Monday
Mar272017

Forgiveness does not mean we do not care

or that the other person is pardoned. 

Our forgiving others does not mean they will escape their karmic consequences. We can forgive; we cannot pardon. Nor does forgiving mean we do not care about what happened—it means we understand.

Understand that actions will unfailingly have consequences.

Understand the potency of one’s karmic force amassed over uncountable lifetimes.

Understand the futility of embracing our desire for retaliation.

By forgiving, we ease our pain. Also, we spare ourselves having to act as judge and­ executioner. The wrongdoer’s just retribution will occur naturally; we do not have to dispense it. Instead of expending energy on vengeful thoughts, we can release them. Failing to do so, they will pull us down into a spiral of anger, reprisal, and more suffering. As the Buddha cautioned, being angry is like holding a hot coal waiting to throw it at another.

We are the one who gets burned. Now, and for lifetimes to come.

Sunday
Mar262017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 34: The Unified and Not Chaotic Mind

When they die, their minds being unified and not chaotic they will attain rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Ultimate Bliss. 

Sakyamuni Buddha did not state that One Mind Undisturbed is a prerequisite for attaining rebirth in the Pure Land. This is very fortunate for us because few people can achieve this state. The state that referred to here is a mind that is “unified and not chaotic.” A non-chaotic mind is a mind that is not deluded. With such a mind and by mindfully chanting the Buddha’s name as we breathe our last breaths, we will be reborn in the Pure Land. At that point, while we have not yet attained One Mind Undisturbed, we have achieved Constant Mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha.

If, however, we are unconscious, it will be extraordinarily difficult to achieve rebirth in the Western Pure Land. In our unconscious state, we will not have a mind that is “unified and not chaotic,” and the force of our karma will easily control us. As a consequence of our having committed predominantly bad deeds, we will likely go to one of the Three Evil Paths. Our very heavy negative karma carries with it the retribution of much suffering. As the Diamond Sutra says, were it not for our practice, our suffering would be much worse. This holds true not only for everyday life but also for when we are dying. When unawakened people are dying, they find it very arduous to maintain a calm, clear mind.

As practitioners, we know that if we can always have an undisturbed mind and always mindfully chant Amitabha’s name, it is thanks to the support of Amitabha. Without such support, it would be almost impossible for us to remain calm, clear, and mindful of him. The pull of our bad karma is too strong.

The result of this bad karma coupled with a chaotic mind is that we could easily find ourselves unable to chant while we are breathing our last breaths. A chaotic mind is a deluded mind. In this deluded state, it will be very easy for those who we have hurt or treated unfairly over countless lifetimes to come seeking revenge. These enemies are not evil. Like us, they are unawakened. But having been harmed by us, they wish to hurt us in return. And they know that as long as we continue to be reborn in samsara, their opportunities to do so can still arise.

If, however, we are reborn in the Pure Land, they will forever lose the chance to get even. Knowing this, our karmic enemies will do everything possible to prevent our rebirth in that land. And the easiest time to impede us is when we are in a weakened state, for this is when our concentration can falter and our mind become chaotic and deluded. It thus becomes vitally important that we manage to chant mindfully for the power generated by our chanting can hold these karmic enemies at bay.

But we should do even more. We can dedicate the merit from our chanting to these karmic enemies so they too can achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. This way, our past enemies can transform into fellow practitioners.

To be single-minded and not deluded as we are breathing our last breaths, we need good fortune. To accumulate good fortune, we need to share that which we already have. We must not waste it. This is accomplished by giving to others and by not indulging ourselves. We also need to cultivate wisdom so that we will know how best to use our good fortune and not inadvertently commit more bad karmas. If we are unwise, we will use up all our good fortune. Having none left at the end of our life, we may then become deluded at the time of death.

If however, we are wise, we will live simply, not commit bad karmas, and share our good fortune. Having an ample supply at the end of our life, we will be clear minded as we chant the name of Amitabha Buddha and see him come to guide us home to the Pure Land. 

Friday
Mar242017

Hatred is like a slippery slope:

easy to descend but arduous to scale. 

Most of us have undergone emotional upheaval as a once loving relationship mutated into an acrimonious one. I would imagine that far fewer of us have managed to transform hatred into appreciation and love.

The slide into hatred can begin with our teetering between excusing the other's behavior and justifying our feelings. Then we start to cast blame and look to absolve ourselves.

The other person acted unreasonably. We behaved admirably.

They are guilty of wrongdoing. We are innocent.

Our smoldering emotions erupt, and we fly into a rage. Hatred hardens in our heart, an uninvited guest who has taken up residence. We need to realize that whether its cause was unjust or valid, we were wrong to succumb to hatred, allowing it to fester and grow. Instead of ending our suffering, we increased it. Rather than helping all beings, we injured them.

Such is the terrible price of descending into hatred.

Monday
Mar202017

After seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching,

discriminatory thoughts arise,

habits solidify, control lessens,

and suffering increases.

Through our senses, we perceive our world. Feelings arise, ideas form. Opinions become set. Liking this, I want more; disliking that, I want it to go away. Such impressions accumulate in our store consciousness. We form habitual ways of responding to our assumptions rather than the facts and act emotionally rather than with understanding.

Reacting from habits, we do not stop to formulate the wisest course of action. We respond automatically, unaware the control we had over our thoughts and behavior is waning. The more we fail to exercise control and the more careless we become, the more mistakes we make. Since we act negligently and harm others, our ensuing sufferings will worsen.

What can we do?

Observe clearly, but do not attach, do not discriminate.

Act compassionately from understanding, not uncontrollably from emotions.  

Sunday
Mar192017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 33: Good Men and Good Women

If there are good men or good women who hear of Amitabha Buddha, and recite his name singlemindedly and without confusion, for one day or two days or three days or four days or five days or six days or seven days, then when these people are about to die, Amitabha Buddha and his whole assembly will appear before them. 

Here Sakyamuni Buddha spoke to Sariputra of “good men or good women” who singlemindedly chant the name of Amitabha Buddha from one to seven days. What is the standard for being a good man or a good woman? In other schools, it is to fulfill the Ten Virtuous Karmas. In the Pure Land school, the standard is to be mindful of Amitabha Buddha. When sincerely mindful of him, we will resonate with his mind of goodness and thus will naturally fulfill the Ten Virtuous Karmas. Good speech and good actions will follow from our mindfulness just as water naturally flows downhill.

Anyone who has tried to chant the name of Amitabha Buddha singlemindedly can appreciate just how difficult it is. When we first begin to chant, we do so with a scattered and chaotic mind. This is a mind in which our erratic thoughts bombard us continuously as we attempt to chant. And it seems that the harder we try to focus, the more chaotic our mind becomes. Very honestly, our mind has been chaotic for a very, very long time; we were simply not aware of it. When we try to focus our mind, we begin to realize just how scattered and chaotic our thoughts are. Our realizing this is vital because as an ancient practitioner warned, “even if one chants the Buddha’s name until one’s throat is hoarse, one’s chanting with a scattered and chaotic mind will be futile.”

It will be futile because chanting with a scattered and chaotic mind will not result in rebirth in the Pure Land in the current lifetime. Luckily for us, the practitioner's warning does not mean that such chanting is worthless. At the least, it will result in good fortune, though this good fortune will be enjoyed only by being reborn as a human or heavenly being in a future lifetime.

As we continue diligently with our chanting, little by little our mind becomes less chaotic. We gradually begin to chant with a scattered mind. This term describes an unfocused mind, one that is not yet able to concentrate solely on the Buddha-name. And so sometimes we will be mindful of the Buddha, and at other times we will have wandering thoughts. While a scattered mind is not our goal, with this mind we are at least able to begin to use the Buddha-name to reduce and even hold our wandering thoughts at bay. When chanting alone is not sufficient to accomplish this, we can simultaneously chant and practice visualizing Amitabha, lotus flowers, or the other adornments of the Pure Land.

What we are striving to attain is Constant Mindfulness. This is spoken of in the Infinite Life Sutra as “single-mindedly concentrating on mindfully chanting the Buddha’s name.” Constant Mindfulness is to continuously have the name of Amitabha in our mind, whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. With Constant Mindfulness, we will no longer have afflictions like selfishness, greed, anger, ignorance, or arrogance. We will be using one pure thought—that of Amitabha Buddha—to replace all wandering thoughts.

When we attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land through mindful chanting, we will still have wandering thoughts because we will not yet have eliminated them. We bring them along. What about residual karmas? We also bring along these remaining karmas. Once in the Pure Land, our continued chanting will further reduce and then gradually eradicate even these wandering thoughts and residual karmas. In time, we will attain the state of One-mind Undisturbed.

To be reborn in the Western Pure Land, we should always regard ourselves as beginners. We should also remember what we have learned. No matter what conditions we encounter, irrespective of the various emotions or ideas we may have, we should not attach to the conditions. Indeed, we should not attach to anything of this world. We practice to achieve Constant Mindfulness, to have the name of Amitabha Buddha in our mind twenty-four hours a day.

In this sutra passage, Sakyamuni said to chant Amitabha Buddha’s name “for one day or two days or three days or four days or five days or six days or seven days.” The Amitabha Sutra speaks of one to seven days, whereas the Infinite Life Sutra says ten days, and the Visualization Sutra specifies just one day on the condition that we truly repent. The number of days differs because to help everyone, Sakyamuni Buddha, taught different methods to different people. But regardless of how long we practice, even for thirty or forty years, the ultimate purpose of our practice is first to attain Constant Mindfulness and then One Mind Undisturbed.

Once we achieve these states, we will not lose them.

Rather we will be more diligent and work even harder. We will be filled with Dharma bliss and will receive unimaginable benefits. To appreciate the benefits that are possible through diligent practice, we can consider the account of Venerable Yishou, who lived four centuries ago. Venerable Yishou chanted the name of Amitabha Buddha while doing walking meditation in a small area covered with flat stones. So diligently did he practice walking meditation that he wore holes in the stones. When they were replaced, again he wore them down.

Despite his determined practice, Venerable Yishou encountered a serious karmic enmity from a past lifetime. This enmity had been reborn as a young orphaned boy whom Venerable Yishou raised. As time passed, the rebellious boy’s misdeeds grew more flagrant. When Venerable Yishou spoke to him about this, the boy’s behavior became even worse. Finally, one night, he and some other boys attacked Venerable Yishou as he was doing his walking meditation. They beat the still chanting monk until they killed him.

One might ask why such a terrible thing would happen to a monk who practiced so diligently. We need to understand that had Venerable Yishou not practiced so well, he would never have been able to continue chanting until the moment he died. This account appears in a book that tells of people who were reborn in the Pure Land. The commentary for this particular account points out that, although we do not know what deeds we have done in the past, we should nonetheless always repent. And no matter what happens to us, we should never allow our belief to be shaken or our vow to be reborn in the Pure Land forgotten. Like Venerable Yishou, we need to be determined and chant the Buddha-name “singlemindedly and without confusion.”

How do we chant? First, we bring the thought of “Amituofo” into our mind. As we say “Amituofo,” our ears hear and our mind concentrates on and embraces “Amituofo.” Thus, the mind, the mouth, and the ears are all absorbed in this chanting. In silent chanting meditation, we listen to and concentrate on our voice in our mind. This manner of chanting will help us focus and concentrate our mind for “one day or two days or three days or four days or five days or six days or seven days.”