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Top Ten Reasons Why Amituofo is So Popular (Significance of the 17th Vow of Amituofo)

Introduction

As the popular Buddhist saying goes, ‘家家观世音,户户阿弥陀’ [Every (Chinese) household knows Guanyin Bodhisattva and Amitabha Buddha (Amituofo).] Sometimes, in Chinese culture, it even seems that Amituofo is more popular than Shakyamuni Buddha due to his name being more widespread and readily uttered. Some reasons for why this is so are within Vow #17 of Amituofo (in the Infinite Life Sutra), as we shall see.

诸佛称名赞叹愿:设我得佛,十方世界无量诸佛,不悉咨嗟称我名者,不取正觉。

Vow of Name Being Proclaimed and Highly Praised by All Buddhas: If, when I attain Buddhahood, all immeasurable Buddhas in the worlds of the ten directions should not all praise and proclaim my name, may I not attain perfect awakening [Buddhahood].

[1] A Selfless Vow

Dharmakara Bodhisattva vowed to attain the ability to be introduced by all Buddhas to beings of their worlds upon his realisation of Buddhahood, when his compassion and wisdom is fully perfected as Amituofo. At first glance, the thought of wanting oneself to be universally recognised and pronounced might seem to be an incredibly egoistic aspiration. However, since all Buddhas are selfless, this Vow #17 is based on immeasurable compassion instead.

[2] A Deeply Deliberated Vow

As in the Infinite Life Sutra, Dharmakara surveyed the detailed aspects of 210 kotis (1 koti = 10 million) Pure Lands with the natures of the beings there, before spending 5 kalpas (1 kalpa = 13, 4384, 0000 years) to deeply contemplate upon the vows he should make for creating his Pure Land, such that it is able to combine all the advantages of the reviewed Pure Lands to benefit all kinds of beings. One of the vows he contemplated was this Vow #17, which enables ‘news’ of his Pure Land to be broadcast throughout the universe.

[3] Co-operation of All Buddhas

As all Buddhas are propagators of truth, the fact that all Buddhas do praise and proclaim the name of Amituofo and his related teachings means that they do indeed find him and his Pure Land highly praiseworthy. While there is no sense of competition among the Buddhas in terms of trying to outdo one another (since all Buddhas are equally perfect), there is also perfect co-operation to universally promote Amituofo’s Pure Land due to its outstanding excellence. This exemplifies how all Buddhas help to fulfill one another’s vows seamlessly and selflessly.

[4] The Praised & Proclaimed

Other than his name per se, as mentioned in Vow #17, what exactly is praised and proclaimed by all other Buddhas about Amituofo? In a sense, Amituofo is praised for the excellence of all his other 47 Vows too. If the totality of all his 48 Vows are not of supreme excellence, or that they have not all been perfectly accomplished yet, no Buddhas would agree to praise Amituofo.

[5] Importance of Amituofo’s Name

Amituofo wanted was his name to be universally marketed to as many potential ‘customers’ (sentient beings) as possible by the best of marketers (Buddhas), so as to benefit them. His name is important as it encapsulates his immeasurable compassion, wisdom, merits and blessings. Single-minded practice of mindfulness of his name with right faith and aspiration is the direct, key and simplest of skilful means that leads to successful birth in his Pure Land. As such, his name is the vehicle to attain birth there.

[6] Special Attention

That Amituofo wants his name to be praised and proclaimed by all other Buddhas means that he wants them to pay special attention and focus on his Pure Land, and to make the path to reach it be known far and wide, so that they can in turn urge the beings they teach to pay special attention and focus on his Pure Land, and to walk the path towards reaching it. Working in unison, Amituofo is like a loving spiritual parent who receives beings in his Pure Land while the other parent (other Buddhas) urges beings to seek birth where they can learn to swiftly become Buddhas. Amituofo’s Pure Land is likened to the most efficient ‘production line’ that churns out the most Buddhas in the shortest time possible.

[7] Credibility of Praise

In the Amitabha Sutra, all Buddhas, instead of only Bodhisattvas or Arhats who are not yet perfectly enlightened, are recorded to praise, endorse and promote the teachings associated with Amituofo’s Pure Land. This is important as Buddhas, being fully enlightened, have the greatest spiritual credibility. That they selflessly vouch for the excellence of Amituofo’s Pure Land is not offering mere ‘customer reviews’; as this offers ultimate Buddha-to-Buddha ‘peer reviews’ instead. If Amituofo’s Pure Land is not good enough or only average, all the other Buddhas would not take the trouble to ‘market’ it as according to Vow #17 to ensure its universal publicity. All Buddhas also vouch for the truth of Amituofo’s Pure Land because teachings about it are relatively difficult to believe for many, even though as many as possible should.

[8] Super Skilful Teaching

It is perfectly natural that there will be one ultimately super skilful teaching that all Buddhas unanimously agree and universally praise to be the best means to swiftly guide as many beings of all capacities as possible at any one time, especially now, during the Dharma-diminishing Age, to full enlightenment. This means is the Pure Land method. There is no other comprehensive method to Buddhahood that all Buddhas agree is a must to propagate, especially since the Pure Land method is effective in all three ages (True Dharma Age, Dharma Semblance Age and Dharma-Diminishing Age). Amituofo’s Pure Land is the ultimate physical expression of compassion and wisdom that facilitates the most effective training of beings for the highest enlightenment, which also provides various bonus advantages.

[9] Best of the Best

Amituofo’s Pure Land being endorsed by all Buddhas who have perfect compassion and wisdom means that even if all Buddhas are to synergise their compassion and wisdom, they cannot create a Pure Land that is any more excellent. Thus, it would be a serious mistake to imagine that birth in Pure Land slows down the path to Buddhahood instead of speeding it up. No single Buddha would create a Pure Land that decelerates instead of accelerates the path to Buddhahood. If any one does, that being cannot be a Buddha, as perfect compassion and wisdom are requisites to be Buddhas, and having these qualities, no Buddha would create a sloppy Pure Land (that cannot even be called a Pure Land). The fact that Amituofo’s Pure Land speeds up the path to Buddhahood is also an expression of his universal compassion because he wants to train beings swiftly to help other beings in Samsara. When all Buddhas urge beings of their worlds to seek birth in his Pure Land, they are also expressing the same perfect compassion.

[10] Cross-Fulfillment of Vow

It is due to the fulfillment of Vow #17 by Amituofo and other Buddha(s), that we come to know about Amituofo. In our world, our understanding about Amituofo is via Shakyamuni Buddha, who praised and proclaimed Amituofo’s name in the Pure Land Sutras. As in the Amitabha Sutra, together with Shakyamuni Buddha in the ‘centre’ and 38 other Buddhas of all directions, who represent all the other countless Buddhas in these directions (who are too many to list in the Sutra), testify, praise and proclaim the Pure Land teachings in the Sutra. This clearly bears testimony to the fulfillment of Vow #17.

‘舍利弗,如我今者,赞叹阿弥陀佛不可思议功德之利,东 [, 南, 西, 北, 下, 上] 方亦 [‘等等’]佛。如是等恒河沙数诸佛,各于其国,出广长舌相,遍覆三千大千世界,说诚实言:汝等众生,当信是称赞不可思议功德一切诸佛所护念经。

‘Sariputra, just as I [Shakyamuni Buddha] now praise the benefits of Amita Buddha’s [Amituofo] inconceivable merits, so do the Buddhas in the eastern [, southern, western, northern, nadir, zenith] direction, such as [‘Names of Various’] Buddha[s]. With other Buddhas as numerous as the sands of the River Ganges, while dwelling in their lands, they extend their broad and long tongues, encompassing three-thousand-great-thousand world-systems, pronouncing these words of truth: ‘You and other beings should faithfully accept this Sutra praised for its inconceivable merits, which is “Protected and Kept in Mind by All Buddhas”.’

‘舍利弗,于汝意云何?何故名为一切诸佛所护念经?舍利弗,若有善男子、善女人,闻是经受持者,及闻诸佛名者,是诸善男子、善女人,皆为一切诸佛之所护念,皆得不退转于阿耨多罗三藐三菩提。是故舍利弗,汝等皆当信受我语,及诸佛所说。

‘Sariputra, what do you think this means? Why is it called the Sutra “Protected and Kept in Mind by All Buddhas”? Sariputra, if good men and good women hear this Sutra, receive and uphold it, and hear the names of all these Buddhas, these good men and good women will all be “Protected and Kept in Mind by All Buddhas”, and will all attain the Stage of Non-retrogression for realising Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi [Buddhahood]. This is why, Sariputra, you and others should all faithfully accept my words, and that spoken by all Buddhas.’

‘舍 利弗,若有人已发愿、今发愿、当发愿,欲生阿弥陀佛国者,是诸人等,皆得不退转于阿耨多罗三藐三菩提,于彼国土,若已生、若今生、若当生。是故舍利弗,诸 善男子、善女人,若有信者,应当发愿,生彼国土。舍利弗,如我今者,称赞诸佛不可思议功德,彼诸佛等,亦称赞我不可思议功德,而作是言:释迦牟尼佛能为甚 难希有之事,能于娑婆国土,五浊恶世, 劫浊、见浊、烦恼浊、众生浊、命浊中,得阿耨多罗三藐三菩提,为诸众生,说是一切世间难信之法。舍利弗,当知我于五浊恶世,行此难事,得阿耨多罗三藐三菩提,为一切世间说此难信之法,是为甚难。’

‘Sariputra, if there are people who have vowed, now vow or will vow to be born in Amita Buddha’s land, they all attain the Stage of Non-retrogression for realisation of Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, and they have already been born, are now being born, or will be born in that land. This is why, Sariputra, good men and good women, if they have faith, should aspire to be born in that land. Sariputra, just as I now praise all Buddhas’ inconceivable merits, all these Buddhas also praise my inconceivable merits, and say, “Shakyamuni Buddha has accomplished an extremely difficult and rare task, to be able to, in this Saha world, and during the evil period of the five corruptions – of time [age], views, passions [afflictions], sentient beings, and life[-span], attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, and for the sake of all beings, deliver this teaching which is the most difficult in the whole world to accept in faith.” Sariputra, you ought to know that I, during this period of the five corruptions, have accomplished this difficult task, of attaining Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, and for the sake of the whole world, deliver this teaching which is difficult to accept in faith. This is indeed extremely difficult.’

To even more powerfully and more than doubly emphasise the importance and worth of Amituofo’s Pure Land teachings after praising them personally in the Amitabha Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha too was in turn praised by all Buddhas for delivering these teachings despite the doubly emphasised great difficulties of doing so. It is worth noting that the four great Bodhisattvas [Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva (Guanshiyin Pusa) who represents perfect Compassion, Manjusri Bodhisattva (Wenshushili Pusa) who represents perfect Wisdom, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva (Dizang Pusa) who represents perfect Aspiration (Vows) and Samantabhadra  Bodhisattva (Puxian Pusa) who represents perfect Practice] are all manifestations of ancient Buddhas, which is why they too guide beings to Amituofo’s Pure Land, thus also fulfilling Vow #17 as Buddhas.

Conclusion

Amituofo’s Pure Land is so excellent, that paradoxically, even if he did not make Vow #17, seeking birth in it would still be recommended by other Buddhas because it is too excellent not to recommend. The Pure Land teachings are also taught by Buddhas without request, which means they are of such special importance that the Buddhas find them essential to be shared. The best praise of Amituofo which fulfils Vow #17, is to teach how to reach his Pure Land in detail. All Buddhas of the past, present and future thus have the joyful mission and universal responsibility to praise and teach about Amituofo and his Pure Land. In a way, if the Buddhas can share only one teaching, this would be the one. However, as it is relatively more difficult to generate faith in the Pure Land teachings, foundational teachings are taught in preparation of delivering them too.

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!