Buddhism Sutras Introduction – Chapter 2: The Virtues of Samantabhadra were Followed by All

It is stated in the Flower Adornment Sutra that if one does not cultivate Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s virtue, one cannot achieve the perfect awakening of enlightenment.

The Western Pure Land is the ultimate destination for practicing Samantabhadra’s Ten Great Vows.

Many great Bodhisattvas, appearing as lay persons, attended this teaching. The first was “Worthy and Protective” Bodhisattva, the only one from our Saha (Skrt) world. His name teaches us that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas always protect and help those who sincerely generate their Bodhi mind, the great compassionate mind to help all beings.

“Skillful in Contemplation” and “Wise and Eloquent” Bodhisattvas represent true understanding. In Buddhism, if one does not have true understanding, one cannot believe this sutra. Every sutra tells us that the time required for an ordinary being to become a Buddha is three great Asankhya aeons (an incalculably long amount of time). However, in this Pure Land teaching, three great Asankhya aeons can be transcended by a single thought of Buddha Amitabha.

“Observation of NonDwelling” Bodhisattva reminds us of the teaching from the Diamond Sutra, “One’s mind should not attach to anything, then the true mind will arise.”

“Spiritual Penetration Flower” Bodhisattva teaches us that many different abilities can be used to help sentient beings as he pledged in his vows.

“Light Emitting” Bodhisattva symbolizes the light of wisdom. Chanting Buddha’s name will help us generate this limitless light.

“Precious Pennant” Bodhisattva stands for how precious the opportunity is to help all beings through the Buddha’s teachings. In the past, people would raise a pennant from a pole in front of a Buddhist teaching center, which signaled that a lecture would be given that day.

“Utmost Wisdom” Bodhisattva illustrates that infinite wisdom is within this Pure Land teaching.

“Stilled Root” Bodhisattva demonstrated purification of the six sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue, mind, and body). Practicing according to the Buddha’s teachings naturally purifies these six sense organs.

“Faith and Wisdom” Bodhisattva clarified that, without wisdom, one cannot believe in this teaching.

“Vow and Wisdom” Bodhisattva told us that, after unwavering belief is developed, it is important to vow to go to the Western Pure Land. From true wisdom comes the vow.

The elephant was the strongest animal to haul vehicles in ancient times. So the name of “Fragrant Elephant” Bodhisattva is a way to show us how great the benefit is to chant the Buddha’s name.

“Treasury Revelation” Bodhisattva taught us that after one goes to the Western Pure Land, with the help of Buddha Amitabha, the treasury in one’s selfnature will be uncovered.

“Dwelling in the Middle” Bodhisattva represents how one’s mind should be set on the practice in the middle path, avoiding the extremes.

“Practice of Restraint” Bodhisattva advocated two points in the Pure Land School; following the precepts and Buddha name chanting. Following the precepts disciplines one’s thought, speech and behavior.

“Liberation” Bodhisattva was the last of the sixteen great guests of honor. He represented the result one attains from this practice: to be freed from worry and to attain liberation from the cycle of life and death.

The first fourteen Bodhisattvas teach us to recognize this Buddha Name Chanting method and the Infinite Life Sutra, illustrating their importance in uncovering our true wisdom.

The fifteenth Bodhisattva represents our actual transformation by correcting erroneous ways in thought, speech and behavior.

The sixteenth and the last of the Bodhisattvas symbolized the final outcome of the entire practice.

All of those who attended this teaching followed the “Ten Great Vows” of Samantabhadra. The characteristics of this Bodhisattva are having a great compassionate mind and tirelessly fulfilling his vows.

The first great vow of Samantabhadra is to “Pay respect to all the Buddhas.” Respect should be paid to both sentient and nonsentient beings, even to inanimate objects, since all essentially have a Buddhanature.

Cultivating respect can help to subdue a person’s arrogance and learn humility.

The second vow is to “Praise ‘Thus Come One.'” “Thus Come One” is one’s true nature. Things that correspond with one’s true mind can be praised. Those that do not correspond with one’s true nature are to be respected, but not praised.

One needs to have true wisdom to praise others. With this wisdom, one is able to differentiate between proper and deviated, right and wrong, to praise the good and proper teachings, and not to praise the deviated ones.

The third vow is to “Make offerings extensively.” In Buddhism, the distinction between offering and giving is that offering is a form of giving or contribution with respect whereas, giving is not necessarily done with respect. When making offerings, one should do so with a compassionate mind, a pure mind and a mind of equality for all beings, because everyone possesses a Buddha nature.

The fourth vow is to “Repent of karmic obstacles.” Karma (cause and effect) results from thought, speech and behavior of aeons past. Karmic retribution, arising from former wrong thought, speech and behavior, blocks wisdom, virtue and talent within our selfnature.

Repenting of karmic obstacles and the ensuing reduction of karma begins with an immediate end to wrong thought, speech and behavior.

One then should not attach to either good or bad deeds, because good karma would have one go to the upper three realms (heavens, Asuras, and humans), and bad karma to the lower three realms (animal, hungry ghosts, and hells). Whichever way, we are still mired in reincarnation.

Accumulating Pure Karma is a goal of a Pure Land practitioner. Rather than resulting in reincarnation, Pure Karma leads the practitioner to rebirth into the Pure Land.

The fifth vow is to “Be joyful over other’s meritorious deeds.” Jealousy and arrogance present serious obstacles for one to overcome, not only in the pursuit of worldly progress, but even more so for one on the path to enlightenment. When others accumulate merits, one should be happy and want to help them, thus, one’s jealousy is overcome.

The sixth vow is to “Appeal to the Buddha to turn the wheel of Buddha’s teaching.” Buddhists should request all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and venerable masters to give teachings for the benefit of all beings.

The seventh vow is to “Request the Buddha to reside in this world.” Presently there is no Buddha in our world. If there is any venerable master who has achieved attainment, we should try to have him/her remain with us; so more beings can benefit from his/her teaching.

The eighth vow is to “Constantly be a diligent follower of the Buddha’s teaching.” For a Pure Land practitioner, the Infinite Life Sutra is the Buddha’s guideline for one’s thought, speech and behavior.

The ninth vow is to “Accord with all sentient beings.” Filial piety is the heart of this vow. Wisdom and serenity are required for one to be patient with others. True conformation derives from one’s Bodhi Mind.

The tenth vow is to “Dedicate all merits.” All merits should be dedicated to beings and inanimate objects, existing everywhere in the universe and beyond, which in reality is our Bodhi Mind.

Samantabhadra Bodhisattva said that his great vows could be perfectly accomplished only in the Western Pure Land. Therefore, he wishes all those who suffer within all the realms in all the worlds of ten directions, to quickly obtain rebirth into the Pure Land.

One should be mindful of the name “Amitabha,” for this name enables one to reflect and intensify the same merits and virtues, thus eventually achieving a Buddha’s perfection.

All attending this assembly wanted themselves and all beings to accept this Pure Land teaching and that all could reach the Buddha’s state of perfection.

Out of their great compassionate nature of first wanting to help all sentient beings escape suffering; Bodhisattvas perfect their wisdom and virtues.

Today, people might ask, “why should we help others?” They do not understand the true reality of life and the universe, thinking others and they are not one, so why should they help? This is similar to one’s left hand being bitten by a mosquito. Would the right hand help to shoo away the mosquito or would it ask, “why should I help the left hand, it isn’t me?” As worldly people, we have deluded thoughts and behavior, not realizing that all sentients and we are one being.

Wandering thoughts and attachments arise when one strays away from the truth; thus, deluded beings differentiate themselves from others. Knowing that others and self are an inseparable entity, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas also understand that “helping others is helping oneself.”

It is said in the Surangama Sutra that, “Buddha or Bodhisattvas respond specifically to each person’s appeal due to the differences in the minds of all beings.” For example, they may appear as Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, if that is the form the individual would most willingly accept.

When a Bodhisattva in this world is ready to attain perfect realization, he goes through the same eight phases to instruct the world. Usually this Bodhisattva is called a “Next Buddha to Be.”

If a Bodhisattva is a “Next Buddha to Be” he lives in and descends from Tusita Deva to the human realm where he will attain Buddhahood. This is the first phase.

The second and the third phases are “Choosing parents” and “Being born.” When a Buddha comes to this world, he is born into a royal family. This good fortune comes naturally to him due to his great merits and virtue. In addition, in this position he can best show the world that such dignity and wealth are not the most important pursuits in one’s life.

“Leaving home and giving up the throne” is the fourth phase to show that true happiness comes from being able to let go of worldly possessions and prestige.

Manifestation of a Buddha requires him to take the ascetic path in his cultivation. This is to be acceptable to this world.

Only through the strength developed from concentration and wisdom, can one overcome the obstacles presented by one’s internal afflictions and external temptations. This is the fifth phase, “Subduing Mara’s evil obstacle.”

Severing one’s wandering thoughts and attachments will enable one to attain the wonderful reality of truth. This representation is within the sixth phase “Attaining Enlightenment.”

All beings have been trapped in reincarnation for countless aeons. Although they have encountered Buddhism before, somehow it has only helped them to plant or reinforce their good roots. With the Pure Land teaching, if a person can truly grasp this opportunity and practice sincerely, one will finally take the last glimpse at reincarnation.

The seventh phase is “Turning the Dharma wheel.” Once the Buddha achieved perfect enlightenment, the heavenly beings, recognizing him for what he was, requested him to give the teachings to this world.

Lecturing on Buddhism is turning the Dharma wheel. Turning the wheel symbolizes making this education available to beings in all directions. The center of the wheel is stationary while its circumference moves, representing stillness and movement in one. The center is hollow while its circumference is solid representing emptiness and existence. The wheel represents Buddhism as the most complete and perfect education.

The Buddha’s teaching helps all beings subdue their evil obstacles, thus uncovering their true mind.

The eighth stage is “Entering the state of Nirvana.” The person with good understanding knows that the Buddha actually is never apart from us at any time. However, those with less understanding believe that the Buddha left this world.

A sangha is a group of four or more people who practice the Buddha’s teachings together in accordance with the Six Principles of Harmony.

The Six Principles of Harmony are:

  1. To share the same viewpoints or goals.

  2. To observe the same precepts.

  3. To live and practice together harmoniously.

  4. To not quarrel.

  5. To experience the inner peace and happiness from practicing together harmoniously.

  6. To share benefits equally.

The purpose of the sangha is to spread the Buddha’s teachings in helping all (Italicized words are explained in the glossary.) beings. Whether those committed to propagating the teachings or those devoted to supporting them, all are equally important in achieving this purpose. When one looks at a clock, one only sees the minute and hour hands and not the intricate parts within that keep it ticking. However, if one part is missing, the hands cannot move. Only in working together as one entity does the sangha accumulate infinite merits.
Buddha Shakyamuni teaches unceasingly, even during moments of silence. Through simply observing certain movements of the Buddha, beings with high levels of intelligence and wisdom can reach realization. His teachings not only include speech, but also languages of the body and mind.

Not only do beings from the six realms come to learn from the Buddha, but beings from all the nine realms do as well.

Delusion, our biggest obstacle, arises from afflictions and wandering thoughts; therefore, the Buddha teaches us first to sever our afflictions and cease wandering thoughts.

The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas help sentient beings see through delusion to completely understand the truth of life and the universe.

The goal of our cultivation is to replace the worries surrounding us with purity of mind. The Pure Land is our destination.

The Three Learnings are self-discipline, concentration and wisdom. They are important steps in one’s practice.

Even in the present age, advanced medical science remains unable to surpass the perfect and thorough teachings of the Buddha to harmonize body and mind, which contributes to a healthy body. People who truly know how to attune their body and mind to peace and purity are immune from illnesses.

Continued practice of the Three Learnings will release worries, abolish longings and eradicate delusions and attachments. Only thus can we truly understand the Buddha’s teachings.

The Pure Land School uses the sutra recitation method to help people sever their afflictions. The goal of this practice is to purify both body and mind, resulting in rebirth into the Western Pure Land.

When wandering thoughts cease to arise during sutra recitation, one’s body, mind and speech commit no evil. One is cultivating self-discipline when one does not commit any evil deeds and practices only good ones.

One is cultivating concentration when achieving single-minded recitation of the sutra without giving rise to the analytical mind.
One is cultivating wisdom when reciting the sutra clearly and without error.

Losing one’s purity of mind to analyze its meanings during sutra recitation would be the same as reading ordinary books, thus forsaking the purpose of the Three Learnings.

The length of a sutra such as The Infinite Life Sutra is perfect for recitation; they provide us with ample time to cultivate self-discipline, concentration and wisdom.

Ridding oneself of the three inner poisons of greed, anger and ignorance within the mind enables one to obtain a healthy mind and body. Having a healthy mind is important in helping one practice Buddhism, for without a healthy mind, one will find difficulty in accepting the true teaching.

Conditioning one’s mind is an essential step towards learning the Mahayana sutras. A good teacher would have the students concentrate on their cultivation of virtue before learning the sutras. Just as a dirty bowl would need to be cleansed before it can be of good use or whatever it holds will be contaminated.

Reciting the sutras three hours or more daily for three years will deepen one’s concentration. When one’s concentration reaches a certain level, true wisdom can be revealed.

What is merit and virtue? It is the pure mind derived from practice of the Three Learnings of precepts, concentration and wisdom that are obtained from years of cultivation.

A pure mind is one without discriminations or attachments.

Anger is like a fire, being one of the three poisons of the mind. Once a person’s anger flares up, all the merit and virtues accumulated from years of diligent cultivation completely disintegrate, sending the practitioner back to square one.
One accumulates merit and virtue when one is able to end greed in addition to diligently cultivating giving and following the precepts. The practice of endurance, diligence and concentration enables one to preserve one’s merit and virtue.

A person who likes to practice giving and abides by laws and customs will accumulate good fortune.

Understanding what one practices is essential to one’s success. Pure Land practitioners can start with the teachings from The Infinite Life Sutra, The Amitabha Sutra and “The Chapter on Samantabadrah’s Vow and Cultivation.”

One needs to cultivate good fortune before wisdom.

Those who are mindful of Buddha Amitabha can apply the practices of the Three Conditions in their daily lives. The Three Conditions, which are first of the Five Guidelines, are the foundation upon which Pure Land practitioners begin their practice.

Cultivating the first of the Three Conditions enables one to harvest good fortune as great as that of heavenly beings. The First Condition includes being filial and respectful to one’s parents and teachers, being compassionate and not killing any living beings and cultivating according to the ten good conducts (no killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, abusive language, backbiting, seductive speech, greed, anger and ignorance).

The Second Condition consists of abiding by the Three Refuges, following the precepts, laws and customs, and committing no misconduct. By practicing the Second Condition, one’s good fortune will be as great as that of Pratyekabuddhas and Arhats.

One does not accomplish anything just by going through the ceremonial ritual of taking the Three Refuges. Truly taking the Three Refuges is to return from delusion, erroneous thoughts and viewpoints, and impurity and to rely on one’s enlightened self-nature, proper viewpoints and thoughts, and purity within the six senses.

Practicing the Third Condition enables one to harvest good fortune like that of Bodhisattvas. One generates the Bodhi mind, deeply believes in the Principles of Cause and Effect, recites Mahayana sutras and encourages others to advance on the path to enlightenment.

The second of the Five Guidelines for practitioners is to follow the Six Principles of Harmony, which show one how to get along with others. By practicing the Three Conditions and the Six Principles of Harmony, one will harvest good fortune.

After reaching a degree of attainment, one vows to practice the Bodhisattva way, teaching and benefiting all sentient beings, and working on behalf of the Buddha to publicize and advocate this remarkably ultimate perfect method of the Pure Land School.

As one generates a true and sincere heart to learn an unsurpassable method, one will naturally meet a genuine teacher to guide the way. If one does not harbor sincerity and respect in one’s learning, it is useless even to have the best teacher in the world.

“Bodhisattvas unceasingly practice in accordance with limitless cultivation.” (Infinite Life Sutra) To accord with Bodhisattvas’ manner of living and cultivation, one applies the principles such as those within The Five Guidelines which are the Three Conditions, Six Harmonies, Three Learnings, Six Paramitas and the Ten Great Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva into his/her daily lives.

By “maturing boundless Bodhisattva’s good roots,” (Infinite Life Sutra) beings will be able to become Buddhas once they have perfected their merit, which involves helping all beings, until they too become Buddhas.

“Being the mindful ones of whom all Buddhas were protective.” (Infinite Life Sutra) The kindness the Buddha shows us is like that of parents for their children, the only difference being that the Buddha remains mindful of us life after life, until we ourselves become Buddha.

As we observe all the world’s phenomena, birth and death seem to exist. However, this is not so. In reality, they, what we perceive as birth and death, are just the coming together and dispersion of causes and conditions. Thus, nothing is really gained or lost. If we can see through this concept of gain and loss, appearance and disappearance, we will attain comfort and happiness.

Our afflictions come from caring too much about gaining and losing. When we lack something, we search for it everyday. Once we have it, we are afraid to lose it. However, gaining and losing are only false conceptions of the mind. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas fully comprehend this truth. Thus, although they have already helped innumerable beings, their minds do not attach to the notion of having helped. They have neither attachment nor the thought to accumulate merits. The minds and hearts of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are always pure and at peace.

Those who simply go through daily rituals of prostrating and offering incense and fruit may not achieve as much benefit as those who practice in accordance with Buddha’s teachings may.

All the beings in the infinite universe and beyond, including us, are interrelated. In past lives we may have been born in other worlds and were related to the beings there. When we become a Buddha or Bodhisattva, we will be able to travel to any Buddhaland that we have affinities with to help those beings to walk the path of awakening. “These Bodhisattvas could appear in all the Buddhalands” (Infinite Life Sutra)

Everything we see in this world is not real in the sense that it has a separate self, but are actually accumulations of causes and conditions. Although we may think it is real, in the Buddha’s mind, there is neither existence nor emptiness, appearing nor disappearing, gaining nor losing. This misconception of reality results in our delusion. Afflictions come from the inside and not the outside. They arise from our own deviated thoughts and viewpoints.

The Buddha’s education helps us to break through this delusion and refrain from wrong actions, thereby avoiding adverse consequences.

Buddhas appear in this world to educate people so that we may attain enlightenment. However, they are not attached to the idea that they themselves are Buddhas or teachers. In addition, they are not attached to their ability to teach or to the idea that others are students accepting their teachings. Harboring these ideas would be attaching and discriminating and would block one from obtaining a pure mind.

The Buddha does not take credit for any achievements, nor does he linger on thoughts regarding his activities. Therefore, he does not become weary or overwrought like ordinary people.

“Like a flash of lightning, Bodhisattvas can transform into different forms.” (Infinite Life Sutra). Not being attached to any forms, Bodhisattvas are able to manifest all forms.

There are four similes within “a flash of lightning.” First, its speed; life is short, most people do not realize how short until stricken with illness in their old age. Second, its application; a brief flare of lightning exposing the darkness which represents our ignorance. Buddhas appear in this world to help us break through this ignorance. Third, non-attachment; there is none for any Dharma, ability, phenomena, or achievements. Fourth, it is non-discriminatory; lightning appears anywhere, having no discrimination over what it illuminates.

Demons and ghosts of the world are not as terrifying as demons of the mind. These demons torment our minds and bodies causing us to suffer and age quickly. They are simply brought about by our false viewpoints: the worries, miseries, and our attachments to things that go against your wishes create the demons that we inflict upon ourselves.

Cultivators should refrain from deviated emotions and conditions such as the absence of embarrassment and shamefulness, and the presence of jealousy, stinginess, misdeeds, drowsiness, sleep, agitation, greed, anger and ignorance.

Some people are unconsciously jealous of others who they feel are superior to them. These thoughts lead them to commit wrongdoings that result in ill consequences. Not only will they be afflicted by arrogance and jealousy life after life; these negative characteristics will block their own path to enlightenment

Lacking a conscience and the ability to feel shame, one would commit any evil. Moreover, one will suffer the consequences of their actions.

Stinginess arises from greed when one will not give to help others.

Misdeeds include all behaviors that are not virtuous and logical, thus blocking our virtuous nature.

Sleeping too much clouds our minds and obstructs our practice of the way.

An agitated mind is one that harbors too many wandering thoughts and is bound by worries and unrest.

Drowsiness is feeling tired and spiritless, impeding one’s diligence.

The above eight afflictions, along with greed, anger and ignorance can hopelessly ensnare one in the cycle of birth and death.

Chanting the Buddha’s name can diminish and eliminate one’s accumulated karmic transgressions from the above eight afflictions. By replacing wandering thoughts with mindfulness of the Buddha, one can eliminate countless eons of transgressions.

The essential practice in Buddha name chanting is not quantity but quality, using every chant to replace wandering thoughts, thus eventually reaching purity of mind.

It may be more suitable for beginners to concentrate more on sutra recitation rather than Buddha name chanting, as one will have awareness of dispersion of wandering thoughts when one recites incorrectly. Buddha name chanting is easy to do, but it is not sufficient to help beginners suppress their wandering minds. However, once a person attains deeper awareness and concentration, Buddha name chanting becomes more suitable. One should choose the method that will be most effective in countering wandering thoughts and attachments.

One day the great master Yuan Ying was meditating in his room, his mind was very calm and pure. Suddenly he thought of something and immediately went to take care of it. Getting off his bed, he headed straight out of the room. Only when after he was outside, did he realize the door was still closed and locked. How did he get out? In that instant, he had forgotten that there was a door, and having no attachment, had simply gone through it. But when the thought of the door arose, he was no longer able to go through it.

Not knowing the empty nature of all appearances and phenomenon, we delude ourselves by not realizing their falseness. For example, if we perceive a wall as real, then we will not be able to go through it. However, perceiving one’s body and the wall as not real allows one to pass through it.

Having an affinity, a natural bond, with this world, the Buddha will stay. Once this affinity ends, the Buddha will enter Nirvana.

The Buddha teaches us that we need to search our true self from within, not from the outside. To search from the outside would be superstitious and futile. The need is for one to end one’s afflictions, greed, anger, ignorance and arrogance that block our true self from coming through.

The great Zen master, the Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng said in The Platform Sutra, “not being attached to any outside phenomenon is meditation, no thoughts arising from within is concentration.”

Meditating is settling the mind, not just the practice of sitting in the lotus position on a cushion or platform while having wandering thoughts, one after another.

Meditation is when one is not tempted by the exterior factors of reputation, power, prestige, wealth, the five desires (wealth, lust, food/drink, fame and sleep.), and impurities in the six senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and idea). Concentration is when no afflictions arise from within.

He, who regards others as Buddhas, is a Buddha, while an ordinary person would regard the Buddha as ordinary. In other words, an evil person would regard all as evil, whereas, a virtuous person would regard all as kind and virtuous. In reality, there is no good or bad, beautiful or ugly in the world but just reflections from our mind. The outside environment changes according to one’s state of mind.

When one sees other persons as displeasing, disgusting, etc., this perception comes from the afflictions arising from within one’s own mind and has nothing to do with exterior factors. “True practitioners do not see the faults in others.” (Platform Sutra)

When one’s self-nature arises from within, it also naturally brings out one’s infinite wisdom and virtuous capabilities. This is true goodness.

For most people the usual driving force behind their hard work is reputation and wealth. For enlightened beings, the driving force in the Buddha’s teaching is compassion and wisdom. With wisdom one sees very clearly the true reality of life and the universe, regarding others as oneself. With compassion one understands that spreading the Buddha’s teaching is one’s duty and responsibility. One should do so, expecting nothing in return.

There are two kinds of understanding. One is understanding the truth of our existence and the universe; the other is reaching deeper realization from cultivation. The first one is understood through the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas’ education; the latter one is relying on our own diligent practice.

There are many methods within Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings; the Pure Land School is one method that does not need to overcome so many levels of accomplishment before becoming a Buddha. Reciting Buddha Amitabha’s name with unwavering belief, vowing to reach the Pure Land and practicing diligently will enable one to be reborn into the Western Pure Land.

“Numberless and limitless Bodhisattvas like these came and gathered together. There were also five hundred Bhikshunis (nuns), seven thousand Upasakas (laymen), five hundred Upasikas (laywomen), and Brahma Gods from the realms of Sensuality and Form who attended the assembly.” (Infinite Life Sutra)

Not only these twenty thousand attended this teaching but additional other uncountable beings from higher realms attended as well. This signifies the great importance of this teaching.