Dharmakara's Confirmation of the 48 Vows

Made as the Condition of Becoming Amida Buddha

by Richard St. Clair

In the Larger Sutra on Amida Buddha (a.k.a. The Sutra on the Buddha of Eternal Life) the 48 Vows of Dharmakara, by which upon fulfillment after countless kalpas he ascended to full enlightenment as Amida Buddha, are wonderful to read and read about. Some are quite technical and their meaning is not immediately evident to us today.

However, right after making these sublime vows, Dharmakara followed up with a series of verses confirming the 48 vows. These verses are called the JUSEIGE and they are very accessible and easy to grasp. I'd like us to read and think about them now.

The Buddha said to Ananda, "The Bhiksu Dharmakara, having thus proclaimed those vows, spoke the following verses:

I have made vows, unrivaled in all the world;
I will certainly reach the unsurpassed Way.
If these vows should not be fulfilled,
May I not attain perfect Enlightenment.

This is the "clincher vow" - unless all 48 vows are completely fulfilled, he will not attain perfect Enlightenment (and become Amida Buddha).

If I should not become a great benefactor
In lives to come for immeasurable kalpas
To save the poor and the afflicted everywhere,
May I not attain perfect Enlightenment.

This is very important. This is itself a catch-all VOW: TO SAVE THE POOR AND AFFLICTED EVERYWHERE. That's you and me, that's all of us BOMBUs, spiritual idiots, persons beset by blind passions and evil karma. That means not just us on this planet, but all suffering sentient beings throughout the entire multiverses. This is where he spells out that WE, the poor and afflicted, are especially the object of his Great Compassion.

When I attain Buddhahood,
My Name shall be heard throughout the ten quarters;
Should there be any place where it is not heard,
May I not attain perfect Enlightenment.

This is a vow that goes back to the 48 Vows, that His NAME shall be heard throughout the ten quarters (a.k.a. EVERYWERE). Another way of putting this is what Vasubandhu Bodhisattva described as "The Buddha whose Light shines unobstructed throughout the ten quarters." The Name and the Light are as One. They both convey the great power of Amida's GREAT COMPASSION. And the Name for us is Namu Amida Butsu, I take refuge in Amida Buddha. In some form (not always in Japanese!) it is heard THROUGHOUT THE TEN QUARTERS. Amazing!

Free of greed and with deep, perfect mindfulness
And pure wisdom, I will perform the sacred practices;
I will seek to attain the unsurpassed Way
And become the teacher of devas and humans.

Here Dharmakara states his resolve to undertake what will be countless kalpas of pure practices to acquire the storehouse of merit necessary to save all beings. He, as a fulfilled Buddha, will actually be a TEACHER, not just a symbol of ultimate reality, but a true transcendent Buddha that teaches and guides the suffering beings through His enormous transcendent powers.

With my divine power I will display great light,
Illuminating the worlds without limit,
And dispel the darkness of the three defilements;
Thus I will deliver all beings from misery.

Illuminating ALL the worlds WITHOUT LIMIT. This is a statement in other words of what later Vasubandhu wrote in his JODORON:

"O World-Honored One, I, with single-mindedness, take refuge in the Tathagata  whose unhindered Light exhaustively fills the ten quarters and aspire to be born in the Land of Peace and Bliss."

Delivering ALL BEINGS. Not just those beings who have fullfilled vows and practices, not just those beings who have acquired a storehouse of positive merit, but ALL BEINGS, including and especially those of deep suffering with enormous debts of evil karma will he deliver from misery, from birth-and-death. This is a KEY element of Bodhisattva Dharmakara aka Amida Buddha-to-be's mission, to DELIVER ALL BEINGS FROM MISERY.

Having obtained the eye of wisdom,
I will remove the darkness of ignorance;
I will block all the evil paths
And open the gate to the good realms.

This is a statement of his OTHER POWER, the power by which his enormous storehouse of merit will become available to all beings.

When merits and virtues are perfected,
My majestic light shall radiate in the ten quarters,
Outshining the sun and the moon
And surpassing the brilliance of the heavens.

A statement of the great power and extent of the Light of Amida Buddha upon perfection of the merits and virtues through Dharmakara's practices fulfilling the 48 Vows.

I will open the Dharma-store for the multitudes
And endow them all with treasures of merit.
Being always among the multitudes,
I will proclaim the Dharma with the lion's roar.

This again is a vow of UNIVERSAL COMPASSION, opening the Dharma-store, his entire huge storehouse of karmic merit and making it available to THE MULTITUDES. This is the whole idea of Transference of Merit, the Mahayana principle by which Amida Buddha uses His Other Power to save all beings from birth-and-death.

I will make offerings to all the Buddhas,
Thereby acquiring roots of virtue.
When my vows are fulfilled and my wisdom perfected,
I shall be the sovereign of the three worlds.

This is to say that as Amida Buddha He will have learned all the positive lessons from all the Buddhas (as described in the Larger Sutra) and applied them to creating the Pure Land where all suffering beings go to become Buddhas. By accomplishing this, he will  truly have become truly the greatest of all Buddhas, aka THE SOVEREIGN OF THE THREE WORLDS (aka past, present and future).


Like your unhindered wisdom, O Buddha,
Mine shall reach everywhere, illuminating all;
May my supreme wisdom
Be like yours, Most Excellent Honored One.

Here Dharmakara is honoring his own master, Lokeshvararaja Buddha, who has taught Dharmakara and shown Dharmakara 20 billion Buddha-worlds and all the virtues and problems in them, as a necessary step to Dharmakara creating his own Pure Land when he fulfills his 48 Vows. It was because of Lokeshvararaja's mentorship of Dharmakara that Dharmakara was empowered to seek and ultimately fulfill his great 48 Vows and become Amida Buddha, thus his worshipful obeisance to his mentor.


If these vows are to be fulfilled,
Let this universe of a thousand million worlds shake in response
And let all the devas in heaven
Rain down rare and marvelous flowers.

And in response to Dharmakara's call, we read:

The Buddha said to Ananda, "As soon as the Bhiksu Dharmakara spoke those verses, the entire earth shook in six ways, and a rain of wonderful flowers fell from heaven, scattering everywhere. Spontaneous music was heard, and a voice in the sky said, 'Surely you will attain the highest, perfect Enlightenment. "Then the Bhiksu Dharmakara kept all those great vows which were sincere, unfailing and unsurpassed in the whole world, and intensely aspired to attain Nirvana.

I think the JUSEIGE is a very important part of the Larger Sutra on Amida Buddha because it encapsulates the 48 Vows, and singles out especially how Dharmakara's object is to save ALL suffering beings, no matter who they are or what condition they are in karmically. This is what made him, once he became Amida Buddha, truly the greatest of all Buddhas!!

Namu Amida Butsu!
Thank You, Amida Buddha!