Sunday
Mar122017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 32: Good Roots, Good Fortune, and Causal Connections

One cannot be born in this land through minor good roots, blessings, virtues [good fortune] and causal connections.

This sentence tells us what is needed to be reborn in the Pure Land: abundant and great good roots, not just minor ones, and right causal connections, not just any ones. How do we get these? By chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha. When we do so, we share in the benefits derived from the good roots, good fortune, virtues, and causal conditions of Amitabha and all other Buddhas. It is like that impoverished young man who, by living with his wealthy aunt, shared in her good fortune. Additionally, when chanting, we uncover our own good roots, good fortune, virtues, and causal conditions that are already within our true nature. Uncovering these is why chanting the Buddha-name is so important.

Why do we obtain all this by chanting Amitabha’s name?

Amitabha vowed that anyone who chants his name would be reborn in the Pure Land. This vow assures us that if we chant properly, we will receive his support. We do not get such support when we chant the names of other Buddhas. Why not? Because Amitabha’s forty-eight vows resonate with our true nature and because we have an excellent affinity with him. Other Buddhas do not have Amitabha's forty-eight vows. Nor do we have a strong affinity with them. So the mutual resonance is not as powerful when we chant their names.

What are good roots, good fortune, and casual connections?

“Good roots” is our having firm belief and resolute vow. We have firm belief when we do not have the slightest doubt about the Pure Land teachings and when we understand and believe in the Buddha-name chanting method. We have resolute vow when we let go of all worldly physical and mental concerns, and focus on attaining rebirth in the Pure Land.

To accumulate and strengthen our good roots, we need to learn the Dharma. If we believe—but are unable to practice—then we do not have enough good fortune. The good roots and good fortune to become a Buddha are not common. What is common is wanting our desires to be fulfilled and to enjoy our life in this world.

“Good fortune” is making the vow to attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land, mindfully chanting the Buddha-name, and practicing the teachings. It is meeting good fellow practitioners and learning and discussing the teachings with them to deepen our understanding. After we have this understanding, good fortune is applying what we believe and understand in our daily life, and single-mindedly chanting Amitabha’s name.

To want to be a Buddha is the highest aspiration we can have. If we have enough good fortune, we will find it easy to concentrate on Amitabha’s name and will not find ourselves distracted from the practice. If we do not yet have enough good fortune, we can work on letting go of our selfishness and doing good deeds for the sake of all beings.

Furthermore, it is crucial that we strive to always chant the Buddha-name. This chanting makes it easier for our mind to become calm. Having a tranquil mind, we will better know how to help others. Gradually, as we help others, our good fortune will increase. This brings us full circle because having more good fortune makes it easier for us to concentrate on chanting the name of Amitabha, which is the wisest use of our good fortune. Using our good fortune unwisely, we will end up enjoying it here in samsara. Enjoying it here will be yet another tragic mistake because the good fortune of being reborn in samsara does not begin to compare with the good fortune of being reborn in the Pure Land.

“Causal connections” is having good conditions, those that enable us to practice. For this to happen, we need many conditions to occur.

First, we need to be reborn as a human, which is extraordinarily rare.

Second, we need to be reborn at a time when the teachings are present in the world. Such a rebirth is so rare because the teachings are absent from this world of Endurance for prolonged periods of time. Sakyamuni’s teachings will only remain for another 9000 years, and Maitreya will not appear for another 5,670 million years. Additionally, even if the teachings are present in the world and we are reborn as humans during this time, we may not be in a place where we can learn them.

Third, if we do learn of the teachings, we may not be able to genuinely accept them.

Fourth, even if we do accept them, due to our personal situation, we may lack the conditions to practice.

Fifth, if we are able to practice Buddhism, we may encounter schools other than Pure Land, even though our roots are with the Pure Land school.

Sixth, even if we have the roots to encounter and learn the Pure Land teachings, we may not meet a teacher to learn from and practice under.

Finally, we may be able to hear of Buddhism, accept the teachings, later encounter Pure Land teachings, and find our teacher, but then fail to make being reborn in the Pure Land the most important thing in our life!

All these are just some of the many problems we can encounter while trying to practice. Perhaps, we can now begin to appreciate why it is so extraordinarily difficult for us to transcend samsara. Only when we have the good roots, good fortune, and good causal conditions to accept and diligently practice the Pure Land Dharma door without doubt or intermingling with other teachings will we finally be able to transcend in this lifetime.

Understanding all this, we should value our good roots, good fortune, and causal conditions, and seize this rare opportunity to be reborn in the Pure Land. The accumulation of such good roots and good fortune takes an unbelievably long time. If we sincerely concentrate on chanting Amitabha’s name and vow to be reborn in the Pure Land, we will be repaying our gratitude to all Buddhas, to all our parents of countless lifetimes, and to our own true nature.

This true nature has always existed, but we have yet to uncover it. And so we remain in a seemingly endless dream. We should not wish to dream of having the good fortune to be successful, to win the praise of others, or to enjoy our good fortune in the cycle of rebirth. In the cycle of rebirth, whether we are suffering or enjoying our good fortune, the only difference is that we are either in a bad dream or a pleasant dream. Either way, we are in a dream.

We do not practice Buddhism to have pleasant dreams. We practice to awaken from all dreams! This is why Sakyamuni Buddha told us to be mindful of and attach to Amitabha Buddha to attain rebirth in his land. Up till now we have remained attached to our desires and opinions. Now, we need to sever our attachments to all that we like or dislike, to all that we are used to. We need, instead, to attach to the name of Amitabha Buddha so that we can always be mindful of him. Doing so, we will finally awaken and no longer be lost in a dream.

Friday
Mar102017

Buddhism is like an immense mountain

with 84,000 paths leading to the peak.

Choose—and remain on—that path. 

To attain the summit of a mountain in the most effective manner, climbers choose one route. Depending on their abilities, some might prefer a more cautious approach, others a more challenging one. Having chosen the route, they don’t deviate. They do not keep sampling different ones, or they would end up touring the mountain instead of climbing it, thus wasting time and energy.

Our practice is the same. With the summit of enlightenment as our goal, we choose the path that best suits our conditions and abilities. Like the climbers, we too need to stick to our chosen route. Taking our eyes off our goal, we can become enthralled by another path. “It looks easier!” “It looks more challenging!” “I’ll try it!”

Enamored of sampling different options, we will end up circling the mountain having lost sight of our goal to reach enlightenment.

Monday
Mar062017

Strive to detect thoughts the instant

they arise, before speaking or acting.

Our thoughts occur with incredible speed and subtlety, and in staggering numbers.

As we begin to watch them, it seems they amble through one after another. We then peer more closely. No, wait a minute; our thoughts are more like thousands of first-graders in a school auditorium all shouting “Me! Me!”

Just as their dazed teacher calls on the loudest student, we go with the most noticeable thought. Without thinking, we act on it and sow a karmic result. At the same time, our other thoughts are also planting future results. Incredibly slight, but results nonetheless.

Our thoughts, imperceptible or unmissable, are vibrations and as such will have consequences, imperceptible or unmissable. Just as that teacher could calm her students by having them focus, momentarily at least, on their favorite ice cream, we too can gain control over our actions and results by focusing on “Amituofo.”

Hopefully, all the time.

Sunday
Mar052017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 31: Vow to Be Reborn in the Pure Land

When sentient beings hear these teachings, they must take a vow to be born in this land. Why so? So that they can be together with all these Beings of Superior Goodness.

This is the first time in the sutra that Sakyamuni Buddha advised, “when sentient beings hear these teachings, they must take a vow to be born in this land.”

In this short sutra, he urged us not once but four times to make a vow to be reborn in the Pure Land. Why so many times? Because this vow is of vital importance. Vow, belief, and practice are like the legs of a three-legged stool. Without any one leg, the stool cannot stand; without the vow, rebirth in the Pure Land cannot transpire. And so, Sakyamuni repeatedly said in the sutra that those who heard it should vow to be reborn in his land.

When we truly vow and sincerely practice according to the Amitabha Sutra, we will develop the bodhi mind to cultivate ourselves and help all beings. By mindfully chanting the Buddha-name, we will no longer be affected by our surroundings, our desires, or by others’ opinions. To accomplish this degree of concentration and stability, we need genuine vows and unwavering belief. How do we develop our vow and belief? We develop them by learning and practicing the Pure Land teachings and progressing step by step. Additionally, just like the legs of that stool, our belief, vow, and practice need to be balanced for all three are equally important.

Sakyamuni Buddha next told Sariputra that beings reborn in the Pure Land would “be together with all these Beings of Superior Goodness.” These beings have eliminated greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance. They practice the Ten Virtuous Karmas, the Six Paramitas, and the Ten Great Vows of Samantabhadra. Surrounded by such accomplished beings in that land, how could we not practice diligently and progress smoothly toward Buddhahood?

And yet, despite knowing about the beings and the environment in the Pure Land, are we practicing diligently to go there? Great Master Ouyi said that practitioners who are not, lack belief in this Dharma door. Although they study and chant, they remain half convinced and half in doubt. Instead of believing in the importance of fulfilling their vow for rebirth, they prefer to believe in satisfying their desires and indulging their senses. Too often, they choose these over mindful Buddha-name chanting. A tragic mistake.

Great Master Ouyi was deeply distressed about this. He was not distressed with people not having opportunities to hear this sutra. That happens because they have overwhelming karmic obstacles. The master was concerned about the people who do have the opportunity to hear the sutra but let the opportunity slip by. They waste the chance to practice according to the teachings. Their belief and vow are not strong enough. And so such people, ruled by their afflictions and residual habits, continue to commit the Ten Evil Karmas.

If we genuinely believe this Dharma door—if we sincerely vow to be reborn in the Pure Land—we will stop committing the Ten Evil Karmas. We will practice the Ten Virtuous Karmas. Why? Because with true belief, we will do everything possible to fulfill our vow and join “the Beings of Superior Goodness” in the Western Pure Land.

Friday
Mar032017

Not having wandering thoughts does not mean not thinking.

Having focused on our task,

we do not dwell on it, lingering over failures or successes. 

Hearing we should desist from wandering thoughts might sound like we should avoid all thinking. Not so. Wandering thoughts refers to incorrect thoughts, not all thoughts. Having a task, we need to consider how best to accomplish it. And so we have correct thoughts. If others criticize how we did the task, we need to weigh the criticism. Was it valid? Or irrelevant? More correct thoughts.

But what if we keep replaying the criticism as if it were a favorite movie? We’re right back at immaterial, wandering thoughts. Why? Reminiscing about successes depletes our good fortune. Recalling failures plants the wrong kind of seeds: embarrassment, guilt, anger. Either way, we end up not paying attention to our current tasks. So, do not linger on the past.

Learn from it; then move on so you can focus increasingly on correct thoughts.