Letter 9 – Amitabha Buddha—the Boundless Self-Nature of Light and Life

Since we parted in mid-spring, time has flown by, and it is now summer. The light of springtime has passed swiftly—a frightening reminder indeed.

Each time I think of the two of you, I recall that despite your true and sincere faith, you lack sufficient understanding of the Dharma, to the point where you have abandoned the lofty ground to follow lowly, dark paths. Not only have you lost correct views and become yourselves a topic of ridicule, even this old monk is embarrassed by the bad reputation he has acquired for being an acquaintance of yours!

In your letter, you mentioned the possibility of having me correct some of your future writings. However, with my weak eyes and bad health, I do not normally take to writing. Even if my advice is needed, whatever I put down is nothing but a heap of empty words. What is there which is worth reading? Still, lest I seem ungrateful for your trust, I am tentatively setting forth some leftover soap and stale rice. If you do not object to the smell, perhaps they can temporarily assuage your hunger until the time when you can taste the exquisite food of the Self-Nature.

The verse “Four Options” is very profound and worthy of attention. You should ponder it carefully. By all means do not take it lightly on the basis of the shallow explanations of a few persons, or you will fail to appreciate the great compassionate mind of Master Yung Ming, who has exhausted words and counsel. The treatise The Benefits of Reciting the Sutras Depend in One’s Mind was written because people today recite the sutras without the least bit of reverence. The true benefit of the Buddha Dharma is found in a reverent mind. Such a state of mind can even lead to swift Supreme Enlightenment—not to mention the lower levels of sagehood (Arhats and Pratyeka Buddhas)!

The Pure Land Patriarch Shan Tao, traditionally considered a Transformation Body of Amitabha Buddha, was endowed with great spiritual powers and wisdom. However, in teaching Pure Land, he did not advocate the mystical and sublime but merely emphasized everyday, ordinary realities. His teachings in Exclusive Practice and Sundry Practices are extremely useful.

Exclusive Practice consists of the body bowing exclusively to Amitabha Buddha, the mouth exclusively repeating the Buddha’s name, and the mind focusing exclusively on the Buddha’s name. Out of the ten thousand cultivators who practice in such a manner, ten thousand are assured of rebirth in the Pure Land.

Sundry Practices entail engaging in various methods of cultivation while dedicating the merits accrued toward rebirth in the Western Land. Since the practitioner’s mind is not focused or singleminded, it is difficult to accumulate merits. Thus, only three or four out of hundreds of thousands can hope to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. These are true, golden words of advice, immutable throughout the ages. Both of you should follow them for your own benefit and in counseling everyone else.

Reciting mantras, too, should be considered an ancillary practice, rather than a principal method along with Buddha Recitation. The merits derived from mantra recitation are indeed inconceivable. However, ordinary people who achieve rebirth in the Pure Land owe it entirely to utterly sincere Faith and Vows, as these correspond to the lofty Vows of Amitabha Buddha. If you are not clear about this truth, thinking that all Dharmas are unfathomable and therefore it does not matter which method you cultivate, you will end up practicing neither Zen nor Pure Land. This will lead to eons of wandering in the wasteland of Birth and Death—whom, then, could you rely on for help?

You should realize that as a common being full of karmic obstructions, you will certainly find it difficult to escape Birth and Death in this very life unless you rely on the Vows of Amitabha Buddha. Only then will you discover that the Pure Land method surpasses other Dharma methods in power and utility!

Reciting mantras and sutras for the purpose of sowing merits and wisdom and eliminating evil karma and transgressions is all to the good. However, to be deluded and seek spiritual powers is to abandon the roots for the branches—an error in judgement. If, furthermore, your mind is grasping, your understanding of the Dharma nebulous, your precept-keeping lax, your Bodhi Mind undeveloped and your discriminatory, win-lose mind raging unchecked, you will be exposed one day to demons that may drive you insane!

If you want to obtain spiritual powers, you should first attain Enlightenment and Buddhahood. Once Buddhahood is attained, you will naturally have full spiritual powers. If you do not strive for the Way but merely seek spiritual powers, let us not even speak about whether anything can be gained. If you should obtain anything, it would become an impediment to the Way. For this reason, the Buddhas and Patriarchs have strictly forbidden this erroneous form of cultivation. Because such ideas are common, I have taken the opportunity to mention them in passing.

Both of you still have your parents at home. Therefore, you should keep explaining the Pure Land method and the accounts of rebirth to them, so that they may develop and follow the examples therein. If you do not repay your filial debits in this way, even if you are filial in the mundane sense, what good will it do your parents at the end of their lives? … You should wake up and hasten to ensure that, at death, your parents will participate in the Lotus Assembly. They will then be close to Amitabha Buddha and achieve the boundless Self-Nature of light and life.

The sufferings of the Saha World are endless. Even in time of peace, sentient beings are jostling one another in an atmosphere of sorrow and affliction. However, because they have endured it for so long, they have grown accustomed to it and are no longer aware of it. In China recently, insurrection and strife have become daily events; the sufferings of the people are beyond description! Abroad, a great war has been raging for three years. With casualties already legion, the world conflict goes on and on with no end in sight. This tragic situation is caused by the karma of sentient beings and is the precursor of an extended period of disturbances to come. It is truly frightening to think of the sufferings of the future!

I hope that both of you will develop the Bodhi Mind and seek rebirth in the Pure Land, to achieve the fruits of Buddhahood swiftly before returning to the Saha World to rescue sentient beings. The sutras teach:

Bodhisattvas fear causes, sentient beings fear effects and results.

Bodhisattvas, being weary of evil spirits, eliminate evil causes. Sentient beings all too often vie to create evil causes and then have to endure evil results. When enduring suffering, they do not know enough to practice repentence, but create more evil karma in the hope of escaping retribution. Thus, injustice and retribution follow upon one another continuously, without end. It is so pitiful and frightening to think about it!

Knowing the truth, those who do not seek rebirth in the Pure Land are not yet truly among the wise!