The Amitabha Sutra - The Buddhas in the Eastern Direction
But in the eastern direction there are also countless other Buddhas, like Akshobhya Buddha, the Buddha “Marks of the Polar Mountain”, the Buddha “Great Polar Mountain”, the Buddha “Light of the Polar Mountain”, and the Buddha “Wondrous Voice”. Each of them . . . [with the truthfulness of a Buddha, teaches] in his own land and covers a whole cosmos, speaking these sincere words: “all of you sentient beings should believe this sutra extolling inconceivable virtues, which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind”.
In this and the next several passages from the sutra, we learn some more names of the innumerable Buddhas who praise the Amitabha Sutra. Like the arhats and bodhisattvas listed at the beginning of this sutra, these Buddhas are representative. Their names have profound meaning, with each one illustrating a particular quality of buddhahood.
Only Buddhas are listed in this section because only they can fully understand and appreciate all that Amitabha has accomplished on our behalf. Like Sakyamuni, they praise this sutra, “which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.” By understanding the meaning of the names of the Buddhas listed in this series of sutra passages, we will know the proper order for our practice. In addition, we will also know how to overcome all obstacles in our practice.
The Buddhas of the eastern direction are listed first. Just as the sun rises in the east and begins our day, these Buddhas begin our learning journey by teaching us the fundamentals of learning and cultivation. It is upon this foundation that our determination to practice arises.
The first Buddha named in the eastern direction was Akshobhya Buddha.
Meaning “Immovable,” this Buddha’s name signifies the principle of immovability, which is fundamental for learning and practicing not only the Pure Land Dharma door but also all 84,000 Dharma doors.
We must first have steadfast belief if we are to progress in our practice. If we lack firm belief and are constantly changing our mind, we will not be able to achieve much in Buddhism. With a genuine wish to practice, we should strive to stay away from the five desires. We should also strive not to be moved by the eight winds of gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disgrace, and happiness and suffering.
As unawakened people, we are often swayed by our attachments to gain, praise, fame, and happiness, as well as by our aversions to loss, blame, disgrace, and suffering. Such desires and aversions distract us and, in so doing, obstruct our cultivation. But worldly pursuits and conditions are not all that should be of concern to us.
We also need to guard against the attraction of other Buddhist teachings. Having chosen the Pure Land Dharma door, we should remain focused on it, always concentrating on our practice of chanting the buddha-name. Likewise, those drawn to other Dharma doors should focus on their chosen method.
If we waver in our practice when enticed by worldly desires and influences, we will not be able to transcend samsara. If we vacillate between various Dharma doors, we will not be able to delve deeply into just one. In other words, if the five desires and the eight winds move us, we will continue to suffer within samsara. And if other Dharma doors move us, we will not achieve constant mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha.
The next three Buddhas—Marks of the Polar Mountain, Great Polar Mountain, and Light of the Polar Mountain—represent the goal that we Buddhist practitioners yearn to reach: buddhahood.
To better appreciate the symbolic significance of these three Buddhas, we need to first grasp the concept of the three bodies of a Buddha. To become a Buddha means the attainment of all three: the truth body, the enjoyment body, and the manifestation body.
The truth body is a Buddha’s true body, the ultimate body—formless, transcendental, inconceivable. It is the true self that neither arises nor ceases, that is without beginning and without end. Who attains the truth body? Only those who, realizing that the physical body is the false self, have seen the true nature and attained great awakening.
The enjoyment body is a Buddha’s celestial body. It resides in a Pure Land and never appears to ordinary people. The enjoyment body has a beginning but is without end. Once attained, this body will never again be mired in delusion. The enjoyment body is a wisdom body, the body of innate prajna wisdom. When a Pure Land practitioner is no longer deluded by dualism, Amitabha will respond by coming in his enjoyment body. He will guide the practitioner to the Land of Ultimate Bliss, to be born in either the Land of Real Reward or the Land of Eternally Quiescent Light.
The manifestation body is a body that is incarnated by the truth body and is visible to ordinary beings. The appearance of a Buddha’s manifestation body varies in accordance with the thoughts of the beings it appears to. The manifestation body, therefore, can have countless different appearances—not just one. Additionally, one truth body can have a vast number of manifestation bodies. When a Pure Land practitioner eradicates the affliction of views and thoughts, Amitabha will respond by appearing in a manifestation body. He will guide the practitioner to the Land of Ultimate Bliss, to be born in either the Land Where Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together or the Land of Expedient Liberation.
The concept of the three bodies of a Buddha is significant. In the following we will see how it relates to the three Buddhas who represent the practitioners’ goal of buddhahood.
The first of these three is Buddha Marks of the Polar Mountain.
In Buddhist cosmology, the Polar Mountain is at the center of the universe. Buddha Marks of the Polar Mountain signifies the enjoyment body. The sutras explain that this Buddha’s name symbolizes the fact that the body of a Buddha has innumerable marks, or physical attributes, each of which is infinitely wonderful. His auspicious marks and his radiance are admired by beings throughout the nine realms.
The next of the three Buddhas, Buddha Great Polar Mountain, signifies the truth body. This body is the noumenon, or principle, of all phenomena. The truth body is that which creates; the enjoyment body and the manifestation body are those which are created. “Great,” in Great Polar Mountain, does not mean big. Rather, it means that there is nothing more or less than this—that it contains everything.
The last of this group of three, Buddha Light of the Polar Mountain, signifies the manifestation body and infinite good fortune.
The radiance of this Buddha illuminates the entire universe. Because the light of Buddha Light of the Polar Mountain pervades everywhere, this Buddha manifests everywhere.
As with all Buddhas, there is a connection between Buddha Light of the Polar Mountain and the beings who request his help. The connection is called “wave motion.” The wave motion of all Buddhas is called “light” and is quiescent. Conversely, our wave motions are constantly arising and ceasing and are, therefore, called “waves.” A Buddha’s wave motion can be likened to tranquil water whereas our wave motion is like raging surf. But, as both are components of a vast ocean with many aspects, calm water and turbulent surf are inevitably interconnected.
The fifth and final Buddha named in the eastern direction was Buddha Wondrous Voice.
“Wondrous Voice” signifies that single-mindedly chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha is the core method of both learning and practice. This extraordinary chanting, which is the simultaneous application of meditative concentration and wisdom, is the most wondrous sound in this world and beyond. When one mindfully chants the buddha-name, this sound will move all the Buddhas throughout the Dharma realm.
Then Sakyamuni said: “Each of them . . . [with the truthfulness of a Buddha, teaches] in his own land and covers a whole cosmos, speaking these sincere words: ‘all of you sentient beings should believe this sutra extolling inconceivable virtues, which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.’” Here he referred to the five Buddhas named, as well as “countless other Buddhas” in the eastern direction. Further on in the sutra, Sakyamuni repeated these same words with regard to all the Buddhas in the six directions.
“The truthfulness of a Buddha” indicates that everything a Buddha says is the truth. As Sakyamuni assured us in the Diamond Sutra, a Buddha never lies or exaggerates. Furthermore, all Buddhas expound the same universal truths, which arise from their shared true nature. If a Buddha were to say one untruthful word, it would cause us to doubt all his words. This, in turn, would result in his no longer being able to assist all beings. Therefore, a Buddha will always speak the truth.
Why do all Buddhas try their utmost to convince us to learn and practice the teachings in this sutra? They know that the Land of Ultimate Bliss is no ordinary land. Rather, it is like a school, one jointly supported by all these Buddhas. These enlightened beings are like parents to us, the unawakened beings. They know that we, like children, need to be taught properly if we are to uncover our perfect wisdom, virtues, and abilities. To this end, the school was established, and its teachings are “protected and kept in mind” by all Buddhas.
— Chapter 37, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
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