The Amitabha Sutra - The Buddhas in the Southern Direction
In the worlds of the southern direction there are countless other Buddhas, like the
Buddha “Lamp of the Sun and Moon”, the Buddha “Light of Renown”, the Buddha “Great Blazing Shoulders”, the Buddha “Lamp of the Polar Mountain”, and the Buddha “Infinite Vigor”. 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 five Buddhas in the southern direction represent the cultivation of innate prajna wisdom, which all beings possess. Perfectly awakened beings function entirely from their innate prajna wisdom, while we deluded beings rarely use ours. We are unable to because we have overwhelming karmic obstacles. The result? We remain mired in delusion. Delusion is one’s afflictions and residual habits. Because we are deluded, our wisdom lies hidden. Fortunately, if we truly practice according to Sakyamuni Buddha, our wisdom will shine through.
Consider the following analogy about wisdom. The wisdom of Buddhas is like the sun on a beautiful, cloudless day—it shines radiantly without any obstruction. The wisdom of us ordinary beings, however, is like sunlight on an overcast day. Although the sun is shining, dark clouds obstruct its light. In a similar manner, our obstacles block and prevent our wisdom from shining forth.
What are these obstacles?
They are our wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. As the Avatamsaka Sutra says, “all beings have the wisdom and virtues of a Buddha but cannot attain them due to their wandering thoughts and attachments.” To overcome our wandering thoughts and attachments, Sakyamuni Buddha taught us how to cultivate. Once we eliminate these impediments, the wisdom and abilities innate in our true nature— our prajna wisdom—will shine through.
The first Buddha named in the southern direction was Buddha Lamp of the Sun and Moon.
In our world, the sun shines radiantly during the day, and the moon illuminates at night. Lamps can brighten places where sunlight and moonlight cannot reach. “Lamp of the Sun and Moon” signifies that innate prajna wisdom, which is wisdom unhindered by obstructions, is able to perfectly illuminate all things in all places.
The second Buddha named in the southern direction was Buddha Light of Renown.
Here too, “light” signifies wisdom. “Renown” refers to fame, a state where one is highly acclaimed and widely honored for one’s accomplishments. This is often accompanied by wealth. The attainment of renown is a critical juncture in one’s cultivation. Fame risks entrapment. So it is crucial that decisive action be taken at this point. In personally enjoying fame it will be easy for one to look down on others. With such arrogance, regression will follow.
When we reach this juncture of fame and wealth, we will need to not only use wisdom to illuminate the darkness of our delusion, we will also need to shine it on our renown. In other words, upon having achieved some distinction for our cultivation, this repute must be clearly illuminated and understood. There must not be the slightest attachment to fame, prestige, gain, and wealth. Otherwise, we will be obstructed by them and remain trapped in the cycle of rebirth when we should be transcending it.
To transcend, we need to eradicate our afflictions. Failing to do so, our innate wisdom will continue to remain largely inaccessible. With the eradication of a part of our afflictions, a part of our wisdom will come forth. With the elimination of all our afflictions, our innate wisdom will come forth fully.
Eradicating afflictions—letting go of wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments—takes careful cultivation and innate wisdom. How do we begin to uncover this wisdom? Not through studying many teachings. The way to reveal our wisdom is to delve deeply into just one method and immerse ourselves in it for a long time. This immersion will enable us to understand Sakyamuni Buddha’s teachings and practice in accordance with them.
Sakyamuni taught us to see the truth and to let go of our wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. When we start to let go a little, a little of our wisdom is revealed and we will see a little of the truth. Seeing some of the truth will, in turn, help us let go a bit more, uncover a bit more of wisdom, and help us see even more of the truth.
From our initial generation of the bodhi mind until our attainment of buddhahood, our learning and practice of Buddhism consist of letting go of our wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments; uncovering wisdom; and seeing the truth. After we put into practice what we learn from the names of Buddha Lamp of the Sun and Moon, and Buddha Light of Renown, we will reveal two kinds of wisdom: real wisdom and expedient wisdom.
The importance of these two wisdoms can be grasped thanks to the third Buddha, Great Blazing Shoulders. As practitioners, we should shoulder, or take up, the responsibility to propagate the Dharma and help all beings. To accomplish this, we need both real wisdom and expedient wisdom. Real wisdom is a pure mind: the mind of sincerity, purity, and impartiality. When we are even just a little attached to our fame, prestige, gain, or wealth, we will no longer have a sincere, pure, and impartial mind. We will not have real wisdom. Consequently, we will also be devoid of expedient wisdom, which is proper understanding and compassion.
Therefore, in lacking a sincere, pure, and impartial mind, we also lack proper understanding and compassion. Instead of having compassion for all beings, we will be concerned about those we like and indifferent to those we dislike. This is partiality, not impartiality. It is not the way to aid all beings. To propagate the Dharma and aid all beings, we need both wisdoms: real wisdom— the mind of sincerity, purity, and impartiality, and also expedient wisdom—proper understanding and compassion.
The name of the fourth Buddha is Lamp of the Polar Mountain.
This Buddha’s name teaches us that in the cultivation of wisdom, the eight sub-consciousnesses that make up the consciousness need to be transformed to wisdom.
The first five sub-consciousnesses are sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The sixth is mental awareness, the seventh is the thinking mind, and the eighth is the store consciousness. Like an enormous warehouse, this eighth consciousness stores all the karmic impressions from our countless lifetimes over innumerable kalpas.
Each of these eight sub-consciousnesses has a particular role. The first five consciousnesses allow us to perceive through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. Discriminations come about from the mental awareness consciousness. Attachments come about from the thinking mind consciousness. Wandering thoughts come about from the store consciousness. These eight sub-consciousnesses form the consciousness, the false mind. We need to transform this into the true mind. The true mind is wisdom. Bodhisattvas show us how to accomplish this transformation.
As Venerable Master Chin Kung explained, “In cultivating oneself and teaching others, the goal is to break through delusion and attain awakening. One should transform the sixth, or mental awareness, subconsciousness to wisdom of wondrous observation. Transform the seventh, or thinking mind, sub-consciousness to wisdom of equality in nature. Transform the eighth, or store, sub-consciousness to great perfect mirror wisdom. And transform the first five sub-consciousnesses to wisdom of completion of actions.”
With their wisdom coming forth, bodhisattvas transform the mental awareness consciousness to the wisdom of wondrous observation. Wondrous observation is to understand clearly. When the eyes see, one knows precisely what is being viewed. When the ears hear, one knows precisely what is being heard. Similarly, when the nose smells, the tongue tastes, and the body touches, one knows precisely what they are smelling, tasting, and touching.
When one’s mental awareness consciousness is transformed into a mind like that of a bodhisattva, one is clear about one’s thoughts. This is wondrous observation. It is like a mirror that reflects clearly, with no wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. It is true wisdom. If there is discrimination in one’s knowing, one is deluded and using one’s consciousness, not wisdom.
Next, the thinking mind consciousness is transformed to wisdom of equality in nature. Attachments arise from the thinking mind consciousness. With attachments, everything is viewed with partiality: “I want it to be this way or that way; I think this is right and that is wrong.” With the elimination of such attachments, impartiality will come forth and wisdom of equality in nature will be attained. At this point, we will be able to fulfill tasks perfectly.
Using consciousness while engaging in a task will inevitably lead to our making mistakes. This happens because, with the use of consciousness, our consideration is limited. When using wisdom, however, we will see the past, the present, and the future, and everything in the ten directions. With time and space perceived in this new manner, we will accomplish all tasks perfectly.
Finally, the store consciousness is transformed to great perfect mirror wisdom. Great perfect mirror is a metaphor for “all knowing.” Why all knowing? Embedded in the store consciousness are the seeds of residual habits from innumerable kalpas. These residual habits may be good, bad, or morally neutral. Regardless, all of them are transformed into wisdom. With great perfect mirror wisdom, one is clear, without the slightest confusion, about all causes and effects.
When the mental awareness consciousness is transformed to wisdom of wondrous observation, the thinking mind consciousness to wisdom of equality in nature, and the store consciousness to great perfect mirror wisdom, the first five consciousnesses will be transformed to the wisdom of completion of actions. One then acts from this wisdom of completion of actions.
Such actions of wisdom can benefit oneself as well as others. One benefits oneself by attaining thirty-two major marks and eighty secondary characteristics. Some examples of the thirty-two marks, which are the major physical attributes of a Buddha, are light radiating from between the eyebrows, a golden complexion, a circle of light, and an excellent voice. The secondary physical characteristics, which are more subtle, include a face like a clear full moon, fragrance emitting from the pores and mouth, deportment as awesome as that of a lion, a graceful and steady gait.
One benefits others by being a role model and a teacher. This sets an example for all beings. Both, serving as a good role model and as a teacher, are ex pressed in the world by the first five transformed sub-consciousnesses.
Learning Buddhism means to learn from Buddhas and bodhisattvas how to transform our consciousness to wisdom. With such wisdom we will remain unaffected by the situations we encounter. Currently, we are affected by everything. Encountering a favorable situation, we become attached to it. Facing an adverse situation, our anger and aversion arise. Explained in terms of the eight sub-consciousnesses, this means that when we come into contact with a situation, our afflictions immediately arise as seven emotions. The seven are pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, love, hate, and desire.
When we react in response to these, we commit negative karmas. Once these negative karmas are committed, we will naturally suffer their retributions. Fortunately, thanks to having learned the meaning of the name of Buddha Lamp of the Polar Mountain, we now know how to stop this destructive behavior. By transforming consciousness into wisdom, we will stop creating negative karmas, stop planting the seeds for future suffering.
The fifth and final Buddha named in the southern direction was Buddha Infinite Vigor.
Vigor, or diligence, is our root of cultivation. It will facilitate the attainment of great wisdom. Sakyamuni Buddha used the metaphor of a root to show the process of growth, of flowering, and of fruit bearing. From where do all wholesome dharmas here in the cycle of rebirth originate and grow? From the three good roots of no greed, no anger, and no ignorance. Vigorous cultivation of these three good roots will bring us good fortune. Lack of their cultivation will result in misfortune.
Having good fortune or misfortune depends on our thoughts. With one worthy thought, we plant a seed for good fortune. With one wrong thought, we plant a seed for misfortune. Understanding this, we will practice changing our thoughts so as to stop planting seeds for misfortune.
Our intentions will be good. Our thoughts and actions will be virtuous.
This is our daily cultivation
— Chapter 38, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
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