Excerpts 10 - 15
I will constantly practice the Six Paramitas of giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom. For those sentient beings who are not yet awakened, I will help them attain awakening. For those who are awakened, I will help them attain Buddhahood. Rather than make offerings to sages as countless as the Ganges sands, I would perseveringly and courageously seek proper enlightenment.
The statement, "I will constantly practice the Six Paramitas of giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom" describes the conduct of Bodhisattvas in this world. In other words, it is the standard for their mindset and practice. We should learn this.
"Giving" is letting go--letting go of everything in this world. All the afflictions, even illnesses, birth and death, and the root cause of transmigration come about because one is unwilling to let go of wandering thoughts and attachments. One truly reaps the fruit of one's actions. The purpose of giving is to help one let go of one's concerns, worries, afflictions, wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments.
Many people think that they are walking the Bodhisattva path, practicing giving and making offerings everywhere. But their intent is to gain a lot through giving a little. They give some money because they want to have wealth and give teachings because they want to have intelligence and wisdom.
If one practices giving with such thinking, one is not a Bodhisattva. Such thinking comes from an ordinary being's wandering thoughts of greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance.
The purpose of Bodhisattvas practicing giving is to let go of their wandering thoughts. When they let go of all the wandering thoughts, boundless wisdom, capabilities, and wealth innate in the true nature will naturally manifest. [Once we let go,] there is no longer a need to seek or to cultivate.
When Master Huineng attained enlightenment, he said, "Who would have expected that inherent nature is originally complete in itself? . . . Who would have expected that inherent nature can produce myriad things?" All enjoyment is as one wishes and manifests from one's thoughts.
When the Buddha taught giving, he was teaching us to let go of wandering thoughts and to uncover innate virtues. This is a true benefit.
A big problem with ordinary beings is that we cannot let go. Therefore, we trouble the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to use various expedient means to indirectly and tactfully help us gradually let go. Bodhisattvas set examples with their behavior to teach us to practice giving and to let go of fame, prestige, gain, wealth, the Five Desires, the Six Dusts, affliction, worry, and birth and death. When we let go of everything, we will attain great freedom.
The Diamond Sutra says: "Even the Dharma has to be laid aside, let alone worldly teachings." "Dharma" refers to the Buddha-dharma. One should not be attached to the Buddha-dharma either. Any attachment is a mistake. The Buddha-dharma is like a boat, something we use for crossing a river. Upon reaching our destination, we should let go of the tool that got us there. The Buddha-dharma is to help us overcome difficulties. When we have done so, we should not be attached to the Buddha-dharma and should let go of it too.
"Precept observation" means abiding by laws. When one abides by laws, one will naturally have peace of mind and be free of all fears. Etiquette taught in Confucianism and the precepts taught in Buddhism are the norms for our daily behavior. The most important fundamental precepts set by the Buddha are these four: no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, and no lying. These four offenses are intrinsically wrong. Regardless of whether we have received the precepts, we commit an offense when we do any of these four acts.
The precept of not taking intoxicants is a preventive measure. When we carefully look at people who committed grave offenses, we will see that a lot of them were alcohol-related--one loses reason when drunk. This was why the Buddha included not taking intoxicants as a major precept.
In addition, we should also abide by the country's laws and customs. This way, we will get along harmoniously with others. This is the true meaning of precept observation.
"Patience" is forbearance. The Prajna Sutra says: "All accomplishments are attributed to patience." Therefore, patience requires resolute endurance. Considerable patience is needed for any accomplishment in worldly undertakings, let alone in learning Buddhism. One must be able to exercise patience. When one is patient, one will be able to maintain a tranquil mind and advance in one's cultivation. If one is not patient, one will not have any progress in one's cultivation no matter how diligently one cultivates. Patience requires true effort. It is a prerequisite for meditative concentration.
The Chinese term for "diligence" is jingjin. Jing means "unadulterated" and jin means"making progress." Many practitioners resolve to exert themselves but their efforts are unfocused. They learn many things, but they get all mixed up. This is adulterated progress, so they cannot achieve in their practices.
When one concentrates on one Dharma door, one's progress will be rapid. For example, if a person learns only one sutra, after one year this person will achieve in his or her learning. On the other hand, if another person simultaneously learns ten sutras, his or her achievement in learning cannot compare with that of the person who concentrates on one sutra.
After one learns a sutra, for example, the Amitabha Sutra, and studies it for ten years, wherever one goes in the world, people will say "Amitabha Buddha is here" or "You are Amitabha Buddha manifested." If one learns the Ksitigarbha Sutra for ten years, one will become Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. If one learns the "Universal Door Chapter" for ten years, one will become Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvas. The question is whether one is able to focus on one sutra.
People today like to learn extensively; that is, to learn many things. This concept is wrong, and such thinking will lead to failure--definitely not success.
I had a little exposure to my teacher's lineage. I followed the teaching of my teacher Mr. Li Bingnan but not completely. Had I completely followed his teaching, I would have achieved more than I have today. I am regretful now.
In ten years I learned five sutras under Mr. Li's guidance. He set a rule that a student had to learn one sutra well, before starting the second sutra. What was the criterion for "learning well"? Mr. Li's acknowledgement. If he did not think that the student had learned it well, the student had to continue learning it. As a Chinese saying goes, "If one does not listen to the advice of an elder person, one will soon suffer disadvantages." Young people have little experience and act rashly. They do not believe the experience of older people and thus suffer disadvantages.
"Meditative concentration" means being in control and not being disturbed by the environment. In the Buddha-name chanting method, it is One Mind Undisturbed, which is a pure mind. "Wisdom" is rational and not the same as mundane intelligence. When one has wisdom, one will not make any mistake when interacting with people and engaging in tasks.
The statement "I will constantly practice the Six Paramitas of giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom" talks about the Six Perfections. The first five are about cultivation. When one cultivates according to the methods and principles, wisdom will naturally be uncovered. How does one know when one's wisdom is uncovered? It can be seen in one's daily life. These six are the norms for the daily behavior of a Bodhisattva. When wisdom is present in giving, one will practice giving without being attached to the act of giving-- "the Three Wheels" are essentially empty." [The Three Wheels refers to the person who gives, the person who receives the giving, and that which is given.] This is wisdom. In observing the precepts without attachment to form, one naturally conforms to the standards of the precepts. When wisdom is present in one's activities--in patience, in diligence, and in meditative concentration--the same applies. This way, one will truly be able to leave suffering behind and attain happiness.
"For those sentient beings who are not yet awakened, I will help them attain awakening." For those who have not been in contact with Buddhism, we should find ways and opportunities to introduce Buddhism to them; for those who do not understand Buddhism, we should find ways and opportunities to help them understand Buddhism.
"For those who are awakened, I will help them attain Buddhahood." For those who have learned Buddhism and aspire to quickly achieve in their practice, we should teach them the Buddha-name chanting method to help them achieve in one lifetime.
"Rather than making offerings to sages as countless as the Ganges sands, I would perseveringly and courageously seek proper enlightenment." This sentence is very important. Many people in this world seek good fortune. They make offerings every day in order to get good fortune, longevity, and wealth. The Buddha said that it is better to have firm aspiration and confidence, and courageously and diligently seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land. When one is reborn in the Western Pure Land, one will attain Buddhahood in one lifetime.
The good fortune from making offerings to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is tremendous. But not only can we not make offerings to a Buddha or a Bodhisattva today, we cannot even meet an Arhat or a stream-enterer. The offerings we can make are only to the images of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Is it possible to accrue any good fortune by making offerings to these images? It depends on how we go about making offerings.
The offerings are symbolic. The flowers offered to a Buddha image symbolize cause. Just as a plant blooms first and then bears fruit, fruit symbolizes effect. The flowers offered serve to remind us to have belief, vow, and mindfully chant the Buddha-name. This is cultivating the cause. Attaining rebirth in the Western Pure Land in the future and being close to Amitabha Buddha is the effect. Making offerings in this way will bring good fortune.
The simplest offering is a glass of water. Water serves to remind us to maintain a mind as pure, as impartial, and as tranquil as water--without the slightest dust, pollution, or ripple.
Lamps offered symbolize light. Our minds should be as just and as honorable. We should help others, even at our expense. The lamps offered should be oil lamps. The burning of oil represents sacrificing oneself to illuminate others. This is great compassion. Today, light bulbs are used and this symbolic representation (of the oil lamps) is hardly seen.
Therefore, these things seen in a Buddhist cultivation center are educational in nature and serve to remind the practitioners (of the Buddha's teachings) at all times. But today many people forget the true meaning of the offerings. They use the offerings as a way to fawn on or to ingratiate themselves with Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. A true gentleman in this mundane world would not accept any flattery, let alone Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Hence, we must understand the true meaning of making offerings.
I will constantly use compassion to uproot [the misery of] sentient beings and to awaken the boundless beings who are suffering.
"Constantly' refers to time, and "boundless" refers to space. Time and space cover all manner of beings. Amitabha Buddha, out of great compassion, wants to teach and help all the beings in all the Dharma Realms.
If one wholeheartedly seeks the Way and ceaselessly makes focused and diligent progress, one will surely attain Buddhahood. There is no wish that one cannot fulfill.
It is difficult to attain the Way. When one can attain what is difficult, one can surely attain everything else. But one must first know the principles and methods of seeking. The principles lie in the word "wholeheartedly." "Wholeheartedly" means having a true sincere mind, that is, one with the utmost sincerity. Mr. Zeng Guofan once said, "Not having a single thought arise is called sincerity." Master Huineng said, "Originally, there was nothing at all." This describes the true mind. If one seeks the Way with this mind, one will attain what one seeks because everything in the world is generated by the true mind.
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have extraordinary powers and can make boundless treasures appear. Why is it that they can do so but we cannot? Because their minds are the true mind and ours are the false mind. The true mind can create [everything]. Everything in the Ten Dharma Realms is created by the true mind. The Mahayana sutras say, "All phenomena are created by the true mind and altered by the consciousness."
The beings in the Western Pure Land make food and clothing appear at will. This is because their minds are pure. A pure mind is the true mind. Today, we have numerous wandering thoughts, afflictions, worries, and concerns--we do not have the true mind. The "wholeheartedly" is important.
Learning and practicing Buddhism is nothing other than letting go of wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. When one does so, the true mind will manifest. It is true that "in Buddhism, every wish can be fulfilled."
"Ceaselessly make focused and diligent progress" -- this is how one should seek. When one makes progress, one will not go backward. "Focused" means heading in one direction and towards one goal. Be it Buddhism or worldly pursuits, one will surely succeed in one's seeking. There are many Buddhist practitioners who seek progress in their cultivation but have little success. What is the reason? They learn too many things, and the things they learn are too varied. They are not making focused and diligent progress; instead, the progress they make is unfocused. This is why their efforts are to no avail.
There are many sutras. From the aspect of principle, every method is number one. All methods are equal, and no one method is superior or inferior to another. But from the aspect of phenomena, every person's capacity, intelligence, and living environment differ. They find some methods easier to learn and practice, and others harder. Hence, the question of easiness or difficulty does not lie in the methods. It lies in a person's capacity and living environment.
The Buddha-name chanting method is suitable for everyone to learn and practice regardless of one's capacity. Other methods such as Zen meditation and Tibetan Buddhism are not as easy for one to learn and practice. The Buddha-name chanting method is simple and convenient. It does not matter whether one has a Buddha image at home or if one has flowers to offer. Everyone can learn and practice. This method does not emphasize appearances or learning environment. It is the most convenient method.
Everyone has a different capacity. If one forces oneself to learn an unsuitable method, one will have a difficult time. But if one learns a method that one is interested in, then the learning will be easier. Will one be able to attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land if one practices another method? Yes, one will. It is clearly stated in the Infinite Life Sutra that if a practitioner of another method dedicates merits to be reborn in the Western Pure Land, he or she will attain rebirth there. From this we can see that Amitabha Buddha did not say that one has to learn the Infinite Life Sutra and mindfully chant "Amituofo" to achieve rebirth in the Western Pure Land.
Regardless of which method one learns and practices, one must be able to suppress one's afflictions and vow to seek rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss where one will be close to Amitabha Buddha. If one cannot suppress one's afflictions, one will not be able to attain rebirth there. This is the true requirement.
As long as we grasp the principle of "focused and diligent progress," we will surely achieve in our practice. Ancient accomplished practitioners said that mastering one is more important than studying many. It is also said, "When one masters one sutra, one naturally masters all sutras." If we want to have a deep understanding of the Buddhist Canon, what should we do? Should we learn many or delve deeply into one method?
Historically, many of those who delved deeply into one method achieved in their learning and practice. Of those who learned many methods, very few succeeded in their cultivation. Those who learned a variety of methods and succeeded were exceptionally talented. People who have medium or low capacity do not have the ability to learn many methods and succeed.
Therefore, we should delve deeply into one method.
If one "ceaselessly makes focused and diligent progress, one will surely attain Buddhahood. There is no wish that one cannot fulfill." If we understand the principles and methods, we will be able to fulfill any wish. Be it academics, one's work, or a Buddhist practitioner's cultivation, applying this principle and method will lead to complete success.
It will not be hard to accomplish any undertaking in this world or beyond if we have a sincere mind. What makes it difficult is our deviated thoughts. Obstacles are created by us. Indeed, "no phenomena exist outside the mind; the mind does not exist outside any phenomena." We must understand this.
Dharmakara heard the Buddha's discourse and saw everything shown to him. He aspired to make supreme, wondrous vows. He thoroughly contemplated what was good and bad about heavenly and human beings and what was wonderful and inferior about their lands. He single-mindedly selected what he wanted and formed his great vows. For five kalpas, he diligently sought and explored, respectfully and carefully persevered, and cultivated merits and virtues. He thoroughly understood all the merits and adornments of the twenty-one kotis of Buddha Lands as thoroughly as he understood one Buddha Land. The Buddha Land he created surpassed all Buddha Lands.
"Dharmakara heard the Buddha's discourse." "Dharmakara" was the Dharma name of Amitabha Buddha at the causal stage, when he was a bhiksu. "Heard" refers to listening to his teacher's introduction. Here "Buddha" refers to Lokesvararaja Tathagata, Dharmakara Bodhisattva's teacher.
Dharmakara Bodhisattva told his teacher about his aspirations and asked his teacher to teach him how to fulfill them. When a student has a virtuous and great aspiration, the teacher will always wholeheartedly help the student accomplish it. Therefore, Lokesvararaja Tathagata not only explained to Dharmakara what he wanted to know but also used extraordinary powers to display the Buddha Lands in the ten directions to him, and that allowed him to see them clearly.
At the beginning of the Visualization Sutra, a similar situation is described which was the cause of Sakyamuni Buddha speaking the sutra. Queen Vaidehi encountered family misfortunes. Her son killed his father the king, harmed her, and usurped the throne. Having encountered such great misfortune, she became disheartened and asked Sakyamuni Buddha if there was a better and safer place where she could be reborn. Instead of directing her to one specific Buddha Land, Sakyamuni Buddha displayed all the Buddha Lands in the ten directions for her to choose from. This was the same method that Lokesvararaja Tathagata employed for Dharmakara Bodhisattva.
Queen Vaidehi chose Amitabha Buddha's Western Pure Land. And then Sakyamuni Buddha taught her the method to attain rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. This is essentially the content of the Visualization Sutra.
Lokesvararaja Tathagata displayed all the Buddha Lands in the ten directions to Dharmakara Bodhisattva. After seeing all these, he "aspired to make supreme, wondrous vows. He thoroughly contemplated what was good and bad about their heavenly and human beings and what was wonderful and inferior about the lands." "Their" refers to all the Buddha Lands in the Ten Directions. In the Six Paths in all Buddha Lands there were good and bad beings. This is talking about the living environment, which involves living beings and situations.
The Land of Ultimate Bliss did not come from Amitabha Buddha's baseless imagination or dreams. He truly saw many Buddha Lands, and they all differed vastly from one another. Some lands were very wonderful, and others had many shortcomings. "What was wonderful and inferior about those lands" refers to the material environment [which involves inanimate things]. "Inferior" refers to a very bad environment. "Wonderful" refers to a very good and beautiful environment. The environment of every being is different. The causes every being creates are different and result in different effects [environments]. Dharmakara Bodhisattva understood the principles and truths.
"He thoroughly contemplated ... He single-mindedly selected what he wanted and formed his great vows." How was the Western Pure Land created? Dharmakara Bodhisattva visited various Buddha Lands and adopted their strengths and rejected their shortcomings. In other words, the Land of Ultimate Bliss is an amalgamation of the excellent qualities of all the Buddha Lands.
He saw that all the Buddha Lands in the ten directions had Six Paths, and the suffering was tremendously intense, especially in the Three Evil Paths. Thus he wanted his first vow to be that there would be no Three Evil Paths in the land he would create. This is how this great vow came to be.
The Chinese often say, "Read ten thousand books, travel ten thousand miles." Listening to lectures on the sutras is like reading books, and seeing all the Buddha Lands is like traveling ten thousand miles. Because he heard with his own ears and saw with his own eyes, Dharmakara Bodhisattva's knowledge and wisdom were true. He had such abundant knowledge and experience that the was able, by selection, to create his own land. This was how the Land of Ultimate Bliss came about.
The causes and conditions for how the Land of Ultimate Bliss came about were different from those for the other Buddha Lands. The causes and conditions for the latter were complicated and not simple: good ones and bad ones were mixed together. In the Western Pure Land, Dharmakara chose only pure and virtuous dharmas. His purpose was to provide a wonderful learning and practice environment for the beings from all the Buddha Lands in the ten directions who truly generate the great mind and who aspire to [understand and] transcend the cycle of birth and death, and attain Buddhahood in one lifetime. He wanted to provide the best learning and living environment.
"For five kalpas, he diligently sought and explored, respectfully and carefully persevered, and cultivated merits and virtues."
The words "sought and explored" mean that one needs to clearly recognize and understand the virtuous dharmas and the bad dharmas, and the good and bad retributions. And then one needs to end all wrongdoings and to cultivate all virtues.
The words "respectfully and carefully persevered" mean that one needs to be respectful when interacting with people and engaging in tasks. A respectful mind is the true mind. In addition to being respectful, one needs to carefully persevere, so that one will not lose what one has learned and practiced.
The word "cultivated" means correcting one's faults and applying one's learning to life.
"Five kalpas" is the time Dharmakara spent cultivating and forming vows. There are several ways to measure kalpas. "Increasing and decreasing kalpas" is the one that is most often heard of. Sakyamuni Buddha said that in the Saha world, the shortest life span of humans averages about ten years. At this point, the suffering in this Saha world is tremendously intense. Every one hundred years, the life span increases by one year, until the life span reaches eight-four thousand years. Then subsequently, every one hundred years, the life span decreases by one year until the life span is again down to ten years. One cycle of an increasing and a decreasing life span is a small kalpa. Twenty small kalpas make up one medium kalpa. Four medium kalpas make up one great kalpa. The kalpas mentioned in the Mahayana sutras refer to great kalpas.
Dharmakara Bhiksu spent such a long time cultivating that he was able to truly take in all the strengths of all the Buddha Lands and reject the shortcomings.
"He thoroughly understood all the merits and adornments of the twenty-one kotis of Buddha Lands as thoroughly as he understood one Buddha Land. The Buddha Land he created surpassed all Buddha Lands."
"Twenty-one" is not an actual number. It represents perfection. For example, in the Amitabha Sutra, the number seven represents perfection. It signifies the four directions, the zenith, the nadir, and center. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, ten is used to represent perfection. Counting from one to ten, ten is a complete and perfect number. Ten tens is one hundred, also a complete number.
Tibetan Buddhism uses sixteen and twenty-one to represent perfection.
"The Buddha Land he created surpassed all Buddha Lands." "The Buddha Land he created" refers to the Land of Ultimate Bliss that he established. "All Buddha Lands" refers to the twenty one kotis of Buddha Lands. The Western Pure Land is an amalgamation of the wonderful strengths of all the Buddha Lands. It has all the strengths of the Buddha Lands and is free of all the shortcomings. Naturally, it surpasses all these Buddha Lands and fulfills Dharmakara's great vows. This sentence from the excerpt is saying that the Land of Ultimate Bliss has been created.
The prerequisite for rebirth in the Western Pure Land is a pure mind. When the mind is pure, the land will be pure. The Buddha taught us to cultivate a pure mind with "belief, vows, and practice." True belief, sincerely vowing, and single-mindedly chanting "Amituofo" will help us suppress wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. In doing so, we will meet the initial standards for purity and be reborn [in the Pure Land] in the Land Where Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together.
He dwelt in true wisdom and courageously made focused and diligent progress.
The Buddha mentioned "true" three times in the Infinite Life Sutra. Here, we have "true wisdom."
Of all the teachings, one gets to know Buddhism. Moreover, one learns the Pure Land method of Mahayana teachings. Also one chooses "belief, vow, and Buddha-name chanting" and seeks rebirth in the Western Pure Land, and one's mind steadfastly dwells in this. Such is "dwelling in true wisdom."
In practicing the Pure Land method, one follows the principle of "no doubt, no intermingling, and no interruption." One also diligently learns and practices using the method of "the perfect control of the six senses with continuous pure thoughts" taught by Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva. This is "courageously making focused and diligent progress."
Everything in this world is illusory. We need to be truly awakened! People often say "We bring nothing with us at birth and we take nothing with us at death." Only mindfully chanting the Buddha-name and seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land, where our life span will be as infinite as that of Amitabha Buddha, is real. Without life, everything is futile. This is true wisdom. Nothing is truer than this!
He accumulated and nurtured moral conduct. He gave no rise to any thoughts of greed, anger, ignorance, or desire. He was not attached to form, sound, smell, taste, texture, or mind object.
Accumulating merits and virtues should start with "giving no rise to any thoughts of greed, anger, ignorance, or desire" as well as "not being attached to form, sound, smell, taste, texture, or mind object." When there is no greed, anger, ignorance, desire, or wandering thoughts, and when one does not yield to external temptations--this is merit. If one cultivates this way, one will attain a pure mind, from which wisdom will arise.
When one has meditative concentration and wisdom, one has great benefit. Meditative concentration and wisdom come forth when the true mind is active. As a result, one is able to control one's destiny anywhere in the universe. When one does not have meditative concentration and wisdom, one is controlled by affliction and temptation. This is pitiable.
Therefore, cultivation is nothing but this: internally, ridding oneself of greed, anger, and ignorance; and externally, cutting off all temptations.
This excerpt teaches us a principle of learning and practice. When we have "thoughts of greed, anger, ignorance, or desire," our behavior will not be proper and will need reforming. This excerpt is the standard for [differentiating between] proper and deviated.
Master Huineng said, "Originally, there was nothing at all." He was talking about the true mind because there is nothing in the true mind. Greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance are the false mind. Because these illusory things are there, even though we have the true mind, it is unable to function. When we eradicate greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance, our minds will become pure. Even when forms, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and mind objects from the external environment try to tempt us, we will not have any thoughts of greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance.
The major sutras say, "All beings are Buddhas in nature." So why have we become the way we are? The Avatamsaka Sutra puts it aptly: it is because of wandering thoughts and attachments. Wandering thoughts are ignorance. Attachments turn into greed and anger. These are the root problems of sentient beings.
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.