This is the translation of a lecture that I recently attended by Venerable Master Chin Kung. It is the first of a series of lectures on the Infinite Life Sutra. I apologize in advance if the translation from Chinese to English misrepresents his original intent.
Infinite Life Sutra
The chanting of Amituofo is very significant. The chanting is used to connect ourselves with the true universe. Amituofo means the “whole Dharma realm” which is a difficult concept to fully understand unless you are a Buddha.
In essence, Amituofo means infinite virtue and infinite merit. So the obvious question is how can we obtain infinite virtue, infinite merit, by simply chanting Amituofo? The answer is that we need to believe in the teachings of Amituofo, practice the teachings of Amituofo and bow to show respect to Amituofo.
We need to create good affinity to connect with Amituofo and go to the Pure Land. Each of us needs to create a good foundation upon which to base our understanding; just like the roots of a tree serve to support the tree’s trunk and its many branches. If the tree’s root system is weak, then it will not have the proper foundation upon which to grow and mature.
So we need to accumulate good fortune and good affinity by practicing the teachings of Amituofo. The degree of practice cannot always be used as a measure the effectiveness of your chanting. People who are dying can chant Amituofo ten times and still go to the Pure Land. The final result though is determined by how hard one has worked and cultivated during their lifetime, both past and present. One example was where a teacher in a Zen school lectured to a student just one evening. Afterwords, the student was able to go to the Pure Land because he had prepared himself in a previous life.
We can have doubt in our own mind, but do not object openly since virtue and wisdom are not yet mature enough to understand. Amituofo means our original enlightenment, our own realization — our true self-nature. The Pure Land is a manifestation of our true self-nature.
Perhaps in a previous lifetime we believed in Buddha, but our bad habits in this lifetime prevent us from truly understanding Buddha. If you truly understand the reality of life and the universe, we should start chanting Amituofo. If after chanting for a time and you do not feel the beginnings of an awakening, then your chanting is too weak, it is lacking strength and conviction. During chanting, it is important that you let go of all wandering thoughts since these thoughts will prevent you from focusing on Amituofo. Your goal is to connect with the heart of Buddha by chanting with sincerity and conviction.
Achieving this connection with the heart of the Buddha can be accomplished within a short period of time; from one to seven days. But to achieve this within such a short timeframe, you need to ensure that you do not have any wandering or intermingled thoughts day or night. The person must be dedicated to chanting in a serious and forceful manner. If you vow to chant to seven days,, then fail to do so in a serious and forceful manner, then bad things will befall you. So you need to make a serious commitment to perform your chanting each and every day and rid yourself of selfishness.
Cultivation is an important part of the Buddhas teachings. But how do we cultivate? We cultivate by learning the teachings and then helping to propagate those teachings. In today’s society, everybody has free will; children do not respect their parents and students do not respect their teachers. We can only urge them to accept change by teaching them. We cannot force them to change.
Achievements can only be attained by following the teachings of Buddha. How significant these achievements are dependent upon how much you have let go from your own mind. Have you freed your mind from selfishness, attachment, discrimination, and other negative thoughts?
The Master learned from his teacher that you need to simply let go of all these kinds of thoughts. The more negative thoughts you release, the higher you will go in terms of gaining enlightenment. If you do not learn to let go of these negative thoughts, you will stay in the same state and never be able to achieve enlightenment.
The Master stated that he has specific goals while in this lifetime. Those goals are:
- To let Buddha Sakyamuni teaching’s continue in this world
- To go to the Pure Land to study with Buddha Amituofo
When Buddha Sakyamuni passed away, his disciples asked what they should do:
- Follow the precepts, follow the sufferings as my teacher
- Follow the six harmony principles; just as if Buddha was alive today
We need to let go of our selfishness. We need to change ourselves, to let go of searching for wealth and fame. Need to transform the selfishness to benefit other people, our society, our government, our country. We need to follow the Buddha’s teachings accordingly.
The teachings are the first priority to help other people to become unselfish. How w can solve the problems of society, of countries, of the world is through teachings. If you can follow through with these teachings then you will have gained great wisdom. From ancient time through the Qin dynasty, education was chosen based upon family values, family traditions. A good education is the key to helping to solve the world’s problems
Relationships are also an important consideration. They need to be taught in terms of parents and children, teachers and students and brother and sisters. If we all truly understand our relationships in terms of that they represent, the why can’t we live in harmony?
We also need to understand how to love each other. All men are my father and all women are my mother. Father and son as well as father and daughter relationships apply as well.
Through reincarnation, we develop many connections with previous lives. We have connections with animals since we could be reborn as one. Since we do not, cannot not what our future life will be, it is important we develop relationships with all living things, to develop these connections. Everything has a connection with use; past lives as well as future lives through reincarnation. Once we go to our next life, we forget our past lives. If we understand what our relationships should be, we would understand how to love each other, how we should act and behave.
If we can recover our ability to remember our previous lives, we would understand our connections. All of us are connected in some way with everything. All of these connections, with the trees, the flowers, with everything, come from our mind.
Buddha has an example where he says everything is like a dream, like a bubble. But like a bubble, a dream disappears once we are awakened. Once you have awakened, you have reached enlightenment. Once you obtain great enlightenment, you will see the Buddha light.
Need to learn how to “let go” of attachments. Concentrate all of the six senses and let go of all wandering thoughts when chanting clearly and forcefully. It can be very hard to let go of wandering thoughts. We can use Amituofo to help us concentrate on one single thought. The technique of focusing our concentration, of eliminating any wandering thoughts, will help us to discover our true self nature.
Cultivation is an important part of Buddha’s teachings. We need to start our cultivation so we are able to put into practice the Buddha’s teachings. To accomplish the act of cultivation, it may be helpful, at least initially, to find a quiet place to concentrate so you are neither disturbed nor distracted. Once we begin to chant Amituofo, it’s important that we let go of all doubts. Concentrate on your chanting; ensuring it is deliberate, forceful and sincere. If you are able to accomplish this, you will obtain the power required to reap the rewards of chanting. Chanting is very powerful; with every chant we connect with the heart of the Buddha.
Amituofo is comprised of four Sanskrit words; each word has deep and profound meanings. The first word “A” means infinite virtue and merit. Every mantra starts with the “ah” sound because it contains a profound meaning. The sound is used to help us connect with our true self nature. Amituofo is one of the shortest mantras; the longest mantra is over 2000 words long.
A single chant or mantra is called a method. Since there are over 84,000 methods, we can say that there are infinite messages. The number seven (7) is used to indicate a perfect number; perfection includes the six directions and the center.
The entire universe and we are one, one entity. We have infinite compassion, virtue, wisdom, etc. All voices come from the original voice of the universe which is “ah”. All Buddha teachings start with the concept of “ah”.
If we let go of all wandering thoughts, attachments, etc., we can recover our true self-nature, the Buddha nature. If you achieve cultivation and let go of all things, you can also achieve the Buddha state. If you let go of all attachments and discrimination, you will go to the Pure Land. If you believe, and you can control your thoughts, you can go to the Pure Land and achieve purity, equality and enlightenment. It doesn’t matter which part of the Pure Land you go to, the Buddha will still support you. Even if you go to the Pure Land at the lowest level, you can still return and help people to have connections with you.
There are many manifestation of enlightenment within the Pure Land. Remember that Amituofo means infinite virtue and merit. So why do we still need to read the Sutras? Because we still do not understand the true meaning of Amituofo. The reading of the Sutra will take a long time to complete; which is necessary for the mind to calm down. An analogy would be like running water. If the water is running, it’s difficult to see the bottom. Yet, if the water is still, the bottom can be seen quite easily.
Cultivation can be easily accomplished by chanting the Buddhas name, Amituofo. The chant can be performed at any time, even when in the toilet (just chant silently). If you can achieve some level of chanting, with Amituofo always in your mind, then it means you can go to the Pure Land any time. You get the freedom to decide when you want to go to the Pure Land.
Which Sutra is the most important? The answer is the Flower Adornment Sutra. This Sutra talks about how to achieve perfect enlightenment by going to the Pure Land and also introduces the Pure Land.
By chanting Amituofo, we can enter the Flower Adornment State, the higest achievement. The Flower Adornment Sutra has:
- 48 Chapters
- The 6th chapter is the most important; it introduces Buddha Amituofo’s 48 vows
- Among the 48 vows, the most important is the 18th vow
By chanting Amituofo, we have to have the mind to help all beings to be able to attain the Buddha mind. To accomplish this we need to let go of selfishness.
Where is the Buddha hometown? The answer is the universe; anywhere is his hometown. Where ever there is an affinity, a connection, will be your hometown. The Buddha does not have a single place that can be referred to as his hometown in the traditional sense; rather, he has many places that he can call his hometown.
The Master urges everyone to chant Amituofo as often as we can since it is so powerful, so wonderful. The principle of the Flower adornment Sutra is Amituofo. By chanting ten Amituofo you can reach the same level of achievement as an enlightened Bodhisattva. Many do not know the secret of Amituofo. Now you do!
The final conclusion is that as a Pure Land practitioner, we must deeply understand the true meaning of Amituofo so we can create the proper mindset to become a Buddha. Chanting Amituofo is the most important principle to becoming a Buddha. It’s important that we understand the entire Flower Adornment Sutra so we can attain a Buddha mind.
And finally, remember that the key to cultivation is through education.