Two Buddhas Collaborate and Play Different Roles in Delivering Sentient Beings
According to Common Nature Sutra According to the Mahayana canon, Shakyamuni Buddha, who attained Buddhahood in the manifested land (our world called the Land of Saha) approximately 2 years ago, is a manifested Buddha. In other words, he appeared in our realm with a physical body to set the wheel of Dharma in motion and save sentient beings.
According to Shakyamuni Buddha, Amitabha Buddha (who attained Buddhahood in the Land of Reward, called the Land of Bliss, approximately 10 kalpas there a) is considered a reward Buddha whose body appears in the form of light permeating all worlds. Amitabha Buddha thus embraces and delivers all those who recite his Name, although they cannot perceive and know him directly.
Shakyamuni Buddha taught that anyone who always thinks of Amitabha Buddha when hearing or reciting his name can be embraced by his light without ever being abandoned. In other words, all exclusive Amitabha reciters are always accompanied by Amitabha Buddha. For them, nothing can hinder the presence of the Buddha or the activity of his deliverance.
As stated in previous articles, the existence of all Buddhas, including Shakyamuni Buddha and Amitabha Buddha, is for the sole purpose of delivering all sentient beings, including us. In the Pure Land school, we focus on two Buddhas among countless Buddhas throughout the Dharma Realm. But why is it necessary to have two Buddhas with different shapes to deliver us?
The answer is obvious: they must collaborate and play different roles in the process of guiding ordinary beings toward rebirth. In our “return” to the Pure Land, we will become Buddhas, which means the end of suffering and our total emancipation. This is the ultimate goal of human life.
Amitabha reveals and advocates an alternative to deliver sentient beings
Master Shandao said in the Commentary on the Sutra of Contemplation:
Shakyamuni, the manifested master (Buddha) in the Land of Saha, who was interrogated by Queen Vaidehi (in the Sutra of Contemplation), widely opened the Path of importance in the teachings of the Pure Land; while Amitabha, the capable being in the Land of Peace and Joy, with his own intention, reveals and advocates an alternative: the Path of the Great Vow.
The Path of Importance brings together the two teachings of meditative virtue and non-meditative virtue, as expounded in the Sutra of Contemplation. Meditative virtue means calming one's anxiety by ceasing all thought, and non-meditative virtue means eliminating evil and nurturing the good. This is the path to follow if one devotes these two virtues and aspires to be reborn (in the Pure Land).
The Way of the Great Vow is described in the Great Sutra (The Sutra of Infinite Life): "All ordinary beings, good and bad, will not achieve rebirth (in the Pure Land) without resorting to the karmic power of the Great Vow of Amitabha as the cause of increase.
At the end, Master Shandao advises us:
The underlying intention of the Buddha is too great and deep for practitioners to understand. . . . Let's look up. Shakyamuni repatriates us on one side, while Amitabha welcomes us on the other. One calls us to come and the other tells us to go. How then can you not go out?
Master Shandao exhorts us: “We must simply follow the teaching diligently for the rest of our lives. As soon as we get rid of this impure body, we will immediately realize the eternal happiness of Dharma Nature in the Pure Land. This is known as the ultimate emancipation of sentient beings, which is the endless life of Dharma nature, beyond all birth and death.
One calls us to come and the other tells us to go. They work in perfect harmony.
After attaining Buddhahood, Shakyamuni Buddha said:
All sentient beings possess the wisdom and virtues of the Tathagata, but they do not realize it because of their false thoughts and attachments.
Shakyamuni Buddha therefore taught us to practice meditative and non-meditative virtues in order to become a Buddha like Him.
However, for those of us who are unable to practice meditative and non-meditative virtues, is there an alternative? Is there a way to “return” to the land of the Buddha (the Pure Land) to become a Buddha and thus end the suffering of reincarnation within the Six Realms forever?
In fact, this is the same question asked by Queen Vaidehi in the sutra of contemplation. During the Seventh Contemplation, as Shakyamuni Buddha began to explain the method of eliminating suffering, Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta appeared in the sky.
Upon seeing the Three Sacred Beings in the West, Vaidehi instantly attained assured rebirth (the realization of the perseverance of unbirth). It was a rare and splendid thing for the two Buddhas to appear at the same time. Master Shandao explained this situation with a poetic couplet, as follows:
The Manifested Buddha of the Saha World, being compassionate towards sentient beings, fixes his thoughts in the West.
The benevolent Buddha from the Land of Joy and Peace, to respond to the request, arrives and appears in the East.
Master Shandao added:
This is because the two Buddhas have a common goal, even though one is explicit and the other implicit. As the abilities of sentient beings are like raw logs, the two Buddhas work together like the skillful carpenters of Ying and Jiang to realize them.
When Shakyamuni Buddha preached the Dharma in the Land of Saha, Amitabha Buddha withdrew. When Amitabha Buddha appears in the sky and delivers beings with his light, Shakyamuni Buddha remains silent. The first sets the goal for sentient beings to become Buddhas, while the second allows them to be reborn in the Pure Land.
As ordinary beings have different abilities, Buddhas must play different roles in guiding them to deliver them. As disciples of the Buddha, we must set aside the sacred path and return to the path of the Pure Land, thereby achieving assured rebirth through recourse to Amitabha's fundamental vow.