Essence of the Infinite Life Sutra – Excerpt Fifty-Two

Extensively plant roots of virtue. Do not violate the precepts of the Way. Practice patience and diligence. Be compassionate and single-minded.

“Extensively plant roots of virtue.” “Plant” means to plant and nurture. As to “roots of virtue,” for Mahayana bodhisattvas, the basis of all virtues is the Six Paramitas. For Theravada practitioners, it is the Three Learnings of precepts, meditative concentration, and wisdom. For Pure Land practitioners, mindfully chanting the Buddha-name accords with Buddha—one uses the Buddha-name to awaken oneself and to make one’s mind, vows, understanding, and practice the same as those of Amitabha Buddha. The merit of the Buddha-name is completely revealed. It is the root of all virtues.

One can sincerely chant the Buddha-name even if one is not familiar with the teachings or the principles. Because one chants the Buddha-name, no wandering thoughts and attachments arise. One’s mind is pure and clear. This also accords with the meaning of “roots of virtue.”

Simply put, everything in this world and beyond is invariably about conditions. Conditions may be favorable or adverse. How do conditions come about? They are created by us, initiated by us. Buddhas and bodhisattvas constantly teach us to have a good heart, say kind words, and do good deeds. This is planting and nurturing roots of virtue.

“Virtue” here refers to good fortune. One not only has to plant and nurture but do so extensively. When one broadens one’s mind and practice, one’s good fortune will be profound and great. Even in this corrupt and evil world, one will still be able to enjoy good fortune. Those who do not cultivate good fortune are the most miserable people in the world. They are pitiable! The truest, greatest, ultimate, and perfect good fortune is mindfully chanting the Buddha-name and seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land.

The world is filled with suffering. What people drink is suffering and what they eat is poison. There is no solace, nor does it end. Even if one gets all the wealth and prestige that one wants—just like the effect of a cardiac stimulant being injected into a patient, a spark from a flint, or a flash of lightning—they will soon be gone.

Besides, when people are enjoying their good fortune, committing transgressions is unavoidable. More often than not, the offenses they commit are more extensive than those committed by the poor.

Hence, people should know to cultivate good fortune.

“Do not violate the precepts of the Way.” In a restricted sense, “precepts of the Way” refers to the precepts taught by the Buddha. We should be clear about what the Buddha taught us: what not to do, what not to say, and what thoughts not to have. In a broader sense, “precepts of the Way” encompasses laws, customs, and taboos. We should not violate any of these.

Also, for example, we should never go to other people’s cultivation centers to post notices, hand out flyers, or get their followers to come to our cultivation center. These are all within the scope of “the precepts of the Way.” In particular, we should not do these things at cultivation centers that give talks.

“Practice patience and diligence.” We should be patient and diligent in everything. If there is no patience, there is no diligence. We should have endurance when facing natural disasters. We should be even more patient in human relationships.

When there is a group of people, there will be differences in views and thoughts on an issue. If every one of us has very stubborn attachments, conflict is inevitable. If we can each yield a little, the problem will be resolved. That is why it is said, “Under the heavens, there were originally no problems.” Give in, even just a little, and there will be no problems. Therefore, we should be patient and diligent.

“Be compassionate and single-minded.” “Compassion” means that we need to have great compassion towards beings and help those who are suffering by relieving their suffering and giving them happiness. What is the gravest suffering for people today? Being deluded and ignorant! If one is wrong about the truth of life and the universe in one’s thoughts, views, speech, and deeds and yet still seeks to have good fortune, this is the gravest suffering!

“Repay the Four Kinds of Kindness above, and relieve the suffering of those in the Three Paths below.” This is our obligation. This is what we should do. How do we repay kindness? How do we save those who are suffering in the Three Paths below? What ability do we have to relieve the suffering of those in the Three Paths below? We do not have this ability!

Relieving the suffering of those in the Three Paths below means that we should help people today who have created these karmic causes but have not yet fallen into the Three Evil Paths. We cannot do anything to help those who have fallen into the Three Evil Paths. Frankly, it is difficult to help those in the Three Evil Paths, even for Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, let alone for us.

Who will undergo suffering in The Three Evil Paths? Those who are heavily afflicted with greed, anger, or ignorance. Ignorant people cannot tell right from wrong, and are confused about proper and improper, and good and bad. This is the karmic cause for the animal path.

In other words, when we see someone heavily afflicted with greed, anger, or ignorance, this is a person who will fall into the Three Evil Paths. We should do our best to help and remind this person, which will allow this person to awaken and reform on his own. This is great compassion.

“Single-minded” refers to ourselves. It means to be One Mind Undisturbed. One should not only have One Mind Undisturbed as the goal of one’s daily routine practice, one’s mind should also be undisturbed at all times, in all places, and whenever one is helping others. One’s mind should still be undisturbed when one is applying great compassion, repaying kindness, and relieving suffering.

If one’s mind is disturbed when helping others, one should stop helping and just chant the Buddha-name diligently and unquestioningly. One is not at fault in doing so.

The Surangama Sutra says: “If you can change the environment, then you are the same as the Thus Come One.” If one is able to change the environment and be unaffected by it, then one has the ability to help others. If one does not have this ability, one should first cultivate oneself, seeking to achieve in cultivation, before helping others to change. This is very important!

Some bodhisattvas generate the great mind of helping others before they achieve in their own cultivation. They can do so because their minds are focused and are not affected by the environment. They do not change according to the environment. Not achieving in their own cultivation means not attaining Buddhahood, but they are able to become arhats or bodhisattvas. If in helping others, we still fall into the Three Evil Paths, then this is wrong.

We should learn diligently and should not misunderstand the teachings in the sutras.