Friday
Apr282017

As a fissure can split a stone,

doubt cripples one’s confidence.

Fissures, in even the hardest rock, can stress the rock to the point where it cracks and, with time, crumbles away. Similarly, and with equally disastrous results, doubt can eat into and, eventually, decimate our confidence. This is why our belief needs to be as imperishable as a diamond. We need to believe in ourselves, secure in the knowledge that we have the same nature as all Buddhas. Having this same Buddha-nature, we too can awaken and become a Buddha. We also need to believe in the Buddhas and their teachings. We must guard against doubting what the Buddhas and ancient masters have taught, guard against questioning our ability to awaken. Failing to do so, our skepticism will, like a fissure, split and shatter our resolve. With unwavering belief in ourselves and in the Buddhas, we will eliminate doubt and burnish our confidence until it shines as brilliantly as a diamond.

Monday
Apr242017

When disagreeable thoughts of others arise,

convert them to those that are amiable.

For our own sake, as well as that of others, we need to replace our offensive mental chatter about others with “Amituofo.” While returning to the Buddha-name, we can seize the opportunity to quickly transform our offensive thoughts into caring ones. The last impressions of the person thus embedded in our store consciousness will be favorable. Accomplishing this, when we next see the individual, the first feelings to bubble up to the surface of our consciousness will hopefully come from those congenial impressions rather than the earlier derogatory ones. Failing to accomplish this, when we next meet, regardless of how the other person acts toward us, our indignation will surge upward and we will resume thinking of—and acting on—those harsh untransformed thoughts. The person may well smile at us, but we will bristle at them. And have spawned yet another enmity. 

Sunday
Apr232017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 37: The Buddhas in the Eastern Direction

But in the eastern direction there are also countless other Buddhas, like Akshobhya Buddha, the Buddha “Marks of the Polar Mountain”, the Buddha “Great Polar Mountain”, the Buddha “Light of the Polar Mountain”, and the Buddha “Wondrous Voice”. 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”.

In this and the next several passages from the sutra, we learn the names of just a few of the innumerable Buddhas who praise the Amitabha Sutra. Like the arhats and bodhisattvas listed at the beginning of this sutra, these Buddhas are representative. Their names have profound meanings as each illustrates a particular quality of Buddhahood.

Only Buddhas are listed in this section because only they can fully understand and appreciate all that Amitabha has accomplished on our behalf. They, like Sakyamuni, praise this sutra “which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.” By understanding the meanings of the names of the Buddhas listed in this series of sutra passages, we will know not only how to practice step-by-step, but also how to overcome all obstacles in our practice.

The Buddhas of the “eastern direction” are listed first. Just as the sun rises in the east and begins our day, the names of these Buddhas teach us the fundamentals of learning and cultivation. It is upon this foundation that our determination to practice arises.

The first Buddha named in the eastern direction was Akshobhya Buddha. Meaning “Immovable,” this Buddha’s name signifies the principle of immovability, which is fundamental for learning and practicing not only the Pure Land Dharma door but also all of the 84,000 Dharma doors.

We must first have steadfast belief if we are to progress in our practice. If we lack firm belief and are constantly changing our mind, we will not be able to achieve much in Buddhism. If however, we genuinely wish to practice, we should strive to remain unaffected by worldly pursuits such as the Five Desires. We should, moreover, be unmoved by the Eight Winds of gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disgrace, and happiness and suffering.

As unawakened people, we are often swayed by our attachments to gain, praise, fame, and happiness, as well as by our aversions to loss, blame, disgrace, and suffering. Such desires and aversions distract us and, in so doing, obstruct our cultivation. But worldly pursuits and conditions are not all that should be of concern to us. We also need to guard against the attraction of other Buddhist teachings. Having chosen the Pure Land Dharma door, we should remain focused on it, always concentrating on our practice of chanting the Buddha-name. Likewise, those drawn to other Dharma doors should focus on their preferred method.

If we waver when enticed by worldly desires and influences, we will not be able to transcend samsara. If we vacillate between various Dharma doors, we will not be able to delve deeply into just one method. That is to say, if the Five Desires and the Eight Winds move us, we will continue to suffer within samsara. And if other Dharma doors move us, we will not achieve Constant Mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha.

The next three Buddhas—Marks of the Polar Mountain, Great Polar Mountain, and Light of the Polar Mountain—represent the goal that we Buddhist practitioners yearn to reach: Buddhahood.

To better appreciate the symbolic significance of these three Buddhas, we must first grasp the concept of the three bodies of a Buddha. To become a Buddha means the attainment of all three: the Dharma Body, the Enjoyment Body, and the Manifestation Body.

The Dharma Body is a Buddha’s true body, the ultimate body—formless, transcendental, inconceivable. It is the true self that neither arises nor ceases, that is beginningless and without end. Who attains the Dharma Body? Those who, realizing that the physical body is the false self, have seen the true nature and attained great awakening.

The Enjoyment Body is a Buddha’s celestial body. Residing in a Pure Land, it never appears to ordinary people. The Enjoyment Body has a beginning but is without end. Once attained, this body will never again be mired in delusion. The Enjoyment Body is a wisdom body, the body of innate prajna wisdom. When a Pure Land practitioner is no longer deluded by dualism, Amitabha will respond by coming in his Enjoyment Body. He will guide the practitioner to the Land of Ultimate Bliss, to be reborn in either the Land of Real Reward or the Land of Eternally Quiescent Light.

The Manifestation Body is a body that is manifested by the Dharma Body and is visible to ordinary beings. An example of this was Sakyamuni Buddha. The appearance of a Buddha’s Manifestation Body varies in accordance with the thoughts of the beings it appears to. The Manifestation Body, therefore, can have countless different appearances, not just one. Additionally, one Dharma body can have a vast number of manifestation bodies. When a Pure Land practitioner eradicates the Affliction of Views and Thoughts, Amitabha will respond by appearing in a Manifestation Body. He will guide the practitioner to the Land of Ultimate Bliss, to be reborn in either the Land Where Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together or the Land of Expedient Liberation.

This brief explanation of the concept of the three bodies of a Buddha is significant with regard to the three Buddhas who represent the practitioners’ goal of Buddhahood.

The first of these three is Buddha Marks of the Polar Mountain. In Buddhist cosmology, the Polar Mountain is at the center of the universe. Buddha Marks of the Polar Mountain signifies the Enjoyment Body. The sutras explain that this Buddha’s name symbolizes the fact that the body of a Buddha has innumerable marks, or physical attributes, each of which is infinitely wonderful. His auspicious marks and his radiance are admired by beings throughout the Nine Realms.

The next of the three Buddhas, Buddha Great Polar Mountain, signifies the Dharma Body. This body is the noumenon, or principle, of all phenomena. The Dharma Body is that which creates; the Enjoyment Body and the Manifestation Body are those which are created. “Great,” in Great Polar Mountain, does not mean big. Rather, it means that there is nothing more or less than this—that it contains everything.

The last of this group of three, Buddha Light of the Polar Mountain, signifies the Manifestation Body and infinite good fortune. The radiance of this Buddha illuminates the entire universe. Because the light of Buddha Light of the Polar Mountain pervades everywhere, this Buddha manifests everywhere.

As there is with all Buddhas, there is a connection between Buddha Light of the Polar Mountain and the beings who request their help. The connection is called “wave motion.” The wave motion of all Buddhas is called “light” and is quiescent. Conversely, our wave motions are constantly arising and ceasing and are, therefore, called “waves.” A Buddha’s wave motion can be likened to tranquil water whereas our wave motion is like raging surf. But, as both are components of a vast ocean with many aspects, calm water and the surf are always interconnected.

The fifth and final Buddha named in the eastern direction was Buddha Wondrous Voice. “Wondrous Voice” signifies that single-mindedly chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha is the core method of both learning and practice. This extraordinary chanting, which is the simultaneous application of meditative concentration and wisdom, is the most “wondrous” sound in this world and beyond. When one mindfully chants the Buddha-name, this sound will move all the Buddhas throughout the Dharma Realm.

Then Sakyamuni said: “Each of them . . . [teaches in his own land with the truthfulness of a Buddha] and covers a whole cosmos speaking these sincere [truthful] words: ‘all of you sentient beings should believe this sutra extolling inconceivable virtues, which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.’” Here he referred to the five Buddhas named, as well as “countless other Buddhas” in the eastern direction. Further on in the sutra, Sakyamuni repeated these same words with regard to all the Buddhas in the six directions.

“Speaking these sincere [truthful] words” indicates that everything a Buddha says, not only the words in this sutra, is the truth. As Sakyamuni assured us in the Diamond Sutra, a Buddha never lies or exaggerates. Furthermore, all Buddhas expound the same universal truths, which arise from their shared true nature. If a Buddha were to say one untruthful word, it would cause us to doubt all his words. This, in turn, would result in his no longer being able to assist all beings. Therefore, a Buddha will always speak the truth.

Why do all Buddhas try their utmost to convince us to learn and practice the teachings in this sutra? They know that the Land of Ultimate Bliss is no ordinary land. Rather, jointly supported by all these Buddhas, the Pure Land is like a school. And these enlightened beings, like parents to us unawakened beings, know that we, like children, need to be taught properly if we are to uncover our perfect wisdom, virtues, and abilities. To this end, the school was established, and this teaching about it is “protected and kept in mind” by all Buddhas. 

Friday
Apr212017

Although others may cause us pain,

we can control our suffering

by how we react to our pain.

The Buddha explained suffering as two darts. Pain, the first dart, can be either physical or emotional.  Suffering, the second dart, we inflict on ourselves as we react impulsively to the pain. Let’s say you rush into a room and, in your haste, walk into a chair. A painful first dart. The second dart ensues as you scold yourself for being clumsy and careless; you never learn! At other times, we inflict the second dart when there was no first. For instance, we take a co-worker’s remark the wrong way. Not bothering to check to see if a first dart even existed, we automatically stab ourselves with a second dart of anger or distress. The solution? We cannot always avoid first darts. But we can control the second ones. We create the suffering; we can stop it. As soon as you sense a second dart is poised for striking, recognize it. And drop it for the worthless thing it is.

Monday
Apr172017

Do not seek the measure of your actions’ worth

in the eyes of others.

Seek it within yourself.

A long time ago, when the Buddha was in our world, an old woman wished to make an offering to the perfectly enlightened being. But all she had were two coins from her day’s begging. Undeterred, she used them to buy some oil for a lamp. Setting out her offering, she vowed to eliminate the suffering of all beings. After leaving the lamp, exhausted and starving she died. The same night, the king also offered lamps, row upon row of them. The next day, amazingly, not only was one of the lamps still burning, its flame shone even more brightly. When asked how this could be, the Buddha said the lamp was the old woman’s. It continued to burn due to her compassionate vow. The woman had not needed to ask if her meager offering was worthy; she did what she knew to be right. Her gratitude was immeasurable, her own needs inconsequential, her vow unwavering.