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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over
Pure Land Dharma Talks
Day #5: December 12, 1972
Time passes quickly and we are already into the fifth day. How is your skill in recitation developing? Today two people came to ask for instruction. What did they want to discuss? Perhaps they came to report that they had obtained the Buddha Recitation Samadhi! Because the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha’s name has been opened, they can now bring up their questions if they wish, and allow everyone to examine them.
It is the custom in Buddhism that a person who has left the home-life and seeks instruction must first put on his ceremonial robe and sash, go before the Master, bow three times, kneel on both knees, join his palms respectfully, and then ask his question. A layman who has received the precepts may or may not observe this tradition. When these ceremonies have been performed the Master will then answer questions.
Today, when those seeking instruction arrived, I was busy and didn’t have time to speak to them. If they don’t wish to ask their questions publicly, they can come tomorrow after 2:30 and I will talk with them.
When people recite the Buddha’s name they occasionally see light; sometimes they see the Buddha; sometimes they see ghosts or spirits. There are both good and bad states which may arise. What states have all of you experienced? Bring them up and we’ll look into them.
Disciple: “Because of my involvement with the class I am teaching, I have not been able to cultivate much this week. However, whenever I enter the hall I notice that the air around me is clear; it becomes quite pure as I recite the Buddha’s name, as if my eyes could see more to either side, see further around my head. Also at times I have almost seen flowers which are not yet clear since I have not done much work. I can also feel the psychic heat energy when I am sitting in meditation, but again I haven’t worked on it much yet.”
Abbot: These are initial stages in your cultivation. Continue to work hard.
Day #6: December 13, 1972
Today the Buddha recitation session has already reached the sixth day. How is your recitation progressing? Have you reached the level of single-minded concentration? Or do you still experience furious flurries of fantasy? If you can arrive at the state of undistracted, singleminded concentration, then walking, standing, sitting, and lying down you are mindful of the Buddha.
At such times, when your thinking ceases, even in the midst of a storm you are unaware of the blowing wind and oblivious of the beating rain. There is a saying, “The gales of wind can’t penetrate and the driving rain can’t leak in.” Being thus, you are like the Buddha and have entered the state of the Buddha Recitation Samadhi. You have relinquished your mind and body, and the organs and objects have been cast aside. Within, there is no body and mind; outside, there is no world. At that time not only are you unaware of other people, you don’t even know yourself. Everything vanishes.
“What is meant by casting aside the organs and the objects?” one may ask.
The organs refer to the six sense organs: the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The objects refer to the six objects of the senses: forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects, and dharmas. Adding the six consciousnesses which arise between the sense organs and their objects, completes the eighteen realms, while the six organs and six objects alone comprise the twelve sense fields.
The eyes sees forms, while inside there are none;
The ear hears sounds which the heart does not know.
When the six organs are purified and the six objects are undefiled, the organs and objects naturally fall away and as a result the mind and body are free and at ease. When the body is at ease, hunger, thirst, cold, heat, fondness and resentment, sadness and happiness are unknown to it. This is the ability to remain unturned. When the heart is free and at ease then not one thought is produced.
When not a single thought is produced,
the total substance manifests.
When the six organs suddenly move,
one is enveloped by the clouds.
If one can refrain from producing a single thought, the great function of the entire body comes forth. If the six organs move, the wisdom of your self-nature, which basically shines like the sun, becomes shaded by a covering of clouds and you lose your Selective Dharma Eye. Without the Selective Dharma Eye, you cannot see clearly; you cannot distinguish right from wrong, proper from improper. When this happens, no matter which way you turn you are obstructed, and you bump against the east and crash into the west. As if imprisoned in the four walls of a cage, you keep colliding coming and going, and can’t get free.
The Four Walls of a Cage
Intoxicants include cigarettes and drugs as well as alcoholic beverages.
Beautiful Forms include material objects as well as members of opposite sex.
Riches are something everyone enjoys. Day in and day out the main preoccupation of the majority of people is how to get more wealth. Their whole lives are based around the accumulation of money and they race after it in circles. The Chinese character for money ( -ch’ien) is made up of two sounds beside gold. People will fight to the death over gold. Most people bicker over money. Those who know how to use wealth can leap out of the three realms. Those who cannot, find it hard to escape from the karma they create. There is a verse which goes:
Advised to donate to charity, he has no money—
he has it but he won’t use it.
But when an accident occurs he’ll send thousands—
which he may not have but somehow gets.
If one mentions joining a beneficial activity—
he’d go, but he’s too busy.
Yet on the day he dies and enters the grave,
despite his busyness, he has to go!
I had a disciple name Kuo P’ei who had a substantial amount of money in the bank but wouldn’t part with so much as a hair on his head. He said that he didn’t have enough money to support a wife and family and so remained a bachelor. Eventually he developed appendicitis and had an operation, but the attack proved fatal. When he died he couldn’t take a penny with him. The only thing he took along were his karmic obstacles. Isn’t this pitiful and stupid?
Anger is hard to handle. Everyone gets angry. Everyone has a temper and some people even get so mad it kills them. I remember when Dharma Master Le Tu came to visit, accompanied by Layman Li, who tried to make an offering to me. I refused it and the layman said I made him so angry he almost died!
I often recite this verse for you:
Fish in the water jump about,
People in the world clamor.
Knowing they should perform kind acts,
They steel their hearts and continue to create bad karma.
Piling up gold and silver high as a mountain,
They go before King Yama with empty hands,
Weeping with regret.
If you have the Selective Dharma Eye you can discriminate clearly between the good and the bad. By mindfulness of the Buddha, we can select the proper path and avoid the pitfalls which surround us on all sides: intoxicants, beautiful forms, riches, and anger. To be able to do this is very important.
Day #7: December 14, 1972
A Buddhist Sutra says, “Though a great number of beings may cultivate, it is difficult for even one to succeed in the Dharma-ending Age. Only by means of the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha’s name is it easy to succeed in cultivation.” We are presently in the Dharma-ending Age and the method of cultivation we are using in this session is the most appropriate, the most universal. It covers those with all three kinds of roots: sharp, dull, and ordinary.
Not only do intelligent people benefit from reciting the Buddha’s name, but stupid and doubtful people do as well. One who is old and approaching death would do well to recite the Buddha’s name. For one who is in his prime with the promise of a long life ahead it is even more beneficial to recite the Buddha’s name. One who is sick and undergoing great suffering gains benefit by reciting the Buddha’s name. One in good health profits even more from reciting the Buddha’s name. No matter who you are, you can recite the Buddha’s name.
Shakyamuni Buddha spontaneously spoke the Amitabha Sutra to exhort us to recollect the Buddha, and the final chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra, the King of Sutras, is devoted to inspiring people to be mindful of the Buddha, You should not write off this practice as a Dharma-door for old ladies.
“But what meaning does it have?” one may ask.
What meaning do you want? To recite the Buddha’s name, your mindfulness must separate from all false discursive thought. When you reach this point your skill is perfected and you may return to the Western Land.
At the end of the Dharma-ending Age, all the Sutras will disappear. The Shurangama Sutra will be the first to vanish and so on until eventually the only Sutra left will be the Amitabha Sutra. After a hundred years, it too will disappear, and only the words “Namo Amitabha Buddha” will remain. After another hundred years, these words will dwindle to just “Amitabha Buddha,” a phrase which will take numberless beings across the sea of suffering to enlightenment. When even the words “Amitabha Buddha” finally perish, then the entire world will be annihilated. From creation the world passes through the stages of dwelling, decay, and emptiness; then another world is created, and the process begins again.
People also pass through the same cyclical process. They are born, dwell, decay, and die. Production occurs during the first twenty years of your life during which you grow up and gain an education. For the next twenty years you go to work and undertake various activities. For the next twenty years, you experience decay. Your eyes grow dimmer and dimmer, your hair becomes flecked with gray, and your teeth start falling out.
Your body is like a house. The mouth is the door; the eyes are the windows; the four limbs are the corner posts; the hair is the thatch on the roof. By the time the house begins to fall apart, it is too late to worry about fixing it up. You should have kept up with the repairs all along. When your house deteriorates, you move into another one; when your body decays, you also get another body. You should know that neither the house nor the body is yours.
“If my body is not me,” you may ask, “then what is me?”
The reason you have to be mindful of the Buddha is because you can’t find your “self.” While trying to discover “Who am I?” you are at the same time nourishing your Dharma-nature field. We must plant the seed, tend the sprouts, and reap the fruit. What is the Bodhi-seed? It is recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s name. What is the sprout? It is the appearance of your lotus in the Western Land. What is the Bodhi-fruit? It is your rebirth in the Pure Land, when, at the end of your life, the flower opens, you see the Buddha, and awaken to patience with the non-production of dharmas.
During this first seven-day session several people have received benefit. Some have tasted sweet dew, others’ pulses have stopped; some have had their breath stop. Their outer breath ceased and an inner breath was born. Some experienced the cessation of all thought. These are the initial stages of light ease which result from a unified application of effort.
It is said, “If one wishes to escape death, one must first be a living dead man.” Ignore trivial matters. Constantly return the light of your wisdom to illumine within. See it all in yourself. Turn your hearing back to your own nature and carefully examine the sound of your recitation. Is it clear? Is it full? Or are there instead the teeming hordes of false thoughts? There’s a great difference between the two, you know. Recite well and don’t let the time pass in vain.
Day #8: December 15, 1972
Today Kuo Wu wrote a verse:
Amitabha by day; Amitabha by night.
Patient, alert to each sound, “Amitabha.
Amitabha, Amitabha—in the end where is he?
Forgetting yourself you are Amitabha!
Day and night we recite the Buddha’s name and with each sound we think of Amitabha. The phrase Namo means “homage.” To whom are we paying homage? Ultimately, we pay homage to ourselves! On the day when you entirely forget yourself, the Amitabha of your own nature will appear.
I recall that in Hong Kong a bhikshu who smoked cigarettes and didn’t cultivate very much, all of a sudden decided to do a 90-day Standing Buddha Recitation Session. During such a session one walks without stopping for ninety days while being mindful of the Buddha. Since one does not sit or lie down, one’s legs grow sore, one’s feet swell, one’s nerves become exhausted, and one’s energy is drained. But in spite of the bitterness, one must continue to walk, for if one stumbles and falls, the session is over.
When the bhikshu told me he wanted to conduct the session at Ta Yu Mountain, I furnished a room in the temple for him to use. Not long after he began, he saw Amitabha Buddha right before his eyes. Mad with joy, he began racing around the room bellowing the Buddha’s name. Hearing his loud cries, I knew something was wrong and went to see what was happening. As soon as I arrived, I saw what the problem was. He was not seeing Amitabha Buddha, but a huge water buffalo essense, which had been able to disturb his mind, since he didn’t hold the precepts purely.
“How could a water buffalo appear as Amitabha Buddha?” you ask.
Heavenly demons and externalists can manifest in the form of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in order to confuse people. “Don’t be so excited,” I told the bhikshu. “You should relax and quietly recollect the Buddha.” In general, no matter what state occurs in your cultivation, it is essential that you remain detached. If you become attached, you may be attacked by demons. It was fortunate that I went to see what the matter was; if I hadn’t, he would have been caught by the demon.
We are reciting the Buddha’s name like members of a family working together; we criticize one another and offer one another our support. It is a matter of principle that I never reject anyone who wants to come here, and never detain anyone who wants to leave. If you don’t believe it, it doesn’t matter, because, with me, everything is okay.
This past year many people have requested permission to leave the home-life under me. I always instruct them to first return home and cultivate on their own until their work blossoms into some attainment, for then their time will be ripe and it will be right for them to leave home. It is not certain that some of them could make it if they left home. They might not be able to renounce everything.
Today someone came asking to leave home. She has two children, one fourteen and one fifteen. I told her that it would really be better to cultivate at home until she can truly put everything down. If she comes back, there will still be time. I could have told her that it would be better for me to teach her children, because children aren’t burdened with so much false thinking. If a youth can cultivate, it is relatively easy for him to make progress, and I am able to lead him to attain the Way.
When I was in Manchuria I had a fourteen-year old attendant who wanted spiritual penetrations. I told him that if he really wanted them it wouldn’t be difficult, but that he would have to undergo a certain amount of suffering. He believed me and followed me for almost a year, while I led him through all kinds of bitterness. He had to bear the unbearable, eat the inedible. Once I was invited to receive offerings at a layman’s house and I spoke the Dharma for them. We sat in meditation, as was our custom, for two hours before retiring. After an hour, however, the child lay down to sleep. I grabbed the pillow and threw it roughly on the floor. The child never slacked off again, whether I was with him or not.
Once, we were travelling after a heavy rain. About halfway home we came upon a piece of waterlogged pastry lying in the mud. “Master,” he said, “look at that!”
“Eat it,” I replied.
He didn’t follow my instructions and when we got home I said, “It’s a pity you didn’t eat that biscuit we just saw, because if you had, you would have attained your spiritual powers.” When he heard this he began to cry. “It doesn’t matter,” I said, consoling him, “there will be many more chances.” And in fact, not much later he obtained spiritual powers—the heavenly eye and the knowledge of others’ thoughts. He knew former and future events and understood the workings of cause and effect. Why was he able to attain these powers so quickly? Because young children are pure and free of false thoughts it is easy for them to attain the Way.
I had six or seven such disciples in Manchuria who had similar accomplishments and they were a great help to me. We went everywhere rescuing people and spreading the Dharma, relieving living beings of their suffering. These disciples trusted me implicitly and would do whatever I told them to do. In fact, had I told them to jump into a pit of fire or into the ocean, they would have done so without hesitation. Of course, I would never have told them to do such a thing. The point is that they would follow my instructions to the letter.
It is my hope that in this country there will be those who attain the Way. This is why I am so severe with you and exhort you to endure suffering. An ancient said, “Having tasted the bitterness within the bitterness one can become a man above men.” The reason I am constantly urging you on is simply to bring about your enlightenment. The sooner you attain the Way the sooner you can help benefit humankind!