Sunday
Apr162017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 36: Extolling the Virtues of Amitabha Buddha

Right now I am extolling the benefits of the inconceivable virtues of Amitabha Buddha.

Fortunately for us, unawakened beings who have yet to see and experience these benefits, Sakyamuni Buddha, as well as accomplished masters, taught us about them. As we have just learned, the first is horizontal transcendence, thanks to which we need not undergo the slow, painstaking progress through vertical transcendence. With horizontal transcendence, we can transcend the cycle of rebirth in this very lifetime.

A second benefit is that the four lands which make up the Western Pure Land, and represent four states of mind, all merge. This is in marked contrast to other Buddha Lands where the four lands are separate and distinct. In the Western Pure Land, dwelling in one land is like existing in all four lands at the same time for all beings are together. Even though Amitabha Buddha and the bodhisattvas actually abide in lands other than the one we are in, we can still be with them. We can still learn directly from them. And so, although we will not yet have attained these lands, these states of mind, through our own cultivation, we will nonetheless have access to all the beings in those lands.

A third benefit is attainment of the three stages of non-retrogression. As we previously learned, the three stages of non-retrogressions are no falling back from one’s level, no falling back from one’s practice, and no falling back from one’s mindfulness. We will attain all three when Amitabha Buddha and the bodhisattvas come to guide us to the Pure Land.

These profound benefits and many more can be achieved through one practice: the mindful chanting of the Buddha-name. No other forms of meditation are required. From the moment we first practice till the moment we achieve rebirth in his land—we chant “Amituofo.” Exquisitely simple. Incredibly effective.

Friday
Apr142017

Based on previous experiences,

expectations prevent us from opening up

to what may be truly wonderful.

Expectations, by their very nature, bind us to the familiar and to the past. Expectations prevent us from imagining something new and, quite possibly, more rewarding; they color everything we set out to achieve. Upon hearing of the lotuses and ponds in the Western Pure Land, we diminish these by likening them to what we now see every day. Being told of the learning environment, we remember going to school and conclude it’s similar. Reading that we can visit other Buddhas without leaving the Pure Land, we envisage it will be like holding a meeting via the Internet. All these ideas and expectations hold us back! Letting go of expectations, we free ourselves of remembered images and begin feeling—begin sensing—the wonder of things beyond our imagining. And we throw open the door to what is new and truly wondrous.

Monday
Apr102017

Letting go is more than

giving away possessions.

It is also relinquishing our

opinions and preferences.

For our best example of letting go, we need only reflect on Prince Siddhartha’s renouncement. Leaving behind his pleasure-filled life, his attachments to personal views, and eventually even his concept of self, he lived as a penniless, wandering seeker—a seeker who attained ultimate liberation. We need to, like the Buddha, stop clinging to personal desires and egoistic opinions. Our attachments constrain us and have trapped us in the cycle of rebirth since time without beginning. By accepting that it is just a matter of time until we must once again leave everything behind, the wisdom in choosing to let go now rather than having everything torn from us later will become blindingly apparent. No longer a trapped sentient being, we will be content with, and appreciative of, all we encounter. And we will do so as a liberated being.

Sunday
Apr092017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 35: Sakyamuni Buddha's Assurance

I have seen this benefit, and so I speak these words. If sentient beings hear what I say, they must make a vow to be born in that land.

Sakyamuni Buddha told Sariputra, “I have seen this benefit” to reassure those listening to this teaching as well as all those who would later encounter it. Although they had not yet seen the advantages of being born in the Pure Land, Sakyamuni had. As the Diamond Sutra says, what Sakyamuni Buddha speaks is the truth. “It is as he says it is and is not other than as he says it is.” And so the words that Sakyamuni spoke, of the benefit he had seen in the Pure Land, are true.

Good men or good women who hear of Amitabha Buddha and then chant his name singlemindedly and without confusion for one to seven days will receive a remarkable outcome. In the previous passages, Sakyamuni had explained, “When these people are about to die, Amitabha Buddha and his whole assembly will appear before them. When they die, their minds being unified and not chaotic, they will attain rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Ultimate Bliss.”

This description refers to horizontal transcendence. Horizontal transcendence is in contrast to other Buddhist schools, where those who wish to transcend the suffering in samsara must go through the step-by-step progression of vertical transcendence in their practice and cultivation. This is akin to a worm attempting to escape from within a bamboo stalk by breaking through each segment joint in turn as it slowly crawls upward. Only when the worm has pierced the very last joint is it, finally, free.

Horizontal transcendence, on the other hand, is akin to the worm just chewing through the side of the bamboo stalk right where it is. Much more quickly, the worm is free!

How does this apply to Pure Land practitioners? Using horizontal transcendence, we can achieve rebirth in the Pure Land in our current lifetime at our present level of cultivation. We may receive this excellent result if, at the end of our life, our mind is not chaotic or deluded and we chant the Buddha’s name. But what if we are still deluded? Then, once again, we will encounter the very same stumbling block that has hampered us for uncountable lifetimes. If deluded at the end of our life, our seeds of residual habits, including greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance will arise uncontrollably. All these residual habits are amassed in our store consciousness.

This consciousness is the first of the eight consciousnesses to enter the mother’s womb at the moment of conception. By the time the fetus is fully developed, it has all eight consciousnesses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, mental awareness, thinking mind, and store. When a person is dying, the first seven consciousnesses gradually stop functioning. Finally, only the store consciousness remains. In most cases, usually within eight hours after death, it too will leave the body.

While eight hours is the usual amount of time required for the store consciousness to withdraw from the body, there are instances where more time is needed. Some people are very attached to their body and will not let go. In such a case, the store consciousness may not leave until twelve or fourteen hours after death. There are even people whose store consciousness will not leave for several days. Intensely deluded, these people are so attached to their bodies that they will be obstructed from attaining rebirth in the Western Pure Land even if others are chanting for them.

Clearly, we need to ensure that we are not deluded at the time of death. To accomplish this, we need to live simply, end wrongdoings, and cultivate wisdom and good fortune. Then, at the end of our life, clearheaded and without fear, we will be able to believe, vow, and mindfully chant the Buddha-name. Amitabha Buddha will come to guide us to the Pure Land.

This is why Sakyamuni Buddha spoke of the necessity of a mind that is “unified and not chaotic.” With such a unified, non-deluded mind, we can, through horizontal transcendence, attain rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss while bringing along our residual karmas. Sakyamuni Buddha saw “this benefit” and urged—for the second time—that we “make a vow to be born in that land.”

As Great Master Ouyi wrote, “It is my humble hope that no matter whether you are a layperson or a monk or nun, no matter whether you are smart or stupid, you will adopt a positive attitude toward this simple, direct, Sudden Perfect Pure Land teaching. Do not look upon it as difficult and shrink away from it. Do not look upon it as easy and become complacent and not try hard enough. Do not look upon it as shallow and despise it. Do not look upon it as profound and not dare to accept it as your task.”[i]

 


[i] Mind-seal of the Buddhas, p 99}

Friday
Apr072017

When chanting “Amituofo”

and a wandering arises,

which remains in the front of your mind

and which recedes to the back?

Initially, wandering thoughts will continually derail our chanting. As our chanting becomes established, wandering thoughts will arise less often and retreat more quickly. As we chant with patience and diligence, wandering thoughts will slowly cease. Since few of us have reached this last level, it will be helpful to determine if we’re at least progressing. As a wandering thought arises, observe which recedes. “Amituofo”? Or the wandering thought? Next, determine how soon we notice what just happened. A few seconds? A minute? Longer? Good thoughts or bad, it seems they arise from nowhere. One moment “Amituofo” is at the front of our mind, and the next, wandering thoughts have taken over and “Amituofo” is gone. Identify what just happened, then quickly return to the safety—and joy—of “Amituofo.”