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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over
Pure Land Dharma Talks
Day #12: December 19, 1972
Another disciple wrote a verse:
Sweet dew is sprinkled on our crowns,
Our bodies emit an eternal light;
The three realms are viewed as illusion,
and the three periods of time but a dream.
All of creation only the mind—originally unobstructed;
Manifold good deeds amass great virtues,
the heart becomes free.
Defiled conditions cast aside
we obtain our independence,
And soon are reborn in the Western Land
on a purple-golden throne.
Because we recite the Buddha’s name, Kuan Yin Bodhisattva comes to our aid and sprinkles sweet dew on the tops of our heads. Great Strength Bodhisattva’s brilliance illumines us. These two Bodhisattvas are Amitabha Buddha’s disciples and they have both made vows to help him propagate the Dharma.
With one recitation of the Buddha’s name a lotus forms.
“ Then if I recite ten times do ten blossoms come forth?” you may ask. No, but if ten people recite then ten flowers come forth.
“Since one recitation brings forth one flower, why recite more than once?”
The more you recite, the better the flower. One must recite life after life, until the day arrives when one is born in the upper grade of superior lotus.
There are three realms: the Realm of Desire, the Realm of Form and the Formless Realm. The Four Heavenly Kings and people reside in the Desire Realms. Their thoughts are deeply imbedded in desire and heavy defilements which weigh on their hearts. In the Formless Realm all form has vanished and one obtains purity, but attachment to self remains because the eighth consciousness remains, keeping one from experiencing genuine emptiness and escaping the Three Realms.
Far from being peaceful, the Three Realms are like a burning house. Because people think and fantasize, they can’t break their attachment to these false states. Don’t think your body is beautiful and charming, for in reality it is nothing but a stinking bag of skin, not something to treat too fondly.
The three times are the past, present, and future. They are like a dream. When dreaming you don’t know the dream is false, but when you wake up, you realize it was all an illusion. You might dream that you have become a great, wealthy official, but when you wake up, you know it was all unreal. If you can wake up and see through the dream, you will cease to hang on to anything.
Every aspect of behavior is not separate from the self nature. One’s self nature contains everything, and thus “manifold good deeds amass virtue.” With no attachment one obtains liberation; if one can give up defiled dharmas he can become free and quickly gain rebirth on the purple-golden lotus throne in the Western Paradise where he will personally behold Amita Buddha.
Day #13: December 20,1972
Does anyone have any questions?
Disciple: “I do not understand the phrase in the Amitabha Sutra which says, ‘Those living beings who hear this should vow, “I wish to be born in that county.”’ I want to end birth and death and get out of the wheel of rebirth, the sooner the better! I don’t understand why one would wish to be reborn in that land.”
Abbot: A very good question. The answer to it can be found by examining Amitabha Buddha’s cultivation in past lives when he was planting the causes to become a Buddha. From the time he began practicing until he attained the Way, he endured uncountable sufferings.
Therefore he made forty-eight vows in which he promised, “I vow that all beings in the ten directions will obtain rebirth in my country, the Land of Ultimate Bliss, if they but recite my name. When the flower opens they will see the Buddha and awaken to patience with the non-production of dharmas. If they do not realize Buddhahood, I myself will not realize Buddhahood.” The fact that Amitabha is already a Buddha proves that his vow is true, that everyone who recites his name will become Buddhas, too. It was these incomparably vast vows that caused Shakyamuni Buddha to speak the Amitabha Sutra without request.
The question is, “What is the good of being reborn in his land?” Birth in his land is not like birth in ours. We are born as a result of the union of our mothers’s blood and our father’s semen, impure substances. When born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, one emerges from a lotus and enters a realm in which one is irreversible with respect to the highest enlightenment—a realm where there is only bliss and no suffering. The blowing wind, and the waves on the shore, and the fragrances of the flowers all expound the Buddhadharma. Here one is able to realize the Buddha Way and put an end to birth and death. A verse runs:
We vow to be born in the Pure Western Land
With nine grades of lotuses for a father and mother;
When the flower blooms, we’ll see the Buddha
and awaken to non-production,
And take irreversible Bodhisattvas as our friends.
Why does one vow to be born in the west, rather than the east, south, or north? Because Amitabha’s Land of Ultimate Bliss is in the West. In the Pure Land you receive a lotus for parents. When the flower opens, your Buddha-nature, which has dwelt within it, emerges. From that time on you are neither born nor do you die, you are neither defiled nor pure, and you are a peer of non-retreating Bodhisattvas.
A few days ago, you mentioned the Sixth Patriarch’s teaching, “Your very body is the enlightenment ground and your mind the Pure Land.” At that time the Patriarch was speaking to those with keen dispositions, who upon hearing it suddenly united with the dhyana source, their bodies becoming that of the Buddhas. But our roots are dull. How can our very bodies become Buddhas? That is why we must depend on our practice to gradually quiet and purify our hearts and cut away our false thoughts. The Pure Land Dharma-door is the easiest method to practice.
Formerly all the Great Bodhisattvas like Kuan Yin and Great Strength Bodhisattva, Universal Worthy and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva praised the benefits of the Dharma-door of mindfulness of the Buddha. The Elder Dhyana Master Yung Ming Shou especially recommended the method of recollecting the Buddha as the most expedient, the most complete, and the easiest to cultivate.
Even if you don’t believe in it, you shouldn’t slander it; not slandering it is just believing in it. The Amitabha Sutra speaks of the Buddhas of the six directions who bring forth the appearance of a vast and long tongue to praise the Pure Land Dharma-door. If it were not good, why would all the Buddhas have praised it? If you don’t want to cultivate mindfulness of the Buddha, you can give it up and practice dhyana meditation instead. But in cultivating dhyana you cannot be afraid of suffering.
The two-week session of mindfulness of the Buddha will soon be over. Immediately following it, a week of dhyana will begin, and you will rise at 2:30 in the morning and rest at midnight. We’ll see if you are up to it. If you’re not, you can run away. If you can take it, then here in our icebox you can light your natural fire, melt the ice-water, and calm the waves of your own nature. Water changes to ice, ice in turn becomes water. This refers to returning to the origin, finding the source, and seeing your own original face. If you can do this then your cultivation in our icebox will have been worthwhile and a lot of people will join us here. If, however, you die doing it, then no one will dare come.
Someone says, “What’s the use of reciting the Buddha’s name?”
What is the use of all your thinking?
Mindfulness of the Buddha is a substitute for your thoughts. When your thinking disappears, your heart is the Pure Land. There are four Pure Lands:
- The Land Where Sages and Common People Dwell. After common people who are full of delusion have dwelt for a long time in the bud of the lotus flower, it opens at last and they see the Buddha.
- The Land With Residue and Expedient Devices. Those of the Two Vehicles are reborn in this land.
- The Land Adorned with Actual Retribution. This is where Bodhisattvas dwell.
- The Land of Eternal Stillness and Light, where Buddhas and Bodhisattvas dwell.
Just why have we conducted this Buddha Recitation Session and recited the Buddha’s name for fourteen days? It has been in order to sow seeds and cultivate our Dharma fields. The more we recite the better tended they are, and in the future they will certainly mature and bear full and beautiful fruit. It doesn’t matter whether your mind is scattered or concentrated. It is said,
When the clear pearl is thrown in muddy water,
the muddy water becomes clear.
When the Buddha’s name enters the confused mind,
the confused mind attains Bodhi.
This shows that Buddha recitation is inconceivable, for without extraneous false thinking, you nurture the merit and virtue of your own nature. There are four kinds of Buddha recitation:
- Holding-the-Name Buddha Recitation refers to single-minded recitation of the name of Amitabha Buddha.
- Contemplating-and-Thinking Buddha Recitation refers to contemplating and thinking about Amitabha Buddha:
Amitabha’s body is the color of gold,
The splendour of his hallmarks has no peer.
The light of his brow shines round a hundred worlds.
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.
In nine lotus stages we reach the other shore.
- Contemplating-an-Image Buddha Recitation refers to looking at an adorned image of Amitabha Buddha, reciting his name with your mouth, listening with your ears, and thinking upon it in your heart.
- Real-Mark Buddha Recitation refers to sitting in dhyana meditation and investigating, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” We must find out who it is! Don’t lose track. If you do, you’ll get confused and won’t be able to return to your true home and see Amitabha Buddha.
Tomorrow is Amitabha Buddha’s birthday. We should all be sincere in our worship. Someone asked me, “I want to make an offering to the Master, but what shall I give?”
I replied that the best gift would be the recitation of the Buddha’s name. True recitation is a genuine offering; pure recitation is a genuine offering; wise recitation is a genuine offering. To recite the Buddha’s name with these three attitudes, the three non-outflow studies, is the greatest gift there is. If you bring forth a small heart, that’s a small offering. There is no finer offering than to recite the Buddha’s name because more than anything else, I like people to recite the Buddha’s name. But don’t recite my name; that’s useless. Recite “Namo Amitabha Buddha” and you will create inconceivable merit and virtue.
Day #14: December 21, 1972
Are there any questions?
Disciple: “Earlier, the Master said that there are no women in the Pure Land. The guest I brought to the lecture said afterwards that she found the evening interesting and enjoyable except for this one statement. She asked me if the Master was not in advocate of male chauvinism. I, too, don’t thoroughly understand why such a discrimination between sexes would occur in Amitabha Buddha’s paradise. Would the Master please be compassionate and instruct us?”
Are there any other questions?
Disciple: “I also questioned this when I heard it. It seems strange to me that amidst the vast expanse of lotuses in the Pure Land, all the beings who come forth would be male. What is the use of being male in such an environment?”
Why does a person born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss endure no suffering and enjoy every bliss? In that land there is perpetual happiness. Yesterday I said there are no women in the Land of Ultimate Bliss? Today I will say instead that there are no men. Do you think that your Master is confused? No matter what you think, that’s the way it is. My answer suits the occasion.
Everyone should understand that “in the Great Way there is no distinction between men and women.” When a distinction has been made, one falls into the secondary truth. The primary truth is expressed in the Vajra Sutra, which says, “There is no mark of self, no mark of others, no marks of living beings, and no mark of a lifespan.” How can there possibly be the mark of men and women?
Therefore, one can say that either the Land of Ultimate Bliss is inhabited entirely by men, or entirely by women. Regardless of whether they are men or women, they are without emotion and desire. Everyone’s self-nature is pure and blissful.
All living beings possess the Buddha-nature. The Land of Ultimate Bliss is merely a manifestation of the mind. Your own heart is the Pure Land and your nature, Amitabha. The absence of false thoughts is the Pure Land, and freedom from affliction and the destruction of ignorance are Amitabha. You need only ask yourself if you can break through ignorance and cut off affliction and transcend sexual distinctions. If I said the Land of Ultimate Bliss was inhabited by men, the women wouldn’t like it; if I said only women were born there, the men wouldn’t want to go. Distortions of the eighth consciousness bring thoughts into existence and these create distinctions which cause us to suffer because of attachment.
We are now in the field of enlightenment cultivating the Pure Land Dharma. Because we still belong to the realm of living beings, heavy defilements weigh on our hearts, and we must sternly obey the rules until the defilements disappear and our perpetual discrimination ceases. The Land of Ultimate Bliss is the realm of the Bodhisattvas. There, neither men nor women have any desire based on emotion and craving. They are born from pure lotus flowers and thus differ from beings in the Saha World who are born from the union of their mothers’ blood and their fathers’ semen, carnal beings whose lives revolve around emotion and love.
You may have doubts about being born in a lotus, but nevertheless, the Buddha himself explained this principle and was praised by all the Buddhas of the six directions as one who does not lie, nor speak foolishly, unlike beings of the Saha World who are always getting involved in sticky conversations.
If you have reservations about the Pure Land, you should take more time to investigate these areas. With more research and study you will slowly understand.