Lectures by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Amitabha Buddha: The Great King of Dharma
Why do we recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha?" It is because Amitabha Buddha has a great affinity with living beings in the ten directions. Before Amitabha Buddha realized Buddhahood, during his cultivation on the "cause ground," he was a Bhikshu named Dharma Treasury who made forty-eight vows. Among those vows was one that said, "I vow that after I realize Buddhahood, any living beings throughout the ten directions who recite my name will certainly realize Buddhahood. If they will not be able to realize Buddhahood, then I will not realize Buddhahood."
The power of Amitabha Buddha's vows is like a magnet; living beings of the ten directions are like iron filings. That is how he draws beings of the ten directions to the Land of Ultimate Bliss. What if they aren't attracted? Amitabha Buddha vowed that he himself wouldn't realize Buddhahood if they couldn't be! Therefore, all who recite the name of Amitabha Buddha have the opportunity to realize Buddhahood.
Gathering All Beings into the Western Land
The Amitabha Sutra belongs to the category of Sutras that the Buddha "spoke without request." Why was that Sutra spoken without request? No one understood this Dharma-door, and so no one could request the Buddha to speak it. Although the greatly wise Shariputra was an interlocutor in the assembly, even he didn't know how to ask about this Dharma-door. Probably the Buddha couldn't hold back any longer, so he told everyone about this most convenient, most direct, most satisfying, easiest, and most inexpensive Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha's name. If a person can recite Amitabha Buddha's name "whether for one day, two days, three, four, five days, six days, as long as seven days, with one mind unconfused, when this person approaches the end of life, before him will appear Amitabha Buddha and all the assembly of holy ones" to guide him. Although most people find it hard to believe this Dharma-door, it is the most direct and certain practice.
The Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha's name is appropriate for those of all three faculties and beneficial for both the intelligent and the stupid. Whether you are stupid or wise, you can realize Buddhahood. When one is born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, where beings "endure none of the sufferings, but enjoy every bliss," one will be born transformationally from a lotus. We will not pass through the womb as in the human realm, but will enter a lotus flower, live in it for a while, and then realize Buddhahood.
Day and Night Hold the Name with
Concentrated, Sincere Mindfulness
The King of All Dharmas is the one word "Amitabha."
The five periods and the eight teachings are all contained within it.
One who single-mindedly remembers and recites his name
In samadhi will enter the Thus Come Ones' place of quiescence.
The King of All Dharmas is the one word "Amitabha."/ The five periods and the eight teachings are all contained within it. The teachings are arranged in eight categories, four according to the nature of the teaching: the storehouse teaching, the connecting teaching, the special teaching, and the perfect teaching; and four according to the methods of teaching: sudden, gradual, secret, and unfixed. The five periods are: The Avatamsaka, Agama, Vaipulya, Prajna, and Lotus-Nirvana. These eight teachings and five periods are all included in the one word "Amitabha."
One who single-mindedly remembers and recites his name / In samadhi will enter the Thus Come One's place of quiescence. Such a one will definitely go to the Pure Land of Eternal Stillness and Light, the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Living beings in the Dharma-ending Age will be saved by reciting the Buddha's name. And so whoever hopes to be saved should be mindful of the Buddha.
Speak one sentence less;
Recite the Buddha's name one time more.
Beat your thoughts to death,
And let your Dharma-body come alive.
Don't look lightly on the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha's name.
Contemplate at All Times and Reflect Well.
There are four types of mindfulness of the Buddha:
1. Mindfulness of the Buddha through holding the name. This involves reciting "Namo Amitabha Buddha" over and over.
2. Mindfulness of the Buddha through contemplative reflection. This means contemplating that Amitabha's body is the color of gold.
The splendor of his hallmarks has no peer.
The light of his brow shines 'round five Mount Sumerus.
Wide as the seas are his eyes, pure and clear.
Shining in his brilliance by transformation
Are countless Bodhisattvas and infinite Buddhas.
His forty-eight vows will be our liberation.
He enables all those in the nine lotus-stages to reach the farthest shore.
This is mindfulness of the Buddha through contemplative reflection.
3. Mindfulness of the Buddha through contemplative visualization. This means reciting "Namo Amitabha Buddha" while facing an image of that Buddha. One should recite the phrase very clearly, hear it very clearly, and keep it very clearly in mind.
4. Mindfulness of the Buddha's Real Appearance. This is just Chan meditation. When we meditate, we investigate the question, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" We recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha" for two weeks, and then we try to find out who is reciting the Buddha's name. We have to find out "who" and not lose the "who." If we lose it, then we won't be able to get home. If we can't get home, we won't see Amitabha Buddha.
One with Proper Faith, Proper Vows, and Proper Practice
Faith, vows, and practice are the three prerequisites of the Pure Land Dharma-door. One who goes on a journey takes along some food and a little money. One who wishes to go to the Land of Ultimate Bliss needs faith, vows, and the practice of holding the Buddha's name.
Faith is the first prerequisite, for without it one will not have an affinity with Amitabha Buddha in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. You must have faith in yourself, faith in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, as well as in cause and effect, noumenon and phenomenon.
What does it mean to believe in oneself? It is to believe that you certainly have the qualifications necessary to be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. You should not take yourself lightly and say, "I have committed so many offenses, I can't be born there." Suppose you have created karma involving heavy offenses, well, now you have a good opportunity: you can "take your karma with you into rebirth." That means that regardless of the offenses you have committed in the past, you can still be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, and that karma goes along with you.
However, you need to know that the karma you can take is karma you have already created, not karma that you continue to create. Karma you have already created is the karma from previous lives. Karma you continue to create will ripen in the future. What you can carry is offenses that come from karma created in the past; what you cannot carry is offenses from karma you create now that will ripen in the future. No matter what you have ever done, not withstanding any kind of offenses, you can now change your faults and reform your conduct, stopping evil and becoming wholesome. Then you can take those previously-created offenses with you to the Land of Ultimate Bliss. But continuing to create karma will keep you from being able to go.
Secondly, you must have faith in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss which is hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands from here. Before he realized Buddhahood, Amitabha Buddha, as the Bhikshu Dharma Treasury, vowed to create the Land of Ultimate Bliss where living beings of the ten directions who vowed to be born there could gain rebirth by reciting his name. There is no need to do anything else; it is easy, simple, convenient, and interpenetrating--yet it doesn't cost a thing and doesn't waste energy. This Dharma-door can be considered the highest and most supreme, for if you just recite, "Namo Amitabha Buddha," you will be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
It is also necessary to believe in cause and effect. Believing in cause is to believe that in the past you have planted good roots that now enable you to believe in this Dharma-door. Without good roots, no one can encounter this Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha's name, or any other Dharma-door, for that matter. Because of the good roots you planted in the past, you can now encounter the Pure Land Dharma-door of faith, vows, and holding the name. But if you don't continue to nourish the good roots you planted, then you won't be able to reap the fruition of Bodhi in the future. That is why you must believe in cause and effect; believe that in the past you already planted causes for Bodhi and so in the future you will certainly reap the fruition of Bodhi. The principle is the same as planting a field: the seeds must be watered and nourished before they can grow.
Finally, one must have faith in phenomenon and noumenon. The specific phenomenon is this: Amitabha Buddha has a great affinity with us and will certainly guide us to Buddhahood. The noumenal principle is this: We know the great affinity exists because without it we would not have met the Pure Land Dharma-door. Amitabha Buddha is all living beings and all living beings are Amitabha Buddha. Amitabha Buddha became Amitabha Buddha by reciting the Buddha's name, and if we recite the Buddha's name, we, too, can become Amitabha Buddha.
We should cultivate according to the phenomena and the noumenal principle. The Avatamsaka Sutra speaks of four Dharma Realms:
1. The Dharma Realm of Unobstructed Phenomena
2. The Dharma Realm of Unobstructed Noumena
3. The Dharma Realm of Noumena and Phenomena Unobstructed
4. The Dharma Realm of All Phenomena Unobstructed
Considering the four Dharma Realms, and speaking from the standpoint of our self-nature, we and Amitabha Buddha are united in one, and therefore we have the qualifications to realize Buddhahood.
Amitabha Buddha is the Amitabha Buddha within the minds of all living beings, and living beings are the living beings within the mind of Amitabha Buddha. Due to this interconnection, there are phenomena and the noumenon. However, you must believe in this principle and energetically practice it by reciting the Buddha's name; you cannot get lazy. Your recitation of the Buddha's name should increase day by day, not decrease.
Having discussed faith, we will now discuss vows. What is a vow? When you want something, when your thoughts tend toward a certain thing, your mind has a wish, then you make a vow. In Buddhism there are four vast vows:
I vow to save the limitless living beings.
I vow to cut off the inexhaustible afflictions.
I vow to study the immeasurable Dharma-doors.
I vow to realize the supreme Buddha Way.
All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the past, present, and future practiced the Bodhisattva conduct and attained Buddhahood by relying on these four great vows.
But in order to make vows you must have faith. First, believe there is a Land of Ultimate Bliss; secondly, have faith in Amitabha Buddha; thirdly, believe that you and Amitabha Buddha have a great affinity, and that you can certainly be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. With faith in these three things, you may then make the vow, "I desire to be born in Amitabha's country." There is a saying,
"I want to be born in the Western Pure Land."
"I want to be born there. Nobody's forcing me to go; nobody's dragging me there. Although Amitabha Buddha has come to guide me, I'm going as a volunteer because I want to be close to him. I want to be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss and to see Amitabha Buddha when my lotus flower opens. I want to meet the Buddha and hear the Dharma." These are the vows you need.
Then you must practice. How? Recite the Buddha's name, saying "Namo Amitabha Buddha, Namo Amitabha Buddha..." as if you were trying to save your head from the executioner, running ahead to keep your head.
Faith, vows, and practice are the travel expenses for rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. They are your ticket.