Confirmation of the 48 Vows
Made as the Condition of Becoming Amida Buddha
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
If these vows should not be
May I not attain perfect
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
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
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:
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
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
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,
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
If these vows are to be
Let this universe of a thousand million worlds shake in
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!