Amitabha (Amida, Amita, Amitayus). Amitabha is the most commonly used name for the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life. A transhistorical Buddha venerated by all Mahayana schools (T'ien T'ai, Esoteric, Zen ...) and, particularly, Pure Land. Presides over the Western Pure Land (Land of Ultimate Bliss), where anyone can be reborn by singlemindedly concentrating on His name, particularly at the time of death.
Amitabha Buddha at the highest or noumenon level represents the Mind of the Buddhas and sentient beings, all-encompassing and all-inclusive. This deeper understanding provides the rationale for the harmonization of Zen and Pure Land, two popular schools of Mahayana Buddhism.
From craving [attachment] springs grief, from craving springs fear; For him who is wholly free from craving, there is no grief, much less fear. (Dhammapada Sutra.)
If you don't have attachments, naturally you're liberated ... In ancient times, there was an old cultivator who asked for instructions from a monk, "Great Monk, let me ask you, how can I attain liberation?" The Great monk said, "Who tied you up?" This old cultivator answered, "Nobody tied me up." The monk said, "Then why do you seek liberation?" (Hsuan Hua, tr.,Flower Adornment [Avatamsaka] Sutra, "Pure Conduct," chap. 11).
For the seasoned practitioner, even the Dharma must not become an attachment. As an analogy, to clean one's shirt, it is necessary to use soap. However, if the soap is not then rinsed out, the garment will not be truly clean. Similarly, the practitioner's mind will not be fully liberated until he severs attachment to everything, including the Dharma itself.
Avatamsaka Sutra (Flower Ornament Scripture). The basic text of the Avatamsaka School. It is one of the longest sutras in the Buddhist Canon and records the highest teaching of Buddha Sakyamuni, immediately after Enlightenment. It is traditionally believed that the Sutra was taught to the Bodhisattvas and other high spiritual beings while the Buddha was in samadhi. The Sutra has been described by D.T. Suzuki as the epitome of Buddhist thought, Buddhist sentiment and Buddhist experience and is quoted by all schools of Mahayana Buddhism, in particular, Pure Land and Zen.
Awakening of the Faith (Treatise). A major commentary by the Patriarch Asvaghosha (1st/2nd cent.), which presents the fundamental principles of Mahayana Buddhism. Several translations exist in English.
The text deals with the doctrine of One Mind ... and the idea of the two aspects of One Mind: the absolute, or noumenal, and the relative, or phenomenal. (Sung-peng Hsu.)
Awakening vs. Enlightenment. A clear distinction should be made between awakening (Great Awakening) and Enlightenment. (Note: There are many degrees of Awakening and Enlightenment. Attaining the Enlightenment of the Arhats, Pratyeka Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, etc. is different from attaining Supreme Enlightenment, i.e., Buddhahood.)
To experience Awakening is to achieve (through Zen meditation, Buddha Recitation, etc.) a complete and deep realization of what it means to be a Buddha and how to reach Buddhahood. It is to see one's Nature, comprehend the True Nature of things, the Truth. However, only after becoming a Buddha can one be said to have truly attained Supreme Enlightenment (attained the Way).
A metaphor appearing in the sutras is that of a glass of water containing sediments. As long as the glass is undisturbed, the sediments remain at the bottom and the water is clear. However, as soon as the glass is shaken, the water becomes turbid. Likewise, when a practitioner experiences a Great Awakening (awakens to the Way), his afflictions (greed, anger and delusion) are temporarily suppressed but not yet eliminated. To achieve Supreme Enlightenment (i.e., to be rid of all afflictions, to discard all sediments) is the ultimate goal. Only then can he completely trust his mind and actions. Before then, he should adhere to the precepts, keep a close watch on his mind and thoughts, like a cat stalking a mouse, ready to pounce on evil thoughts as soon as they arise. To do otherwise is to court certain failure, as stories upon stories of errant monks, roshis and gurus demonstrate.
To make sure that his disciple would reach the great ocean and not be misled by smaller bodies of water, a Zen Master explained the difference between rivers, lakes and seas, the characteristics of fresh water, salt water, etc. Finally, he took the disciple to the highest mountain peak in the area and pointed to the ocean in the distance. For the first time, glimpsing the ocean with his own eyes, the disciple experienced a Great Awakening. However, only after he followed the long, arduous path and actually reached the ocean, tasting its waters, did he achieve Enlightenment.
Buddha Recitation. General term for a number of practices, such as oral recitation of Amitabha Buddha's name and visualization or contemplation of His auspicious marks and those of the Pure Land. Oral recitation consists of repeating the words "Na Mo (Homage to) Amitabha Buddha" or just "Amitabha Buddha."
Reciting the buddha-name proceeds from the mind. The mind remembers Buddha and does not forget. That's why it is called buddha remembrance, or reciting the buddha-name mindfully. (Cited in J.C. Cleary,Pure Land, Pure Mind.)
See also Kung-An of Buddha Recitation under "Kung-an."
Conditioned (compounded). Describes all the various phenomena in the world -- made up of separate, discrete elements, with no intrinsic nature of their own. Conditioned merits and virtues (wealth, honor, etc.) for example, are subject to Birth and Death, whereas unconditioned merits and virtues are beyond Birth and Death. See also "Unconditioned."
Demons. Evil influences which hinder cultivation. These can take an infinite number of forms, including evil beings or hallucinations. The three poisons of greed, anger and delusion are also equated to demons, as they disturb the mind. See the following passage:
Thus, when you are practicing Zen, all thoughts other than the method [koan] should be considered as demons, even if it feels like you have entered a 'heavenly' state. Some people, as they are sitting, may suddenly enter a completely new world which is very beautiful and comfortable. Afterwards, they want to return to it in each meditation. They may be able to get into that state again, but nonetheless it is an attachment. There are also other states that are terrifying. Such visions, good and bad, are generally manifestations of our own mental realms. (Master Sheng-Yen.)
The Self-Nature has been described in Mahayana sutras as a house full of gold and jewelry. To preserve the riches, i.e., to keep the mind calm, empty and still, we should shut the doors to the three thieves of greed, anger and delusion. Letting the mind move opens the house to "demons," that is, hallucinations and harm. Thus, Zen practitioners are taught that, while in meditation, "Encountering demons, kill the demons, encountering Buddhas, kill the Buddhas." Both demons and Buddhas are mind-made, Mind-Only.
Even if a buddha or bodhisattva should suddenly appear before you, there's no need for reverence. This mind of ours is empty and contains no such form. Those who hold onto appearances are devils. They fall from the path. Why worship illusions born of the mind? Those who worship don't know, and those who know don't worship. By worshipping you come under the spell of devils ... At the appearance of spirits, demons, or divine beings, conceive neither respect nor fear. Your mind is basically empty. All appearances are illusions. Don't hold on to appearances. (Patriarch Bodhidharma.)
For a detailed discussion of demons, see Master Thich Thien Tam, Buddhism of Wisdom and Faith, sect. 51.
The concept of decline, dissension and schism within the Dharma after the passing of Buddha Sakyamuni is a general teaching of Buddhism and a corollary to the Truth of impermanence. See, for example, the Diamond Sutra (sect. 6 in the translation by A.F. Price and Wong Mou-lam). The modern reader, unfamiliar with the concept of the Dharma-Ending Age may wish to recall the famous story of Hui K'o, the second Chinese Patriarch of Zen, who, according to tradition, knelt in the snow behind Bodhidharma for a whole night before being accepted as a disciple. Contrast this with the contemporary situation when even the holiest of all Buddhist holidays, Vesak (Birthday of Sakyamuni Buddha), must be held on the week-end to ensure adequate attendance.
Dharma Realm (Cosmos, Dharmadhatu, Realm of Reality, Realm of Truth). The term has several meanings in the sutras: i) the nature or essence of all things; ii) the infinite universe, consisting of worlds upon worlds ad infinitum; iii) the Mind.
Dharmas [phenomena, things] are empty and void, because they have to depend on causes and conditions for their existence. Take away the causes and conditions and the dharmas do not exist. They do not possess their own self-nature, they are empty of their own being, hence they are said to be empty or void (sunya). This is one of the great truths propounded by the Mahayana, that sunyata, emptiness, is the mark of all the dharmas. Anyone who realizes this truth may be said to have achieved wisdom." (Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, p. 129.)
Contrasted with "hollow emptiness," or "stubborn emptiness," which is one-sided and leads to nihilism (the belief that nothing exists after death). Thus, we have the Mahayana expression, "True Emptiness, Wonderful Existence." True Emptiness is not empty!
Expedient means (Skillful means, Skill-in-means). Refers to strategies, methods, devices, targetted to the capacities, circumstances, likes and dislikes of each sentient being, so as to rescue him and lead him to enlightenment. "Thus, all particular formulations of the Teaching are just provisional expedients to communicate the Truth (Dharma) in specific contexts." (J.C. Cleary). "The Buddha's words were medicines for a given sickness at a given time," always infinitely adaptable to the conditions of the audience.
Four Propositions. The well-known Four Propositions of Buddhist logic are: a) Existence; b) Emptiness; c) both; d) neither. These propositions represent four ascending levels of cultivation, "an ascending grasp of reality" (H. Dumoulin). These propositions are transcended upon attainment of Enlightenment and Buddhahood.
In this formula, the philosophy of the Middle Way Madyamika and the metaphysics of the Avatamsaka School flow together. (H. Dumoulin,Zen Buddhism: A History, p. 219.)
Good Spiritual Advisor. Guru, virtuous friend, wise person, Bodhisattva, Buddha -- anyone who can help the practitioner progress along the path to Enlightenment. This notwithstanding,wisdom should be the primary factor in the selection of such an advisor: the advisor must have wisdom, and both advisor and practitioner must exercise wisdom in selecting one another.
[Hua-t'ou], lit., "word-head;" the point, punch line, or key line of a koan, the word or phrase in which the koan resolves itself when one struggles with it as a means of spiritual training .... In the famous koan Chao-chou/Dog, for example,mu is the [hua-t'ou]. Many longer koans have several [hua-t'ous]. (Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, p. 246.)
See also "Kung-an."
Hui Neng. See "Sixth Patriarch."
In Zen, a koan is a phrase from a sutra or teaching on Zen realization, an episode from the life of an ancient master ... each pointing to the nature of ultimate reality. Essential to a koan is paradox, i.e., that which is "beyond thinking," which transcends the logical or conceptual. Thus, since it cannot be solved by reason, a koan is not a riddle. Solving a koan requires a leap to another level of comprehension. (Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, p. 117.)
A famous kung-an is the Kung-An of Buddha Recitation, which
is a good example of the harmonization of the Ch'an [Zen] and Pure Land schools. The practitioner still recites Amitabha's name, may still wish to see the Buddha in meditation, but his overriding concern is to ask, "Who is it that recites the Buddha's name?" Enlightenment comes when the devotee realizes that his own true nature is the ultimate reality. (Sung-peng Hsu, p. 44-45.)
See also "Hua-t'ou."
Lotus Grades. Refer allegorically to nine possible degrees of rebirth in the Pure Land. The more merits and virtues the practitioner accumulates, the higher the grade. The highest grade is achieved by cultivators who have attained samadhi.
One of the earliest and most richly descriptive of the Mahayana sutras of Indian origin. It became important for the shaping of the Buddhist tradition in East Asia, in particular because of its teaching of the One Vehicle under which is subsumed the usual Hinayana and Mahayana divisions. It is the main text of the Tendai [T'ien T'ai] school. (Joji Okazaki).
This School has a historically close relationship with the Pure Land School, so much so that Elder Master T'ai Hsu taught that the Lotus Sutra is theLonger Amitabha Sutra in expanded form, while the Longer Amitabha Sutra is a summary of the Lotus Sutra.
Maitreya. The future Buddha of this Saha World. One of the few transhistorical Buddhas (i.e., Buddhas with no basis in human history) recognized by the Theravada School.
Middle Way (Madhyamika). The way between and above all extremes, such as hedonism or ascetism, existence or emptiness, eternalism or nihilism, samsara or Nirvana, etc. The Middle Way is a basic tenet of Buddhism. See also "Nagarjuna."
Frequent term in Zen, used in two senses: (1) the mind-ground, the One Mind ... the buddha-mind, the mind of thusness ... (2) false mind, the ordinary mind dominated by conditioning, desire, aversion, ignorance, and false sense of self, the mind of delusion ... (J.C. Cleary,A Buddha from Korea.)
The ordinary, deluded mind (thought) includes feelings, impressions, conceptions, consciousness, etc. The Self-Nature True Mind is the fundamental nature, the Original Face, reality, etc. As an example, the Self-Nature True Mind is to mind what water is to waves -- the two cannot be dissociated. They are the same but they are also different.
See also the following passage:
The mind ... "creates" the world in the sense that it invests the phenomenal world with value. The remedy to this situation, according to Buddhism, is to still the mind, to stop it from making discriminations and nurturing attachments toward certain phenomena and feelings of aversion toward others. When this state of calmness of mind is achieved, the darkness of ignorance and passion will be dispelled and the mind can perceive the underlying unity of the absolute. The individual will then have achieved the state of enlightenment and will be freed from the cycle of birth and death, because such a person is now totally indifferent to them both. (Burton Watson,The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi).
Nagarjuna. (2nd/3rd cent.) "One of the most important philosophers of Buddhism and the founder of the Madhyamika school. Nagarjuna's major accomplishment was his systematization ... of the teaching presented in the Prajnaparamita Sutras.
Nagarjuna's methodological approach of rejecting all opposites is the basis of the Middle Way ..." (Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen).
See also "Middle Way."
Pure Land. Generic term for the realms of the Buddhas. In this text it denotes the Land of Ultimate Bliss or Western Land of Amitabha Buddha. It is "a paradise realm of the spirit world" (Raoul Birnbaum), an ideal place of cultivation, beyond the Triple Realm and samsara, where those who are reborn are no longer subject to retrogression. This is the key distinction between the Western Pure Land and such realms as the Tusita Heaven. There are two complementary conceptions of the Pure Land: as different and apart from the Saha World and as one with and the same as the Saha World. When the mind is pure and undefiled, any land or environment becomes a pure land (Vimalakirti, Lotus, Avatamsaka Sutras ...). At the noumenal level, everything, the Pure Land included, is Mind-Only, a product of the mind. See also "Triple Realm."
Pure Land School. When Mahayana Buddhism spread to China, Pure Land ideas found fertile ground for development. In the fourth century, the movement crystallized with the formation of the Lotus Society, founded by Master Hui Yuan (334-416), the first Pure Land Patriarch. The school was formalized under the Patriarchs T'an Luan (Donran) and Shan Tao (Zendo). Master Shan Tao's teachings, in particular, greatly influenced the development of Japanese Pure Land, associated with Honen Shonin (Jodo school) and his disciple, Shinran Shonin (Jodo Shinshu school) in the 12th and 13th centuries. Jodo Shinshu, or Shin Buddhism, places overwhelming emphasis on the element of faith.
Note: An early form of Buddha Recitation can be found in the Nikayas of the Pali Canon:
In the Nikayas, the Buddha ... advised his disciples to think of him and his virtues as if they saw his body before their eyes, whereby they would be enabled to accumulate merit and attain Nirvana or be saved from transmigrating in the evil paths ... (D.T. Suzuki,The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. 3, No. 4, p. 317.)
Pure Land Sutras. See "Three Pure Land Sutras."
Samantabhadra. Also called Universal Worthy or, in Japanese, Fugen. A major Bodhisattva, who personifies the transcendental practices and vows of the Buddhas (as compared to the Bodhisattva Manjusri, who represents transcendental wisdom). Usually depicted seated on an elephant with six tusks (six paramitas). Best known for his "Ten Great Vows."
Sudhana. The main protagonist in the next-to-last and longest chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Seeking Enlightenment, he visited and studied with fifty-three spiritual advisors and became the equal of the Buddhas in one lifetime.
When he was born, myriad treasures suddenly appeared in his father's home. Thus the name "Sudhana" or "Good Wealth."
"The eight points of the compass (north, south, east, west, northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest), plus the zenith and nadir. Ten directions is a figurative term meaning in all directions, 'in all space.'"
The expressions Ten Directions and Six Directions are interchangeable and mean "everywhere". However, Six Directions is found in Theravada and early Mahayana texts, while the expression Ten Directions is used in major Mahayana sutras such as the Avatamsaka, in which phenomenal realities are expressed in terms of ten.
Ten Great Vows. The famous vows of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra in the Avatamsaka Sutra. These vows represent the quintessence of this Sutra and are the basis of all Mahayana practice. Studying the Vows and putting them into practice is tantamount to studying the Avatamsaka Sutra and practicing its teachings. See also "Samantabhadra."
Ten Stages (Bodhisattva Grounds, Ten Grounds). According to the Mahayana sutras, there are a total of 52 (some sutras say 53) levels of attainment before a cultivator achieves Buddhahood. The 41st to 50th levels constitute the Ten Stages or Grounds. Above these are the levels of Equal Enlightenment, Wonderful Enlightenment (and Buddhahood).
Third Lifetime. In the first lifetime, the practitioner engages in mundane good deeds which bring ephemeral worldly blessings (wealth, power, authority, etc.) in the second lifetime. Since wealth and power tend to corrupt, he is likely to create evil karma, resulting in retribution in the thirdlifetime. Thus, good deeds in the first lifetime are potential "enemies" of the third lifetime.
To ensure that mundane good deeds do not become "enemies," the practitioner should dedicate all merits to a transcendental goal, i.e., to become Bodhisattvas or Buddhas or, in popular Pure Land teaching, to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land -- a Buddha land beyond Birth and Death.
Three Pure Land Sutras. Pure Land Buddhism is based on three basic texts:
a) Amitabha Sutra (or Shorter Amitabha Sutra, or Smaller Sukhavati-Vyuha, or the Sutra of Amida);
b) Longer Amitabha Sutra (or Larger Sukhavati-Vyuha, or the Teaching of Infinite Life);
c) Meditation Sutra (or the Meditation on the Buddha of Infinite Life, or the Amitayur Dyana Sutra).
Sometimes the last chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra ("The Practices and Vows of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra") is considered the fourth basic sutra of the Pure Land tradition.
Triple Realm (Three Realms, Three Worlds). The realms of desire (our world), form (realms of the lesser deities) and formlessness (realms of the higher deities). The Western Pure Land is outside the Triple Realm, beyond samsara and retrogression. See also "Pure Land."
Unconditioned (Transcendental). Anything free of the three marks of greed, anger and delusion. See also "Conditioned."
Vaidehi. The Queen of King Bimbisara of Magadha (India). It was in response to her entreaties that Buddha Sakyamuni preached the Meditation Sutra, which teaches a series of sixteen visualizations (of Amitabha Buddha, the Pure Land, etc.) leading to rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Wonderful Enlightenment. The stage of Enlightenment immediately preceding Buddhahood. See also "Ten Stages".
Zen. "Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word 'Ch'an,' which in turn derives from the Sanskrit 'dhyana.' A school of Mahayana Buddhism in China founded by Bodhidharma [circa 530]. This school stresses the cultivation of intuitive wisdom" (Garma C. Chang).