Beneath the sea of glistening stars, Between the ethereal evening air, Lies a forest of glowing dreams, But as diverse and rich as they are, None escape the same Moonbeam.
Under the lucent morning glow, Roll waves of raving emotions, Turbid fortunes and cruel woes, The burning craving of billions, Yet the same Sun illumes them all.
Princes, beggars and pretenders, All dance their own tango with Fortune’s jeering taunts and tantrums, Each gambles to grapple with fate, But upon the same soil they all tread.
The crown of a grand old oak Casts a wide and mighty shadow, Ruffling with a myriad of leaves, Adorned by blooming blossoms That sprout in spring and wither in winter,
With branches amber in autumn, Green in summer, and lean and bare In Saturn’s season of barren frost. Yet for all its lush richness, it still rests Upon one abiding unchanging trunk.
So even as human affairs steer here and there, And wander and meander like wetland streams, The timeless source remains the same, For all ripe fruits return to Buddha’s root.
It is often asked why it is said that there are 84,000 different Dharma-doors (i.e. innumerable forms of Dharma). The answer is simple: Sentient beings are complex and have innumerable biases, different spiritual levels and varying aspirations. Thus, it is not possible for one fixed form of teaching to suffice by itself.
Therefore, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have not only spoken a rich collection of different Sutras, but have also manifested as the Sages and founders of different religions in order to teach those who could not yet accept the Buddha-dharma.
According to the Ven. Master Hsuan Hua:
“In Buddhism, he (Guanyin Bodhisattva) appears as a Bodhisattva; in other religions he often appears clad in white robes. In Christianity, he is the Holy Mother; he appears as the Holy Mother to teach and transform a certain category of beings. He appears in white robes and Christians call her Mother Mary, but actually she is Guanshiyin Bodhisattva manifesting in that form to inspire beings to bring forth a resolve that will lead them sooner or later to understand the Buddhadharma. Once they understand the Buddhadharma, they will bring forth the resolve for Bodhi. These are the endless miraculous functions and inconceivable states of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva.”
-Ven Master Hsuan Hua’s 1996 Lecture “Guanyin, Guanyin, Guanshiyin” (Translated by the BTTS).
This poem was inspired by the opening chapters of the Infinite Life Sutra, which outline Dharmakara’s (Amitabha) creation of the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss.
In a time before time began, In a distant faraway land, There reigned a wise sovereign Most mighty and valiant, Honored by many as the World’s Bounty and Mercy. Upon hearing the Dharma Of Lokeshvararaja Buddha, He melted into joyful repose And cast aside desire’s shadow, The fetters of the world’s cares, And vowed to become the heir Of the True and Utmost Way! Thus, he abandoned his crown, Robed himself a humble monk, And marched forth upon the Way, Cultivating through night and day Until he became the renowned Bodhisattva Dharmakara. With profound wisdom peerless, Faith and patience matchless, He swiftly mastered the Dharma, Rose far beyond the Samsara And high above the snares of Mara. In triumph, he sought the Buddha And piously vowed and bowed before Him, revering his great grandeur:
“The Buddha’s august demeanor Is wondrous without compare, His halo the ten quarters illume, Bright beyond the luminous moon And the lucent beams of high noon, The World Honored One’s voice Enlightens all beings to rejoice Within the Dharma in native speech, And he appears to all and each In the body of their honored liege. I yearn to emulate you and preach Sermons of Dharma to everyone, Without bounds like the shining sun, To teach Sila, Samadhi and Viriya, The profound and potent Dharma. Wisdom as vast and deep as the sea, Heart neither stained nor weary, Gliding o’er oceans of sin and woe, To the halcyon shores of Bodhi, Untainted by gloomy wrath, Unfettered by lustful avarice, And blessed with serene Samadhi. I shall follow the footsteps of the Infinite Buddhas who precede me And act as a great guiding light For the masses, to be their sight, Uprooting the temporal bequeath Of birth, old age, illness and death, Always generous and ever virtuous, With diligence and eternal patience, Forever within Samadhi and Prajna, Faithfully abiding by the Six Paramitas, Bestowing Bodhi upon the dull and lost, And lifting Sages into the Buddha host! As he who rains alms upon the Sangha Is less than he who becomes a Buddha Through single-minded faith, I vow to in diligent Samadhi stay, And glow brightly with everlasting light, I shall build a splendrous paradise Unrivaled across the universe entire, To serve as a refuge of lasting respite For those benighted in the Samsara! With kindness I will shatter every klesha Of every poor soul tortured by dukkha. I shall not waver for I am determined To shoulder every pain and burden, So let the Buddha be my witness!”
After hearing Dharmakara’s great And dauntless resolve and praise, The Buddha arose from his Dais, Gleaming with utmost admiration For the one before him who is salvation To the endless many lost in perdition. He then declared:
“Your vows are not made in vain, For even the oceans can be emptied By but one who bails unceasingly, And all its hidden pearls revealed, What is there the sincere cannot attain? I will show you the path and Way To your glorious and imperious day!”
And so the Buddha parted the sky and Revealed to Dharmakara every plane Of rebirth, each and every Buddha Land, All the galaxies, worlds and Sagely domains, Revealing their cities, peaks, gorges and seas, Their prairies, hills and fertile valleys, The villas of devas dancing in divine weal, The nature and condition of their peoples, Unveiling their barren ghostly ruins, animal Kingdoms and bleak narakas most infernal. Uncovering all of their vices and virtues, So that Dharmakara may with ease build A pure and gilded land of wondrous bliss, Free from evil and woe, a supreme harbor Of every good found across the ten quarters. The Buddha then said: “Pronounce your vows!”
“For the relief of all sentient beings, Including those mired in the suffering Of hellish, ghostly and beastly rebirth, I have built a Pure Land of true mirth, Open to all who are willing to share my Merits and forfeit darkness for light! I have paved for you fine gilded roads Of precious stones, purple and gold, For you I have filled rivers and lakes With cool azure waters of soft ripples, Swirling with fragrant flowers most graceful, With beds of aurulent sand, and laid Before you villas, pavilions and canopies, Groves of beryl, emerald and agate trees That ruffle and sway in the blissful breeze, Adorned by jade leaves and scented petals, Berries of Mani-jewels and crystal. I give you clear skies and peerless paradise, A glorious afterlife of endless delight, With singing songbirds perched on amber arbors, Humming hymns with lyrical harmony And the most soothing of melodies! I bless all who arrive in my land with August, aurulent and ethereal bodies Untainted by the greed, fear and foul odors That flesh, desire and delusion harbors, I bless thee with all the powers of Bodhi, Its wisdom, eminence, bliss and glory, Its serene Samadhi and tranquil purity! Divine provision shall appear on demand And so too the finery and robes of my land. Any being who chants my Buddha-name, Wholeheartedly abandons evil and repents With faithful resolve, shall enter my domain And rise to Sagehood upon the Lotus Lagoon. I am Amitabha and my vows have come to pass!”
Upon hearing Amitabha’s august vows, The entire assembly before him bowed, Moved to joyous tears by his great resolve! They beheld his unsurpassed compassion, His merciful uprooting of all evil passions, Granting each the chance to taste the Samadhi Of the highest, most true and utmost Bodhi! On this glorious and regal Dharma day, The Earth shook in the six auspicious ways, Gleaming gods and goddesses were seen Gliding over the stars stroking harp-strings, The ethereal heavens soon resounded with Gilded notes of splendid divine bliss, And the courts of the heavenly lords feted, Raining down golden lilies like confetti!
Poem released into Public Domain
I started translating Chinese Mahayana Pure Land Buddhist sutras in 2014 after realizing that many important sutras and scriptures that I had long taken for granted were mostly unavailable in the West. What had begun as a project for a short tractate turned into a delightful three year odyssey of translations, essays, poems, discussions and correspondence with new friends. All of myposts, articles, translations, poems and essaysare free and in the Public Domain, and I encourage other authors to donate their works into the Public Domain as well. In October of last year, a Dharma friend encouraged me to start a blog to serve as a doorway to my translations, and that is how this blog started.