舍利弗！阿弥陀佛成佛以来，于今十劫。[Amitabha Buddha attained enlightenment ten eons ago]
This verse describes the period of time since the enlightenment of Amitabha Buddha. Eons or Kalpa refers to an extreme period of time. Some scriptural sources describe a kalpa as approximately 16,000,000 years. In other scriptures, Buddha provides an analogy to the audience, thus
Imagine a huge empty cube at the beginning of a kalpa, approximately 16 miles in each side. Once every 100 years, you insert a tiny mustard seed into the cube. According to the Buddha, the huge cube will be filled even before the kalpa endshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalpa_(aeon)
There are many instances where time is described in terms of Kalpas in the Mahayana scriptures. Personally, I interpreted this as referring to beyond thoughts. Honestly, if we are bothered by when Amitabha Buddha first came about, and we were to sit down and think about the 10 Kalpas as stated herein. We will appreciate that it is beyond thoughts. That means we are no longer fixated on the definition of time, period of time, a beginning, and an end.
又舍利弗！彼佛有无量无边声闻弟子，皆阿罗汉，非是算数之所能知。诸菩萨众，亦复如是。[Moreover, this Buddha has innumerable disciples, all of whom are Arhats, and whose numbers are incalculable. Amitabha also has a following of innumerable Bodhisattvas. ]
If we interpret this verse from a mundane perspective, it sounds like a referral for a coach or teacher. Over here, Shakyamuni Buddha seemed to be assuring us that Amitabha Buddha is not an unknown Buddha with dubious background.
Amitabha Buddha had been a Buddha for 10 Kalpas and He has innumerable disciples whom already attained Arhat’s enlightenment. Likewise for disciples who are Bodhhisattvas.
This provides us (the students) a sense of confidence in Amitabha Buddha.
舍利弗！彼佛国土成就如是功德庄严。[The Land of Ultimate Bliss is complete with all these merits and adornments.]
又舍利弗！极乐国土，众生生者，皆是阿鞞跋致。其中多有一生补处，其数甚多，非是算数所能知之，但可以无量无边阿僧祇说。None of the sentient beings who are born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss ever fall back into a lower realm [i.e., they are avaivartika]. Many among them have only one more lifetime [to go before enlightenment]. These beings are very numerous, and their number is incalculable: they can be spoken of as innumerable.
If we examine the above verse in the context of Theravada Buddhism; Then beings born in Sukhavati must at least be Sotapanna (enlightened beings with no more than 7 rebirths and each birth in higher realms) Following that, the verse states that most beings reborn in Sukhavati has only one more birth before complete enlightenment. Again, from the Theravada perspective, that means attainer of Anagami enlightenment. Anagami gains rebirth in “Pure Abode” (known as Sudhavassa) and from there, they gain complete enlightenment.
The word Sukhavati and Sudhavassa seems similar and I wonder if they describe the same state of becoming. Personally, I think the concept of Sukhavati doesn’t clash with Theravada Buddhism.
As explained earlier, Pure land practice is not similar to Christianity. Amitabha is not a replacement figure of God. In the spirit of Buddhist practice, which accords with 37 limbs of enlightenment; Pure Land practice requires its practitioners to attain a decent level of enlightenment.
The unique feature of Pure Land practice is that it skillfully makes use of the power of faith in our minds. It skillfully engaged with our habitual tendencies to pray, and hope, and believe in an unseen higher being. Our commitment to devotion and our indulgence in senseless religious rites. All of which is frowned upon by Theravada Buddhism.
But Pureland practice is Mahayana. Thus, it employs skillful means and helps us achieve our full potential by utilizing our “weaknesses” In this aspect, devotion can lead to concentration. Just think about it.
If you are chanting Amitabha’s name, shouldn’t you be at least respectful and concentrate? Otherwise, it is like inviting a noble guest to your house but completely ignoring him when he arrives?
When we chant Amitabha’s name, we are calling out to him. Therefore, we need to be focused and not engage in frivolous thoughts. Such teachings are easier to absorb. In this manner, an illiterate Buddhist can gain Jhana much more quickly than a scholarly Buddhist. Through intense devotion, one can quickly shut the thoughts down.
In the later part of the scripture, it will describe the goal clearly.
Does Amitabha exist? To answer that, you also need to ask, “Does Dharmakaya exist?”
May all be well and happy.
May the pandemic end.