Letter 13 – Open Letter to Cultivators

The following lines are simple and unadorned, yet their teachings are based on the sutras. Anyone who acts accordingly will receive truly immense benefits. (Patriarch Yin Kuang.)

I) The Pure Land method embraces people of all capacities, gathering in those of high as well as low capacities. It is the great Dharma of the Tathagata, whereby He provides an expedient enabling both sages and ordinary beings to achieve liberation from Birth and Death and reach the stage of non-retrogression in this very lifetime.

Not to believe in and practice this sublime, special Dharma is truly regrettable, a great pity indeed.

The main tenets of Pure Land are Faith, Vows and Practice.

Faith: You should believe that the Saha World is filled with the Eight Sufferings [birth, old age, disease, death, separation from loved ones, meeting with uncongenial persons, unfulfilled wishes, and the five raging skandas.]; believe that the Western Pure Land is filled with immense joy; believe that as ordinary beings full of evil karma, you cannot, realistically, rely on your own strength (self power) alone to eliminate delusion completely, realize the Truth and escape Birth and Death in this very lifetime; believe that Amitabha Buddha has made a profound and lofty Vow – any sentient being who recites His name [with utmost faith and sincerity] seeking rebirth in His land will, at the time of death, be received and guided to the Pure Land.

Vows: You should aspire to transcend this world and achieve rebirth in that blissful Land as soon as possible.

Practice: You should practice Buddha Recitation in all earnestness and sincerity, without a moment’s lapse, paying respect and reciting morning and evening before your alter. You can establish an intensive or a leisurely schedule depending on your own circumstances.

Outside of these sessions, you should constantly recite the Buddha’s name while walking, standing, sitting, reclining or engaging in other actions that do not require intense intellectual activity. When resting, you should recite silently, uttering only the two words “Amitabha Buddha” to facilitate concentration. You should also recite silently when not properly dressed on when doing household chores, bathing, urinating or defecating, or when walking to and from unclean places. This silent recitation brings the same benefits as reciting aloud. In the latter circumstances, loud recitation is improper and could reflect disrespect. Whether reciting loudly or softly or engaging in “diamond recitation” or silent recitation, you should be attentive and keep each utterance clearly and distinctly in mind, the mouth reciting clearly and distinctly and the ears hearing clearly and distinctly.

When you recite in this way, the mind is no longer chasing after external realms, deluded thoughts cease and recitation gradually becomes pure and focused—the virtues accrued are thus immense.

II) Buddha Recitation practitioners should dedicate all virtues toward rebirth in the Pure Land, whether they are earned through reciting sutras and mantras, paying respect to the Buddhas, practicing repentance, rescuing victims of accidents or disasters, or helping the needy. You should not seek the merits and blessings of the human and celestial realms either in this lifetime or the next. If you have such thoughts, you will lose the benefit of rebirth in the Pure Land and drown in the sea of Birth and Death.

You should know that the more blessings you enjoy, the greater the evil karma you are likely to create, making it exceedingly difficult to avoid the path of hells, hungry ghosts and animals in the third lifetime. At that point, it will be more difficult to recover the human form and hear the Pure Land Dharma of liberation in one lifetime than to achieve rebirth as a celestial!

Shakyamuni Buddha taught the method of reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name, seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land, in order to help sentient beings resolve the problem of Birth and Death in this very lifetime. If you aspire to gain the blessings of the celestial and human realms in the next lifetime, you are going counter to the teachings of the Buddhas. It is like exchanging a priceless pearl for a piece of candy—how truly regrettable.

III) Pure Land cultivators should not follow Zen meditation practices. This is because most Zen followers fail to stress the issue of rebirth in the Pure Land through Faith and Vows. Even if they practice Buddha Recitation, they merely stress the koan “who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” seeking an Awakening. Pure Land practitioners should recite Amitabha Buddha’s name for the sole purpose of achieving rebirth in the Pure Land. Once having seen Amitabha Buddha, why worry about not having experienced an Awakening?

In this Saha World, it may be possible to escape Birth and Death through meditation if all delusive karma is eliminated. If, however, all delusive karma is not eliminated, the Zen follower not only cannot rely on his own strength (self-power) to achieve liberation, he cannot—lacking Faith and Vows—rely on the Buddha’s power (other-power) to escape Birth and Death either. Unable to rely either on self-power or on other-power, how can he escape the sufferings of this world?

You should know that even the Dharma Body Bodhisattvas [i.e., the higher level Bodhisattvas] must rely on the power of the Buddhas—not to mention ordinary beings such as ourselves, who are full of karmic obstructions. Who are we to keep weighing the pros and cons of our won strength, while failing to seek the Buddha’s help? Our words may be lofty, but upon reflection, the accompanying actions are low and wanting! The difference between other-power and self-power is as great as the heavens and the abyss! I hope fellow-cultivators will carefully examine and forgive my straightforward words.

IV) From the age of twelve or thirteen, until they reach forty-eight or forty-nine, women all have menstrual periods. Some people teach that women should not bow or engage in Buddha and Sutra Recitation during those times. Such advice is certainly not consonant with feelings or reason. The periods may last from a minimum of two or three days to about six or seven. Buddha Recitation practitioners need to cultivate without interruption, so how can they abandon their cultivation over a little bit of natural discomfort? During those times, women should merely shorten the bowing part of the session but keep to their regular schedule of Sutra and Buddha Recitation. They should change their protective clothing and wash their hands often, so that they do not finger the rosary, turn the pages of sutras or light incense with dirty hands.

Within the Dharma, each and every method is perfect and unimpeded. Externalists, on the other hand, grasp one-sidedly at theory and noumenon. Ordinary people tend to believe their words, are unclear about the true teachings of Buddhism and thus cannot saturate themselves with the benefits of the Dharma.

This ordinary monk has grown old and feeble lately, while his mind and spirit deteriorate with each passing day. He therefore regrets being unable to answer all of the many letters he has received.

It is only because of easy means of communication that people near and far hear of my little bit of empty fame and send me too many letters, seeking the Dharma. If I fail to answer the letters, I have, to some extent, turned my back on the sender. However, in truth, I do not have the energy to reply to each and every one of them. Therefore, I had this letter printed to answer everyone, far and wide.

As time goes by, whenever someone writes to ask about the Dharma, I aways reply with this letter. If there are specific points to be addressed, I may add a few lines here and there on the original letter. In this way, we can communicate in thought while I minimize fatigue.

Anyone who wishes to comprehend fully the meaning behind the sutras should direct his inquiries to those Dharma Masters who have raised the Dharma platform high and are thoroughly versed in the various methods and teachings. However, you should realize that even if you have fathomed the sutras and the Dharma, it is not certain that you will be able to escape the cycle of Birth and Death. To escape Birth, Death and transmigration, you should focus on Faith, Vows and reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name seeking rebirth in the Pure Land.