Sunday
May212017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 41: The Buddhas in the Nadir

In the worlds of the nadir there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha “Lion,” the Buddha “Repute,” the Buddha “Light,” [the Buddha Dharma,] the Buddha “Dharma Banner,” and the Buddha “Upholding the Dharma.” Each of them . . . [teaches in his own land with the truthfulness of a Buddha] and covers a whole cosmos, speaking these sincere words: “all of you sentient beings should believe this sutra extolling inconceivable virtues, which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.”

The names of the Six Buddhas in the nadir represent Buddhism, a teaching that shows all beings how to break through delusion and attain awakening. The six names also signify seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land. Both attaining awakening and seeking rebirth in the Pure Land are accomplished through wisdom. Thus wisdom is imperative.

Unfortunately, the highest priority for many people today is the accumulation of wealth. For them, good health and longevity come next in importance, and then wisdom. Thus, of the three, wisdom is often viewed as the least important. Clearly, prioritizing this way is due to ignorance, to a lack of understanding.

In Buddhism, the most important of the three priorities is wisdom. Here, too, good health and longevity come next. But wealth is last. Having wisdom, one will know the causes for attaining health, longevity, and wealth. But more significantly, by uncovering wisdom, one will know how to reach Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment.

The first Buddha named in the nadir was Buddha Lion. When a lion roars, all other animals pause and listen. Likewise, when a Buddha speaks, innumerable beings stop to hear his teachings on how to end suffering and attain lasting happiness.

The second Buddha named was Buddha Repute. His name signifies that when bodhisattvas or patriarchs act on behalf of Buddhas to propagate Buddhism, they become famous. However, because these bodhisattvas and patriarchs are awakened and have wisdom, they know that this fame should be used to benefit others, not themselves.

The third Buddha named was Buddha Light [of Name]. “Light” signifies ultimate and perfect wisdom, the wisdom of all Buddhas. This wisdom enables the Buddhas to adapt their teaching methods to suit and accommodate all beings, regardless of their abilities or personal preferences. “Name” teaches us to chant the Buddha-name until our mind is no longer deluded and we achieve One Mind Undisturbed. Accomplishing this, we will attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land.

The fourth Buddha named was Buddha Dharma. The Dharma is the truth that all Buddhas teach. In our world, the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha have been faithfully passed down by patriarchs and accomplished masters. By relying on their words, and ultimately the words of Sakyamuni Buddha, we are relying on the Dharma.

The fifth Buddha named was Buddha Dharma Banner. Here again, we see “Banner” in a Buddha’s name. Here, “Banner” signifies instructing beings in how to choose from the diverse Dharma doors set forth by Sakyamuni Buddha. It is very confusing for beginners to know which method is most suitable for them. A Dharma master accomplished in cultivation and experienced in teaching can help people choose a Dharma door, pointing these people in the right direction for their learning and cultivation.

The sixth Buddha named in the nadir was Buddha Upholding the Dharma. This name means that we uphold—receive and always practice—the Buddha’s teachings. If we wish that all beings who have an affinity with a Buddha come to accept, uphold, and study his teachings, and also teach others through their own words and behavior, we must first do so ourselves. This will set a good example.

Buddhas, past patriarchs, and accomplished practitioners sincerely practiced the teachings before they taught people. When one fulfills the teachings and indeed benefits from them, it is proof that a given Dharma door is right. When we too accomplish this, it means that we have no doubts or questions. Those we teach will believe us.

 

Friday
May192017

Nurture the heart of respect

for all beings,

regardless of form or nature.

The first of Samantabhadra’s Ten Great Vows is “Respect all Buddhas.” That sounds easy; how could we not respect a Buddha! We need to better understand the word all.  “All Buddhas” are not just current Buddhas, but those of the future as well. Who are these future Buddhas? All sentient beings. Since all sentient beings have Buddha-nature, all will become Buddhas. Now let’s go one step further: all insentient beings have Dharma-nature. Dharma-nature is the same as Buddha-nature. So all beings, sentient and insentient, have the same nature. How do we show our respect to such diverse beings? To sentient beings—human and animal—we offer fearlessness and friendship. Non-sentient beings, those objects we come into contact with, we care for in a fitting manner, keeping them clean and in order. We thus appropriately respect all beings: sentient and insentient, regardless of form or nature.

Tuesday
May162017

Not liking what we see,

we can always stop looking. 

The distractions we encounter seem boundless: short-lived products crammed floor to ceiling on superstore shelves; waiting-room magazines discussing everything from gossip to sports to politics scattered on tables and stacked in wall displays; ceiling-hung news-reporting TVs everywhere we turn in airports and restaurants. All shouting “Look at me!” All vying for our attention. All luring us in. What’s a person to do! Instead of stewing over poorly made junk, the latest political squabbles, the news headlines we cannot do anything about, just look away. Averting our attention, we block the visual “noise” while protecting our pure mind. How do we look away? By distracting ourselves. We could change our focus by turning to something familiar and calming. Or, better still, we could replace the raucous dialogue racing through our mind to the soothing, inspiring sound of “Amituofo.”

Sunday
May142017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 40: The Buddhas in the Northern Direction

In the worlds of the northern direction there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha “Blazing Shoulders,” the Buddha “Supreme Voice,” the Buddha “Hard to Injure,” the Buddha “Born of the Sun,” and the Buddha “Netted Light.” Each of them . . . [teaches in his own land with the truthfulness of a Buddha] and covers a whole cosmos, speaking these sincere words: “all of you sentient beings should believe this sutra extolling inconceivable virtues, which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind”.

The names of the Buddhas in the northern direction show us that once we have wisdom, as taught by the Buddhas in the southern direction, and good fortune, as taught by the Buddhas in the western direction, then we should educate others how to attain these as well.

The first Buddha named in the northern direction was Buddha Blazing Shoulders. “Blazing Shoulders” signifies that one should take up the dual mission of all Buddhas: propagate the Dharma and aid all beings.

How to accomplish this is taught through the significance of the names of the next four Buddhas in the northern direction.

The second Buddha named was Buddha Supreme Voice. This name signifies that one carries out the Buddha’s work with one’s voice. As Pure Land practitioners, we understand that the supreme voice is the voice that teaches how to attain rebirth in the Pure Land and urges mindful chanting of the Buddha’s name. Sadly, we rarely hear this voice. Instead, voices on the Internet, television, and in other media assault us on a daily basis. These voices do not encourage us to become better people. They incite us to consider our desires before the needs of others, to seek revenge at the slightest insult, to care for those we like while we disregard everyone else. These voices will draw us to the three evil paths.

Sakyamuni Buddha urged us to listen instead to a pure voice, one that lectures on the Dharma and encourages people to end wrongdoing, to practice moral conduct, and to not fall into the Three Evil Paths. We should heed the supreme voice, the voice that helps all beings break through delusion and attain awakening. Which voice is supreme?

When we consider the teachings of the various Buddhist schools, the Pure Land teachings are the supreme voice. Why? Because the Pure Land teachings can help us transcend samsara, never again regress, and become a Buddha in one lifetime.

The third Buddha named was Buddha Hard to Injure. This name signifies that as one propagates and protects the Dharma, one courageously makes focused and diligent progress. And in doing so, one fears no outside obstructions or difficulties. When spreading Buddhism, we will inevitably face many obstacles. Consequently, for us to give rise to our wisdom, we must determine never to be overwhelmed by these obstructions. Moreover, upon encountering them, we must not fight, remembering that Buddhas and bodhisattvas never oppose anyone. Indeed, this is why bodhisattvas are called benevolent beings. A benevolent being does not look on any other being as an enemy.

Thus, when someone attempts to pick a fight, the benevolent being forgives the person and avoids any confrontation. Such a being feels no anger, gives rise to no thought of revenge. This is an awakened being. This is a bodhisattva.

We can see an example of this in the account of the king of Kalinga. One day, the king and members of his court went hunting. While the king was napping, the ladies in the entourage saw an ascetic. Curious, they went to him and happily listened as he taught them the Dharma. When the king awoke and saw them associating with a stranger, some members of the hunting party told him that the ascetic was flirting with the women. The king flew into a rage and had the ascetic killed by dismemberment.

But the ascetic, who was awakened, did not harbor the slightest hatred toward the king. Indeed, he vowed that the king would be the first person he would help after he attained enlightenment.

We learn from sutra accounts that the ascetic was the being who became Sakyamuni Buddha in a later rebirth. The first person he helped after he had attained enlightenment was Kaundinya, one of his former five companions. In a previous lifetime, Kaundinya was that king of Kalinga.

Such are the actions of awakened beings.

What are the actions of unawakened beings, beings like us? Too quickly, we give in to anger and thoughts of retaliation. Realizing this, as soon as a confrontation arises, we now have the opportunity to determine our level of practice. Are we awakened? Or still deluded? If we are to awaken, we must exercise self-control. Upon encountering minor difficulties, we should feel neither angry nor vengeful. If we can accomplish this much, then, in the face of a serious obstacle, our cultivation will enable us to naturally remain calm and confident. Finally, when we are able to deal with any situation wisely, not emotionally, nothing will be able to impede us.

The fourth Buddha named was Buddha Born of the Sun. “Sun” represents wisdom. “Born of the Sun” signifies that teaching and learning complement and support each other, like the wisdom-sun of the teacher and that of the students brightening up the sky. Teachers must follow what they learned, including their own teachers’ methods, to instruct the students. In turn, students must learn diligently and, when the time comes, pass those teachings down to the next generation. This process will enable the Dharma to stay in this world for a long time to be a boon to humans and heavenly beings.

The fifth and last Buddha named in the Northern direction was Buddha Netted Light. “Netted Light” signifies the abundant methods of the great vow to help all beings. Buddhas use countless Dharma doors, which are analogous to a great net, able to lift up and thus rescue all beings from the sea of suffering. If Dharma propagators and protectors have such a great vow, such a broad mind, and such an aspiration, then Buddhism will flourish.

Friday
May122017

Not only should we do what is right,

we need to do so correctly.

What are some incorrect ways? One is to envisage a coveted outcome. This invariably sets us up for disappointment since things rarely turn out as we anticipate. Another is to act egoistically. Perhaps we dream of succeeding where many have failed. No one need not know, we just long to hear that inner voice: “Yes! I knew I could do it!” Or possibly we do indeed imagine others congratulating us. How can we avoid such pitfalls? Just as a horse with blinders on his bridle is forced to focus on what lies ahead, we concentrate on our goal. Thus focused, our aspiration to do what is right becomes free of expectations and ego. We seek to do something for one reason: it’s the right thing to do. Personal views, fame, success do not matter. We do our best hoping conditions will provide fertile ground in which the seeds of our aspirations can take root, and maybe, just maybe, even grow a little.