Realizing Your Pure Land|
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
October 30, 2011 - Dallas, Texas
So tonight, I am going to read from the Buddha's teachings on Amitabha's Pure Land of great happiness, Sukhavati. This is a unique teaching because it is primarily a metaphorical, poetic story expression of truth beyond the literal, so use your imagination and listen to the symbolic meanings behind the parts of the story and find the truth within the story.
And after I read this, we're going to have a small group discussion with about four people in your group on your Pure Land. You see, every enlightened being creates a Pure Land around themselves, a Buddha-kshetra, a Buddha field, a field of enlightenment around them. They don't necessarily mean to. It is just automatic, because when you are enlightened, you can't help but shine a light all around you. And so because all of us are baby Buddhas, we all have our little baby Pure Lands, too.
So, in our discussion and after I read this, I would like for us to share with each other if we were to create a Pure Land around us, what ingredient would we include in this Pure Land or what aspect or what component or what factor would we include in our Pure Land? Our Pure Land meaning our life radiance that would support us. Maybe for you, you want to make sure you include lots of art—artistic expression in your Pure Land or maybe music. I definitely will have music in my Pure Land. Or maybe humor. Or maybe lots of tranquil, natural, nature-filled elements in your Pure Land. And it doesn't have to be just literal, physical elements in your Pure Land, but psychological elements in your Pure Land, emotional elements, mental elements. So think about that.
So, let us listen to these beautiful words of the enlightened one. This is what I heard the Buddha say one time when he was staying at the Anathapindika Monastery in the Jetta Grove. At that time, the Buddha had with him a sangha of 1,250 monks and nuns all enlightened, and the most well known among his senior disciples, including Shariputra, etc., etc.
Well, you know, actually the fact that these names are here and even though you may not know what the meaning of the names are, actually they are all symbolic. So perhaps there is something deep within you that can resonate with the meaning beyond intellectual understanding. This is true because one time, I was at a monastery where they were chanting in another language, and I had no idea what they were chanting, but by the end of their chant, I had this internal vision. It was so positive and so heart opening, I said to myself, "This must be the Heart Sutra that they're chanting," and right as I thought that, they ended the chant in the Sanskrit mantra, Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Swaha, which gave me the clue that yes, this is the Heart Sutra that they are chanting. So you see, I knew on a deeper level what they were chanting even though intellectually and physically I had no idea. So I guess I will read all these words. Why not?
So at that time, the Buddha had with him a sangha of 1,250 monks, all arhats, and the most well known among his senior disciples, including Shariputra, Maha Madgala, Yana Mahakashapa, Maha Katyana, Maha Kastila, Revata Struti Vantaka, Nanda, Ananda, Rahula, Vakavapati, Pindola, Rahadjasa, Kalodyin, Malapakina, Vadkupa, and Anaruda. Don't you see the miracle already happening? There were also present bodhisattvas of great stature, like Manjushri, Ajita, Gandahasin, Nityoyukta, and many other great bodhisattvas as well as countless heavenly beings, including Indra. At that time, the Buddha called Shariputra to him and said, "If you go from here in the western direction and pass through hundreds of thousands of millions of the world, you'll come to a world called Sukhavati, great happiness. In that world, there is a Buddha whose name is Amitabha and who is at this very moment teaching the dharma. Shariputra, why is that land called great happiness? Because the people who live there do not have to go through any suffering. They are always enjoying many kinds of happiness, and that is why the world is called great happiness.
Shariputra, around Sukhavati, there are seven rows of rails, seven rows of spread out netting, and seven rows of trees. All are made of the four kinds of precious jewels. That is why the land is called great happiness. Furthermore, Shariputra, in the land of great happiness, there are many lakes of the seven precious stones full of the water of great virtues. The bed of the lake is made of holy and pure golden sand, and on the shores are paths of gold, silver, and crystal. Above these paths are countless pavilions, which are built of and decorated with gold, silver, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red agate, and Carnelians. The lotus flowers in these lakes are as large as cart wheels. The blue lotuses give out a halo of light. The golden lotuses, a halo of golden light. The red lotuses, a halo of red light, and the white lotuses, a halo of white light. The fragrance of the lotuses is subtle, wonderful, sweet, and pure. Shariputra, Sukhavati is adorned with such beauties as these.
Furthermore, Shariputra, in this land, people can always hear the sound of heavenly music. The earth is made of pure gold. During the six periods of the day, flowers rain down multitudes of mandura—mandarava flowers from the sky. In the morning, the people of this land like to take flower baskets made of cloth and fill them with these wonderful flowers in order to make offerings to the Buddhas who live in countless other Buddha lands. When it is time for the midday meal, everyone returns to Sukhavati, and after eating, does walking meditation. Shariputra, that is how extraordinarily beautiful Sukhavati is.
Furthermore, Shariputra, in Sukhavati, you can always seek different species of birds of many wonderful colors, like white cranes, peacocks, orioles, egrets, kavalinkara and jivanjava birds. These birds sing with harmonious, sweet sounds throughout the six periods of the day. In the song of the birds, people can hear teachings on different dharma doors, such as the five faculties, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the Noble Eightfold Path. When the people of this land hear the teachings in the form of bird songs, their minds are in perfect concentration, and they come back to practicing mindfulness of Buddha, dharma, and sangha.
Shariputra, do not think that the birds in Sukhavati have been born as the result of past bad actions. Why? Because the three lower realms of hell, hungry ghosts, and animals do not exist in the land of Amitabha Buddha. Shariputra, in this land, the names of the lower realms do not even exist. How much less their actuality. These birds are manifestations of the Buddha Amitabha so that the dharma can be proclaimed widely in his land. Shariputra, in this Buddha land, whenever a light breeze moves the rows of trees in the jeweled netting, people hear a wonderful sound as if 100,000 musical instruments are being played together at the same time. When the people hear the sound, they'll naturally return to mindful recollection of the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. Shariputra, that is how beautiful Sukhavati is.
Shariputra, why do you think that Buddha is called Amitabha, Infinite Light? Because he is infinite light, which is able to illuminate all worlds in every direction, and this light and radiance never comes to an end. That is why he is called Amitabha. What is more, Shariputra, the lifespan of Amitabha, as well as the lifespan of everyone who lives in his Buddha lands, is limitless. It lasts for infinite beyond. That is why he is called Amitabha. Shariputra, from the time that Amitabha Buddha realized enlightenment until now can be reckoned as ten eons. Moreover, Shariputra, the number of his fruited disciples who have attained the fruit of enlightenment is also limitless. It is not possible to calculate them, so great is their number. The number of bodhisattvas in that land is also limitless. Shariputra, the land of Amitabha is made out of such beautiful qualities as these.
Shariputra, everyone who was born in Sukhavati naturally has the capacity of non-regression. Among the people living there, many will obtain Buddhahood in just one more lifetime. The number of these bodhisattvas is infinite, and there is no method of calculation to number them. It may only be expressed by the term limitless. Shariputra, when living beings everywhere hear of Sukhavati, they should bring forth the great wish to be born in such a land. Why? Because having been born in that land—this is my favorite sentence—because having been born in that land, they will be able to live with and be very close to so many noble practitioners." That is what makes this beautiful realm so beautiful, because of you and me, the noble practitioners. And we get to be near noble practitioners.
"Shariputra, one cannot be born in this land with the lack of merit or wholesome roots. Therefore, Shariputra, whenever men or women of good families hear the name of Amitabha Buddha, they should mindfully repeat that name and wholeheartedly practice visualization with a mind that is one pointed and not dispersed for one, two, three, four, five, six, or seven days. When a person passes from this life, they will see Amitabha Buddha and the holy ones of that land right before their eyes. At the time of they're passing, their mind will abide in meditative concentration and will not be diluted or disbursed. That is why they can be born in a land of great happiness. Shariputra, it is because I have seen enormous benefit of this land that I want to tell all who are listening now to bring forth the great wish to be born there.
Shariputra, as I am now commending the inestimably great benefits and virtues of Buddha Amitabha, there are in the East, the South, the West, the North, above, and below Buddhas as numberless as the sands of the Ganges River, each one seated in his own Buddha field, each one with a long tongue of the Buddha, which is able to embrace the three trilliocosms, announcing with all sincerity, ‘Living beings in all worlds, you should have confidence in this sutra, which all the Buddhas in the entire cosmos wholeheartedly commend and protect by recollection.'
Shariputra, why do you think the sutra is wholeheartedly recommended and protected by the recitation of all Buddhas? The reason is that when sons or daughters of good families hear the sutra or hear the name of the Buddha Amitabha and wholly put into practice and retain mindful recitation of Buddha Amitabha's name, they will be protected by the recollection of all the Buddhas, and they will attain the highest fruit of awakening from which they will never regress. So you should have faith in what I am saying and what all other Buddhas are also saying.
Shariputra, if there is anyone who has already brought forth the great aspiration, is aspiring now, or will aspire in the future to be born in Amitabha's land, at the very moment when a person makes the aspiration, they've already obtained the fruit of the highest awakening, from which they will never regress, and they are already dwelling in the Buddha field of Amitabha." That is a nice clue in the text but it is not really about dying and being in another realm, but about present moment, dwelling in the Pure Land here and now.
"Shariputra, while I am praising the unimaginably great qualities of the Buddhas, the Buddhas are also praising my unimaginably good qualities, saying, ‘Buddha Shakyamuni is very rare in the saha world, which is full of the five impurities: the cloudiness of time, the cloudiness of views, the cloudiness of unwholesome mental states, the cloudiness of the idea of living beings and life spans. He is able to realize the fruit of the highest awakening and is able to communicate to living beings the dharma doors, which people will find hard to believe if they have had no preparation.'" I've been preparing you for several years now to listen to this text.
"Shariputra, understand that to stay in the world which is full of the five kinds of impurities and to be able to obtain the fruit of the highest awakening and also to be able to transmit to all beings dharma doors, which people find hard to believe, like this dharma door of being born in Sukhavati, is something difficult." When Shariputra, as well as all the other monks and nuns, heavenly beings, bodhisattvas, heavenly, divine deities, and others heard the Buddha deliver the sutra, they all had faith in it, joyously accepted the teaching, and paid respect to the Buddha before returning to their dwelling places. Amitabha.
Okay. So, we heard the recitation of the Sutra, but maybe we don't understand it yet, and that is okay. Sometimes just listening to a sacred text, even if we don't fully understand it, has value because it is like nectar rain just being absorbed into our hearts, and it stays there like a seed just waiting for the right time. And the reason why I have faith in this teaching of the Buddha, and the reason why I have faith in the practice of Amitabha chanting and meditation is because I have had an experience of understanding a glimpse of what this truth is pointing toward and what this teaching is pointing toward. And I don't have time tonight to talk about all of the experiences, but you have this seeds of the dharma already within your heart, and as you practice you will start to understand what this Sutra is pointing to, and you'll start to manifest all the beautiful items in the Sutra in your own way.
You know, some of you may understand what I'm talking about, some of you who have gone to long retreats, you know, around you—after several days of mindfulness and meditation and being in nature, being with noble practitioners, sometimes you wake up one morning, and you'll walk outside, and you will see the sunlight kind of streaming down on your face, and you'll hear the birds singing, and in that moment, you have this Zen moment of realizing that the birds are singing the dharma. The birds are the voice of the Buddha, and everything is the Pure Land all around you, but because of the five impurities of consciousness, your eyes were blocked from seeing this Pure Land all around and within you until those glimpsed moments of opening when you see, oh, the Pure Land is already here. It is I just was not able to see it.
And so, as we look around our world today, what we are seeing are our own delusions, as well as the manifested co-created delusions of our fellow human beings, and it doesn't look like a very Pure Land here on earth at all. So, through our practice, even as we realize the Pure Land already here and now, we also create the Pure Land, you see? We practice being and becoming. We already are the Buddha, but because of our delusions, we don't know that, so we have to become the Buddha. We already are enlightened, and yet we also need to become enlightened. We already are wisdom and compassion and skillful action deep within our true nature, and we need to figure out practices that help us manifest that and make it tangible, make it real, co-create it, co-manifest wisdom in the world. And so, yes, this is the Pure Land here and now. And, we need to make it more the Pure Land. We need to manifest that Pure Land, help each other just to manifest that Pure Land.
It is like what the Zen master Suzuki said a few years ago in San Francisco. "You already are perfect just as you are, and you could use some improvement." This is always our reality. We already are love itself, and yet we also need to express that love, make that love physically, tangible real in the real world here and now. And so you actually already are Amitabha Buddha and yet you need to practice mindfulness so that that becomes a living, tangible reality through every part of your life and not just a potential, but actually in actual manifestation.
This is also the truth of all the teachings of enlightenment, including the Lotus Sutra as well. I know that some teachers in the past would favor some teachings of the Buddha over others, and maybe they would say, "Well, the Amitabha teaching is better than the Lotus teaching, or the Lotus teaching is better than the Zen teaching, or the Zen teaching is better than the early teachings," but you know, all of them are manifestations of the true dharma, and so they actually are pointing to the same truth. There is no conflict at all. The only conflict comes through egotistical teachers who have preferences, but the truth is all the dharma is our beautiful dharma doors, and the more the merrier, because there are so many different kinds of beings in this universe. So we need lots of different methods and skillful teachings.
You know, maybe for you, the Amitabha way is not the one that is going to really help you the most, you know. Maybe just the people who are more artistic and poetically inclined like me really get that, but maybe for you, you're much more logical and analytical and kind of reasonable and more rational, so maybe something a little bit more along those lines is better for you. But see, look at all the Buddha's teachings. They contain every single kind of method for every single kind of personality. So, there is always a dharma just for you that will help you. So don't despair.
When you come here and you find Andy teaching something and Char teaching qi gong, and I'm teaching one method, and somebody else is teaching another method, it is not competition here. We give you a nice buffet so that you will surely find at least something that will work for you. So we don't compete with each other. We complement each other. And the same is true of the Buddha's teachings and of all the enlightened teachings of all true teachers in the world today.