Q&A

The 88 Buddhas & the 39 Buddhas

Question: There are passages in the Amitabha Sutra that speaks of (altogether) 38 Buddhas of the various six directions (with Shakyamuni Buddha in the ‘centre’). I came across some similar Buddha names in the chanting text of the 88 Buddhas (for repentance, whereby devotees recite the name of each Buddha followed by a bow). Does prostrating to the 88 Buddhas have anything to do with the Amitabha Pure Land teachings?

Answer: When we chant the names of the Buddhas listed in the Amitabha Sutra with a respectful and repentful heart, it should have similar effect to chanting the names listed in the 88 Buddhas, though devotionally speaking in quantity, they number about half and prostration in not practised while chanting the names. When we practise repentance, it is for furthering spiritual practice, part of which can be seeking birth in Pure Land.

However, the main purpose of the names listed in the Sutra is to let us know that countless Buddhas bear testimony to the reality of the Pure Land teachings. The listed were but a sampling. It is also stated that one who is mindful of the Amitabha Sutra (which contains their names and the Pure Land teachings) will be protected and kept in mind by all Buddhas. Such blessings aid practice of the path to perfect enlightenment.

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  • Re: Please refer to 88 Buddhas Repentance ritual (88 Fo Chan) which is one of my favourites. 35 of the Buddhas are same as the famous ’35 Buddhas of Confession’ that are used mainly in Tibetan Buddhism. Lama Tsongkhapa practised a lot of prostrations when practising this.

    Reply: From https://purelanders.com/2013/04/22/amituofo-as-one-all-buddhas :

    n the traditional ‘Repentance Text With 88 Buddhas’ (八十八佛忏悔文), listed as the 89th Buddha is this: ‘Homage to (and Refuge in) the Dharma realm’s (dharmadhatu: universe) Treasury Body’s Amita Buddha’ (南无法界藏身阿弥陀佛). This is to conclude, summarise and streamline the mindfulness of all Buddhas via mindfulness of Amituofo. As explained by Great Master Yin Guang (印光大师: the 13th Patriarch of the Pure Land tradition):

    《须知阿弥陀佛,是法界藏身。
    所有十方法界诸佛功德,阿弥陀佛一佛,全体具足。
    如帝网珠,千珠摄于一珠,一珠遍于千珠。
    举一全收,无欠无余。》

    – 增广卷第一复高邵麟居士书二

    ‘[It] should [be] known that Amita Buddha is the Dharma realm’s [universe] treasury body [or storehouse of compassion, wisdom and merits of all Buddhas]. Of all the ten directions’ [everywhere] Dharma realms’ merits of all Buddhas, Amita Buddha as one Buddha, have them all completely. [This is] as if Sakra’s [Indra the deva king] net of gems, with thousands[‘s reflections] of gems absorbed within one gem, one gem[‘s reflection] everywhere within thousands of gems. Raising one, all are received, without any lack, without any excess.’

    – Scroll of Widening [Understanding & Learning]: First reply to Layman Gao Shao Lin’s second letter

    In other words, the name of Amituofo represents and contains all Buddhas’ merits based on their boundless compassion and wisdom, that pervade all space and time. Using Indra’s net as an analogy, which is strung with countless gems, each reflecting all others, and all reflecting one, upholding mindfulness of just one name of a Buddha sincerely, i.e. Amituofo, one will in effect be mindful of all other Buddhas without loss of focus, or being scatter-minded. No Buddha will be amiss and no stray thoughts will arise.

    While all Buddhas have their individually distinct (and sometimes similar) names (别号) based on their characteristics (such as how they became Buddhas and how they are like after Buddhahood), they also have a fundamental, original or universal name (本名), that is common to all of them collectively, in terms of the Dharmakaya and dharmadhatu. This name is ‘Amituofo’. This is why mindfulness of Amituofo alone with wholeheartedness (single-mindedness) is so meritorious and equivalent to being mindful of all Buddhas. It also explains why our fundamental teacher Sakyamuni Buddha repeatedly encouraged mindfulness of Amituofo, and how all who uphold mindfulness of Amituofo’s name ‘will be protected and kept in mind by all Buddhas’ (为一切诸佛之所护念). Connecting deeply to Amituofo with a strong sense of focus enables us to connect to all other Buddhas via the Samadhi of Mindfulness of Buddha. This is also possible upon reaching Amituofo’s Pure Land, where we will have unlimited access to other Buddhas in their Pure Lands via the empowerment of Amituofo’s blessings.

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!