The Amitabha Sutra - The Buddhas in the Zenith
In the worlds of the zenith there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha “Pure Voice”, the Buddha “Sojourner King”, the Buddha “Incense Fragrance”, the Buddha “Fragrant Light”, the Buddha “Great Blazing Shoulders”, the Buddha “Body of Multicolored Jewel Flower Garlands”, the Buddha “Sala Tree King”, the Buddha “Precious Flower Virtue”, the Buddha “Sees All Truths”, and the Buddha “Like the Polar Mountain”. 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 ten Buddhas in the zenith signify perfection in enlightenment and accomplishment—the attainment of buddhahood— in one lifetime.
The first Buddha named in the zenith was Buddha Pure Voice.
“Voice” refers to teaching. “Pure Voice” signifies that the lecturing on the Dharma should be pure, without any trace of contamination. We can attain such purity by letting go of our contaminants. What are these contaminants? Worldly pleasures and acclaim. The afflictions of selfishness, prestige, and wealth. Greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance. Having let go of these, when we teach others, our teaching will naturally be pure because we will have become selfless, and our every thought will be for the sake of all beings. Without thoughts of self-benefit, our every act will be free from contaminants, from any selfishness.
No one can do this for us, not even Buddhas and bodhisattvas. They can only teach us the principles and methods, and show us how to put them into practice. Buddhas and bodhisattvas cannot do the work on our behalf. Cultivation is up to us.
Vitally important in our cultivation is letting go. As we let go, we will begin to understand the teachings better and experience their benefits. As we understand more, we will be able to let go more. Eventually, we will let go of all contaminants and naturally achieve the state of purity.
The second Buddha named was Buddha Sojourner King.
This name signifies the Mahayana teachings, which are direct paths to supreme, perfect enlightenment. Every Mahayana method has its own degree of difficulty, thereby allowing all to cultivate according to their abilities.
The third Buddha named was the Buddha Incense Fragrance.
“Incense Fragrance” refers to five kinds of fragrances of a Buddha’s truth body. The five are morality, meditative concentration, wisdom, liberation, and wisdom flowing from one’s state of liberation. Buddha Incense Fragrance also represents one of the more direct paths in the Mahayana teachings, the Zen Dharma door.
The fourth Buddha named was Buddha Fragrant Light.
This name signifies the Buddha Mindfulness Dharma door of the Pure Land school. While the Zen Dharma door is one of the more direct paths, the most direct Mahayana path is the Pure Land Dharma door. This door is also the most reliable, the easiest, and the simplest. Furthermore, with the Pure Land method, one’s achievement will be incomparably wondrous. This is why the Pure Land Dharma door is called the most direct path.
The fifth Buddha named was Buddha Great Blazing Shoulders. This name signifies shouldering the responsibility to give the supreme teachings to others so that they can attain buddhahood in one lifetime.
The sixth Buddha named was Buddha Body of Multicolored Jewel Flower Garlands. The name signifies perfect attainment of buddhahood in one lifetime, as spoken of in the Avatamsaka Sutra.
The seventh Buddha named was Buddha Sala Tree King. His name signifies that the Esoteric teachings and the Pure Land teachings are one, not two, because the practitioners of both Dharma doors cultivate a pure mind. It is, however, harder to succeed using the Esoteric method than with the Pure Land method.
This is so because while Pure Land practitioners attain purity by staying away from the contamination of worldly pleasures, Esoteric practitioners take the more difficult approach of achieving purity in the midst of worldly pleasures. It is thus better for those of us with more limited abilities to practice the buddha-name chanting method and seek to be born in the Western Pure Land. Once there we will steadily progress in our practice.
The eighth Buddha named was Buddha Precious Flower Virtue, who signifies the perfect enjoyment body.
The ninth Buddha named was Buddha Sees All Truths, who signifies innumerable manifestation bodies.
When a being in the nine Dharma realms makes a request of a Buddha, that Buddha will respond with a manifestation body. Within the request and response framework, there are two possible forms of requests: conscious and subconscious. There are also two possible forms of responses: overt and covert. Overt means that the beings are clearly aware of a Buddha’s help. Covert means that the beings are not aware of a Buddha’s help. A request, conscious or subconscious, can invoke either an overt or a covert response. But for this request and response to occur, an affinity is necessary. We can thus understand why we need to foster Dharma affinities with as many beings as possible to fulfill our own vow to help them all.
The tenth Buddha named in the zenith was Buddha Like the Polar Mountain, who signifies the pure truth body.
In summary, this section in the sutra, with passages on the Buddhas in the six directions, teaches us how to learn and practice, and in what sequence.
First, the names of the Buddhas in the eastern direction teach us the fundamentals of learning and practicing.
Then, the names of the Buddhas in the southern direction instruct us how to cultivate wisdom.
Next, the names of the Buddhas in the western direction show us how to develop good fortune.
The names of the Buddhas in the northern direction teach us that after having laid our foundation of wisdom and good fortune we should teach others.
The names of the Buddhas in the nadir represent Buddhism, which can help all beings break through delusion and attain awakening.
Finally, the names of the Buddhas in the zenith represent ultimate perfection in enlightenment and accomplishment— the attainment of buddhahood—in one lifetime.
Thus, from the beginning of our cultivation through to its completion, the Amitabha Sutra succinctly guides us to the ultimate goal—buddhahood.
— Chapter 42, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
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