Discourse on the Sūtra of Eternal Life | Vasubandhu

Discourse on the Sūtra of Eternal Life
And Gāthā of Aspiration to Be Born in the Pure Land

Composed by Bodhisattva Vasubandhu (India, ca. 400 C.E.)


GĀTHĀ

O World-Honoured One, I, with single-mindedness, take refuge in the Tathagata whose unhindered Light exhaustively fills the ten quarters and aspire to be born in the Land of Peace and Bliss.

I, in accordance with the embodiments of True and Real Virtues revealed in the Sutra of Eternal Life, will now present an all-comprehensive Gāthā of Aspiration to be Born and thereby correspond with the Buddha-Dharma.

In contemplating the manifestations of that World, I realize that its excellence surpasses the paths of the three worlds. Ultimately, it is just like empty space, vast and boundless.

It has arisen from the roots of supra-mundane good, namely, the Great Compassion of the Right Path. Its pure Light is full, just like a mirror, the sun, or the moon.

It is endowed with the nature of all rare jewels and possesses marvellous adornments. Its undefiled Light brilliantly illuminates that World clearly and purely.

Grasses, having virtues in the nature of jewels, are soft and tender, waving to the right and left. One who touches them receives great pleasure, surpassing that of the Kacilindika.

Ten million varieties of jewelled flowers cover completely the lakes, streams and springs. When a soft, gentle breeze moves the flowers and leaves, reflected rays of light intermingle and dance.

Palaces and many towers overlook the ten quarters of the universe without obstruction. A miscellany of trees having different colours and shades are all encircled by jewelled railings.

Innumerable nets of jewels, twisting and intermingling, cover the sky. Within them all manner of bells emit ringing which proclaims the exquisite sounds of the Dharma.

From the sky rain the adornments of flowers and garments. Innumerable fragrances pervade everywhere. The Wisdom of the Buddha, as clear and pure as the sun, eliminates the darkness of the foolishness of the world.

Its sacred voice which enlightens all is deep and profound. It is exquisite and is heard throughout the ten quarters. Amida Buddha, the perfectly Enlightened Dharma King, resides there and sustains-that Land well.

The multitudes of beings there, the pure flowers of the Tathagata, are born transformed from the blossoms of Perfect Enlightenment. They delight in the taste of the Buddha-Dharma, and take Dhyāna and Samādhi as nourishment.

They are forever free from physical pain and mental anguish and always receive happiness without cease. This World of the good roots of the Mahāyāna is one of equality; there are no slanderous or loathsome names.

Women and persons with imperfect organs, as well as those having the seeds of the two vehicles will not be born there. The sentient beings' aspirations for happiness will all be fulfilled.

Therefore, I aspire to be born in Amida Buddha's Land. There is a delicate and pure flowered seat-pedestal made up of the most precious and immeasurably magnificent of jewels.

The Light of Amida Buddha's countenance extends one fathom. His form and figure far surpass those of sentient beings. The sacred tone of the Tathagata's exquisite voice is heard throughout the ten quarters.

In the same manner as earth, water, fire, wind and space, He is without a mind of discrimination. The many devas and human beings who are unshakable are born from the pure Wisdom-Ocean.

Just like Śumeru, the king of mountains, Amida Buddha is supreme, wondrous and unsurpassed. Devas, humans and heroic beings venerate, circumambulate and look up in reverence to Amida.

In contemplating the Power of the Buddha's Primal Vow, I realize that no one who encounters it will pass by in vain. It enables one to quickly attain the great Treasure-Ocean of Virtues.

The Land of Peace and Bliss is pure and Bodhisattvas constantly turn the undefiled Dharma Wheel. Manifested Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are like the sun, or like Mount Śumeru in its steadfast immovability.

In a single moment of time, the undefiled, sublime light of the Bodhisattvas universally illuminates all of the assemblages of Buddhas and benefits all of the sentient beings therein.

By raining heavenly music, flowers, garments and marvellous fragrances they equally give offerings to and praise the virtues of all the Buddhas. In so doing they have no discriminating thoughts.

If there are any worlds which are without the virtuous treasures of the Buddha-Dharma, they vow, "I aspire to be born in them all, revealing the Buddha-Dharma, just as the Buddha does."

By writing a Discourse and composing this Gāthā, I aspire to see Amida Buddha and, together with all sentient beings everywhere, to be born in the Land of Peace and Bliss.


EXPOSITION

I have generally explained with this Gāthā the passages of the Sutra of Eternal Life.

In comment, I state: What significance does this Gāthā of Aspiration clarify?

It reveals that, by contemplating the World of Peace and Bliss, one will see Amida Buddha and will aspire to be born in that Land.

How does one contemplate? How does one produce pure faith?

If a good man or woman practices the Five Gates of Mindfulness and if that person's practice is perfected, ultimately that person will obtain birth in the Land of Peace and Bliss and will see Amida Buddha.

What are the Five Gates of Mindfulness?

The first is the Gate of Worship. The second is the Gate of Praise. The third is the Gate of Aspiration. The fourth is the Gate of Contemplation. The fifth is the Gate of Merit Transference.

How does one worship?

With one's bodily actions, one worships Amida Tathagata, Arhat and Samyakṣaṁbodhi with the intention of being born in that Land.

How does one praise?

One praises with one's words:

One calls the Name of that Tathagata in accordance with that Tathagata's Light, which is the embodiment of Wisdom, and in accordance with the significance of the Name, for one wishes to practice in accordance with reality and attain unity with it.

How does one aspire?

One aspires constantly in one's heart and mind:

With single-mindedness one exclusively thinks about ultimately being born in the Land of Peace and Bliss, wishing to practice Śamatha in accordance with reality.

How does one contemplate?

One contemplates with Wisdom, correctly thinking about and visualizing that Land and Buddha, for one wishes to practice Vipassanā in accordance with reality.

There are 3 types of contemplation. What are the three types?

The first is to contemplate the virtues of the adornments of that Buddha Land. The second is to contemplate the virtues of the adornments of Amida Buddha. The third is to contemplate the virtuous adornments of all of the Bodhisattvas in that Land.

How does one transfer merits?

Without abandoning any suffering sentient being, one aspires constantly in one's heart and mind. By making merit transference the foremost matter, one will be able to perfect the mind of great Compassion.

How does one contemplate the virtues of the adornments of that Buddha Land?

Because the virtues of the adornments of that Buddha Land possess inconceivable power, they are in nature like the Maṇi jewel, for it is a thing which resembles and is comparable to them.

As for contemplating the perfection of the virtues of the adornments of that Buddha Land, there are 17 kinds of adornment virtues. This you should know.

What are the seventeen?

The first is the perfection of the virtue of the adornment of Purity.

The second is ...........................................................Immeasurability.
The third is .............................................................(Essential) Nature.
The fourth is ....................................................................Appearance.
The fifth is ..................................................................Various Things.
The sixth is .............................................................Marvelous Colors.
The seventh is ............................................................Tactile Objects.
The eighth is ....................the Three Objects (Water, Earth and Space)
The ninth is.................................................................................Rain.
The tenth is................................................................................Light.
The eleventh is ...................................................the Wondrous Voice.
The twelfth is ....................................................................the Master.
The thirteenth is ................................................................the Family.
The fourteenth is ............................................................Nourishment.
The fifteenth is .............................the Absence of Adverse Conditions.
The sixteenth is ...................................................the Mahāyāna Gate.
The seventeenth is ...................................the Fulfilment of All Wishes.

As for the perfection of the virtue of the adornment of Purity, it is stated in the Gāthā:

"In contemplating the manifestations of that World, I realize that its excellence surpasses the paths of the three worlds."

As for ...Immeasurability, ...."Ultimately, it is just like empty space, vast and boundless."

As for ..(Essential) Nature, .."It has arisen from the roots of supra-mundane good, namely, the Great Compassion of the Right Path."

As for ...........Appearance, ......"Its pure Light is full, just like a mirror, the sun, or the moon."

As for ...........Various Things, ........"It is endowed with the nature of all rare jewels and possesses marvellous adornments."

As for ...........Marvellous Colours, ......"Its undefiled Light brilliantly illuminates that World clearly and purely."

As for ...........Tactile Objects, ..."Grasses, having virtues in the nature of jewels, are soft and tender, waving to the right and left. One who touches them receives great pleasure, surpassing that of the Kacilindika."

As for the perfection of the virtue of the adornment of the Three Objects, there are three kinds of objects. This you should know. What are the three?

The first is Water. The second is Earth. The third is Space.

As for the perfection of the virtue of the adornment of Water, it is stated in the Gāthā:

"Ten million varieties of jewelled flowers cover completely the lakes, streams and springs. When a soft, gentle breeze moves the flowers and leaves, reflected rays of light intermingle and dance."

As for ...........Earth, ....."Palaces and many towers overlook the ten quarters of the universe without obstruction. A miscellany of trees having different colours and shades are all encircled by jewelled railings."

As for ...........Space, ..."Innumerable nets of jewels, twisting and intermingling, cover the sky. Within them all manner of bells emit ringing which proclaims the exquisite sounds of the Dharma."

As for ...........Rain, ..."From the sky rain the adornments of flowers and garments. Innumerable fragrances pervade everywhere."

As for ...........Light, ........."The Wisdom of the Buddha, as clear and pure as the sun, eliminates the darkness of the foolishness of the world."

As for ..Wondrous Voice, .."Its sacred voice which enlightens all is deep and profound. It is exquisite and is heard throughout the ten quarters."

As for ...Master, .........."Amida Buddha, the perfectly Enlightened Dharma King, resides there and sustains that Land well."

As for ..Family, ......."The multitudes of beings there, the pure flowers of the Tathagata, are born transformed from the blossoms of Perfect Enlightenment."

As for ..Nourishment, ....."They delight in the taste of the Buddha-Dharma, and take Dhyāna and Samadhi as nourishment."

As for ..the Absence of Adverse Conditions, .."They are forever free from physical pain and mental anguish and always receive happiness without cease."

As for ..the Mahāyāna Gate, .."This World of the good roots of the Mahāyāna is one of equality; there are no slanderous or loathsome names. Women and persons with imperfect organs, as well as those having the seeds of the two vehicles will not be born there."

The recompense of the Pure Land is free from 2 kinds of slanderous and loathsome imperfect things. This you should know: The first is substances. The second is names.

There are 3 types of substances: The first is persons of the two vehicles. The second is women. The third is persons with imperfect organs.

Because there are none of these imperfections in that Land, it is said that it is free from loathsome substances.

There are also 3 types of slanderous names:

It is not just that there are none of the three substances in that Land, but also one does not hear the names of those three types, that is, persons of the two vehicles, women and persons with imperfect organs.

Because of that it is said that it is the Land which is free from slanderous names and loathsome imperfect things. "Equal" refers to the aspect of overall and undivided equality.

As for the perfection of the virtue of the adornment of the Fulfilment of All Wishes, it is stated in the Gāthā: "The sentient beings' aspirations for happiness will all be fulfilled."

Briefly, I have expounded on the perfection of the 17 kinds of adornments of the Land of Amida Buddha, thereby revealing the perfection of the Tathagata's self-benefiting great merit power, as well as the perfection of the virtue of benefiting others.

The adornments of the Land of the Buddha of Eternal Life are the embodiments of that wondrous World of the Highest Truth. I have expounded it in terms of 16 aspects and 1 aspect. This you should know.

How does one contemplate the perfections of the virtues of the adornments of the Buddha?

In contemplating the perfections of the virtues of the adornments of the Buddha there are 8 kinds of aspects. This you should know: What are the eight?

The first is the perfection of the virtue of the adornment of (Amida's) Seat.

The second is ...............................(Amida's) Bodily Activity.
The third is ................(Amida's) Verbal Activity.
The fourth is .......................(Amida's) Mental Activity.
The fifth is .......................(Amida's) Great Multitudes.
The sixth is .............................(Amida's) Leadership.
The seventh is .............................(Amida as )Master.
The eighth is ........(Amida's) Infallible Sustaining Activity.

What is the perfection of the virtue of the adornment of (Amida's) Seat?

It is stated in the Gāthā, "There is a delicate and pure flowered seat-pedestal made up of the most precious and immeasurably magnificent of jewels."

What is .......(Amida's) Bodily Activity? ..."The Light of Amida Buddha's countenance extends one fathom. His form and figure far surpass those of sentient beings."

What is .......(Amida's) Verbal Activity? ....."The sacred tone of the Tathagata's exquisite voice is heard throughout the ten quarters."

What is .......(Amida's) Mental Activity? ...."In the same manner as earth, water, fire, wind and space, He is without a mind of discrimination."

What is .....(Amida's) Great Multitudes? .........."The many devas and human beings who are unshakable are born from the pure Wisdom-Ocean."

What is .....(Amida's) Leadership? ........Just like Śumeru, the king of mountains, Amida Buddha is supreme, wondrous and unsurpassed."

What is .....(Amida as) Master? .."Devas, humans and heroic beings venerate, circumambulate and look up in reverence to Amida."

What is .....(Amida's) Infallible Sustaining Activity?....."In contemplating the Power of the Buddha's Primal Vow, I realize that no one who encounters it will pass by in vain. It enables one to quickly attain the great Treasure-Ocean of Virtues."

That is to say, upon seeing that Buddha, the Bodhisattva who has not yet realized the pure mind will ultimately attain the realization of the Dharma Body of Equality.

In the same manner as the Bodhisattva of pure mind and all of the Bodhisattvas of the upper stages do, that Bodhisattva will ultimately attain tranquillity and equality.

Briefly, I have expounded the eight aspects, thereby revealing in order the perfections of the adornments of the Tathagata's virtues of self-benefit and benefiting-others. This you should know.

How does one contemplate the perfections of the virtues of the adornments of the Bodhisattvas?

As for the contemplation of the perfections of the virtues of the adornments of the Bodhisattvas, in contemplating those Bodhisattvas, there are 4 kinds of perfections of the virtues of Right Practices. This you should know: What are the four?

1. The first is that, although their bodies remain unmoved in one Buddha Land, Bodhisattvas, by manifesting various transformed bodies throughout the ten quarters and practicing in accordance with reality, constantly perform Buddhist activities.

It is stated in the Gāthā:

"The Land of Peace and Bliss is pure and Bodhisattvas constantly turn the undefiled Dharma Wheel. Manifested Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are like the sun, or like Mount Śumeru in its steadfast immovability."

This is because they cause the lotus flowers growing in the mud of all sentient beings to bloom.

2. The second is that the Bodhisattvas' transformed bodies at all times, simultaneously and in an instant of one thought-moment, radiate great light, all of which is able to universally reach the worlds of the ten quarters and teach sentient beings the Buddha Dharma.

They perform various practices of expedient means, thereby extinguishing and eliminating the suffering of all sentient beings.

It is stated in the Gāthā, "In a single moment of time, the undefiled, sublime light of the Bodhisattvas universally illuminates all of the assemblages of Buddhas and benefits all of the sentient beings therein."

3. The third is that Bodhisattvas, in all worlds without exception, illuminate all assemblages of the Buddhas.

All of the great assemblages which are, without exception, vast and immeasurable, make offerings, pay homage and praise the virtues of all of the Buddhas and Tathagatas.

It is stated in the Gāthā:

"By raining heavenly music, flowers, garments and marvellous fragrances they equally give offerings to and praise the virtues of all the Buddhas. In so doing they have no discriminating thoughts."

4. The fourth is that, in all worlds in the ten quarters in which the Three Treasures do not exist, Bodhisattvas sustain and adorn the ocean-like Treasures of Virtues-Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Universally, they reveal the Buddha-Dharma, bringing beings to understand the practice which accords with reality.

It is stated in the Gāthā:

"If there are any worlds which are without the virtuous treasures of the Buddha-Dharma, they vow, 'I aspire to be born in them all, revealing the Buddha-Dharma, just as the Buddha does.' "

Further, I have above expounded the contemplation of the perfections of the virtues of the adornments of the Buddha Land, the perfections of the virtues of the adornments of the Buddha and the perfections of the virtues of the adornments of the Bodhisattvas. These three types of perfections are adorned by the mind of aspiration. This you should know.

Briefly, I will explain how these perfections enter into the One Dharma Phrase:

The One Dharma Phrase is the aspect of Purity. The aspect of Purity is the unconditioned Dharma Body of True and Real Wisdom.

Within such Purity, there are 2 types. This you should know. What are the two types?

The first is the Purity of the World-as-Vessel. The second is the Purity of the World of Sentient Beings.

The Purity of the World-as-Vessel is like the above-mentioned seventeen varieties of perfections of the virtues of the adornments of the Buddha Land. These are called the Purity of the World-as-Vessel.

The Purity of the World of Sentient Beings is like the above-mentioned eight varieties of perfections of the virtues of the adornments of the Buddha and the four varieties of the perfections of the virtues of the adornments of the Bodhisattvas. These are called the Purity of the World of Sentient Beings.

In this way, the One Dharma Phrase embraces the significance of the two types of Purity. This you should know.

Thus the Bodhisattva, by performing Śamatha and Vipassanā, both fully and in condensed form, perfects the soft and gentle mind, thereby, in accordance with reality, knowing the Dharmas fully and in condensed form.

In this way, the Bodhisattva perfects the transference of merits through skilful means. What is the Bodhisattva's transference of merits through skilful means?

The Bodhisattva's transference of merits through skilful means is as follows:

With all of the good roots of merit and virtue which have been amassed through the practice of the above-mentioned five types of practices of worship, and so on, the Bodhisattva does not seek pleasure for his own sake, but instead desires to eliminate the suffering of all sentient beings.

The Bodhisattva aspires that, by embracing all sentient beings, they will together and in the same way be born in the Buddha's Land of Peace and Bliss. This is called the Bodhisattva's perfection of the transference of merits through skilful means.

The Bodhisattva, by knowing well in this manner the perfection of the transference of merits, is able to abandon the 3 types of things which contradict the Bodhi Gate. What are the three types of abandonment?

The first is that, due to the gate of Wisdom, one does not seek one's own happiness, but instead one abandons the mind of being greedily attached to oneself.

The second is that, due to the gate of Compassion, one eliminates the suffering of all sentient beings, for one has abandoned the mind of not giving peace to sentient beings.

The third is that, due to the gate of Expediency, one pities all sentient beings, for one has abandoned the mind which worships, praises and venerates oneself. This is called the abandoning of the three types of things which contradict the Bodhi Gate.

The Bodhisattva, by abandoning these three types of such things which contradict the Bodhi Gate, attains the fulfilment of the 3 types of things which accord with the Bodhi Gate. What are the three types of fulfilment?

The first is the mind which is undefiled and pure due to the fact that one does not seek various pleasures for oneself.

The second is the mind which is peaceful and pure due to the fact that one eliminates the suffering of all sentient beings.

The third is the mind which is blissful and pure due to the fact that one brings all sentient beings to the attainment of great Bodhi.

Through the embracing of sentient beings, the Bodhisattva causes sentient beings to be born in that Land. This is called the fulfilment of the three types of things which accord with the Bodhi Gate. This you should know.

The above-mentioned three types of gates of Wisdom, Compassion and Expediency all comprise Prājña. Prājña embraces Expediency. This you should know.

The above-mentioned three types of things, namely, the abandoning of the mind of being greedily attached to oneself, the abandoning of the mind of not giving peace to sentient beings and the abandoning of the mind which worships, praises and venerates oneself are all the abandoning of the obstructions to the attainment of the Bodhi Mind. This you should know.

The above-mentioned three types of minds, namely, the undefiled pure mind, the peaceful pure mind and the blissful pure mind are condensed into ONE which is the perfection of the exquisite, blissful, superior and true mind. This you should know.

In this way, through the mind of wisdom, the mind of expediency, the mind without hindrances and the superior and true mind, the Bodhisattva is able to be born in the Pure Buddha Land. This you should know:

This is called the Bodhisattvas' and Mahāsattvas' compliance with the five types of Dharma Gates and fulfilment of their actions freely and according to their wishes.

As mentioned above, their bodily activity, verbal activity, mental activity, activity of Wisdom and activity of Expedient Wisdom all accord with the Dharma Gates.

Furthermore, the five types of Gates perfect in order the 5 types of virtues. This you should know. What are the five Gates?

The first is the Gate of Approach. The second is the Gate of the Multitudes of the Great Assemblage. The third is the Gate of the House. The fourth is the Gate of the Room. The fifth is the Gate of Playing in the Garden and Forest.

Of these five types of Gates, the first four types of Gates perfect the virtue of Entry. The fifth Gate perfects the virtue of Departure.

1. As for the first Gate of Entry, because one worships Amida Buddha in order to be born in that Land, one will obtain birth in the World of Peace and Bliss. This is called the first Gate of Entry.

2. As for the second Gate of Entry, because one praises Amida Buddha and calls the Tathagata's Name in accordance with the significance of the Name and practices in accordance with the Tathagata's Light which is the embodiment of Wisdom, one will obtain entry into and be numbered among the multitudes of the great assemblage. This is called the second Gate of Entry.

3. As for the third Gate of Entry, because, by single-mindedly thinking and aspiring, one will be born in that Land and will practice śamatha and the tranquillity samadhi, one will obtain entry into the Lotus-Storehouse World. This is called the third Gate of Entry.

4. As for the fourth Gate of Entry, because, by solely thinking and contemplating those exquisite adornments, one practices Vipassanā one will be able to reach that Land and will enjoy the happiness of the various tastes of the Dharma. This is called the fourth Gate of Entry.

5. As for the fifth Gate of Departure, one contemplates all suffering sentient beings with great Compassion, manifests oneself in a transformed body, turns and enters into the garden of birth and death and the forest of blind passions, playing with miraculous powers and thereby reaching the stage of teaching.

Since this is all due to the transference of merits through the power of the Primal Vow, it is called the fifth Gate of Departure.

The Bodhisattva, by entering the four types of Gates, perfects the self-benefiting practices. This you should know.

The Bodhisattva, by departing through the fifth Gate, perfects the practices of benefiting others through the transference of merits. This you should know.

The Bodhisattva, in this way performing the practices of the five Gates, will accomplish self-benefit and benefiting-others and quickly obtain the perfection of the Highest, Perfect Enlightenment.

I have now finished briefly explaining the significance of the Discourse on the Sutra of Eternal Life and the Gāthā of Aspiration: to be Born in the Pure Land.