[The] Sūtra [In Which The] Buddha Speaks [Of] Eight Great Beings’ Realisations
[By] Later Hàn [Dynasty’s] Parthia Country’s Tripiṭaka [Dharma Master] Ān Shìgāo Translated
As [the] Buddha’s disciples, [they should] constantly in day [and] night, [with utmost] sincere minds, recite [these] eight Great Beings’ realisations.
[Note 1: ‘常’ can also be translated as ‘frequent’ or ‘often’. These Great Beings’ realisations are to remind their reciters to align with them as much as possible in practice, for progress towards realising them, to become Great Beings too. For Pure Land practitioners, as with other optional practices, recitation of them can be a Supportive Practice (助行) added to the Main Practice (正行) of sincere mindfulness of Amitābha Buddha’s name (i.e. 阿弥陀佛: Āmítuófó).
Note 2: ‘Great Beings’ is short for ‘Bodhisattva Mahāsattvas’ (菩萨摩诃萨), with ‘Mahāsattvas’ meaning ‘Great Beings’, who are at least Seventh Ground (七地) Bodhisattvas. These are Great Bodhisattvas who are able to combine great compassion (大悲) with great wisdom (大智) to give rise to great skilful means (大方便) to guide all beings to Buddhahood.
Note 3: All who have reached Pure Land will become at least Eighth Ground (八地) Bodhisattvas, who exceed the most minor Bodhisattva Mahāsattvas. Even those who are already the greatest Bodhisattva Mahāsattvas aspire to reach Pure Land, to most swiftly expedite their progress towards Buddhahood.]
[The] First Realisation: [The] world [is] impermanent, [and] homelands [are] dangerously fragile.
[Note 4: This world in terms of the Earth will cosmically break apart and disintegrate eventually, although not so soon, for billions of years at least. Before that, countries are subject to human-made disasters (such as wars) and natural disasters that endanger life, although even natural disasters (such as the climate crisis) that affect humans are due to their negative karma, thus also human-made. As such, where we live now, which might seem stable, is no safe and lasting refuge, in this and future lives. In contrast, Pure Land is the Land Of Peace And Bliss (安乐国), always free from all disasters.]
[The] Four Great [Elements are of] suffering [and] emptiness, [and the] Five Aggregates [are] without self. [With] arising [and] ceasing transforming, [they are] false [and] without permanence.
[Note 5: The Four Great Elements (地水火风) are the key constituents of matter (and the environment), which are earth (which represents solidity), water (which represents cohesion), fire (which represents energy) and wind (which represents expansion). They condition suffering if clung to, as they are empty of lasting nature. In Pure Land, both the environment and our bodies will be of the most refined forms, thus not leading to suffering; only with bliss.
Note 6: The Five Aggregates are form (which comprises of the Four Great Elements), feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness (色受想行识), which constitute sentient beings like humans. The second to fifth aggregates are constituents of the mind.
Note 7: The Five Aggregates are without any permanent self as there is no unchanging or substantial element within fully capable of willing how the aggregates should be. ‘无主’ can also be translated as ‘without a master’, in terms of being without a true self within the aggregates in control. This is while the ‘true self’ is beyond the aggregates of mind and matter, as Buddha-nature (佛性), the potential for Buddhahood. In Pure Land, our Buddha-nature will be most swiftly realised.]
[The] mind is evil’s source, [and the] body as transgressions’ gathering place.
[Note 8: The Three Poisons (三毒) of attachment (greed), aversion (hatred) and delusion (ignorance) (贪嗔痴) within the mind is the cause of evil and suffering. The body is transgressions’ gathering place as it is with it that transgressions are made and where its effects are experienced. In Pure Land, our minds will be naturally conditioned to only be good and pure, just as our bodies will only be vehicles for goodness and purification.]
Thus observing, gradually depart [from the cycle of] births [and] deaths.
[Note 9: The swiftest way to depart from the cycle of births and deaths is to reach Pure Land, which can be done, even before fully observing to realise the above in this lifetime. In Pure Land, the above will be able to be observed and realised most swiftly too.]
[The] Second Realisation: [With] many desires is suffering, [as the cycle of] births’ [and] deaths’ weariness, from greedy desires arises.
[Note 10: The more greedy worldly desires there are, the more weary suffering there will be in more cycles of births and deaths.]
[With] less desires, [becoming] unconditioned, [is with the] body [and] mind [at] ease.
[Note 11: The key spiritual desire, or rather, aspiration (or vow), that Pure Land practitioners should have is to reach Pure Land. Ease is attained with more peace of mind, when less conditioned by the wish to fulfil endless worldly desires.
Note 12: Only the completely unconditioned are completely liberated. ‘无为’ can also mean ‘non-doing’, to let worldly matters take their own courses naturally. This is more easily done when there are less worldly desires. Of course, on the Bodhisattva path powered by spiritual aspirations, this does not mean to do nothing, to let evil proliferate, when one should do what can be done to prevent this, for the sake of other beings.]
[The] Third Realisation: [With the] mind without satisfaction, only [wanting] attaining [of] much sought, [this] increases transgressions [and] evil.
[Note 13: As long as dissatisfied, while greedy for more of the worldly, with this greed continually expressed, there will be more transgressions made.]
Bodhisattvas [are] not thus, [being] constantly mindful [of] contentment, peaceful [with] simple [lives], guarding [the] path, only [with seeking] wisdom as [their] cause.
[Note 14: Once with contentment, there will be enough. Without contentment, there will never be enough. While there should contentment in the worldly sense, there should still be diligence in the spiritual sense. If content with the cycle of births and deaths, Pure Land and liberation will never be reached.]
[The] Fourth Realisation: [With] laziness [comes] fall.
[Note 15: Complacence and arrogance, that leads to slackness comes before the fall. This is true both in the worldly and spiritual sense.]
[With] constant practice [and] diligence, destroy afflictions [and] evil, subdue [the] Four Demons, [and] exit [the] prison [of the] aggregates’ realm.
[Note 16: The Four Demons are afflictions’ demons (烦恼魔), aggregates’ demons (阴魔), death demon (死魔) and (With Others’ Transformations Having) Ease (i.e. Paranirmita-Vaśavartin) Heaven’s [Māra] Demons ([他化]自在天魔).]
[The] Fifth Realisation: [With] ignorance [is the cycle of] births [and] deaths.
[Note 17: Being ignorant of the cause of the cycle of births and deaths as the Three Poisons perpetuates rebirth.]
Bodhisattvas [are] constantly mindful, widely learning [with] much listening, increasing wisdom, accomplishing eloquence, teaching [and] transforming all [beings, to] all [be] with great bliss.
[Note 18: Being always compassionate, Bodhisattvas continually strive to perfect their wisdom, and to best express it, to guide all others to the greatest bliss of Buddhahood, with the easiest method being through reaching of Pure Land.]
[The] Sixth Realisation: [With] poverty’s suffering [are] many grudges, [that] pervasively form evil affinities.
[Note 19: It is natural that those who are poor and suffering, if not wise enough, easily give rise to resentment and blame of others who are doing better. This can even lead to transgressions and crimes due to the Three Poisons, thus creating enemies.]
Bodhisattvas [practise] generosity, equally mindful [of] enemies [and] relatives, not mindful [of] old grievances, not hating evil persons.
[Note 20: Even if poor, there should be at least some practice of generosity within one’s means. This helps others who are poor and suffering, to have less grudges, thus forming good affinities, for transforming them. Personal generosity is also the karmic remedy for the problem of personal poverty. Generosity should be equanimous, impartial of those with whom one has good or evil affinities with. Upon reaching Pure Land, there will naturally be perfect equanimity for all.]
[The] Seventh Realisation: [With the] Five Desires [are] faults [and] suffering.
[Note 21: The Five Desires are for wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep (财色名食睡). Being aspects of greed, they lead to suffering in this life (and life after life) when they are clung to, while they are not lasting, even when obtained.]
Although as common people, [do] not [be] stained [by] worldly joy.
[Note 22: Even as ordinary beings, we should practise not being tainted by attachment to ever-fleeting worldly pleasures. Otherwise, we will always be worldly beings, with no advancement towards liberation.]
[Be] mindful [of the] Three Robes, bottle, alms bowl [and] Dharma instruments, [with] aspiration [to] leave [the] household [life, and] guard [the] path’s purity, [with] pure practices high [and] far[-reaching, with] loving-kindness [and] compassion [for] all.
[Note 23: ‘高远’ can also be translated as ‘lofty’. Even lay Buddhists should aim to lessen and eradicate the Five Desires in good time, and even aspire to become monastics, in this life or the next. If not possible in this life, this can easily be fulfilled by aspiring to reach Pure Land by the end of this life, where the Five Desires will be eradicated, and where there will be all pure practices accomplished perfectly. There, even the loftiest aspirations will be able to be accomplished.]
[The] Eighth Realisation: [With the cycle of] births [and] deaths burning fiercely, [are] sufferings [and] afflictions immeasurable.
[Note 24: To reflect upon this in terms of oneself, is compassion for only oneself. To reflect upon this in terms of all other beings, is compassion for everyone else. The latter aids giving rise to Bodhicitta. (See Note 25.)]
Give rise [to the] Great Vehicle’s Mind, [to] universally help all, aspiring [to] replace sentient beings, [to] receive immeasurable suffering, enabling all sentient beings, [to attain] ultimate great bliss.
[Note 25: The ‘Great Vehicle’s Mind’ is ‘Bodhicitta’ (菩提心), the greatest spiritual aspiration, to guide oneself and all beings to Buddhahood. It is possible to eradicate negative karma that causes suffering on the behalf of others to some extent if there is collective karma. Even if it is karmically impossible for any one person to suffer for all beings completely, having this aspiration expresses and nurtures great compassion in thought and deed.]
Thus, [of] these eight matters, [they] indeed are that [which] all Buddhas [and] Great Bodhisattva Beings realised.
[Note 26: ‘菩萨大人’ are ‘Bodhisattva Mahāsattvas’, who are also ‘Bodhisattva Great Beings’. The Buddhas can be considered as perfected ‘Bodhisattva Mahāsattvas’, thus transcending the term to be called Buddhas, as completely awakened ones.]
[They] diligently practise [the] path, [with] loving-kindness [and] compassion cultivating wisdom, riding [upon the] Dharma body’s [i.e. Dharmakāya] ship, [having] reached Nirvāṇa’s shore, again returned [to the cycle of] births [and] deaths, [to] deliver [and] liberate sentient beings.
[Note 27: Being Bodhisattva Mahāsattvas, they can easily connect to and ‘ride upon’ the Dharmakāya, which is the universal body of all Buddhas, as the Dharma Body’s Great Beings (法身大士), who have attained at least the First Abode (初住) of Bodhisattvahood. Their return to the cycle of births and deaths would be as already liberated beings, as great Bodhisattvas (or Buddhas), who are not personally subject to suffering (even when manifesting so, as a skilful means to blend in with the masses to be helped). While it is very difficult for ordinary beings to reach Nirvāṇa directly, it is much easier to reach Pure Land first, where Nirvāṇa will be most swiftly realised. Those who return from Pure Land will be the Dharma Body’s Great Beings too.]
With [the] preceding eight matters, [they] teach [and] guide all, enabling all sentient beings, [to] awaken [to the cycle of] births’ [and] deaths’ sufferings, renounce [and] depart [from the] Five Desires, [and] cultivate [the] mind [for the] noble path.
[Note 28: The swiftest and easiest way to become a Bodhisattva Mahāsattva capable of doing the above to benefit all other beings is via reaching and training in the best Dharma school available – in Pure Land.]
If [the] Buddha’s disciples, recite these eight matters, in thought [to] thought within, [this] eradicates immeasurable transgressions, [to] enter into Bodhi, swiftly ascend [to] Right Awakening, forever sever [the cycle of] births [and] deaths, [and] constantly abide [in] happiness.
[Note 29: ‘Bodhi’ here refers to the ‘Right Awakening’ of Buddhahood. It should be noted that mindfulness of Āmítuófó’s name alone eradicates 80 koṭis (i.e. 10 million each) of kalpas’ (i.e. world cycles of about 1.3 trillion years each) births’ and deaths’ transgressions. In addition, the swiftest path to Right Awakening, which severs the cycle of births and deaths, to constantly abide in happiness, is by reaching his Pure Land.]
Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an
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