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Amitabha Practice
Listen to this talk:
Amitabha Practice (32 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
March 24, 2013 - Dallas, Texas

Revelation and wisdom just arise spontaneously through the practice. Now when I say spontaneously, I'm not saying that there is no need for practice obviously, because a flower blooms spontaneously, yes, but that spontaneity is based on a lot of hard work on the part of nature. This sun has to shine. The rain has to come. The soil has to be fertile. And there has to be the correct temperature and air. So there are a lot of factors that take place that make the spontaneity of a flower to blossom. In the same way, as we spontaneously blossom with wisdom and compassion and power and insight and peace, that spontaneity is still based in the right conditions at the right cultivation, which of course we all can consciously participate in.

Now obviously, there are also factors that are just simply purely grace. That is just the way the universe is made. It is made to support us as living beings toward enlightenment. So that is already there. That is already given. But within that given, we also have our own little part that we can play by consciously choosing to practice opening the heart, by consciously choosing to be mindful or to meditate or to practice generosity or to consciously be part of community, to consciously serve others. So there is this underlying grace already in the universe of course, but we also have our individual opportunities of choosing consciously to participate in this vast grace and thus help support the conditions that give rise to spontaneous blossoms of wisdom and peace and answers.

So, in my own practice over the years, many times I have experienced wisdom just blossoming, and understanding just opening, and it wasn't even necessarily on questions that I was even thinking about, but obviously those were the kinds of questions that I needed to be having answers to at that time in my life. Otherwise, I would not have those understandings.

So while I was doing meditation and I was just mindfully breathing in and breathing out and focusing on my heart and on my mantra, I realized all of a sudden that within the very name Amitabha or the word Amitabha is already the whole path of the universe and of our whole reason for being here, within even that name. Now I had already understood in a revelation in my practice that the full mantra Om Namo Amitabha Buddhaya indicates a map of the whole process of the path of the universe, but I didn't realize it until a few weeks ago that even that can be condensed into just the name Amitabha, just the word, each syllable.

So, the "ah" syllable corresponds to "om," which actually is in original Sanskrit more properly A-U-M, not just O-M, because it is "ah," "ooh," "oom." "Ah," the creative force, "ooh," preservation, "oom," you know, the closure, the destiny. And in Buddhism, we also look at it as the enlightened mind, speech, and action of enlightenment. So the first syllable "ah" comes from "om." The "mi" corresponds to Amitabha, and the "ta"—I'm sorry. Om Namo Amitabha. I'm sorry. I visually need to do that. So the "mi" corresponds to "Namo." The "ta" represents "Amitabha," and the "bha" represents "Buddhaya." So even Om Namo Amitabha Buddhaya can be condensed just to Amitabha. And in our practice, "amita" and "abba"—"amita" means infinite, and "taba" means light.

And so before I had always thought of it as our source is the infinite expressing as the light of love and life, so the whole reality of the universe, which is source and expression, being and doing, mind and body, etc. This is contained in the meaning of Amitabha. But you can divide it even further, now that I understand it a little bit more deeply through my practice. Many times you can say—if you just use Amitabha, that can mean infinite light. So source and manifestation, being and doing. You can just understand. Breathing in and breathing out. You can understand the whole yin and yang of the universe that way.

Or you can say, "Namo Amitabha," which is really lovely because it makes it very relational even further. The "Namo" then represents your humanness, and "Amitabha" represents your Buddha nature. Human nature and Buddha nature calling to one another, an intimate dance and love. Namo Amitabha. Namo Amitabha. So there is a very intimate heartfulness when you practice with Namo Amitabha.

And then of course the full expression for most practitioners is Namo Amitabha Buddhaya. Now, when we understand it that way, we realize that "Namo" is where we are at right now, and we open ourselves to who we could become, "Amitabha." But it doesn't just end there, because remember last week I talked about enlightenment is only half enlightenment if you have only experienced awakening to emptiness, but not to form as well? Then it is incomplete because we aren't just trying to become enlightened to our true nature. We also are wanting to then allow our true nature to fully manifest and express through the humanness as Buddha, as an enlightened being that helps all beings, you see?

See, to be Buddha does not mean that you just realize who you are. It also means realizing who you are, you now do what you're meant to be doing, you see? It is realization and application, not just realization, but both realization and application. If you do not have the application part, emptiness is now empty, an empty emptiness. So for emptiness to be truly its fullness, it needs to be realized into application as well, so Namo Amitabha Buddhaya, that indicates that we go from unenlightened to enlightened, but then enlightenment always expresses in enlightened activity and loving all beings and helping all beings, supporting all beings.

And this form—I did not hear the full form of Om Namo Amitabha Buddhaya. I intuited it in my own heart. I just knew there had to exist the full form somewhere, but I have not read about it anywhere. In fact, most of the stuff I'm teaching you, I've not really read about. It just comes to me intuitively. But I started practicing. I even wrote a chant, Om Namo Amitabha Buddhaya, like we chanted earlier tonight, just hoping that sometime, somewhere, somebody else would show me that this does exist, that I am not just making this up. Lo and behold, last year or so, someone gave me a little card, and it may have been one of you guys. I don't know, but somebody gave me a Tibetan little card with a picture of Amitabha Buddha on one side, and on the back, Om Namo Amitabha Buddhaya, the full mantra. So I am like, phew. Okay. I'm not making this up. Because I did feel that I am tapping into something deeper and real, and I may not consciously have read or seen it anywhere, but I know that it is true.

So now, when we have "Om" in front of this, it reminds us that we do not actually start in our practice with our self, our human self, because who came up with this human self in the first place? What is the source of this human self? Not our self, but the infinite, the source, our true nature. You call it divine nature, Buddha nature. It does not matter, but it is the source, the infinite, the origin, the "Om," the I Am self, whatever. So, Elohim, Allah, etc., etc. So it is the source. And so this reminds us that even as we are struggling with our humanness and trying to realize enlightenment, even our humanness came from enlightenment, the source of enlightenment.

So we are bathed in an ocean of grace. So even as we realize the frailty and vulnerability and limitation of our humanness, we must also remember that this is held in the womb, in the loving arms and loving embrace of the infinite. So even this humanness, as many times as it causes us problems, it actually is precious and it is deeply cared for by the universe.

So, we can now look at Om Namo Amitabha Buddhaya in just the syllables of Amitabha. So, to reiterate, the "ah" reminds us of our source and our origin and our true nature, and the "mi" represents our individuation, our humanity. It represents me. Coincidentally in English, me. So the infinite expressing as me, and that me is not separate from the infinite, but it is the expression of the infinite. It is as if the one infinite is the one infinite as Mark, the one infinite as ChiSing, the one infinite as Bobbie, the one infinite as Julie, etc. So it is not that there are many infinites, only one infinite, and not that Mark is just a small little smidgen part of the one infinite, but is the actual totality of the infinite as Mark, the actual totality of the one infinite as you and me. You see?

In this process of individuation, most of us kind of got lost in the process, and we have been fumbling around feeling lost in what it means to be human, and so that is the practice of "ta," the return to our true nature. Now, the return to "ah," but not quite just "ah." That's why the "ta" is added there, the T in front. So when we return to our true nature, it's never the same twice. We are not just returning to undifferentiated blob oneness and blahness, but we return with our humanness also. You see? There are many different teachers that teach about this better than I can say it, but there is the undifferentiated source, but then when it is expressed as individuations—and then even though those individuations got a little bit lost, they returned to the source, but not to get absorbed by the source and obliterated all individuality, but rather retained the individuality even as they all remembered their oneness with the source. See? That is the difference.

So it is not just "ah." It is now going to be "ta." It has that "ah" syllable in it, but with the difference, that we take our individuality with us as well. So that is the difference. So this is the path of enlightenment. As we reach toward full awakening, this is our path, and so all of us right now, we are on "ta" aspects of the journey. If you are in this room, you are on the "ta" aspect for sure. You are all on the path of becoming fully awakened. You are all consciously on the journey to becoming bodhisattvas and Buddhas and enlightened beings, realizing who you really are, allowing your full humanity and your full divinity to be in harmony.

So now, once you do become a fully enlightened being, then what? Is that it? Just now you can be in heaven, in the clouds, playing your harps forever and ever singing songs? How boring that sounds to me, but okay. No. That is not the point of all of this. The point is that once you realize your beingness, then that beingness automatically, naturally expresses as doingness. Enlightened beingness automatically and naturally expresses as enlightened doingness forever and ever and ever expanding and growing and helping many, many beings. So that is "bha," representing our full Buddhahood, becoming a full Buddha, and active. By nature, to be a Buddha means to be active, but just in case people forget that, I will say to become a Buddha that is active, "bha," and so a path of awakening and becoming active as of today helping all beings.

So I like this word "bha" because it reminds me of bodhisattva and Buddha, and again, it has the "ah," as in the origin, but with the difference that the "ta" has now fully matured into "bha." You see? All of us started off right now as bodhisattvas, and did we become Buddhas. So we all start with "ta" and we become "bha." And so Amitabha. And even just that one word, in that one name, in that one mantra is contained "Om Namo Amitabha Buddhaya," which of course expresses the whole map of the journey. Isn't that beautiful? I mean, no one ever taught me this, and I didn't read this anywhere. It just—I just know it. It is the truth, just from my practice.

And I'm sure that if other people in other traditions practice with their particular mantras or whatever they practice with, they will also discover these deep truths that are contained like encoded maps within the sacred sounds and scriptures and words, right? They are sacred teachings encoded in the practice, in the words, in the scriptures. But it is up to us to crack them open and to crack the code by our practice. And again, there are many levels with these—each word, each syllable, each phrase of this, so depending on how you combine it, there are different teachings that come through it, so the "namo" also means to open the heart and gratitude.

It actually comes from a Sanskrit word that has this sense of meaning of calling and vibrating in harmony with. So it has a sense of vibration. "Namo" comes from the root word for vibration. When you say, "Namo," it is like, I vibrate. I consciously vibrate on your level, or I reach toward being in harmony with vibrating in resonance with whatever—namo whatever. Namo Buddhaya or whoever it is you are opening your heart to as the representation of the infinite.

And a few weeks ago, I gave a teaching on just using Namo Amitabha and how that relational, heartful, intimate aspect can help us in our practice. So there were many levels and angles on this, and I bet there are more than what I just shared with you tonight because I am still practicing with it. You know? And as all of you practice with it, you have your own insights into this as well that may be a little bit different from mine. But the main thing is as we practice, we start to awaken and to let go. Really it is awakening to truth; I'm letting go of that which is not truth. It really boils down to that.

And I felt something very deep tonight during meditation. I don't know if some of you felt that also, but it was very beautiful. It only took a few minutes for me to suddenly let go of my attachment to humanness and just feel this loving oneness with all of you and realizing that we are all held in this vast energy of love. It was very nice to feel that consciously tonight. Question? Yes?

Audience Member: We were at the International Buddhist Progress Society this morning and we saw bhagavate. I thought that was actually part of [inaudible]. So I thought it was part of his name. But what does bhagavate in front of Amitabha or in front of Buddha mean? Just bhagavate.

ChiSing: Bhagavan, which is the root word, means blessed. It refers to either a divine being or it can refer to a being who is awake and radiant, someone who radiates blessing energy because of their practice. For example, sometimes in India, God is referred to as bhagavan, like the Bhagavad Gita, the song of God. Many times in the Buddhist stories, people would call the Buddha Bhagavan, Blessed One. Sometimes they call him teacher. Sometimes they call him Blessed One. Sometimes they call him some other name. Yeah?

Audience Member: It reminds me of that "I am that I am" part of the divine, and you take the "I am that I am" and apply it practically because you can't—it is a spiral. You're going deeper and deeper. You are not a perfect Buddha right away. Sometimes I think, it is so hard. Can I do this? Like ta-da! I got it. But, oh bha! (Laughter) It is hard.

ChiSing: That is why you've got the "ah" always there. To help you.

Audience Member: Because I didn't know. It seems like I am learning deeper and deeper. I like what you taught. Because a year ago, someone said, "Well, you are awake." Then he says, "Your whole car is just full of cleaning supplies." I was helping my family in Arizona, and it was nothing to be proud of. It is nothing like prideful of being enlightened. I looked at him, and I said, "No. It isn't. This has been hard, toiling and cleaning and helping people. It is hard to be a Buddha or a bodhisattva. And you can make mistakes." So it's like it keeps spiraling deeper and deeper until you get perfect.

ChiSing: And it's true. It is not just a linear process in this mantra, even though it does have somewhat of a progression. It also is eternally existing in each moment. In each moment, there is the source and there's the individuality and there is a path and there is enlightenment right here and now already expressing. It is always there in every moment and also it is a circular or spiral kind of experience where we awaken a little bit, and then we have more homework, and then we awaken some more, and there is still more to awaken to. So, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Enlightenment never ends." It's always—

Audience Member: Perfectly imperfect.

ChiSing: Yes. But that is what I talked about last week, which is that it is important that we awaken to our true nature so that when we do the work, the hard work of relative compassion, it doesn't have the same feeling of burden. See—

Audience Member: Forget that part.

ChiSing: Yeah. When you fully realize absolute bodhicitta, which is sometimes translated as compassion—that is really not a very full explanation of the word. But I will just use that anyway. So when we awaken fully to absolute compassion, it makes relative compassionate a lot easier because it is hard work manifesting this universe, living through all these lifetimes, and learning all these lessons and growing through being these crazy beings that we are and trying to figure things out and how to best help ourselves and each other. It is hard, but when we realize or remember that all of this comes from the source and the one and the infinite, it puts it into perspective. Because there is suffering, and there is some amount of suffering in this process of being expressions of Buddha nature, like this bowl maybe.

But if you are caught being ignorant of your true nature, then the suffering is just really overwhelming. It is such hard work. Well, actually, it is what it is. You know, but it does not have to overwhelm you as if it is everything, you see? So when you realize—when you have not realized ultimate compassion, bodhicitta, this is what—it seems like as you're trying to do good and be on the path and meditate, oh my gosh. It is hard. But as you realize ultimate compassion or ultimate wisdom, then what you do in life, you have to express that wisdom and compassion in practical ways. It is what it is, but it is not overwhelming, you see?

And it is kind of like there is a mythological story of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. It is said that Amitabha Buddha mythologically speaking—and of course myth does not mean it is not true. It just means it is a story pointing to truth beyond the literal. So in this myth, Amitabha Buddha sheds a tear as he just feels all the suffering of all beings and just longs to reach out to all beings and try and figure out ways to help them come and awaken and, you know? Because many times Buddhas are always helping and radiating energy, and we're just ignoring it. You know? And so there is this tear in the Buddha's eye because there are beings that just don't get it. And even though they're radiating all of their love and light, they just don't get it. And that tear, enlightened tear, appears in the Buddha's eyes.

And from that tear was formed the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion and love, who later is known as Kuan Yin, the feminine expression of Buddha. And so, then as she—she said she could not stand seeing all of these people in hellish circumstances, so she went into hellish circumstances in situations and tried to take all of them out, take them all out of the hellish circumstances. And then the next day, they were all filled again, all of these hellish circumstances and realms. They were all filled by other beings now, and she was like, oh my gosh. This will never end. She thought about how much work there is to do to help beings and how ignorant beings are because they keep falling back into the same hellish circumstances even though you try to help them.

Her head exploded, and Amitabha put her back together again but with several heads representing that it takes many, many ways of views and minds and eyes and wisdom to really be able to contain. See, if we are only just involved in helping beings and completely overwhelmed with our compassionate work, we need to balance it with wisdom, which is represented by the heads—more heads of wisdom to see clearly and not get overwhelmed by the work. And she was given 1000 hands and arms to do even more help. So the arms represent many, many skillful means to help beings in different ways. But in each hand, there is an eye, and of course she has many heads to represent wisdom, and there always has to be a balance of the wisdom and compassion. If you have only wisdom, you become really, really cold and indifferent to the world. If you have only compassion without wisdom, you'll get overwhelmed, and that is why you need both.

So this is why you may see some temples with many-headed Kuan Yin with the thousand arms. Don't be scared. It is not a monster. Just remember that the Buddhas had to compete with other religions who had lots of heads and arms, and they wanted to say, "But Buddha has even more arms and heads to help all beings." But now that Buddhism has come to the West with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim background, we need to rethink how we do our statue. So anyway, just an interesting aside, this actually did happen.

When Buddhism and Christianity encountered each other several centuries ago, and missionaries went to China and they brought back artifacts from China into Europe, there was a lot of interchange in the art, so you will see some influence of European art in Chinese art and some influence of Chinese art in European art in the Renaissance period. So that is also, many scholars believe, that is why more and more since that time, statues of Kuan Yin—there are more statues being made of her holding a baby in her arms. Before that period, it was rare to see that, but since that period, there are more and more statues that were made with Kuan Yin holding a baby in her arms.

So there is some influence back and forth between traditions that you may not even be aware of, you know? And what did the Europeans bring back? I think more emphasis on meditation. The Western traditions had meditation, but it just wasn't as emphasized, ever since then, it has become more and more emphasized in Western traditions, I think because of the contact with the Eastern traditions. So the East is helped by the West, and the West is helped by the East. You see?

Alright, so I hope we can do our sharing time… [audio fades]

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch