Letter 25 – Self-Power/Other-power

I see from your letter that you have developed faith and wish to take refuge in the Buddhas and their teachings. When taking refuge in the Triple Jewel, however, you should cease all evil actions, perform wholesome deeds, fulfill your moral obligations, develop Faith and Vows, and practice Buddha Recitation, seeking rebirth in the Pure Land. You should also refrain from killing, protect sentient beings and be vegetarian several days a month. If you cannot yet eat frugally all the time, at least do not be too demanding in your diet. In this way, you will not go counter to the compassionate Mind of the Buddhas.

Since your name is “Precious Wood,” I shall give you the Dharma name “Verdant Wisdom.” This is because the Mind-Nature is like a tree; when consumed by the fire of afflictions, it withers and dries up. Once you have wisdom, afflictions will not arise and the tree of the Mind-Nature grows naturally healthy and verdant.

If you wish to receive the five lay precepts, you should first, first of all, examine your mind. If you believe that you can keep the precepts without transgressing, you may ask the layman Hua San about self-administration of the precepts before your alter; he will glad to instruct you.

Having now returned to the Dharma, you should read my compendium of letters carefully and follow closely the teachings described therein. Only then will you avoid being deceived by misguided persons into seeking merits and blessings in future lives or trying to become an immortal through the practice of balancing energy currents. If you truly understand the teachings set out in my compendium, no externalist can cause you to vacillate. Do not doubt the words in the compendium. You should realize that they are based on the essence of the sutras or the enlightened words of the Patriarchs and other Dharma teachers. I did not invent these teachings. If you reflect carefully upon what I have just said, you will receive great benefits.

Your aspirations are as lofty as the heavens, while your will is as low as the ground. Although you claim to follow my teachings, you are, in fact, merely pursuing your own biased views. Faith constitutes the very basis of Pure Land teaching. With solid Faith, even those guilty of the Five Transgressions and the Ten Evil Deeds can achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. Without solid Faith, even those fully versed in the various schools and teachings have no hope of escaping Birth and Death—unless they have severed all delusive karma.

You are not yet versed in the various schools and teachings. Therefore, you cannot rely on your own strength (self-power) to eradicate karmic delusion and transcend Birth and Death. Now, if you do not believe the power of the Buddhas and the virtues of the Self-Nature are boundless, how can you achieve liberation?

You should know that no one who seeks rebirth in the Pure Land with deep and earnest Faith and Vows will fail to achieve it. Buddha Recitation is the perfect shortcut to escape from the wasteland of Birth and Death. You do not even realize the loftiness of this method, yet harbor the ambition to study the treatise Awakening of the Faith. Although this treatise presents the essence of the Dharma, it is not too helpful for those of limited capacities and shallow roots. Even if you study and understand it thoroughly, severing all doubts, once you begin practicing, you must still follow the method of reciting the Buddha’s name seeking rebirth in the Pure Land. This is the only prudent, safe course. As for the consciousness, Zen and Sutra Studies schools, how can you expect to grasp all their subtlety and profundity?