The Buddha Speaks of 
Amitabha Sutra

Continued from issue #40

Commentary translated by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng Yin

Text Translated by Disciple Upasaka I Kuo Jung

Edited by Disciple Upasika Dun Kuo Hsun


All Sutras may be divided into three parts: 1) the Preface, 2) the Principle Proper, and 3) the Transmission.

The Preface discusses the Sutra's general meaning, the Principle Proper discusses its doctrines, and the Transmission instructs us to transmit the Sutra, to propagate it and make it flow like water, everywhere. The Preface is like a person's head, and the Principle Proper is like his body. Just as our organs are very clearly arranged within our bodies, so too are the doctrines clearly set forth within the Sutras.

Part One: The Preface

The Preface may also be called "The Afterwards." "Isn't that a contradiction?" you ask. Because the Preface was not spoken by Sakyamuni Buddha himself, but was added later, when Ananda and Mahakasyapa edited the S5tras, it can be called "The Afterward." It may also be called the "Arisal of Dharma” because it sets forth the reasons the Sutra was spoken. It is also called the "Certification of Faith" because it proves that the Sutra can be believed.

In the Preface, six accomplishments are fulfilled. They are 1) faith, 2) hearer, 3) time, 4) host, 5) place, and 6) audience.


Thus I have heard: At one time the Buddha dwelt at Sravasti, in the Jeta Grove, in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary, together with a great gathering of Bhiksus, twelve hundred fifty in all, all great Arhats whom the assembly knew and recognized.


Thus fulfills the accomplishment of faith. I have heard fulfills the accomplishment of the hearer. At one time fulfills the accomplishment of time and the Buddha, is the host. Sravasti in the Jeta Grove, in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary fulfills the accomplishment of place.  The great gathering of Bhiksus fulfills the audience accomplishment. Because all six accomplishments are fulfilled, we know that the Sutra can be believed.

Thus I have heard...

What does "thus" mean? "Thus" fulfills the accomplishment of faith.  You can have faith in Dharma, which is "thus," but not in dharma, which is not "thus." "Thus" designates the text as the orthodox Buddhadharma.

Thus means, "thus it is."

Thus is stillness; "it is" is movement.

If it is thus, it is; if it is not thus, it is not.

Whatever is not non-existent, is.

Whatever is without error is correct.

Thus means "still and unmoving."

Thus is true emptiness; "it is" is wonderful existence.

Wonderful existence is not apart from true emptiness and

True emptiness is not apart from wonderful existence.

Emptiness and existence are non-dual:

Both empty and existing,

Neither empty nor existing'.

This Dharma can be believed.

      The four words "Thus I have heard," begin all Buddhist Sutras. It is thus. If it were not thus, it would not be correct, and if not correct, it would not be thus. This is the doctrine: Dharma, which is "thus", can be believed.

"I have heard..." With this, the Buddha's disciple Ananda says that he himself personally heard this teaching. But, having given proof to the fruit of Arhatship, basically Ananda has no ego. How can he say, "I have heard"?  This is the "self" of "no self." Ananda says, "I have heard" in order to be comprehensible to ordinary people who have a self.

"Heard" fulfills the accomplishment of the hearer. Why does one have faith? Because one has heard. If one hasn't heard, how could one have faith?

The use of "Thus I have heard" comes from instructions given to Ananda by the Buddha just before he entered Nirvana.


One day, Sakyamuni Buddha announced, "Tonight, in the middle of the night, I am going to enter Nirvana." When Ananda heard this he was so distraught that he cried like a baby for its mother and called out, "Buddha! Buddha, please don't enter Nirvana! Don't cast us all aside!" He cried and pleaded until his brain got addled, probably because he thought that this was what he should be doing.

Just then a blind man came by, one unlike other blind men. His ordinary flesh eyes were blind, but his Heavenly Eye was open. Because he was blind he didn't gaze from north to the east, to the south, to the west, staring at everything. He wasn't burdened with a lot of false thinking, and his mind was very clear. "Venerable One," he said addressing Ananda, "why are you crying"

"The Buddha is about to enter Nirvana," Ananda replied. "How can I hold back my tears?"

The eyeless Elder replied, "How can you do your work if you cry? After the Buddha goes to Nirvana, we will have to establish many things. There is work to be done and questions to be asked." 
      "What questions?" said Ananda.  "The Buddha's going to Nirvana. What is there left to do? What could be more important than the Buddha's Nirvana?"

The blind man, whose name was Aniruddha and who was foremost in the capacity of the Heavenly Eye, said, "There are four extremely important matters, which must be settled."

"What are they?" asked Ananda.

"Compiling the Sutras is one," said Aniruddha. "With what words should we begin each Sutra?"

"True!" said Ananda, "That is important. It's a good thing you brought it up. I never would have thought of it myself. All I can think of is the Buddha going to Nirvana. What is the second question I should ask?"

Aniruddha said, "We have taken the Buddha as our teacher, but when he goes to Nirvana, who will be our teacher? Should we look for another teacher?"

"Right, right!" said Ananda. "We should find another good teacher!  You're quite right. What is the third?"

Aniruddha said, "Now we live with the Buddha, but when he goes to Nirvana, where will we live?"

"This is very important," said Ananda, "without a place to live, how can we cultivate the Way? Should we find someplace else to live? These three matters are extremely important. What is the fourth?"

Aniruddha said, "The Buddha can discipline evil-natured Bhiksus, but after he goes to Nirvana, how shall we take care of them?"

Now an evil-natured Bhiksu does nothing but disturb other people's cultivation. If you meditate, he walks around, 'Clomp! Clomp!' making a lot of noise so that no one can enter Samadhi. When people are walking, he sits in meditation. 'Look at me,' he says, I sit much better than all of you,' and pretends to have entered Samadhi. When people are bowing to the Buddha, the evil-natured Bhiksu likes to recite Sutras, and when people are reciting Sutras, he likes to bow. In general, he's got to have a special style, the "evil-natured Bhiksu style," and he does not follow the rules. If everyone goes one way, he goes the opposite way. He has no consideration for anyone else, but expects everyone to notice him. "He's terrific," everyone says. "He really cultivates." He insists on being special so that others will notice him and say that he is the best. Fiercely competitive, he must be the strongest, the outstanding among the best. He stands like an asura with his hands on his hips as if to say, "See what a great hero I am?" He has to be different and outdo everyone else.

When the Buddha was in the world, he could control such evil-natured Bhiksus, and they obeyed his instructions. But after he entered Nirvana, who would supervise them? And who could control the evil-natured laymen who say, "Look at me. I'm more dedicated than all you other laymen." Actually, it's just because of him and his special style that no one else is dedicated. Aniruddha said, "When the Buddha goes to Nirvana, what are we going to do with these evil-natured Bhiksus and evil-natured laymen?"

"These are important questions." said Ananda. "I'll go ask right away."  He wiped his eyes, blew his nose, and ran off to the Buddha. "Buddha, Great Master," he said, "I have four questions which I would like to ask you before you go to Nirvana. World Honored One, won't you be compassionate and answer them?"

"All right," said the Buddha.

"Buddha," said Ananda, "you have spoken many Sutras. When we compile and edit them, with what words should they begin?"

The Buddha said, "All Sutras spoken by the Buddhas of the past, present, and future begin with the words 'Thus I have heard,' which means, 'The Dharma which is thus can be believed; I personally heard it.'"

Why did the Buddha tell Ananda to use the four words "Thus I have heard"? These four words have three meanings:

1) They distinguish Buddhist Sutras from the writings of other religions. Non-Buddhist Indian religions began: their texts with the words "E" or "0", which mean "non-existence" or "existence." As they see it, all dharmas in heaven and earth either exist or do not exist. "If it is not non-existent," they say, "then it exists, and if it does not exist, then it's non-existent." In general, as far as they can see nothing goes beyond existence and non-existence. "In the beginning there wasn't anything," they write, "but now there is." They don't speak of true emptiness and wonderful existence. Their doctrines may resemble these concepts somewhat, but they don't explain them in detail.

Buddhist Sutras are "Thus." They are just that way. The Dharma is just that way. You ask, "What is not that way?" Everything's that way. If you question it and say, "What is that way?" then nothing is that way. "Thus" is extremely wonderful. The words "Thus I have heard " distinguish Buddhist Sutras from the writings of other religions.

2) They resolve the doubts of the assembly. The Buddha knew that everyone would have doubts. After the Buddha's Nirvana, while Ananda and Mahakasyapa were editing the Sutras, Ananda sat on the Dharma seat to speak [he Dharma and as he did his appearance took on all the characteristics of the Buddha. Seeing him sitting in the Buddha's seat, everyone suddenly gave rise to three doubts.

            a) Some thought, "Sakyamuni Buddha hasn't completed the stillness! He hasn't gone to Nirvana. Our Master lives!" They thought that Ananda was Sakyamuni Buddha come back to life.

            b) Others thought, "Sakyamuni Buddha has already entered Nirvana.  This must be a Buddha from another direction, north, south, east, or west."

            c) "No," said others, "the Great Master has gone to Nirvana. He hasn't come back to life, and the Buddhas of the other directions teach people in other directions. They'd never come all the way to the Saha world.  Why, Ananda himself must have realized Buddhahood!"

The assembly held these three doubts until Ananda said, "Thus I have heard." In Sanskrit he may have spoken a different number of words, but in any case as soon as he said them, everyone knew that Sakyamuni Buddha had not come back. They knew that it was not a Buddha from another direction, and that Ananda had not become a Buddha. The Dharma, which is "Thus", is that which Ananda personally heard from Sakyamuni Buddha. Three doubts suddenly arose and four words resolved them.

3) They end the assembly's debates. Of all he great Bhiksus, Ananda was the youngest. He was born on the day Sakyamuni, realized Buddhahood, and when the Buddha went to Nirv5na Ananda was forty-nine years old. Why was Ananda selected to explain and edit the Sutras? Old Kasyapa was the eldest, and Maudgalyayana and Sariputra were both of higher status than Ananda. There were many others in the assembly with more Way-virtue and learning than he.

He was the youngest and it was likely that no one would believe in him, and that many would try to be first. One might say, "I've heard more Sutras than you so I should explain them." Another might object, "I've been with the Buddha all my life and I have every Dharma he spoke right here in my head. I should explain them." But when Ananda said, "Thus I have heard," everyone knew these were not Ananda's principles, or the principles of the Great Assembly. "This is the Dharma which I, Ananda, personally heard the Buddha speak. This is not your teaching and not my teaching it is our Master’s teaching. You are not foremost and I am not first." This silenced the assembly's debates.

Ananda said, "Secondly, you are our Master, but when you enter Nirvana, who will be our teacher? Please instruct us. Should Mahakasyapa?"

The Buddha said, "No. When I go to Nirvana, take the Pratimoksa, the precepts, as your teacher." To accord with the Buddha's instructions, those who leave home must first receive the precepts.

Then Ananda said, "We have always lived with you, Buddha, but when you enter Nirvana, where are we going to live?"

Sakyamuni Buddha said, "When I go to Nirvana, all Bhiksus, Bhiksunis, Upasakas, and Upasikas should dwell in the Four Applications of Mindfulness: Mindfulness with regard to the body, feelings, thoughts, and dharmas.


1. Contemplate the body as impure. If you know that the body is impure, you won't love it, and without love there will be no attachments. Being without attachment is freedom. So first of all, regard the body as impure.

Everyone sees his body as extremely precious. Because you think it is real, you are selfish and profit seeking. Without a body, there would be no selfishness.

We think our bodies are real and actual. Being selfish, we create offense karma and commit evil actions. We cannot penetrate and renounce the affairs of the world. We calculate on behalf of our bodies all day long, looking for good food, beautiful clothes, and a nice place to live—a little happiness for the body. On the day we die, we are still unclear, "My body is dying!" we moan, "How can it do this to me?" At that time we knew that our bodies are unreal, but it is too late, too late for our regrets.

Ultimately is the body real? Stupid people think so, but wise people see it merely as a combination of the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. It is not ultimate.

"Then," you ask, "what is ultimate?"

Our own self-nature is bright and all illuminating;

Our own self-nature is perfect and unimpeded.

It is nowhere, and nowhere is it not--

To the end of empty space,

It exhausts the Dharma realm.

Our bodies are temporary dwellings where our self-nature comes to live for a time. But the person dwelling in the hotel is not the hotel, and in the same way, one's body is not him. The traveler who thinks that he is the hotel is mistaken. If you know that the body is just like a hotel, you should seek that which dwells within it, for once you have found it you will recognize your true self.

From the time of birth, the body is impure, a combination of its father's semen and its mother's blood. The child grows with greed, hate, stupidity, pride, and doubt. He commits offenses, creating the karma of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicants and drugs. Offense karma is created because of the body. But is the body such a precious thing after all? No.

A precious jewel is pure and undefiled, without stain or the slightest trace of filth. Our bodies, on the other hand, have nine apertures, which constantly secrete impure substances: tears from the eyes, wax from the ears, mucus from the nose...

There are religions whose members eat mucus. They say that they are "smelting the cinnabar." They also eat tears and ear wax thinking that these filthy substances are precious jewels. Isn't this pathetic?

Two ears, two eyes, and two nostrils make six holes. The mouth is full of phlegm and saliva. That's seven holes. Add the anus and urinary tract and you have nine. Would you say it is pure? Everyone knows that excrement and urine are unclean and if one doesn't believe it, just have him try seasoning some good food with a tiny pinch of shit. No one will eat it. He will want to vomit instead because it is unclean. Would you call this body, dribbling filth from nine holes, a jewel? If it's a jewel, why do such vile things flow from it?

If you don't bathe for a week, you itch and squirm and a thick crust forms on your body. Where did it come from? Soon you stink with an odor even a dog finds repulsive. What is the advantage of having a body? Contemplate the body as impure. If you see how filthy it is, do you still love it? Are you still attached? What's the use of loving such a dirty thing?

"Then can I stab myself? Can I kill myself?" someone asks.

No. That's not necessary. You must borrow this false body and use it to cultivate the Truth. The self-nature dwells within your body. You entered this body of five skandhas and the yin and yang merged in a combination of purity and filth, which is your body. If you cultivate you will go up, and attain purity. If you do not cultivate you will go down, create offense karma, unite with the filth, and turn into a ghost.

Go up! Become a Buddha. Whether or not you cultivate is up to you, however. Nobody can force you.

The Venerable Ananda thought that because he was the Buddha's cousin he did not need to cultivate. He thought that the Buddha would just give him samadhi. But the Buddha could not do that, and so it was nor until after the Buddha's Nirvana, when Ananda was to edit the Sutras, that he finally certified to the Fourth Stage of Arhatship and realized that he could not fail to cultivate.

Be mindful that the body is impure, don't be so fond of it, and don't take it as a treasure.

You say, "I can't stand criticism. I can't stand it."

Who are you?

"If they hit me, I can't bear it. It hurts!"

Really? If you put your attachments down and see through them, there is neither pain nor freedom from pain. Who is in pain? What, exactly, hurts? If someone hits you, pretend that you bumped into a wall. If someone scolds you, pretend that they are singing a song or speaking Japanese. How can they scold you if you don't understand them?

"Are they speaking Spanish or Portuguese? French? German? I've never studied languages so I don't understand..." They can scold you, but it's nothing. In genera), once you see through, break, and put down the attachment to your body, you win your independence.

      Contemplate feelings, thoughts, and dharmas as impure also.
1See the Surangama Sutra, T. 945

2. Contemplate feelings as suffering. Feelings are a kind of suffering, whether they are unpleasant or pleasant, for pleasant feelings are the cause of unpleasant feelings. Feelings may he pleasant, unpleasant or neither pleasant nor unpleasant, that is, neutral. From the point of view of the three sufferings, unpleasant feelings are the suffering within suffering, pleasant feelings are caught up in the suffering of decay, and neutral feelings are the suffering of process. Wake up! Everything you enjoy is a form of suffering. If you know that pleasure is suffering, you will not be attached to it. I often say:

Enduring suffering puts an end to suffering;

Enjoying blessings destroys blessings.

If you endure your suffering, it will pass. If you enjoy your blessings, they, too, will pass. Contemplate feelings as suffering.

The body, thought, and dharmas are also suffering. Although there are Four Applications of Mindfulness, you can divide them up; each of the four characteristic qualities—impurity, suffering, impermanence, and lack of self can be applied to the body, feelings, thoughts, and dharmas, making a total of sixteen applications in all.

3. Contemplate thoughts as impermanent. Thoughts shift and flow and are not permanent. The Vajra Sutra says, "Past thought cannot be obtained, the present thought cannot be obtained, and the future thought cannot be obtained."1 All your thoughts are unobtainable. They flow without stopping, on and on, and so they are called impermanent. The body, feelings, and dharmas are also impermanent.

4. Contemplate dharmas as devoid of self. Basically since there are no dharmas, from whence cometh the self? The self is a combination of four elements, and the five skandhas—a creation of form dharmas. Outside of the four elements and the five skandhas there is no self. So contemplate dharmas as being without a self. People and dharmas are empty; the body, feelings, and thoughts are also without self.

These Four Applications of Mindfulness are very wonderful. If you investigate them thoroughly, understand and dwell on them, you will be unattached and will attain true freedom. If you're attached, you can't be free. Why? Because you're attached! So dwell in these Four Applications of Mindfulness. Dwell and yet do not dwell.

Ananda further asked, "How should we treat evil-natured Bhiksus and laymen? What should our policy be?"

The Buddha said, "This is no problem at all. Simply be silent and they will go away. Fight evil people with concentration power. Don't be moved by them. If they are evil, don't be evil in return. If a mad dog bites you and you bite him back, you're just a mad dog yourself. Evil-natured people are born with bad tempers. All you can do is ignore them and they will soon lose interest and leave."

"Oh," said Ananda, "it's really very simple."

                                         (To be continued)