The Buddha Pronounces the Sutra of Amitabha Buddha
Sariputra, as I now praise Buddhas' inconceivable merit, likewise those Buddhas praise my inconceivable merit, saying these words: 'Sakyamuni Buddha can do the extremely difficult, extraordinary thing in the Saha World during the evil times of the five turbidities - the turbidity of a kalpa, the turbidity of sentient beings, and the turbidity of their lifespan - attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. For the sake of sentient beings, He expounds the Dharma, which the entire world finds hard to believe.'
In an earlier passage in this sutra, the Buddha says, "Sariputra, as I now praise Amitabha Buddha's inconceivable merit, so too do Buddhas in worlds in the east, ..." Therefore, for this passage, it seems that Sakyamuni Buddha's praising the inconceivable merit of Amitabha Buddha would confirm the earlier passage and would be more relevant than His praising the merit of Buddhas in general. Support of this comment is found in a corresponding passage in another text, in which the Buddha states: "Sariputra, as I now acclaim and praise Amitayus Buddha's inconceivable merit, who has formed his Buddha Land of Ultimate Bliss, likewise other Buddha-Tathagatas [in worlds] in the ten directions praise my inconceivable boundless merit, ..." (T12n367)
Hsuan Hua's Commentary:
"Shakya" means "able to be humane", and "muni" means "still and silent." The Buddha humanely teaches and converts living beings, and silently returns the light within to cultivate samadhi. The humaneness is movement and the silence is stillness. He moves and yet is always still. He accords with conditions and yet never changes. For him there is nothing conditioned, nothing unconditioned, nothing done and nothing left undone. Shakyamuni Buddha is inconceivable.
The Saha world is a place where one enjoys no bliss but endures every kind of suffering, living beings endure a great deal. They undergo the bitterness unaware that they are suffering. The evil time of the five turbidities (in the Saha world)... are just terrible! The reason we don't realize Buddhahood is because we are stuck in the five turbidities, as if in quicksand, and can't pull ourselves out. When we lift one leg, the other leg sinks deeper, and when we lift that leg the first goes down. There's really no escape. But Shakyamuni Buddha is talented. With his great spiritual powers he can teach you to leap right out of the five turbidities, in a ksana, a mere instant of time. At night when we recite the Great Transference of Merit, we say, "Leaving the five turbidities in a ksana, and arriving at the lotus pool in the flick of a wrist." Like a talented magician, Shakyamuni Buddha leaves the five turbidities, which are:
1. The kalpa turbidity. - Kalpa, that is, time, is turbid. It arises dependent upon the four other turbidities which increase daily, growing bigger and more extreme. That is to say, the turbidity of time is created with the help of the view turbidity, the affliction turbidity, the living beings turbidity, and the life turbidity, and takes the growth of the first four as its basic substance. It takes unceasing flaming as its mark, for, like a flaming fuel, the more it burns, the higher it blazes.
2. The view turbidity. - The view turbidity takes the five quick servants as its basic substance. The five quick servants are the view of a body, the view of extremes, deviant views, the view of grasping at views, and the view of prohibitive morality. It takes mistaken wisdom and cattle morality as its mark. Seeing a dog, a cat, or a cow reborn in the heavens, some people imitate their conduct so that they may be reborn there too. With deviant knowledge and views, they take the genuine doctrine to extremes.
3. The affliction turbidity. - The affliction turbidity takes the five dull servants, greed, hatred, stupidity, pride, and doubt, as its basic substance, and the irritation of afflictions as its mark.
4. The living beings turbidity. - The living beings turbidity takes the combination of the three conditions of father, mother, and one's own karma as its basic substance. It takes the unceasing turning of the wheel of rebirth as its mark. After the three conditions combine, the wheel revolves without stopping, back and forth. This life you are named John and next life, Lee. This life you are a bhiksu and next life you are a bhiksuni. Bhiksus become bhiksunis and bhiksunis turn into bhiksus. Isn't this amazing? It really is!
5. The life turbidity. - The life turbidity takes the reception of warmth as its basic substance and the decline and extinction of the life span as its mark. From youth to middle age on to old age and death - this is the mark of life.
Thich Hai-Quang Commentary:
Five Turbidities: These refer to the impurities and suffering ways of sentient beings who live in the Saha World. The pains and sufferings are endless from birth until death, yet sentient beings are so disillusioned and ignorant they remain oblivious to them. This is precisely the reason why the Buddha appeared in the world, to teach and "enlighten" sentient beings from their own ignorance and false views, etc.
Turbidity of Time: The world and people's minds are filthy, filled with evil, wickedness, etc.
Turbidity of View: Having false, distored, and wicked views, improper truths.
Turbidity of Affliction: Impure thoughts, worries, and afflictions cast over the state of clarity and tranquility.
Turbidity of Sentient Beings: Everyone is filled with vengeance and vendetta, competing with others for survival ("survival of the fittest")
Turbidity of Physical Body: Body is filthy, foul odor from blood, phlegm, and other bodily secretions (while alive) and becomes rotten & eaten by worms (upon death).
Mind Seal of the Buddhas:
Although the merits, virtues, and wisdom of all the Buddhas are equal, the way they bestow their teachings differs in degrees of difficulty and ease. Achieving enlightenment in the Pure Land is easy, compared to achieving enlightenment in our corrupt mundane world. Explaining the Dharma to the sentient beings in the Pure Land is easy, compared to explaining the Dharma to the sentient beings in our corrupt mundane world. Explaining the gradual form of the Buddhist Teaching to the sentient beings in our corrupt mundane world is easy, compared to explaining the sudden form of the Buddhist Teaching. Explaining the sudden forms of the Buddhist Teaching other than the Pure Land teaching to the sentient beings in our corrupt mundane world is easy, compared to explaining the sudden Pure Land teaching of horizontal transcendence.
Explaining the Pure Land teaching of horizontal transcendence with its sudden practice and sudden realization and wondrous contemplation is not easy. But the hardest of all is explaining this supreme skillful technique, this special surpassing wonder, this Pure Land method that goes beyond all conceptualizations, and teaches us that we do not need laborious cultivation, but have only to recite the Buddha-name in order to ascend directly to the level where we do not fall back from the path to enlightenment. That is why all the Buddhas of the ten directions put forward our Sakyamuni Buddha as the most valiant of all.
The sutra speaks of the world of the Five Corruptions. What does this mean?
The corruption of the age means that this is a time when all sorts of corrupt phenomena are gathered together. If not for the Pure Land practice which enables us to transcend the mundane world "horizontally," even though we take our karmic burden along with us, deliverance would surely be impossible.
The corruption of views means that misguided views proliferate: the view that our bodies are entities we possess, the view that we are annihilated after death or else live on forever, the view that there is no cause and effect, the view that what we cling to with our arbitrary opinions is best, and the view that we will find salvation by our own subjectively chosen methods. Because we are deluded by such views, and utterly submerged in them, this is called the corruption of views. Amidst the corruption of views, if we do not make use of the expedient means of the Pure Land teaching to discover our Mind we surely cannot be saved.
The corruption of afflictions means that compulsions and confusions caused by craving, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt are increasing more and more, causing trouble and chaos. Amidst the corruption of afflictions, without the Pure Land practice that affirms that our ordinary minds are one with the Buddha-mind, we surely cannot be saved.
Under the influence of the corruption of views and the corruption of afflictions, the five skandhas mix together in a coarse and debased way, giving rise to what are provisionally called sentient beings: hence the term the corruption of sentient beings. Sentient beings are debased both at the level of form and at the level of mind so they are called corrupt. Given the corruption of sentient beings, without the practice of shunning the mundane world and joyfully seeking the Pure Land, salvation is impossible.
The corruption of life means that our causal basis and hence the results we realize are both degenerate, and our life spans are shortened, and do not reach a hundred years, so they are called corrupt. Given the corruption of life, we cannot be saved without the Pure Land practice.
Moreover, faith and vows and the adornment of the name of Amitabha transform the corruption of the age into an assembly of purity, transform the corruption of views into infinite light, transform the corruption of afflictions into the eternal still light, transform the corruption of sentient beings into beings born by transformation from lotuses in the Pure Land, and transform the corruption of life into infinite life.
Thus each recitation of the Buddha-name is a method of achieving Supreme, Unexcelled Enlightenment practiced by our fundamental teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha, in the midst of this evil world of the Five Corruptions. In this sutra Sakyamuni Buddha is taking the whole essence of this enlightenment and bestowing it on sentient beings of this evil and corrupt world. This is the realm which all the Buddhas experience, and which only the Buddhas can experience fully. It is not something which those in the planes of the hell-beings, the hungry ghosts, the animals, the asuras, the human beings, the devas, the shravakas, the pratyekas, or even the Bodhisattvas can fully comprehend by their own power.
When the other Buddhas extol Sakyamuni for teaching the Pure Land method to "sentient beings," this means the people in our evil world of the Five Corruptions. When the sutra mentions "all worlds," it means all the worlds sentient beings inhabit.