When it is the last period of the Dharma-Ending Age [which is this era],
I will specially retain this sūtra, for one hundred [more] years in this world,
to receive and guide sentient beings, for rebirth in that [Pure] Land [of Āmítuófó].
– Śākyamuni Buddha
(Immeasurable Life Sūtra)
At the beginning of the teaching, before delivering the Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of The Dharma’s Complete End《佛说法灭尽经》, in which Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) spoke of this Dharma-Ending Age (末法时期) we are in, despite many beings’ presence, ‘with many Bhikṣus and many Bodhisattvas, and a boundless number of sentient beings’「与诸比丘及诸菩萨，无央数众来」, he was ‘still and silent, without that said, and with his bright light not appearing’「寂静默无所说，光明不现」. Ānanda (阿难) asked why was this so, as ‘the World-Honoured One, before and after speaking the Dharma, has awe-inspiring light that is uniquely prominent’.「世尊前后说法，威光独显」The Buddha remained silent without reply. Only upon Ānanda’s third enquiry did the Buddha reply with grave details on this age…
Note : What the Buddhas do and not do both have skilful meanings. Just as the Buddha usually radiates light and speaks to inspire, his non-radiating of light and initial silence, as we will see, are to inspire us to be more diligent in Dharma learning and practice, in anticipation of the deepening of this Dharma-Ending Age. Note : The Buddha replied only after the third request, so as to let the requester most sincerely request for the Dharma, that might be challenging to receive, and to let all in the assembly brace themselves, to pay more attention on that to be said.
Note : The Right Dharma Age (正法时期) lasts for 500 years after the Buddha’s Parinirvāṇa, the Dharma Resemblance Age (像法时期) for 1,000 years that follow, and the Dharma-Ending Age (末法时期) for 10,000 years next, when the overall quality of the Dharma being taught, learnt and practised will decline. According to a Chinese Buddhist record, of the Buddha’s Parinirvāṇa being 3,046 years ago (in this year 2019 C.E.), this means we are already 15.46% into the last age, with 8,454 years left. (This is calculated by adding the years of the three ages together, to subtract 3,046 years.) With a generous estimate of 100 years per generation, about 84 generations later, the Dharma in our world will be completed ended.
At the end of the teaching, Ānanda asked, ‘What should be the name of this sūtra? How should it be received and upheld?’「当何名斯经。云何奉持。」To which the Buddha replied that is it to be named as ‘The Dharma’s Complete End’《法灭尽》, and that ‘proclaiming it to all, to properly enable differentiation, such meritorious virtues cannot be calculated.’「宣告一切宜令分别。功德无量不可称计。」Note : The Buddhas’ Dharma teachings, being lasting paths for realisation of lasting truths, cannot truly end. However, as interest in the Dharma can end, this is how the Dharma in our world can seem to as if ‘completely end’.
Note : There are incalculable merits from sharing this sūtra’s teachings as they help to discern signs of deepening of the Dharma-Ending Age, so as to not play a part in its deepening, or to be confused by those playing a part. Also, as exemplified below, this sūtra is able to urge all to give rise to greater spiritual diligence. Even as we are in this Dharma-Ending Age, we must ensure the Dharma does not end within us, while ensuring we will reach the best place with a lasting Right Dharma Age (正法时期), to expedite progress to Buddhahood without fail. That place is Pure Land.
‘When the four divisions of disciples heard this sūtra, they were sorrowful and depressed. [Yet], all gave rose to the aspiration to attain the unsurpassable noble and true path.’「四部弟子闻经悲惨惆怅。皆发无上圣真道意。」Note : The fourfold assembly consists of Buddhist monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. Although grave in message, they were able to use these teachings to spur themselves to give rise of Bodhicitta (菩提心), to learn and practise the Dharma even more diligently. Likewise should we.
As such, the Buddha did not teach on the Dharma-Ending Age to discourage us, but to encourage us to pull up our socks spiritually. Again, what the Buddhas do and not do both offer skilful teachings. This age is spoken of, to urge us to not let the Dharma die with us, even when supportive conditions are dying. In this and immeasurably more ways, all Buddhas are always compassionately maximising their efforts to guide us. However, we must heed their advice to be truly benefitted.
In the Dharma-Ending Age [which is this era],
when 100 million of 100 million people practise the Dharma,
it is rare that one will attain the path;
Only relying upon mindfulness of Buddha,
is there attainment of deliverance from the cycle of birth and death.
– Śākyamuni Buddha
(Mahāvaipulya Mahāsannipāta Sūtra)
The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of The Dharma’s Complete End
Is Bodhicitta A Must For Birth In Amituofo’s Pure Land?