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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over

Volume 2

Pure Land Dharma Talks


Day #9:   December 16, 1972  

   You recite “Buddha,” so do I.
   We both recite “Buddha.” Why?
   To end birth and death and transform the Saha;
   Everywhere’s blissful—Amitabha! 

   What is there when there is no you or me?
   Stillness; all creation’s void
     --contemplate and see.   

   When ignorance is broken and affliction severed,
   Jump out of the three realm’s great river of love.

Why do you and I recite the Buddha’s name? Stupid people say, “To help us gain peace and happiness and good fortune and to free us from affliction, suffering, and hardships.  

   Others say, “We recite to increase our good fortune and prosperity.” This, too, is the reasoning of the dull.  

   We recite the Buddha’s name in order to end birth and death. Why do we want to do this? We are ceaselessly revolving in the wheel of birth and death. This life we are named Smith and next life Jones; this life we are the father and next life, the son; this life we are the master and the next life, the disciple. The whole thing is beyond our control. Don’t think that a person is no more than your dearest and most beloved husband or wife. In the past he may have been your benefactor or your enemy. That is why some husbands are devoted while others constantly fight with their wives. Don’t think that someone is only your dearest son or daughter.

In the past, you may have been his debtor or he may have been yours. That is why some sons and daughters are filial and others are not. If you understand the principle, you will have no cause to curse heaven or blame others, and you will no longer wish to continue turning uncontrollably in the false realm of men. You will vow to end birth and death and quickly leap out of the sea of suffering. When you put an end to birth and death you gain control.

This means that if you want to live, you live; if you want to die, you can die anytime. You will know the time of your approaching death and you will not be confused. Your body will be free from disease and your mind will be free of defiling affection. As if entering dhyana samadhi, you will be borne off to the Western Land where you experience bliss. The Saha World will be transformed into a pure, clean land, devoid of afflictions and so the poem says, “Everywhere’s blissful—Amitabha!” Mindfulness of the Buddha should reach the state where “you” and “I” disappear.  

   “That’s too dangerous,” you say. “If there isn’t anything at all, isn’t that just total emptiness?”  

   You should only fear that you won’t experience total emptiness, that you won’t discard material concerns, and that you won’t renounce affections. If you can forget everything, you will be liberated, because when you reach the state of “quiet contemplation in which the myriad things disappear of themselves” you will suddenly understand everything in the world. You will know why the pines are straight and the brambles crooked; you will know why the cranes are white and the crows are black. Since you understand everything, your afflictions will be gone and ignorance will be smashed. You will then have jumped right out of the three realms’ great river of love. 

   The three realms are the Realm of Desire, the Realm of Form, and the Formless Realm. It is within these that the huge river of love flows. “He loves her for her beauty and she loves him for his kind heart.” Rising and sinking, confused and muddled, you can’t break it off.  

   Someone would like to say, “Love and affection are the most meaningful aspects of human life! I don’t want to jump out of the river of love!”  

   Keep wading around in it, then, but be aware that as long as you do, you won’t be in control. After you are born you will die, and after you die you will be reborn, and running back and forth you will be unable to escape the spinning wheel of birth and death. When you sink to the bottom it’s hard to float back up, for when you have become a tiny ant or a small worm, devoid of wisdom or blessings, you will easily die and quickly be reborn. Each life will be worse than the last and each death worse than the one before.  

   Someone says, “Buddhism lacks consequence. It’s merely a jumble of superstitions which I cannot accept.” If you don’t believe you can wait and see. However, it’s easy to fall and hard to come up again. Who knows how many great kalpas will pass before things get better? It’s difficult to be born human, difficult to be born in a central (or influential) country, and difficult to meet the Buddhadharma. Although it is hard to obtain a human body, you now have one; although it is hard to meet the Buddhadharma, you have done so. So push on with your work and don’t be lazy.  

   We welcome everyone who wishes to come and recite, but those who join us must obey the rules, and everyone alike receives the bitter and the sweet. No one is permitted to ignore the rules.  

   In reciting the Buddha’s name we want to arrive at the point of undistracted, singleminded concentration; therefore, we must follow the rules. Both those who want to recite and those who do not want to recite should be mindful of the Buddha; both the skeptics and the faithful should recite and those who do not want to recite should be mindful of the Buddha; both the skeptics and the faithful should recite. I will now explain the words “confused” and “belief.”

   Those who are confused may have faith. What is to be feared is that one may have faith in that which is confused, in a deviant teaching. What is worse is to be confused and unbelieving; it is impossible to save such a one. It is best to have faith and be unconfused. Faith and understanding of the proper Dharma enable one to follow it without attachment and, therefore, without confusion. We should seek our own enlightenment so that we can become free and at ease in body and mind.  

   Today another disciple wrote a poem:  

     With six times eight vast vows and three provisions,
     His vast compassion saves the simple and dull.
     Nine grades are led before the sage and lord.
     Limitless life has the Buddha with limitless light.  

“Six times eight” refers to Amitabha’s forty-eight great vows, and the “three provisions” refer to faith, vows, and practice. If you believe in the method of mindfulness of the Buddha, you should make a vow to be reborn in the Pure Land and cultivate vigorously.

   You will then experience the Buddha’s compassion, which saves all beings regardless of race or nationality. The Buddha teaches the stupid and simple and makes no distinctions between young and old, clever and dull.  

   The “nine grades” refer to the types of rebirth from lotus flowers in the Pure Land: upper-upper, upper-middle, upper-lower; middle-upper, middle-middle, and middle-lower; lower-upper, lower-middle, and lower-lower. All the categories are led before the “sage and lord Amitabha Buddha” whose name means “Limitless Light” and “Limitless Life.”  

   This verse is not bad! If you constantly recite it you will be able to see your nature and see the Buddha. If you want to understand your mind and see your nature, you should make obeisance to this verse. I’m not joking! As the Fifth Patriarch told the great assembly, “You should all quickly bow before Shen Hsiu’s verse, which reads:  

     The body is a Bodhi tree,
     The mind like a bright mirror stand;
     Time and again brush it clean;
     Let no dust alight.  

Day #10:    December 17, 1972  

     One sentence less of chatter,
     One sentence more of the Buddha’s name;
     Recite until your false thoughts die,
     And your Dharmabody comes to life.  

   During a Recitation Session it is best to recite the Buddha’s name and do less talking. The four assemblies have gathered from the ten directions to recite the Buddha’s name and the time is especially precious. Don’t waste this rare opportunity. If you haven’t as yet applied yourself, settle down and seriously recite. Be sure to follow the rules and avoid conversation. If you turn your mind solely to recitation you will receive a response which will enable you to cast out all false thinking and obtain the Buddha Recitation Samadhi.  

   Recitation is the easiest Dharma to cultivate, for you need only single-mindedly recite Amitabha Buddha’s name and at the end of your life you will be reborn in a lotus flower, hear Amitabha Buddha speak the Dharma every day and in the future you will ascend to the position of Buddhahood. 

   “Reciting in order to attain rebirth is one thing, but we are nowhere near death; why should we recite?” you may wonder.  

   That’s a good point. But it is always best to prepared in advance. For example, a tree doesn’t spring up over night; it takes at least ten years to grow to an appreciable size. We recite now so that at the end of our lives we will have undeviating single-mindedness. If we don’t recite now, at death, when the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—scatter, the pain will cause us to forget everything. How will we be able to recite? We recite ahead of time in order to obtain the Buddha Recitation Samadhi. Then walking, standing, sitting, and lying down we will never stop reciting; at the end of our lives we will be without sickness or pain. With undeviating singlemindedness we will certainly be reborn in the Western paradise. One should always prepare in advance. Otherwise, one won’t succeed and all one’s efforts go to waste.  

   Chu Hsi said, “Don’t wait until it rains to mend the roof; don’t wait until you are thirsty to dig a well.” The same applies to our recitation. If we don’t know our destination in advance, when the time comes we will be all muddled and won’t know where to go. If you are going on a vacation, you make preparations. If you don’t, in the last minute confusion you are sure to forget something.    

Day #10:    December 17, 1972  

   Does anyone have any questions?  

   Disciple: “I was raised a Catholic and what appealed to me about Buddhism was its rational quality, the practice of understanding the Four Noble Truths: suffering, origination, extinction, and the Way. In the Japanese Rinzai Zen and the Tibetan Buddhism which I have studied, the emphasis is placed on searching into one’s own mind and by one’s own efforts, realizing enlightenment in this very life. It is therefore difficult for me to understand the Pure Land practice which seems like a fairy tale of some distant land where, by relying on Amitabha Buddha, our problems will be effortlessly solved. I am most certainly not asking this question out of arrogance, as I have only the greatest respect for the Master and hope that he will clear up my doubts.”  

   Abbot: Can anyone answer this question?  

   Disciple: The Sixth Patriarch said that the Pure Land is just one’s own mind when free from afflictions. But I have a similar doubt.  

   Abbot: When you are reciting the Buddha’s name, do you think or not?  

   Disciple: “I have been thinking of something ever since I was born.”  

   Abbot: “Do you want to think or do you not want to think?”  

   Disciple: “I most emphatically do not want to think.”  

   Abbot: “Then just recite the Buddha’s name!”  

   Disciple: “If I could cut off my head without bleeding, I’d do it right now.”  

   Abbot: “It would be better to cut off your legs; then you couldn’t run away. 

   Good Knowing Ones, each of us has his own fantasies. While our thoughts to get rich, to become an official, or to obtain a Master’s or Doctor’s degree may be similar, the false thoughts which have accompanied each one of us since birth vary from person to person and are difficult to cast out completely. So this disciple said that if it would put an end to his false thoughts, he would gladly cut off his head. While this would end his false thoughts, it would also violate the precept against killing. In any case, he would simply undergo another rebirth according to his karma, and once again be subject to false thinking.  

   How can you get rid of your false thinking? By using the method of recitation you can grab your false thinking and chop its head off. We cut off the head of the false thinking thief and display it before the masses, but instead of using a knife, we use the sword of wisdom. As I said last night, “Ignorance broken and affliction severed/Leap out of the three realms’ great river of love.”  

   As I have told you many times, the Dharma-door of Buddha recitation is false, and so are dhyana meditation, the Teaching School, the Vinaya School, and the Secret School. You need only believe in it, and the false becomes true; if you don’t believe, then the true becomes false. You could also say that whatever is of no benefit is false. So the Avatamsaka Sutra says, “Everything is created from the mind alone.”  

   Someone wants to object, “Everything the Dharma Master says is false and I don’t believe any of it.”  

   Fine, then don’t believe. No one is forcing you to believe. Don’t take things as true and don’t be attached to them as false. The Buddhadharma is wonderfully flexible.  

   When the deviant person practices the orthodox Dharma, the orthodox Dharma becomes deviant; when the orthodox person practices the deviant Dharma, the deviant Dharma becomes orthodox. Buddha recitation is also false. We are using the false to fight the false, fighting poison with poison. There are three poisons:  

   Greed: I want to be born in the West.
   Hate: I insist on being born there!
   Stupidity: Will I be born there? I don’t know.  

Our minds never stop thinking. We use the poison of Buddha recitation to give our minds something to think about; if they have nothing to think about, they are ill at ease. Reciting the Buddha’s name and seeking rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss is also false thinking, but by using the false to stop the false, we occupy our minds so that they won’t indulge in other forms of false thinking.  

   Don’t think that merely sitting still is investigation of dhyana. One who recites the Buddha’s name is also investigating dhyana. Walking, standing, sitting, and reclining, one may investigate dhyana. The ancients said,  

   With both dhyana and the Pure Land
   One is like a tiger with horns;
   In the present age a teacher of men,
   In the future a Buddhist Patriarch.   

   With dhyana, but without the Pure Land
   Nine out of ten will take the wrong road;
   Without dhyana and with only the Pure Land,
   If ten thousand practice, ten thousand will go.  

If ten thousand people cultivate the Pure Land Dharma-door, ten thousand will arrive in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

   After the session, we will have a dhyana meditation session, and you can all go down the wrong road. It’s not important; you can always come back again.  

   Someone is thinking, “The Dharma Master teaches us to take the wrong road. He is certainly not a Good Knowing One.”  

   I never told you I was a Good Knowing One! But you need not be afraid of going down this wrong road. Who knows how many Sages have taken it and found their way home?! Did anyone tell them to do it? Why did they do it? Did they just want to try it out? Students of the Buddhadharma should understand this principle: Don’t ask whether or not the Master is a Good Knowing Advisor; you’re better off asking that of yourself.   

Day #11:    December 18, 1972  

   Time passes quickly and there’s no way to stop it. The first session has passed and only three days of the second remain. You should recite in order to reach the state of undeviating single-mindedness and obtain the Buddha Recitation Samadhi. There’s not much time left; don’t waste it. You must conquer your thoughts and your gang of thieves. Who are in your gang of thieves? Its members are your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. They are called thieves because they steal your essential energy. They rob you of control so that you run around doing their bidding. When your eyes see a beautiful sight or a pretty woman, they relay the message, “What a lot of fun! How beautiful!” They carry you away so that you foget to return. Unaware, you sink into confusion and the energy is stolen from your eyes.  

   The more your ears hear fine music, the more they want to hear. If you cannot give it up, the energy is stolen from your ears. It’s the same for your nose, tongue, body, and mind. Don’t think that your six senses are so fine and enjoyable. You should know that they can be extremely harmful. If you can use them, you will realize the Way. If you can’t use them, you will fall. If you are not turned by them, you will come to know the nature of the Treasury of the Thus Come One and penetrate the region of the wonderful. Turned by them, you sink into the endless revolutions of the wheel of rebirth. If you use them well you can perfect the three non-outflow studies of morality, concentration, and wisdom. If you do not use them well, you create the three evil karmas of greed, hatred, and stupidity.  

   We recite, using poison to fight poison, in order to stop our thoughts. We should resolve to reach the highest enlightenment and not confuse ourselves by looking for what is correct or incorrect, true or false. Actually, the Dharma is without distinction between true and false, and if you are attached to truth or falsehood, you fall into the secondary level of truth. It’s important to remember that your successful cultivation reveals truth and your lack of success indicates falsehood.  

   The self nature is like empty space, fundamentally without truth or falsehood. At the gates of the six sense organs we have, for limitless kalpas, enacted a play. In birth after birth and death after death we have not escaped the turning wheel of the six destinies. Yet we continue to be attached to our bodies as something that belongs to us. How fortunate are those who haven’t escaped the wheel of rebirth and yet have the opportunity to meet the Buddhadharma and receive the counsel of a Good Knowing One! 

   Recitation must be cultivated single-mindedly. No matter what method you use, if you don’t put your mind to it, you will have no success. Don’t stand with your feet in two different boats. You’ll never get anywhere if you vacillate between north and south. You must turn your whole mind to cultivation of the Way. When your concentration reaches its ultimate point, you will certainly obtain advantage. For example, extreme suffering turns into bliss and extreme poverty into wealth. The affairs of the world revolve in just this way. So we shouldn’t fear poverty, but work with our true hearts without wavering between belief and disbelief. What if you don’t believe? Then just try it out and see. Give up your body and mind, turn your attention to reciting the Buddha’s name, and see what advantage it holds. If your mind is true, you will certainly attain a wonderful state. If you half believe and half disbelieve, you will accomplish nothing.  

   When the Buddha was in the world, an old man who wanted to leave home went to the Jeta Grove where the Buddha was staying. When he arrived, the Buddha was away receiving offerings of a meal, and the old man was received by the Buddha’s disciples. They looked into his past causes and conditions and saw that during the past eighty thousand kalpas he had not planted a single root of goodness. Consequently, they did not wish to accept him, and they told him to leave. 

   In his sorrow, the old man thought, “I am so poor and utterly alone, I’d be better off dead!” He went to the Ganges, determined to throw himself in and end it all. Just then the Buddha, who was returning from his meal, came upon him and said, “What are you doing?”  

   The old man related his plight and the Buddha said, “It’s not important. Come with me. I’ll let you leave home.” The old man wiped his nose and smiled. He returned with the Buddha, who personally ordained him. The old man certified to Arhatship on the spot. All the Arhats were amazed and asked the Buddha, “How could this old man without any good roots certify to the Way right after leaving home?”  

   The Buddha replied, “As Arhats, your Heavenly Eyes penetrate only the events of the past eighty thousand kalpas. It so happens that more than eighty thousand kalpas ago the old man was a poor firewood gatherer. One day in the mountains he met a tiger. Having nowhere to run, he quickly climbed a tree. When the tiger began to gnaw at the trunk, the man, frightened out of his wits, thought, ‘Only the compassionate Buddha can save me.’ Then he yelled, ‘Namo Buddha! Save me, quick!’  

   “Hearing the Buddha’s name, the tiger ran off, and the man’s life was spared. After that, although he never again recited the Buddha’s name, that one good root he planted when he recited the Buddha’s name remained. It has now matured and enabled him to certify to the fruit of Arhatship.”  

   The Lotus Sutra says that anyone who recites “Namo Buddha” once will realize the Buddha Way. We have now recited not just once, but thousands of times. I deeply believe that you are certain to realize Buddhahood. It’s only a question of time. If you don’t, I will descend into the hells.

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