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Buddhism of Wisdom & Faith: Pure Land Principles and Practice
Dharma Master Thich Thien Tam
Translated and edited by the Van Hien Study Group
Sutra Translation Committee of the United States and Canada
(1)Noumenon/Phenomena: a crucial distinction for understanding this text.
(2) As Buddhist practice is basically a question of skillful means or expedients, "fingers pointing to the moon," the level of cultivation (noumenal or phenomenal) of an Elder Master is not necessarily known to his followers. Witness the following passage, describing the last moments of the Patriarch Honen, founder of the Pure Land school in Japan:At the hour of the serpent (10 a.m.), on the same day, his disciples brought him an image of Amida, three feet high, and as they put it on the right side of his bed, asked him if he could see it. With his finger pointing to the sky he said, "There is another Buddha here besides this one. Do you not see him?" Then he went on to say, "As a result of the merit of repeating the sacred name, I have, for over ten years past continually been gazing on the glory of the Pure Land, and the very forms of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, but I have kept it secret and said nothing about it. Now, however, as I draw near the end, I disclose it to you." The disciples then took a piece of cord made of five-colored strands, fastened it to the hand of the Buddha's image, and told Honen to take hold of it. Declining, he said, "This is the ceremony for most men, but hardly necessary for me." (Rev. Harper Havelock Coates and Rev. Ryugaku Ishizuka, tr. Honen, the Buddhist saint: his life and teaching, p. 636.)(3) Practitioners must exercise utmost caution when choosing a Dharma teacher as in Buddhist teaching, the commitment entered into with that teacher extends through many lifetimes.
(4) Complete faith, or utter sincerity, or singlemindedness, or one-pointedness of mind: in practice, these expressions are used interchangeably, as a cultivator cannot have complete faith without being utterly sincere and singleminded (and vice versa). See also note 37.
(5) See Glossary, "Awakening vs. Enlightenment."
(6) The author went on to suggest that Zen might be revived in Vietnam, as a result of the development of Buddhism in the country as well as the influence of monks and nuns returning from Japan and Theravada countries. However, he felt that most cultivators would only be able to follow the practices of Samatha-Vipasyana or the Four Meditations-Eight Samadhis. Few could hope to succeed in kung-an Zen or in the Zen of the Patriarchs, as in earlier centuries. See also the following passage:After the Sung period (960-1279) there were indeed first-rate Zen masters directing their disciples along the proven path to Zen enlightenment ... but decline was also evident. Lacking genuinely creative figures, the movement began to stagnate ... In later popular Buddhist religion, which consisted mainly of the Amida cult, Zen -- by nature somewhat elitist -- was able to carry on only at the cost of denying some of its elements. (Heinrich Dumoulin, Zen Buddhism, Vol. I, p. 287.)(7) Non-retrogression in cultivation is one of the most important advantages of rebirth in the Pure Land (compared with rebirth in celestial realms, for example).
(10) See Glossary, "Awakening vs. Enlightenment."
(11) Merit and virtue: these two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there is a crucial difference: merits are the blessings of the human and celestial realms; therefore, they are temporary and subject to Birth and Death. Virtues, on the other hand, transcend Birth and Death and lead to Buddhahood. An identical action can lead either to merits or virtues, depending on the mind of the practitioner, that is, on whether he is seeking mundane rewards (merits) or transcendence (virtues). Thus, the Pure Land cultivator should not seek merits because by doing so, he would remain within samsara. This would be counter to his very wish to escape Birth and Death.
(12) Bodhi Mind: also translated as "Bodhicitta," "Bodhi Resolve" or "aspiration for Supreme Enlightenment." See also Glossary.
This section touches on a cardinal feature of Buddhism, as expressed in numerous Mahayana scriptures, such as the Lotus Sutra: the true intention of the Buddhas is not simply to rescue sentient beings, who, once saved, play a secondary, subservient role; rather, it is to help sentient beings attain Enlightenment and Buddhahood, i.e., to become equal to themselves in all respects. This is a unique and revolutionary feature of Buddhism.
(13) See Glossary, "Skillful means." See also the following explanation of the expression "skillful means are the ultimate," by Kukai (774-835), the founder of the Japanese Shingon, or Esoteric school:Kukai interpreted the last phrase in two ways. One stresses the imperative sense that skillful means should lead to ultimate enlightenment. The other emphasizes the declarative sense that skillful means themselves are the ultimate. The former expresses the view of self-benefit in seeking enlightenment, and the latter, the view of enlightenment fulfilled in compassion toward others. (Taiko Yamasaki, Shingon. Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, p. 105.)(14) Unfavorable expedients: a severe illness, a sudden death or even loss of a job may sometimes jolt the practitioner out of his usual complacency and remind him of the need to cultivate.
Note: whether an unfavorable event is good or bad for one's cultivation depends, in the final analysis, on one's own outlook, one's mind. It can be either an expedient, to help one attain the Way or a "demon," hindering cultivation See also section 63, point 4.
(15) Buddhist cultivation entails ridding ourselves of all attachments, beginning with attachment to our own body and mind (mark of self). (Once this is achieved, we will be able to transcend attachment to family and friends (mark of others), attachment to sentient beings other than family and friends (mark of sentient beings) and finally, attachment to the duration of our life (mark of lifespan). The more successful our cultivation is, the more detachment we achieve, the calmer our mind becomes and the closer we are to the Way.
(17) Perseverance is an especially important quality in Buddhism. For example, if we were to rub two pieces of wood together but before fire is produced, we stop to do something else, only to resume later, we would never obtain fire. Likewise, a person who cultivates sporadically (e.g., on weekends or during retreats) but neglects daily practice, can seldom achieve lasting results.
(18) The truth being one and indivisible in Buddhist teaching, a "discriminating" mind can never grasp the whole truth. Thus, such an approach is bound to result in an imperfect understanding of the world as it really is. This is best expressed by the parable of several blind men trying to describe an elephant, each touching a different part of the animal, with no one having the total picture.
(19) There is no distinction between the savior and the saved because at the transcendental level of the Arhats and above the ego has been transcended. It is just like the two hands. Because they belong to the same person, one would automatically clasp the other if hurt and neither would hold a grudge against the other for accidentally striking it (when missing the head of a nail, for example).
(21) At the noumenon level, all pure lands are equal. However, to give practitioners an anchor upon which they can easily focus their minds, the Western Pure Land is singled out. See also note 30 below.One must paste the words "life-death" on the forehead, and regard them as seriously as if one owed a debt of a millions taels. (Sung-peng Hsu, A Buddhist Leader in Ming China, p. 130.)(23) The existence or non-existence of the Pure Land is a question the answer to which depends on the practitioner and his level of cultivation. Consider the following exchange between two Zen monks:Disciple: "Master, does the Pure Land exist?"Buddha Sakyamuni taught that ultimately, we are all living in a big Dream. Within this Birth and Death Dream, everything, ourselves and all dharmas exist. In this sense, the Pure Land also exists.
Master: "Does this world exist?"
Disciple: "Of course it does, Master."
Master: "If this world exists, then the Pure Land exists all the more."
This is not unlike a child who has no chocolate at all dreaming of receiving, for example, ten boxes of chocolates. If upon "awakening," he finds himself with even one box, it can only mean that he is still dreaming. Otherwise, there should be no box of chocolates at all, as everything was just a dream.
Likewise, when we still grasp at the self and still see this world as existent, we are still dreaming the big Dream and therefore everything, including the Pure Land, exists. Only those sages and saints who have transcended all notion of self and dharmas can proclaim that there is no Pure Land (see also this book section 19, question 1 and section 47).
On this point, see also the words of the eminent Zen Master Chu Hung (16th century):Some people say that the Pure Land is nothing but mind, that there is no Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss beyond the trillions of worlds of the cosmos. This talk of mind-only has its source in the words of the sutras, and it is true, not false. But those who quote it in this sense are misunderstanding its meaning.(24) An externalist is someone who does not believe in or follow Buddhist teaching, which can be defined as any teaching conforming to the Dharma seals. (Sakyamuni Buddha taught three "seals," or criteria, to determine the genuineness of Buddhist teachings, namely, impermanence, suffering, no-self. A fourth criterion, emptiness, is also mentioned in the sutras and encompasses the other three.)
Mind equals object: there are no objects beyond mind. Objects equal mind: there is no mind beyond objects. Since objects are wholly mind, why must we cling to mind and dismiss objects? Those who dismiss objects when they talk of mind have not comprehended mind. (J.C. Cleary, Pure Land, Pure Mind, unpub. manuscript.)
(25) True realization of cause and effect can free us from a most pervasive affliction: anger and resentment. Once, it is said, Buddha Sakyamuni was falsely accused of fathering a certain woman's child. When the deceit was discovered, the Buddha's followers wanted to beat the culprit to death. The Buddha calmly stopped them, saying:"Oh, Bhikkus, in a previous lifetime when I was a king, I was once in a grove together with my courtiers. At the sight of an ascetic, the ladies of the party surrounded him, turning their backs on me. Jealous and angry, I exclaimed, 'How do you know that this ascetic is not a fake? How do you know that he does not spend his nights revelling with women?' It is because of that slanderous remark that I have now had to endure that woman's deceit. Oh, monks, release her and let her go in peace."In the Buddhist world view, nothing happens without cause. To escape suffering, we must stop causing further suffering. Acting otherwise is no different from trying to escape one's shadow by running in the blazing sun!
(26) These heterodox practices are known today under a variety of names, such as polarity therapy, Dr. Randolph Stone's method, life energy healing arts, spiritual/energy healing, healing ministry, laying on hands ministry.
The reason many externalists take the appearance of monks and nuns is that Buddhism is widely known and respected in Asia. To be taken for a monk or nun is to gain entry to the heart -- and purse -- of the populace.This section was of great interest to me. I am one of those who in the ordinary frame of mind understands the Pure Land as a metaphor, a "guided visualisation" for advanced meditators. This may have been the original approach to Pure Land practice. But, once in a state of deep meditation, I became convinced that the Pure Land is an actual state of existence, beyond the manifestation of the physical universe. It is analogous to the electromagnetic spectrum. By changing the frequency, x-rays become visible light or infra-red waves (heat), etc. Just as matter and energy are manifestations of the same reality (Einstein), so, too, the Pure Land and our earthly existence are related. (Private communication from Mr. D. Bakhroushin of New York City.)(29) See notes 23 and 28, section 48, as well as the related passage below:In secular western thought awareness of psychological projection as a source of supernatural being has served to demythologize demons, goblins, angels and saints and rob them of their power. The Bardo Thodol [Tibetan Book of the Dead], however, speaks of the deities as "projections" but never as "mere projections." The deities are present and must be dealt with religiously ... not just by intellectual insight."(30) According to Buddhist teaching, there is an infinite number of pure realms or pure lands in the cosmos. In this text, the term Pure Land, when capitalized, refers to the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha, the Western Pure Land. See also note 21.
(D.G. Dawe in The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, p. 93.)To have no thought is correct mindfulness. If there is thought, mindfulness is incorrect. (J.C. Cleary, private communication.)Note also the explanation of a modern Chinese scholar:To have "no-thought," ... is "not to allow the mind to be contaminated by various objects," and to be "ever detached from objects." (Fung Yu-Lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy. Vol. II, p.395.)Hui Neng (638-713) is the Sixth Patriarch of the Chinese Zen school. The Platform Sutra, which records his sermons and sayings, is a standard Zen text and has been canonized in the Tripitaka.
(33) "Marks." Forms, characteristics, physiognomy. Marks are contrasted with essence, in the same way that phenomena are contrasted with noumenon. Real Mark stands for True Form, True Nature, always unchanging. The Real Mark of all phenomena is like space: always existing but really empty; although empty, really existing. The Real Mark of the Triple World is No-Birth/No-Death, not existent/not non-existent, not like this/not like that Real Mark is also called "Self-Nature," "Dharma Body," the "Unconditioned," "True Thusness," "Nirvana," "Dharma Realm."
At the highest or transcendental level, all attachments (even to the loftiness of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas) have to be discarded if the Way is to be attained. Thus, Master Pei Ta wrote the names of Manjusri and Samantabhadra, two of the most revered Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana Canon, on his underpants to demonstrate the need to sever all attachments. Please note that such actions are not to be condoned in the case of ordinary persons such as ourselves.
For a glimpse of why we should not blindly borrow the words of the sages or emulate their extraordinary actions, see the following passage concerning Kumarajiva, the renowned T'ang Dynasty monk (who masterly translated some thirty-five sutras into Chinese):When Kumarajiva went to China in the fourth century of this era, the Chinese Emperor thought that such a wise person ought to have descendants so that his wisdom would carry on. He gave concubines to Kumarajiva, and since they were a royal gift, Kumarajiva had no choice but to accept them. Afterwards, his disciples asked, "Can we have relations with women too?"(35) See Glossary, "Dharma-Ending Age."
Kumarajiva said, "Sure, but first, let me show you something." He took a handful of needles and ate them as easily as if they were noodles. When he finished, he said, "If you can do that, then you can have relations with women." (Sheng-yen, The Sword of Wisdom, p. 229.)
(36) This passage has also been translated as follows: "Better you should speak of existence on the scale of the polar mountain, than speak of non-existence to the extent of a mustard seed." (J.C. Cleary, Pure Land. Pure Mind. Unpub. manuscript.)
(37) For heuristic reasons, Dharma Masters explain Faith, Vows and Practice separately, emphasizing the crucial nature of each one. However, these three preconditions for rebirth in the Pure Land are one and indivisible. True Faith naturally leads to Vows and Practice, while correct Practice cannot exist independent of Faith and Vows. As the Patriarch Yin Kuang once wrote:The true Pure Land practitioner always fully combines the three criteria of Faith, Vows and Practice during recitation. He is like an infant longing for his mother. When, lonely and crying, he searches for her, he certainly never lacks Faith or the desire (Vow) to see her. Therefore, why do you ask whether "Vows and Practice come separately or together"?(38) Ordinary blessings are considered delusive because they are likely to lead to the creation of bad karma in future lifetimes. See also Glossary, "Third Lifetime."
(39) See note 37 above.
108 recitations: another commonly cited figure, equivalent to the number of beads in a long rosary.
The real mark is apart from marks; it is not attached to any distinguishing characteristics. It has left all dharmas behind, and swept away all marks. This is the investigation of the dhyana [Zen] Dharma-door. Those who truly practice dhyana truly chant the Buddha's name as well. Those who can really recite the Buddha's name are, in fact, investigating dhyana. Dhyana practice and Buddha Recitation both help you to stop your idle thoughts and sweep away your personal desires and random thoughts, so that your original face can appear. This is called real mark recitation. (Hsuan Hua, Buddha Root Farm, p. 41.)The threefold truth refers to emptiness, conditional existence and the Middle Way, meaning that things are not ultimately existent or non-existent ... The three contemplations: contemplation of the emptiness of conditional things, the relative existence of conditional things, and the Middle Way which is between or beyond being and nonbeing ... The scheme of three truths and three corresponding contemplations is a format used by the T'ien-t'ai school. (Thomas Cleary, Entry into the Inconceivable: an Introduction to Hua-Yen Buddhism, p. 212.)(45) See also Wong Mou-Lam, Op. cit., p. 56-57.
The Buddha said: "A shramana who practices the Way should not be like an ox turning a millstone. Such a one practices the Way with his body, but his mind is not on the Way. If the mind is concentrated on the Way, what need is there to practice?" (Hsuan Hua, A General Explanation of the "Sutra in Forty-two Sections," p. 81.)It is as if there is a great scripture(48) The basic goal of Buddhist teachings is to keep the mind empty and still so that our innate wisdom can manifest itself. (A Buddha is all wisdom at all times.) Thus, Buddhism fosters practices and habits that subdue passions and simplify life, freeing the cultivator for spiritual pursuits. It is in this context that sexual desire, excessive rest and sleep, etc. are considered afflictions. Note: section 35 as a whole is geared to the advanced practitioner!
Equal in extent to a universe
Existing inside one atom
And in all atoms as well;
Someone with intelligence and wisdom
Sees all clearly with pure eyes
And breaks the atoms, releasing the scripture
For the benefit of all beings,
Is in all beings' minds.
(Thomas Cleary, tr. The Flower Ornament Scripture [Avatamsaka Sutra]. Vol. II, p. 317.)
This big sutra is wordless, but it also has boundlessly many words ... The true wordless sutra is just the mind-sutra. What is the mind-sutra? It is the embodiment of the tenet that everything is made from mind alone ... It's when a single thought does not arise. If not one thought arises, what words could there be? ... If you can't manage not to have a single thought arise, then you should create more merit and virtue, nurture your basis for Bodhi and foster your Bodhi way. (Hsuan Hua.)
(49) According to Buddhist (and Taoist) teachings, it is because we have a body that we suffer. Therefore, the true cultivator, when ill, should always remind himself of the need to escape this body and transcend Birth and Death.
(50) When the practitioner sees the signs of impermanence (e.g., parched skin, gray hair) he should redouble his efforts at cultivation, so as to escape Birth and Death. This is, of course, the opposite of common, everyday behavior, which consists in hiding the truth -- coloring one's hair, for example.
(51) Our bodies, our emotions, our environment all exist but their existence is not permanent or absolute. Therefore, in Buddhism, they are said to be illusory but not non-existent. See also Glossary, "Illusion."
(53) Perhaps a correct response on the monk's part would have been to remain silent, while keeping his mind empty and still. See also Glossary, "Vimalakirti Sutra."If an enlightening being conceives a single feeling of anger toward enlightening beings, that produces a million obstacles... Why? I do not see anything that is as big a mistake as for enlightening beings to become angry at other enlightening beings. Therefore, if great enlightening beings want to quickly fulfill the practices of enlightening beings, they should diligently practice ten principles: in their minds, they should not abandon sentient beings; they should think of enlightening beings as buddhas; they should never slander any teachings of the buddhas, they should know that there is no end to different lands they should be profoundly devoted to enlightening practices; they should not give up the cosmic, space-like, impartial mind of enlightenment; they should contemplate enlightenment and enter the power of buddhas; they should cultivate unobstructed intellectual and expository powers; they should teach and enlighten beings tirelessly; they should live in all worlds without attachment in their minds. (Thomas Cleary, Op. cit., p. 266.)(56) The difference between personal and common karma can be seen in the following example: Suppose a country goes to war to gain certain economic advantages and in the process, numerous soldiers and civilians are killed or maimed. If a particular citizen volunteers for military service and actually participates in the carnage, he commits a personal karma of killing. Other citizens, however, even if opposed to the war, may benefit directly or indirectly (e.g., through economic gain). They are thus said to share in the common karma of killing of their country.
(57) Proclaiming the errors of others, whether true or not, is an offense for two main reasons: i) the mind of the "proclaimer" is no longer empty and still, but tarnished by dislike or scorn; ii) the "transgressor" and those who hear of the errors may grow discouraged, abandon further cultivation and retrogress -- thus, potential Buddhas are lost.
(59) "All eagerness for study gone": the goal of all Buddhist teaching is to stop the mind from wandering, keeping it empty and still, so that our innate wisdom can surface. In that context, love, hatred and eagerness to study are all attachments that disturb the mind.
"Eating when hungry, sleeping when tired": this Zen statement, which usually baffles non-Buddhists, actually reflects a deep truth. Most people do not eat when hungry, that is, they do not eat what is available or what is good for them, but rather seek special dishes prepared to their taste. Likewise, they do not sleep when tired, but are likely to do other things, such as tossing and turning in bed recalling past wrongs or mulling over future events.
(60) This is a key Buddhist teaching: every action has its source in a single thought. For example, while studying for his examination, a student may suddenly have the thought that there is a good movie to be seen. Later, if the conditions allow it (a friend calls to suggest going out), he may close his books, abandon his efforts to study and possibly, fail his examination, drop out of school, etc.
(61) According to one definition, Pratyeka Buddhas are "those who live in a world where there is no Buddha and awaken by themselves to the truth of impermanence by observing natural phenomena, such as the scattering of blossoms or the falling of leaves " (A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts, p. 344.)Amida Buddha is not far from anyone. His Land of Purity is described as being far away to the west but it is, also, within the minds of those who earnestly wish to be born there... To those who have faith, He offers the opportunity to become one with Him. As this Buddha is the all-inclusive body of equality, whoever thinks of Buddha, Buddha thinks of him and enters his mind freely.(63) As everything is mind-made, the practitioner sees the marks of men and women because of his own latent lust.
This means that when a person thinks of Buddha, he has Buddha's mind in all its pure and happy and peaceful perfection. In other words, his mind is a Buddha-mind. (The Teaching of the Buddha. Tokyo: Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai.)
From the ultimate standpoint, the Pure Land is not to be taken as an existent place in the way ordinary beings are predisposed to understand it. The admonition against such a view of the Pure Land is found in the following passage: "A foolish person in hearing birth in the Pure Land understands it as birth and in hearing non-birth understands it as nonbirth. He thus fails to realize the identity of birth and non-birth and of non-birth and birth" ... Having said that, however, the Pure Land proponents acknowledge that the capacity of ordinary, unenlightened people is such that they have no choice but to regard the Pure Land as optically existent ... The objective presentation of the Pure Land accords with the emotional and intellectual make-up of ordinary beings whose capacity affords only a literal understanding of the sutra description ... Only through their relationship with the Pure Land of form can the ultimate reality be realized.
But the question remains as to how beings are able to realize enlightenment through grasping at forms of Pure Land, which strikes as being antithetical to the fundamental Buddhist practice. T'ao-Ch'o [a Pure Land Patriarch] argues: "Although this is grasping onto form, such grasping does not constitute binding attachment. In addition, the form of the Pure Land being discussed here is identical to form without defilements, form that is true form ... It is like lighting fire on top of ice. As the fire intensifies, the ice melts. When the ice melts, then the fire goes out ..." According to this explanation, an ordinary being is able to engage the ultimate realm without that person fully understanding the ultimate nature. This process skillfully uses the form (rooted in truth) to transcend form in order to enter the formless. When the formless is attained, the previous attachment to form disappears ... (Kenneth K. Tanaka, "Where is the Pure Land?" in Pacific World, Fall 1987.)
As we recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha," we each create and adorn our own Land of Ultimate Bliss. We each accomplish our own Land of Ultimate Bliss which is certainly not hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands from here. Although it is far away, it doesn't go beyond one thought. It's not hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands from here, it's right in our hearts. The Land of Ultimate Bliss is the original true heart, the true mind, of every one of us. If you obtain this heart, you will be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. If you don't understand your own original true heart, you will not. The Land of Ultimate Bliss is within our hearts, not outside ... Amitabha Buddha and living beings do not discriminate between this and that, for the Land of Ultimate Bliss is not so far away. In one thought, turn the light within. Know that you are the Buddha, and your original Buddhahood is just the Land of Ultimate Bliss. (Hsuan Hua, A General Explanation of the Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra, p. 110.)In 1931, on the day of 17th November, I prayed to Buddha Amitabha, saying: "I have recited Thy Holy Name for one year and I have not received any answer from Thee, as to whether I will have a chance of re-birth to be born from the Lotus-flower. Today being the date in Thy honour, may I be favoured [with] a sign from Thee, to encourage me and give me strength." At night of the same day, when I went to bed, [I] had a dream that I saw something floating on the surface of the water of a lake. I could not see clearly what it was. Then I went forward to have a close look, and I clearly beheld them. They were all the sprouts of the lotus ... (P.C. Lee, The Two Buddhist Books in Mahayana.) Available in university libraries.(65) Discussions on such subjects as the rise and fall of countries and empires are not recommended because they tend to disturb the mind, diverting it from the larger issue of how to escape Birth and Death.
(67) Cultivators should exercise wisdom in receiving the teachings, carefully distinguishing the true from the false and the deviant. See the following passage, by the late founder of the Buddhist Lodge and Buddhist Society (London), on the true goal of all Buddhist practice:In the West, the need for some guidance in mind-development was made acute ... by a sudden spate of books which were, whatever the motive of their authors, dangerous in the extreme. No word was said in them of the sole right motive for mind-development, the enlightenment of the meditator for the benefit of all mankind, and the reader was led to believe that it was quite legitimate to study and practice mindfulness, and the higher stages which ensue, for the benefit of business efficiency and the advancement of personal prestige. In these circumstances, Concentration and Meditation ... was compiled and published by the [British] Buddhist Society, with constant stress on the importance of right motive, and ample warning of the dangers, from a headache to insanity, which lie in wait for those who trifle with the greatest force on earth, the human mind. (Christmas Humphreys, The Buddhist Way of Life, p. 100.)Most ancient masters, including such towering figures as the Patriarch Dogen, the founder of the Japanese school of Soto Zen, held that only monks and nuns could achieve Enlightenment through Zen. (See, for example, Kenneth Kraft. Zen. Tradition and Transition. p. 186.)This [Pure Land] Dharma-door fights poison with poison. False thinking is like poison, and unless you counter it with poison, you will never cure it. Reciting the Buddha's name is fighting false thinking with false thinking. It is like sending out an army to defeat an army, to fight a battle to end all battles. If you have a good defense, other countries won't attack. Constant recitation drives out false thinking so that you may attain the Buddha-recitation samadhi. (Hsuan Hua, A General Explanation of the Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra, p. 42.)(71) This story of the Patriarchs Asanga and Vasabhandhu is particularly interesting as they were the founders and main exponents of the Yogacara or Mind-Only school (which flourished in the 6th century A.D.). The school teaches that everything is a projection of the mind and stresses the practice of meditation. Yogacara has had a strong influence on Zen.
(74) Master Arya Simha lived in Central Asia during the sixth century A.D. While he was preaching Buddhism in Kashmir, King Dammira, an enemy of Buddhism, razed temples and murdered a number of monks. When he finally beheaded Master Arya Simha, it was said that pure white milk gushed from Arya Simha's neck.
The Patriarch Hui Ku (Hui K'o) was the Second Chinese Patriarch after Bodhidharma.
The Patriarchs Arya Simha and Hui K'o and the Elder Maudgalyayana are all revered figures in Mahayana Buddhism. Through their symbolic deaths, sentient beings are taught the crucial importance of adhering to the precept against killing -- a cornerstone of Buddhist ethics.
(76) See Glossary, "Illusion."
(78) In Buddhism, right thoughts are crucial at the time of death as they play a major role in our future rebirth. Those who have cultivated throughout life naturally develop right thoughts at the time of death. Most of the advice given in this chapter is directed at non-practitioners or those whose practice is perfunctory, as help of last resort, to maximize their chance of rebirth in a favorable realm.
(79) Love-attachment (to family and possessions), the strongest obstruction faced by human beings, is considered one of the greatest dangers at the time of death (see note 73).
The phrase "rebirth as a dog or snake" can be understood as vivid imagery. Any realm being ultimately Mind, a "dog" is "someone" who, at a certain time, experiences overpowering greed and must constantly watch over his property; a "snake" may represent a person afflicted by extreme anger.
(80) Like birds faced with the hunter's gun (which should all scatter, each for itself, and try to regroup later, after the danger has passed), dying practitioners should think of their salvation first, to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. (Incidentally, this is exactly the advice given to airline passengers in case of emergency.) Once reborn in the Pure Land, the cultivator should, of course, aim to rescue all sentient beings.If your illness becomes serious, and you are facing the end, your relatives should not weep or wail or utter sounds of lamentation and distress. This may throw your mind into confusion and make you lose correct mindfulness. They should just join together and recite the Buddha-name to help you to go to the Pure Land. Only after your breathing has stopped for a long time can they weep and wail.Note: Love-attachment is, along with killing, one of the two major impediments to rebirth in the Pure Land. (See, for example, Hsuan Hua, tr. The Sutra in Forty-Two Sections, p. 64.)
As soon as there is the least bit of longing for the world, it immediately becomes an obstruction, and you will not achieve liberation. If you find people who clearly understand the Pure Land [i.e. good spiritual advisors], let them come frequently to urge you on and encourage you. This would be a great good fortune. (J.C. Cleary, Pure Land, Pure Mind , unpub. manuscript.)
In this instance, this sutra should be recited once in a loud voice before the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and possessions which the sick one loves, such as clothing ... should be offered, saying in a voice before the sick person, "I, so-and-so, before this sutra and image, give all these items on behalf of this sick person." ... The sick [cultivator] should be told three times of the offerings that are being made so that he may hear and know of them. (Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva [Ksitigharba Sutra]: the Collected Lectures of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua, p. 158.)
See also the same Sutra under the title The Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigharba's Fundamental Vows, Sutra Translation Committee of the United States and Canada, p. 54-55.
(83) This situation is akin to that of the traveler who has just spent an entire week driving from New York to San Diego and then, just before reaching his destination, takes a wrong turn and winds up across the border in Mexico!
The reader may wish to contrast these guidelines with certain other practices which tend to foster attachment:In Philip Roth's book, [Patrimony -- a True Story] a prodigious teller gives us his father's experience of this new landscape of death and his own. Here the old intimation of mortality has yielded to the physician's second opinion. The last words, the blessing of the young, the washing of the body, the coins on the eyelids, the deathbed confession, the deathbed reconciliation and the deathbed farewell have been succeeded or crowded by the I.V., the respirator, the feeding tubes in the nostrils, the living will, the hospital roommate, the nurses. (New York Times Book Review, January 6, 1991, p. 1.)(84) King Ajatasatru, after usurping his father's throne, ruled for a number of years before becoming incurably ill at age fifty. He then converted to Buddhism and became a well-known disciple of Sakyamuni Buddha.
Please note that it is not the act of disturbing the dying person that causes him to remain in the Triple Realm, but rather his angry thoughts at being disturbed, his lack of correct mindfulness.
(85) Most major religions teach that at the time of death, "the dying person [however sinful] may, by focusing his mind on God [i.e., a transcendental being] and accepting the Light that seems to embrace him, leap to a higher realm." (World Scripture, p. 240.)World Honored One, the habitual evil of living beings extends from the subtle to the overwhelmingly great. Since all beings have such habits, their parents or relatives should create merit for them when they are on the verge of dying in order to assist them on the road ahead. This may be done by ... reciting the holy sutras, or making offerings before the images of Buddhas or sages. It includes recitation of the names of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Pratyeka Buddhas in such a way that the recitation of each name passes by the ear of the dying one and is heard in his fundamental consciousness.(87) Buddhism makes a distinction between physical (clinical) death and mental death, with the former preceding the latter by a period of some three to eight hours. Actual death is defined as that moment when the Alaya consciousness (see Glossary) leaves the body -- not when the heart has stopped or brain waves can no longer be detected. This is the reason for the waiting period of at least three hours after clinical death before the body is disturbed.
The evil deeds done by living beings bear corresponding results, yet even if one ought to fall into the Evil Paths, his offenses may be eradicated if his survivors cultivate holy causes for him. During a period of forty-nine days after the death, they should do many good deeds that can cause the dead one to leave the Evil Paths. (Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva [Ksitigharba Sutra]: the Collected Lectures of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua, p. 168.)
(89) Some of the texts in which this practice is mentioned include the Great Heap Sutra, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and a well-known Chinese commentary, Transcending Life and Death. Note: this practice is particularly prevalent in Tantric (Esoteric) Buddhism.The dead one might be due to receive a good retribution and be born among men and gods in his next life or in the future, but because of offenses committed by his family in his name, his good rebirth will be delayed. Everyone must undergo the Evil Paths in accordance with his own deeds; it is even more unbearable when survivors add to those deeds. (Loc. cit., p. 170.)(91) Killing sentient beings, including slaughtering animals for food, is among the heaviest transgressions in Buddhism. This is not only because such acts create untold suffering but also because they cut short the lives of future Buddhas (as all sentient beings have a common Buddha Nature).
The injunction against all forms of killing (including suicide), covering all sentient beings, is unique to Buddhism. Jainism, for example, approves of the penance of death by self-starvation, while Hindu ceremonies such as the Srauta rites "center on offering into the altar fires oblations of milk, butter, honey ... domestic animals ..." (K. Crim, Dictionary of Religions, p. 369 and 790, respectively.)
(92) The reader is referred to C.T. Shen, The Essence of Samantabhadra's Vows, p. 18-19. See also Glossary "Transference of Merit."
(93) To be truly effective in dedicating merit to others, the practitioner must be utterly sincere and singleminded in his recitation. Even so, the Ksitigarbha Sutra teaches that the deceased can only receive a small part of this merit. Furthermore, since the crucial conditions of sincerity and singlemindedness are seldom achieved in full, most intercessions are, at best, partially effective and can seldom erase a lifetime of bad karma. Thus, it is imperative for the practitioner himself to cultivate during his lifetime and not rely on family members, monks or nuns at the time of death.
(94) See note 2 above.
(95) See note 89 above.
(97) Good spiritual advisor: a friend of virtue, a religious counsellor, a guru, who advises the cultivator on the right path. The term can apply to anyone, from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to monks and nuns and laymen. Even the non-virtuous or heretics may fulfill the role, albeit in a negative way. See also Glossary.
(98) Transference of merit: see Glossary.Shariputra: the beings who hear this ought to make a vow -- a vow to be born in that land. Why should they? Having succeeded thus, all are then persons of the highest virtue; all are assembled in the same circumstances. (Hozen Seki, The Buddha Tells of the Infinite, p. 48).Please note that Master Thich Thien Tam, in the tradition of classical Pure Land exegesis, deliberately quotes from many sutras and commentaries not commonly associated with the Pure Land school (e.g., the Avatamsaka, Lotus, Platform, Lankavatara, Surangama and Questions of King Milinda Sutras, etc.). This is to demonstrate that Pure Land concepts can be found throughout the Tripitaka and underlie much of popular Buddhist thinking and practice.
I vow that when my life approaches its end,
All obstructions will be swept away;
I will see Amitabha Buddha,
And be born in his Land of Ultimate Bliss.
When reborn in the Western Land,
I will perfect and completely fulfill
Without exception these Great Vows,
To delight and benefit all beings.
The Vows of Samantabhadra