Letter 1 – Turn Afflictions into Bodhi

Since we last met, six years have gone by in a flash. During that time, not only have the snow and dew undergone change, the destiny of our nation has been profoundly transformed as well. The evanescence of life is truly something we all deeply mourn.

I am pleased to learn from your letter that you have not neglected your Pure Land practice. However, you indicated that you are not at peace in body and mind. Could this be the result of financial difficulties or chronic illness?

If you suffer financial hardship, I suggest you retreat a step. You should reflect thus: “Although there are many in this world more fortunate than I, those who are less well-off are hardly few in number. I should seek only to escape hunger and cold; why dream of riches and honor?”

Moreover, if you are content and at peace with your circumstances and surroundings, you can even turn afflictions into Bodhi (Enlightenment), not to mention grief into peace and joy!

If you suffer chronic illness, you should reflect deeply that this body is the very source of suffering, develop a revulsion toward it and strive to cultivate the Pure Land path, determined to achieve rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. The Buddhas view suffering as their teacher, thus achieving Ultimate Enlightenment. Likewise, you should consider illness as medicine, to escape Birth and Death.

You should realize that human beings area bound by all kinds of karmic afflictions. Without the sufferings of poverty and illness, they will, by nature, pursue the world of sight and sound, fame and profit, finding it difficult to let go. Who would then willingly turn around to watch and ponder the state of perdition to come?

The sage Mencius once said:

Those who will be trusted with great tasks should first endure hardship both in body and mind, suffering hunger and destitution or failure in their undertakings. Only then will they be able to forge their character, develop patience and endurance and attain outstanding abilities, beyond the ken of the multitude.

Therefore, you should realize that human character is usually forged in adversity. If adversity cannot be avoided, you should remain at peace and practice forbearance.

Moreover, is speaking of great tasks, the sage Mencius was referring merely to mundane undertakings. Even so, enduring hardship is necessary for success—how much more so when lowly beings as ourselves undertake the great dual task of achieving Buddhahood and rescuing sentient beings! If you are not tested to a certain extent by financial hardship and disease, your worldly delusions will know no bounds and your Pure Land practice will be difficult to perfect. With your Mind-mirror clouded, you will revolve for many eons in the evil realms—not knowing when you will ever achieve liberation!

The ancients have said:

If it were not for a period of penetrating cold, the plum blossom could never develop its exquisite perfume.

This is the meaning of what I said earlier.

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You should persevere in reciting the Buddha’s name, to eradicate past karma swiftly and avoid developing a mind of afflictions, resenting the Heavens, blaming your fellow beings, considering the law of Cause and Effect as a fairy tale and rejecting the Buddhas and their teachings as ineffective. You should know that from time immemorial, we have all created immeasurable evil karma. As the Avatamsaka Sutra states:

If evil karma had physical form, the empty space of the ten directions could not contain it.

Thus, how can haphazard, intermittent cultivation possibly annihilate all afflictions and obstructions?

Shakyamuni Buddha and Amitabha Buddha, out of compassion for sentient beings who lack the strength to rid themselves of evil karma, specifically taught the method of “Relying on the Buddha’s power to take their residual karma along to the Pure Land.” Such compassionate action is all-encompassing; even our obligations to the Heavens or to our parents cannot be compared to it—not even on a scale of ten thousand to one. Therefore, you should engage in earnest repentance, seeking the Buddha’s assistance in eradicating past karma and achieving peace and tranquility of body and mind.

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If illness and suffering become unbearable, in addition to reciting the Buddha’s name morning and night and dedicating the merits toward rebirth in the Pure Lane, you should call wholeheartedly upon the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin (Avalokitesvara). With Her silent vow to rescue sentient beings, the Bodhisattva appears throughout the worlds of the ten directions. If in time of crises, a person can keep reciting Her name and revere Her, She will respond according to the circumstances, enabling him to escape suffering and achieve happiness.

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Although Buddha Recitation is simple, it is very deep and encompassing. The most important thing is to be utterly sincere and earnest, for only then will your thoughts merge with those of Amitabha Buddha and will reap true benefits in this very life. If you are lazy and lax, lacking even the least bit of reverence and awe, you may sow the seeds of future liberation but you must still bear the inconceivably evil karma stemming from disrespect and over-familiarity. Even if, thanks to residual merits, you escape the evil realms and are reborn in the celestial or human realms, you will still find it difficult to join the Ocean-Wide Lotus Assembly.

Nowadays, there are quite a few scholars who study Buddhism. However, almost all of them simply read the words of the sutras and commentaries seeking arguments and rationalizations to prove that they are versed in the Dharma. Those with the sincerity and devotion to cultivate according to the Dharma are few indeed! I have always said that to reap the real benefits of the Dharma, you should approach it with a truly reverent mind. One-tenth of reverence and devotion annihilates one-tenth of afflictions and evil karma, and increases merit and wisdom by one-tenth—and this applies to two-tenths, three-tenths or total reverence and devotion.

Conversely, the more lax and disrespectful you are, the more obstructions and evil karmas you develop, resulting in a corresponding decrease in merit and wisdom. How sad it is! When you meet with other laymen, you should counsel them along these lines. This would be a great Dharma gift.

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If you can penetrate the profound, subtle meaning of the Pure Land method, so much the better. However, even if you are not entirely clear about certain aspects of it, you should still believe firmly in the words of the Buddhas and the patriarchs. You must not harbor doubts. To doubt is to turn your back on Buddha Amitabha, distancing yourself from Him, making it difficult to be in communion with Hi and be “received and guided” at the time of death. The ancients have taught:

Only the Buddhas can truly fathom the ultimate meaning of Pure Land; even those Bodhisattvas who have achieved near equality with the Buddhas cannot grasp it completely.

If even the highest level Bodhisattvas cannot fully understand the Pure Land method, how can we expect to assess it with our own limited minds and capacities without falling into error? Intelligent persons, these days, may study the Dharma, but since they have not been in the company of fully enlightened sages, they almost always emphasize theory and noumenon (principle) while rejecting “phenomenal” cultivation as well as the law of Cause and Effect. Little do they realize that without phenomenal cultivation and belief in Cause and Effect, theory and noumenon cease to exist.

There are also certain individuals of great talent and ability, whose writings can astound the gods. However, their actions are no different from those of the dullards in the marketplace. The root cause is their rejection of phenomenal cultivation and Cause and Effect. This grave error is repeated by other people; it is a case of betraying the Dharma with one’s body (actions). The depth of such offenses, and transgressions is immeasurable. Witnessing this, those endowed with profound wisdom can only sigh in pity and compassion …

An Elder Master once said:

Those who skillfully discourse on Mind and Self-Nature surely can never reject Cause and Effect; those who believe deeply in Cause and effect naturally understand the Mind and Self-Nature in depth. This is a natural development.

The Master’s words are a truth that has withstood the test of time, a needle pricking the heads of those with delusive wisdom.

Last autumn, during your esteemed brother’s visit to P’u T’o Mountain, I brought up these “sincere, respectful” points. However, I wonder whether he has taken them as sincere, earnest words they were meant to be?

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