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Dharma talk: Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over: Pure Land Dharma talks

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Dharma Talk:
Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over

Pure Land Dharma talks
Dharma Talks by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

At the two-week recitation session, during which participants meditated on and recited Amita Buddha's name from four in the morning until ten in the evening, the Venerable Master gave the following daily instructional talks.

Day #1: December 8, 1972

The Buddha Amita is the great Dharma King.
May his Bodhisattvas guide you to the Western Land.
Morning and night, hold his name, with sincerity recite it;
At all times, in contemplation, think upon it well.
With one heart unconfused, you’ll realize Samadhi;
When all creation’s void, you’ll enter the Lotus Land.
Suddenly awakened to the uncreated, the Buddha appears in person,
And wonderful enlightenment is naturally attained.

This eight-line verse praises the Buddha Amita, the great Dharma King. “Amita” translated from Sanskrit means “limitless light” and describes his unlimited wisdom. He is also nameAmitayus,” which means “limitless life, ” symbolizing his unlimited blessings. Because he is complete with both blessings and wisdom, he is called the Buddha of Limitless Life and Light.

The Buddha has perfected great kindness, compassion, joy, and renunciation. Having attained blessings and wisdom, his unselfish wish is to lead all living beings to attain them. He has vowed that all living beings who recite his name will realize Buddhahood. The two words “Amita Buddha” are inconceivable, and within the Buddhadharma, Amita Buddha is a “great Dharma King.”

Those who recite the Buddha’s name have good roots. All you need to do is recite, and without spending money or effort, you too can attain limitless life and light.

“But isn’t this a bit too much of a bargain?” someone may ask.

The reason this simple method is so efficacious is that in former lives, when Amita Buddha was cultivating the Way, he practiced many methods and underwent thousand of tens of thousands of bitter experiences and found them difficult to bring to accomplishment. Accordingly, he made forty-eight great vows, one of which states that any person who recites his name will be assured of rebirth in the Western Land and the attainment of orthodox enlightenment. Until this vow is fulfilled, Amita Buddha himself will not realize Buddhahood.

Our recitation is like sending a telegram to Amitabha in the West. At the end of our lives, the Bodhisattvas will guide us to rebirth in the Western Pure Land.

Morning and night, in motion and stillness, at all times you can recite. While moving you can recite and change the motion into stillness; when still you can recite and turn the stillness into motion. When there is neither motion nor stillness, your telegram to Amitabha has gotten through and you’ve received his response.

If you maintain your recitation with undivided attention morning and night without stopping, you may recite to the point that you don’t know that you are walking when you walk, you don’t feel thirsty when you are thirsty, and you don’t experience hunger when you are hungry, you don’t know you are cold in freezing weather, and you don’t feel the warmth when you are warm. People and dharmas are empty, and you and Amita Buddha become one. “Amita Buddha is I and I am Amita Buddha.” The two cannot be separated. Recite single-mindedly and sincerely without false thoughts. Pay no attention to worldly concerns. When you don’t know the time and don’t know the day, you may arrive at a miraculous state.

You may ask, “but isn’t that just being stupid?”

In fact, rather than having become stupid, you will have experiencedgreat wisdom which appears to be stupidity.” Confucius said, “I have spoken with Hui for a whole day and he has not contradicted me, as if he were stupid. But I have examined his actions when he retires from me and found that he puts the teachings into practice. Hui is not stupid.” (Confucian Analects, II., Chapter 9.)

I remember when I was young and first started school I was very dull. I studied over and over again but could not remember my lessons, and if I did manage to learn them, I forgot them when I stood before the teacher to recite. Then suddenly my intelligence opened and I was able to recite a work having read it only once, and could master in an hour what took other students five days to learn. I became arrogant and my teacher said to me, “Who would have thought that such a stupid person could become as intelligent as Yen Hui?”

When I heard this, I shivered in fright: “will I die as young as Yen Hui did?” (Yen Hui, Confucius’s most intelligent disciple, died when he was only thirty-three.) So I quit being arrogant and resolved never to be jealous of another person. I took this as my guiding principle and wished that everyone would surpass me. The better others are than I, the more I like it. At that time I also gave myself the name “Semblance of Stupidity.”

At all times contemplate the bright countenance of Amita Buddha with singleminded concentration. At all times recollect his wonderful realm and don’t think about the matters of the world. With one heart unconfused you may enter dhyana samadhi; all worries and afflictions will completely disappear as you enter the lotus land and enlighten to the unconditioned. This is to understand your own original face. Wonderful enlightenment is just certification to Buddhahood. It’s not enough just to say, “I want to be a Buddha,” and thereby become a Buddha; on the contrary, you must work with great effort to realize Buddhahood.

If you can recite with one unconfused heart, you may arrive at the state where the ten thousand dharmas are empty. You may then let go of everything and obtain independence and purity. So the Dharma-door of Buddha recitation is ineffably wonderful.

When you have recited enough to have gained some skill, not only will you not feel thirsty, but you will feel as if you were drinking sweet dew. Don’t become attached, however, for if you do, your greedy thoughts for sweet dew will cause for the fine state to vanish. You may also recite until you see light, the Buddhas, or lotus flowers. But don’t be greedy for these states, either, or in your delight, they will disappear.

This is the first day of the session and there is still much time in which to obtain a single unconfused heart and experience these fine states. Whatever you do, don’t be lazy and wait around thinking you have a lot of time. You must recite earnestly and not waste your days. In the evening, during the Great Transference of Merit Ceremony, be even more sincere and determined to attain good results. If, instead, you waste your time, you will undergo all this bitterness for nothing. Won’t that be a shame?

Day #2: December 9, 1972

  Blowing winds and still water expound the Mahayana;
  Flocks of birds sing in choir, elegant and resonant.
  With upright faith, upright vows, and with upright practice,
  Remember the Buddha, remember the Dharma,
  and recollect the Sangha.
  With vigor, perfect each of the three levels of no-retreat.
  In dhyana you may ascend through each of the nine grades,
  And meet in person Amita Buddha, your compassionate father.
  Such a reunion with your flesh and blood brings happiness indeed!

In the Land of Ultimate Bliss, the blowing breezes and the still waters proclaim the Dharma of the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle. White swans, peacocks, kalavinkas, and other birds don’t screech or chatter, but assemble to preach the Dharma with eloquence and grace.

In your practice, it is most important to have right faith and right practice, and to leave deviant faith and practice far behind. Do not make the mistake of becoming attached to minor spiritual powers, which enable you perhaps to see spirits or strange creatures. That is of no great use.

Recollect all the Buddhas of the ten directions, all the Dharmas in the ten directions, and all the holy sages of the ten directions until you attain the splendid state called the “Buddha Recitation Samadhi.” At that time every sound you hear sings “Amitabha.”

Be vigorous and perfect the three levels of no-retreat:

The Three Levels of No-Retreat

Cultivation of both dhyana meditation and the Pure Land recitation leads to ascension through the nine grades of lotuses and to quick certification to Buddhahood.

Amita Buddha is our compassionate father, and if we merely recite his name he will help us eradicate our worst karmic obstacles so that we may be born in the West, taking our residual bad karma with us where we can gradually eradicate all of it. When we are reunited with our father, our own flesh and blood, our happiness will be unspeakably great.

You have already endured three days of bitterness and now you should again bring forth the great Bodhi heart. Don’t fear suffering, don’t fear difficulty, and don’t fear heat or cold. Advance with vigor to the Land of Ultimate Bliss!

Day #3: December 10,1972

Here in the ice-box three days have quickly passed. On the first day, someone thought, “I can’t take it. I am cold because there’s no heater, and hungry because we only eat one meal a day. All day we sit and walk, sit and walk, reciting, “Namo Amita Buddha,” and the more I recite, the colder and hungrier I get. I really can’t take it.”

But for two days he took what he couldn’t take, afraid that the rest of us would call him a coward if he left; and now on the third day, he finds it much easier. “It’s not important if I’m a little chilly, and a little hunger doesn’t matter.” It’s all a test of your fortitude.

You haven’t run off but instead have recited the Buddha’s name, and accordingly your good roots have grown. I know that there are some who already have seen light, flowers, and the Buddha. Some have seen Amita Buddha rub the tops of their heads and transmit predictions of Buddhahood to them.

“Really?” you ask. “Why haven’t I seen this?”

How can you ask such a question! You should ask yourself whether or not you have singlemindedly and sincerely applied effort which would cause such states to manifest.

“Oh,” you say, “it’s too much suffering—suffering so that I think I’m going to die.”

If that’s the case, then give up your life. What do you want your life for anyway? It is said,

 If you can’t let go at death you won’t obtain a good rebirth;
 If you can’t let go of the false, you won’t obtain the true.

If you only wish to enjoy yourself, you’ll have no share in the transcendental Dharma. If you wish to obtain the transcendental Dharma, to return to the root and go back to the source, then you have to undergo a bit of suffering and view worldly dharmas as less important. Don’t look upon trivial problems as being so weighty. I remember a poem Upasika Phuong wrote when she was at home with nothing to do. She gave herself a job and wrote:

Alone and still I gaze from the balcony
At wave tops capped with flowers of white water
And pounding surf below, startling the gulls.
The water swells into waves and the waves subside
And disappear: defiled conditions cease.
Return to the root; go straight back to the source.
You’re free to roam at will.

Silent, as if entering samadhi, she saw the ocean waves wearing white flower caps and heard the roaring surf which frightened the seagulls into flight. The water swelling into waves is an analogy for afflictions arising in the self-nature, and the waves returning to the water represents our afflictions, however heavy they are, being transformed into the Bodhi self-nature. It is causing the defiled conditions to cease, letting go of all worldly dharmas. At this time you may return to the root, go back to the source, and view your own original face, free to do whatever you wish. But now, before we have returned, we must follow the rules and earnestly recite the Buddha’s name until, with undeviating singlemindedness, we perfect the Buddha Recitation Samadhi. We will then be free to roam at will.

There’s an old saying, “In the coldest weather, the pines are the last to lose their green.” San Francisco has never had such cold weather; it’s been under twenty degrees and most people are staying indoors with their heaters turned up. We aren’t going outside either, but instead of a heater, we have turned on the coolers! Pine trees may be the last to be harmed, but we are proving that we are vajra. Some of you could be comfortable at home, but have chosen to come here to recite the Buddha’s name, cultivate, and endure the bitterness instead. This is very rare and has moved Amita Buddha who will certainly guide you to rebirth in the Western Land.

Here in San Francisco, Amita Buddha has entered the Vajra Samadhi and made the earth firm and solid. We should enter the Vajra Samadhi, too, and cause San Francisco to be as indestructible as vajra. Didn’t I say last night that it wasn’t that there couldn’t be an earthquake, but rather that the earth was not permitted to quake? Amita Buddha is the one who is not permitting the earth to quake because his is the Land of Ultimate Bliss, and any place his name is sincerely recited is a part of the Land of Ultimate Bliss. If you don’t believe me, wait until the fourth of January and see!

Day #4:December 11, 1972

That you are still pursuing your work so diligently, reciting the Buddha’s name in spite of the cold weather, is a sure sign of your sincerity; if you were not serious you wouldn’t be able to continue in this cold.

Through whirling snow on icy cliffs, whitening the sky,
Red lotuses burst forth today, in bloom all over the earth.
In infinite layers the Buddha’s light illumines all without end;
Each syllable of the Buddha’s name nurtures the Dharma-source.
In a finger snap the work is done just as you had wished,
And disasters wrought in lives gone by in a flash are melted away.
In contemplation, still and pure, find constant happiness;
Superior persons’ accomplishments in the end
are caused to bear their fruit.

Here in the chill of the Great Hall it is we who are the cold cliffs and whirling snowflakes which fill the sky. Although the air is white with snow it is still possible for red lotus flowers to appear, because our recollection of the Buddha’s name causes them to bloom. The flowers are not the small ones we are used to seeing, but they are as large as carriage wheels. Each person who recollects the Buddha will in the future be born within lotus flowers such as these. When the flower opens, one will see the Buddha and awaken to the patience with the non-production of dharmas.

The Buddhas of the ten directions will emit light with which they will give us a physical examination to see if we have any illnesses. The examination takes place because we are filling out immigration papers for entry into the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

Whenever you recite the Buddha’s name you plant a seed in the field of the Dharma-nature. Reciting is also like applying fertilizer, for if you recite a lot and are sincere, your lotus will be a superior grade and the fruit will be superb. If your recitation reaches the level of single-minded concentration, then on the verge of death you will be without sickness and pain, just as if you had entered Ch’an samadhi. You will be reborn in the Western Land from within the lotus. You will be reborn in the Western Land from within the lotus which you have nurtured. If you do not recite, the flower will wither from lack of nourishment.

If you continually apply effort, your wish will be fulfilled and you will be reborn in the flick of a wrist. Your karmic obstacles from past lives will instantly melt away so that you obtain the still, bright, pure, and permanent joy. When this happens, the superior person’s job is done, his work perfected, and all his wishes fulfilled.

The most important point of recitation is to melt the drift of false thoughts so that one becomes pure and spotless, like the driven snow. So the verse speaks of “whirling snow on icy cliffs.” The cold cliffs represent one’s false thoughts. When the false thoughts are melted away, one can return to the origin, and be reborn in a red lotus, the lotus reserved for pure, undefiled people.

There is a simple analogy used to describe the Dharma-door of Buddha-recitation: a living being in the three realms is like a worm caught in a section of bamboo who is trying to bore his way out. In the practice of other Dharma-doors, one must crawl out step-by-step. For example, one must practice dhyana for a long time in order to attain samadhi. In following the Vinaya School, one must memorize volumes of rules and follow them without fail. Those who cultivate the Teaching School must read and recite the Sutras and lecture on the dharma. They have to “divide the doors, discriminate the classes, articulate the schools, apportion the teachings”; and so it is said, “Endlessly discriminating names and marks, like trying to count the grains of sand on the beach, will only hang you up.” Cultivating the Secret School one must pass through many stages. The step-by-step process is like the progress of the worm who gnaws his way up through section after section of the bamboo. There is, however, another worm in the bamboo who is smart enough to gnaw his way straight through the side of the stalk. The sections of bamboo represent the difficulties encountered as one tries to leap out of the triple realm. Escaping through the side is like the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha’s name. You get out of the triple realm and gain rebirth in the Western Land, packing your karma from past lives with you. This does not mean, however, that you can continue to create offense-karma and expect to take it with you to the Pure Land. If you continue to create fresh karma, you are considered a hopeless case. Even the greatly compassionate Amitabha Buddha himself has no way to save you.

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?”

Who knows?

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!

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.

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:

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:

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.

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.