Spirital Practice

A Speech from Master Dao Yuan (Spiritual Practice) – Part II

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The Dharma Gate of Chanting the Name of the Buddha & <<Great Strength Bodhisattva’s Perfect Penetration Through Mindfulness of the Buddha>>


1. Always study with the Buddha.  Vow to be Mindful to Buddha

Bear with me, all superior good people: Allow Daoyuan to sidetrack and say a few words1.During the seven days recitation sessions, we, in principle, should focus reciting the Buddha but not chit chat. But we are all ordinary people that normally entangled by daily affairs. It is inevitably that we slack off and fail to attain diligence (vīrya). By beginning with some teachings, one will be able to lift the spirits and turn laziness into diligence (vīrya)! So, we will talk. Moreover, there are also people that is new to this,that has not understand Buddhism’s principles and the rational of reciting Buddha. If we let them follow the crowd and just chant, that will waste days of time without getting the benefit of reciting Buddha. This is another good reason of why we will talk. Through properly understand Buddhism’s principles, one can lift the spirit and concentrate, achieving twice the result with half of the effort. To study Buddhism, we must pay equal attention to both practice and understanding. For this two reasons, if there are relevant subjects, we still have to briefly talk about them.

Since the year when the monastery was completed (years forty-one), we held one seven days recitation sessions each year. Those of us who study the Pure Land school supposedly recite Buddha every day, so why do we still need to held these seven days recitation sessions? This has two meanings: one is to commemorate the birthday of Amitabha Buddha. second, in order to increase practice and diligence (vīrya) to reach Adhigama during this seven-day period. As a result, it is set to begin the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the lunar calendar, and end on the birthday of Amitabha the seventeenth. Last year, since I went to Ping Tung to teach the scriptures, we have not held the recitation sessions. This year, we will resume as scheduled.

When it comes to Amitabha Buddha’s birthday, we can’t help but wonder: For example, Buddha Shakyamuni was born in Saha world2, and there is evidence to track his date of birth and death; On the contary Amitabha Buddha was born in the Western Paradise of Ultimate Bliss, and it has been ten kalpas since he became a Buddha. How do you know his date of birth is November 17th in our Lunar Calendar? There is a koan actually. November 17th, as it happened, was the birthday of Chan (Zen) Master YongMing YanShou. So, why do we treat Master YongMing’s birthday as Amitabha’s birthday? Let me tell you this koan:

Master YongMing was bornt near the end of the Five Dynasties and was deeply respected by Qian Chu, the King of Wuyue kingdom. One day, the king wanted to perform vegetarian offerings to sangha, and asked his teacher (Master YongMing) if there were any eminent monks in their times? The master replied: “There are too many eminent monks, but no one knows them. The long-eared monk is actually Dingguang Buddha comes again. If you can make offerings to him, you will receive great blessings.” ——It turned out that the long-eared monk was unkempt, unremarkable, his clothes were dirty, and he wandered on the streets; because his ears were very long, everyone called him the long-eared monk. The king was very happy to find this out. He prepared a grand banquet and invited the long-eared monk to be the guest of highest honor. Long-ear monk inquired about the reason, and exclaimed, “Amitabha, such a tattletale”, and he went parinirvana after being seated! The King thought about what long-eared monk’s response and realized that Master YongMing was the comes again of Amitabha Buddha. He rushed back to the temple to look for Master YongMing and Master YongMing also had gone parinirvana on his seat already. According to Buddhist order,only after one’s mendicant term is over, one can spell out their background. And once the background has been revealed, one shall also leave the world. Well, that’s the koan. Now we know how we are certain that Master Yong Ming is Abitabha Buddha and why we use his birthday to commemorate Amitabha Buddha ‘s birthday.

That’s the nidana of the seven day recitation sessions and Birthday of Amitabha Buddha’s koan.

The teaching led previous year’s recitation sessions was based on <<Practices and Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva>>. This year, we will talk about in accordance with <<Great Strength Bodhisattva’s Perfect Penetration Through Mindfulness of the Buddha>> (Paragraph 5:120 to 5:127 of the linked page.) In Pureland School, there are five sutras, namely: <<Amitayurdhyana Sutra>>, <<Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra>> <<The Amitabha Sutra>> <<Practices and Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva>> and  <<Great Strength Bodhisattva’s Perfect Penetration Through Mindfulness of the Buddha>>.

As one of the five sutras, <<Great Strength Bodhisattva’s Perfect Penetration Through Mindfulness of the Buddha>> is obviously worth our discussion. The text in this chapter is short and easy to read/remember. Although the text is short, the content is detailed. In terms of teaching, practice and rationale, they are all thorough. Everyone should memorize it, and then understand its meaning; then, practice in accordance to the understand, everyone will be able to obtain great benefits. Let’s begin today’s topic is: Always follow and learn from the Buddhas. Vow to be Mindful to Buddha. Scripture:

Dharma Prince, Great Strength, together with fifty-two Bodhisattvas of similar rank, arose from his seat, bowed at the Buddha’s feet, and said to the Buddha: ”I remember when, as many aeons ago as there are sands in the Ganges, a Buddha called Limitless Light appeared in the world. In that same aeon there were twelve successive Thus Come Ones; the last was called Light Surpassing the Sun and Moon. That Buddha taught me the Buddha-recitation Samadhi”

Now, there are three subtopics I would like to talk about:

1. If you are a Buddhist, you should learn from the Buddhas

The Great Strength Bodhisattva was originally a mere common person. Due of his resolve to learn from Buddha, he was able to meet the Buddhas—the immeasurable light Buddha and even the light beyond the sun and the moon Buddha—and obtain the Buddha-chanting samadhi. We are also Buddhist! We must take our classmates and companions—Bodhisattvas as an example, learn from and be mindful of Buddha; We must resolve to obtain Buddha-recitation Samadhi to be a worthy Buddhist.

Last year, I talked about the eighth vow of <<Practices and Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva>>: “Always follow and learn from Buddhas.”It literally mean always follow buddha’s step. Whatever Buddha’s teaching is, we follow. Until we reach Buddhahood as well. We got to know Buddha achieved Buddhahood from practicing too. The elder used to say: “There is no inborn Sakyamuni, and there is no innate Amitabha.” For Sakyamuni to achieve Buddhahood, he also went through many hard and ascetic practices. It isn’t something granted by a God.

The first step in learning from Buddha is to liberate from living and dying. There are many ways to achieve that. Namely “84,000 different ways” in Buddhist jargon . And any one of them can achieve liberation from living and dying. Among so many methods, reciting the Buddha method is the easiest and most promising. Other methods are often difficult to master. Lifespan of a person is limited, what if we die before we success? It is hard to predict how the next life will be. Therefore, it is smartest indeed to choose the simplest and most reliable method. Great Strength Bodhisattva is our witness. He was reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss and ranks among the Three Saints in the West. This is the result of reciting-Buddha.

Why are we interested to born in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss of the West? Because there are too many distractions in the Saha world, it is difficult to achieve the goal of liberating from living and dying. You lay Buddhist, of course, are entangled in many affairs; even a monk has to be side tracked for his clothing, food, shelter, and so on. The Western Land of Ultimate Bliss is achieved by the aspirations of Amitabha Buddha. Over there, food and clothing are readily available, and we don’t need to worry about it. It is very easy to liberate from living and dying. Therefore, one should look forward to be born in the West.

So that’s about “always follow and learn from Buddhas”, “learn to recite Buddha, and reborn in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss”. Great Strength Bodhisattva was born in the West by reciting the Buddha in accordance with his method taught by Light Surpassing the Sun and Moon Buddha. Some people say, the Chanting method is apt for people with dim and dull root only. Well, assuming you are having keen roots, do you truly believe you are more keen than Great Strength Bodhisattva? Even Bodhisattva will obeys the Buddha’s teaching and recites the Buddha. How can we not doing the same..

When we follow and learn from Buddha, it is not the case that we get benefits only after we die. As long as you follow Buddha, you will get benefits immediately. Those who do not follow Buddha, they are busy all day long. What are they busy with? busy for whom? It always are busy for others but not with his own business. Decades of hard work for others, in the end, a desolate death, and there is nothing left after death. Like you coming to participate in the Seven day recitation sessions, sit down and meditate on the Buddha, this is for yourself! In the future, when you succeed in reciting Buddha, and reborn in the West, that will be your true harvest, your true destination, and your truly working for yourself.

Among you guys have couple young lay Buddhist, all of whom have great roots of virtues and blessings. You should cherish your good roots, study Buddhism well. Do not procrastinate because you are young. If you speak with the elder, ask them what have they accomplished after being busy for decades? Don’t wait until your old age then start practice. Resolve to recite the Buddha. Every single Buddha name you recite, the merits and virtues are immeasurable, and the Dharma joy is immeasurable.

2. Even if you don’t practice the pure land school, do not slander the pure land school.

Previously, we were talking about Great Strength Bodhisattva followed the teaching of Light Surpassing the Sun and Moon Buddha, wholeheartedly reciting Buddha’s name. As a result, he succeeded. We should just do the same. believe in it when we heard of it, go reciting when we believe in it.

If one do not know the method of reciting Buddha thus not doing it, we cannot blame them. There are people who study Buddhism and seem to understand the theory very well but they do not believe in the method.They don’t recite Buddha’s name and even slander the method. The method of reciting Buddha is the simplest and easiest method among all kinds of Dharma, you can get it just by reciting the six words “Namo Amitabha Buddha”. Sigh! Just because it is too simple, it attracts suspicion. As for the dharma that is intense, there are of course many also available, but can you master it well? Chinese Buddhism is all Mahayana Buddhism. It is called Mahayana because it is based on altruism. When it comes to practicing Dharma, not only do you practice it yourself, but you also suppose to teach others to practice it. If you can’t even properly practice yourself, how are you suppose to teach others? For those who aim for Dharma that is beyond their level, they end up having a life of confusion. That is letting down himself, letting down all beings, and letting down Buddha’s blessing. Reciting method, humbly does not have such concerns.

As mentioned earlier, there are 84,000 dharma method, all of which can enter the Buddha’s way, and all of them can achieve liberation from living and dying.But a method is only as good as its fitting to a person’s compatibility. Like the saying, “There is no superior or inferior method, the method that fits is the finest.” It is the same in treating diseases. doctor uses medicine to treat diseases. Medicine cost can be expensive or cheap. However, If the medicine is not for diseases we are treating, even the expensive one makes no benefit (more likely will do harm.) That’s why we have this old saying that “Medicine has no intrinsic value, but its fitting to treat the diseases to decide.” The same is true of learning Buddhism and choosing a Dharma method.

Shakyamuni Buddha predicted that 12,000 years later, all scriptures will be destroyed by demons. At that time, no one will believe in Buddhism, and no one will publish scriptures.Except <<Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra>> can hang on for another one hundred year. It can be seen that in the age sad-dharma-vipralopa, only reciting method are still fitting. That’s what Buddha expecting. Let’s look at the rise and fall of Buddhism in our country. During the prosperous Tang Dynasty, which was the heyday of Buddhism, the eight Mahayana schools emerged one after another. The methods of these eight practices are different, but their purpose is the same. It is like if we want to go to the Presidential Palace in Taipei, there are many roads from all directions. Any road can reach the Presidential Palace. However, even there are many roads, there is only one Presidential Palace. We call this  “There can be many method, but there is only one destination.” Any sect has method to liberate living and dying, but Buddhism is not just about the theory, the value is in the practice. After the late Tang Dynasty, although there were eight sects/school of Mahayana Buddhism in name, aside from the two sects of Zen/Chan school and Pureland school, which were still hanging, all the other sects have gradually disappeared! To this day, Zen school has only its name remain and continues to decline; in practical sense, there is only one sect, the Pure Land school left. Why is that? It is because those school have advanced theories. Their practice is complicated and difficult. And the faculty of the people this day have a hard time to grasp them.

Some people criticize: Chinese Buddhism only has four lines of teachings, to abstain from killing, live release, be vegetarian, and reciting Buddha. Aside from those, there is no Buddhadharma. Such criticism is to lament the decline of Chinese Buddhism. It’s intention is to better promote all schools of Buddhism. Yes! Although we study the Pure Land school, we have absolutely no objection and hope that other sects will flourish. People have different level of faculties, if all eight sects are flourished in the same time and awarding all people with all levels of faculties. How desirable is that! However, we don’t agree the mean to defame and hurt Pureland school as the first step.

Now let’s study the value of this four lines “abstain from killing, live release, be vegetarian, and reciting Buddha”. These four lines are indeed the Dharma, and they are also the accomplishment of Buddhism and the essence of Buddhism. We all know that Buddhism emphasizes practice the most. What is practice? To actually correct sinful behaviors. Killing is the greatest sin of all! All living beings have the desire to survive. Imagine the suffering of being killed! For one actually harden one’s heart to kill, it is sinful karma on physical, verbal, and mental, all three types, at once. It is the opposite of the Buddha’s compassion. If you do make evil karma, you fall in hell, how can you become a Buddha then! Therefore, we advise Buddhist passively to “abstain from killing” as the first step of practice. The next step is to actively  “release live”. Once you don’t kill anymore, you will feel compassion when you see sentient beings being killed. As a result, you actively using all means to prevent them being killed. And to expand further, that is about “being vegetarian.” Depending on the family situation, it may not be easy to be a vegetarian. You don’t commit killing yourself. You go to the market to buy the so-called “threefold pure meat”, that is acceptable. But it is not outright. Is it reasonable to let other person commit killing for you instead? Therefore, not eating the flesh of any living beings is the outright abstain from killing! These three good deeds: abstain from killing, live releasing, and being a vegetarian are only expedient. It ain’t liberating one from living and dying yet. Just stop making karma aren’t enough to achieve that.

In the age sad-dharma-vipralopa, the karma of sentient beings is very difficult to end. There is only one method, “reciting Buddha”, can liberate living and dying without ending karma. The state so called rebirth carrying along one’s karma. The previous three good deeds are all supporting practice, and reciting Buddha is the core practice. One may ask: You can liberating living and dying just by reciting the Buddha, why shall one bother “abstain from killing”, “live releasing”, and “being a vegetarian”? It should be noted that rebirth carrying along one’s karma are referring to old karma, it doesn’t carry new karma. If you recite Buddha and commit bad deed at the same time, then you cannot rebirth to the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss. So, please be especially vigilant about this!

Why would I say such four lines of teaching are the accomplishment of Buddhism? It was nearly two thousand years since Buddhism introduced into China. As the result of education from several great masters and kalyanamitra, these four teaching have become popular and entrenched in society. And just now, only these four teachings has left in Buddhism today. That’s literally “accomplishment” of Buddhism? Isn’t it fortunate that we have that! Why would I say these four lines are the essence of Buddhism? Mahayana Buddhism in China, no matter which sect or school, all has different methods of practice, but it never suggest people to kill and eat meat. This is the common point of all sects. A common point that has not change in generations and meant to expand to the future. Won’t it be appropriate to call such “essence” of Buddhism?

And let’s talk about the various dharma schools that has practice that is complicated and difficult. Yes, it is indeed profound. However, it is also fair to say not everyone can practice it. Only the Chanting Method, a method that anybody can practice, plus can also teach others to practice. A method truly for everybody. Many practice method have disappeared, but the chanting method can still be widely promoted. Isn’t that accomplishment and essence of Buddhism as well?

Some people think that the chanting method is too simple, it is the Dharma for grannies, and it should be overthrown. Such sinful verbal karma of slandering! Are you suggesting Samantabhadra Bodhisattva and Great Strength Bodhisattva are grannies? On the same logic, should they be overthrown too? Besides, the grannies are also a sentient being! Where is this idea that they should be overthrown came in the first place? Of the eight Mahayana schools, there is only one left that can maintain the Buddhism from falling. It’s like the only one light in the dark night. How dare you, seriously, disapproving it, blaming it not being bright enough and rather knocking it down. If you really knock it down, aren’t you destroying the last path of Dharma that has left? Like I said earlier, “There is no superior or inferior method, the method that fits is the finest.” It is certain that learning from Buddha requires liberation of living and dying, and the method that can help you achieve that is your finest Dharma. A method that grannies can practice and achieve liberation, you decided not to practice it and rather commit sinful verbal karma. No matter how knowledgeable you have become, you will fall into the sea of ​​misery.

There are many dharma gates (methods), which all can liberate one from living and dying. You can freely choose you path. You don’t have to choose the chanting method. Whether you recite the Buddha or not is your own business, but don’t ridicule the Dharma of reciting Buddha, that is sinful verbal karma.

3. Bearing Buddha’s loving-kind teaching, one should recite Buddha

Now, let’s elaborate more on the chanting method. Great Strength Bodhisattva attained “Patience for the Non-Arising of Phenomena” through reciting Buddha. Although we were born in the age in of sad-dharma-vipralopa, now we have all also heard of the chanting method. In that perspective, we are not any slightly inferior to Great Strength Bodhisattva. If you deeply believe in reciting Buddha can liberate living and dying. Focus and recite; when your remuneration is exhausted, you will reborn in the Western Pureland of Ultimate Bliss within the snap of a finger.

To practice the Chanting method requires good roots. Good root were seeded in previous lives. We are all people with good roots, otherwise we would not be able to become a monk. Lay Buddhists also have good roots, but they are entangled in family affairs and cannot concentrate on reciting the Buddha, that can be forgiven; those who do not know the Dharma do not recite the Buddha, and that sure can be forgiven. For us that have already heard of the Buddhadharma and become monks, if we don’t seriously practice and recite the Buddha, how can we liberate from living and dying? How can we take sentient beings across? How can it be worthy of Shakyamida Buddha?

We mention earlier, some people criticized that Chinese Buddhism only had the four teachings left: abstain from killing, releasing life, being vegetarian, and reciting Buddhahood. This was a lament about the decline phenomenon of Chinese Buddhism. It is a fact that Chinese Buddhism is declining, but it is not the fault of these four teachings. It is the fault of people emphasis only in practice but not in teaching. This happen in both Zen school and Pureland school. For example, abstain from killing, releasing animals and being vegetarian is a benevolent practice in general. It is not a precept unique to Buddhism. There are also many Tirhika who hold such precept. For example,the cults Yiguandao is holding this precept. Many old Buddhists and even monks superstitiously followed Yiguandao! Such a shame for Buddhism! This is the problem when there is not enough people teaching Buddhism. Those people who do not understand the principles of Buddhism cannot distinguish between right and wrong, and they become unsettled.

The same is true of reciting Buddha. Earlier on, there were still some people who didn’t fully understand, but later, they simply didn’t understand at all the principle of reciting Buddha. Such as “do not cultivate in this life, cultivate in the next life” How is that the intention of chanting Buddha! It is absolutely upside down? There are also some grannies who pre-burn paper money to save for their afterlife, there is no limit where this blind can go! However, they are not to blamed, they don’t understand! There are people from other sects/school who actually teaches, but their teaching are too advance, such as the mid-way of eight negations, the Yuen-dun-chih-guan, etc., and they are just talking about it. People with ordinary knowledge can’t even understand, not to mention to actually practice! Without practice, it still adds up to zero at the end. The Pure Land School is a dharma of 100% success, why is it being ridiculed as an granny’s dharma? It’s because no one teaches about it, only grannies is reciting! If someone properly teach it. Reaching the same target audience that is educated. On top of their intelligence, knowledge, and experience, now adding the skill of reciting. wouldn’t the result be multiplied with half the effort? !

We are resolved to promote the Pure Land school. We must pay equal attention to both practice and understanding. Just talk is not enough. The master aren’t even match to the grannies. We have to have faith about our good roots, and embrace the Dharma of Buddha recitation that is the teaching out of Buddha’s compassion. We should be in line with the Great Strength Bodhisattva, earnestly practice, earnestly recite, to benefit ourselves, to benefit others.

Alight, this is enough side tracking. Let’s recite.


Beginner’s Note:

  1. all superior good people are referring to us, the audience. Daoyuan is the speaker, the Venerable Master Dao Yuan, humbly referring to himself. Interrupt is referring to the teaching before the recitation sessions, as the recitation is the main activity of the session, Venerable Master humbly again refer his speech as a sidetrack.
  2. Shaya World: for beginner, that is referring to our world.
梵本 般若燈論釋 中論
anirodham anutpādam 不滅亦不起 不生亦不滅。[2]
anucchedam aśāśvatam 不斷亦不常 不常亦不斷。[3]
anekārtham anānārtham 非一非種種 不一亦不異。[4]
anāgamam anirgamam 不來亦不去 不來亦不出。[5]

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