Friday
Jun162017

Remaining silent requires less energy 
than watching every word.

Of the three karmas—thought, speech, and action—speech is the one that gets us into the most trouble. It’s so easy! Open mouth; say whatever comes to mind. And therein lies the problem. Oblivious of the countless infinitesimal thoughts streaming through our mind, we’re so caught up in events and our feelings that we’re not even aware of what we’re about to blurt out. Upon hearing what we just said, we may well regret our words. Or at least wonder what possessed us to voice them. Once again, we resolve to monitor our thoughts before we embarrass ourselves further. And once again, we are amazed at the energy it takes to do this. It’s exhausting. Plus, by the time we decide how best to say something, the conversation has moved on. How much easier it would be to not offer every rising opinion, to speak only when necessary, and to keep our mouth in what is often the safest position—closed.

Tuesday
Jun132017

Come away from your mistakes, 

neither uncaring nor overwhelmed by guilt,

but determined to do better in the future.

How often have you sighed: Why did I say that? How could I have acted so callously? If only I hadn’t! Guilty thoughts can haunt us for the rest of our life, sneaking up on us, unwanted and unexpected. We just don’t seem able to let go of painful memories of the harm we did. But we need to. If not for our own sake, we need to for the well being of others. Being guilt-stricken over personal idiocies doesn’t make us better people. Think you’re repaying a karmic debt? Who are you repaying it to? Who is benefitting from your guilt? Somehow, someway, we need to release our guilty feelings. It’s not that we no longer care about what we did. We just care more about what we can do from now on. And the best thing we can do is get to the Pure Land because from there, finally, we will be able to find and help all those we harmed. So much better than drowning in guilt.

Sunday
Jun112017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 44: Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment

All those who have vowed, or are vowing, or will vow to be born in the land of Amitabha Buddha reach the level where they do not retrogress from Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment. They are already born, are now being born, or will be born in that land. Therefore, all good men and women, if they have faith, must make a vow to be born in that land.

The phrase “those who have vowed” refers to those beings who “are already born” in the Pure Land. “Are vowing” refers to those who are presently making the vow and mindfully chanting the Buddha’s name. They are the ones who “are now being born” in the Western Pure Land. Finally, those who “will vow” refers to future practitioners. In time, they also will have an opportunity to hear this sutra and will have the ample good roots, good fortune, and favorable conditions necessary for practice.  When, in the future, they make the vow, they too “will be born in that land.”

Once in the Pure Land, these beings will “not retrogress from Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment.” This means that beings already there, those who are presently going there, and those who are reborn there in the future will all never fall back into the Six Paths.

“If they have faith, must make a vow.” This is the fourth time in the sutra that Sakyamuni urged us to make the vow to seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land. He urged us so many times because belief and vow are crucial. Indeed, Great Master Ouyi said in his commentary on the sutra that the attainment of rebirth in the Western Pure Land depends entirely on whether or not one has belief and vow. Having both belief and vow, one will practice and thus definitely attain rebirth in the Pure Land. Which of the lands there that one is reborn in depends on the depth of meditative concentration of one’s Buddha-name chanting.

Let’s say that some practitioners do very well in their Buddha-name chanting and achieve One Mind Undisturbed at the higher level, the level of noumenon. They will be reborn as bodhisattvas of non-retrogression in the Land of Real Reward.

Others, as described in Amitabha’s eighteenth vow, are able to chant the Buddha’s name ten times at the end of their lives. Or maybe only twice. Or just once. When these beings attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land, they will be reborn in the Land Where Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together. The good fortune and wisdom of those born here will be almost the same as that of the bodhisattvas in the Land of Real Reward. Whereas the bodhisattvas enjoy those benefits thanks to their own practice, the benefits that we will enjoy in the Land Where Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together are due to Amitabha Buddha’s help. Essentially, we will enjoy the benefits provided by his good fortune.

It is like that impoverished young man we learned of previously who was invited by his aunt to live with her. He had little good fortune of his own but was able to enjoy the extensive good fortune of his aunt.

If we get to enjoy Amitabha’s incredible good fortune in the lowest land, why should we bother to chant more diligently? Because we chant to fulfill our vows to help all beings. We do not chant for ourselves alone! The more sincerely we chant, the stronger our meditative concentration will be.

The stronger our meditative concentration, the higher the land in which we will be reborn. The higher the land, the sooner our lotus will open. And the sooner our lotus opens, the more quickly we will attain Buddhahood and begin to fulfill the Four Great Vows of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. These four vows provide the aspiration and the step-by-step progression for those who have the bodhi mind to help all beings end suffering and attain liberation.

The first of the Four Great Vows is “Sentient beings are innumerable; I vow to help them all.” This is the most important of the Four Great Vows. It is the fundamental, underlying vow that inspires us to practice without ceasing. The remaining three vows assist in the fulfillment of this first vow.

“Help them all” encompasses keeping all beings in mind, caring about them, and aiding them. Although we may have made this fundamental vow, we do not yet have the ability to fulfill it. Why not? The vow to “help them all” covers not only other people and some animals. It also includes all beings throughout the entire Nine Dharma Realms: the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, the heavens, hearers, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. These realms represent different dimensions in space. But with our limited current abilities, we cannot see or hear the beings in these various dimensions in order to help them. We cannot communicate with them.

How can we resolve this problem? By freeing the inherent abilities that are now obstructed by our afflictions. As soon as we end our afflictions, our innate abilities will come forth. With our innate abilities functioning, we will be able to communicate with the beings in the various dimensions. And be able to help them. Thus we have the second great vow. “Afflictions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them all.”

The third great vow is “Ways to practice are boundless; I vow to master them all.” To begin to accomplish this vow, we need two kinds of wisdom. One is acquired wisdom, which comes from outside us. Acquired wisdom allows us to understand the capacities of other beings. With this wisdom, upon meeting other beings, we will immediately understand them and know what they need to progress towards awakening. The other is our prajna wisdom, which enables us to know the specific teachings to fill that need. With these two wisdoms, we will be like a good doctor who is qualified to both diagnose the problem and prescribe the right treatment. We will then begin to fulfill the first of the four great vows, “Sentient beings are innumerable; I vow to help them all.”

The fourth great vow is “Enlightenment is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.” By attaining Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment—Buddhahood—we will finally be able to help all beings, even Equal-enlightenment Bodhisattvas. As a bodhisattva, one can help only those beings who are at a level lower than one’s own. A bodhisattva is unable to help other bodhisattvas who are at the same level or higher. When one is a Buddha, however, one can universally help all beings.

We now aspire to seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land. Our vow to be reborn there should be based on the Four Great Vows. The first two of these vows, “Sentient beings are innumerable; I vow to help them all” and “Afflictions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them all,” accord with feeling averse to our world of Endurance. The latter two of the four vows, “Ways to practice are boundless; I vow to master them all” and “Enlightenment is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it,” accord with joyously seeking rebirth in the Pure Land. Therefore, from feeling aversion with our present situation, we joyously seek rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Such is the incredible inspiration of the Four Great Vows.

Friday
Jun092017

Do not compare one person to another.

Everyone is different—a combination

 of karmic causes and consequences.

Throughout our past lives, we have planted incalculable seeds, some of which have matured in this lifetime. Far more have not. For example, when you gave fearlessness, you planted the seeds for a healthy, long life. But what if those seeds have not yet matured? It is very likely you will be undergoing health problems, maybe even severe enough to affect your lifespan. And so, you suffer. Now, imagine I come along and, observing your problems, compare you to a healthy person we both know. Not only will I have not minded my own business, I will have thoughtlessly spoken out when I had no right to and increased your suffering. Not to mention failed utterly to give fearlessness. There goes my future good health! So, instead of comparing one person to another, celebrate the past deeds of the fortunate one and encourage the other to plant more such seeds for a better future.

Tuesday
Jun062017

Sincerity 

is a mind without wandering thoughts.

Dictionaries define sincerity with words like “genuine” and “honest.” Let’s apply these to a teacher with a disinterested student. She genuinely wants to help him appreciate the day’s lesson. Now let’s add a Buddhist aspect, defining sincerity as the sharply focused mind, the mind free of wandering thoughts. Our teacher now not only genuinely wants to help the student; she single-mindedly focuses on helping him. Her mind does not wander off to her weekly yoga class or tomorrow’s exam. By concentrating, she brings together her energy, experience, and mental acuity. Her mind does not distractedly flit from idea to idea, almost devising a way to help only to have it slip away as serendipitously as it came. She is better able to recall earlier problems he had and past conversations and methods she used to inspire him to become more excited and try harder. Such is the power of a sincere mind without wandering thoughts.