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An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 40: The Buddhas in the Northern Direction

In the worlds of the northern direction there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha “Blazing Shoulders,” the Buddha “Supreme Voice,” the Buddha “Hard to Injure,” the Buddha “Born of the Sun,” and the Buddha “Netted Light.” Each of them . . . [teaches in his own land with the truthfulness of a Buddha] and covers a whole cosmos, speaking these sincere words: “all of you sentient beings should believe this sutra extolling inconceivable virtues, which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind”.

The names of the Buddhas in the northern direction show us that once we have wisdom, as taught by the Buddhas in the southern direction, and good fortune, as taught by the Buddhas in the western direction, then we should educate others how to attain these as well.

The first Buddha named in the northern direction was Buddha Blazing Shoulders. “Blazing Shoulders” signifies that one should take up the dual mission of all Buddhas: propagate the Dharma and aid all beings.

How to accomplish this is taught through the significance of the names of the next four Buddhas in the northern direction.

The second Buddha named was Buddha Supreme Voice. This name signifies that one carries out the Buddha’s work with one’s voice. As Pure Land practitioners, we understand that the supreme voice is the voice that teaches how to attain rebirth in the Pure Land and urges mindful chanting of the Buddha’s name. Sadly, we rarely hear this voice. Instead, voices on the Internet, television, and in other media assault us on a daily basis. These voices do not encourage us to become better people. They incite us to consider our desires before the needs of others, to seek revenge at the slightest insult, to care for those we like while we disregard everyone else. These voices will draw us to the three evil paths.

Sakyamuni Buddha urged us to listen instead to a pure voice, one that lectures on the Dharma and encourages people to end wrongdoing, to practice moral conduct, and to not fall into the Three Evil Paths. We should heed the supreme voice, the voice that helps all beings break through delusion and attain awakening. Which voice is supreme?

When we consider the teachings of the various Buddhist schools, the Pure Land teachings are the supreme voice. Why? Because the Pure Land teachings can help us transcend samsara, never again regress, and become a Buddha in one lifetime.

The third Buddha named was Buddha Hard to Injure. This name signifies that as one propagates and protects the Dharma, one courageously makes focused and diligent progress. And in doing so, one fears no outside obstructions or difficulties. When spreading Buddhism, we will inevitably face many obstacles. Consequently, for us to give rise to our wisdom, we must determine never to be overwhelmed by these obstructions. Moreover, upon encountering them, we must not fight, remembering that Buddhas and bodhisattvas never oppose anyone. Indeed, this is why bodhisattvas are called benevolent beings. A benevolent being does not look on any other being as an enemy.

Thus, when someone attempts to pick a fight, the benevolent being forgives the person and avoids any confrontation. Such a being feels no anger, gives rise to no thought of revenge. This is an awakened being. This is a bodhisattva.

We can see an example of this in the account of the king of Kalinga. One day, the king and members of his court went hunting. While the king was napping, the ladies in the entourage saw an ascetic. Curious, they went to him and happily listened as he taught them the Dharma. When the king awoke and saw them associating with a stranger, some members of the hunting party told him that the ascetic was flirting with the women. The king flew into a rage and had the ascetic killed by dismemberment.

But the ascetic, who was awakened, did not harbor the slightest hatred toward the king. Indeed, he vowed that the king would be the first person he would help after he attained enlightenment.

We learn from sutra accounts that the ascetic was the being who became Sakyamuni Buddha in a later rebirth. The first person he helped after he had attained enlightenment was Kaundinya, one of his former five companions. In a previous lifetime, Kaundinya was that king of Kalinga.

Such are the actions of awakened beings.

What are the actions of unawakened beings, beings like us? Too quickly, we give in to anger and thoughts of retaliation. Realizing this, as soon as a confrontation arises, we now have the opportunity to determine our level of practice. Are we awakened? Or still deluded? If we are to awaken, we must exercise self-control. Upon encountering minor difficulties, we should feel neither angry nor vengeful. If we can accomplish this much, then, in the face of a serious obstacle, our cultivation will enable us to naturally remain calm and confident. Finally, when we are able to deal with any situation wisely, not emotionally, nothing will be able to impede us.

The fourth Buddha named was Buddha Born of the Sun. “Sun” represents wisdom. “Born of the Sun” signifies that teaching and learning complement and support each other, like the wisdom-sun of the teacher and that of the students brightening up the sky. Teachers must follow what they learned, including their own teachers’ methods, to instruct the students. In turn, students must learn diligently and, when the time comes, pass those teachings down to the next generation. This process will enable the Dharma to stay in this world for a long time to be a boon to humans and heavenly beings.

The fifth and last Buddha named in the Northern direction was Buddha Netted Light. “Netted Light” signifies the abundant methods of the great vow to help all beings. Buddhas use countless Dharma doors, which are analogous to a great net, able to lift up and thus rescue all beings from the sea of suffering. If Dharma propagators and protectors have such a great vow, such a broad mind, and such an aspiration, then Buddhism will flourish.

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