The Larger Pureland Sutra is mostly made up of a conversation between the Buddha and his assistant Ananda. In it the Buddha tells the story of how long, long ago a bodhisattva called Dharmakara appeared, inspired by the teachings given by the Buddha of that ancient time, called Lokeshvararaja Buddha.
Now, Dharmakara wanted to be like Lokeshvararaja Buddha and so be able to create and extend a wonderful Buddha Land. So, he gave up his worldly responsibilities and he went to follow the Buddha to ask how to do it. “How can I create a great Pureland?”
And Lokeshvararaja somewhat enigmatically replies that Dharmakara will himself know the way. Dharmakara protests: “I need help!”, “I cannot do it on my own!”
Now, Dharmakara wants explanation and Shakyamuni at this point in the story comments to Ananda that, if Lokeshvararaja had given an explanation at this point it might well have taken a million years…
However, we go back to the story:
Lokeshvararaja actually says that one needs the same perseverance as one would need, if one determined upon emptying the ocean with a ladle. || 22. *
But then, immediately he goes on to describe the innumerable Buddha Lands both gross and subtle. And he does so with such vividness that Dharmakara is able to see all appear before him. And the sutra then says:
“…, Dharmakara, because of the strength of his longing, was able to see all appear before him. He saw the whole matter with unprecedented clarity and there arose in him a great singularity of purpose: a supreme vow. || 23. [40-41]*
“A deep and serene tranquility pervaded him and his determination was freed from all obscuring attachment. His state was unexcelled in all the worlds...” || 24. *
This is the description of how Dharmakara arrived at the awakening of faith.
Now, I think the psychology of this interchange is very interesting. We can learn something here: Dharmakara sees that the Buddha has something that he wants and he asks for an explanation how to attain it, but the Buddha doesn’t respond in the way that Dharmakara expects. In fact, as Shakyamuni points out, Shakyamuni says:
“Well, Ananda, Lokeshvararaja the tathagata, arhat, samyak samBuddha, full of boundless compassion for myriad beings, could be busy with expounding this matter for fully a million years…” || 22. *
So, this is the nature of that kind of explanation: Conceptual explanation is linear, part by part by part, whereas the awakening is all together at once and total. Something different is needed. Lokeshvararaja has to bring Dharmakara to such a state of totality - a state that is unexcelled in all the worlds. This requires three things primarily:
- The first is the seeker is in a state of great longing
- The second is that there is a willingness to persevere
- And thirdly, there is an inspiring vision. One goes toward the light and the light is the vision of the Pureland. Lokeshvararaja shows Dharmakara innumerable Pure Lands both gross and subtle.
The awakening of faith is not the mastery of an explanation. It is the dawning of a great vision in the heart and mind of one who longs for it.
A person with motivation will search out ways to do things. I have the motivation to serve the Dharma, but I don’t always know the best way immediately, but I have the faith to persevere, and so, all in due time, it becomes clear what I’m supposed to be doing. In this way one comes to know the way for oneself; and in this way Dharmakara was awakened; and when he was awakened, all the obstacles to his drive fell away, and great vows poured forth from him. By following these vows, he became Amida Buddha, and we’ll look at some of those vows in future podcasts.
Thank you very much
Namo Amida Bu
*The numbers have been added to the transcription. They refer to the Larger Pureland Sutra, which you can read here: https://issuu.com/dharmavidya/docs/twopurelandsutras (scroll to page 5 of the online-book)