[The] Buddha’s Manifestation [As] Big Fishes [To] Guide People [To] Recite [The] Buddha’s [Name]
[In the] Abode [Of] Lions’ Country [i.e. Siṁhala, the ancient name of Sri Lanka], on [its] sea is [an] island, [which] included families [of] more [than] five hundred, [who] catch birds for food.
[Note 1: Itself a large island, Sri Lanka has dozens of smaller offshore islands. Although the country is today with mostly Buddhists, the Buddhist tradition embraced is mostly non-Mahāyāna in nature, while the Pure Land teachings are part of the Mahāyāna tradition.]
Suddenly, [there] were innumerable fishes [who] came, chanting ‘Námó Āmítuófó’ [which means ‘Homage to and refuge for life in Amitā(bha) Buddha].
[Note 2: As the islanders caught birds, there could be manifestation of chanting birds instead. However, this phenomenon of talking fishes was clearly intended to be especially unusual, to skilfully attract and sustain fresh attention. This is the Buddha’s first skilful means.]
[The] islanders, not understanding [the] Buddha’s teachings, followed their sounds. [When] chanting ‘Námó Āmítuófó’, [the] fishes immediately [swam] near [the] shore.
[Note 3: As the fishes were ‘curiously’ chanting, it naturally made the islanders follow doing so, at least mentally, if not verbally too. This is the Buddha’s second skilful means. The fishes further encouraged them to chant by swimming nearer to them when they chanted. This is the Buddha’s third skilful means.]
Repeatedly chanting, [and even with] killing of [the fishes], yet [they do] not leave, [with their] meat extremely delicious.
[Note 4: The fishes as if welcoming the islanders, apparently did not ‘learn from their mistake’ of swimming towards the chanting islanders, who keep catching and killing them. This is the Buddha’s fourth skilful means. With their tasty meat, this further encouraged them to chant, even if it is to catch them. This is the Buddha’s fifth skilful means.]
Moreover, those [who] chanted long[er, tasted] flavour most supreme. Those [who] chanted less, [tasted] flavour gradually inferior. [The] people fond [of the] fish meat, thereupon all recited [the] Buddha’s name.
[Note 5: The phenomenon of more chanting leading to more tasty meat further encouraged chanting. This is the Buddha’s sixth skilful means.]
Later, a person died, [and] three months later, riding [a] purple cloud emitting bright light [then] came.
[Note 6: This person returning with attention-catching auspicious signs to bring the below message to the rest, was most likely instructed to do so by the Buddha, to encourage chanting. This is the Buddha’s seventh skilful means.]
[He] said [to the] masses, ‘I [have] attained birth [in the] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss. [As] that Buddha sympathised [with] our ignorance, [he] manifested with fishes’ bodies, [to] encourage [us] to be able to recite [the] Buddha’s [name].
[Note 7: The recorded details of this account have no mention of how the person reached Pure Land. However, the universal and only way to do so is to give rise to the Three Provisions (三资粮) of profound Faith (深信), sincere Aspiration (切愿) and true Practice (实行) of mindfulness of the Buddha’s name (念佛). What must have occurred is that with much Practice of reciting the Buddha’s name, which connected to the Buddha’s blessings, this inspired Faith and Aspiration to arise – until the provisions all became adequate. In this sense, although accumulation of the Three Provisions usually begins with Faith and Aspiration for most, it is also possible to begin with some Practice with little understanding, that gradually become more profound in Faith and sincere in Aspiration. Such is the great meritorious power of the Buddha’s name, even without understanding or believing in its powers at first. This is the Buddha’s eighth skilful means.]
You [can] see [the] fish bones, [to] all [have] become lotus flowers.’
[Note 8: This request for all to personally see the supernormally miraculous transformation for themselves further encourages chanting. This is the Buddha’s ninth skilful means.]
Those [who] saw [them] came to appreciate [and] realise [so, and] thus abstained [from] killing lives, together all reciting [the] Buddha’s [name].
[Note 9: The witnesses probably awoke to the truth that all sentient lives could be manifestations of the enlightened, which led them to embrace the First Precept to not take lives. This is while they did not truly break the First Precept when they ‘killed’ the fishes, as they were only manifestations of the Buddha, who had already completely liberated from the cycle of births and deaths. This is the Buddha’s tenth skilful means.]
[Note 10: This interesting series of events is particularly inspiring because it depicts how even ancient Buddhas of a faraway land like Āmítuófó have compassion so perfect and all-encompassing, that he even proactively and most skilfully manifests before those who might otherwise have no existing means to learn how to practise the Dharma.
[Note 11: If the above is the case, why do all not keep experiencing such miracles in everyday life that awaken their faith, understanding and practice? In terms of the Pure Land teachings, there are three kinds of people in our world. The first and best kind already have the Three Provisions. For them, the Buddha need not create such miracles. The third and ‘worst’ kind have so much negative karma that they do not karmically deserve such miracles – to the extent that even if the Buddha wants them to experience them, they are still ‘inexperienceable’. Only those in the middle, the second kind, who have enough positive karmic affinity and spiritual receptivity can experience them.]
[Note 12: With all-knowing wisdom and perfect skilful means powered by perfect compassion, the Buddha knows exactly who to manifest before, and how to most skilfully do so. Even learning the timeless lessons about the Buddha through this account is in a way to learn through his past manifestations, to semi-experience them. The key question to ponder is – ‘How can we increase our affinity and receptivity towards the Buddha, so as to most efficiently further our spiritual life?’ The answer is simple – ‘By learning and practising mindfulness of the Buddha directly, sincerely and diligently.]
([The] Triple Gem’s Responses’ Summaries)
Pure Land Noble Sages’ Record
三编 • 补遗第五
Third Compilation: Fifth [Section]: Addendum
Compiled [by Dharma] Master Désēn
Namo Amituofo : Translation And Notes By Shen Shi’an
How Āmítuófó Manifested To Guide To His Pure Land With Twelve Skilful Means As A Parrot