The Pure Land Teaching by Mipham Rinpoche
A commentary by Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche
The sutra states that the speed of animals’ movement differs in five ways; likewise, the speed of practitioners’ realization differs in five ways. In Secret Mantrayana, it is said that adepts can transform their coarse bodies into the purified forms of vidyadharas of the desire realm or the form realm, and perfect the levels of learning or no-more learning when blessed by the yidams. The diamond vehicle Mantrayana asserts: “In one short lifetime of this degenerate age, practitioners can still attain the fruition of non-duality.” By careful contemplation on this principle, we will come to see the unfathomable power of phenomena. Harnessing this power, one will be able to attain great achievement smoothly. The possibilities are utterly amazing and should never be regarded as unsound. In the same fashion, it’s not improbable to be reborn in Sukhavati effortlessly. This is the power of fact established by the limitless miraculous display of wisdom of the Tathagata. In addition, there are authentic and reliable scriptures as the valid measurements to support this notion.
Some immature intellectuals accept only the sutra teaching that Sukhavati is immensely magnificent, but reject the other sutra teaching that rebirth in Sukhavati can be attained by specific means such as hearing or reciting Buddha Amitabha’s name. Why do they hold a bias against the portion on the causes for rebirth? The extreme subtle meaning of profound scriptures can only be discerned with wisdom. Yet some people defy this advice; they talk rubbish like a fool and obscure the meaning of the sacred teaching. Ordinary people in the world are already heavy with skepticism and, swayed by the above hearsay, become even more confused. People with reasonable doubt may first have wished for rebirth in Sukhavati, but upon hearing these false claims, unreasonable doubt takes over their minds and demolishes their stock of virtue directed for rebirth. The rebirth wish of dull- and weak-minded people, likewise, is not immune to the destruction of these reckless remarks.
Actually, no reasoning based on the power of fact can establish that rebirth is unachievable by merely reciting the Buddha’s name. There are no valid reason to disprove directly the qualities of the Sukhavati and the causes leading to rebirth in it. Some individuals deny the plausibility of rebirth in Sukhavati. If such a denial is based on personal feeling rather than any solid support, they run the risk of losing faith in Sukhavati and the Buddha’s wisdom altogether. Distrusting all the profound practices of the sacred path, they will eventually abandon the Buddhadharma. In the sutra the Buddha said: “Maitreya, these are the activities of the Tathagatas; have full trust in them and apply diligence instead. Do not entertain any doubt in the Buddha’s wisdom that is beyond any hindrance. Otherwise, you will be born in the jeweled palace in the border region!” And: “Maitreya, in order to safeguard this teaching from being destroyed, I am entrusting it to you. To protect the Dharma from vanishing, make an arduous effort to uphold it. Never misapprehend the Buddha’s words, lest you suffer from loss, disadvantages, agitation, agony, and slip into perverted views.” Having understood these points, we conclude: “All these teachings come from the inconceivable wisdom of the Buddha.” Remaining ever steadfast, we are delighted and yearn wholeheartedly for accomplishment.
The Pure Land Teaching mainly explains the validity of rebirth in Sukhavati. This is supported by scriptural teaching and logical reasoning, and reinforced further by specific Pure Land sutras and the sublime wisdom of the author Mipham Rinpoche. We’ll continue on from the last lesson:
“The sutra states that the speed of animals’ movement differs in five ways; likewise, the speed of practitioners’ realization differs in five ways.” The sutras point out that small creatures and animals move at five different paces. For instance, in remote areas people used to travel by riding a yak, which is faster than walking by foot; and riding a horse, in turn, beats riding a yak. In the same way, our spiritual realization is reached swiftly or slowly: For some, it’s protracted and takes three great kalpas; for others, it’s rapid and takes only one life time; still for certain people, it’s neither too fast nor too slow. Apparently, there is no overall generalization as to how quickly or slowly each person attains accomplishment.
The Lankavatara Sutra in Sutra School specifies beings’ aptitude for gradual realization or instant realization, and advises that practitioners must follow their respective path to gain a gradual realization or a sudden realization. Thus we advance on the spiritual journey at various speeds.
“In Secret Mantrayana, it is said that adepts can transform their coarse bodies into the purified forms of vidyadharas of the desire realm or the form realm, and perfect the levels of learning or no-more learning when blessed by the yidams.” Here Mipham Rinpoche cited the one-lifetime attainment in the Tantra School as an example. It is possible for tantric yogis to dissolve their bodies of four elements into basic space if they practice in seclusion the pith instructions given by authentic masters. Not only will their minds enter the dharmadhatu free from any fabrication, but also their bodies are melted into a radiant body of pure light. According to the Glorious Web of Magical Illusion, vidyadhara masters of the desire realm do not appear to differ from commoners in walking or eating; but in reality, their bodies are translucent and permeable and cast no shadows; striking their bodies would be like hitting an open space. Other masters attained the vidyadhara level of the form realm, which has been recorded in the histories of the Great Perfection and other tantric lineages. If blessed by the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or yidams, they will attain all the qualities of the levels of learning (from the 1st to the 10th Bhumi) or no-more learning (Buddhahood). An example was King Indrabodhi, who attained the fruition of the Tathagatas straight from being a commoner. We learned this extraordinary story earlier: Buddha Shakyamuni once advised the Indian monarch King Indrabhuti to take the monastic ordination. However, the king was so engrossed by the pleasures of the five senses that he would rather become a fox than to forsake his courtesans, retinues, and palace. The Buddha then granted the teachings of Secret Mantrayana to the king, who in turn attained the level of vidyadhara on the spot, and perfected the mingling of Dharma with all aspects of daily life. This illustrates the liberation in one lifetime for people of the highest capacity in the tantric practice (more details can be found in the teaching of Treatise on the Three Vows). Of course, others may reach any one of the levels from the 1st to the 10th Bhumi, the path of accumulating, or the path of preparation, indicating that realization is not of one pattern and that the swiftness of the tantric path also varies. Nonetheless, if one meets with exquisite pith instructions, it is possible to realize the fruition of the Tathagata Samantabhadra in one short life.
“The diamond vehicle Mantrayana asserts: ‘In one short lifetime of this degenerate age, practitioners can still attain the fruition of non-duality.’” Here, the “non-duality” means the union of appearance and emptiness, a state accomplished by the vajradhara. Even though the present era is pervaded by the five degenerations, Mantrayana practitioners, by following seriously their guru’s instructions, can attain perfect enlightenment in the short human life of several decades. There is no question about that, as attested by precedents from ancient time. According to The Marvelous Life Stories of 63 Vajrayana Mahasiddhas, Siddha Mekopa, for one, achieved realization in six months. I think it is very important to become familiar with the life stories of tantric mahasiddhas. Recently I am trying to finish my translation of The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, which had been put off for a while because of my busy schedule. Why bother translating a book like this? It is because many people are deriding the Secret Mantra Vajrayana these days, for two reasons. One is that the heavy karma accumulated in past lives impels people to vilify and recoil from this profound teaching when they hear it. The other is being ill informed, which applies especially to the intellectuals who disparage the Vajrayana. If they can become familiar with the history of Vajrayana and the views of lineage masters, as well as the many brilliant tantric practices, they will see that Vajrayana is non-contradictory to Sutrayana and will not deride it. Even if they can’t help being dismissive, the alleged faults could actually be found in the Sutrayana, too; so wouldn’t they be shooting themselves in the foot?
I earnestly hope that many people will come to appreciate the Secret Mantra Vajrayana through my efforts in this brief lifetime. Indeed, today the Vajrayana is not well understood in Han China, because Tibetan highland is in a rather remote region, and Vajrayana centers were practically nonexistent in major Han cities until just a while ago. This plus differences in cultural backgrounds, customs, and languages have made seekers frustrated in accessing this school of Buddhism. True, part of the Vajrayana scriptures has been translated into English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean that allows individuals with an open mind to appreciate it. However, others still remain refractory because they don’t want to be bothered with any in-depth investigation. Frankly, if one is willing to invest energy to look into it, then Vajrayana will no longer appear to be unfathomable, unapproachable, or threatening to the uninitiated.
Vajrayana Buddhism is noted for its systematic and rigorous trainings, and its approaches to discipline, conduct, or bodhichitta do not contradict any of the Sutrayana. Although a few Vajrayana practitioners may have behaved unscrupulously, they cannot represent the whole Vajrayana School. I have repeatedly emphasized that it’s wrong to judge the Dharma by human behavior alone. Considering that corrupt practitioners also find their way in the Sutra School, does it mean the Sutrayana also becomes questionable? Not long ago I was told that in Chengdu three Sutrayana nuns were begging for alms. The nuns, having some kind of hat over their heads, didn’t appear to have their heads shaved. A “naughty” layperson standing next to them abruptly removed their hats, upon which the dyed hairs of the “nuns” were loosened and cascaded down in full view. Abashed at the exposure, they became frightened and begged the layperson not to report them for faking; and after promising never to commit the same misdeed again, they ran away. Therefore, at a time of spiritual degeneration, odd incidents do pop up, in the domains of both the Vajrayana and Sutrayana. I don’t regard these as the ills of Buddhism but rather problems among individuals, which apparently also happened at the time of Buddha Shakyamuni. Indeed, the Vinaya Sutra recorded many expulsion cases of misbehaved monks or nuns from the Sangha community.
Some people, out of their total oblivion to Buddhism, tend to make a mountain out of a molehill when they hear about the improper conduct of Buddhists. They clamor: “How can a monastic member behave like this?” Not long ago a governor officer said to me: “There are quite a few precept-violators in you spiritual community. Isn’t it disconcerting! What happened to your Buddhist training?” I was a little cross hearing this, and rebuked: “You Communist Party is also rife with corrupt members, isn’t it? Just take note, a high government officer was sentenced to death recently!”
However, this kind of worldly perspective toward Buddhism is excusable; after all, most people know very little about the Dharma. The fact of the matter is, whether in Vajrayana or Sutrayana, the ultimate Buddhist teaching is immaculate, and what really counts is whether we, as Buddhists, have lived up to the standard of Buddhism. The wisdom of Dharma is as deep as an ocean, many people, myself included, have not yet tasted one droplet, one thousandth, or even one ten-thousandths droplet of the water from this vast ocean. Such being the case, some inappropriate conduct is unavoidable. Laypersons and we ordinary monastics may act incorrectly, but even some highly regarded and well-established Buddhist masters in Pure Land, Mantra, or Zen School may be subject to occasional bouts of feeling pompous. What if we honestly ask ourselves: How much Dharma have we comprehended? The answer may be quite embarrassing. Lord Buddha imparted to us voluminous teachings, yet we only manage to have studied a few, and among these few, there are plenty of instructions we have not perfected. In all, whether it is the Sutrayana or the Vajrayana, its essence is always the pure Dharma. The so-called fault comes from nowhere but ourselves.
As mentioned, the level of vajradhara is reachable through extraordinary connections in our short human life. There is no doubt about it. However, some teachers, failing to establish this conviction, remain dubious themselves but still preach it to others in an inflated way because they belong to the Mantra School. Well, that’s not what I would do. It is only out of my unwavering confidence in my lineage that I am teaching you this way. Otherwise, what’s the point? Throughout the ages, numerous tantric siddhas have appeared, which is plain to see in the recorded history if one searches for it. Personally, I can recall many such accomplished yogis and have listed some of them in my book, the Concise Biographies of Rainbow Body Achievements in Tantrayana. These stories are all authentic and reliable accounts, rather than hearsay devoid of credentials.
In the tradition of Buddhism, only incontestable truths can enter the historical record. For example, Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro traveled across mountain ridges in order to find living witnesses to authenticate the tale that Khenpo Tsewang Rigzin flew to a pure land directly in his very body at the end of his life. Later, to confirm the cases of rainbow body accomplishments, of which the contemporary Khenpo Achung had demonstrated, Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro went to Xinlun to investigate the whole process of transformation in which the body of this great master completely dissolved into light, leaving not even a trace of fingernail behind. Our Lama Rinpoche Wish Fulfilling Jewel, at Dega while en route to his study place, also witnessed a case of rainbow body of an old practitioner. When our Lama Rinpoche died, his body shrunk gradually. Nearing the date of cremation, his once heavily built and tall body reduced to a tiny size, which was clearly discernable by all who saw it. Many times I was questioned about the attainment of rainbow body, I always reply: “Yes, I’ve seen it with my very eyes, there is absolutely no question about it!” The rainbow body phenomenon, as demonstrated by tantric practitioners, has mystified scientists who in turn tried to use cameras, microscopes, or other modern instruments in order to pry open its secret. But this approach is impractical, given that the rainbow body is a process of dissolving the body and the mind completely into the nature of basic space, which defies any authentic confirmation through mechanical investigations, whether through using a telescope, a microscope, or other advanced gadgets.
In fact, the rainbow body accomplishment is not limited to Tibetan Buddhism; Han Buddhists have also seen the relics of masters’ bodies. In 1623 the eminent Monk Wuxia passed away at holy Jiuhao Mountain; his body, self-preserved and shrunk to barely two feet long, is now enshrined at the Baisuigong Temple. Even nowadays the body can still be seen seated in prayer. At the early days of Larung Buddhist Academy, Bhikkhuni Minghui was one of the first few Khenmos. She had immense faith and devotion in the Secret Mantra Vajrayana, especially The Chariot of the Three Categories, and had received a complete transmission of the Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of Mind on the Great Perfection-Three Bases and Three Virtues. Later, she had to return to the Han area for treatment of her deteriorating health, and eventually died at the Jing Feng Monastery in the town of Ya’an. Her vajra sister Bhikkhuni Zhenru, who had been attending to her, informed me over the phone that Khenmo Minghui passed away amid auspicious signs: She had been bedridden for a while, but as her death drew near, she was able to sit up straight and prayed to lineage masters and Buddha Amitabha. After dying serenely, her body remained seated in the lotus posture with folded palms. This account of her graceful exit struck me with awe. Counting the time between her receiving fully the Vajrayana transmission and her passing, it was exactly six months (1993/9/1 – 1994/3/1), no more, no less, which kindled in me enormous faith in the tantric lineage transmitted to us by our Lama Rinpoche. If I had not experienced personally this account along with the incredible confidence it invoked in me, I would be hesitant to relate it to you. Both the Chetsun Nyingthig and Great Perfection Resting in Illusion promise that disciples of sharp faculty, especially those having particularly intense devotion, can attain accomplishment in six months. The level of achievement, of course, varies, and I don’t know what was Khenmo Minghui’s level. However, she definitely had attained realization. Whether others believe it or not is their business, for me, I am absolutely convinced of the unfathomable blessing power of the Secret Mantrayana!
People may wonder: If Khenmo Minghui was so outstanding, why did she have to succumb to cancer and die? Well, whether a person has attained accomplishment or not cannot be judged superficially. When Buddhas and Bodhisattvas manifest as humans, they must also go through the stages of birth, old age, sickness, and death of the human realm. Should the Buddha choose to be a pig, this pig certainly will appear no different from other filthy pigs, it won’t look particularly handsome nor possess unique bodily signs hinting itself as a Buddha in disguise. The Commentary of the Aspiration for Sukhavati tells a story of one Bodhisattva who took the form of a pig named Tashi. I imagine in the pigpen, this Bodhisattva pig definitely would appear quite grimy. Therefore, outer appearances can never define a person’s inner quality.
When our Lama Rinpoche was ill, a number of lay disciples called to ask: “His Holiness is an exceptionally eminent master, how could he come down with illness and be hospitalized? Additionally, another Han Dharma Teacher also fell sick. Why should these masters get sick like the rest of us commoners?” I don’t blame them to raise these questions; after all, ordinary beings are befuddled by all kinds of speculations. The fact is, a master’s illness is on the one hand a purposeful manifestation, and on the other hand a demonstration that even prominent masters are subject to the power of karma. For example, the renowned Buddhist scholar and translator Xuanzang of the Tang Dynasty suffered terrible physical pain when he was dying. A though came to him that he must had made incorrect translations of the scriptures, which resulted in his suffering. Then a deva appeared and told him: “Your translation has created a tremendous merit and there were no mistakes in it that made you ill. But, in a previous life you were an emperor and perpetrated many evils, it is the maturation of those acts that causes your misery now.” The Elder Jiexiang of the Nalanda University was Xuanzang’s teacher. Once he experienced excruciating pain of his fingers that had worsened almost beyond his bearing. Then, Bodhisattva Manjusri appeared to him and said: “It is your negative karmas yet to be purified that triggered your current suffering. By enduring this pain, your residual karma will be purified completely.” Therefore, when eminent masters come down with illness or die in certain ways, we must refrain from making judgmental comments or doubting their qualities. Insomuch they choose to arrive in this world, birth, sickness, aging, and death are only part and parcel of the deal. Therefore do not let your conceptual imagination fly wildly into forbidden domains and incite all kinds of wrong views!
One should not harbor the slightest doubt of attaining enlightenment in one lifetime in Vajrayana training. Yet some people just don’t buy it. Once a Han Dharma Teacher asked me, “In your Vajrayana, is it attaining Buddhahood in one life, or attaining accomplishment in one life?” I replied, “It’s not outlandish to say attaining Buddhahood in one lifetime.” He retorted: “No way! Ordinary beings lag far behind the Buddha, how could Buddhahood be reached so swiftly?” I teased him: “Doesn’t the Platform Sutra say that ‘to have confusion at the previous moment is affliction, to rid of confusion at the next moment is enlightenment?’ In our Vajrayana tradition, Buddhahood is attained in one life; in your Zen tradition, Buddhahood is attained at one moment. How do you explain this?” My question certainly gave him plenty food for thought. I think this is an excellent scriptural reference. Even though I have cited it half-jokingly, this is indeed the truth. If you have a problem accepting the Vajrayana one-life accomplishment, then some teachings in the Pure Land School will seem unjustifiable to you either, not to mention those of Zen. Why? It is because many Pure Land masters teach that after taking rebirth in Sukhavati, sentient beings will become Bodhisattvas endowed with perfect bodily signs and marks. Now, reflect: What are the perfect bodily signs and marks, and how do they appear? Sutras such as the Uttaratantra Shastra and the Ornament of Clear Realization give their definition and say that such signs do not begin to manifest until one reaches a high level of attainment. However, the Pure Land doctrine stresses that by simply reciting Buddha Amitabha’s name, ordinary beings can obtain perfect signs and marks in their next life. If this is established, why can’t it be for the one life accomplishment in Vajrayana? If certain enabling causes are needed for the accomplishment of the Pure Land School, then many unexcelled means are also found in our Vajrayana. That is, by converging causes and conditions – skillful means, pith instructions, blessings, and faith – , how can accomplishments not occur?
Therefore, without a good comprehension of Sutrayana and Mantrayana, one must refrain from making irresponsible remarks. It’s fine to praise one’s own lineage, saying it will grant realization, a rebirth in the Pure Lands, or Buddhahood, but it’s best not to denigrate other schools without sound reasoning. For instance, for us as Vajrayana adherents, if we know nothing about the Zen School, we should not heedlessly conclude: “Instant realization of Zen is improbable, and Zen meditation leads to no enlightenment.” If we babble on this way, we’ll have to pay for the price for it. In all, we must reflect carefully Mipham Rinpoche’s admonition here.
“By careful contemplation on this principle, we will come to see the unfathomable power of phenomena.” All it takes are sentient beings’ faith and Buddhas’ blessings; since these two factors, once merged together, will generate immense fusion power. “Harnessing this power, one will be able to attain great achievement smoothly.” By relying on these incredible powers – the Buddha’s blessings, the grace of lineage masters, and one’s own devotion – one can easily be liberated in a single lifetime and take rebirth in Sukhavati, or, in the case of Vajrayana, attain in this life the level of accumulation, the 1st Bhumi or even Buddhahood. “The possibilities are utterly amazing and should never be regarded as unsound.” All these accomplishments are indeed astonishing and cannot be refuted by any sound reasoning. Never entertain the thought: ‘The Mantrayana claim of attaining Buddhahood in one life is flawed. How can an ordinary being be turned into a Buddha in a short time period?” You must give up this kind of opinion that lacks solid grounding. If one intends to criticize the Mantrayana in this or other aspects, it’s better first to conduct a realistic research and survey the situation objectively. Otherwise, if one slanders Vajrayana brazenly without even a superficial knowledge, how convincing would that be?
”In the same fashion, it’s not improbable to be reborn in Sukhavati effortlessly.” The Pure Land School’s “rebirth in this very life” is justifiable; the Mantrayana “accomplishment in one life” is also justifiable. There is no major difference between them, because once reborn in the Sukhavati sentient beings will attain Buddhahood in their next life, which is in line with the Mantrayana tenet. “This is the power of fact established by the limitless miraculous display of wisdom of the Tathagata.” Do we have reasoning to support this? Yes, we do: The wisdom, magical power, blessing, qualities, and pledges of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are inconceivable, which are encompassed in the law of all the phenomena, the power of the truth. “In addition, there are authentic and reliable scriptures as the valid measurements to support this notion.” This means that the Amitabha Sutra, the Sutra of the Adornment of Sukhavati, or others can be relied on as valid measurements for this argument. Armed with logical reasoning and scriptural authority, nothing will stand in our way.
Many people are drawn to the Pure Land practice today. But in order to ensure the effectiveness of chanting Buddha’s name and rebirth in Sukhavati, a strong foundation of theoretical understanding must be established. Young trainees, in particular, are advised to study scriptures like the Pure Land Teaching. Otherwise, our whimsical mind will play tricks on us and lead us astray.
“Some immature intellectuals accept only the sutra teaching that Sukhavati is immensely magnificent, but reject the other sutra teaching that rebirth in Sukhavati can be attained by specific means such as hearing or reciting Buddha Amitabha’s name. Why do they hold a bias against the portion on the causes for rebirth?” Some people believe that Sukhavati is a wonderful place complete with all kinds of splendid, pure adornments; however, they are doubtful and question the causes to be reborn in Sukhavati, namely, reciting faithfully the Buddha’s name, making aspirations, and invoking Buddha Amitabha’s blessings, etc. Such an attitude cannot be justified. To give an analogy: A certain person read about the luxury hotels and superior sightseeing in the US. He then yearned very much to make such a trip to the States, and was told to get his travel money and proper paperwork ready. At this point, however, he doubted his dream trip would ever come true, even if he had sufficient money and all the paperwork. Isn’t this person kind of odd that he arbitrarily accepted some information while distrusted others? Similarly, the majority of people think: “Sukhavati definitely exists, but a person like me is unlikely to be reborn there. It won’t help me even if I have fulfilled the four requirements.” Unable to keep such doubt to themselves, they pass it on to others, saying: “Reciting the Buddha’s name is not for you, such practice is for old grannies, and only those of inferior abilities would want a rebirth in Sukhavati. You’d better follow me to study Buddhist philosophies, Vajrayana, or Zen.”
It is wrong to make such remarks. Here Mipham Rinpoche chided them:
“The extreme subtle meaning of profound scriptures can only be discerned with wisdom. Yet some people defy this advice; they talk rubbish like a fool and obscure the meaning of the sacred teaching.” These people are quite pitiable. Why? It’s because rebirth in Sukhavati is vastly profound, which can only be established by the valid measure of scriptural authority. However, foolish people neither analyze it carefully according to Buddha’s advice, nor can they discern the matter carefully with wisdom. Instead, they follow the crowd and recklessly dismiss the sacred teaching. This is a very serious infraction!
In Mipham Rinpoche’s biography in the Commentary on the Ornament of the Middle Way it says: “A profound state transcends intellectual analysis. If you bring down the state of subtle wisdom to the realm of your mundane mind, you have virtually abandoned the quintessential instruction of the Tathagata. Therefore, do not forsake the sublime view with an interpretation that conforms easily with your mind.” I feel this quotation from Mipham Rinpoche is indeed an electrifying wake-up call to people who regard the state of Amitabha Sutra and the Middle Way as none other than their level of comprehension. By interpreting the indescribable meaning of the teaching with their own discursive thoughts, they lose completely the Buddha’s authentic intent. After all, this is only an ordinary person’s speculation, not the Tathagata’s quintessential wisdom. In the world, there are numerous consumer products that cater our fantasies and we have no problem identifying with them, especially in the age of advanced technology and media frenzy. A while ago it was heard that a person masqueraded himself as a tantric master giving teachings in a certain country. But in truth his preaching concerned only secular matters, having nothing to do with the authentic Dharma whatsoever. He has nonetheless become a cult figure and caused an explosive media sensation throughout that country. In Taiwan, once there was a similar charlatan who told his followers: “You need not to recite the name of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Buddha Amitabha, or tantric mantras. If you want to recite anything, it is my name, which will ensure you an instant accomplishment.” This is a rather chilling proclamation, but naive people can be drawn to it blindly, forsaking the authentic Dharma. Therefore, please commit to memory this scriptural passage from The Commentary on the Ornament of the Middle Way and always apply it to assess the world and yourself. Henceforward, on the Dharma path if we mistake our discursive thoughts as genuine practice, we must immediately become aware of it. Remember, our goal is to realize the Tathagata’s profound doctrine, even if we are far from reaching it for the moment, we must never let down our efforts!
“Ordinary people in the world are already heavy with skepticism and, swayed by the above hearsay, they become even more confused.” Worldly beings are indeed pitiable; from time without beginning they have been pressed by karma and afflictions, and their wisdom eyes are blocked by gross misconception. If hearing those charlatans’ claims, they’ll be more baffled.
“People with reasonable doubt may first have wished for rebirth in Sukhavati, but upon hearing these false claims, unreasonable doubt takes over their minds and demolishes their stock of virtue directed for rebirth.” What are reasonable doubt and unreasonable doubt? This is explained in the second chapter of the Buddhist Logics: So-called reasonable doubt is that, even if one harbors doubt, it is sensible. For instance, if during the spring season one suspects: “Will summer ever come?” This is a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, if one suspects: “Summer will never come this year.” This is unreasonable.
At first, some people had reasonable doubt, thinking, “The Sukhavati truly exists. If I recite the Buddha’s name well, I’ll likely take rebirth there.” However, if he was told: “Sukhavati is nothing great, nor will reciting the Buddha’s name lead to rebirth. Doesn’t the Sutra School say that it takes three kalpas’ cultivation to reach enlightenment? How then can you expect to complete all the merits in one life? No liberation will ever come by reciting the Buddha’s name, you may as well follow me to do this practice . . .” Pitched by these words, they begin to doubt themselves and give up their earlier aspirations for rebirth in Sukhavati.
When I was in Guangzhou, a Han Dharma Teacher told me, “You Mantrayana advocates should never say that chanting the Buddha’s name is no good. Look, we have a thousand people here who are now willing to join in the Buddha’s name chanting every day. These people did not believe in Buddhism previously, nor are they particularly smart. If they happen to hear that chanting the Buddha’s name is inferior, they may take it to be true and doubt this practice.” I replied,” Exactly!” Indeed, there is not much difference between the esoteric or exoteric approaches, since the common goal is to propagate the authentic Dharma. The Buddha explained the Dharma in accordance with the receptivity and need of each individual, and the existence of various schools are but skillful means to deliver all sentient beings. For instance, a mother has seven kids who are different in aptitude and predisposition. When raising her kids, the mother cannot rely on one method alone, as some of her children may need a slap on their heads to get going, others will listen with merely a candy treat. In the same vein, so long as sentient beings’ inclinations differ vastly, the Dharma also adopts countless ways to reach out, it’s not one size fits all.
Henceforth, in propagating the Dharma, we must pay extra attention to what we say. Be weary of the grave fault we may commit when our lecture or remark inadvertently causes others to shift their reasonable doubts to unreasonable ones. If at first people have a good chance for rebirth in Sukhavati and accomplish great deeds thereafter, but our inappropriate comments prompt them to waver and thus undermine their root of virtues – that would be horrible!
Have any of you made a mistake like this? If so, you’d better repent sincerely before you die! Whether you did it carelessly, ignorantly, or purposely, you must all show regret and vow never to enact the same offense again. Luckily for us, our Lama Rinpoche, an exalted being, had infused in us since day one the notion that we should never disparage the Dharma. I have thus formed the habit of being careful and always checking if I have slipped in this regard. Regardless, in the course of Dharma debate or giving lectures, I may have unintentionally criticized eminent monks or lay practitioners. I will confess my fault here before all the Sangha members and recite sincerely the Vajrasattva mantra tonight!
“The rebirth wish of dull- and weak-minded people, likewise, is not immune to the destruction of these remarks.” What damage will these irresponsible claims incur? It will demolish the virtuous roots of those who lack the ability to investigate intelligently and are easily persuaded by hearsays.
“Actually, no reasoning based on the power of fact can establish that rebirth is unachievable by merely reciting the Buddha’s name.” No matter how smart you are or how thoroughly you’ve studied the Buddhist Logics, you won’t be able to enlist a reliable argument to prove that reciting the Buddha’s name leads to no rebirth. If you are able, then we must look into it, but the fact of the matter is that no one has ever been successful in doing so. Similarly, attaining realization in one life is entirely plausible; and I would challenge anyone, Buddhist or otherwise who suspects its authenticity, to raise your rationale for objection. If failing to do so, then one should not hastily draw the conclusion: “Buddhahood in one lifetime as claimed in the Mantrayana is false.” Six years ago, I wrote in Dispelling the Confusion on Mantrayana: “Attaining realization in one lifetime of the Mantrayana is the teaching of the Buddha; attaining rebirth in one lifetime of the Pure Land School is also the teaching of the Buddha. How can a Buddhist accept one part of the Buddha’s teachings while rejecting the other?” If the Pure Land School acknowledges that devotees are immediately endowed with all the enlightened qualities upon taking rebirth in the Sukhavati, then the Mantrayana claim of attaining realization in one lifetime cannot be refuted. They work on the same premise, only presented in different terms.
Granted, the attainments in the Mantrayana do not necessarily mean Buddhahood; it can be anything from the levels of path of accumulation to the path of preparation or of various Bhumis. All such attainments are reasonable, aren’t they? If you consider otherwise and have reasons to refute, we’ll submit to it. In no way do we intend to fabricate a hypothesis based on an unsound foundation. I firmly believe that “the Buddha is the one who speaks the truth, who speaks the real meaning, who describes things as they are, who never lies.” So, his teaching can withstand any challenge. As long as one adheres to Buddha’s doctrine, whether rebirth in Sukhavati or accomplishment in one lifetime, no sound reasoning can invalid one’s viewpoint.
“There are no valid reason to disprove directly the qualities of the Sukhavati and the causes leading to rebirth in it.” If a person wants to assert that rebirth in Sukhavati cannot be established, first he has to find the reason that can negate the Sukhavati rebirth. But there is no way to formulate such a reason, even if all the intellectuals in the world put their heads together. To be sure, it’s one’s own business to harbor doubt, be it against rebirth in Sukhavati or accomplishment in one life in Mantrayana. A dubious mind is not forbidden, and for some people, doubts and investigation go hand in hand. Such an approach is commendable when compared with that of drifting blindly on hearsay. But a doubt is a doubt, not an agent to accuse something as unreasonable. Certainly, this does not mean we are irritated by views opposite to ours. In Buddhism, debate is to be conducted with composure, and a victory is won by reasoning rather than by oppression. If you insist that attaining realization in one life is false and the Mantrayana a bogus path, we must communicate realistically. Throwing mud at each other is not the way. Say, if we proclaim, “Rebirth in the Sukhavati is unreasonable,” I bet many Han Dharma teachers will become upset.
These days some Han lay practitioners often regard their own chosen Dharma Teacher as the sole authoritative figure in Buddhism, and anything their master says is the real truth, while whatever others say is false and thoroughly deniable. This kind of sectarian attitude is no good, and should not be the way to promulgate one’s own lineage. It’s fine to respect one’s own master as well as one’s own lineage, but it’s never right to belittle other lineages and their teachers. Just yesterday, a person told me: “A certain Dharma Teacher is actually a demon, which has been verified personally by Guru Guan Yin.” I told him, “This definitely is not what Guru Guan Yin would have said. A truly great master will never defame others recklessly and declare them as demons. I don’t know much about this teacher in question, but I would suggest you investigate the matter yourself, and perhaps it’ll come down to your own biases.” As expected, this person immediately started to attack that teacher. Frankly, whether a teacher is good or bad, there’s no point to make a judgment, for our discursive thoughts are incapable of deciding faultlessly. Therefore, we must pay extra attention when speaking, especially in avoiding some extreme denigrations – “This person definitely is a crook,” “he is undeniably a devil.” It is absolutely unjustifiable to conclude others are demons or other paths are perverted without any real support!
“Some individuals deny the plausibility of rebirth in Sukhavati. If such a denial is based on personal feeling rather than any solid support, they run the risk of losing faith in Sukhavati and the Buddha’s wisdom altogether. Distrusting all the profound practices of the sacred path, they will abandon the Dharma altogether.” Some people maintain that a rebirth in Sukhavati is irrational. If asked why, they reply: “I just feel it is unreasonable.” “What is the principle you based on?” “I don’t have any basis for it, I just sense it is illogical.” These days, our society is rife with this kind of people who dismiss rebirth by following their own sentiments without looking for scriptural or logical support. A doubt in Sukhavati will inevitably breed more doubts in Buddha’s wisdom and profound doctrines such as the Thirty-Seven Elements of Enlightenment. Should that happen to you, you’re finished and will come to a complete ruin.
There are people who never bother to listen to or contemplate on the Dharma. With their stifled minds and perverted views, they follow their feelings and blatantly criticize this Dharma path or that Dharma Teacher. Such behavior is tragically wrong. I hope you will all examine your own mindsets and make proper adjustments after listening to this Pure Land Teaching. Never shall you vilify other individuals or disparage other schools mindlessly. Only a conclusion that’s drawn from a careful and extended investigation is acceptable. Even Buddha Shakyamuni himself requested us to investigate him as a teacher thoroughly, rather than to accept him rashly or blindly.
However, the investigative capacity of ordinary being is quite limited after all. In this modern age, it becomes fashionable to combine the Hinayana tenet and archaeology to conduct academic research on Buddhism. But the Buddha’s sublime wisdom will remain elusive with such an approach. Any student of the Lotus Sutra knows that the state of the Buddha is unfathomable to the arhats and is only marginally perceptible by the great Bodhisattvas. What need we say of our mundane views and ordinary intellect? What conclusion can we draw? We may as well think it over.
“In the sutra the Buddha said: Maitreya, these are the activities of the Tathagatas; have full trust in them and apply diligence.” The Buddha told Bodhisattva Maitreya, “These are the activities the Tathagata has performed and these are the teachings the Tathagata has conferred. It is not advisable for you to become suspicious of them, but instead practice them studiously.”
A few of you may wonder: “Arya Maitreya is a Bodhisattva of the 10th Level; how could he ever harbor any doubt?” According to our Guru’s explanation given earlier, this statement is merely a supposition. Certainly, a Bodhisattva at the 10th level like Arya Maitreya will never doubt the Dharma or fall into the hell realm. What is stressed here is that, even if you were Bodhisattva Maitreya, you would still plunge into hell should you disbelieve the Pure Land teaching. For instance, if a cabinet member of the State Department perpetrated corruption, this officer will eventually subject to legal sanctions, no matter how high the position or how much power this person has held. (This example is not quite appropriate. Indeed corruption begets punishment, but Bodhisattva Maitreya would never act this way.)
”Do not entertain any doubt in Buddha’s wisdom that is beyond any hindrance.” This dharma-gate is sublimated from the Buddha’s wisdom that knows all things and the wisdom that knows the nature of all things, which is free from both afflictive obscuration and cognitive obscuration. It is absolutely true and one hundred percent reliable; therefore, cast off any doubt. “Otherwise, you will be born in the jeweled palace in the border region!” Should suspicion crop in you, you’ll tumble downward. Again, “‘Maitreya, in order to safeguard this teaching from being destroyed, I am entrusting it to you.’” Buddha Shakyamuni delegated the Pure Land teaching to Maitreya to prevent it from disappearing. “To protect the Dharma from vanishing, make an arduous effort to uphold it. Never misapprehend the Buddha’s words, lest you suffer from loss, disadvantages, agitation, agony, and slip into perverted views.” For us, it’s better to curb our suspicions about any Dharma practice, whether it’s of the Pure Land or others. If not, forget us – even the Bodhisattva Maitreya would inevitably suffer from much harm. The fundamental cause for sentient beings’ ruin is doubt. Therefore, as we trudge along the Dharma path, we must know how capable is our intellect to gauge the Dharma. If we are incapable, we must try our best to suppress and eradicate our unruly discursive thoughts. This is a crucial point!
“Having understood these points, we will conclude: ‘All these teachings come from the inconceivable wisdom of the Buddha.’” We must arouse such faith and deem that all the profound truths, as long as the Buddha confers them, must be entirely unerring. “Remaining ever steadfast, we are delighted and yearn wholeheartedly for accomplishment.”
32. Do you believe that by relying on the extraordinary pith instruction and the guru’s blessing that a Mantrayana practitioner can attain accomplishment in a single lifetime? Why? Please explain with koans, teaching, and reasoning.
33. There have been world-renowned and eminent Buddhist masters who suffered from terrible illnesses or died suddenly in an accident. How can such a fate happen to them? Please give your explanation.
34. Why is it said that the “rebirth in this life” of the Pure Land School and the “attaining accomplishment in one life” of the Secret Mantrayana are in full accord with each other?
Please elaborate your understanding on the quotation from The Commentary on the Ornament of the Middle Way.
36. Please explain, with analogies, what is a reasonable doubt and what is an unreasonable doubt? What consequence will you beget if you tell people of immature wisdom that “the Sukhavati does not exist” and “rebirth in Sukhavati is unsound”?
37. The Buddha admonished Bodhisattva Maitreya not to generate doubt in the Pure Land doctrine, or else he will be hurled into the hell realm. Being a Bodhisattva of the 10th level, would Bodhisattva Maitreya have such a fault? Please analyze in detail.