Lesson Seven

 

The Pure Land Teaching by Mipham Rinpoche

 

A commentary by Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche

 

Lesson Seven

 

Besides, some people think: Rebirth is not possible by merely relying on faith and wish 

Refutation: It is because they do not regard the Buddha’s aspiration and wisdom are mighty enough that they doubt the sacred scriptures. This is indeed a shame. The Sutra Requested by Brahmadatta says: “Distrusting the Buddha, people fall into dark abyss and can never be saved by anyone in the world. Those of shallow intelligence cut their ties with the Dharma; protector-less, they will fall into the lower realms.” Furthermore, the Pure Land Sutra says: “Those who hold wrong views, engage in wrong livelihood, or are coward generate no faith in the Dharma. Those who have honored the Buddhas in the past will now follow the Protector of the World. A person born blind lives forever in darkness, seeing no road, how can he show direction to others? Even the Sravakas realize not the Buddha’s wisdom, what need to say about the rest common beings? The Buddha’s wisdom is known only to Buddhas alone; gods, nagas, and Sravakas cannot fathom it. The Buddha’s wisdom that reveals the supreme Dharma is also beyond the comprehension of the Pratyekabuddhas. Let us assume that all sentient beings attained enlightenment possessing the pure wisdom that realizes the truth. Even if all of them praised the Buddha’s qualities for myriads of kalpas, until their entering nirvana they would not come to exhaust their praises. The Buddha’s wisdom is utterly amazing! The wise ones are to comprehend this. Trusting Buddha’s words, one will adhere to Buddha’s advice and praise thus: ‘Only the omniscient Tathagata knows things in all their multiplicity.’ To obtain a human life is difficult; to meet a Buddha in this world is more difficult; to have both faith and wisdom is difficult in the extreme. Therefore, strive diligently to grasp the genuine meaning of truth.” 

Those with auspicious affinities will be delighted in the profound teaching and know that the karma, capacity, and circumstance of sentient beings differ widely, and hence the efforts needed in reaching the stages of accomplishment vary vastly. In all, the power of phenomena is inconceivable; there is no denial of it. They also realize that by relying on Buddha’s wisdom power, great welfare will result with little effort, which is plausible. The Sutra of the Adornment and Qualities of Sukhavati says: “Ananda, understand that the working of karma and its full ripening is inconceivable; the domain of the Bhagavan’s merit, clairvoyance, and blessing is also inconceivable. Anyone trying to conceive or comprehend them will reap no result whatsoever; otherwise, the state of the Bhagavan is not that of inconceivable.” For example, in reciting mantras to accomplish yidam practices, tantric yogis attain supramundane ability by the mere touch of yidams on their heads. Such an accomplishment demonstrates the power of the tantric mantra, where samadhi and other prerequisites for clairvoyance are waived. If one must be prequalified first, how can the tantric mantras be shown to possess supreme and unimaginable powers? Similarly, the scriptures describe the power of anointed sacred objects, and the blessings received by seeing the images of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or seeing the truth instantly when hearing the sermon. Toward these cases, never should one generate wrong views. To follow the same argument, any self-proclaimed Buddhist should never become doubtful about the doctrine of rebirth in Sukhavati. 

Hence, the excellent qualities commensurate with taking rebirth in Sukhavati result from having generated faith when hearing the name of Buddha Amitabha, as well as from the exalted aspiration of Buddha Amitabha. Thus this Pure Land practice is full of supreme characteristics. The sutra says: “Bhagavan, all your faculties are immaculate.” 

The son of a great rishi, if observing piety, will benefit from his sage father’s advice. Likewise, fortunate people, if being reverent to this sutra, arousing faith, and obeying Buddha’s instructions, will certainly enjoy rebirth in Sukhavati. Others who followers the teaching based on reason will rely on logical analysis to gain confidence in Buddha’s words and then generate pure conviction in Buddha’s inconceivable wisdom. These fortunate followers of reason are like people with eyesight who can see things clearly in daylight. In deciphering the Dharma teaching of hidden meaning, first they have faith, and then they apply reasoning to understand its essence. In this way, the result specified in the teaching will bear fruit on them. Of all of the subjects perceivable, the one of fully incomparable quality is the Buddha, the Bhagavan, and the cause for attaining the fruition of Buddhahood is to enact the immeasurable activities of the Bodhisattva. 


In the following we’ll continue the lecture on The Pure Land Teaching:

“Besides, some people think: Rebirth is not possible by merely relying on faith and wish.” There are people who assert that a rebirth in Sukhavati is not assured until one has in countless lifetimes gathered merits, aroused bodhicitta, and recited the Buddha’s name; that is, having faith and aspiration alone does not ensure rebirth.

As ordinary beings, we’re especially mired in all kinds of speculation, as pointed out by the Omniscient Longchenpa: “The arguments and suspicions of worldly fools are like the barking of hostile dogs; to rebut them one by one is not worthy of our time. But to those with good karma, it is appropriate to demolish their wrong ideas in order to kindle in them the right view.” Our world is pervaded with many distorted views, as master Dharmakirti once lamented: “Deviant opinions are unending, refuting them all is impractical.” Visiting any city you’ll encounter many nonbelievers and scoffers of Buddhism, as well as cynics, agnostics, and disparagers of the Pure Land School. An attempt to disprove all of them and then to establish the right view one by one is unrealistic, nor needed.

However, if situations deem it necessary, to dispel others’ twisted views with our insight is very meritorious. The Tantra of Ripening Wisdom says: “To discredit harmful slanderers brings boundless merit.” Meaning, if we are able to debunk others’ false claims, we’ll accrue boundless merit. Because in so doing we’ll instill a correct view in people’s mindstream and, at the same time, generate good roots of virtue for ourselves. Therefore, as long as we are able and qualified, we should try our best to invalidate perverted views that surely harm society, humankind, and Buddhist tenets. For example, even though the Pure Land has remained a pure sect for centuries, today many individuals still deride it. It is imperative, then, for Pure Land teachers to oust false accusations, directly or indirectly, in order to institute a stainless view of this school. In our society, misconceptions are prevalent, and we, as Buddhists, should take it upon ourselves to help people build up the correct view.

Not only the Pure Land School but also the Secret Mantrayana used to be misunderstood, denigrated, or attacked, mainly because of huge barriers in culture, language, and geographic locations. To us as Mantrayana practitioners, it is not most urgent to demolish all others’ viewpoints; after all, many will remain unreceptive even if we have thoroughly explained our points. However, we must not give up on those who, due to a lack of knowledge, are easily swayed and mindlessly echo the views of others. If we can explain to them clearly the tantric logic and straighten their warped thinking, they will come to say: “There, I finally see that Mantrayana is not what I thought once. This Dharma teacher really talks with good sense!” Consequently, they will be led onto the path of liberation.

However, as wrong views are unending, some people prefer to play it safe and not offend others. They think that as long as they themselves can uphold the right view, it is not necessary to proselytize it. Actually, this is an irresponsible attitude toward the Dharma and sentient beings. As Buddhists, whether ordained or lay, or in the Han or Tibetan tradition, we must maintain an altruistic heart toward others and a disciplined mind in Dharma training. These two attitudes I deem very essential. If one merely has faith in the Buddha but no altruism, then all the practices - reciting Buddha’s name, meditating on emptiness or compassion – are geared toward self-liberation without the slightest concern for sentient beings, and this may not be a good thing. On the other hand, if one never bothers to practice but loves to prattle on Buddhist principles, this may not benefit others either. Hence, to discipline oneself in practice and to be kind to others are both indispensable.

Certainly, merely having an altruistic thought is not quite enough; in our brief life we must also endeavor to serve sentient beings in real actions.  Previously, our academy has seen some eminent and learned lamas with noteworthy intellect and character, but regrettably they would rather remain inert. Unenthused about mingling with others, they were reluctant to get involved in activities such as life-saving or giving lectures; in fact, they did not mind hiding in their own places all day long to avoid any outside interactions. Is this not a big waste of their erudition and compassion! On the other hand, there are individuals who, even if not the smartest, are adroit in taking action with full compassion. They work hard in spreading the Dharma for decades and have seldom missed an opportunity of life-saving, Dharma teaching, or guiding others toward virtue. In this way, they have amassed an impressive stock of merits.

All you Dharma friends sitting here, listen, if one day you leave the academy to spread the Dharma elsewhere, please do not be fussy about how nice or how not nice the monastery or city you happen to land at is; the key point is to have faith and devotion in the Buddha. With this frame of mind, you’ll be able to deliver sentient beings wherever you go. Years ago during the Cultural Revolution, in Tibet a great Dharma master was incarcerated, and in the same prison there was a young monk (who is now a renowned master himself). Having high respect for the older lama, the young monk wished to receive teachings from him, yet found their circumstances difficult for this to happen. It turned out that the old master was in poor health and needed assistance when going to the bathroom. The young monk offered help, and, when finding no others around the stall, requested teachings of the Great Perfection. With succinct words, the master gave him practice instructions every day, and this went on for years. Therefore, as long as one has a kind heart and a thirst for the Dharma, one can persevere in training, even in an unlikely situation as mentioned. But, if one has neither altruism nor devotion or dedication in the Dharma, success on the spiritual path is uncertain, no matter how advantageous the learning environment or how outstanding the teachers conferring instructions.

Our academy is attended also by the administrators, abbots, or Dharma teachers from other monasteries. When you go back from where you came, there is no need to convert your previous place into a Mantrayana center. After all, we have to apply skillful means to benefit sentient beings, which means we must match the characters of the students. Why are some eminent masters very successful in spreading the Dharma? It is because they grasp well the thought pattern and hang-ups of their potential audience, they then are able to deliver appropriate Dharma topics in a timely manner, and thus establish a good rapport with countless sentient beings. Say if we want to spread Dharma in the United States, it would not work if we insisted on applying the Chinese way there. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, so we must appreciate the American way of doing things. First, try to spend a year or two becoming familiar with their customs, habits, and what they care about or enjoy; next, on the premise of not compromising the Buddhist principles, we share with them the Dharma that will strike a chord in them.

Some practitioners seem to feel rigid and are quick to say, “Oh no, I’m a tantric follower, I’m not supposed to do this, or that.”  Practically, it is crucial for us to attune to others’ needs in our speech and actions. For instance, the Pure Land School has always been highly regarded by all schools; in turn, it shall also respect all other schools and leave its door open to practitioners of other sects, be they of the Zen or Mantra school. A closed-door policy can never be a skillful act. Again, when you are back to your own place, always be flexible in your approach of spreading the Dharma and benefiting beings. Otherwise, you’ll find no opportunity to flex your muscle of compassion, wisdom, or devotion, no matter how much you brim with these qualities.

Whether you are old or young, a monastic or a layperson, always be reverential to the Dharma and aspire to spread it to benefit beings. Take every opportunity to turn the Dharma wheel, no matter if you are riding a train or meeting up with some financial officers. Even when seeing a yak in the Sertha County, do not hesitate to walk over to it and say to its ears, “Om Mani Padme Hum.” 

“Refutation: It is because they do not regard the Buddha’s aspiration and wisdom are mighty enough that they doubt the sacred scriptures. This is indeed a shame.” Influenced by bad karma such as denigrating the Dharma or having not studied the Dharma well in past lives, people in this life will be loaded with false notions. Besides lacking an appreciation of the Dharma, they cannot help but to misinterpret and suspect it. For instance, even if it has been clearly stated in the scriptures that rebirth in Sukhavati can happen if one makes aspirations and chants the Buddha’s name with faith and devotion, these people simply won’t believe it, thinking always, “That’s impossible, how can faith and wish lead to rebirth?” In fact, they don’t have any reason to back up their disbelief, but just feel like attacking the Buddhist doctrine arbitrarily.

The Sutra Requested by Brahmadatta says: ‘Distrusting the Buddha, people fall into dark abyss and can never be saved by anyone in the world.” A person who harbors wrong views against the Buddha’s teaching is basically in grave trouble. It’s like plunging into a precipice so immense that no one can offer rescue. We have seen extremely recalcitrant people who criticize the Buddha and Dharma teachers liberally, ignoring any advice to do otherwise. They are the hopeless cases. “Those of shallow intelligence cut their ties with the Dharma; protector-less, they will fall into the lower realms.” Scoffing at the Dharma, small-minded people sever their life cord with Buddhism, and without the guidance and protection of the Buddha, they have nowhere to go in future lives but the realms of hell, animals, and hungry ghosts. In case we happen to entertain skepticism of the Dharma, we must immediately pray to the Three Jewels, especially pray for the blessings of Buddha Shakyamuni, and repent sincerely afterward by reciting the Hundred Syllables or Vajrasattva mantra, or by meditating on emptiness to pacify our discursive thoughts; this is absolutely essential!

“Furthermore, the Pure Land Sutra says: ‘Those who hold wrong views, engage in wrong livelihood, or are coward generate no faith in the Dharma.’” In the world, there are three kinds of people who are unable to arouse faith in Buddhism: The first are people with erroneous views. The second are those who adopt very lowly lifestyles. Examples are butchers who, having a crass disposition and killing all day, are unlikely to seek the Dharma. The third kind of people are too timid to muster the courageous spirit of the Bodhisattvas; faint-hearted, they are unfit to arouse devotion. Those who have honored the Buddhas in the past will now follow the Protector of the World.” If people in times past have served or relied on the Buddha with respect, they will naturally be interested in emulating the deeds of the Buddha, the protector of the world. For instance, they will, from a young age, have faith in Buddhism and yearn to practice the Dharma as a monastic.  Indifferent to mundane affairs, they will feel tremendous joy when hearing the Buddha’s teachings or the great deeds of the Mahayana Bodhisattvas. All these are karmic propensities from past lives.

“A person born blind lives forever in darkness, seeing no road, how can he show direction to others?” A blind person in a dark room sees nothing. He has no way of knowing the road beyond his confinement, how can he point out travel direction to others? “Even the Sravakas realize not the Buddha’s wisdom, what need to say about the rest common beings? The Buddha’s wisdom is unfathomable to the Sravakas, let alone ordinary beings. We learned earlier that the Sravakas, even in their meditative equipoise, cannot fathom the depth of the Buddha’s state, and there are many accounts of Maudgalyayana and Shariputra in this regard. The Lotus Sutra and others describe Sravakas’ inability in discerning causality or perceiving things that happened too long ago or too far away, not to mention common people. “The Buddha’s wisdom is known only to Buddhas alone; gods, nagas, and Sravakas cannot fathom it.” The immensity of Buddha’s wisdom can be perceived only by other Buddhas. For instance, Buddha Amitabha clearly knew Buddha Shakyamuni’s qualities, and Buddha Shakyamuni appreciated thoroughly the greatness of Buddha Amitabha. That’s why in the scriptures Buddha Shakyamuni often praised Buddha Amitabha profusely. The Buddha’s magnificence is unperceivable to gods, nagas, Sravakas, and so on. “The Buddha’s wisdom that reveals the supreme Dharma is also beyond the comprehension of the Pratyekabuddhas.” Pratyekabuddhas have realized a certain degree of the selflessness of phenomena, however, their wisdom is in no position to recognize the Buddha’s wisdom, the source of the supreme Dharma. 

“Let us assume that all sentient beings attained enlightenment possessing the pure wisdom that realizes the truth. Even if all of them praised the Buddha’s qualities for myriads of kalpas, until their entering nirvana they would not come to exhaust their praises.” Should all sentient beings become Buddhas and possess the pure wisdom knowing the ultimate truth, and should they all applaud the superb attributes of a Buddha, they wouldn’t be able to finish their eulogy even if all of them finally pass into nirvana.

This is a suppositional statement. Is it possible for all beings to become Buddhas and they do nothing but say praises to one Buddha? It’s not likely. The purpose of making such an assumption, however, is for illustrating the unimaginable caliber of the Buddha, who is the sole World Honored One. Many of you are now studying Mipham Rinpoche’s An Exposition of the Sutra of Recalling the Three Jewels, and you must have noticed that Mipham Rinpoche liberally cited the scriptures to explain the inconceivable qualities of the Three Jewels. We, as followers of the Three Jewels, must appreciate well the qualities of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and our recognition must be based on logical reasoning, not blind submission. When others glorify the Buddha, we do not chime in “yes, yes, of course, the Buddha is incredible,” but instead build up our own faith with intelligent discernment. The Ornament of Clear Realization in the section of “Twenty Kinds of Sangha” delineates the difference between those who follow the teaching based on faith and those who follow the teaching based on reason. The followers of reason arouse their faith by having gained an understanding of the fact of the Dharma; the followers of faith, on the other hand, only drift along with superficial belief without any investigation. In Buddhism, faith is indeed indispensable, but faith alone is not all there is. These points are elucidated clearly in Mipham Rinpoche’s Beacon of Certainty.

The Buddha’s qualities are unimaginable and cannot be fully described even if all sentient beings were to become Buddhas and praise the qualities of one Buddha’s in many kalpas. Therefore, the diamond words of any Buddha, whether delivered by Buddha Amitabha or Buddha Shakyamuni, must be undeceiving and definitive. We must arouse this confident conviction from the depth of our hearts, not by just by prattling. Please reflect carefully: Is your faith in the Buddha superficial? Is it because others happen to tell you that the Buddha is great and then you just agree lightly? Through our study of this Pure Land Teaching, we have learned many irrefutable insights, and only a faith generated on the basis of such knowledge can withstand challenges.

Indeed, the Buddha is the sole “knower of the cosmos” in this world; any tiny fraction of his excellence is beyond the measure of arhats or Bodhisattvas, not to mention that of ordinary beings. In modern terms, the Buddha is the ultimate authority, whose wisdom is absolutely unmatchable even by world’s brightest scientists, theoreticians, writers, or medical doctors. How do we gain an unshakable conviction in this? We must rely on logical analysis and reasoning. Otherwise, our faith will crumble when confronted with even a minor challenge, let alone the atrocities of Cultural Revolution. Isn’t the story about the two jailed practitioners during that period quite impressive? Imagine, would we be able to sustain our Dharma faith just like them, if we were to live in the same era, or were tortured physically and mentally? So long as we have genuinely established a heartfelt confidence in the Buddha, then we won’t budge. Therefore, establishing a right view at this moment is crucial!

“The Buddha’s wisdom is utterly amazing!” Worldly people often remark, “This guy is awesome, he is such an expert in computers!” “That gal is terrific, she knows all the ins and outs of this field.” But these talents can never be on par with the Buddha’s wisdom. We must be truly convinced of this and recognize the inscrutable nature of Buddha’s wisdom. “The wise ones are to comprehend this.” Therefore, intelligent people must discern this fact. It follows that the activity of teaching and expounding the Dharma is really pivotal, and I hope all of you, whether a monastic or lay practitioner, do not rely on faith, but rather on wisdom to understand the Dharma!

“Trusting Buddha’s words, one will adhere to Buddha’s advice and praise thus: ‘Only the omniscient Tathagata knows things in all their multiplicity.” The sutra continues: “The Buddha said, ‘Whoever believes my words must follow the Buddha’s wisdom and praise thus: ‘Only the omniscient Tathagata possess the wisdom of knowing each and every thing.” The Buddha is the sole enlightened being in this world; what he says is the truth, free from any falsehood; thus we have complete trust in the sacred scriptures and we’re always mindful that only the Buddha possesses the wisdom that knows whatever there is.

To obtain a human life is difficult; to meet a Buddha in this world is more difficult; to have both faith and wisdom is difficult in the extreme.” It is rare to be born as a human with leisure and endowment, and it’s rarer to live at the time of a Buddha; but it’s not all okay to merely have a human body and be born in the time of the Buddha. What’s more precious than these two is to possess faith and wisdom. If one is devoid of faith, one will not enter a spiritual path. Many people in the world are outside Buddhism, it’s mainly due to their lack of faith. On the other hand, people may have faith and take to Buddhism, but their daily homage and offering to the Buddha are only gestures to ask for blessings for good health, a job, and happiness of this life, which hardly touches upon the profound aspect of Buddhism; it is inadvisable as it misses the wisdom element. In an authentic approach to Buddhism, faith is important; wisdom, likewise, is also important. “Therefore, strive diligently to grasp the genuine meaning of truth.” Now that we are in possession of a human body, have some faith and a certain amount of wisdom, we should never let slip our golden opportunity. Every day, make sure we learn something and gain some realization, which will benefit not only ourselves but also other sentient beings. Progressing steadfastly, we will not let up on our effort that we’ll realize the true meaning of the Dharma.

“Those with auspicious affinities will be delighted in the profound teaching and know that the karma, capacity, and circumstance of sentient beings differ widely, and hence the efforts needed in reaching the stages of accomplishment vary vastly. In all, the power of phenomena is inconceivable, there is no denial of it.People having auspicious connections often meet favorable situations and have an inclination for Buddha’s sacred teaching, and they can see that only those having virtuous roots and wisdom can appreciate this principle. What is this principle? That is: Due to the vast variation in sentient beings’ karma, propensity, and circumstances, the Buddha imparted various ways of practicing the Dharma. For some, achievement is attained only after much exertion; for others, accomplishment is reached by applying little effort, such as chanting Buddha’s name in the Pure Land School or recognizing the nature of the mind in the tantric path. All these illustrate the distinction between gradual and instantaneous approaches. In addition, the power of phenomena is unimaginable – the power of tantric approach is inconceivable, and the power of sutric approach is inconceivable. No one can deny this. Wise people will know this truth and won’t say: “Only the tantric path can lead to accomplishment, not the sutric path,” or, “Only the sutric path can lead to accomplishment, not the tantric path.” With their broad erudition, these people comprehend the true meaning of the Buddha’s teachings, and “They also realize that by relying on Buddha’s wisdom power, great welfare will result with little effort, which is plausible.” Sentient beings vary in merits, and spiritual fruition is reached quickly or slowly, in addition, the power of phenomena is inconceivable and by relying on the inconceivable wisdom power and blessing of Buddha Amitabha or Buddha Shakyamuni, one will be reborn in Sukhavati with ease, or attain the fruition of Buddha Samantabhadra in one life while recognizing completely the nature of the mind. All these are entirely tenable.

These are Mipham Rinpoche’s instructions, I urge you strongly to contemplate them repeatedly and investigate carefully their meaning, and next actualize them in actions. Only then you’ll come close the deep insight between the lines. If you just glide over the words and know superficially, the teaching will not penetrate your hearts, and the Dharma and you will be poles apart, never intersect. How meaningful is that? Actually, as long as you imbibe the essence of the words and meld it within you, even with merely one sentence, you’ll have distinctive experiences. A good example is the statement above that sentient beings vary vastly in capacity and there are myriad paths to practice, then the speed of accomplishment is bound to differ and this is precisely the inconceivable nature of phenomena. Once you get it you’ll never deride other schools, which will benefit you immensely in this and future lives.

It goes without saying that three wisdom tools of learning; contemplation and meditation are vital for everyone. In the world, should people get a windfall or chance upon gold, silver, or other jewels, they would be elated wildly; on the other hand, should they hear the precious Dharma like this, they’d let it go in one ear and out the other and never attach any importance to it. Isn’t it a shame! Anyway, if you happen to have this kind of leaky ear, do plug it up with a cotton swab; do not let go of these teachings, you must bear them firmly in your mind!

The Sutra of the Adornment and Qualities of Sukhavati says: ‘Ananda, understand that the working of karma and its full ripening is inconceivable; the domain of the Bhagavan’s merit, clairvoyance, and blessing is also inconceivable. Anyone trying to conceive or comprehend them will reap no result whatsoever; otherwise, the state of the Bhagavan is not that of inconceivable.’”  How the karma operates and matures into fruition is unthinkable, only the Buddha can see it; the Buddha’s supernatural ability, blessing, and wisdom are inconceivable. Understanding this will strip off any reason for our arrogance. The other day when having an honorable audience with the Very Venerable Benhuan, I said to him: “You have made incredible contributions in spreading the Dharma and benefiting beings!” He replied: “It’s because the causes and conditions were incredible!” It is really an apt comment. Just take a look of the life-release activities in the past few years. A single person like me is severely restricted in capacity, yet due to the incredible convergence of causes and conditions, numerous lives have been saved in the past few years.

Regarding “inconceivable,” the Jewel Heap Sutra says that the tantric mantras, choice medicines, and secret concoctions all are endowed with inconceivable forces, furthermore, the skillful means, samadhi, and miraculous power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are inconceivable. The Omniscient Longchenpa has cited this scriptural passage, we must also believe firmly that the Buddha’s capacity and wisdom are inconceivable, and maintaining this recognition all the time is quite important.

Given that the Buddha’s blessings and clairvoyance are inconceivable, it follows that Buddha Amitabha’s wisdom power is also inconceivable and rebirth in Sukhavati is completely plausible. In the same vein, the blessing power of the Secret Mantrayana is inconceivable and enlightenment in one lifetime can be established. Nonetheless, a few Dharma teachers still maintain that: “I have no qualms about rebirth in Sukhavati; however, I just can’t accept the Vajrayana’s claim of enlightenment in one lifetime.” This statement sounds odd to me: It’s fine that you refuse to accept it, which no one can force you to change. But any rejection must have a reason or two. Once the inconceivable blessing of the Secret Mantrayana is acknowledged, many inconceivable manifestations will follow. In the Tibetan canon Remembering the Three Jewels there is a verse at the end which says: The qualities of the Buddha are inconceivable, the qualities of the Dharma are inconceivable, and the qualities of the Sangha are inconceivable; if one arouses faith in these inconceivable qualities, one will attain inconceivable fruition. Inasmuch the qualities of the Dharma are inconceivable, endeavoring in any one of its practices will result in an inconceivable result, and this is completely logical. Certainly, here I am not defending the Vajrayana in order to establish my own school, it’s just that through the reasoning of the Buddhist Logics, if the “rebirth in this life” of sutra is established, then there is no reason why “enlightenment in one life” of tantra cannot be established.

The world today is full of academic maxims that some individuals are quick to admonish our monastic way of emphasizing faith and compassion in guiding sentient beings, which they accuse to our faces as having too much Buddhist flavor. Well, blame it to my narrow mind if you must, but every time I hear this, I can’t help retort back unapologetically: “Given that we have already entered the monastic order, how can we not bear the monastic flavor? “Hence, whether in tantra or sutra, Buddhists must not let go the unique flavor of Buddhism, and on this basis we propagate the doctrine in accordance with the inclination of sentient beings; this is acceptable.

“For example, in reciting mantras to accomplish yidam practices, tantric yogis attain supramundane ability by the mere touch of yidams on their heads.” Through reciting the yidams’ mantra, many eminent masters had visions of their yidams who conferred blessings by touching their heads and, as a result, they attained clairvoyance and many other supramundane abilities. This kind of incidence is also found in the Pure Land School, where many of its followers at the time of death behold personally the emanation of Buddha Amitabha and attain inexplicable power that they are reborn instantly in Sukhavati. Without the miraculous power conferred to them, they won’t be able to depart from this Saha world, let alone arrive at Sukhavati a cosmic distance away. These above two cases work on the same principle, and both are inexplicable achievements. 

“Such an accomplishment demonstrates the power of the tantric mantra, where samadhi and other prerequisites for clairvoyance are waived. If one must be prequalified first, how can the tantric mantras be shown to possess supreme and unimaginable powers?”  According to Abhidharma Kosha Shastra, one must have accomplished the level of the fourth meditative absorption before one can manifest miraculous powers. That is, attaining the abilities of five eyes and six kinds of clairvoyance must be based on the pure state cultivated at the fourth meditative absorption. Nonetheless, exceptions do occur when practitioners receive the inconceivable blessings of the Buddhas and yidams, which endow them with instant clairvoyance that defies the stepwise cultivation from the first to the fourth stage of samadhi.

There have been many such accounts in Zen and tantra traditions where disciples attained sudden realization and perfected the five eyes and six kinds of clairvoyance through the blessings of their gurus, bypassing the cultivation of the fourth level samadhi as specified in the Abhidharma Kosha Shastra. The other day I told a story of a mother and a daughter who accidentally fell in the rapids and, because of having aroused a compassionate thought for each other when they were drowning, they were both reborn in the Brahma realm even though they have not practiced any meditation previously. The same goes for a practitioner who, with no prior samadhi, obtained miraculous powers through the extraordinary blessing of tantric mantras. If these practitioners had already perfected their samadhi meditation, the power of the mantra would not then be so obvious. 

“Similarly, the scriptures describe the power of anointed sacred objects,” Some consecrated substances can cause people to attain swift accomplishment. For instance, by relying on mantras, magic eye portions and so on, practitioners can realize the eight common siddhis easily. “and the blessings received by seeing the images of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,” When seeing exalted images, such as those of the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, sacred implements, or mandalas, devotees can experience immense blessings that cause a seismic shift in their minds. For example, pilgrims to the holy Putuo Mountain or Wutai Mountain often feel an instant transformation of their ordinary minds when looking at the sacred statues, which is the Buddha’s blessing. I read a story in Questions and Answers on the Diamond Sutra by Dr. Chen, which mentioned an old lady who had a habit of chiding her husband and was dubbed as “the husband scolder.” Later, when she chanced upon a number of Buddhist practitioners and Buddha’s statues, somehow realization dawned on her all of a sudden. When asked about the cause of her good fortune, she replied, “The blessing of the Dharma is inconceivable, the blessing of the Diamond Sutra is inconceivable!” Indeed this is the case. Through the grace of the Buddha’s images, temples, or gurus, each person on the Dharma path may come across some unique, inexpressible, and often profound experiences, without which some of you might not have aroused faith in the Dharma and would still be engrossed in the secular world, leaving no chance of entering a monastic life as you have now. “or seeing the truth instantly when hearing the sermon.” For example, when hearing the Buddha’s first turning of the Dharma wheel, the five Bhikkhus as well as eighty thousand sons of gods instantly saw the true face of reality.  “Toward these cases, never should one generate wrong views.” We must never give way to perverted ideas on these inconceivable accounts noted in Buddhism. 

“To follow the same argument, any self-proclaimed Buddhist should never become doubtful about the doctrine of rebirth in Sukhavati.” We must not distrust in Sukhavati, or worse, slander it. A few of you during the oral exam yesterday confessed that previously you did not have much faith in the Pure Land School, and have relegated it as a practice suitable for old folks only. The learning of this Pure Land Teaching, however, has given you a new perspective on this practice. It pleases me immensely when hearing this, and I feel all the hardships I have endured is worth it as long as you can reap the slightest benefit from my offering. If, after I have exhorted to you this exceptional practice and worried about your receptivity, you feel not a slightest stir in your hearts, I’ll be dispirited like a farmer who has toiled hard in the field but harvests nothing. But if you think you’ve learned a useful thing or two, I’ll be quite delighted, and such a feeling can only be savored personally.  Bear in mind that knowledge must be accumulated bit by bit, not by leaps and bounds in one go. Having learned the teachings, the next step is to eradicate bad habits in your views and actions; such a process will ensure that your Dharma practice is truly successful.

“Hence, the excellent qualities commensurate with taking rebirth in Sukhavati result from having generated faith when hearing the name of Buddha Amitabha. “ Whenever we hear the chanting of the Buddha’s name, whether at temples or from playback devices, we should recognize it as our good fortune, as an auspicious opportunity. Sadly, people with hardly any appreciation of Buddhism pay scant attention to it.

Among various playback devices, some chant, “Namo Amituofo (I pay homage to Buddha Amitabha),” while others simply say, “Amituofo (Buddha Amitabha).” Master Lien Chi, the 8th Patriarch of the Pure Land School, said in his Zhu Chuang Essays: Someone asked: “How shall we chant the Buddha’s name?” The master replied, “Chant ‘Namo Amituofo.’” Again, “And how do you yourself chant?” “Amituofo.” “Why did you advise others to chant ‘Namo Amituofo’ while you yourself chant ‘Amituofo’ only?” “It is because I have full confidence to be reborn in Sukhavati, thus saying ‘Amituofo’ alone is sufficient, and there is no need for formalities. However, if your devotion in Buddha Amitabha is not deep enough, it’s better to chant ‘Namo Amituofo.’ ‘Namo’ means to pay homage to and take refuge in. Therefore, pray to Buddha Amitabha with deep devotion and reverence, chant, ‘Namo Amituofo’ – I pay homage to Buddha Amitabha.” Incidentally, our Lama Rinpoche the Wish Fulfilling Jewel was just like Master Lien Chi, in that he was completely confident of being reborn in Sukhavati.

This kind of confidence is what we must all cultivate. After all, it’s not just for a round or two that we have been wandering in samsara. Now that in this life we have met this exquisite Pure Land teaching or the unsurpassable tantra, and if we have not harbored perverted views, broken samayas, slandered the Dharma, or committed the five hellish crimes, and have purified what needs to be purified and recited what needs to be recited, we will have a smooth rebirth in Sukhavati, even should an untimely death befall us.

The Lord of Death often snatches people away unexpectedly. Recently, a few nuns at our academy died abruptly, and reportedly they were not that old either. I wonder if at the dying moment they had visualized their gurus or Buddha Amitabha. If they managed to recall their gurus who are indivisible from Buddha Amitabha, even for an instant, no doubt they would be liberated. To die a violent death is really horrible. You probably noticed that senior lamas were performing the ritual of consciousness transference this afternoon in the shrine room. It turned out the wife of the Sethar County governor dropped dead while doing laundry, with her washing gloves on. Indeed Death comes most swiftly. Shouldn’t we be prepared at any moment? The easiest way of preparation, of course, is to supplicate to Buddha Amitabha. In Mantrayana, it is to recall the supreme training of six bardos. When I was in Shenzhen the other day, I was asked if it’s permissible to watch the bardo videos that are easily available nowadays. I replied: “At the dying moment, the mind is very confused. Without proper training, it won’t be able to visualize many things. Therefore, focusing on Buddha Amitabha alone is more straightforward and effective.” In Tibet, many people from a young age have learned the Bardo Thodol and become very familiar with the peaceful and wrathful deities. When dying, they can easily recognize the deities appearing in the bardo, and thus gain liberation. However, most of the Han people knew no bardo deities when they were little, and as they grow up it is Buddha Amitabha that they are exposed to. If at the deathbed, all of a sudden they try to recall a bardo video they watched once, it will be too late. Of course, if one can clearly visualize the bardo deities, the incredible blessing of the tantra will come for sure. Again, sentient beings differ in capacities, and any workable method will do. What counts most is to pray to Buddha Amitabha at all times, firmly believing that we will be reborn in Sukhavati.

These are words of wisdom and advice from sublime beings, if you don’t believe them, you can hardly be called a Buddhist. Spiritual mentors often bid their disciples: “Trust what your master told you!’ Well, I don’t consider myself a master nor am I that mighty; yet I do have an unwavering faith in the words of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and I am one hundred percent free from doubting the scriptures. Therefore, as long we have gathered the necessary causes and conditions for rebirth in Sukhavati, we definitely will be reborn there. Each of us must have this kind of conviction!

“They also result from the exalted aspiration of Buddha Amitabha. Thus this Pure Land practice is full of supreme characteristics.” The Pure Land practice stands out among all others. Our Lama Rinpoche at the end of Manjusuri Great Perfection sadhana added a simple practice of consciousness transference, which reminds us that even as a practitioner of Great Perfection, at the time of death we must also rely on Buddha Amitabha to take rebirth in Sukhavati in order to attain all accomplishments swiftly.

The sutra says: ‘Bhagavan, all your faculties are immaculate.’”   ”Bhagavan” is a title addressing Buddha Amitabha. Buddha Shakyamuni here praised Buddha Amitabha’s pristine qualities. In our daily life we also say nice words to compliment others, such as, “You are rather gifted,” “you are smart,” “you dress well,” and so on. Buddha Shakyamuni in the sutra applauded Buddha Amitabha’s extraordinary faculties. Why? It’s because Buddha Amitabha gave rise to great aspirations and established the Sukhavati that is easy to take rebirth in; his faculties are simply incomparable with those of ordinary beings.

“The son of a great rishi, if observing piety, will benefit from his sage father’s advice. Likewise, fortunate people, if being reverent to this sutra, arousing faith, and obeying Buddha’s instructions, will certainly enjoy rebirth in Sukhavati.” If disciples give rise to enormous faith and respect to this sutra, they will receive supreme benefit from it. Eminent masters of the Pure Land School have said that the forty-nine years’ teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni can be condensed into the Avatamsaka Sutra; the Avatamsaka Sutra is encompassed in the Great Pure Land Sutra, the Great Pure Land Sutra is further condensed into the Amitabha Sutra, and finally, the Amitabha Sutra is sublimated into these words: “Namo Amituofo.” In certain aspects, this is a viable way of interpretation. From Tiantai School’s perspective, the Buddha’s eighty-four thousand teachings are included in the Lotus Sutra, which in turn is encompassed in its very title. In Vajrayana, we say that the eighty-four thousand teachings are found in the six hundred and forty thousand tantras; these tantras are included in the ground, path, and fruition of the Great Perfection, which then is condensed in the main mantra Ah Ah Sha Sa Ma Ha. Thus each lineage has its own unique way of summarizing the teaching and its pith instructions.

A disciple having faith in this sutra is like an obedient son who will derive benefit from his father’s advice. By following closely what he was told to do, the son, when coming of age, will realize his father’s excellent qualities and his deep affection to him. Many of us at the academy are also very grateful to our parents, because without their effort in raising us in the first place, we won’t become the person we are today. 

“Others who followers the teaching based on reason will rely on logical analysis to gain confidence in Buddha’s words and then generate pure conviction in Buddha’s inconceivable wisdom.”

Here it mentions the way of attuning to the Dharma based on faith or based on reason. What is the way based on faith? It means to have tremendous faith in rebirth in Sukhavati, which is crucially important, as without it there is no entrance into this practice. The way based on reason refers to when, through intellectual analysis, one understands the Dharma and trusts it without doubt, and on this basis one begins to research, reflect, and explore the doctrine more deeply, until finally one arouses genuine conviction in the Buddha’s inconceivable wisdom. In sum, faith comes first, which must be followed by intellectual inquiry, and it is by combining intellect and faith together that an unmovable conviction in Buddhism will be firmly established in our mindstream.

“These fortunate followers of reason are like people with eyesight who can see things clearly in daylight. In deciphering the Dharma teaching of hidden meaning, first they have faith, and then they apply reasoning to understand its essence. In this way, the result specified in the teaching will bear fruit on them.” By relying on the eye organ and daylight, things are clearly visible. Likewise, fortunate beings with faith and insight approach Buddha’s teachings of the subtlest meaning – those lying beyond the ordinary perception of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and tactile sensations, such rebirth in Sukhavati and attaining many qualities – by first generating faith and then by practicing as instructed. Eventually, the accomplishment promised by the Buddha, whether taking rebirth in Sukhavati or attaining realization in one lifetime, will all come true.

“Of all of the subjects perceivable, the one of fully incomparable quality is the Buddha, the Bhagavan, and the cause for attaining the fruition of Buddhahood is to enact the immeasurable activities of the Bodhisattva.” In The Commentary on the Ornament of the Middle Way, we learned that of all the trainings on the spiritual path, the most sublime one is to actualize the inseparability of appearance and emptiness. Similarly, in our study of the Dharma, the rarest gem to get hold of is to establish an unshakable conviction in taking rebirth in Sukhavati. If we are absolutely clear about this goal, we won’t have any problem to enact the Bodhisattva’s activities and we have secured the cause of attaining Buddhahood.

We must instill in ourselves an unshakable faith in the inconceivable wisdom and activities of Buddha Amitabha, and then always pray to and think of Buddha Amitabha the best we can. In this way, rebirth in Sukhavati is ensured. Of course, merely mouthing the Buddha’s name without a proper understanding of the scriptures is not enough, since our unruly discursive thoughts can wreck havoc with our minds. For instance, even if one is physically present in the shrine room every day chanting “Namo Amituofo, Namo Amituofo,” while one’s mind is preoccupied with doubts such as: “Is there any effect of my chanting the Buddha’s name everyday like this? Will I ever be reborn in Sukhavati?” Until such suspicions are eradicated, they will continue to obstruct rebirth.

As far as possible, adherents of the Pure Land School must use this Pure Land Teaching to make self-assessments, to overturn all doubts and wrong views in the mindstream, and to duly enter the inconceivable realm of the Buddhas. If this is done, nothing can stand in the way for you to take rebirth in Sukhavati. Why? When all the conducive factors for rebirth – having faith in the Buddha, aspiring for rebirth, harboring no wrong views, being free from slandering the Dharma, and having eradicated all obstacles – are gathered, rebirth definitely will happen, as the Buddha’s true words never deceive us. It is also essential to investigate and debate on the Pure Land doctrine in our listening, contemplating, and practicing on it. The Dharma is profound and unfathomable; please do not consider the practice of reciting Buddha Amitabha’s name too simple that suits old people only, while you, as young intellectuals, are above it. Such an attitude is totally wrong. Instead, you must all study, reflect, and practice it with reverence; this is the way to experience true benefit!

 

 


 

Study Questions

 

38. What stance we should take toward the many erroneous understandings and wrong views in the society today? Why?

39. What are the differences between those who follow the teaching based on faith and those who follow the teaching based on reason? To which one do you belong?

40. What phenomena are deemed unfathomable? How is it relevant to establishing the plausibility of taking rebirth in Sukhavati?

41. Are you convinced that you will be reborn in Sukhavati? Why?

42.  Are the wisdom tools of listening, contemplation, and meditation beneficial or contradictory to the Pure Land practice? Why?

43. At the moment of death, will you try to recall Buddha Amitabha or to visualize according to the instructions on the six bardos? Why?