VEN. MASTER CHIN KUNG > INFINITE LIFE SUTRA COMMENTARY
Infinite Life Sutra Commentary
Explanation of the Text
Venerable Master Chin Kung
Translated by Pure Land College Translation team
He planted numerous roots of virtue and did not mind [his] varied sufferings. He
had few desires and was content. He pursued only white dharmas and brought benefits
to all beings. He was tireless in pursuing his aspirations and vows, achieving results
through the power of patience. He constantly harbored compassion and patience for
all sentient beings. With a kind expression and caring words, he advised, taught,
urged, and encouraged them. He was respectful to the Three Jewels and attended to
his teachers without any insincerity or flattery in his heart. All of his conduct
was magnificent, and he was a role model in every way. He regarded all dharmas as
illusory and remained in the samadhi that is eternally quiescent. He guarded well
his verbal karmas and did not ridicule others’ faults. He guarded well his bodily
karmas and did not transgress any precept or etiquette. He guarded well his mental
karmas and kept himself pure and uncontaminated.
“Dharmakara heard the Buddha’s discourse.” “Dharmakara” was the Dharma name of Amitabha
Buddha at the causal stage, when he was a bhiksu. “Heard” refers to listening to
his teacher’s introduction. Here “Buddha” refers to Lokesvararaja Tathagata, Dharmakara
Dharmakara Bodhisattva told his teacher about his aspirations and asked his teacher
to teach him how to fulfill them. When a student has a virtuous and great aspiration,
the teacher will always wholeheartedly help the student accomplish it. Therefore,
Lokesvararaja Tathagata not only explained to Dharmakara what he wanted to know but
also used extraordinary powers to display the Buddha Lands in the ten directions
to him and that allowed him to see them clearly.
At the beginning of the Visualization Sutra, a similar situation is described, which
was the cause of Sakyamuni Buddha speaking the sutra. Queen Vaidehi had encountered
family misfortunes. Her son killed his father the king, harmed her, and usurped the
throne. Encountering such great misfortune, she became disheartened and asked Sakyamuni
Buddha if there was a better and safer place where she could be reborn. Instead of
directing her to one specific Buddha Land, Sakyamuni Buddha displayed all the Buddha
Lands in the ten directions to her for her to choose from. This was the same method
that Lokesvararaja Tathagata employed for Dharmakara Bodhisattva.
Queen Vaidehi chose Amitabha Buddha’s Western Pure Land. And then Sakyamuni Buddha
taught her the method to attain rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. This is essentially
the content of the Visualization Sutra.
Lokesvararaja Tathagata displayed all the Buddha Lands in the ten directions to Dharmakara
Bodhisattva. After seeing all these, he “aspired to make supreme, wondrous vows.
He thoroughly contemplated what was good and bad about heavenly and human beings
and what was wonderful and inferior about their lands.”
In every Buddha Land there are Six Paths, and in every path there are good and bad
beings. This is talking about the living environment which involves living beings
and situations. The Land of Ultimate Bliss did not come from Amitabha Buddha’s baseless
imagination or dreams. He truly saw many Buddha Lands, and they all differed vastly
from one another. Some lands were very wonderful, and others had many shortcomings.
“What was wonderful and inferior about those lands” refers to the material environment
[which involves inanimate things]. “Inferior” refers to a very bad environment. “Wonderful”
refers to a very good and beautiful environment. The environment of every being is
different. The causes every being creates are different and that results in different
effects [environments]. Dharmakara Bodhisattva understood the principles and truths.
“He thoroughly contemplated . . . He single-mindedly selected what he wanted and
formed his great vows.” How was the Western Pure Land created? Dharmakara Bodhisattva
visited various Buddha Lands and adopted their strengths and forsook their shortcomings.
In other words, the Land of Ultimate Bliss is an amalgamation of the excellent qualities
of all the Buddha Lands.
He saw that all the Buddha Lands in the ten directions had Six Paths, and the suffering
was tremendously intense, especially in the Three Evil Paths. This is why he wanted
this—that there would be no Three Evil Paths in the land he would create—to be his
first vow. This is how this great vow came to be.
The Chinese often say “Read ten thousand books, travel ten thousand miles.” Listening
to lectures on the sutras is like reading books, and seeing all the Buddha Lands
is like traveling ten thousand miles. Because he heard with his own ears and saw
with his own eyes, Dharmakara Bodhisattva’s knowledge and wisdom were true. He had
such abundant knowledge and experience that he was able to, by selection, create
his own land. This was how the Land of Ultimate Bliss came about.
The causes and conditions for how the Land of Ultimate Bliss came about were different
from those for the other Buddha Lands. The causes and conditions for the latter were
complicated and not simple: good ones and bad ones were mixed together. In the Western
Pure Land, Dharmakara chose only pure and virtuous dharmas. His purpose was to provide
a wonderful learning and practice environment for the beings from the Buddha Lands
in the ten directions who truly generate the great mind and who aspire to [understand
and] transcend the cycle of birth and death, and attain Buddhahood in one lifetime.
He wanted to provide the best learning and living environment.
“For five kalpas, he diligently sought and explored, respectfully and carefully persevered,
and cultivated merits and virtues.”
The words “sought and explored” mean that one needs to clearly recognize and understand
the virtuous dharmas and the bad dharmas, and the good and bad retributions. And
then one needs to end all wrongdoings and to cultivate all virtues.
The words “respectfully and carefully persevered” mean that one needs to be respectful
when interacting with people and engaging in tasks. A respectful mind is the true
mind. In addition to being respectful, one needs to carefully persevere, so that
one will not lose what one has learned and practiced.
The word “cultivated” means correcting one’s faults and applying one’s learning to
“Five kalpas” is the time Dharmakara spent cultivating and forming vows. There are
several ways to measure kalpas. “Increasing and decreasing kalpas” is the one that
is most often heard of. Sakyamuni Buddha said that in the Saha world, the shortest
life span of humans averages about ten years. At this point, the suffering in this
Saha world is tremendously intense. Every one hundred years, the life span increases
by one year, until the life span reaches eighty-four thousand years. Then subsequently,
every one hundred years, the life span decreases by one year until the life span
is again down to ten years. One cycle of an increasing and a decreasing life span
is a small kalpa. Twenty small kalpas make up one medium kalpa. Four medium kalpas
make up one great kalpa. The kalpas mentioned in the Mahayana sutras refer to great
Dharmakara Bhiksu spent such a long time cultivating that he was able to truly take
in all the strengths of all the Buddha Lands and forsake the shortcomings.
“He thoroughly understood all the merits and adornments of the twenty-one kotis of
Buddha Lands as thoroughly as he understood one Buddha Land. The Buddha Land he created
surpassed all Buddha Lands.”
“Twenty-one” is not an actual number. It represents perfection. For example, in the
Amitabha Sutra, the number seven represents perfection. It signifies the four directions,
the zenith, the nadir, and center. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, ten is used to represent
perfection. Counting from one to ten, ten is a complete and perfect number. Ten tens
is one hundred, also a complete number.
Tibetan Buddhism uses sixteen and twenty-one to represent perfection.
“The Buddha Land he created surpassed all Buddha Lands.” “The Buddha Land he created”
refers to the Land of Ultimate Bliss that he established. “All Buddha Lands” refers
to the twenty-one kotis of Buddha Lands. The Western Pure Land is an amalgamation
of the wonderful strengths of all the Buddha Lands. It has all the strengths of the
Buddha Lands and is free of all the shortcomings. Naturally, it surpasses all these
Buddha Lands and fulfills Dharmakara’s great vows. This sentence from the excerpt
is saying that the Land of Ultimate Bliss has been created.
The prerequisite for rebirth in the Western Pure Land is a pure mind. When the mind
is pure, the land will be pure. The Buddha taught us to cultivate a pure mind with
“belief, vow, and practice.” True belief, sincerely vowing, and single-mindedly chanting
“Amituofo” will help us suppress wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments.
Doing so we will meet the initial standards for purity and be reborn [in the Pure
Land] in the Land Where Sages and Ordinary Beings Together Dwell.
 Contemplated also means understood.—Trans.
 All the Buddha Lands in the ten directions.—Trans.