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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over
Pure Land Dharma Talks
At the two-week recitation session, during which participants meditated on and recited Amita Buddha's name from four in the morning until ten in the evening, the Venerable Master gave the following daily instructional talks.
Day #1: December 8, 1972
The Buddha Amita is the great Dharma King.
May his Bodhisattvas guide you to the Western Land.
Morning and night, hold his name, with sincerity recite it;
At all times, in contemplation, think upon it well.
With one heart unconfused, you’ll realize Samadhi;
When all creation’s void, you’ll enter the Lotus Land.
Suddenly awakened to the uncreated, the Buddha appears in person,
And wonderful enlightenment is naturally attained.
This eight-line verse praises the Buddha Amita, the great Dharma King. “Amita” translated from Sanskrit means “limitless light” and describes his unlimited wisdom. He is also name “Amitayus,” which means “limitless life
,” symbolizing his unlimited blessings. Because he is complete with both blessings and wisdom, he is called the Buddha of Limitless Life and Light.
The Buddha has perfected great kindness, compassion, joy, and renunciation. Having attained blessings and wisdom, his unselfish wish is to lead all living beings to attain them. He has vowed that all living beings who recite his name will realize Buddhahood. The two words “Amita Buddha” are inconceivable, and within the Buddhadharma, Amita Buddha is a “great Dharma King.”
Those who recite the Buddha’s name have good roots. All you need to do is recite, and without spending money or effort, you too can attain limitless life and light.
“But isn’t this a bit too much of a bargain?” someone may ask.
The reason this simple method is so efficacious is that in former lives, when Amita Buddha was cultivating the Way, he practiced many methods and underwent thousand of tens of thousands of bitter experiences and found them difficult to bring to accomplishment. Accordingly, he made forty-eight great vows, one of which states that any person who recites his name will be assured of rebirth in the Western Land and the attainment of orthodox enlightenment. Until this vow is fulfilled, Amita Buddha himself will not realize Buddhahood.
Our recitation is like sending a telegram to Amitabha in the West. At the end of our lives, the Bodhisattvas will guide us to rebirth in the Western Pure Land.
Morning and night, in motion and stillness, at all times you can recite. While moving you can recite and change the motion into stillness; when still you can recite and turn the stillness into motion. When there is neither motion nor stillness, your telegram to Amitabha has gotten through and you’ve received his response.
If you maintain your recitation with undivided attention morning and night without stopping, you may recite to the point that you don’t know that you are walking when you walk, you don’t feel thirsty when you are thirsty, and you don’t experience hunger when you are hungry, you don’t know you are cold in freezing weather, and you don’t feel the warmth when you are warm. People and dharmas are empty, and you and Amita Buddha become one. “Amita Buddha is I and I am Amita Buddha.” The two cannot be separated. Recite single-mindedly and sincerely without false thoughts. Pay no attention to worldly concerns. When you don’t know the time and don’t know the day, you may arrive at a miraculous state.
You may ask, “but isn’t that just being stupid?”
In fact, rather than having become stupid, you will have experienced “great wisdom which appears to be stupidity.” Confucius said, “I have spoken with Hui for a whole day and he has not contradicted me, as if he were stupid. But I have examined his actions when he retires from me and found that he puts the teachings into practice. Hui is not stupid.” (Confucian Analects, II., Chapter 9.)
I remember when I was young and first started school I was very dull. I studied over and over again but could not remember my lessons, and if I did manage to learn them, I forgot them when I stood before the teacher to recite. Then suddenly my intelligence opened and I was able to recite a work having read it only once, and could master in an hour what took other students five days to learn. I became arrogant and my teacher said to me, “Who would have thought that such a stupid person could become as intelligent as Yen Hui?”
When I heard this, I shivered in fright: “will I die as young as Yen Hui did?” (Yen Hui, Confucius’s most intelligent disciple, died when he was only thirty-three.) So I quit being arrogant and resolved never to be jealous of another person. I took this as my guiding principle and wished that everyone would surpass me. The better others are than I, the more I like it. At that time I also gave myself the name “Semblance of Stupidity.”
At all times contemplate the bright countenance of Amita Buddha with singleminded concentration. At all times recollect his wonderful realm and don’t think about the matters of the world. With one heart unconfused you may enter dhyana samadhi; all worries and afflictions will completely disappear as you enter the lotus land and enlighten to the unconditioned. This is to understand your own original face. Wonderful enlightenment is just certification to Buddhahood. It’s not enough just to say, “I want to be a Buddha,” and thereby become a Buddha; on the contrary, you must work with great effort to realize Buddhahood.
If you can recite with one unconfused heart, you may arrive at the state where the ten thousand dharmas are empty. You may then let go of everything and obtain independence and purity. So the Dharma-door of Buddha recitation is ineffably wonderful.
When you have recited enough to have gained some skill, not only will you not feel thirsty, but you will feel as if you were drinking sweet dew. Don’t become attached, however, for if you do, your greedy thoughts for sweet dew will cause for the fine state to vanish. You may also recite until you see light, the Buddhas, or lotus flowers. But don’t be greedy for these states, either, or in your delight, they will disappear.
This is the first day of the session and there is still much time in which to obtain a single unconfused heart and experience these fine states. Whatever you do, don’t be lazy and wait around thinking you have a lot of time. You must recite earnestly and not waste your days. In the evening, during the Great Transference of Merit Ceremony, be even more sincere and determined to attain good results. If, instead, you waste your time, you will undergo all this bitterness for nothing. Won’t that be a shame?
Day #2: December 9, 1972
Blowing winds and still water expound the Mahayana;
Flocks of birds sing in choir, elegant and resonant.
With upright faith, upright vows, and with upright practice,
Remember the Buddha, remember the Dharma,
and recollect the Sangha.
With vigor, perfect each of the three levels of no-retreat.
In dhyana you may ascend through each of the nine grades,
And meet in person Amita Buddha, your compassionate father.
Such a reunion with your flesh and blood brings happiness indeed!
In the Land of Ultimate Bliss, the blowing breezes and the still waters proclaim the Dharma of the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle. White swans, peacocks, kalavinkas, and other birds don’t screech or chatter, but assemble to preach the Dharma with eloquence and grace.
In your practice, it is most important to have right faith and right practice, and to leave deviant faith and practice far behind. Do not make the mistake of becoming attached to minor spiritual powers, which enable you perhaps to see spirits or strange creatures. That is of no great use.
Recollect all the Buddhas of the ten directions, all the Dharmas in the ten directions, and all the holy sages of the ten directions until you attain the splendid state called the “Buddha Recitation Samadhi.” At that time every sound you hear sings “Amitabha.”
Be vigorous and perfect the three levels of no-retreat:
The Three Levels of No-Retreat
- Non-retreating Thought. One does not retreat from the resolve to attain Bodhi and to practice the Bodhisattva Way.
- Non-retreating Position. One does not retreat from right, orthodox thought, nor from the position one has already attained.
- Non-retreating Conduct. One does not retreat but vigorously goes forward, cultivating the Six Perfections and the Ten Thousand Conducts.Cultivation of both dhyana meditation and the Pure Land recitation leads to ascension through the nine grades of lotuses and to quick certification to Buddhahood.
Amita Buddha is our compassionate father, and if we merely recite his name he will help us eradicate our worst karmic obstacles so that we may be born in the West, taking our residual bad karma with us where we can gradually eradicate all of it. When we are reunited with our father, our own flesh and blood, our happiness will be unspeakably great.
You have already endured three days of bitterness and now you should again bring forth the great Bodhi heart. Don’t fear suffering, don’t fear difficulty, and don’t fear heat or cold. Advance with vigor to the Land of Ultimate Bliss!
Day #3: December 10,1972
Here in the ice-box three days have quickly passed. On the first day, someone thought, “I can’t take it. I am cold because there’s no heater, and hungry because we only eat one meal a day. All day we sit and walk, sit and walk, reciting, “Namo Amita Buddha,” and the more I recite, the colder and hungrier I get. I really can’t take it.”
But for two days he took what he couldn’t take, afraid that the rest of us would call him a coward if he left; and now on the third day, he finds it much easier. “It’s not important if I’m a little chilly, and a little hunger doesn’t matter.” It’s all a test of your fortitude.
You haven’t run off but instead have recited the Buddha’s name, and accordingly your good roots have grown. I know that there are some who already have seen light, flowers, and the Buddha. Some have seen Amita Buddha rub the tops of their heads and transmit predictions of Buddhahood to them.
“Really?” you ask. “Why haven’t I seen this?”
How can you ask such a question! You should ask yourself whether or not you have singlemindedly and sincerely applied effort which would cause such states to manifest.
“Oh,” you say, “it’s too much suffering—suffering so that I think I’m going to die.”
If that’s the case, then give up your life. What do you want your life for anyway? It is said,
If you can’t let go at death you won’t obtain a good rebirth;
If you can’t let go of the false, you won’t obtain the true.
If you only wish to enjoy yourself, you’ll have no share in the transcendental Dharma. If you wish to obtain the transcendental Dharma, to return to the root and go back to the source, then you have to undergo a bit of suffering and view worldly dharmas as less important. Don’t look upon trivial problems as being so weighty. I remember a poem Upasika Phuong wrote when she was at home with nothing to do. She gave herself a job and wrote:
Alone and still I gaze from the balcony
At wave tops capped with flowers of white water
And pounding surf below, startling the gulls.
The water swells into waves and the waves subside
And disappear: defiled conditions cease.
Return to the root; go straight back to the source.
You’re free to roam at will.
Silent, as if entering samadhi, she saw the ocean waves wearing white flower caps and heard the roaring surf which frightened the seagulls into flight. The water swelling into waves is an analogy for afflictions arising in the self-nature, and the waves returning to the water represents our afflictions, however heavy they are, being transformed into the Bodhi self-nature. It is causing the defiled conditions to cease, letting go of all worldly dharmas. At this time you may return to the root, go back to the source, and view your own original face, free to do whatever you wish. But now, before we have returned, we must follow the rules and earnestly recite the Buddha’s name until, with undeviating singlemindedness, we perfect the Buddha Recitation Samadhi. We will then be free to roam at will.
There’s an old saying, “In the coldest weather, the pines are the last to lose their green.” San Francisco has never had such cold weather; it’s been under twenty degrees and most people are staying indoors with their heaters turned up. We aren’t going outside either, but instead of a heater, we have turned on the coolers! Pine trees may be the last to be harmed, but we are proving that we are vajra. Some of you could be comfortable at home, but have chosen to come here to recite the Buddha’s name, cultivate, and endure the bitterness instead. This is very rare and has moved Amita Buddha who will certainly guide you to rebirth in the Western Land.
Here in San Francisco, Amita Buddha has entered the Vajra Samadhi and made the earth firm and solid. We should enter the Vajra Samadhi, too, and cause San Francisco to be as indestructible as vajra. Didn’t I say last night that it wasn’t that there couldn’t be an earthquake, but rather that the earth was not permitted to quake? Amita Buddha is the one who is not permitting the earth to quake because his is the Land of Ultimate Bliss, and any place his name is sincerely recited is a part of the Land of Ultimate Bliss. If you don’t believe me, wait until the fourth of January and see!
Day #4: December 11, 1972
That you are still pursuing your work so diligently, reciting the Buddha’s name in spite of the cold weather, is a sure sign of your sincerity; if you were not serious you wouldn’t be able to continue in this cold.
Through whirling snow on icy cliffs, whitening the sky,
Red lotuses burst forth today, in bloom all over the earth.
In infinite layers the Buddha’s light illumines all without end;
Each syllable of the Buddha’s name nurtures the Dharma-source.
In a finger snap the work is done just as you had wished,
And disasters wrought in lives gone by in a flash are melted away.
In contemplation, still and pure, find constant happiness;
Superior persons’ accomplishments in the end
are caused to bear their fruit.
Here in the chill of the Great Hall it is we who are the cold cliffs and whirling snowflakes which fill the sky. Although the air is white with snow it is still possible for red lotus flowers to appear, because our recollection of the Buddha’s name causes them to bloom. The flowers are not the small ones we are used to seeing, but they are as large as carriage wheels. Each person who recollects the Buddha will in the future be born within lotus flowers such as these. When the flower opens, one will see the Buddha and awaken to the patience with the non-production of dharmas.
The Buddhas of the ten directions will emit light with which they will give us a physical examination to see if we have any illnesses. The examination takes place because we are filling out immigration papers for entry into the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Whenever you recite the Buddha’s name you plant a seed in the field of the Dharma-nature. Reciting is also like applying fertilizer, for if you recite a lot and are sincere, your lotus will be a superior grade and the fruit will be superb. If your recitation reaches the level of single-minded concentration, then on the verge of death you will be without sickness and pain, just as if you had entered Ch’an samadhi. You will be reborn in the Western Land from within the lotus. You will be reborn in the Western Land from within the lotus which you have nurtured. If you do not recite, the flower will wither from lack of nourishment.
If you continually apply effort, your wish will be fulfilled and you will be reborn in the flick of a wrist. Your karmic obstacles from past lives will instantly melt away so that you obtain the still, bright, pure, and permanent joy. When this happens, the superior person’s job is done, his work perfected, and all his wishes fulfilled.
The most important point of recitation is to melt the drift of false thoughts so that one becomes pure and spotless, like the driven snow. So the verse speaks of “whirling snow on icy cliffs.” The cold cliffs represent one’s false thoughts. When the false thoughts are melted away, one can return to the origin, and be reborn in a red lotus, the lotus reserved for pure, undefiled people.
There is a simple analogy used to describe the Dharma-door of Buddha-recitation: a living being in the three realms is like a worm caught in a section of bamboo who is trying to bore his way out. In the practice of other Dharma-doors, one must crawl out step-by-step.
For example, one must practice dhyana for a long time in order to attain samadhi. In following the Vinaya School, one must memorize volumes of rules and follow them without fail. Those who cultivate the Teaching School must read and recite the Sutras and lecture on the dharma. They have to “divide the doors, discriminate the classes, articulate the schools, apportion the teachings”; and so it is said, “Endlessly discriminating names and marks, like trying to count the grains of sand on the beach, will only hang you up.”
Cultivating the Secret School one must pass through many stages. The step-by-step process is like the progress of the worm who gnaws his way up through section after section of the bamboo. There is, however, another worm in the bamboo who is smart enough to gnaw his way straight through the side of the stalk. The sections of bamboo represent the difficulties encountered as one tries to leap out of the triple realm.
Escaping through the side is like the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha’s name. You get out of the triple realm and gain rebirth in the Western Land, packing your karma from past lives with you. This does not mean, however, that you can continue to create offense-karma and expect to take it with you to the Pure Land. If you continue to create fresh karma, you are considered a hopeless case. Even the greatly compassionate Amitabha Buddha himself has no way to save you.