Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Harold Stewart

Dharmakara Bodhisattva

The legend of the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, known in Japanese as Hozo Bosatsu, is that he made Forty-eight Vows before his spiritual preceptor, the Buddha Lokeshvararaja, that he would establish a Pure Land embodying the best qualities of all other Buddha-Fields throughout the Universe. This paradise was to be called Sukhavati (Japanese: Jodo), or the Land of Highest Happiness, and would be situated in the Western Quarter of the chiliocosm. By practising shugyo, or ascesis of the Six Paramitas, for five kalpas Hozo Bosatsu fulfilled his Vows and, in accordance with the prophecy of his teacher Lokeshvararaja, became the Buddha Amitabha or, in Japanese, Amida. The Six Perfections that a Bodhisattva must cultivate in order to become a Buddha are: Dana-paramita, or selfless and impartial generosity; shila-paramita, or observance of the ethical regimen; kshanti-paramita, or patient endurance of difficulties; virya-paramita, or zealous energy in perseverance; dhyana-paramita, or mindful absorption in meditation; and prajna-paramita, or the Wisdom of Transcendent Insight.

According to his Eighteenth Vow, the Name called in the Heart of the devotee by the Other Power is backed by Amida's unlimited merits accumulated during his five kalpas of ascetic practice, and so it can freely convey to him the Bodhisattva's Six Perfected Virtues that are contained in the six syllables of the Nembutsu.

Hozo Bosatsu, having already fulfilled his Forty-eight Vows ten kalpas ago, the incalculable store of merit that he accumulated has long since established his True Pure Land, or Western Paradise, as a spiritual reality. But as this True Pure Land is formless and infinite, Amida has accommodated it to our finite and limited comprehension by the skilful means of giving it symbolical forms drawn from human sense-perception as a Temporary or Transformed Pure Land, whose reality is manifested on the imaginal plane.

This account from the Sambukyo will, without doubt, strike the impoverished imagination of the contemporary mentality as utterly incredible. Secular educational conditioning will compel it to dismiss Amida's establishment of a Pure Land as mere mythology and to deflate its sensuous imagery of jewels, lights, flowers, and palaces to nothing but a wish-fulfilment fantasy of the economically and socially underprivileged. That this reductive view of the myopic positivist misses the whole point and purport of the symbolism will be shown by the exposition of its inner meaning in a later commentary.


When Amida Buddha was still the Dharmakara-bhiksu (Japanese Hozo-biku), he made Forty-eight Vows for the establishment of a Pure Land in the Western Region of the Universe. His spiritual preceptor, the Buddha Lokeshvararaja (Japanese: Sejizaio-butsu), before whom he took these Vows, prophesied that Hozo would attain Buddhahood under the name of Amitabha, or Amida, and found his own Buddha-field, combining the best qualities of all others. By practising the Bodhisattva, Path for innumerable kalpas, Dharmakara fulfilled his Forty-eight Vows, thus amassing an inexhaustible store of merit, on which all sentient beings could draw simply by calling his Name.

Thus the Nembutsu became the channel for the transference of his merit to the caller. It is significant that his name as a monk was Dharmakara, which is a compound derived from Dharma and akara and so means Storehouse of the Buddhist Doctrine. The Shinshu scholar Soga Ryojin suggested with penetrating insight that Hozo is therefore a mythic personification of the Alaya-vijnana, or Great Storehouse Consciousness, mentioned earlier when discussing the Vijnanavada, or Yogacara, school; and that as a result of Hozo's aeons of discipline this was converted into the Amala-vijnana at the Enlightenment of Amida Buddha. The myths presented in the Mahayana sutras are so hyperbolical in their imaginative scope that only the most naive could believe in them literally, and it is obvious that they were never intended to be taken au pied de la letter. And so, unlike those myths which assume a quasi-historical form, such hyperboles erect a safeguard against fundamentalism, for the mind, while fascinated, is compelled to seek their inner significance and to discover the mysterious meaning behind their symbols, while it is moved to awe and wonder by the astronomical immensities of their imagery.

Although by his own will-power no one can draw directly on this vast accumulation of grace and virtue, simply by calling his Name Amida will make its inexhaustible riches available to his devotees everywhere to meet their needs. It is not only free in itself from all karma-producing activity but can free all who call upon its resources from their karmic bonds.

Reflections on the Dharma - Harold Stewart

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