The final part of the sutra deals with its transmission. This is in two sections: a general admonition to accept the teaching, and a concluding encouragement: Buddha says:
Right now I am extolling the benefits of the inconceivable merits of Amitabha Buddha.
The merits of Amitabha are inconceivable in five senses.
First, Amitabha enables us to transcend the triple world "horizontally," without having to wait until we cut off delusion.
Second, Amitabha's Pure Land includes the Four Lands [the land where Saints and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together, the Land of Expedient Liberation, the Land of Real Reward, and the Land of Eternally Quiescent Light], so that we do not have to go step-by-step to arrive at them. [i.e. once reborn in the Pure Land, we will never retrogress]
Third, Amitabha's merit makes salvation possible for us by simply invoking his name, without having to resort to meditation methods.
Fourth, Amitabha's merit makes salvation possible in seven days, without requiring many eons and many lifetimes.
Fifth, by invoking the name of one Buddha, Amitabha, we are protected and kept in mind by all the Buddhas.
All this is the result of the great vows and deeds of our guide and teacher Amitabha. That is why Buddha speaks of "the benefits of the inconceivable merits of Amitabha Buddha."
Furthermore, when Pure Land practitioners recite the Buddha-name with faith and vows, they are gathering in all the merits of the Buddhas, and making them their own merits. This is another reason why Buddha speaks of "the benefits of the inconceivable merits of Amitabha Buddha."
Later on in the text, Sakyamuni Buddha speaks of "the inconceivable merits of all the Buddhas" and also my inconceivable merits." Here Sakyamuni Buddha is saying that all the Buddhas, as well as he himself all consider Amitabha as themselves.
But in the eastern direction there are also countless other Buddhas, like Akshobhya Buddha, and the Buddha "Marks of the Polar Mountain", and the Buddha "Great Polar Mountain", and the Buddha "Light of the Polar Mountain", and the Buddha "Wondrous Voice". Each of them preaches in his own land with the eloquence of a Buddha, and covers a whole cosmos, speaking the truth. All of you sentient beings should believe this scripture extolling their inconceivable merits, and which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.
"Akshobhya" means "Immovable". Buddha has countless virtues, and so he must have countless names, each established according to the teaching situation. Sometimes these names are based on causal conditions, sometimes on results achieved, sometimes on inherent nature, sometimes on apparent characteristics, sometimes on practices or vows or other things. Although each name only refers to one aspect of Buddhahood, each name still includes the four benefits a Buddha brings: [joyful faith, helping others, counteracting evil, and witnessing absolute truth]. Each name illustrates a particular quality of Buddhahood. If we were to try to express all the qualities of the enlightened ones, we could talk till the end of time and never be able to finish.
Space in the east is infinite, and there is an infinite number of worlds there. Since there is an infinite number of worlds, there is also an infinite number of Buddhas who dwell in those worlds. Thus the sutra refers to "countless other Buddhas." All these Buddhas are using their eloquence to urge us to have faith in this sutra. If we sentient beings still fail to have faith in this sutra, we are being utterly stupid and benighted.
[One of the traditional marks of a Buddha is a "long, broad tongue".] If an ordinary person tells no lies for three lifetimes, his tongue will be long enough to reach his nose. The Buddhas mentioned in this sutra have realized the wondrous Pure Land teaching of the Great Vehicle, and so their tongues are long and broad enough to cover a whole galaxy of worlds. This symbolizes that they are truly in accord with absolute reality -- it is fact, not fiction.
The title of the sutra as it circulates among us today, The Amitabha Sutra Spoken by Buddha, was devised by the master translator Kumarajiva, who knew that we Chinese like brevity. It skillfully matches the wondrous practice of reciting the Buddha-name. Master Hsuan-tsang translated the sutra with the longer title, The Sutra Extolling the Pure Land Accepted by Buddha. The two translations differ in style, but there is no change in the meaning.
In the worlds of the southern direction there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha "Lamp of the Sun and Moon", and the Buddha "Light of Renown", and the Buddha "Great Flaming Shoulders", and the Buddha "Lamp of the Polar Mountain", and the Buddha "Infinite Progress". Each of them preaches in his own land with the eloquence of a Buddha, and covers a whole cosmos, speaking the truth. All of you sentient beings should believe this scripture extolling their inconceivable merits, and which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.
In the worlds of the western direction there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha "Infinite Life", and the Buddha "Innumerable Characteristics", and the Buddha "Innumerable Banners", and the Buddha "Great Light", and the Buddha "Great Illumination", and the Buddha "Mark of Reality", and the Buddha "Light of Purity". Each of them preaches in his own land with the eloquence of a Buddha, and covers a whole cosmos, speaking the truth, All of you sentient beings should believe this scripture extolling their inconceivable merits, and which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.
The Buddha "Infinite Life" has the same name as Amitabha. In all the worlds of the ten directions, Buddhas who share the same name are innumerable. It is also possible that the sutra here is referring to our guide and teacher Amitabha. For the sake of saving sentient beings, there is no harm in the Buddha Amitabha praising what the Tathagata Sakyamuni teaches in this sutra.
In the worlds of the northern direction there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha "Flaming Shoulders", and the Buddha "Supreme Voice", and the Buddha "Unstoppable", and the Buddha "Born of the Sun", and the Buddha "Netted Light". Each of them preaches in his own land with the eloquence of a Buddha, and covers a whole cosmos, speaking the truth. All of you sentient beings should believe this scripture extolling their inconceivable merits, and which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.
In the worlds of the nadir there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha "Lion", and the Buddha "Repute", and the Buddha "Light", and the Buddha "Dharma Banner", and the Buddha "Upholding the Dharma". Each of them preaches in his own land with the eloquence of a Buddha, and covers a whole cosmos, speaking the truth. All of you sentient beings should believe this scripture extolling their inconceivable merits, and which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.
Below our mundane world there is an infinite number of galaxies and beyond it there are also an infinite number of galaxies, including the heavens of desire, of form, and the formless heavens, and so on.
The word "Dharma" means "teaching", "truth", "method".
In the worlds of the zenith there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha "Pure Voice", and the Buddha "Sojourner King", and the Buddha "Incense Fragrance", and the Buddha "Fragrant Light", and the Buddha "Great Blazing Shoulders", and the Buddha "Body of Multicolored Jewel Flower Garlands", and the Buddha "Sala Tree King", and the Buddha "Precious Flower Virtue", and the Buddha "Sees All Truths", and the Buddha "Like the Polar Mountain". Each of them preaches in his own land with the eloquence of a Buddha, and covers a whole cosmos, speaking the truth. All of you sentient beings should believe this scripture extolling their inconceivable merits, which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.
These are the infinite worlds that are located toward the zenith, above our mundane world. They too have many layers, and [like our mundane world] include realms of desire, of form, and formlessness, in an infinite number of levels.
Question: There are certainly pure lands in all directions, so why make a special point of praising Amitabha's Pure Land in the west?
Answer: This is not a good objection. If we made a point of praising Akshobhya's Pure Land in the east, you would wonder why we were emphasizing the eastern direction, and go on and on with your specious reasoning.
Question: Why not make the whole universe the focal point [instead of Amitabha's Pure Land]?
Answer: There are three reasons. We focus on Amitabha's Pure Land because this makes it easy for beginners to orient their minds, because Amitabha's fundamental vows are more powerful, and because Amitabha has a special link with the sentient beings in our world.
The Buddhas offer salvation to sentient beings, and sentient beings accept the Buddhas' teachings, but in this process there are differences in degrees of difficulty and ease and profundity and shallowness -- it is all a matter of karmic links.
Depending on where the karmic affinities of sentient beings lie, the Buddhas extend the virtue of their benevolence, and stimulate the development of those sentient beings with all kinds of teachings. They can enable sentient beings to experience joy in the teaching and have faith in it, they can spark the development of the seeds of goodness from past lives, they can make it hard for the barriers of delusion to screen the sentient beings off from the truth, and they can enable sentient beings to bring forth their self-nature.
Fundamentally all the Buddhas manifest their teaching activities from within the Dharmakaya. They solidify sentient beings' affinity with the truth and strengthen their seeds of enlightenment. Whether within the world or beyond it, the deeds of the Buddhas are all inconceivable. They energize teaching vehicles and expound them to vast audiences. They plunge into the ocean of suffering where sentient beings dwell, and use their compassion to enable them to harmonize with the still light. Thus do the Buddhas exemplify the myriad virtues and epitomize the highest spiritual powers.
We must understand [the fundamental Buddhist principle] that the seeds of enlightenment arise within the causal nexus. The causal nexus is the universe as a whole. [With enlightened perception], when the Buddhas are mindful of one, they are mindful of all, and when one is born, all are born: there is one scent, one flower, one sound, one form. When the Buddhas accept our repentance and give us guarantees of enlightenment, when they rub our heads and reach down their hands to us, they create a universal fusion of all the worlds of the past, present, and future in the ten directions.
Therefore, this element that will accelerate us toward enlightenment, this method of reciting the Buddha-name, arises from within the causal nexus, and our Pure Land practice is precisely an instance of what you were calling "taking the universe as a whole as the focal point".
People at a shallow level should resolve to devote themselves to seeking birth in the Pure Land. But people at a profound level should not abandon Amitabha's Pure Land in the west and seek the Flower Treasury World [Vairocana Buddha's universal pure land] instead. If you think that Amitabha's Pure Land is an expedient device, but Vairocana's Flower Treasury World is a true reality, if you think that Amitabha's Pure Land is associated with the Lesser Vehicle, but Vairocana's Flower Treasury World belongs to the Mahayana teaching, you are completely under the sway of imaginary ideas and emotional clingings (see note 4). How so? Because you have not comprehended that provisional expedients and true reality have a single essence, and that categories like big and small have no set identity.
Why do you think this is called the sutra that is protected and kept in mind by all the Buddhas?
If there are good men and good women who hear this scripture, accept it, and uphold it, and they hear the names of all these Buddhas, all these good men and good women will be protected and kept in mind by all these Buddhas, and all of them will reach the level where they do not turn back from complete, unexcelled, correct enlightenment.
Therefore, all of you should faithfully accept what I say and what all the Buddhas have said.
This sutra is devoted to revealing the supreme essentials of mind. The names of various Buddhas also reveal their supreme, perfect, ultimate virtues. Thus those who hear this sutra and the names of the Buddhas are protected and kept in mind by all the Buddhas. Those who hear this sutra and accept its teachings will consistently recite the name of Amitabha, and the name of Amitabha is itself protected and kept in mind by all of the Buddhas.
Question: What about those who only hear the names of the various Buddhas, but do not uphold the teachings of the sutra -- are they also kept in mind by all Buddhas and protected against backsliding?
Answer: There is a partial answer to this, and a comprehensive answer.
The Sutra on Divining the Results of Good and Evil Karma says that those who intone the Buddha-name in a confused, unfocused, defiled state of mind are not really hearing the Buddha-name and are incapable of. decisive faith and understanding. By reciting the Buddha-name they only obtain conditioned merits in the world, and they do not get the far-reaching and profoundly wondrous benefits of reciting the Buddha-name.
Those who singlemindedly recite the Buddha-name to the point of total concentration called "One-Practice Samadhi" achieve the mind of vast and wondrous practice. This is called attaining the Tolerance of Non-Birth (the forbearance that comes from realizing that all phenomena are unborn). By doing this these people truly hear the names of the Buddhas of the ten directions.
This is the way it must be with the sutra as well. After you hear it, you must put it into practice by reciting the Buddha-name. When you recite the Buddha--name to the point of singlemindedness, then you are really hearing the names of the Buddhas, and then you become protected and kept in mind by the Buddhas. This is the partial answer.
The comprehensive answer is this: The compassion of the Buddhas is inconceivable, and the merits of their names are also inconceivable. Therefore, once you hear a Buddha-name, no matter whether you are mindful or not, or whether you believe in it or not, it always becomes the seed of an affinity with the truth. Moreover, when the Buddhas bring salvation to sentient beings, they do not sort out friends and enemies: they go on working tirelessly for universal salvation. If you hear the Buddha-name, Buddha is bound to protect you. How can there be any doubts about this?
Even those who have just heard the Buddha-name once share in the essential true nature of phenomena; hearing the Buddha-name means they have a basis to work from, and have found what will be the cause of their enlightenment in the long run, which they will never lose.
The sutra uses the Sanskrit term anuttarasamyaksamhodhi, which means complete, unexcelled, true enlightenment. This is the awakening that is the fruit of the Great Vehicle.
To say you have reached the level where you do not fall back (non-retrogression) from your station, from your practice, or from your mindfulness, is another way of saying you will become enlightened in one lifetime. Thus Buddha urges all his listeners to believe in what this sutra is saying and accept it, and to have faith that the merit of hearing the Buddha-name is like this. Can we refuse to believe what Sakyamuni and all the other Buddhas have communicated to us?
This is the end of the section in which Buddha urges us to have faith in the sutra. Next Buddha urges us to make vows.
All those people who have vowed, or are vowing, or will vow to be born in the land of Amitabha Buddha reach the level where they do not turn back from complete, unexcelled enlightenment, whether in their past lives, their present lives, or their future lives. Therefore; all good men and good women, if they have faith, must make a vow to be born in that land.
Those who have vowed to be born in the Pure Land in the past have already been born there. Those who are now vowing to be born in the Pure Land will be born there at the end of this lifetime. Those who in future lives vow to be born in the Pure Land will be born there in the future. Here Buddha is demonstrating that vows that are made on the basis of pure faith are sure to come true. Without faith, we cannot make vows. Without vows and faith, rebirth cannot occur. That's why Buddha says, "If they have faith, they must vow to be born in that land."
Again: vows are a token of faith, and the key link for practice. Making vows is then a most crucial component. When Buddha mentions vows, faith and practice are included. That's why he repeatedly urges us most earnestly to make vows.
When we vow to be born in Amitabha's Pure Land, we are demonstrating our disgust with the mundane world, and our joy in the Pure Land.
In feeling aversion to the mundane world, we are relying on the first two Noble Truths [the truth of suffering, and the truth of the formation of suffering], and taking two of the great vows of Bodhisattvas [to deliver all sentient beings from suffering, and to cut off countless afflictions].
In joyously seeking the Pure Land, we are relying on the other two Noble Truths [the truth of the path, and the truth of ending suffering], and taking the other two great vows of Bodhisattvas [to master the endless variety of Buddhist teaching, and to consummate the Supreme Path]. By doing this we reach the stage where we do not fall back from the path of Great Enlightenment.
Question: If we make vows now, is it not correct that all we can talk about is the life to come, not this present life?
Answer: There are two senses here. One concerns a lifetime called the present one. If we vow in the present life to recite the Buddha-name, when we die we are sure to be born in the Pure Land.
The other is about an instant called the present. If our Mind accords with the Mind of Buddha Amitabha for one moment, we are born in the Pure Land for one moment. If we reach accord moment after moment, we are born in the Pure Land moment after moment. Wondrous cause and wondrous effect are not apart from the One Mind. They are like the two ends of a balance, going down and up and sometimes being level.
Why do we have to wait until our life in the mundane world is over before we can be born in the Pure Land's jewel ponds? All we have to do is develop faith and vows and recite the Buddha-name right now, and the lotus bud in which we will be born in the Pure Land is already in bloom, and the image of the Pure Land's golden thrones appear before us -- at that moment we are no longer inhabitants of this mundane world.
Reciting the Buddha-name is then the highest form of the complete and sudden teaching: impossible to rationalize; difficult to conceive. Only those with great wisdom can truly believe in it.
Just as I am now extolling the inconceivable merits of all the Buddhas, all those Buddhas are likewise extolling my inconceivable merits, with these words: "Sakyamuni Buddha is able to carry out a most difficult and rare task. In the world "Endurance" [this world], in an evil world of the Five Corruptions -the corruption of the age, the corruption of views, the corruption of afflictions, the corruption of sentient beings, and the corruption of life -- he is able to achieve complete, unexcelled enlightenment, and to expound the Truth which all beings in all worlds find hard to believe."
Although the merits, virtues, and wisdom of all the Buddhas are equal, the way they bestow their teachings differs in degrees of difficulty and ease.
Achieving enlightenment in the Pure Land is easy, compared to achieving enlightenment in our corrupt mundane world.
Explaining the Dharma to the sentient beings in the Pure Land is easy, compared to explaining the Dharma to the sentient beings in our corrupt mundane world.
Explaining the gradual form of the Buddhist Teaching to the sentient beings in our corrupt mundane world is easy, compared to explaining the sudden form of the Buddhist Teaching.
Explaining the sudden forms of the Buddhist Teaching other than the Pure Land teaching to the sentient beings in our corrupt mundane world is easy, compared to explaining the sudden Pure Land teaching of horizontal transcendence.
Explaining the Pure Land teaching of horizontal transcendence with its sudden practice and sudden realization and wondrous contemplation is not easy. But the hardest of all is explaining this supreme skillful technique, this special surpassing wonder, this Pure Land method that goes beyond all conceptualizations, and teaches us that we do not need laborious cultivation, but have only to recite the Buddha-name in order to ascend directly to the level where we do not fall back from the path to enlightenment. That is why all the Buddhas of the ten directions put forward our Sakyamuni Buddha as the most valiant of all.
The sutra speaks of the world of the Five Corruptions. What does this mean?
The corruption of the age means that this is a time when all sorts of corrupt phenomena are gathered together. If not for the Pure Land practice which enables us to transcend the mundane world "horizontally," even though we take our karmic burden along with us, deliverance would surely be impossible.
The corruption of views means that misguided views proliferate: the view that our bodies are entities we possess, the view that we are annihilated after death or else live on forever, the view that there is no cause and effect, the view that what we cling to with our arbitrary opinions is best, and the view that we will find salvation by our own subjectively chosen methods. Because we are deluded by such views, and utterly submerged in them, this is called the corruption of views. Amidst the corruption of views, if we do not make use of the expedient means of the Pure Land teaching to discover our Mind we surely cannot be saved.
The corruption of afflictions means that compulsions and confusions caused by craving, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt are increasing more and more, causing trouble and chaos. Amidst the corruption of afflictions, without the Pure Land practice that affirms that our ordinary minds are one with the Buddha-mind, we surely cannot be saved.
Under the influence of the corruption of views and the corruption of afflictions, the five skandhas mix together in a coarse and debased way, giving rise to what are provisionally called sentient beings: hence the term the corruption of sentient beings. Sentient beings are debased both at the level of form and at the level of mind so they are called corrupt. Given the corruption of sentient beings, without the practice of shunning the mundane world and joyfully seeking the Pure Land, salvation is impossible.
The corruption of life means that our causal basis and hence the results we realize are both degenerate, and our life spans are shortened, and do not reach a hundred years, so they are called corrupt. Given the corruption of life, we cannot be saved without the Pure Land practice.
Moreover, faith and vows and the adornment of the name of Amitabha transform the corruption of the age into an assembly of purity, transform the corruption of views into infinite light, transform the corruption of afflictions into the eternal still light, transform the corruption of sentient beings into beings born by transformation from lotuses in the Pure Land, and transform the corruption of life into infinite life.
Thus each recitation of the Buddha-name is a method of achieving Supreme, Unexcelled Enlightenment practiced
by our fundamental teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha, in the midst of this evil
world of the Five Corruptions. In this sutra Sakyamuni Buddha is taking
the whole essence of this enlightenment and bestowing it on sentient
beings of this evil and corrupt world. This is the realm which all the
Buddhas experience, and which only the Buddhas can experience fully. It
is not something which those in the planes of the hell-beings, the
hungry ghosts, the animals, the asuras, the human beings, the devas, the
pratyekas, or even the Bodhisattvas can fully comprehend by their own power.
When the other Buddhas extol Sakyamuni for teaching the Pure Land method to "sentient beings," this means the people in our evil world of the Five Corruptions. When the sutra mentions "all worlds," it means all the worlds sentient beings inhabit.
The previous admonition to believe in the Pure Land teaching was the command of all the Buddhas. Below is the command of our teacher Sakyarnuni Buddha. Here Sakyamuni addresses all the sentient beings in all worlds, as the Buddhas before addressed themselves to "all you sentient beings." We must realize that the Bodhisattvas like Manjushri and the Arhats like Mahakashyapa are also included among those to whom this command is given.
Know then that in the midst of this evil world of the Five Corruptions, I am able to carry out this difficult task, attain complete, unexcelled enlightenment, and expound the Truth which is so hard to believe for beings in all worlds. This is indeed most difficult!
Faith, vows, and the practice of reciting the Buddha-name can be called a single practice. This is not a matter of contrived action. Only through faith can we enter into this complete transformation of the world of the Five Corruptions into the Pure Land. This is not a realm that mere thinking can get us to.
If it were not for our fundamental teacher Sakyamuni Buddha entering into our evil world, showing the attainment of enlightenment, and using his great wisdom and great compassion to reveal this, practice this, and teach this, how would sentient beings have received this message?
We live amidst the corruption of the age, and we are certainly imprisoned by our time, and harried by suffering.
We live amidst the corruption of views, and we are certainly enmeshed in misguided knowledge, and deluded by false teachers.
We live amidst the corruption of afflictions, and we are certainly ensnared by craving and desire, and burdened by bad karma.
We live amidst the corruption of sentient beings, and we certainly rest complacently in stinking filth, without being aware of it, and are willing to stay degraded and weak, without exerting ourselves to rise any higher.
We live amidst the corruption of life, and we are certainly swallowed up by impermanence, with our lives flashing by to quickly for us to cope.
If we do not deeply understand the severe difficulties we are facing, if we think that there is some other method besides Pure Land practice that can extricate us from the Five Corruptions, we are lost in a welter of empty arguments inside a burning house.
Only if we deeply realize the seriousness of the difficulties we are facing, will we be willing to exterminate our dishonest attitudes, and value Pure Land practice for the treasure it is. This is why our teacher Sakyamuni Buddha went to such lengths to explain to us what a dire situation we are in, and make us realize the implications.
Finally the sutra reaches its conclusion:
When Buddha had finished preaching this scripture, Shariputra and all the monks and all the other gods and humans and asuras and the rest who had been listening, having heard what the Buddha said, rejoiced and faithfully accepted it. They all bowed in homage and departed.
The Pure Land teaching is inconceivable. It is difficult to believe in and difficult to understand: no one could have asked Buddha about it. But Buddha in his wisdom discerned the dynamics of the situation and realized that the circumstances were ripe for sentient beings to become enlightened. Thus he expounded the Pure Land teaching without being asked, to enable sentient beings to benefit by hearing the truth, to benefit by helping others and doing good, to benefit by shunning evil, and to benefit by experiencing the supreme truth.
Buddha's Pure Land teaching was like timely rain, so the sutra says his listeners "rejoiced and faithfully accepted it." "Rejoiced" means they felt delight of the body and mind. "Faithfully" means they had no doubts or ambivalence. "Accepted it" means they took it in and would never forget it. The phrase "they all bowed in homage" signifies that they were moved by the Buddha's great benevolence, and entrusted themselves to him. Their departure signifies that they went on to practice consistently according to what Buddha had taught them, and never turned back.