Letter 20 – Do Not Mistake a Thief for Your Son

I am delighted to learn from your letter that you are deeply devoted to the Way. However, because of numerous commitments, including the need to review a commentary, my answer to you has been somewhat delayed.

Greed, anger and delusions are afflictions common to everyone. However, if you are aware that they are diseases, their power should not be overwhelming. They are like thieves who have broken into the house. If the owner mistakes them for members of the household, all the valuables in the house will be stolen. If, on the other hand, he recognizes the thieves as such and immediately chases them away, his valuables will be safeguarded and he will be at peace. In this connection, the ancients have said:

Fear not the early arising of thoughts [greed, anger, delusion, etc.]; fear only the late awareness of them as such.

When greed, anger and delusion arise, as long as you recognize them for what they are, these thoughts will immediately be destroyed. If however, you take them for the true masters of your household; it is no different from mistaking a thief for your son. How can your riches not be squandered and lost?

Your Buddha Recitation is not earnest because you have not learned to recognize the Saha World as a place of suffering and the Western Pure Land as a realm of joy. You should think thus: “It is difficult to obtain a human rebirth, it is difficult to be reborn in a ‘central land,’ it is difficult to hear the Dharma and even more difficult to encounter and learn about the Pure Land method. If I do not recite the Buddha’s name single-mindedly now, once the ghost of impermanence arrives, I am bound to descend upon the three Evil Paths in accordance with the heavy karma of this life or of past lives, subject to long periods of suffering, with no liberation in sight.” If you keep these thoughts constantly in mind, you will awaken and be earnest.

Moreover, you should think about the sufferings of the various hells and develop the Bodhi Mind. The Bodhi Mind is the Mind striving to benefit oneself and others. Once this Mind develops, it is like a tool which has been electrified; it acquires tremendous power and speed. No ordinary virtues or good roots can compare with it in severing karmic obstructions and increasing merits and wisdom.

You are swayed by the environment and external circumstances because your cultivation is still shallow. Therefore, whenever you are affected by feelings of anger or joy, or have evil or wholesome thoughts, such states of mind show clearly on your face. If your mind is filled with correct thoughts, all afflictions will decrease naturally. Therefore, although he may be dwelling in the prison of Birth and Death, the true cultivator always trains himself strenuously. As a result, afflictions and karmic habits are gradually eliminated. This is true cultivation. In this way the mind becomes master of itself, thus escaping the influence and control of external circumstances.

Laymen like yourself, residing at home [unlike monks and nuns] can practice as you wish. You may recite the Buddha’s name sitting, standing, kneeling or circumambulating the altar, etc. but you should not be attached to any set ways.

If you become attached to a fixed position, your body may tire easily and your mind may find it difficult to merge with the Mind of the Buddhas. To reap benefits, you should make allowances for your health or habits and skillfully select the practice that fits your circumstances.

Traditionally, Pure Land practitioners circumambulate the altar at the beginning of a Buddha Recitation session, then sit down and, finally, kneel. However, if you feel tired when circumambulating or kneeling, you should sit down and recite. If you become drowsy while seated, you can circumambulate the altar or recite standing up, waiting for the drowsiness to go away before sitting down again. When reciting, it is better to determine the length of the session with a clock rather than fingering a rosary, as doing so may make it difficult to focus the mind and keep it empty and pure.