Vasubandhu – 2nd True Pure Land Master

Bodhisattva Vasubandhu

天 亲 菩 萨

Vasubandhu - artwork

In these beautiful verses from his Gatha of True Faith, Venerable Master Shinran, in expressing his deep gratitude to Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, quotes the essential teachings on the True Pure Land Way expounded by the 2nd great Lineage Teacher of Jodo Shinshu…

“Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, composing a treatise declared
That he himself took refuge in The Tathagata Of Unhindered Light.
In accordance with the sutras, he revealed the true and real  
And elucidated the Great Vow of Cross-wise Transcendence.

Through the power of His Primal Vow, Amida directs His merits
Manifesting the One-mind in order to save the multitudes of beings    
So when one takes refuge and enters the great treasure ocean of virtues 
Definitely, one obtains entry into Amida’s Great Assembly.

When one reaches that lotus-store world
One instantly realizes the body of suchness or dharma nature
Playing in the forest of blind passions, one uses transcendental powers
Entering the garden of birth and death one uses skillful means to guide others.”

Thus, the second teacher of the True Pure Land lineage, had strongly encouraged all mundane foolish persons (凡 夫, bombu), like ourselves, to entrust ourselves single-heartedly, in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, the Other Power that definitely saves us from samsara, the vicious cycle of relentless pain and suffering. Bodhisattva Vasubandhu clearly explains to us, through his wonderful Treatise on the Pure Land that, the moment when we are able take refuge without any doubt in Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow, our births in the Land of Happiness are instantly assured.

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Bodhisattva Vasubandhu was born in Peshawar (present day Pakistan) around the 4th to 5th century. Born into a Brahmin family, he first studied and seriously followed the Theravada Buddhist teachings. Later, inspired by his brother Asanga who was a well-versed, accomplished teacher and Master of the Buddha Dharma, he was soon converted to the Mahayana. Legend had it that, because he actually spoke ill of the Mahayana teachings earlier and had slandered it, Vasubandhu was extremely remorseful and wanted to cut off his own tongue. But Asanga admonished him to refrain from such foolish action and urged him to use his tongue, instead, to propagate widely the Mahayana Dharma.

Vasubandhu was famous for being the original propagator of the ‘Consciousness Only’ teachings, known as Yogacara, which asserts that all phenomena, whether physical or mental can ultimately be reduced to ( or attributable) to one basic consciousness called Alayavijnana (Storehouse consciousness). He meticulously analysed and explained this Alaya consciousness (also described as our 8th consciousness) in his voluminous treatise and how it influenced our senses and perceptions. He is therefore considered as the founder of the Yogacara School of Buddhism.

Noted by countless people through the ages, as the author of a thousand discourses on the Buddha Dharma, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu was an influential scholar, philosopher and Buddhist Master. Among his wonderful commentaries on the Sutras and works of other great Mahayana teachers, Vasubandhu’s major work – Commentary on the Treasury of Abhidharma (Abhidharma-kosa-bhasya) has been used as an encyclopedia  and important source of information on the Abhidharma of all Mahayana schools.

Vasubandhu’s wide range of discourses on the priceless treasury of Dharma teachings that include his treatises on karma and the five aggregates; his excellent commentaries on the Diamond Sutra, Lotus Sutra and other Sutras, certainly made him an important link to the sublime teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. It is for this reason that many Mahayana sects today have actually traced their lineage to this prolific scholar, writer, debater and accomplished Buddhist Master.

However, Bodhisattva Vasubandu’s most prominent discourse that is of special interest to Master Shinran and passionately highlighted by him, is his Treatise on the Pure Land (淨 土 論 – Jodo Ron). This wonderful teaching was translated into Chinese by a monk named Bodhiruci in the 6th century. Written in verse, as well as in prose, this excellent treatise from Vasubandhu, presents 24 stanzas in the gatha section and also vividly describes the 29 Adornments (merits) of the Pure Land. This comprehensive text  is now looked upon by millions of Pure Land Buddhists as their primary authority and discourse focusing on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Sutra (Larger Pure Land Sutra).

Because of his truthful realization and compelling emphasis on Amida’s Vow-power that absolutely gives ordinary foolish persons a chance to obtain liberation easily and quickly, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu was deeply revered by Master Shinran. Widely quoting Vasubandhu in his own writings, The Jodo Ron has therefore become an important canonical text of Jodo Shinshu.

The most interesting aspect of Vasubandhu’s own journey on the path toward enlightenment was that, despite being a strong proponent in many self-power Mahayana practices, he himself finally took the Pure Land path and was born in Amida’s Fulfilled Land. As quoted by Master Shinran, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu sincerely and openly states in his Treatise on the Pure Land:

“O World-honored one, with the mind that is single
I take refuge in the Tathagata of unhindered light
Filling the ten quarters
And aspire to be born in the land of happiness.

Relying on the sutras
In which the manifestation of true and real virtues is taught,
I compose a gatha of aspiration, a condensation,
That accords with the Buddha’s teaching.

Contemplating the power of the Buddha’s Primal Vow,
I see that no one who encounters it passes by in vain.
It quickly brings to fullness and perfection
The great treasure ocean of virtues.”

Thus, Vasubandhu clearly professed his single-hearted faith in the Tathagata of Unhindered Light. He honestly declared that, through the power of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, foolish persons like ourselves can easily attain enlightenment and be quickly freed from the painful torture of samsara.

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The True Pure Land Dharma specially taught by Bodhisattva Vasubandhu was the sole interest of Master Shinran, as it directly revealed the wonderful working of Amida Buddha’s Universal Vow of Boundless Compassion, made to effectively save ordinary foolish persons, like him (and us too) from the treacherous “ocean of samsara”. In his excellent Treatise on the Pure Land (淨 土 論 – Jodo Ron), Vasubandhu tells us that, the moment when we are able take refuge without any doubt in Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow, our births in the Land of Bliss are instantly assured. Our salvation is therefore, effectively made possible solely by the power of the Primal Vow, through which Amida’s infinite merits and virtues are transferred to us – firstly, for our going forth to the Pure Land at the end of our lives and secondly, for our subsequent return to this world (in seen or unseen ways), wonderfully possessed with innumerable skillful means to save others.

Knowing that this “Path of cross-wise transcendence” is the only appropriate path now available for badly defiled, ordinary foolish persons, constantly distracted and overwhelmed by greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance and doubt, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, without any reservation, urged us to choose this wonderful path which he himself finally took.

The Primal Vow, is Amida Buddha’s absolute promise to save all miserable persons like ourselves who are incapable to perform any spiritual practice. Thus, abandoning all self-powered practices, and single-heartedly relying on this Vow of Great Compassion, is now, the only option available to us, if getting out of samsara at the end of this life, is indeed our goal. Persons with entrusting faith (Shinjin – 信 心) in the Primal Vow, are truly settled in their minds and hearts, knowing that their attainments of Buddhahood are guaranteed, while they are still living out this precious life in mortal flesh.

Entrusting Faith (Shinjin – 信 心) on our part – the persons to be saved – is the faith-mind consciousness that fully accept the Primal Vow without any doubt. It comes about with the awareness that we are evil beings who have been transmigrating from the beginningless past with absolutely no possibility of escape from this vicious cycle of relentless pain and suffering. Thus, we accept Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow that embraces us and that its Vow power absolutely guarantees our births in the Pure Land. We would then, Say the Buddha’s Name – (南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Butsu) – in deep gratitude, for the rest of our fleeting lives and thus remembering, the inconceivable Compassion of the Buddha, for having saved, even spiritual idiots like us.

Stage of the Truely Settled (正 定 聚), also called the Stage of Non-retrogression (住 不 退 轉) – is a term originally used in the traditional Mahayana teachings to describe the stage of spiritual development in the Bodhisattvas’ paths to enlightenment, when these Bodhisattvas will never backslide in their attainments. Their arduous practices of vast merit gathering, flawless good deeds and extremely difficult disciplines on the Path of Sages, through countless billions of lives, have brought them up to the eighth stage (Sanskrit: bhumi) on a ten bhumi spiritual climb, before realizing Buddhahood. These Bodhisattvas on the 8th bhumi and above have attained the Stage of Non-retrogression – they belong to the Group of persons absolutely assured of advancing to Nirvana.

This Stage of Non-retrogression, which Vasubandhu ascertained, is also the same stage instantly received by us – foolish sentient beings with the lowest spiritual capacity – the very moment, here and now, when our Shinjin is truly settled. As we are now relying single-heartedly and fully on Amida Buddha’s Vow -power, we too are absolutely assured of advancing to Nirvana, without going through countless billions of lives, performing self-power, difficult practices, on the Bodhisattvas’ path.

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Ten Hymns on Bodhisattva Vasubandhu – composed by Master Shinran in profound reverence and gratitude to this great Jodo Shinshu teacher (based on his writings):

(From: Hyms on the Pure Land Masters – 1997 copy right Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha)

11…
Sakyamuni’s teachings are numerous,
But Bodhisattva Vasubandhu compassionately urges us,
Who are possessed of blind passions,
To take refuge in Amida’s universal Vow.

12…
The adornments of the Pure Land of peace
Are perceived only through the wisdom shared by Buddhas.
That land is infinite, like space,
Vast and without bounds.

13…
Of those who encounter the power of the Primal Vow,
Not one passes by in vain;
They are filled with the treasure ocean of virtues,
The defiled waters of their blind passions not separated from it.

14…
The sages of the Tathagata’s pure lotus
Are born transformed from the flower of perfect enlightenment;
Thus, the aspirations of sentient beings
Are swiftly and completely fulfilled there.

Pure lotus: the lotus appearing when Amida attained Buddhahood. The sentient beings who come to be born from this lotus are the same in practicing the nembutsu and follow no other way.

15…
The immovable sages, who were formerly humans and devas,
Are born from the ocean of wisdom, the universal Vow;
The virtues of their mental activity are pure
And free of discrimination, like empty space.

16…
Vasubandhu, author of the Treatise, took refuge
In the unhindered light with the mind that is single;
He teaches that by entrusting ourselves to the Vow’s power,
We will reach the fulfilled land.

17…
To take refuge, with the mind that is single,
In the Buddha of unhindered light filling the ten quarters
Is, in the words of Vasubandhu, author of the Treatise,
The mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood.

18…
The mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood
Is the mind to save all sentient beings;
The mind to save all sentient beings
Is true and real shinjin, which is Amida’s benefiting of others.

19..
Shinjin is the mind that is single;
The mind that is single is the diamond-like mind.
The diamond-like mind is the mind aspiring for enlightenment;
This mind is itself Other Power.

20…
On reaching the land of the Vow,
We immediately realize the supreme nirvana,
And thereupon we awaken great compassion.
All this is called Amida’s “directing of virtue.”

Land of the Vow: the land of Amida’s Primal Vow of compassion.

Here ends the Hymns on Bodhisattva Vasubandhu.

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Listening Deeply to the True Pure Land expositions of Master Shinran and the core teachings on Amida’s Vow-power, strongly emphasized by Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, may all foolish mundane persons like us, take heed of the benevolent advice of these truly accomplished teachers. Let us seize this precious opportunity and make full use of this extremely rare human birth before it quickly comes to the inevitable end.

Thus, abandoning all self-power meditative and non-meditative practices and entrusting our karmic destiny entirely to Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow, we have, without any doubt HEARD:

The Call of Boundless Compassion

The Buddha’s infinite merits and virtues
Are bestowed equally on all beings.
May all accept Amida’s Gift of Shinjin
And obtain birth in His Land of Peace and Bliss.

南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Butsu
南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Butsu
南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Butsu

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