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PART 1:  


Practice: Holding The Name

When the water-clearing pearl is tossed in muddy water,
The muddy water becomes clear.  
When the Buddha’s name enters a confused mind,
The confused mind attains to the Buddha.

This sutra takes faith, vows, and holding the name as its doctrine. Having discussed faith and vows, we shall now discuss holding the name.

Reciting the Buddha’s name is like throwing a pearl into muddy water so that the muddy water becomes clear. This clear-water pearl can purify even the filthiest water. Recitation of the Buddha’s name is like this pearl.

Who can count the false thoughts which fill our minds and succeed one another endlessly like waves on the sea? When the Buddha’s name enters a confused mind, the confused mind becomes the Buddha. Recite the name once and there is one Buddha in your mind; recite it ten times and there are ten Buddhas, recite it a hundred times and there are a hundred Buddhas. The more you recite, the more Buddhas there are.

Say, “Namo Amitabha Buddha,” there’s a Buddha-thought in your mind. When you are mindful of the Buddha, the Buddha is mindful of you. It’s like communication by radio or radar. You recite here, and it’s received there. But if you don’t recite, nothing is received; so you must hold and recite the name.

In the Dharma-ending age, recitation of the Buddha’s name is a most important dharma-door. Don’t take it lightly. Every time Dhyana Master Yong Ming Shou, the Sixth Patriarch of the Pure Land School, recited the Buddha’s name, a transformation Buddha came out of his mouth. Those with the Five Eyes and Six Spiritual Penetrations could see it. When you recite the Buddha’s name, you emit a light which frightens all weird creatures and strange ghosts away. They run far, far away and leave you alone. So the merit and virtue of holding the Buddha’s name is inconceivable.

Holding and reciting the Buddha’s name, you should, as it says in the Doctrine of the Mean, “grasp it tightly in your fist.” Do not let it go. Thought after thought, recite the name. There are four methods of reciting.

  • Contemplating and thinking Buddha-recitation.
  • Contemplating an image Buddha-recitation.
  • Real Mark Buddha-recitation.
  • Holding the name Buddha-recitation.

The first, contemplating and thinking Buddha recitation, consists of the contemplation of Amitabha Buddha:

Amitabha Buddha’s body is of golden hue,
His fine marks radiant beyond compare.
His white light is as high as five Mount Sumerus,
His purple eyes as clear and vast as four great seas.

 Countless transformation Buddhas appear within the light,
With transformation Bodhisattvas, also limitless.
His forty-eight vows take living beings across;
In nine grades of lotuses they ascend to the other shore.

Amitabha Buddha’s appearance is the result of the perfection of his merit and virtue. He has all of the 32 marks and the 80 minor characteristics of a Buddha and his bright light is incomparable. Between his eyebrows there are fine white beams of light as big as five Mount Sumerus, and his eyes are as large as four great seas. How big do you think his body is?

There are nine grades of lotuses:

  • Superior superior
  • Superior middle
  • Superior inferior
  • Middle superior
  • Middle middle
  • Middle inferior
  • Inferior superior
  • Inferior middle
  • Inferior inferior

Each of the nine grades also has nine ranks, making 81 in all. Living beings in all of these grades are led to the other shore – Nirvana.

The second kind of Buddha-recitation, contemplating the image, consists of making offerings to an image of Amitabha Buddha and reciting his name while contemplating it. Contemplate, and in time you will have success.

When you achieve the third, Real Mark recitation, even if you try, you cannot stop reciting the Buddha’s name. The recitation flows like water and lives within you. This is the state of the Buddha-recitation samadhi: reciting and yet not reciting, not reciting and yet reciting.

The fourth kind of Buddha-recitation is that of holding the name. Both moving and still, one recites, “Namo Amitabha Buddha.” Recitation must be clear and distinct and the three karmas of body, mouth, and mind must be pure. The mouth is free from the four evil karmas of

  • abusive language,
  • profanity,
  • lying, and
  • gossip,

and the body is without the three evil karmas of

  • killing,
  • stealing, or
  • sexual misconduct.

The mind has no

  • greed,
  • hatred, or
  • stupidity.

When one is free of the ten evil deeds, then the karma of body, mouth, and mind is pure. In this way, one thought pure is one thought of the Buddha; when every thought is pure, every thought is of the Buddha.

The pure heart is like the moon in the water;
The mind in samadhi is like the cloudless sky.

If you can recite so completely that you enter the Buddha-recitation samadhi, then hearing the wind, it’s “Namo Amitabha Buddha,” and hearing the rain, it’s “Namo Amitabha Buddha.” Every sound you hear recites the Buddha’s name.

The water flows,
The wind blows,

Proclaiming the Mahayana…

The Chinese poet Su Dong Po said,

Of the colors of the mountain,
None are not his vast, long tongue.
Of the sounds of the streams,
All are the clear, pure sound.

All the mountain’s colors are the Buddha’s long tongue proclaiming the wonderful Dharma. This is the attainment of the Buddha-recitation samadhi.

So I wrote this verse:

If you recite the Buddha’s name, reciting without cease,
The mouth recite “Amita” and makes things of a piece.
Scattered thoughts do not arise, samadhi you attain.
For rebirth in the Pure Land, your hope is not in vain.  
If all day you detest the suffering Saha’s pain,
Make rebirth in Ultimate Bliss your mind’s essential aim.
Cut off the red dust thoughts within your mind
Put down impure reflections, and pure thoughts you will find.

Recite the Buddha’s name from morning to night and your confused thoughts will not arise. You will naturally attain the Buddha-recitation samadhi and be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, according to your will. You know that the Saha world is full of pain and suffering; so cut off worldly pleasures and have no thoughts of sexual desire, craving, or struggling for fame and profit. Put down all worldly concerns and view them as false. Seek rebirth, ultimate bliss; this thought of rebirth is extremely important.

The verse clearly explains the principles of reciting the Buddha’s name. Holding and reciting the name is like picking up something in your hand and never letting it go. Recite “Namo Amitabha Buddha” every day and chase out your scattered thoughts.

This 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.

The third of the Five-fold Profound Meanings, then, is to take Faith, Vows, and Holding the Name as the doctrine.

Discussing the Function

The fourth of the Five-fold Profound Meanings is to determine the sutra’s power and use. Its power is that of “non-retreat” and its use is rebirth. Reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, you attain to the stage of no retreat. Cultivators of other dharma-doors are somewhat insecure; no one insures them. They may recite mantras or sutras for several years and then retreat with a feeling of no accomplishment or gain. If not in this life, they may retreat in the next. Perhaps they are vigorous now, but later they take a rest.

To say nothing of common people, even Arhats have the “confusion of dwelling in the womb” and forget their spiritual penetrations. Bodhisattvas have the confusion called “splitting the yin ,” which means the same thing. If they meet a good knowing advisor who teaches them to cultivate, they can wake up. Otherwise, life after life, they retreat and find it very hard to bring forth the Bodhi-heart again. It is easy to regress.

Born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, there is no back-sliding, just vigorous progress. One attains the four kinds of Non-retreat:

  • Non-retreating position. Born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, you attain the Buddha-position. Born by transformation from a lotus, when the flower blooms, you see the Buddha, hear the Dharma, awaken to the unproduced dharma-patience, and never fall again.
  • Non-retreating conduct. Most people cultivate vigorously for one life, but in the next, they are lazy. In the Land of Ultimate Bliss there is none of the suffering of the three evil paths. The Kalavinka birds and two-headed birds all help Amitabha Buddha speak about the Dharma. Reborn there, one will no longer be lazy in conduct but will only go forward with courage and vigor.
  • Non-retreating thought. In the Saha world we cultivate vigorously, but after a time we feel it’s too bitter, too restrictive, too uncomfortable, and so we are no longer vigorous. Lazy thoughts arise and although we have not yet retreated in conduct, we have in thought. Several decades pass quickly and thoughts of retreat greatly out-number those of vigor. It’s difficult not to regress.

In the Land of Ultimate Bliss, one hears the Dharma spoken all day and all night long. One has no thoughts of retreat from the Bodhi-mind. All thoughts are irreversible.

  • Ultimate Non-retreat. Transformationally born from a lotus, you will never, under any circumstances, retreat again either to the level of a common person or to the Small Vehicle or Bodhisattva level. Born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss you obtain these four kinds of Non-retreat

Determining the Teaching Mark

The Tripitaka is divided into three parts: Sutras, which deal with samadhi, Sastras, which deal with wisdom, and Vinaya, which deal with morality. This text belongs to the sutra division, and as such it is permanent and unchanging, two characteristics of sutras. When all other Buddhadharmas have become extinct, this sutra will remain in the world an additional hundred years and save limitless living beings. For this reason, it differs from other sutras.

Of the three vehicles, Sravakas, Conditionally Enlightened Ones, and Bodhisattvas, this sutra belongs to the Bodhisattva Vehicle. It takes across Bodhisattvas suited to the Great Vehicle.

Knowing the sutra’s title classification and its Five-fold Profound Meanings, we now have a general understanding of the Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra.

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