success.
If you can achieve the third, Real Mark Buddha Recitation, even if you try, you cannot stop reciting the Buddha's name. The recitation flows like water and lives within you. This is the state of the Buddha-Recitation Samadhi: reciting and yet not reciting, not reciting and yet reciting.
The fourth is that of Holding the Name Buddha Recitation. Both speaking and silent, one recites, "Namo Amitabha Buddha." Recitation must be clear and distinct, and the three karmas of body, mouth, and mind must be pure. The mouth is free from the four evil karmas of 1) abusive language, 2) profanity, 3) lying, and 4) gossip, and the body is without the three evil karmas of 5) killing, 6) stealing, and 7) sexual misconduct. The mind has no 8) greed, 9) hatred, and 10) stupidity. When one is free of these ten evils then the karma of body, mouth, and mind is pure. In this way, one pure thought is one thought of the Buddha; when every thought is pure, every thought is of the Buddha.
The pure heart is like the moon in water;
The mind in samadhi is like a cloudless sky.
If you can recite so completely that you enter the Buddha-Recitation Samadhi, then hearing the wind, it's "Namo Amitabha Buddha," and hearing the rain, it's "Namo Amitabha Buddha." Every sound you hear recites the Buddha's name.
The water flows,
The wind blows,
Proclaiming the Mahayana.
The Chinese poet Su Tung P'o said,
Of the colors of the mountain
None are not the vast long tongue;
Of the sounds of the streams
All are the clear pure sound.
All the mountain's colors are the Buddha's long tongue proclaiming the wonderful Dharma. This is the attainment of the Buddha-Recitation Samadhi. I wrote a verse:
"If you recite the Buddha's name, reciting without cease,
The mouth repeats "Amita" and makes of things a piece.
Scattered thoughts do not arise; samadhi you attain.
For rebirth in the Pure Land, your hope is not in vain.
If all day you detest Suffering Saha's pain,
Make rebirth in Ultimate Bliss your mind's essential aim.
Cast out the red dust thoughts within your mind.
Put down impure reflections and pure thoughts you will find."
Recite the Buddha's name from morning to night and your confused thoughts will not arise. You will naturally attain the Buddha-Recitation Samadhi and be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, according to your will. You know that the Saha world is full of pain and suffering, so cut off worldly pleasures and have no thoughts of sexual desire, craving, or struggle for profit. Put down all worldly concerns and view them as false. Seek rebirth, ultimate bliss; this thought of rebirth is extremely important.
The verse clearly explains the principles of reciting the Buddha's name. Holding and reciting the name is like picking up something in your hand and never letting it go. Recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha" every day and chase out your scattered thoughts.
This Dharma door fights poison with poison. False thinking is like poison, and unless you counter it with poison, you will never cure it. Reciting the Buddha's name is fighting false thinking with false thinking. It's like sending an army out to defeat an army, to fight a battle to end all battles. If you have a good defense, other countries won't attack. Constant recitation drives out false thinking and in this way one attains the Buddha-Recitation Samadhi.
The third of the Five-fold Profound Meanings then is to take Faith, Vows, and Holding the Name as the doctrine.
4. Discussing the Function. The fourth of the Five-fold Profound Meanings determines the Sutra's power and use. Its power is that of "non-retreat" and its use is rebirth. Reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, you attain to the stage of no retreat. Cultivators of other Dharma doors are somewhat insecure; no one insures them. They may recite mantras or Sutras for several years and then retreat with a feeling of no accomplishment or gain. If not in this life, they may retreat in the next. Perhaps they are vigorous now, but later they take a rest. To say nothing of common people, even Arhats have the "confusion of the womb" and forget their spiritual penetrations. Bodhisattvas have the confusion called "splitting the yin" which means the same thing. If they meet a good knowing advisor who teaches them to cultivate, they can wake up. Otherwise, life after life they retreat and find it's very hard to bring forth the Bodhi heart again. It is easy to regress and fall.
Born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, there is no backsliding, just vigorous progress. One attains the four kinds of No Retreat:
1. Non-retreating position. Born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, one attains the Buddha position. Born by transformation from a lotus, when the flower blooms, one sees the Buddha, hears the Dharma, awakens to the Unproduced Dharma Patience, and never falls again.
2. Non-retreating conduct. Most people cultivate vigorously for one life, but in the next, they are lazy. In the Land of Ultimate Bliss there is none of the suffering of the three evil paths. The Kalavinka birds and two-headed birds all help Amitabha Buddha speak about the Dharma. Reborn there, one will no longer be lazy in conduct, but will only go forward with courage and vigor.
3. Non-retreating thought. In the Saha world we decide to cultivate vigorously, but after a time feel it is too bitter, too restrictive, too uncomfortable and so we are no longer vigorous. Lazy thoughts arise, and although we haven't yet retreated in conduct, we have in thought. Several tens of years pass quickly and thoughts of retreat greatly outnumber those of vigor. It's difficult not to regress.
Born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, one hears the Dharma spoken all day and all nightlong. One has no thoughts of retreat from the Bodhi mind. All thoughts are irreversible.
4. Ultimate non-retreat. Transformationally born from a lotus flower, one will never, under any circumstances, retreat again, either to the level of a common person, or to the Hinayana or Bodhisattva level. Born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, one immediately obtains these four kinds of non-retreat. The power and function of this Sutra then is rebirth and non-retreat.
5. Determining the Teaching Mark. The Tripitaka is divided into three parts: Sutras, which deal with samadhi; Sastras, which deal with wisdom; and Vinaya, which deals with morality. This text belongs to the Sutra division and as such, it is permanent and unchanging, two characteristics of Sutras. When all other Buddhadharmas have become extinct, this Sutra will remain in the world an additional hundred years and save limitless living beings. For this reason it differs from other Sutras.
Of the three vehicles, Sravakas, Conditionally Enlightened Ones, and Bodhisattvas, this Sutra belongs to the Bodhisattva-vehicle. It takes across Bodhisattvas disposed to the Mahayana.
Knowing the Sutra's title classification and its Five-fold Profound Meanings, we now have a general introduction giving us an initial understanding of the Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra.
Translated by Tripitaka Master Kumarajiva of Yao Ch'in.
Yao Ch'in is the name of the reign period of Emperor Yao Hsing. It is not the same period as that of Ch'in Shih Huang, called the Ying Ch'in, or that of Fu Chien, which is called Fu Ch'in. During the time of Fu Chien, a man named Ch'in T'ien Chien said to Fu Chien, "Now one of great wisdom should come to China to aid our government." Fu Chien said, "It is probably Kumarajiva, for he is honored and respected in India for his wisdom."
Tripitaka Master Kumarajiva
Kumarajiva's father, Kumarayana, was the son of a Prime Minister. He should have succeeded his father, but instead he left his home and went everywhere looking for a teacher. Although he hadn't left home in the formal sense by taking the Bhiksu precepts, he still cultivated the Way and in his travels went to the country of Kucha in central Asia. The King of Kucha had a little sister, and when she saw Kumarayana she said to the King, "I love this man.' The King gave his sister in marriage to Kumarayana and she soon became pregnant.
When Kumarajiva was in his mother's womb, it was much like the situation with Sariputra and his mother. Kumarajiva's mother could defeat everyone in debate. At that time an Arhat said, "The child in this woman's womb is certainly one of great wisdom."
When Kumarajiva was seven years old, his mother took him to a temple to worship the Buddha. Kumarajiva picked up a large bronze incense urn and effortlessly lifted it over his head. Then he thought, "I'm just a child. How can I lift this heavy urn?" With this false thought, the urn crashed to the ground. From this he realized the meaning of the doctrine, "Everything is made from the mind alone," and he and his mother joined the Order.
Kumarajiva's mother had difficulty leaving home. Although Kumarajiva's father had previously cultivated the Way, he was now too much in love with his wife to permit her to leave home. Thereupon, she went on a strict fast. "Unless you allow me to leave home," she said, "I won't eat or drink. I'll starve myself."
"Then don't eat or drink, if that's what you want," said Kumarayana, "but I'll never let you leave home."
For six days she didn't eat or drink, not even fruit or juice, and she was on the verge of death. Finally Kumarayana said, "This is too dangerous. You're going to starve to death. You may leave home, but please eat something."
"First call in a Dharma Master to cut off my hair, she said, "and then I'll eat." A Dharma Master came and shaved her head and then she ate. Shortly after leaving home, she certified to the first fruit of Arhatship.
Soon after that, her son, Kumarajiva, also left home. Everyday he read and recited many Sutras and once read, he never forgot them. He was not like some of you who have recited the Surangama Mantra1 for several months, but still need the book. Because of his unflawed memory he defeated all non-Buddhist philosophers in debate, as well as practitioners of the thirty-six "side doors" and seventy-two "left-handed paths" (i.e. non-Buddhist religions), and he became well known throughout India.
His reputation spread to China, and when Fu Chien heard of him, he sent the great General Lu Kuang and seventy thousand troops to the country of Kucha to capture Kumarajiva and bring him back to China. Kumarajiva said to the King of Kucha, "China is sending troops, but do not oppose them. They don't wish to take the country. They have another purpose and you should grant them their request."
The King's uncle wouldn't listen to Kumarajiva, and he went to war with the general from China, Lu Kuang. As a result, the King of Kucha was put to death, the country defeated, and Kumarajiva captured.
On the way back to China, one day General Lu Kuang prepared to camp in a low valley. Kumarajiva, who had the penetration of others' thoughts, knew a rain, which would flood the valley, was coming. He told the General, "Don't camp here tonight. This place is dangerous."
But Lu Kuang had no faith in Kumarajiva. "You're a monk," he said, "what do you know about military affairs?" That night there was a deluge and many men and horses were drowned. General Lu Kuang then knew that Kumarajiva was truly inconceivable.
They proceeded until they heard that there had been a change in the Chinese government. Emperor Fu Chien had been deposed, and Yao Ch'ang had seized the throne. General Lu Kuang maintained his neutrality, and did not return to China but lived in exile. Yao Ch'ang was Emperor for several years, and when he died, his nephew Yao Using took the throne. It was Yao Using who dispatched a party to invite Kumarajiva to China to translate Sutras. A gathering of over eight hundred Bhiksus assembled to assist him in this work.
We have proof that Kumarajiva's translations are extremely accurate. When he was about to "complete the stillness" (die) he said, "I have translated Sutras during my lifetime and I personally do not know if my translations are correct. If they are, when I am cremated, my tongue will not burn; but if there are mistakes, it will." When he died, his body was burned, but his tongue remained intact.
T'ang dynasty Vinaya Master Tao Hsuan once asked the god Lu Hsuan Ch'ang,
"Why does everyone prefer to read and study Kumarajiva's
translations?" The god replied, "Kumarajiva has been the Translation
Master for the past seven Buddhas and so his translations are accurate."
The Tripitaka1 is the collection of Buddhist scriptures. It is divided into three parts: Sutras, which deal with samadhi; Sastras, which deal with wisdom; and the Vinaya, which is the study of moral precepts.
A Dharma Master: 1) takes the Dharma as his master and 2) gives the Dharma to others. Some Dharma Masters chant Sutras, some maintain them in their minds and practice them with their bodies, some write them out, and some explain them to others.
The Dharma Master spoken of here is Kumarajiva. This Sanskrit name means "youth of long life."2 One could say, "Young Kumarajiva will certainly live to a great age." One could also say, "He is young in years, but mature in wisdom, eloquence, and virtue. He has the wisdom of an old, old man, and so he is called "youth of long life."
It was Kumarajiva, then, the youth with the virtuous conduct of an elder, who translated from Sanskrit into Chinese The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra.
(To be continued)
1The Sanskrit word means "three
baskets" and translates into Chinese as -san tsang, "three
Middle Rebirth in the Middle Grade of the Pure Land.