Sunday, April 15, 2012

Short explanation of the 13th Vow - the Infinite Life of Amida Buddha


 “If, when I attain Buddhahood, my life-span should be limited, even to the extent of a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of kalpas[1], may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.” - the 13th Vow


This vow simply means that his transcendent manifestation (Sambhogakaya body)[2] will last forever for the benefit of all beings.

It is very important to understand that a Buddha like Amida is not an abstract concept, nor a symbol or metaphor, but a living Buddha having a transcendent body with multiple manifestations for the sake of living beings. This body and his Pure Land are the result of his vows which, upon his Enlightenment, were fulfilled and transformed into useful tools for delivering sentient beings. 

It is a grave mistake to speak about Amida Buddha only in terms of his ultimate reality beyond form (Dharmakaya aspect) and forget his transcendent manifestation (Sambhogakaya) in form and Name, because without the form and Name of Amida there would be no possibility for us, sentient beings to attain Buddhahood[3]. We simply cannot have access to ultimate Dharmakaya or Buddha nature just like that, as we are and in this present life and with this very body. So we need a transcendent bridge from this world of birth and death (Samsara) to Buddhahood. This transcendent bridge is Amida Buddha and his Pure Land. We first entrust in Amida Buddha as an Enlightened Person, go in his Pure Land after death and there we become Buddhas ourselves.

But as long as one is unenlightened, one cannot have faith in the Dharmakaya or ultimate Buddha nature. In Dharmakaya one can only live when he becomes a Buddha oneself because in that state there is a transcendence of any duality. This is what those who deny the reality of Amida in his Sambhogakaya or transcendental form and of his Pure Land, do not understand.

Only in Amida Buddha with a form and Name, that is, in Amida as described in the Larger Sutra, can one have true faith. Shinran Shonin also talked about Amida in ultimate terms but he encouraged people to entrust themselves to Amida as described in the Larger Sutra whose story told there he fully accepted.

This transcendent bridge, Amida Buddha as an Enlightened Person with his transcendent body[4], will last eternally as the 13th Vow promises. Even “a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of kalpas” is still limited time when measuring the life span of Amida, so this symbolical number is mentioned again to suggest the infinite and impossible to calculate life of this Buddha’s body[5].

Also the Infinite Life of Amida means that he will have enough patience and enough time to help all beings. This Vow is in accord with the well known Mahayana[6] verse:

“as long as space endures and unenlightened beings exist,
 may I too remain to dispel the miseries of the world”.

So, Amida’s Infinite Life stands for Infinite Compassion. He will endlessly work to save us all, without the small break in his activity as he himself said[7]:

“If I should not become a great benefactor
In lives to come for immeasurable kalpas
To save the poor and the afflicted everywhere,
May I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”



[1] “Kalpa” is an impossible to calculate notion of time. “Kotis of nayutas of kalpas” is often used to mean an infinite period.
[3] Buddhahood is the same with Buddha nature, Nirvana, Dharmakaya.
[4] Amida Buddha in his transcendent body (Sambhogakaya) and his Pure Lad was also revealed to Ananda and to those gathered on the Vulture Peak to listen to Shakyamuni Buddha’s sermon about Amida which was later registered as “The Larger Sutra”. The following passage is a testimony for us to accept in faith the real existence of Amida Buddha as an Enlightened Person:
The Buddha said to Ānanda, “Rise to your feet, rearrange your robes, put your palms together, and respectfully revere and worship Amitāyus.[…] Ānanda stood up, rearranged his robes, assumed the correct posture, faced westward, and, demonstrating his sincere reverence, joined his palms together, prostrated himself on the ground, and worshiped Amitāyus. Then he said to Śākyamuni Buddha, “World-honored One, I wish to see that Buddha, his Land of Peace and Bliss, and its hosts of bodhisattvas and śrāvakas.”

As soon as he had said this, Amitāyus emitted a great light, which illuminated all the Buddha lands. The Encircling Adamantine Mountains, Mount Sumeru, together with large and small mountains and everything else shone with the same [golden] color. That light was like the flood at the end of the
period of cosmic change that fills the whole world, when myriads of things are submerged, and as far as the eye can see there is nothing but the vast expanse of water. Even so was the flood of light emanating from Amitāyus. All the lights of śrāvakas and bodhisattvas were outshone and surpassed,
and only the Buddha’s light remained shining bright and glorious. At that time Ānanda saw the splendor and majesty of Amitāyus resembling Mount Sumeru, which rises above the whole world. There was no place that was not illuminated by the light emanating from his body of glory[Sambhogakaya or transcendent body]. The four groups of followers of the Buddha in the assembly saw all this at the same time. Likewise, those of the Pure Land saw everything in this world.

Then the Buddha said to Ānanda and Bodhisattva Maitreya, “Have you seen that land filled with excellent and glorious manifestations, all spontaneously produced, from the ground to the Heaven of Pure Abode?” Ānanda replied, “Yes, I have.”
The Buddha asked, “Have you also heard the great voice of Amitāyus expound the Dharma to all the worlds, guiding sentient beings to the Way of the Buddha?”
Ānanda replied, “Yes, I have.”[…]
[5] In chapter 12 of the Larger Sutra, Shakyamuni said to Ananda: “The lifespan of Amitāyus is so long that it is impossible for anyone to calculate it. To give an illustration, let us suppose that all the innumerable sentient beings in the worlds of the ten directions were reborn in human form and that every one became a śrāvaka or pratyekabuddha. Even if they assembled in one place, concentrated their thoughts, and exercised the power of their wisdom to the utmost to reckon
the length of the Buddha’s lifespan by the number of kalpas, even after a thousand million kalpas they could still not reach its limit.”
[6] Mahayana or Buddhism of the Great Vehicle has the goal of leading all beings to attain Buddhahood. On this path, the follower makes the vow of practicing the Dharma not only for himself, but for the liberation of all sentient beings. Mahayana represents a great number of schools which relies on the Sanskrit canon. The Pure Land tradition, which also contains many schools, is one of the main streams of Mahayana Buddhism.
[7] Larger Sutra, chapter 8.

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