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. 

Monday
Feb272017

Whatever the situation,

adverse or favorable, remain balanced

in your Buddha-name chanting:

unwavering and determined. 

Lurching first in one direction and then another, our mind, jolted from its clear and natural state, becomes distracted and agitated. This lamentable state is where we spend much, if not all, of our time. The mental state we seek is to remain steadfast and undisturbed.

When praised, we do not become proud or disdainful.

Hearing others criticize us, we do not feel offended or defensive.

Finding things working out as hoped for, we do not attach or feel arrogant.

Encountering situations not planned for, we do not worry or doubt the teachings.

How can we attain such balance? Every time we notice a distraction—good or bad—we return to the Buddha-name. This returning is our practice. The more we practice, the more proficient we become, whether we’re participating in a sport or playing an instrument. Or chanting the Buddha’s name.

Sunday
Feb262017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 30: One Lifetime Away from Buddhahood

Many among them have only one more lifetime to go before Buddhahood. Their number is incalculable: they can be spoken of as innumerable.

 Here we learn that “Many among them have only one more lifetime to go before Buddhahood.” These are Equal-enlightenment Bodhisattvas, awakened beings just one level below Buddhahood! And there are so many Equal-enlightenment Bodhisattvas in that land that “their number is incalculable.” In our world, we cannot find even one Equal-enlightenment Bodhisattva, but in the Western Pure Land they are everywhere. Avalokitesvara, Mahasthamaprapta, Manjusri, Samantabhadra, and Maitreya are all Equal-enlightenment Bodhisattvas. When we are with such bodhisattvas every day, how could we regress?

Where else could we have Amitabha Buddha and the Buddhas in the ten directions as our teachers? Where else could we have bodhisattvas waiting to succeed Buddhas as our fellow practitioners? Where else can we find such a good learning environment?

If we truly understand all this, we will know that our world fails completely in comparison to the Western Pure Land. With such understanding, we will not attach to anything in this world. Nothing will be able to keep us here. We will let go of all attachments and will want to go to the Land of Ultimate Bliss. The sooner we go, the better off we will be.

But if there is just one thing that we cannot let go of, we will not be able to go there.

We must let go of everything.