The Amitabha Sutra - The Buddhas in the Northern Direction
In the worlds of the northern direction there are countless other Buddhas, like the
Buddha “Blazing Shoulders”, the Buddha “Supreme Voice”, the Buddha “Hard to Injure”, the Buddha “Born of the Sun”, and the Buddha “Netted Light”. 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”.
The names of the Buddhas in the northern direction show us that once we have wisdom, as taught by the Buddhas in the southern direction, and good fortune, as taught by the Buddhas in the western direction, then we should educate others how to attain these as well.
The first Buddha named in the northern direction was Buddha Blazing Shoulders. His name signifies that one should take up the dual mission of all Buddhas: propagate the Dharma and aid all beings.
How to accomplish this is taught through the significance of the names of the remaining four Buddhas in the northern direction.
The second Buddha was Buddha Supreme Voice.
This name signifies that one carries out the Buddha’s work with one’s voice. As Pure Land practitioners, we understand that the supreme voice is the voice that teaches us how to be born in the Pure Land and urges mindful chanting of Amitabha Buddha’s name.
Sadly, we rarely hear this voice. Instead, voices on the Internet, television, and in other media assault us on a daily basis. An unending barrage contaminates our thoughts, actions, and speech. Such voices do not encourage us to become better people. Rather, they incite us to consider our own desires before the needs of others, to seek revenge at the slightest insult, to care for those we like while we disregard everyone else.
These voices will draw us to the three evil paths.
Instead of these voices, we need to listen to the Pure Land teachings for they can help us transcend samsara, never again regress, and become a Buddha.
The third Buddha named was the Buddha Hard to Injure. This name signifies that when one properly propagates and protects the Dharma, one is courageously making focused and diligent progress. And in doing so, one fears no outside obstructions or difficulties. When propagating Buddhism, we will inevitably face many obstacles. Consequently, for us to give rise to our wisdom, we must determine to never be overwhelmed by these obstructions.
Moreover, upon encountering them, we must not fight, remembering that Buddhas and bodhisattvas never oppose anyone. Indeed, this is why bodhisattvas are called benevolent beings. A benevolent being does not look on any other being as an enemy. When someone attempts to pick a fight, the benevolent being naturally forgives the person and avoids any confrontation. Such a being feels no anger, gives rise to no thought of revenge. This is an awakened being. This is a bodhisattva.
Consider an account of the king of Kalinga. One day, the king and members of his court went hunting. While the king was resting, the ladies in the entourage saw an ascetic. Curious, they went to him and happily listened as he taught them the Dharma. When the king awoke and saw them associating with a stranger, some members of the hunting party wrongly told him that the ascetic was flirting with the women. The king flew into a rage and had the ascetic killed by dismemberment.
In spite of this, the ascetic did not harbor the slightest hatred toward the king. The ascetic was, in fact, an awakened being. Indeed, he vowed that the king would be the first person he would help after he attained enlightenment.
We learn from sutra accounts that the ascetic was Sakyamuni Buddha in an earlier rebirth. After Sakyamuni attained enlightenment, the first person he helped was one of his former five companions, Kaundinya. In a previous lifetime, Kaundinya was that king of Kalinga.
Such are the actions of awakened beings.
What are the actions of unawakened beings, beings like us? Too quickly, we give in to anger and thoughts of retaliation. Realizing this, we now have the opportunity to determine our level of practice. As soon as a confrontation arises, where on the spectrum are we? Are we awakened? Or still deluded? If we are to awaken, we must exercise self-control. Upon encountering minor difficulties, we should feel neither angry nor vengeful. If we can accomplish this, then, in the face of a serious obstacle, it will be much more likely that our cultivation will enable us to naturally remain calm and confident. Finally, when we are able to deal with any situation wisely, not emotionally, nothing will be able to impede us.
The fourth Buddha named was Buddha Born of the Sun.
“Sun” represents wisdom. “Born of the Sun” signifies that teaching and learning complement and support each other, like the wisdom-sun of the teacher and that of the students brightening up the sky. Teachers must follow what they have learned, including their own teachers’ methods, to instruct the students. In turn, students need to learn diligently and, when the time comes, pass those teachings down to the next generation. This process will enable the Dharma to stay in a world for a long time, to benefit humans and heavenly beings.
The fifth and last Buddha named in the northern direction was Buddha Netted Light.
This name signifies the abundant methods employed to fulfill the great vow to help all beings. Buddhas use countless methods, which are analogous to a great net, one that is able to lift up and thus rescue all beings from the sea of suffering. If Dharma propagators and protectors make and uphold such a great vow, maintain such a broad mind, and hold such an aspiration, then Buddhism will flourish.
— Chapter 40, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
Photo credit link