Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The meaning of "if when I attain Buddhahood" [...] "may I not attain the supreme Enlightenment" from the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha


Amida Buddha promised in His Primal Vow:

"If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten quarters who sincerely entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and say my Name even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the supreme Enlightenment." 

I explained the content of the Primal Vow here, at this link, but now I would like to focus more on the specific words from its beginning and end because I saw that many people misunderstand it:

"if when I attain Buddhahood" [...] "may I not attain the supreme Enlightenment"

Generally speaking, Bodhisattva Dharmakara, that is, Amida before attaining Buddhahood, promised that sentient beings will be born in His Pure Land if they fulfill three conditions: 1) entrust to Him, 2) say His Name and 3) wish to be born there. Then, in order to assure us that He will keep His word, He stated that if He becomes a Buddha and the beings will indeed entrust to Him, say His Name and wish to be born there, and He fails to bring them to the Pure Land, then it means He does not deserve to be called a Buddha.  This is the meaning of, "if when I attain Buddhahood" [...] "may I not attain the supreme Enlightenment". We can read it like this, "if  I attain Buddhahood and what I promise now will not happen, then you can say that I am not actually a Buddha and I haven't attained supreme Enlightenment".

It's important to mention that all the 48 vows of Amida Buddha have the same opening, "if when I attain Buddhahood", a middle part with a specific promise, and the same ending, "may I not attain the supreme Enlightenment". So, He linked His attainment of supreme Enlightenment or Buddhahood with fulfilling His Vows and transforming them into effective methods of salvation for all beings. Supreme Enlightenment is, for Him, just a mean to save all beings, nothing else. Thus, if He cannot help them reach His Pure Land if they entrust to Him, say His Name and wish to go there, then it means He is not a Buddha yet.

However, the good news we received from the mouth of Shakyamuni Buddha is that Bodhisattva Dharmakara really attained supreme Enlightenment (Buddhahood) and is now called Amida Buddha, which means that beings are assured of the salvation promised in His Vows:

“Ananda asked the Buddha, ‘Has Bodhisattva Dharmakara already attained Buddhahood and then passed into Nirvana? Or has He not yet attained Buddhahood? Or is He dwelling somewhere at present?’

The Buddha replied to Ananda, ‘Bodhisattva Dharmakara has already attained Buddhahood and is now dwelling in a Western Buddha - land called ‘Peace and Bliss,’ a hundred thousand kotis of lands away from here.’

Ananda further asked the Buddha, ‘How much time has passed since He attained Buddhahood?”
The Buddha replied, “Since He attained Buddhahood about ten kalpas[1] have passed.’”[2]

The fact that Daharmakara became Amida Buddha and He is now dwelling in His Pure Land shows that He keeps all His Vows, because to become the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life was promised in His 12th Vow and 13th Vows respectively[3], and to have a Pure Land with supramundane manifestations that can naturally lead those born there to realize their Buddha nature, and a resplendent Light in which all the other Buddha-lands can be seen, was promised in His 32nd Vow and 31st Vow[4]. So, if those vows were fulfilled, it means that the rest of the Vows were also fulfilled, as otherwise, there would have been no Amida Buddha and no Pure Land. Thus, Shakyamuni Buddha's words are like, "do not worry, Dharmakara became Amida Buddha, He and His Pure Land exists and you can safely entrust to Him, say His Name and wish to go there after death".

In the Smaller Amida Sutra[5], Shakyamuni gave even more assurance to Sariputra on the same topic:

“The Buddha then said to Elder Sariputra: ‘If you travel westward from here, passing a hundred thousand kotis of Buddha-lands, you will come to the land called Utmost Bliss, where there is a Buddha named Amitayus. He is living there now, teaching the Dharma’”.[6]

Amida is living there NOW, when He, the historical Buddha was giving His teaching, and of course, He is living there NOW, when you are reading these lines because He is the Buddha of Infinite Life. Thus, after confirming that Dharmakara attained Buddhahood, Shakyamuni no longer calls Him, in the three Pure Land sutras, by this name, but “Amitayus”, which means Infinite Life or “Amitabha” - “Infinite Light”. These two aspects, “Infinite Life” (Amitayus) and “Infinite Light” (Amitabha) are merged into the word “Amida”[7], which means the Buddha of Infinite Life and Infinite Light. His Infinite Life is, as I previously explained, the effect of the 13th Vow which He made when He was Dharmakara Bodhisattva, while the Infinite Light is the effect of the 12th Vow. So, we cannot separate Amitayus (Infinite Life) from Amitabha (Infinite Light) because these are the two aspects of the same Buddha. Shakyamuni explained this to Sariputra in section 4 of the Smaller Amida Sutra (Amidakyo):

 “For what reason, Sariputra, do you think that Buddha is called Amitabha? Sariputra, the Buddha’s Light shines boundlessly and without hindrance over all the worlds of the ten directions. It is for this reason that He is called Amitabha. Again, Sariputra, the lives of the Buddha and the people of His land last for innumerable, unlimited, and incalculable kalpas. It is for this reason that the Buddha is called Amitayus.”[8]


Related article:






[1] In section 4 of the Smaller Amida Sutra, Shakyamuni also said to Sariputra: “ten kalpas have passed since Amitāyus attained Enlightenment”.
[2] The Three Pure Land Sutras - A Study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p.23-24.
[3]“If, when I attain Buddhahood, my light should be limited, unable to illuminate at least a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha-lands, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.” (12th Vow 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[3], may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.” (13th Vow of Amida Buddha)
See my explanations of the 12th Vow and 13th Vow in chapter one of my book, The 48 Vows of Amida Buddha, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2013, p. 12-19.
[4] “If, when I attain Buddhahood, my land should not be resplendent, revealing in its light all the immeasurable, innumerable and inconceivable Buddha-lands, like images reflected in a clear mirror, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”  (31st Vow of Amida Buddha)
“If, when I attain Buddhahood, all the myriads of manifestations in my land, from the ground to the sky, such as palaces, pavilions, ponds, streams, and trees, should not be composed of both countless treasures, which surpass in supreme excellence anything in the worlds of humans and devas, and of a hundred thousand kinds of aromatic wood, whose fragrance pervades all the worlds of the ten quarters, causing all bodhisattvas who sense it to perform Buddhist practices, then may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.” (32nd Vow of Amida Buddha)
See my explanations of the 31st Vow and 32nd Vow in chapter one of my book, The 48 Vows of Amida Buddha, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2013, p. 20-29.
[5] The Smaller Amida Sutra was preached at a different time and location – the Jeta Grove of Anathapindada’s Garden in Sravasti.
[6] The Three Pure Land Sutras - A Study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p.103.
[7] Chin / O-Mi-T’o-Fo; Jpn / Amida; Vn / A-Di-Đà. The word “Amitabha” is also used in English to represent both   “Amitabha” (“Infinite Light”) and “Amitayus” (“Infinite Life”). (T. Cleary).
[8] The Three Pure Land Sutras - A Study and Translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p.104-105.

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