The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra

With Commentary from the collected lectures of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

Continued from issue 48

Explanation translated by Bhiksuni Heng Yin
Text translated by Upasaka I Kuo-jung



      "Moreover Sariputra, in this country there are always rare and wonderful vari-colored birds: white geese, peacocks, parrots, and egrets, katavinkas and two-headed birds.  In the six periods of the day and night the flocks of birds sing forth harmonious and elegant sounds. Their clear and joyful sounds proclaim the Five Roots, the Five Powers, the Seven Bodhi Shares, the Eight Sagely Way Shares, and dharmas such as these. When living beings of this land hear these sounds, they are altogether mindful of the Buddha, mindful of the Dharma, and mindful of the Sangha."


Since Sariputra still has no questions, Sakyamuni Buddha says, "I'll tell you a little more, Sariputra. In the Land of Ultimate Bliss there are many, many kinds of rare and multi-colored birds, not just one kind." They are unusual and especially pretty: white geese, we have them in our world, too: peacocks are especially beautiful; parrots can talk: they may see you and say, "Hello!" Some Chinese parrots say, "A guest is coming, a guest is coming." Some people even teach their parrots to recite the Buddha's name so that they can be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Egrets are the bird that Sariputra's mother was named after; they are very beautiful, too.

Kalavinka is a Sanskrit word, which means "good sounding bird."1 Before it has even come out of its egg, it chirps much more beautifully than any other bird. Two-headed birds2 have two heads but only one body. Have you ever seen such a bird? They are born this way as karmic retribution for too much sexual activity. Because the husband and wife had heavy sexual desire and sexual intercourse day and night, they fell and the two turned into one bird-body with two heads. They have different consciousnesses, but the same karmic retribution. So be careful! If your sexual desire is too great, you may become a two-headed bird.

Someone says, "I'd like very much to become one of these birds. People would watch over me and feed me and..."

      Perhaps. But they are animals just the same, and when their lives are over, they fall into the hells. So it's very dangerous. Don't think that being a bird is a lot of fun that you can fly when you feel like flying and perch when you feel like perching. This bird's retribution is incredible; its wisdom decreases life after life. But if you have wisdom, you won't fall.

In the six periods of the day and night, these birds sing forth harmonious and elegant sounds, like a chorale—very fine music. These birds are not born as a result of their karmic offenses, rather they are transformational manifestations of Amitabha Buddha's merit and virtue. In the Land of Ultimate Bliss there are no three evil ways of rebirth.

"If there are no animals," you ask, "then where did all these birds come from?"

They are the realization of Amitabha Buddha's merit and virtue, and their songs are Dharma sounds, which help him speak the Dharma.

Their clear and joyful sounds...No matter who hears them they sound good. All who hear them become very happy because the sounds penetrate right into the heart. Hear what? The sounds of the Buddha speaking Dharma:

The Five Boots:

1. The root of Faith,
2. The root of Vigor,
3. The root of Mindfulness,
4. The root of Samadhi, and
5. The root of Wisdom.

These Five Roots germinate Bodhi seeds and cause your Bodhi heart to grow until it fully matures into the Five Powers:

1. The power of Faith,
            2. The power of Vigor,
            3. The power of Mindfulness,
            4. The power of Samadhi, and
            5. The power of Wisdom.

The Seven Bodhi Shares3 are:

1. Selecting a dharma,
            2. Vigorously (cultivating it),
            3. Joy (derived from the cultivation)
            4. Casting out (coarse delusion),
            5. Renouncing (subtle delusions),
            6. Samadhi, and
            7. Mindfulness.

These seven are very important and all Buddhist disciples should know them.

      The Eight Sagely Way Shares1 are:

          1. Proper Views, basically refers to the views in your mind, your mental outlook, not what you see with your eyes. With Proper Views and understanding, you use non-outflow conduct to contemplate yourself. Your own views and understanding must be proper. But you may also explain Proper Views as the view one sees with one’s eyes, that is, you may view what is proper, but not what is improper.

      Improper means "deviant" as when people see you and then give rise to deviant thoughts. The "view" is one’s vision confronting external manifestations. For example, if a Bhiksu sees an improper person, he should not continue to look at him; if he looks, that’s called an improper view. That is why Bhiksus don’t go to plays or movies. The Sramanera Precepts say,

"Don't sing or dance, use popular instruments, or attend or listen to such events."

Even improper thought is also an improper view. But if you can "see without seeing," although it's improper, you don't think of it as such; you may then be said to have Proper Views.

            2. Proper Thought. Internally, where people cannot see, use non-outflow wisdom. It is most Important to be without outflows. I have explained this many times, but it seems the more I explain it, the more outflows you have: outflows flow out, you have a tiny bit of the water of wisdom, but it flows right out and you use the fire of Ignorance instead. There is nothing more wonderful than this (non-outflow) Dharma door in the entire realm of heaven and earth, and yet you still take no notice of it. Even if Sakyamuni Buddha himself appeared, if you had outflows, he couldn't take you across.

To be without outflows, have no improper knowledge, no improper views, and no sexual desire. If you have sexual desire, you have outflows; if you have no sexual desire, you have no outflows, and just this is proper thought.  If you have desire, you have outflows; if you have no desire, you have no outflows. Proper thoughts belong to the mind; do not give rise to evil thoughts in the mind.

3. Proper speech. With Proper Speech, what you say is not the slightest bit off-color. What you say is completely correct.

If someone speaks improperly to you, you should think of it as proper.  This is pure mouth karma. Worldly men are of many colors and kinds, and when they speak improperly, do not criticize them saying, "Ah! He's speaking incorrectly!" On the other hand, be careful not to get too close to them either. Proper thought is pure mind karma and proper speech is pure mouth karma.

            4. Proper Action. Proper Action means pure bodily karma. Use non-outflow wisdom to discard improper bodily karma. Improper bodily karma refers to sexual desire. I can't make it any clearer; I can't say it more frankly.  Many people say, "Oh well, 'form is emptiness and emptiness is form,' and they casually play around. This is improper action.

When you use non-outflow wisdom, you do no improper things. Some people have improper wisdom. They aren't intelligent enough to do proper things, but they can do evil things, miraculously well. These things involve sex, and they are better at it than anyone else.

Proper action is purity of body. Proper action, proper speech, and proper thought: purity of the karmas of body, mouth, and mind.

5. Proper Livelihood is spoken of as the opposite of improper livelihood. There are five kinds of improper livelihood:

A. Manifesting a strange style: "Look at me," says the Mahayana monk dressed in Hinayana robes. "I'm special. You should make offerings to me."

"He's special," say the blind followers, "He's probably a Buddha or Bodhi-sattva," taking this gaudy rickrack for treasure.

                  B. Speaking of your own merit and virtue. "Do you know me?  I've done many good deeds. I put a whole lot of money into building that bridge over there, and when people walk back and forth on it, it's all because of my merit and virtue. I built a home for the aged and a school, and I established scholarships. I built a temple where I support several hundred Dharma Masters acting as their Dharma Protector, and the merit and virtue is mine—all mine!" Actually what's it like? They can get away with telling it to stupid people, but those with wisdom don't even have to hear it, they can tell with their eyes closed that what they are hearing are just tall tales.

C. Fortune telling. They consult the oracle: "You should give a million dollars," they say, "and do good deeds. If you don't you'll die tomorrow."

"A million dollars isn't too much to pay for my life," the victim thinks, and so he gives, and the next day he doesn't die. Of course he wouldn't have anyway, but still he believes that he might have.

"Tomorrow," says the fortune-teller, "a very lucky thing will happen if you do a good deed today. Give fifty pounds of gold today and tomorrow you'll get 500."

"Ten to one is not a bad ratio," the man says handing him fifty pounds of gold. But the next day there's no gold, and he can't find the fortune-teller either! "And I thought I'd met an immortal,' he says. This is called "fortune-telling.

D. Shouting and bragging. When it isn't necessary, why shout? This is like a certain Dharma Master in Hong Kong who startles people, by bellowing. "Oh!" they say, "his voice is really resonant," impressed even though they haven't any idea what he is saying.

If there are a lot of people present, you can speak a little louder.  Otherwise, you shouldn't yell. Why does the Dharma Master shout? He doesn't know that it's one of the five improper means of livelihood.

E. Speaking of your own offerings. "I had the best lunch at layman so-and-so's house," he says, reciting the "lunch" mantra. "White fungus, mushrooms..."

Another layman hears the mantra and can't take it. "I'd better borrow a hundred dollars and offer some vegetables to this Dharma Master." He doesn't know that the Dharma Master has violated Proper Livelihood by reciting the "lunch" mantra to move the layman's mind and obtain good offerings.

6. Proper Vigor. This means bowing to the Buddha and reciting the Buddha's name from morning to night without resting. Strangely enough, if you go to chat with someone, the more you chat, the more energy you have—talking, talking, so much talking. But of what use is all your vigorous talking? It's improper vigor.

Proper vigor means doing things, which are beneficial and improper vigor, is doing things, which are not beneficial, such as being lazy with respect to the Buddhadharma, but chatting more vigorously than anyone else.  Proper vigor means coming to listen to Sutras no matter how busy you are.  Improper vigor means not coming to listen to Sutras even though you have nothing particular to do. Going to the movies, going sightseeing, going everywhere but to the temple to listen to Sutras is called improper vigor. 
      Not supporting the Dharma assembly is improper vigor; supporting and protecting is proper vigor. Hunting for the next place to go gambling and then running off to it is improper vigor.

                       7. Proper Samadhi. Samadhi, a Sanskrit word, means "right reception" or "right concentration." Use non-outflow wisdom to cultivate samadhi and no improper states will move you. If you could remember even one sentence of the Sutras, which I explain to you, then when the time came, you could use it. But you forget and so you meet the state, are turned by it, and run after it. This is because you do not have any proper concentration, any proper samadhi.

"I know, I know," you say, "I know I don't have proper samadhi."

If you know you don't have it, then why don't you find a way to obtain it. People! If you tell them that they have made a mistake, they say, "I know, I know." If they know, then why do they make such mistakes? Right?  Right!

                       8. Proper Mindfulness. Be mindful of non-outflow wisdom and do not have outflows. No matter what, don't indulge in the slightest sexual desire. Having no sexual desire is proper mindfulness. Any thought of sexual desire is improper mindfulness. Someone once said, "That person is sexually attracted to me. I can tell by the look in his eyes."

If you didn't have sexual desire yourself, you wouldn't be looking in his eyes In the first place. Just what kind of thoughts are you having when you look into his eyes? If you didn't have sexual desire, you wouldn't know that he did. If you were clear, clear, pure, spotless, and undefiled, how would you detect his sexual desire? Speak up! If you know that others have sexual desire, then you have it too, and, not having eliminated it, your mindfulness is Improper.

You may explain these Eight Sagely Way Shares In any way you wish, as long as it's with principle. However, you can't just open your mouth and not know what to say. In explaining the Dharma you must speak correctly and not deviate from principle In the least bit.

...and dharmas such ad these, refers to the Five Roots, the Five Powers, the Seven Bodhi Shares, and the Eight Sagely Way Shares, that's twenty-five, plus the Four Applications of Mindfulness, the Four Right Efforts, and the Four Bases of Psychic Power that's thirty-seven, the Thirty Seven Wings of Enlightenment In Seven Divisions.

When living beings of this land hear these sounds they are altogether mindful of the Buddha, mindful of the Dharma, and mindful of the Sangha.

1Also known as the Eight-fold Path 


"Sariputra, do not Bay that these birds are born as retribution for their karmic offenses. For what reason? In this Buddha-land there are no three evil ways of rebirth. Sariputra, in this Buddha-land not even the names of the three evil ways exist, how much the less their actuality! Desiring that the Dharma sound be widely proclaimed, Amitabha Buddha by transformation made this multitude of birds. "


Do not say that these birds came from one of the three evil ways. Why?  In the Land of Ultimate Bliss there are not even the names of the hells, the realm of animals, or the realm of hungry ghosts. How much the less could such creatures actually exist! They couldn't.

Then where did all these birds come from?    

Wishing to spread the Dharma sound far and wide, Amitabha Buddha with his vow power created the Kalavinka, "wonderful sound," birds and all the other birds, to help him. They came from spiritual penetrations and transformations; not from the three evil ways. They are not like birds here who appear in the way of animals; they are transformations of Amitabha Buddha's Dharma power.


Sariputra, in that Buddha-land when the soft wind blows the rows of jeweled trees and jeweled nets give forth subtle and wonderful sounds, like one hundred thousand kinds of music played at the acne time. All those who hear this sound naturally bring forth in their hearts mindfulness of the Buddha, mindfulness of the Dharma, and mindfulness of the Sangha.

"Sariputra, the realization of the Land of Ultimate Bliss is thus meritoriously adorned."


"Sariputra," said Sakyamuni Buddha, "I'll tell you how it is in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. The gentle breezes blow through the little bells which hang from the seven layers of netting on the seven rows of trees, they ring, ‘Ling, ling, lang, lang' and help us recollect the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. It sounds like a hundred thousand kinds of music, all played at once. Those who hear these sounds have no unclean thoughts but instead naturally recite:

'Namo Amitabha Buddha;
              Namo Amitabha Dharma,
              Namo Amitabha Sangha.'

They have this kind of heart.

You ask, "Namo Amitabha Buddha, perhaps, but how can you say Namo Amitabha Dharma?"

It's the Dharma which Amitabha Buddha taught, so how can you not say Namo Amitabha Dharma? This Is also the Sangha which Amitabha Buddha taught and transformed so how can you not say, Namo Amitabha Sangha? Do not be so unimaginative. My explanation is a new invention with an old meaning. Just like my explanation of Nirvana:


Nir means, "not produced" and
            Vana means, "not destroyed."
            What is not produced? Sexual desire.
            What is not destroyed? Wisdom.

In the realm of Nirvana, the Buddha has no sexual desire; he is clear, pure, and undefiled. He is without the improper thoughts of sex. His self-nature constantly produces wisdom, which is never destroyed.

To be continued

The final installment of this series will appear in the next issue.

 The Amitabha Sutra may be purchased at a special pre-publication price now.