Sunday
Jun042017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 43: The Sutra Taught by All Buddhas

Why do you think this is called the sutra that is protected and kept in mind by all the Buddhas?

If there are good men or women who hear this scripture, uphold it and hear the names of all these Buddhas, these good men and women will be protected and kept in mind by all the Buddhas, and will not retrogress along the path of Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment.

Therefore, all of you should faithfully accept what I say and what all the Buddhas have said.

Sakyamuni Buddha told Sariputra that if good men or good women, upon hearing this sutra, sincerely accept and practice it, they will receive the support of all Buddhas. Additionally, they will no longer regress “along the path of Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment.” Inconceivable! It means that once in the Pure Land, thanks to the support of all Buddhas, we will attain non-retrogression. Having reached this level in our practice, we will steadily advance until, finally, we uncover the supreme bodhi mind, the true mind that is already within us. This mind of sincerity, purity, impartiality, proper understanding, and compassion will come forth because our selfishness and worldly desires will no longer obstruct it. We will attain two stages of enlightenment immediately before attaining our ultimate goal—Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment.

The first stage of enlightenment is Correct Enlightenment. Having eradicated the Affliction of Views and Thoughts, arhats are at this stage. They no longer have the incorrect view of self in thinking that one’s physical body is oneself, extreme view, deviant view of effects, deviant view of causes, or perverse view. Perverse view encompasses all other aberrant views including not believing in causality. Nor do they have greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, or doubt about the Buddhas’ teachings.

Upon the eradicating the Affliction of Views and Thoughts, arhats transcend the Six Paths. If they do come to these paths again, it will be to fulfill their vows. Thus, the body in which they then manifest will not be a body that is the result of karmic retribution. The arhats will manifest different forms to accord naturally with the thoughts of the beings they come to help and teach. Buddhas and bodhisattvas manifest in the same way to help those still trapped in the Six Paths.

The second stage is Correct, Universal Enlightenment. Bodhisattvas are at this stage. Having eliminated a part of ignorance, seen a part of the true nature, and attained a part of Dharma Body, the minds of bodhisattvas are very close to the mind of a Buddha. In the sutras, Sakyamuni Buddha drew an analogy between the mind and the moon. The perfect, true mind of a Buddha is like a full moon. The mind of a bodhisattva is like a crescent moon: real, but neither full nor perfect.

The final stage is Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment. Buddhas are at this stage. Having realized the untroubled and nondiscriminatory mind, they have attained the perfect wisdom that comprehends all truths.

Here in this sutra passage, Sakyamuni urged us for the third time to seek rebirth in the Pure Land. Moreover, this time he also encouraged us to believe. “Faithfully accept what I say and what all the Buddhas have said,” he urged. Given that all Buddhas always speak the truth, we can believe in this sutra because Sakyamuni Buddha spoke it.

People who can truly practice as “good men or good women” will receive the inconceivable benefit of non-retrogression. Once in the Pure Land, they will never again regress on the path to Buddhahood. Knowing of this unsurpassed benefit for all beings, “all the Buddhas” dedicate themselves to convincing us to seek rebirth in the Pure Land. Indeed, this is why all Buddhas teach the Pure Land Dharma door. 

Friday
Jun022017

We do the right thing 

not because we expect to change the world, 

but because it’s the right thing to do. 

Let’s face it; few of us have the position or power to sway others. But that’s all right because the absence of power cannot only help free us from egoistic expectations; it can also save us from karmic retributions incurred from improperly wielding it. How much less fraught with adverse retributions, and easier it will be, to decide we’ll do something just because it’s the right thing to do. No one need even know. We can focus on implementing our plans without wasting energy worrying about others’ reactions. Our happiness, our feeling of accomplishment, will come entirely from doing the right thing. If others notice what we did and change for the better, excellent. If no one notices, excellent. We will have successfully reinforced our natural desire to do what is proper—not because we harbor unrealistic hopes—but for the pure joy of doing the right thing.

Tuesday
May302017

“Sentient beings are innumerable;

I vow to help them all.”

Having embraced this vow, how much of our day is spent fulfilling it? And how much is spent working, studying, eating, sleeping, socializing and relaxing, or frittering time away in front of a TV and on the Internet? Little wonder that while we remain in samsara, at the most, all we can manage is helping a few individuals to ease their current suffering. Despite good intentions, our help turns out to be as useful as sticking a bandage on a hemorrhaging wound. Plus, in their next lifetime, we won’t be around to apply another bandage as karmic wounds reopen and the suffering resumes. But as soon as we got to the Pure Land, we’ll begin energetically, skillfully, unceasingly helping beings. How? By teaching the way to heal—to permanently suture—the wound as we show all beings how to end their endless rebirths. They will then liberate themselves from the cycle of rebirth. Forever. This is how we help all beings.

Sunday
May282017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 42: The Buddhas in the Zenith

In the worlds of the zenith there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha “Pure Voice,” the Buddha “Sojourner King,” the Buddha “Incense Fragrance,” the Buddha “Fragrant Light,” the Buddha “Great Blazing Shoulders,” the Buddha “Body of Multicolored Jewel Flower Garlands,” the Buddha “Sala Tree King,” the Buddha “Precious Flower Virtue,” the Buddha “Sees All Truths,” and the Buddha “Like the Polar Mountain.” 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 ten Buddhas in the zenith signify perfection in enlightenment and accomplishment—the attainment of Buddhahood— in one lifetime.

The first Buddha named in the zenith was Buddha Pure Voice. “Voice” refers to teaching. “Pure Voice” signifies that the lecturing on the Dharma should be pure, without a trace of contamination. We can attain such purity by letting go of our contaminants. What contaminants? The afflictions of selfishness, prestige, and wealth. Worldly pleasures and acclaim. Greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance. Having let go of these, when we teach others, our teaching will naturally be pure because we will have become selfless, and our every thought will be for the sake of all beings. Without thoughts of self-benefit, our every act will be free from contaminants, from selfishness.

No one, not even Buddhas and bodhisattvas, can help us do this. Buddhas and bodhisattvas can only teach us the principles and methods, and show us how to put them into practice. They cannot do the work on our behalf. Our cultivation is up to us. And vitally important in our cultivation is letting go. As we let go, we will begin to understand the teachings better and experience their benefits. As we understand more, we will be able to let go more. Eventually, we will let go of all contaminants and naturally achieve the state of purity.

The second Buddha named was Buddha Sojourner [Constellation] King. This name signifies the Mahayana teachings, which are direct paths to Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment. Every Mahayana method has its own degree of difficulty, thereby allowing all to cultivate according to their abilities.

The third Buddha named was Buddha Incense Fragrance. “Incense Fragrance” refers to five kinds of fragrances of a Buddha’s Dharma Body. The five are morality, meditative concentration, wisdom, liberation, and wisdom flowing from one’s state of liberation. Buddha “Incense Fragrance” also represents one of the more direct paths in the Mahayana teachings, the Zen Dharma door.

The fourth Buddha named was Buddha Fragrant Light. This name signifies the Buddha Mindfulness Dharma door of the Pure Land school. While the Zen Dharma door is one of the more direct paths, the most direct Mahayana path is the Pure Land Dharma door. This door is also the most reliable, the easiest, and the simplest. Furthermore, with the Pure Land method, one’s achievement will be incomparably wondrous. All this is why the Pure Land Dharma door is called “the most direct path.”

The fifth Buddha named was Buddha Great Blazing Shoulders. This name signifies shouldering the responsibility to give the supreme teachings to others so that they can attain Buddhahood in one lifetime.

The sixth Buddha named was Buddha Body of Multicolored Jewel Flower Garlands. The name signifies perfect attainment of Buddhahood in one lifetime, as spoken of in the Avatamsaka Sutra.

The seventh Buddha named was Buddha Sala Tree King. “Sala Tree King” signifies that the Esoteric teachings and the Pure Land teachings are one, not two, because the practitioners of both Dharma doors cultivate a pure mind. It is, however, harder to succeed using the Esoteric method than it is using the Pure Land method. This is so because while Pure Land practitioners attain purity by staying away from the contamination of worldly pleasures, Esoteric practitioners take the more difficult approach of achieving purity in the midst of worldly pleasures. It is thus better for those of us with more limited abilities to practice the Buddha-name chanting method and seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land. Once there we will steadily progress in our practice.

The eighth Buddha named was Buddha Precious Flower Virtue, who signifies the perfect Enjoyment Body. The perfect Enjoyment Body is the perfect wisdom body.

The ninth Buddha named was Buddha Sees All Truths, who signifies innumerable Manifestation Bodies. When a being in the Nine Dharma Realms makes a request of a Buddha, that Buddha will respond with a Manifestation Body.

Within the request and response framework, there are two possible forms of requests: conscious and subconscious. There are also two possible forms of responses: overt and covert. Overt means that the beings are clearly aware of the Buddha’s help. Covert means that the beings are not aware of the Buddha’s help. A request, conscious or subconscious, can invoke either an overt or a covert response. But for this request and response to occur, an affinity is necessary. We can thus understand why we need to foster Dharma affinities with as many beings as we can to fulfill our own vow "to help them all."

The tenth Buddha named in the zenith was Buddha Like the Polar Mountain, who signifies the pure Dharma Body. The pure Dharma Body is the noumenon, the principle, of all dharmas.

In conclusion of this section in the sutra, the above passages on the Buddhas named in the six directions teach us how to learn and practice, and in what sequence.

First, the names of the Buddhas in the eastern direction teach us the fundamentals of learning and practicing.

Then, the names of the Buddhas in the southern direction instruct us how to cultivate wisdom.

Next, the names of the Buddhas in the western direction show us how to develop good fortune.

The names of the Buddhas in the northern direction teach us that after having laid our foundation of wisdom and good fortune, we should educate others.

The names of the Buddhas in the nadir represent Buddhism, which can help all beings break through delusion and attain awakening.

Finally, the names of the Buddhas in the zenith represent ultimate perfection in enlightenment and accomplishment—the attainment of Buddhahood—in one lifetime.

Thus, from the beginning of our cultivation through to its completion, the Amitabha Sutra succinctly guides us to the ultimate goal: Buddhahood.

 

Friday
May262017

Forgiveness is not just for major wrongs.

We often think of forgiveness in terms of major misdeeds. After all, forgiving is hard to pull off. Surely, it requires a serious reason. But if we save forgiveness just for major wrongs, we lose a vital cultivation tool. We need to forgive on a regular, not occasional, basis, because it is the everyday slights, not the major misdeeds that we keep running into. When others impugn us; mistreat us; inconvenience, irritate, or just plain bother us, we need to forgive. Then stop thinking of the person, and get on with our life. How do you forgive and forget, and why bother? Understanding causality, we realize that what was just done to us was the natural result of a karmic deed. And we remember that just as we want to alleviate our suffering we should also wish to alleviate the suffering of the other person. Together, we have been fueling the flames of our shared anger like two people anxiously fanning a smoldering fire. When we forgive another person, the fire is doused.