Visualization Sutra Study Group

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Visualization Sutra Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Tue Jan 10, 2017 4:35 am

I've put this off for the past week, to make sure I wasn't burnt out from the 31 day study group.

Over the course of the next few months, I would like to walk through the visualizations in the Visualization Sutra 佛說觀無量壽佛經 (T12n0365). I'll be relying on Rulu's translation from sutrasmantras.info and the BDK translation in their publication "Three Pure Land Sutras." I will also try to leverage Shantao's Exposition of the Method of Contemplation on Amida Buddha (Jpn:Kannenbomon, Chn:Kuan-nien o-mi-t’o fo hsiang-hai san-mei kung-te fa-men, 觀念阿彌陀佛相海三昧功徳法門 T47n1959). I wish I had access to Shan-tao's Commentary on the Visualization sutra (T37n1753 觀無量壽佛經疏) but there really isn't a good English translation available yet (though there may be some forthcoming from the Jodo Shu Research Institute and the Pristine Pure Land group).

Ideally, I'd like to paste the Chinese, then paste the 2 available English translations, add the pertinent commentary below that, and add my own words at the bottom - but navigating the Chinese is just proving too cumbersome for me at the moment (I am pretty much limited to small passages). As a result, I'll stick with posting the English resources.
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Re: Visualization Sutra Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Tue Jan 10, 2017 4:52 am

The initial passage we'll start with is basically the Buddha giving an overview of the visualizations:
Rulu's translation of the Visualization Sutra - Explication of the Sixteen Visualizations wrote:The Buddha told Ānanda and Vaidehī, “Hearken! Hearken! Ponder it well! For the sake of sentient beings of the future that are tormented captives of their own afflictions, which are like bandits, the Tathāgata now will explicate the pure karmas. Very good, Vaidehī, ask your questions at once. Ānanda, accept and uphold the Buddha’s words, and pronounce them to the multitudes. The Tathāgata will now teach Vaidehī and all sentient beings of the future how to visualize the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss. By virtue of the Buddha’s power, you will be able to see that Pure Land, just as you see the reflection of your own face in a clear mirror. Once you see the wonderful and joyful things in that land, you will be delighted and instantly achieve the Endurance in the Realization of the No Birth of Dharmas.”

The Buddha told Vaidehī, “You are an ordinary being with coarse perceptions. Without the god-eye, you cannot see far. Nevertheless, Buddha-Tathāgatas have exceptional ways to enable you to see.”

At that time Vaidehī asked the Buddha, “By virtue of the power of the Buddha, I will be enabled to see that land. However, after the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, how can sentient beings that are impure, wicked, and burdened by the five kinds of suffering see Amitāyus Buddha’s Land of Ultimate Bliss?”

Alternately:
BDK version of the Visualization Sutra wrote:The Buddha said to Ānanda and Vaidehī, “Listen carefully, listen carefully
and ponder deeply. I, the Tathāgata, shall discourse on pure karma for the
sake of all sentient beings of the future who are afflicted by the enemy, evil
passions. It is very good, Vaidehī, that you have willingly asked me about
this. Ānanda, you must receive and keep the Buddha’s words and widely proclaim
them to the multitude of beings. I, the Tathāgata, shall now teach you,
Vaidehī, and all sentient beings of the future how to visualize the Western
Land of Utmost Bliss. By the power of the Buddha all will be able to see the
Pure Land as clearly as if one were looking at one’s own reflection in a bright
mirror. Seeing the utmost beauty and bliss of that land, they will rejoice and
immediately attain insight into the non-arising of all dharmas.”

The Buddha said to Vaidehī, “You are unenlightened and so your spiritual
powers are weak and obscured. Since you have not yet attained the
divine eye, you cannot see that which is distant. But the buddha tathāgatas
have special ways to enable you to see afar.”

Vaidehī said to the Buddha, “World-honored One, through the Buddha’s
power, even I have now been able to see that land. But after the Buddha’s
passing sentient beings will become defiled and evil and be oppressed by
the five kinds of suffering. How then will those beings be able to see the
Land of Utmost Bliss of Amitāyus?”


Regarding this passage, Shan-Tao Says:
Shan-Tao's Kannenbomon wrote:24 Question: Since the queen had a strong and superior merit-power, she was able to see the Buddha. How can sentient beings of the last Dharma age, who have deep and heavy karmic evils, be compared with the queen? As this implication is extremely profound and broad, please show me clear evidence by quoting extensively from the Buddhist sutras.

Answer: The Buddha is a sage of the three transcendental knowledges, possessed of the six supernatural powers which know no obstructions. After observing the people's capacities, he gives them [appropriate] teachings. Whether the teaching [one practices] is shallow or deep, if only one devotes oneself sincerely to it, there is no doubt that one will see [the Buddha]. It is stated in the Contemplation Sutra:

The Buddha praised Vaidehi, saying: "It is good that you have asked me about this matter. Ananda, keep the Buddha's words and expound them widely to the multitudes of beings. I, the Tathagata, will teach Vaidehi and all sentient beings in the future how to contemplate the Western Land of Utmost Bliss. Through the Buddha's Vow-Power they will be able to see that land as clearly as if they look into a clear mirror and see their own images in it."

This quotation from the sutra is further evidence showing that, due to Amida Buddha's three powers working from outside, one is able to see the Buddha. Hence, we call this the dominant force enabling one to attain the samadhi of seeing the Buddha and the Pure Land.

25 Further, it is stated in the [Contemplation] Sutra:

The Buddha said to Vaidehi: "You are an ordinary person, and your mental faculty is inferior, and so you are not able to see far. Buddhas, Tathagatas, with a special expedient enable people like you to see [the Pure Land]." The queen said to the Buddha, "Now I have seen the Buddha's Land through his power. How can sentient beings, who come after the Buddha's death and, being defiled and evil, are tormented by the five pains, see the Land of Utmost Bliss?" The Buddha said, "Vaidehi, you and other sentient beings should single-mindedly fix your thoughts and contemplate the lapis lazuli ground of the Western Land, all the jewel-bannered pillars under it, manifold jewels on the ground, decorations inside the buildings, etc."

If one single-mindedly concentrates one's thought, one will be able to see [the Pure Land] just as the queen saw it, as stated above. Hence, it is said:

Visualize them very clearly, one by one, so that you can see them whether you close your eyes or not. If you have accomplished this contemplation, it is said that you have roughly seen [the Pure Land].

As this is a visualization in the state of conscious thought, it is said 'roughly seen.' If you have attained a meditative samadhi or a recitation samadhi, your mind's eye will open and you will see with it all the splendors of the Pure Land, which no words can fully describe. This quotation from the sutra is further evidence. All ordinary beings can certainly see [the Pure Land] if only they concentrate their thoughts. You should realize this. If you have heard of someone who has seen [the Pure Land], you should not be surprised or entertain doubt. The reason is that, due to Amida Buddha's Samadhi-Power working on him from outside, he can see it. For this reason, we call this the dominant force enabling one to attain the samadhi of seeing the Buddha's Pure Land.


So the stage is set. The Buddha encourages sentient beings to practice pure karmas and promises to teach them how to visualize the Western Pure Land. He states that it is by the virtue of the Buddha's power and that common people will see the Pure Land and instantly achieve endurance in the realization of the non-arising of dharmas.

In the quote from the Kannenbomon, we can see Shan-tao clearly saying that attaining the samadhi of seeing the Pure Land is due to Other Power.

The Five Sufferings (Five Pains) 五苦 are defined as:
1. Birth
2. Aging
3. Illness
4. Death
5. The pain of separation from loved ones
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Re: Visualization Sutra Study Group - First Visualization

Postby Admin_PC » Wed Jan 11, 2017 3:48 am

Now onto the visualizations themselves...
Rulu's translation of the Visualization Sutra - First Visualization wrote:1. The Setting Sun

The Buddha told Vaidehī, “You as well as other sentient beings should concentrate your mind and focus on the one place, thinking of the west. How does one visualize? All sentient beings with eyes that are not born blind have seen the setting sun. One should sit properly, facing the west, and visualize that the sun is setting. One should focus one’s mind and visualize, with unshakable concentration, the setting sun like a hanging drum. Success in visualizing the setting sun means that one can see it distinctly with eyes open or closed. The vision of the sun is called the first visualization. This visualization is called the right visualization while other visualizations are called the wrong visualization.”


The BDK translation:
BDK version of the Visualization Sutra wrote:The Buddha said to Vaidehī, “You and other sentient beings should concentrate
and, with one-pointed attention, turn your thoughts westward. How
do you contemplate? All sentient beings except those born blind—that is,
all those with the faculty of sight—should look at the setting sun. Sit in the
proper posture, facing west. Clearly gaze at the sun, with mind firmly fixed
on it; concentrate your sight and do not let it wander from the setting sun,
which is like a drum suspended above the horizon. Having done so, you
should then be able to visualize it clearly, whether your eyes are open or
closed. This is the visualization of the sun and is known as the first contemplation.
To practice in this way is called the correct contemplation, and
to practice otherwise is incorrect.”


Shan-tao doesn't explicitly comment on this visualization.

Interestingly, it does somewhat correspond to the "Light Kasina" in Buddhagosa's Visuddhimagga:
The Visuddhimagga - Light Kasina wrote:[THE LIGHT KASINA]
21. Of the light kasina it is said: “One who is learning the light kasina
apprehends the sign in light in a hole in a wall, or in a keyhole, or in a window
opening.” So firstly, when someone has merit, having had previous practice, the
sign arises in him when he sees the circle thrown on a wall or a floor by sunlight
or moonlight entering through a hole in a wall, etc., or when he sees a circle
thrown on the ground by sunlight or moonlight coming through a gap in the
branches of a dense-leaved tree or through a gap in a hut made of closely packed
branches.

22. Anyone else should use that same kind of circle of luminosity just described,
developing it as “luminosity, luminosity” or “light, light.” If he cannot do so, he
can light a lamp inside a pot, close the pot’s mouth, make a hole in it and place
it with the hole facing a wall. The lamplight coming out of the hole throws a
circle on the wall. He should develop that as “light, light.” This lasts
longer than the other kinds.

23. Here the learning sign is like the circle thrown on the wall or the ground. The
counterpart sign is like a compact bright cluster of lights. The rest is as before.


Envisioning the setting sun should be reasonable for anyone who has seen one. Of all the visualizations, I feel like this is the one I have the least trouble with. Later this week, I'll post some pictures as aides for this visualization.
月影の いたらぬ里は なけれども 眺むる人の 心にぞすむ
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Re: Visualization Sutra Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Thu Jan 12, 2017 4:30 am

When I think of sunsets, as pretty as the ones I've seen in Texas have been, my mind usually drifts back to Okinawa - where I went to high school.
I worked on a beach called "Kadena Marina" while home from college one summer.
Here are some pictures

Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
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Re: Visualization Sutra Study Group

Postby shaunc » Thu Jan 12, 2017 7:13 am

They're very beautiful pictures.
To quote Ajahn Chah, a quite famous Thai Buddhist monk. To know nature is to know dharma and to know dharma is to know nature.
Thank you for all of the work and time you're putting in for us all.
Namu Amida Butsu.

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Re: Visualization Sutra Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Thu Jan 12, 2017 3:45 pm

To be perfectly honest, I'm getting at least as much out of it as you guys. :)
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