Here is another passage from the Larger Sutra*:
"Dharmakara Bodhisattva then approached the Buddha and prostrated before him, circumambulated three times and in great joy declared 'I now have the pure function of adorning a Pure Land'.
"The Buddha Lokeshvararaja then said to him 'You should proclaim this. The Tathagata approves. You have permission. Now is the right time. Stir and delight the assembly. Roar the lion's roar. Hearing this, other bodhisattvas will practise this Dharma and so fulfil innumerable great vows.
"The shramana replied, 'I beg you grant me your attention, I will fully proclaim my vow."
*Larger Pureland Sutra: https://issuu.com/dharmavidya/docs/twopurelandsutras (p.5 of the online-book)
In this podcast I’d like to continue the story of Dharmakara. We saw in the last podcast how Dharmakara had an awakening of faith when he met the Buddha Lokeshvararaja; and when he had this awakening as a result of having a vision of all the Pure Lands that were possible great vows poured forth from him; and the sutra tells us that in fact he made 48 great vows, and this is why, when you see an icon of Amida Buddha, there are often 48 rays of light shining out around his body.
So, 48 great vows – what were they about?
The 48 vows were about the kind of Pure Land that Dharmakara wanted to create and that he did create and thereby became Amida Buddha. The 48 vows are a kind of manifesto for a utopia or a perfect world, a world that is free of the restrictions and limitations of living in our conditional samsara.
Three of the vows often receive special attention. These are the 18th, 19th and 20th vows. These are given particular attention because these are the three vows about how people will obtain entry into this wonderful Pureland once it has come into being.
The first vow, first of these, the 18th vow, is about how you can enter through faith; and the second vow is about how you can enter through merit, through the accumulation of virtue, and the third vow, the 20th vow, is how you can enter by the development of perfection of samadhi - through the path of meditation.
Now, these three paths are focused upon also because at the beginning of the establishment of Pureland Buddhism in Japan we have Honen Shonin; and Honen Shonin was in many ways a kind of perfect monk. He lived a very virtuous life in a monastery until the year 1175 when he left Mt Hiei and started spreading the Pureland teaching and he had plenty of opportunities to practice the samadhis; and everybody regarded him as exemplary; and there he was. Honen said: “When I reflect honestly, there is no way that I have managed to perfect all the virtues and I haven’t managed to perfect any of the samadhis either.” The mind is very difficult to control. The body is equally unreliable; and therefore, when we look at these three vows, only the path of faith, the path of the spirit, the path of calling the name, this is the only one that is practical in the circumstances of life in these times. People generally regarded that age as being a degenerate time. I don’t know what they’d think of this one but they’d probably think it’s degenerated even further.
So, a foundation of the style of Pureland Buddhism is based upon this observation by Honen that the path of faith is possible whereas the path of perfect virtue and the path of perfect samadhi are illusive, perhaps impossible, certainly extremely difficult, for people living in normal conditions.
So, these are the Three Great Vows: 18, 19 and 20.
Thank you very much
Namo Amida Bu