Three sages in the west appear in response to Shakyamuni Buddha’s promise
From Shakyamuni Buddha’s reply to Queen Vaidehi’s three requests in the Contemplation Sutra, we can know that there are two ways to see the Land of Bliss and Amitabha Buddha. The first way is the method in which Vaidehi requests instruction: to see the Buddha through the practitioner’s own intensive effort in contemplating, perceiving, and eventually achieving the Samadhi of Buddha-contemplation. (This method is discussed in my previous article “Two Ways to See Amitabha Buddha.”*)
Shakyamuni Buddha demonstrates the second method in his reply to Vaidehi: to see Amitabha Buddha through Buddha-power, thus achieving the Samadhi of Buddha-invocation. It should be noted that in this case samadhi is attained after seeing the Buddha, which is different from the order of events in the first method. It is also interesting to note that this way is not explicitly taught by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Contemplation Sutra, but it is depicted on different occasions in the sutra—particularly in the 7th, 8th, and 9th Contemplations and the 11th, 12th, and 13th Contemplations.
As she does not have the divine eye, Queen Vaidehi trusts that Shakyamuni Buddha has the power to enable her to see the Land of Bliss and Amitabha Buddha. Vaidehi then comes to see the trinity of Amitabha and the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta standing in the sky in the 7th (Lotus Throne) Contemplation. Master Shandao teaches us that the appearance of Amitabha Buddha is a response to Shakyamuni Buddha’s promise in regard to Vaidehi’s request.
Upon seeing the Three Sages, Queen Vaidehi reaffirms that she is an ordinary being and says, “World-Honored One, through your power I have been able to see Amitayus [Amitabha] and the two bodhisattvas.” Witnessed by Vaidehi on our behalf, the appearance of Amitabha Buddha in the 7th Contemplation illustrates that the golden words spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha are true.
However, Vaidehi still has a serious question: How can sentient beings in the future (after the parinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha) see the Land of Bliss and Amitabha Buddha? Shakyamuni Buddha is the only historical Buddha in this world that can be seen with our human eyes. In his absence, how can we hope to see the Land of Bliss and Amitabha Buddha?
The Buddha’s Dharma realm body enters the invoking mind of each sentient being
Shakyamuni Buddha explains to Vaidehi in the 8th (Image) Contemplation: “Because Buddhas—Tathagatas—have their Dharma realm bodies [in cosmic worlds], they enter the invoking mind of each sentient being. For this reason, when you invoke or contemplate a Buddha, the mind itself takes the form of his 32 physical characteristics and 80 secondary marks. Your mind produces the Buddha’s image and is itself the Buddha.”
Master Shandao explains the above statement as follows: For the Dharma realm, there are three meanings: 1. The mind being omnipresent means the Dharma realm; 2. The body being omnipresent means the Dharma realm; 3. The Buddha being unobstructed means the Dharma realm.
In other words, all Buddhas are unobstructed by any physical object or negative karma from reaching all sentient beings in the ten directions. Not only Shakyamuni Buddha but all other Buddhas, such as Amitabha, have the Dharma body with the same characteristics and thus the same capacity to enter the mind of any being that invokes him or recites his name.
As such, when we invoke or contemplate Amitabha Buddha, our mind itself takes on his splendid features, and thus our mind produces Amitabha Buddha’s image and is itself Amitabha Buddha. This perfectly explains how Amitabha Buddha can connect with any of us although he lives a hundred thousand koti (crores) of Buddha lands away to the west of our world.
All Pure Land aspirants should be familiar with the characteristics of Amitabha Buddha’s Dharma realm body, otherwise they may harbor doubts about Amitabha’s unfathomable wisdom and omnipotent power.
Amitabha’s omnipresent light embraces the invoking mind of each sentient being
Shakyamuni Buddha further advises Queen Vaidehi in the 9th (True Body) Contemplation: “The Buddha Amitayus possesses 84,000 physical characteristics, each having 84,000 secondary marks of excellence. Each secondary mark emits 84,000 rays of light, each light shining universally upon the lands of the 10 quarters, embracing, and not forsaking, those who invoke [or recite the name of] the Buddha.”
That is to say, when ordinary beings in the ten directions specifically invoke or recollect, prostrate, and recite the name of Amitabha Buddha, he immediately knows, sees, and hears them. The results are the same as for those who achieve the Samadhi of Buddha-contemplation. The Contemplation Sutra says, “Because they see the Buddhas, this is called the Samadhi of Buddha-invocation.” Master Shandao explains this as the “intimate relationship” with Amitabha (being the functional feature of the Dharma realm of the Buddha’s mind).
Amitabha always appears in the form of a body before those who invoke or recite his name if they wish to see him, particularly those beings approaching the end of their lives. Master Shandao explains this as the “close relationship” with Amitabha (being the functional feature of the Dharma realm of the Buddha’s body).
More importantly, Amitabha Buddha always plays a proactive role in embracing and protecting those who invoke or recite his name with his auspicious and splendid light, without forsaking them. As the light is unobstructed, the force of negative karma is unable to bind or weigh down those who invoke or recite his name, even during the critical moment that marks the end of their lives. Master Shandao explains this as the “augmentative cause” with Amitabha (being the functional feature of the Dharma realm of the Buddha’s nature of non-obstruction).
Shakyamuni Buddha further explains the significance of invoking or reciting Amitabha’s name: “The Buddha’s mind is one of great compassion. It embraces sentient beings with unconditional kindness.” Upon seeing Amitabha Buddha, the practitioner must dedicate himself and aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, whereupon he can immediately attain that rebirth, as in the first method. (Discussed in my previous article, “Two Ways to See Amitabha Buddha.”*)
All Pure Land aspirants should be familiar with the characteristics of Amitabha Buddha’s compassionate body, otherwise they may not have sufficiently deep faith in his unconditional kindness and equal deliverance.
My next article will compare and contrast the two ways of seeing the Buddha and attaining rebirth in the Land of Bliss.
*Two Ways to See Amitabha Buddha (Buddhistdoor Global)
Shakyamuni Buddha’s Responses to the Three Requests of Queen Vaidehi (Buddhistdoor Global)
An Unusual Sutra Revealed (Buddhistdoor Global)