Excerpts 1 - 9
All followed and cultivated the virtues of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, were replete with infinite vows and practices, and steadfastly dwelt in the virtues and merits of all dharmas.
This first excerpt points out the objective of the Pure Land school.
A well-accomplished practitioner added "The Chapter of the Vows and Practices of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva" to the three Pure Land sutras and named them the four Pure Land sutras. He did so based on the above excerpt. These words tell us that the beings in the Western Pure Land--in the four lands and from the lowest to the highest of the nine rebirth grades--all cultivate the virtues of Samantabhadra. It is not surprising then that in the Lotus Treasury assembly, all forty-one levels of Dharma-body Mahasattvas follow the example of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva--they mindfully chant the Buddha-name and seek rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
It is also stated in the Mahayana sutras that if a Bodhisattva does not cultivate the practice of Samantabhadra, he will not be able to perfectly attain Buddhahood. "Perfect" refers to the attainment of perfect Buddhahood, which is the Buddhahood of the Perfect Teaching mentioned in the T'iantai School.
It is also stated in the Mahayana sutras that if a Bodhisattva does not cultivate the practice of Samantabhadra, he will not be able to perfectly attain Buddhahood. "Perfect" refers to the attainment of perfect Buddhahood, which is the Buddhahood of the Perfect Teaching mentioned in the T'iantai School.
"Vows" in "infinite vows and practices" means aspiration. "Practices" means implementation, to carry out. When we condense "infinite vows and practices," we have the Four Great Vows. When expanded, the Four Great Vows become infinite vows and practices.
Samantabhadra Bodhisattva uses the Ten Great Vows as the key guiding principle for infinite vows and practices. The practice of Samantabhadra differs from other methods, for the mind of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva is truly pure and impartial: there is no discrimination or attachment. He treats everyone in the entire Dharma Realm equally.
The first of the Ten Great Vows is "to respect all Buddhas." "All Buddhas" encompasses all beings. The Avatamsaka Sutra and the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment both say: "All beings are Buddhas in nature." Therefore, "to respect all Buddhas" is to equally respect the past Buddhas, the present Buddhas, and the future Buddhas (all beings).
It is stated in the sutras that all sentient beings have Buddha-nature. It is called Dharma-nature in non-sentient beings. Buddha-nature and Dharma-nature refer to the same nature. This is why the Avatamsaka Sutra says: "Sentient and non-sentient beings all have the same Buddha-wisdom."
We should be as respectful to non-sentient beings as to Buddhas. For example, tables and chairs are non-sentient beings. Our respect to them should be the same as that to Buddhas, without any difference. This is the practice of Samantabhadra. When we see tables and chairs, we put them in their proper places and keep them clean. This is showing our respect to them. The respect in our hearts is exactly the same, though how we express the respect differs. Practicing respect for all Buddhas starts from this point [the impartial respect for all being].
Respect--everything should start with it, not just when we are learning the supreme Buddha-dharma. "Single-minded respect"--we often read these words in the repentance section that appears in the Buddhist practice book. Single-mindedness is the practice of Samantabhadra. It signifies impartiality. Single-mindedness is maintaining the same mind whether we encounter Buddhas, people, animals, or tables and chairs. With two minds, differences, and discrimination arise. Therefore, with two minds or three minds, we are not quite respectful and not following the practice of Samantabhadra. We must clearly understand this before we know how to learn.
The second vow is "to praise Tathagata". What is the difference between "Tathagata" and "Buddha"? From the aspect of form, we say "Buddha." We should single-mindedly and equally respect all [Buddhas, all beings]. From the aspect of nature, we say "Tathagata." If something accords with the true nature, then it is good and we should praise it. If it does not accord with the true nature, then it is bad. We should be respectful to all but we should not praise bad things or wrongdoers. We should keep our distance [i.e., not learn from them] and continue to be respectful. In our respect, there should be no difference.
Sudhana's visiting fifty-three wise teachers is a very good example of this. Normally, when he visited a wise teacher, he would first pay respect and then praise the teacher. But among the fifty-three wise teachers, all of whom he showed respect to, there were three he did not praise. The first of the three teachers was a Brahman named Jayosmaya, who symbolized ignorance. The second was a king named Anala, who symbolized anger. The third was a woman named Vasumitra, who symbolized greed. To these three teachers who symbolized greed, anger, and ignorance, Sudhana showed respect but did not praise them.
From this we understand that when we praise, we praise the good, not the bad. But when we pay respect, we do not differentiate between good and bad. There is a significant difference between praising and paying respect. We must realize this.
I will not go into detail about the Ten Great Vows, as I have done so elsewhere.
The ten vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva sum up infinite practices and vows. But the forty-eight vows of Amitabha Buddha are more detailed than the Ten Great Vows. However, the most important of all is to be "replete". Are we "replete"? If we have belief and practice but no vows, then we will not be able to attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land. If we truly want to attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land in this lifetime, we must chant the forty-eight vows in the Infinite Life Sutra as our morning cultivation every day. By chanting them every day and constantly learning them, we make the forty-eight vows our causal vows. There we are "replete" with the vows. Amitabha Buddha's forty-eight vows are infinite practices and vows, and include the Ten Great Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva and the Four Great Vows.
"All . . . steadfastly dwelt in the virtues and merits of all dharmas." "The virtues and merits of all dharmas" is "Namo Amituofo." During the Sui and Tang dynasties, eminent monks compared the sutras from the Buddha's forty-nine years of teaching to determine which was number one. They agreed that the Avatamsaka Sutra was number one. It was the king of the sutras and the fundamental Dharma-wheel. Next, they made a comparison between the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Infinite Life Sutra and concluded that the Infinite Life Sutra was number one. Why? At the end of the Avatamsaka Sutra, Samantabhadra taught the Ten Great Vows and guided all beings to the Western Pure Land, and with this the sutra was perfectly completed. On the other hand, the Infinite Life Sutra, from the beginning to the end, describes the Western Pure Land. Hence, the Infinite Life Sutra sums up and fulfills the final goal of the Avatamsaka Sutra. The Infinite Life Sutra is thus number one of all number ones.
Mr. Xia Lianju divided the Infinite Life Sutra into forty-eight chapters. Which chapter is number one? The chapter with the forty-eight vows. The forty-eight vows were spoken by Amitabha Buddha himself and are the most important part of the entire sutra.
Of the forty-eight vows, which vow is number one? The eminent monks said that the eighteenth vow is number one. Why did they say so? The eighteenth vow says that through mindful chanting of "Amituofo" ten times at the end of one's life one can attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land. This illustrates the inconceivability of the merit of the name of Amitabha Buddha. This is why the name of Amitabha Buddha is "the virtues and merits of all dharmas."
When the name of Amitabha Buddha is elaborated on, we have the forty-eight vows. When the forty-eight vows are elaborated on, we have the Infinite Life Sutra. When the Infinite Life Sutra is elaborated on, we have the Avatamsaka Sutra. When the Avatamsaka Sutra is elaborated on, we have all the sutras from Sakyamuni Buddha's forty-nine years of teaching.
Therefore, the name Amitabha Buddha is the key guiding principle. When we master this guiding principle, we will thoroughly understand the entire Dharma, all the sutras, and all the Dharma doors.
"Steadfastly dwelt in" means focusing one's mind on Amituofo. For a true practitioner who wants to have a fast, assured success in his or her practice in this lifetime, the Buddha-name is all he or she needs. One chants and reads the sutras to understand the truth. Once confidence is established upon one's understanding of the principles and the truth, one will naturally let go of everything else.
Not only did Sakyamuni Buddha use this method as the foremost method to teach all beings, but all Buddhas do the same also. The Pure Land method is hard to believe but easy to practice. Only when one has great good fortune and great wisdom will one be able to believe this method. In the Theravada tradition for example, Sariputra is foremost in wisdom. In the Mahayana tradition, Manjusri is foremost in wisdom. Therefore, if one is not superior in wisdom, one cannot believe this method.
Let's think about this. Not only can our wisdom not compare with that of Manjusri Bodhisattva, it cannot even compare with that of Elder Sariputra of the Theravada tradition. But when we hear the Pure Land method, we are immediately delighted, believe and accept it, and are willing to learn and practice it. From this viewpoint, we are not inferior to Manjusri Bodhisattva. He chose this method, so have we. His choice was a wise one, so is ours.
"Steadfastly dwelt" means our minds will no longer waver once we understand the principles and the phenomena of the truth, after which our minds will truly settle in "Namo Amituofo." This [Namo Amituofo] is "the virtues and merits of all dharmas."
With the power of meditative concentration and wisdom, they subdued Mara's enmities.
"Mara" does not refer to demons but to various afflictions that torture and torment us. The sufferings in this world are so painful that they are even more terrifying than encountering demons.
"Enmities" refers to enemy. The sutras talk about "ten evils the enemy." The ten evils are the physical activities of killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct; the verbal activities of using false speech, divisive speech, harsh speech, and enticing speech; and the mental activities of greed, anger, and ignorance. These are the ten kinds of enemies within us. All beings are unwilling to do away with these "Mara's enmities," so the beings' every thought and every deed strengthen and increase the ties to them. The knot of enmity becomes very hard to unravel and evil karmas continue to be committed. Consequently, the beings suffer in this lifetime and will suffer even more in the next lifetime.
This is why when one transmigrates within the Six Paths, one's future lifetimes will get worse and worse, and one will sink into a lower and lower path. This is the truth. If we observe calmly, it will not be hard to see this.
"Subduing Mara's enmities" is to teach us how to elevate our states and how not to retrogress any more. The Diamond Sutra talks about subduing one's mind. This mind [in the Diamond Sutra] is "Mara's enmities" mentioned above. What is this mind? The mind of the ten evils. The mind of wandering thoughts. The mind of afflictions. The mind of delusion. How do we subdue it? With meditative concentration and wisdom.
Therefore, we must cultivate meditative concentration. Only when we have meditative concentration will wisdom arise. When the Buddha taught all beings, his aim was for people to achieve the Three Learnings of precept observation, meditative concentration, and wisdom. Observation of the precepts leads to the achievement of meditative concentration. And from meditative concentration, wisdom arises.
Meditative concentration is pivotal to one's learning and cultivation of Buddhism. Observation of the precepts is the means to achieve meditative concentration. Meditative concentration is the means to uncover wisdom. Uncovering wisdom is the true objective because only wisdom can help us solve all problems. Meditative concentration helps us suppress, subdue, and control Mara's enmities; wisdom helps eliminate them. Therefore, when our wisdom comes forth, the Ten Evil Karmas will become the Ten Virtuous Karmas and one's enemies will become one's great teachers and great supporters. This way, one is transformed from an ordinary person into a sage; suffering is transformed into happiness; and the Ten Dharma Realms are transformed into the One True Dharma Realm.
For every Buddhist school and Dharma door, wisdom is the objective of cultivation and meditative concentration is the key.
The Buddha-name chanting method is the most wondrous method of the eighty-four thousand methods. But after chanting the Buddha-name for a long time, why haven't we achieved meditative concentration? The reason is that we do not have the foundation of precept observation. So, how can we attain the Buddha-name Chanting Samadhi when we have not even achieved Constant Mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha? From this we can see that observation of the precepts is immensely important. The precepts, however, are not limited to the Five Precepts, the Ten Precepts, the Bodhisattva precepts, or the monastic precepts.
Some people think that they are abiding strictly by the precepts and thus feel great about themselves. They often criticize others for breaking the precepts. If this is how they "observe" the precepts, then they will never achieve meditative concentration. Why? Because when they see others transgressing the precepts, afflictions arise, and their minds become disturbed and are no longer pure.
Master Huineng put it aptly, "If one is a true practitioner, one will not see the faults of others." We should strictly adhere to the precepts with a pure mind. We should not be concerned whether others are pure or not, we should just keep our own mind pure.
If we think that we are observing the precepts and yet daily sees the faults of others, such cultivation will bring, at the most, only a little good fortune for us in the next lifetime. In addition, the good fortune may not be enjoyed in the human or heavenly paths because we may not be reborn as a human or heavenly being.
Even animals, such as the pets kept by wealthy families, can have good fortune. In the path of hungry ghosts, there are also those with good fortune. For example, city gods, village gods, and mountain gods all enjoy offerings from people every day. [Good fortune notwithstanding,] when one's cultivation leads one to such a plight, all of one's efforts will be wasted!
Since ancient times in China, there were practitioners, both lay and monastic, who succeeded in their cultivation after three to five years of practice. Why is it that we don't have any success today, even after twenty or thirty years of effort? If we say that it is because our intelligence or wisdom compare with theirs, I don't believe it. If we say that our good fortune cannot compare with theirs, I believe it even less.
What is the reason? It is that the practitioners in the past listened to their teachers, but nowadays we do not. They inherited their teachers' lineage; today people forsake their teachers.
When one's teacher indicates a path for one, a path that will lead to success, [and if one follows that path accordingly,] one then "inherits the teacher's lineage." The teacher would help one lay a foundation for learning and practice. This is the teacher's duty. If one does not have the foundation, one must not leave the teacher, just like a child must not leave its parents. When the child grows up and becomes independent, then he or she will be allowed to leave home.
In the past, one could leave one's teacher only when one had attained fundamental wisdom. Fundamental wisdom is meditative concentration. When one attains meditative concentration, wisdom will arise. When empowered with meditative concentration and wisdom, one will then be allowed to leave one's teacher and travel all over to learn from others.
Take Sudhana's visits to fifty-three teachers, for example. Under the guidance of Manjusri Bodhisattva, he attained fundamental wisdom, which is "with the power of meditative concentration and wisdom." With this ability, he was then allowed to visit fifty-three teachers. His visiting all fifty-three teachers is "subduing Mara's enmities."
The fifty-three teachers represent the fifty-three categories under which all walks of life are subsumed. In other words, we can interact with anyone, whether male or female, young or old, and from any occupation. By doing this, we are perfecting our acquired wisdom.
Remaining unaffected and giving no rise to greed in a favorable situation, and remaining unmoved and not tempted in an adverse situation--this is attaining meditative concentration. In any situation, when one understands and is clear about everything--this is attaining wisdom. Thus, the "power of meditative concentration and wisdom" is the true basis of one's learning and practice.
Nowadays the teacher's lineage is broken. The only remedy is to take an ancient accomplished practitioner as our teacher.
In my life, my greatest good fortune was coming into contact with the tradition of a teacher's lineage. When I was studying Buddhism in Taichung, Mr. Li Bingnan said modestly, "With my knowledge and virtue, I am not qualified to be your teacher." He advised me to take Great Master Yinguang, who was his teacher, as my teacher.
Great Master Yinguang had already passed away, but his writings were still available. Single-mindedly learning and practicing the Collection of Great Master Yinguang's Writings is becoming his student. Reading the great master's books, following his teaching, and practicing accordingly is inheriting the teacher's lineage.
As Pure Land practitioners, we take Amitabha Buddha as our teacher. Where is Amitabha Buddha? He is in the Infinite Life Sutra, the Amitabha Sutra, and the Visualization Sutra. When we single-mindedly and earnestly study these three sutras, we are taking him as our teacher and are his good students.
Chanting the sutras is cultivating the precepts, cultivating meditative concentration, and cultivating wisdom. When chanting a sutra we simply read the words, without thinking of their meaning. Chanting sincerely this way is cultivating the precepts, meditative concentration, and wisdom.
The spirit of the precepts is "do nothing that is bad and do everything that is good." "Do nothing that is bad" is the essence of the Theravada precepts. "Do everything that is good" is the essence of the Bodhisattva precepts. In all the precepts, nothing falls outside of "do nothing that is bad and do everything that is good."
When we respectfully and single-mindedly chant a sutra without wandering thoughts, discrimination, and attachments, then nothing bad is being done. The Theravada precepts are fulfilled. The sutras are words of truth flowing from the Buddha's true nature. Nothing surpasses these words in virtuousness. Therefore, chanting a sutra is "doing everything that is good." All the precepts are thus fulfilled.
Single-mindedly chanting a sutra without wandering thoughts, distractions, or doubt--this is cultivating meditative concentration. From start to finish, enunciating clearly every word without mistake or omission--this is cultivating wisdom: fundamental wisdom. Thus, chanting a sutra is cultivating simultaneously the precepts, meditative concentration, and wisdom.
If we think about the meaning of the sutra while chanting it, it will ruin the cultivation of precept observation, meditative concentration, and wisdom. This is treating the sutra as a worldly book.
Chanting a sutra is cultivating the precepts, meditative concentration, and wisdom, as is sitting in meditation in the Zen school and reciting mantras in Tibetan Buddhism. The methods are different, but the results to be attained are the same. As it is said, "All Dharma doors are equal, and no one Dharma door is superior or inferior to another."
When chanting a sutra, one should focus on chanting. If one wants to study it, one should find another time to do so and should not mix chanting with studying. Otherwise, one will fail completely in both.
When one attains meditative concentration and wisdom, the daily interaction with people and handling of matters and affairs will go smoothly. Obstacles will decrease naturally. One will be able to turn the ten evil thoughts into the ten virtuous thoughts and truly subdue Mara's enmities. Buddhism often talks about "breaking through delusion and attaining enlightenment, and leaving suffering behind and attaining happiness." These effects will truly manifest.
Constantly, they used the Dharma sound to awaken all the worlds.
"Dharma" refers to methods and principles.
The teaching in the previous two excerpts is for self-cultivation and self-benefit. The teaching in this excerpt is for benefiting others. When we benefit from our learning and practice, we should use the experience, through words and our examples, to help others achieve the same results we have.
"All the worlds" refers to the beings in the Nine Dharma Realms.
[They] . . . cleansed dirt and pollution, and revealed cleanliness.
This excerpt is a metaphor. The purpose of our chanting the sutras and the Buddha-name is to cleanse the contamination in our character, thoughts, and views so as to "reveal cleanliness" -- to restore a pure mind.
The full title of the Infinite Life Sutra is Buddha Speaks the Mahayana, Infinite Life, Adornment, Purity, Impartiality, and Enlightenment Sutra.
Purity, impartiality, and enlightenment are the guidelines for learning and practicing. What are we learning? We are learning to (1) cultivate a pure mind, (2) cultivate an impartial mind, and (3) be awakened and not deluded. Purity, impartiality, and enlightenment are one in three and three in one. The Pure Land School focuses on the cultivation of a pure mind. When the mind is pure, the land will be pure. The connection between us and Amitabha Buddha of the Western Pure Land lies in a pure mind.
In the present age, pollution is an extremely serious problem. The whole word is urgently calling for protection of the environment. Scientists also warn that if the pollution on earth is not abated, then in fifty years it will not be a fit place for the human race to live. From this we can see how serious pollution is.
Although many people try to reduce pollution, their efforts produce very little results. Why? Because they only know the phenomena--they do not realize the noumenon [the underlying root cause of pollution]. All the efforts for environmental protection provide only superficial solutions: they do not get to the root cause. What is the root cause? It is the polluted human nature--a polluted mind, polluted thoughts, polluted views, and polluted feelings. This kind of pollution is much more harmful than environmental pollution!
Twenty years ago, when I was at Mr. Fang Dongmei's home one day two officials from the Department of Education happened to be there on a visit. At that time, the Taiwan government was promoting the revival of Chinese culture. An official asked Mr. Fang, "Is there a method that can revive Chinese culture?" Mr. Fang looked very serious and was silent for several minutes. Then he said, "Yes, there is." The officials happily asked him what the method was. He said, "The publication of all the newspapers and magazines in Taiwan must stop. All the television and radio stations must also shut down." Upon hearing this, they shook their heads. "Impossible!" they said. Mr. Fang explained, "Newspapers, magazines, and television and radio programs are polluting the human nature and destroying traditional Chinese culture every day. As long as these things exist, efforts to revive Chinese culture will be ineffective."
This is why I often urge Buddha-name chanting practitioners not to read newspapers and magazines or to watch television, in order to shield their pure mind.
Their minds constantly and truly dwell on the Way to enlighten all beings.
The first of the Four Great Vows is "Sentient beings are innumerable; I vow to help them all." Always having this thought is "the Way to enlighten all beings."
This excerpt is about generating the Bodhi mind--a mind that constantly abides by the Four Great Vows.
But before we can help others, we must first succeed in our practice. The Four Great Vows not only refer to a great Bodhi mind, they also spell out the sequence for our cultivation and attainment. The vows are our guide as well as our driving force.
Cultivation should start with the eradication of afflictions. Following one teacher helps us eradicate afflictions. When we eradicate afflictions completely, Mara's enmities are no more, and we accomplish meditative concentration and wisdom. We next learn the boundless Dharma doors.
People today forsake the first two of the Four Great Vows and start with the third one, "Dharma doors are boundless; I vow to master them all." Many of them spend only a few days learning and then start telling others that they are incarnates of a certain Buddha or Bodhisattva. This is complete nonsense. They are deceiving themselves as well as others.
In the past, when one started to learn Buddhism, one had to first learn the precepts for five years. The precepts refer to the teachings and rules set by the teacher. One had to spend at least five years learning from one teacher before one was able to achieve meditative concentration and wisdom. With this foundation [achievement of meditative concentration and wisdom], one was allowed to learn extensively. In the past, when life was much simpler than today, five years were required for following the teacher's rules. Today, the living environment is very polluted, more than ten times what it was before. Therefore, if five years were required in the past, fifty years are required for learning the precepts today.
But if we tell everyone to do so for fifty years, then no one will want to learn Buddhism.
Therefore, it is best to mindfully chant "Namo Amituofo" unceasingly, and only after we meet Amitabha Buddha do we learn extensively.
Our cultivation of the Four Great Vows should be divided into two stages. Presently, we cultivate only the vows of "helping innumerable sentient beings" and "ending inexhaustible afflictions." When we get to the Western Pure Land, we then cultivate the vows of "learning boundless Dharma doors" and "attaining supreme Buddhahood." This is the correct sequence. If we start with cultivating the last two vows, this will obstruct our Buddha-name chanting practice. This is why it is a matter of immediate urgency to wholeheartedly chant "Amituofo" and seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land.
To all living beings they were friends, [who would help] without being asked.
When teaching all beings, the Bodhisattvas have this vow of compassion: on their own accord, they become good friends to all beings. When we emulate the Bodhisattvas, we should learn to perceive the suitable way and the right time to teach a being. If we do not help this being when the condition is mature, then we would be failing the being. By helping the being when the condition has not matured, we are courting a rebuff.
Every being is different in capacity; additionally, the condition for learning Buddhism is not the same for every being. If a being likes Zen meditation, let the being sincerely cultivate Zen meditation. If a being likes to recite mantras, let the being do so respectfully. All methods are equal, and no one method is superior or inferior to another. To accommodate people with different capacities, the Buddha taught many methods. If a method could help every being, then there would be no need for Sakyamuni Buddha to teach all these methods.
We Pure Land practitioners cannot make people practice the Pure Land method. When someone's condition has matured, we should voluntarily introduce Buddhism to help the person. There are many stages in learning Buddhism. As the person gradually advances in practice, he or she will naturally find the most direct route--the wondrous Pure Land method. Therefore, to help all beings skillfully and expediently, we should be patient.
Great compassion arose from these Bodhisattvas. They empathized with all sentient beings. With a heart of compassion, they lectured on the teachings, taught by example, and also imparted the Dharma Eyes. They blocked all evil paths and opened the door of virtuousness. They regarded all beings as themselves. They rescued and helped living beings and shouldered the burden of helping them all cross over to the other shore.
"Arose" means came forth. The words "taught by example" mean to demonstrate through behavior. "Lectured on" means to speak the Dharma. Not only did the Bodhisattvas teach with words, but they also taught by example. In "imparted the Dharma Eyes," "imparted" means to pass on, "Dharma" means method of practice, and "Eyes" is a metaphor. This metaphor refers to helping others understand the truth of all phenomena and principles.
In "blocked all evil paths," "blocked" means to prevent and be on guard and "evil paths" means the Bad Realms. "The door of virtuousness" means, simply put, the virtuous teachings that enable one to be reborn in the human or heavenly path.
Sentient beings are deluded. They indulge in the Five Desires (wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep) and the Six Dusts (pollutants of the Six Senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought) -- in worldly pleasures. We should generate a mind of great compassion, empathize with sentient beings, and introduce the Pure Land method to them. Compassion and empathy must be put into action. This is enthusiastically propagating the Pure Land method. With all our hearts we must do our best -- we must treat this task as the most important thing in this lifetime.
"With a heart of compassion, they lectured on the teachings, taught by example, and also imparted the Dharma Eyes. They blocked all evil paths and opened the door of virtuousness." These sentences describe the method of teaching. We do not need to be onstage to expound on Buddhism, but we should do so whenever and wherever we encounter someone. We introduce Buddhism to that person in a way that is most suitable for that person. If he or she cannot accept Buddhism at all, simply say "Namo Amituofo." As time goes by and the person gradually understands, that person will also say "Namo Amituofo" the next time we meet. In this way, we will have accomplished our goal. This is just one of many ways.
For example, a practitioner is always happy and healthy, something everyone very much envies. If we are truly healthy and happy, others will surely ask us, "Why are you always happy?" We tell them, "Because I mindfully chant the Buddha-name." Practicing Buddha-name chanting will lead to true happiness and good health. If they feel happy in listening to our explanation, then we are making good use of the opportunity to teach them. "Taught by example" refers to us living a happy, satisfied, and joyful life. This is a good signboard for the Buddha's teaching. When people see this, they will like it and will want this happiness for themselves. Hence, they will want to learn Buddhism.
How does one avoid falling into the evil paths? If one does not create evil karmas, naturally one will not fall into the evil paths. Evil paths are due mainly to evil thoughts--evil thoughts is the cause. Evil conduct is unvirtuous karma and bad retributions will surely follow. The law of cause and effect never fails.
If we do not want to have any bad retributions, we should not have any bad thoughts. With pure and proper thoughts, we will definitely not have any bad retributions.
The words "opened the door of virtuousness" mean urging people to end wrongdoings and to practice virtuous conduct. When people and wrongdoings and practice virtuous conduct, the benefit will go to them; the benefit does not involve us. Those who do this will receive the benefit. It is not that others practice and we benefit. Definitely, when we practice we benefit. When this happens, we are proving to others that good rewards come from ending wrongdoings and practicing virtuous conduct.
There are people who become scared when we tell them about transcending the Three Realms* and attaining Buddhahood. But they get happy when we talk about them becoming immensely rich and important in their next lifetime. When we encounter such people, we should teach them the methods of being born as a human or a heavenly being. There are also people who have great aspirations. They know that the Three Realms are filled with sufferings, and that even in the heavenly path--where good fortune is great and the life span is long--the heavenly beings will still die one day. For these people with great aspirations, their wish is to transcend the Three Realms. We should teach them the methods of transcending the Three Realms. This is a door of great virtuousness.
Frankly, the only method of practice that allows one to succeed in one lifetime is the Buddha-name chanting method. In all my forty-plus years of learning Buddhism, this is what I have realized. The Buddha-name chanting method is truly wondrous. If we introduce it to others, we are opening the door of utmost virtuousness. Nothing is more virtuous than this.
"They regarded all beings as themselves. They rescued and helped living beings and shouldered the burden of helping them all cross over to the other shore." When we treat others like we would treat ourselves, that is, with no difference whatsoever, it is "unconditional compassion for all others as we are all one entity" as taught in Mahayana Buddhism. We should treat all impartially. As long as a person accepts our help, we should wholeheartedly help this person.
Buddhist practitioners should have this vow: help all beings far and wide, uphold the proper teachings, and pass on the Buddha's wisdom to future generations.
*Three Realms: Desire, Form, and Formless realms. The Desire realm consists of the paths of hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, and desire heavens.
The Thus Come One commiserates with the beings in the Three Realms with infinite great compassion. This is why he appears in the world: to expound Buddhist teachings and spread them everywhere, like light; to help all beings; and to bring true benefit to them.
"Light" has the meaning of reaching places far and wide. "Expound" means to teach and to propagate. "Buddhist teachings" refers to the way to transcend life and death and to perfectly attain Buddhahood. "Help" means to save and to rescue. "True benefit" refers to fulfilling the wishes of all beings.
This excerpt explains the reason why the Buddha came to this world. Why did he appear in India and not in China? Although Chinese culture had already existed for a long time, the highest aspiration of the Chinese was to be reborn in the heavens. They did not have the thought of transcending the Three Realms. For rebirth in the human or heavenly paths, Confucian teachings and Taoist teachings were sufficient. Therefore, the Buddha did not need to go there.
At the time in India when Sakyamuni Buddha appeared, many religions were flourishing. The sutras mentioned six major non-Buddhist masters. The practitioners of Brahmanism, the Yoga system, and Samkhya were able to attain very high levels of meditative concentration: they were able to be reborn in the Fourth Formless Heaven, a feat that the Chinese had not been able to accomplish. Frankly, when the Chinese were reborn in the heavens, they could only get to the heavens in the Desire Realm. They could not get to the heavens in the Form Realm.
Indians could be reborn in the heavens in the Form Realm and even in the Formless Realm, but they could not transcend them. They thought that the Fourth Meditation Heaven or the Fourth Formless Heaven was the state of nirvana. It was a great misconception.
Therefore, at that time, only the people in India, out of all the people in the world, had the right capacities and mature conditions. The Buddha "commiserated with the beings in the Three Realms" and appeared there to help them transcend the Six Paths and attain the true Bodhi and nirvana.
The Buddha was impartial. When the conditions of the beings in a place were mature, he would use the most appropriate method to teach them. As stated in "Universal Door Chapter": "For those who will only be liberated upon the manifestation of a Buddha, then the manifestation in the form of a Buddha will appear to present the teachings." In India, they needed a Buddha to teach them and in China, they needed a Bodhisattva. The manifestations were different but the objective was the same. The objective was "to help all beings; and to bring true benefit to them."
If a person wants to be reborn in the heavens, the Buddha will teach the method to that person, and he or she will be truly reborn there. There is bringing true benefit to that person.
The absolutely perfect, true benefit is attaining Buddhahood. Becoming a Bodhisattva of Equal Enlightenment is not yet ultimate and perfect. The Infinite Life Sutra teaches us the method of seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land through belief, vow, and mindful Buddha-name chanting. It is the ultimate and perfect true benefit.
As mentioned in the three Pure Land sutras, we can perfectly accomplish the goal of rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss in one lifetime--without waiting until the next lifetime. There, in the four lands, each with nine grades, the environment as well as all the beings are wondrously magnificent.
The teaching of Sakyamuni Buddha at this Dharma assembly is absolutely true. The Buddha mentioned "true" three times in this sutra. It is very rare for the word "true" to be mentioned three times in a sutra.
May I attain the pure sound of a Buddha and may my Dharma voice spread everywhere limitlessly, propagating the teachings of precept observation, meditative concentration, and diligence. May I thoroughly understand the profound, wonderful Dharma. May my wisdom be as vast and as deep as the sea. May my mind be pure, void of dust and toil. May I transcend boundless doors of the evil paths and quickly reach the shore of ultimate enlightenment. May I be forever free of greed, anger, and ignorance, and with the power of samadhi end all delusions and faults.
"May I attain the pure sound of a Buddha and may my Dharma voice spread everywhere limitlessly." This is a magnificent vow of Amitabha Buddha. The purpose of being a Buddha is to universally help all beings. This is done by lecturing one the Dharma. This verse is even clearer than what Master Huineng said in the Platform Sutra, as it reveals the purpose of becoming a Buddha. We Buddhist practitioners should aspire to this.
We bring nothing with us at birth and we take nothing with us at death. Not fame, nor prestige, nor wealth, nor gain. If every day we wished for them, it would be very foolish of us. As the Diamond Sutra says: "All phenomena are illusory." It also says: "All conditioned existences are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, or a shadow."
Therefore, we should constantly think about spreading the Dharma and benefiting all beings throughout all the Dharma Realms. This way, we will be of the same mind, the same vow, and the same practice as all Buddhas without realizing it. We will definitely attain Buddhahood!
The words "propagating the teachings of precept observation, meditative concentration, and diligence" refer to the Six Paramitas that Bodhisattvas cultivate, which are giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and prajna wisdom.
But only precept observation, meditative concentration, and diligence are listed here. They refer to the Six Paramitas, which are the practice of Mahayana Bodhisattvas. If precept observation, meditative concentration, and wisdom were listed here, then this would be referring to the Three Learnings.
The words "thoroughly understand the profound, wonderful Dharma" means "enlightening the mind and seeing the true nature," as taught in Mahayana Buddhism. If one cannot thoroughly understand the profound, wonderful Dharma, one will not be able to help all beings extensively.
In this sutra, the sense of these words is more thorough, more complete. Based on the principles, method, and level of practice taught in this sutra, we can see that the profound, wonderful Dharma refers to this wondrous teaching of the Pure Land school: "This mind is Buddha, and this mind becomes Buddha. Enlighten the mind and reach the original nature. Mindfully chant the Buddha-name, attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land, and, without retrogression, attain Buddhahood." This teaching is not found in any other Mahayana sutra. The words, "the profound, wonderful Dharma" convey this meaning specifically.
The forty-eight vows open up the supreme Dharma door for us--this is completely the state of Tathagata at the attainment stage. This Dharma door teaches us to mindfully chant the Buddha-name and attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land. This is taking [Amitabha Buddha's] rewards and making them our causes. Great Master Ouyi said that the sentient beings in the Nine Dharma Realms (Bodhisattvas, sound-hearers, Pratyekabuddhas, and the beings in the Six Paths) who rely on themselves alone cannot understand this. That is why this is "the profound, wonderful Dharma."
The Avatamsaka Sutra and the Lotus Sutra are both wonderful Dharma. But when they are compared with the Infinite Life Sutra, the latter is number one. Therefore, the Infinite Life Sutra is "the profound, wonderful Dharma."
It is not hard to believe the teaching in the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, but it is hard to believe the teaching in the Infinite Life Sutra, which is the most hard-to-believe method. Therefore, if we introduce the Infinite Life Sutra to others, it is quite normal that they will not believe it. If a person believes it when we introduce it to them, this person is not an ordinary person. As stated in the Infinite Life Sutra, this is a Bodhisattva who has manifested as a human being; he or she is not an ordinary person.
"May my wisdom be as vast and as deep as the sea." To widely help all beings, one must first help oneself. To help others achieve in their practice, one must first achieve perfect wisdom. In this way, one will have the ability to help others. After stating the great vow of helping others, Dharmakara Bhiksu said that he then sought deep, vast wisdom. This deep, vast wisdom is innate in the true nature, not attained from the outside. How does one attain profound wisdom? The next sentence tells us the method.
"May my mind be pure, void of dust and toil." "Dust" refers to pollutants: when something is tainted with dust, it gets dirty. "Toil" refers to afflictions. In order to restore a pure mind, we must stay far away from all pollutants and eradicate afflictions.
"May my wisdom be as vast and as deep as the sea. May my mind be pure, void of dust and toil." The two sentences complement each other, boundless Dharma bliss will arise. The more one achieves in practice, the more wisdom one will have. The more wisdom one has, the deeper is one's belief and thus the more one will achieve in practice. As one achieves more in practice, one will have even more wisdom. This is how meditative concentration and wisdom complement each other perpetually. When one practices this way, one will transcend all evil paths.
"May I transcend boundless doors of the evil paths." The cause to achieve this is cultivation of a pure mind. Once the mind is pure, all obstacles that prevent us from obtaining good fruits from our cultivation will be eliminated, and one will stay away from the evil paths. When one is free of anger, one will transcend the door of hells. When one is free of ignorance, one will transcend the door of animals. When one is free of greed and miserliness, one will transcend the door of hungry ghosts. Therefore, when one eradicates greed, anger, and ignorance, one will transcend the Three Evil Paths. And if one does not have the slightest yearning for the good fortune in the human and heavenly paths, one will transcend the Six Paths.
The sentence in the excerpt is also a statement of comparisons. When the path of hungry ghosts is compared with the path of hells, the path of hungry ghosts is good and the path of hells is bad. When the path of animals is compared with the path of hungry ghosts, the path of animals is good and the path of hungry ghosts is bad. When the realm of Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas of the Theravada tradition is compared with that of Mahasattvas, the realm of Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas is bad and the realm of Mahasattvas is good. When the realm of Bodhisattvas is compared with that of Buddhas, Buddhas is good. Therefore, "boundless doors of the evil paths" also encompass the realms of sound-hearers, Pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas. Only when one perfectly attains Buddhahood will one transcend the evil paths.
In "quickly reach the shore of ultimate enlightenment," the words "shore of ultimate enlightenment" refer to perfect and complete Buddhahood. In other words, "boundless doors of the evil paths" means that the path of the Bodhisattvas of the Provisional Teaching and all the paths below are bad paths. Therefore, the bad paths include not only the Six Paths but also the realms of sound-hearers, Pratyekabuddhas, and the Bodhisattvas of the Provisional Teaching.
"Forever free of greed, anger, and ignorance" is saying that the three kinds of affliction--Affliction of Views and Thoughts, Affliction of Dust and Sand, and Affliction of Ignorance--are completely eradicated. This is the state of Tathagata at the attainment stage.
The words "with the power of samadhi end all delusions and faults" are saying that one is no longer deluded about anything in this world and beyond. Whether cultivating, teaching, interacting with people, or engaging in tasks, one will definitely not commit wrongdoings. How does one achieve this? With the power of samadhi. "Samadhi" used here refers to the Buddha-name Chanting Samadhi.
The last few sentences [starting from "May my wisdom be as vast and as deep as the sea"] were Amitabha Buddha's guidelines for learning and practice to that of Amitabha Buddha at the causal stage. Do we also seek wisdom as our ultimate goal and seek nothing else?
If one seeks wisdom, one must achieve a pure mind. When one has a pure mind, wisdom manifests. A pure mind is like a mirror. Its function is to see everything clearly in its reflection. This [seeing everything clearly] is having wisdom. If one wants to have a pure mind, one's mind must not be contaminated even in the slightest way -- by mundane teachings (the Five Desires and the Six Dusts) or by supra-mundane teachings (that is, Mahayana, Theravada, True Teachings, or Provisional Teachings). This is very important. One must try to have a mind of the utmost purity, and speech and behavior of the utmost virtuousness.
There are two approaches in learning Buddhism. The first is practice -- here one starts with cultivating a pure mind. The other is understanding -- here one studies the teachings. Which approach is more advantageous? Practice. As long as one has a pure mind, it does not matter that one has no knowledge of Buddhism. If one eradicates affliction, then the mind is pure and the Buddha Land will also be pure. One will be able to attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land.
If one uses the approach of understanding, after one is clear about all the principles, methods, and states, one still needs to practice, starting from the basics. One cannot achieve in one's cultivation with only knowledge and no practice. When one uses the approach of practice, one mainly cultivates mindfulness; understanding of the teachings is supplementary. One need not make painstaking effort to seek understanding -- it will come naturally. Practice is the correct approach. If one uses this approach, whether one reads the sutras or listens to lectures, one will benefit from each particular sentence that one understands. If one does not understand a sentence, it does not matter, as one will understand it when one listens to the lectures again. One will naturally understand after listening to lectures a few times. One need not get stuck on a sentence or a paragraph; otherwise, one's mind will become disturbed.
In the title of this sutra are the words "purity, impartiality, and enlightenment." These three are one in three and three in one. When we attain one, we attain all three. Of the three, cultivating a pure mind is the easiest. The way to cultivate a pure mind is to mindfully chant the Buddha-name. When we are not chanting the Buddha-name, we should listen to the chanting of the Buddha-name. It is best if we can listen to our own chanting. So, we could record our chanting, and when we are not chanting, listen to this recording. This is very effective. This is cultivating a pure mind.
[In the part of the excerpt that talks about Dharmakara Bhiksu's practice for his own enlightenment,] Dharmakara Bhiksu put wisdom as his first priority and the result of his practice is this: with the power of samadhi he ended all delusions and faults. [This samadhi places] equal emphasis on both meditative concentration and wisdom. The purpose [of Dharmakara practicing this way] is tremendously profound. It truly provides a very valuable reference for our learning practice.
In August 1993, Venerable Master Chin Kung gave an eight-hour lecture series titled "Essence of the Infinite Life Sutra" at Ta Kioh Buddhist Temple in San Francisco, USA. The lecture series consist of sixty excerpts that were identified and selected by him from the sutra. Now the excerpts were compiled and translated from his lecture notes which becomes the text "Essence of the Infinite Life Sutra".
See the foreword by Master Chin Kung that introduced the essence of the Infinite Life Sutra.