The Amitabha Sutra - The Bodhisattvas
Updated: Jan 2, 2022
Also present were the
Prince of the Dharma; the Bodhisattva
Ajita, the Invincible; the Bodhisattvas
Gandhahastin and Nityodyukta, and other
such great Bodhisattvas.
A bodhisattva is a sentient being who has developed the bodhi mind, the compassionate mind in which every thought is to attain enlightenment for self and all others. They can manifest as monastics or laypeople, male or female, and can be of any age, occupation, or social position.
Bodhisattvas go to the buddha-lands in the ten directions to teach and help all beings. Some of these lands are magnificently adorned with seven jewels, but others are very polluted or unpleasant. Where there is an affinity, the bodhisattvas will go there, whether a situation is favorable or not. Moreover, they do not like or dislike any situation. In other words, they travel around all the buddha-lands without feeling attachment or aversion. Neither do they give rise to any thought or discrimination. As the Infinite Life Sutra says, the bodhisattvas are “pure, firm, calm and joyous” and their vows are “steadfast and unmoving.”
Bodhisattvas practice to eradicate their ignorance. As they do so, they progress in their cultivation through fifty-one levels of attainment. The first forty levels comprise ten levels of faith, ten levels of abiding, ten levels of practice, and ten levels of dedication. Following these forty levels are the mahasattva levels of the great bodhisattvas, comprising any of the ten levels of ground or the highest bodhisattva level, that of equal enlightenment. Having progressed through these fifty-one levels, bodhisattvas realize the ultimate attainment— buddhahood.
To understand the difference between Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and ordinary people, consider an analogy of tightly wound metal coils. Buddhas, perfectly enlightened beings, are like coils that are completely unwound, perfectly straightened out. Bodhisattvas, partially enlightened beings, are like coils in the process of straightening out.
Ordinary people in this world, being totally unenlightened, are like stubborn coils that remain tightly wound. Not yet having eradicated the first erroneous view of the affliction of views—the view of self—they are still attached to their physical body, thinking of it as “self.” Thus engrossed, ordinary sentient beings think of self-benefit before thinking of benefiting others. Such thinking leads them to harm others. What about bodhisattvas? Bodhisattvas have no thoughts of harming others. They selflessly come to this world to help beings awaken.
The first bodhisattva named in the sutra was Manjusri.
While the Buddha is known as the King of the Dharma, Manjusri is called the Prince of the Dharma. “King” refers to comfort and freedom. The Buddha, having mastered the Dharma, achieved absolute comfort and freedom. Thus, he is the King of the Dharma. Manjusri is the “Prince” because he continues the Buddha’s work.
Of all the bodhisattvas at the Amitabha assembly, Manjusri was the foremost in wisdom. As we learned previously, of the arhats, Sariputra was the foremost in wisdom. So, among both the bodhisattvas and the arhats, those who were foremost in wisdom were named first in their respective sections of the sutra.
This carries a very profound meaning: to choose and practice this Dharma door, one must have wisdom. What is our foremost wisdom? Being mindful of and chanting Amitabha Buddha’s name.
The second bodhisattva named in the sutra was Ajita.
Known as Ajita in India, he is called Maitreya in China. His name is translated as “invincible,” meaning that no one can surpass him in compassion. His compassion, based on wisdom, is sincere, pure, and impartial. It pervades the entire Dharma realm—all of time and space.
Sincerity is a mind without wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments.
Purity is a mind without attachments.
Impartiality is interacting with all phenomena without discriminatory thoughts, attachments, or expectations.
Having wisdom is having the ability to know the difference between true and false, proper and deviated, right and wrong, and beneficial and harmful, while still interacting with phenomena appropriately.
Could Maitreya’s compassion be called love?
In light of the definitions just given, no, because compassion and love are not the same. Love, arising from emotions and not from wisdom, is capricious. Insincere, impure, and biased, love is what unawakened people feel for certain individuals.
Compassion, on the other hand, arises from wisdom, not emotions. Sincere, pure, and impartial, compassion is what Buddhas and bodhisattvas feel toward all beings. While love flows from attachments and discriminations, compassion flows from the true nature.
What is the true nature?
It is one of the terms that Sakyamuni Buddha used for buddha-nature, the true and immutable nature of all beings. As Venerable Master Chin Kung said in his lectures on the Amitabha Sutra, “When the Buddha spoke of the true nature, he only said ‘inconceivable.’ In other words, we cannot understand it with our mind or explain it with words. Words are too limited to describe the truth. There is a limit to our thinking and imagination. The limit is our store consciousness. The true nature is not the store consciousness, so it is beyond detection.”
Maitreya Bodhisattva will become the next Buddha in our world. In the sutras, different terms and words such as world and buddha-land refer to a great galaxy in which one Buddha dwells and teaches. So saying that Maitreya will be the next Buddha in our world means he can do so anywhere in our great galaxy.
Where will beings in the Western Pure Land become a Buddha?
Wherever they have an affinity to do so.
When can they do so?
In one lifetime.
When we have belief, have made the vow, and mindfully chant Amitabha Buddha’s name at the end of our life, as we are breathing our last breaths, we can see him come to guide us to the Western Pure Land. We will discard our physical body and go with him at that point. Then, in the Pure Land, we will continue our learning and practice. Gradually, degree by degree, our ignorance will be eliminated. When completely eliminated, we will then be able to become a Buddha in whatever buddha-land in which we have an affinity with the beings and when those beings' conditions have matured. In that same lifetime.
The third bodhisattva named in the sutra was Gandhahastin, whose name means “no resting.”
The fourth bodhisattva was Nityodyukta, whose name means “making constant progress.”
These two bodhisattvas encourage us to practice. They teach us that when we learn and practice the Pure Land method, we should have no doubt, no interruption, and no intermingling with other teachings.
The presence in the Amitabha assembly of these four equal-enlightenment bodhisattvas is profoundly significant for us. Here are beings—one level below buddhahood—learning this teaching about the Pure Land. How can we fail to follow their example? We need to believe in this Dharma door, vow to be born in the Western Pure Land, and be diligent in our practice. Nothing is more important to us than mindfully chanting Amitabha Buddha’s name. Other practices, such as visualization, meditation, and mantra recitation are not necessary for us. We just mindfully chant the buddha-name. This chanting is the simplest and easiest method, a supreme method taught by all Buddhas.
— Chapter 5, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
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