Essential Verses [On The] Amitābha Sūtra
[These verses only aspire to briefly explain the sūtra’s essential meanings.]
Verses [On] Preface Section
Verse [On] Confidence
Great Master Kumārajīva,
[who] translated [the] Amitābha Sūtra,
[with his] tongue becoming śarīrā,
gives us confidence [in it].
[Note: As the Sūtra-Translating Master of seven past Buddhas (七佛以来译经师), to assert the power of truth before his departure for offering faith in his works, Tripiṭaka Dharma Master Kumārajīva (三藏法师鸠摩罗什) declared, ‘Now, before this assembly, I truthfully vow that, if all that transmitted is without error, after cremating my body, my tongue will neither be scorched nor rot.’ (今于众前，发诚实誓，若所传无谬者，当使焚身之后，舌不燋烂。) As the tongue represents all communicated in words, while being one of the softest parts of the body, that should be easily burnt away, with it being the only part intact after cremation expresses the indestructible truthfulness of his works, as accurate reflections of the Buddha’s teachings.]
Verse [On The] Self-Spoken
[Our] fundamental teacher Śākyamuni [Buddha],
without [being] asked self-spoke,
[the] extremely profound [and] essential
[Note: The Pure Land teachings in the Amitābha Sūtra are so profound that only Buddhas understand them completely, thus being able to first teach them, to all other non-Buddhas. These teachings are so essential for guiding sentient beings to Buddhahood, that even if all beings are too ignorant to ask for them and about them, with their perfect compassion, the Buddhas will definitely take the initiative to teach them to those ready. This reminds us of how precious and important the Pure Land teachings are to all beings, even to the Buddhas.]
Verse [On The] Two Greats
with Great Bodhisattvas,
all listened [to, and] faithfully accepted,
[the] Amitābha Sūtra.
[Note: Even spiritually great ones already with self-liberation and those on the way to complete liberation appreciate the most skilful Pure Land teachings, as they most swiftly expedite progress to Buddhahood, for themselves and all other sentient beings.]
Verse [On] Right [And] Equally [Awakened Ones]
Those already [with] self-liberation,
likewise should [be] born [in the] Western [Pure Land],
[to] completely learn [to] deliver others,
[to] accomplish [as] Right [And] Equally Awakened [Ones].
[Note: Even Arhats and Bodhisattvas already self-liberated should seek birth in Pure Land to most swiftly master how to deliver all others to Buddhahood, and to become Buddhas themselves.]
Verse [On] Mañjuśrī [Bodhisattva]
[As the] teacher of seven Buddhas,
[even] Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva,
faithfully accepted mindfulness [of] Buddha,
[to] express great wisdom [to others].
[Note: As an ancient Buddha (古佛) remanifesting as a Great Bodhisattva out of great compassion (大悲), Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva already taught seven past Buddhas-to-be in this world, on how to accomplish Buddhahood. Thus able to embody great wisdom (大智), he expresses it by being a great example to all non-Buddhas, by faithfully accepting the Pure Land teachings to most swiftly expedite progress to Buddhahood.]
Verse [On] Maitreya [Bodhisattva]
[The] future descending [to be] born
Maitreya Honourable Buddha,
likewise faithfully accepted [and] cultivated,
[the] Pure Land Dharma Door.
[Note: Even Maitreya Bodhisattva (弥勒菩萨), who is destined to be the next Buddha in this world 5.67 billion years later, set a great example to all other sentient beings, by accepting and cultivating the Pure Land teachings. In Universal Virtue Bodhisattva’s Practices And Vows Chapter《普贤菩萨行愿品》, Maitreya Bodhisattva is taught to be seen by those born in Pure Land. Although he is also taught to be in Tuṣita Heaven’s Inner Court (兜率内院), he can manifest in Pure Land to learn and teach there at the same time too.]
Verse [On] Imparting
when accomplishing [as a] Buddha,
likewise will impart,
[the] Pure Land Dharma Door.
[Note: Even when Maitreya Bodhisattva accomplishes Buddhahood in this world 5.67 billion years later, he will also transmit the Pure Land teachings learnt, so as to guide other sentient beings then, to reach Pure Land, to most swiftly expedite their progress to Buddhahood.]
Verse [On] Transcending Heavens
Knowing [that the] Pure Land transcends
all heavenly realms,
heavenly [beings] likewise accept
[the] Amitābha Sūtra.
[Note: As the Pure Land Of Ultimate Bliss transcends all heavenly planes with its most refined physical splendours and most skilful spiritual benefits, while the heavens are not lasting in experience, and are still in the six paths (六道) of existence, wise gods seek birth in the Pure Land too.]
Verse [On] Every Human
Since every human [being],
is still [an] ordinary being,
[for a] long [time already], yet [to] accomplish [as a] Buddha,
[all] should [be] born [in the] Western [Pure Land].
[Note: Since even wise gods, Arhats and Bodhisattvas, with the last two being noble beings (圣者) seek birth in Pure Land, all human beings, who are just ordinary beings, who are much spiritually less advanced than them, should seek birth in Pure Land too. Once reaching it, humans will no longer be ordinary beings, while being destined to most swiftly become the most noble beings, as Buddhas.]
Verse [On] Two ‘Is'[es]
Passing here, [in the] western direction,
[a] hundred thousand koṭis [of] lands,
is [the Pure] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss,
is Amitābha Buddha [speaking the Dharma].
[Note: Both the Pure Land Of Ultimate Bliss (极乐世界) and Amitābha Buddha (阿弥陀佛) teaching there are definite and tangible, a hundred thousand (galactic) world systems away in the West. Thus, the Buddha and his Pure Land should not be thought to be non-physical, to only be in the mind. Just as his Pure Land can be reached in person, the Buddha can be met to learn from in person there too.]
Verses [On] Main Principles’ Section
Verse [On] Suffering [And] Bliss
[The Pure] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss,
is without all [kinds of] suffering,
only [with] receiving [of] all [kinds of] bliss,
thus named ‘Ultimate Bliss’.
[Note: There is no physical pain and mental suffering of any kind in Pure Land, while only having all kinds of physical pleasures and mental bliss, that are not distracting; that are only inspiring, conducive for the swiftest spiritual progress, towards the ultimate bliss of Buddhahood.]
Verse [On] Four Treasures
[With] seven layers [of] balustrades,
nets [and] lined trees,
[with] four treasures surrounding,
thus named ‘Ultimate Bliss’.
[Note: The seven layers (七重) express the seven categories of path qualities (七科道品), of (1) Four Mindfulness Foundations (四念处), (2) Four Right Efforts (四正勤), (3) Four As Wished Bases (Of Power) (四如意足), (4) Five Roots (五根), (5) Five Powers (五力), (6) Sevenfold Bodhi Factors (七菩提分) and the (7) Eightfold Noble Path (八圣道分). The Four Treasures (四宝) of (1) gold (金), (2) silver (银), (3) lapis lazuli (琉璃) and (4) crystal (玻璃) express (1) eternity (常), (2) bliss (乐) , (3) (true) self (我) and (4) purity (净), as the Four Virtues (四德) of Buddhahood.]
Verse [On] Ponds [And] Waters
[In] seven treasures’ ponds within,
[are] eight meritorious virtues’ waters,
[with] pond beds [of] golden sand,
[and] four treasures’ stairways.
[Note: The seven treasures are (1) gold (金), (2) silver (银), (3) lapis lazuli (琉璃), (4) crystal (玻璃), (5) tridacna (砗磲), (6) red pearls (赤珠) and (7) carnelian (玛瑙), while the four treasures are the first four, with all representing meritorious virtues’ adornments (功德庄严) filling the Pure Land. Even the pond beds are adorned, without filthy mud. The eight meritorious virtues of water are (1) being tranquil and clear (澄清), without muddy impurities, (2) being pure and cool (清冷), without cold and hot, (3) being sweet and pleasant (甘美), without saltiness and tastelessness, (4) being light and soft (轻软), without heaviness and hardness, (5) being moisturising (润泽), without spoiling and fading, (6) being peaceful and harmonious (安和), without being hurried and violent, (7) being able to eradicate hunger and thirst (饥渴), without rawness and cold, and (8) being able to grow and nurture all sense roots (长养诸根), without injuring and damaging all roots, with epidemics, increasing sickness, causing sinking, drowning and others.]
Verse [On] Lotus Flowers
[With] chariot wheel-like lotus flowers,
[of] immeasurable colours [and] lights,
refined, wonderful, fragrant [and] pure,
[these] are those places born.
[Note: Representing birth into great physical and spiritual refinement, wonders, fragrance and purity, the smallest wheel-like flowers are like Wheel-Turning Kings’ gold wheels (轮王金轮), as large as forty lǐs (里) or twenty kilometres in diameter. With blossoming of the flowers, there will be ascent on the shores of Pure Land to meet the Buddha, hear and practise the Dharma, and join the Saṃgha.]
Verse [On] Sky [And] Ground
[The Pure Land] constantly plays heavenly music,
[with] gold as ground,
[and] seven treasures’ towering pavilions,
[with such] meritorious virtues’ adornments.
[Note: That sky above is with adornments of heavenly flowers and music, for making offerings and offering sounds of the Dharma respectively. The ground below is with adornments of soft gold and other treasures, for magnificent and comfortable walking. Those in between are with adornments of ponds, waters, stairways, lotus flowers (as birthplaces), towering pavilions (as dwelling places), treasure trees and such. The seven treasures are (1) gold (金), (2) silver (银), (3) lapis lazuli (琉璃), (4) crystal (玻璃), (5) tridacna (砗磲), (6) red pearls (赤珠) and (7) carnelian (玛瑙).]
Verse [On] Making Offerings
[In] day [and] night raining [from the] sky,
[are] many wonderful kinds [of] flowers,
with clothes’ lapels filling [them],
making offerings [to the] ten directions’ Buddhas.
[Note: Many heavenly flowers fall from the sky all the time in the Pure Land, which can be caught with clothes’ lapels, to carry them, to make offerings to other directions’ hundred thousand koṭis of Buddhas.]
Verse [On] Blessings [And] Wisdom
Make offerings [to] all Buddhas,
[to] cultivate great blessed virtues,
[and] listen [to the] Buddhas’ spoken Dharma,
[to] realise great wisdom.
[Note: Through the Pure Land, with practice as in Verse 16, the above is how blessed virtues and wisdom can both be most swiftly cultivated at the same time (福慧双修), until both are complete and perfect (福慧圆满), which is to attain Buddhahood.]
Verse [On] Ease
Quickly [and with] ease,
early [in the] morning offering [to many] Buddhas,
[by] mealtime, promptly returning,
[for] eating and [doing] walking meditation.
[Note: There is ability to quickly make offerings to many other directions’ hundred thousand koṭis of Buddhas (before returning for personal Dharma practices), and to learn from them, thus cultivating blessed virtues and wisdom at the same time (福慧双修). Physical eating in Pure Land is optional as the beings there can be with the Dharma (以法为食) and meditative bliss as food (禅悦为食).]
Verses [On The] Five Dusts
[With] ground [and] others [as] form dust,
[with] music as sound dust,
[with] flowers as sound [and] smell [dusts],
[with] eating as taste dust.
[With] filling flowers, scattering flowers,
[and] walking meditation [as] touch dusts,
[with the] five dusts speaking [the] Dharma,
matching all sentient [beings’] five roots.
[Note: Other than the gold ground, ‘others’ would include all other sights in the Pure Land, such as its balustrades, nets, trees, waters, sand, lotus flowers and towering pavilions. The Pure Land skilfully fully utilises the five senses for its beings to learn and be mindful of the Dharma. This is a reason why mastery of Dharma-learning and practice there is so swift and efficient, with no distractions by anything that is not of the Dharma.]
Verses [On] Birds’ Sounds
[With] all kinds [of] unique [and] wonderful
birds of various colours,
[who] produce harmonious [and] elegant sounds,
[that] clearly expound all Dharma [teachings].
That land’s sentient beings,
[having] heard these sounds already,
all [become] mindful [of the] Buddha,
mindful [of the] Dharma, [and] mindful [of the] Saṃgha.
[Note: The birds include White Cranes (白鹤), Peacocks (孔雀), Parrots (鹦鹉), Śāris (舍利), Kalaviṅkas (迦陵频伽) and Life-Sharing Birds (共命之鸟), who emit the Dharma’s sounds (法音) in day and night, on the Five Roots (五根), Five Powers (五力), Seven Bodhi Factors (七菩提分), Eightfold Noble Path Factors (八圣道分) and other Dharma teachings.]
Verses [On] Manifested Birds
[Do] not say these birds,
[are from] transgressive retribution those born,
[as] that Buddha land,
[is] without evil paths [and their] names.
All [these] birds are,
[with] manifestations [of] them made,
[for the] Dharma’s sounds [to be] propagated.
[Note: As it is without the causes, conditions and effects (因缘果) of all suffering (众苦), the Pure Land is without the three evil paths’ (三恶道) hell-beings (地狱众生), hungry ghosts (饿鬼) and animals (畜生), in name (名) and form (色), thus without their negative mental and physical influences respectively. The birds present are instead skilful, majestic and mobile manifestations by the Buddha, for spreading the Dharma elegantly, with aspects of which can be accordingly heard as wished.]
Verses [On The] Triple Gem
[With] mindfulness [of] Buddha, Dharma [and] Saṃgha:
[the] ten directions’ all Buddhas,
all Dharma [teachings],
[and the] harmonious noble Saṃgha.
[With] mindfulness becoming [one with the] Triple Gem:
personally becoming [a] Buddha,
personally awakening [to] all Dharma [teachings],
[and] personally joining [the] noble Saṃgha.
[Note: Mindfulness of the Triple Gem in the Pure Land is practised all the way, till one becomes fully aligned with the Triple Gem. This is progress from personally having separate subjects of the Threefold Refuge (三皈依) as ordinary beings (凡夫), to becoming the inseparable subjects of the Threefold Refuge for other ordinary beings.]
Verses [On] Breezes [And] Music
Gentle breezes blow [and] move,
all [the] lined treasure trees,
and treasure nets,
[to] produce refined [and] wonderful sounds.
Like [a] hundred thousand [kinds of] music,
[at the] same time together playing,
[with] those [who] hear these sounds,
all giving rise [to] mindfulness [of the] Triple Gem.
[Note: In the Pure Land, pleasant breezes blow through the majestic treasure trees and nets, moving them to produce harmonious orchestra-like music, that naturally urges mindfulness of the Buddha, Dharma and Saṃgha, till one becomes completely one with them. Just like a specific instrument can be focused upon when hearing an orchestra, any single Dharma sound can be heard, as chosen and with ease, without any interference by the other sounds.]
Verses [On] All Dharma [Teachings]
[With] direct rewards [and] circumstantial rewards,
[the] sentient [and the] non-sentient [in the Pure Land],
all proclaiming all Dharma [teachings],
according [to] wishes immediately hearing [them].
Therefore [being the] most swift,
[for] hearing, contemplating [and] cultivating [the] Dharma,
[with] faith, understanding, practice [and] realisation,
quickly accomplishing [as] Dharma Kings.
[Note: Direct rewards are the majestic (bodily) forms (庄严相) and supernormal powers (神通力) received by those born in the Pure Land, that remind them of their Buddha-nature (佛性), quickly further aligning them with it. Circumstantial rewards are all the other magnificent forms surrounding them there, be they as other sentient beings (such as the Saṃgha of Bodhisattvas and Voice-Hearers led by the Buddha), or non-sentient objects in the environment, that remind them of all aspects of the Dharma. Complying with that desired instantly, the specific Dharma teachings to be learnt can be received through one, more or all of the five senses, with the greatest of ease. Thus, the Three Wisdoms (三慧) of hearing, contemplation and cultivation for the four stages (of having faith, understanding, practice and realisation) towards attaining of Buddhahood as Dharma Kings (i.e. Buddhas) is most efficient there.]
Verses [On] Light [And] Life
[has] bright light immeasurable,
[that] illuminates [the] ten directions’ lands,
without any obstruction.
and his people’s lifespans,
[are of] immeasurable [and] boundless
[Note: Āmítuófó (阿弥陀佛) is named thus because of the reasons above. (‘Amitābha’ means ‘Immeasurable Light’ [无量光]. ‘Amitāyus’ means ‘Immeasurable Life’ [无量寿].) His light carries his blessings to all realms everywhere, even to the deepest and darkest hells, for hell-beings to connect to him, to interrupt their suffering, for reaching his Pure Land. (The ‘ten directions’ are East, North, West, North, Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest, above and below.) The limitless lifespans in his Pure Land are for offering all there, to have more than enough time to learn from him, to cultivate all the way, without interruption of bliss, for reaching of Buddhahood. (‘Asaṃkhyeya kalpas’ are ‘incalculable world cycles’.)]
Verse [On] Immeasurability
[On] ‘Amitā Buddha’,
‘A’ is ‘without’,
‘Mitā’ is ‘measure’,
[and] ‘Buddha’ is [the] ‘Awakened One’.
[With] immeasurable light [and] life,
gathering all [of the] immeasurable,
[with] light [horizontally] pervading [the] ten directions,
[and] life [vertically] exhausting [the] three periods.
Amitā [Buddha’s] body [and] land,
[that] horizontally [and] vertically interpenetrates [all space and time],
is [the] Dharma Realm’s body,
[which] likewise is [his] name.
[Note: Āmítuófó (阿弥陀佛) is thus the ‘Immeasurable Awakened One’ (无量觉者), essentially with immeasurable meritorious virtues (功德), wisdom (智慧), supernormal powers (神通力), direct rewards (正报), circumstantial rewards (依报), and speaking of the Dharma to transform and deliver (说法化度). These immeasurabilities are summarised by his light and life, that fill the universe spatially and temporally. (The ‘ten directions’ are East, North, West, North, Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest, above and below. The ‘three periods’ are of the past, present and future.) As Āmítuófó is one with the Dharma Body (法身) of all Buddhas, that pervades all space and time, his complete body and land is likewise so, as represented by his name, which is also the means to connect to him.]
Verses [On] Correspondence
great name [of] ten thousand virtues,
is sentient beings’
original awakening’s principle nature.
Upholding [the] name is
actualised awakening joining original [awakening],
[with the] actualised [and] original not two,
[just as] sentient beings [and] Buddha[s are] not two.
[With] one thought corresponding [by sincere mindfulness of Āmítuófó’s name],
is [with] one thought [aligned to the] Buddha,
[with] thought [to] thought corresponding,
is [with] thought [to] thought [aligned to the] Buddha.
[Note: Āmítuófó’s name has all immeasurable meritorious virtues (功德) as it is the result of perfect and complete (圆满) awakening. The name is in principle (理) and nature (性) the same as sentient beings’ Buddha-nature (佛性), the potential for Buddhahood, also known as original (or intrinsic, inherent) awakening (本觉). Actualised (or acquired) awakening (始觉) is the awakening attained when original awakening is realised. Thus, to uphold the name is to enable original awakening and actualised awakening to become one. When there is one moment with mindfulness of Āmítuófó, there is one moment of alignment with him (for blessings and wisdom). When there is moment to moment with mindfulness of Āmítuófó, there is moment to moment of alignment with him. (The key difference between Buddhas and sentient beings is that the first have fully aligned original awakening with actualised awakening, while the latter have yet to.)]
Verses [On] Mind-Natures
[Having] penetrated [to] realise [his] mind-nature’s
[essential] body of immeasurability,
thus [is] Āmítuófó,
[with] light [and] life immeasurable.
[As] sentient beings’ [and the] Buddha’s mind-natures,
[have the] same [and] equal light [and] life,
with [sentient beings’] minds mindful Buddha,
[their] Buddha-natures ‘unify’ [as] one.
Still yet constantly illuminating,
thus [with] immeasurable light,
illuminating yet constantly still,
thus [with] immeasurable life.
[Note: Mind-nature (心性) is Buddha-nature (佛性), with sentient beings yet to realise it, while Buddhas have fully realised theirs. The essence of sentient beings and Buddhas when realised, is expressed with the immeasurable light of wisdom (无量慧之光), and the immeasurable life of blessings (无量福之寿). With more mindfulness of Buddha, there is more alignment with Buddha-nature, that is with constant stillness and illumination (寂照), that manifest as immeasurable life and light together.]
Verses [On] Three Bodies
[The] Dharma Body’s lifespan
[is] without beginning [and] without end,
[while] Reward Body’s lifespan
[is] with beginning [and] without end.
Immeasurable Response Bodies,
according [with] vows [and] according [with] situations,
receive [and] guide, deliver [and] liberate,
[thus with] extending [and] hastening, not [being] equal.
[Note: The one universal Dharma Body of all Buddhas pervades all space and time, while their Reward Bodies are in their Pure Lands, realised with Buddhahood, with their Response (Manifestation, Transformation) Bodies (应化身) in Defiled Lands (秽土), to guide beings to Pure Lands and Buddhahood, appearing with various durations and lifespans skilfully, so as to be most effective for inspiration, while not creating complacence.]
Verses [On Being] Without Differences
[With his] name [of immeasurable] light [and] life,
all for sentient beings established,
[for the] Buddha [and his] people,
[to] all [have them], immeasurably [and] equally.
For sentient beings [to be with the] Buddha equal,
enabling those upholding [his] name,
[to have] bright light [and] long lifespan,
[the] same [as the] Buddha, without differences.
[Note: Āmítuófó’s name represents the immeasurable light and life that he attained, that all in his Pure Land attain too. It is with upholding it here now, that they can be attained there later.]
Verses [On] Light’s Meaning
[With] immeasurable light’s meaning,
thus [are] sentient beings born
[in the] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss,
likewise born [in the] ten directions.
[To] see Āmítuófó,
[is to] likewise see all Buddhas,
[to be] self-delivered [and to] deliver others,
[to] universally benefit all.
[Note: To be born in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land to see him, is to be born in all lands too, as he allows access through it, to all Pure Lands and Defiled Lands (秽土). Entry into other Pure Lands allows seeing of all other Buddhas, to make offerings and learn from them too. Entry into various Defiled Lands allows delivering of all sentient beings.]
Verses [On] Lifespan’s Meaning
[With] immeasurable life’s meaning,
[thus will the Land Of] Ultimate Bliss’ people,
[be in the] Position [Of] One Life [To] Replace [Buddhas],
[in] this life accomplishing Buddhahood.
Not reaching [it in a] different life,
manifesting in other lands,
revealing accomplishment [of] Right Awakening,
[to] widely deliver sentient beings.
[Note: To be born in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land is to have as much time as needed, (although spiritual progress will also be the swiftest possible), to reach Buddhahood in one lifetime, seamlessly and without interruption, with Buddhahood manifested in Defiled Lands (秽土) when ready, to demonstrate the path to Buddhahood for guiding the beings there. It is also possible to depart from Pure Land earlier, while still able to progress without retrogression to Buddhahood, also able to return to Pure Land before and after.]
To be continued…
The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Amitābha Buddha (Amitābha Sūtra)