Translation of a Selection of Elder Upasaka Li Bing-Nan’s Essays on the Principles of Pure Land Buddhism
The Ultimate Way to Transcend the Samsara and Attain Buddha-hood
Twenty five hundred years ago, a great Sage came to our world and attained Bodhi, he was the Honorable Original Patriarch, Shakyamuni Buddha. He revealed to us the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss, the Buddha-land of Amitabha. A land composed exclusively of the seven treasures, and whose purity and augustness surpasses that of the heavens by a myriadfold.
The Sutras state that all who rise to the Land of Ultimate Bliss are endowed with infinite life, infinite radiance, boundless divine powers, omniscience and immortality. In this land, food and clothes appear in response to only a wish ; residences, raiments and nourishments all arise naturally. Whenever meals are to be taken, golden alms-bowls, silver chalices, jade ramekins and jadeite platters manifest in perfect display. Each filled with rare delicacies and myriad dishes — divine foods replete with a hundred gourmet flavors — that arise in response to only a thought. The food never decreases and is spontaneously replenished in tandem with consumption. Once the meal is finished, the bowls, platters and chalices disappear by themselves, leaving nothing to be washed or cleaned.
Moreover, myriad raiments of rich and radiant colors manifest, in perfect size as if tailored, on the body in response to mere wish. As for the abodes of the Land of Ultimate Bliss, they all have gold beams, jade ceilings, bejeweled balustrades, walls of silver or cameo glass, lapis lazuli floors, pearl gates and carnelian windows. Vividly resplendent and crafted solely from the seven treasures, they are of indescribable wonder.
It is a land tailored to one’s wishes. Now that we know how wondrous the Land of Ultimate Bliss is, how could we not yearn for it? As we are all saddled with heavy karmic obstacles, of scant fortune and little wisdom, pitifully cycling within the painful Samsara, Shakyamuni Buddha proceeded after his enlightenment to impart his Bodhi wisdom to help beings like us cultivate virtue and attain Buddha-hood. The Buddha’s Dharma clearly reveals the true nature of the universe and the purpose of human life, as well as the rules of propriety. The Buddha exhorts all to eschew vice and embrace virtue, to leave suffering and obtain bliss, to forfeit falsity and seek truth, and selflessly benefit everyone. The Buddha-dharma is without doubt the most perfect truth in the whole world.
The Buddha also tells us that to study the Dharma is to understand how to behave. That good deeds yield blessings and wicked deeds bear woeful fruit. Buddhism is a proper and wise faith, and does not reward the slothful. It is a faith that rests on the truth that one’s gain is proportional to one’s own willingness to labor in cultivation. There are some of little wisdom who refuse to cultivate merits diligently, and instead claim that they can reap a harvest they did not sow. How deluded! They are just like a person who desires a fortune without managing an enterprise, or a debtor who expects leisure and relief despite refusing to earn money to pay down their debts. Thus, the Buddha tells us to approach spirituality with wisdom in order to avoid cultivating incorrectly and remaining trapped within the Samsara.
The Buddha teaches us that all evils must be avoided and all good deeds must be done. To hold the Five Precepts and realize the Ten Virtues.
The Five Precepts are:
- No Killing
- No Stealing
- No Lust
- No Lying
- No Intoxicants
The Ten Virtues consist of the three karmas of the body, four karmas of speech and three karmas of the mind. They are as follows:
1)No Killing — To harm any animal is to kill. The Buddha has said that all sentient beings are our past life parents and future Buddhas, so if we harm them, we incur karmic retributions. It is only because of their past evil karma that they are animals today, and if we harm them, they may take revenge once they receive a better rebirth.
2) No Stealing — To take the valuables or possessions of others without permission is to steal.
3) No Lust — All relations outside of a proper marriage is considered a violation of the virtue of chastity.
4) No Lying — To utter false and unsubstantiated words is to lie.
5) No Idle Speech — This refers to words that harm public decency and advocate moral laxity.
6) No Divisive Speech — To provoke conflict between two parties and undermine other’s mutual relationships constitute divisive speech.
7) No Abrasive Speech — Profane, violent and insulting words constitute abrasive speech.
8) No Avarice — To be obsessively materialistic, to seek more despite already having much, is to be avaricious.
9) No Wrath — To meet misfortune with hatred and outbursts of anger is to be wrathful.
10) No Ignorance — To be without good sense, reject the Dharma of the Buddha, neglectful of the teachings of the Sages, and doubtful of the laws of karma is to be ignorant.
The Buddha stresses that all who observe the Five Precepts and Ten Virtues will be reborn as humans or celestial devas in their next life. However, those who have failed to do so are guilty of the Ten Vices, and are therefore slated for the hells, ghost and animal realms. How frightening! Thus, we must hold fast to the Buddha’s teachings in order to be saved.
In studying the Dharma, we must first take refuge in the Triple Jewel (the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha). We must have faith, resolve and action. To believe that there is a Western Land of Ultimate Bliss where we may exchange suffering for bliss is to have faith. To vow to leave this evil world of the five turbidities and rise to the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss is to have resolve. Lastly, action refers to actual implementation of the Buddha’s teachings, to cultivate with full understanding of the Buddha’s words and faithfully recite the name of Amitabha.
There are many who are familiar with the Buddha’s teachings but neglect to actually cultivate. They are just like sick people who refuse to take the proper medicine but wish for recovery by merely reading the prescription. Reciting the Buddha’s name is akin to taking the proper medication to cure the disease of the three poisons (avarice, wrath and ignorance) which fuels the wearisome cycle of the Samsara. As recitation of the name of Amitabha can cure the disease that is the three poisons, it can break the cycle of transmigration within the six realms, result in rebirth in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss, and the attaining of Buddha-hood and release.
We must faithfully recite the name of Amitabha at all times, whether we are moving, resting, sitting, lying down, or working. We ought to recite with confidence and unwavering determination, for the Sutras state that even one sincere recitation of the name of Amitabha can eradicate eight thousand million eons of heavy karmic obstacles. We must recite without thought of reward, from start to finish, and through thick and thin. Each utterance of the Buddha’s name has boundless merit and can dispel all disasters while we are still living, and ensure Amitabha’s appearance during our moment of death to welcome us into the Western Buddha Land of Ultimate Bliss, where we may become Buddhas forever released from the Samsara.
Unfortunately, Some people refuse to have faith in anything they have not personally seen, and so they are unable to have faith in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss. Moreover, they also do not believe in the existence of the hells. However, if I had told you during the 1940s that all households would soon have television sets, you wouldn’t have believed it. It is just like if we explained to a pig all the luxuries of the human realm — the wide beds, fine dining, towering residences and sedans— the pig would refuse to believe it to be true as it had never seen such a life, and instead remain content within the slothful squalor of the pigsty.
The Buddha considers such doubtful people to be weighed down by heavy karmic obstacles, ignorant and without wisdom. Such persons are to be pitied. The Buddha has also taught that all sentient beings have the Buddha-nature and can attain Bodhi, and it is only because they have committed boundless evil karma since time immemorial that they suffer the painful cycle of birth and death within the Samsara today.
As for why we must recite constantly and diligently everyday? The answer is that it is just like if we owe a sum of money, we must work hard to repay the debt in order to avoid repercussions. The Buddha has said that by reciting the names of Amitabha and Avalokitesvara, we will eradicate all the evil karma we have committed since time immemorial. Once the karmic obstacles have been dissolved, we naturally enjoy leisure and bliss in both body and mind. Thus, recitation of the Buddha’s name is like earning to pay back what we owe, and only by diligently and faithfully reciting the name of Amitabha until our final moment can we be welcomed by Amitabha into the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss to become Buddhas.
A Reminder on Reciting the Buddha’s Name:
When we are reciting the Buddha’s name, we must empty our hearts and minds of all thoughts and cares. We must not allow our minds to wander. Simply allow the name of Amitabha to rise from our hearts, exit though our mouths, resound in our ears and impress into our memory. The name of the Buddha must be clear in our minds, clear in our voices and resound clearly in our ears. Only by doing so can we obtain a response from the Buddha.
A Simple Routine for Morning and Evening Practice:
1)Namo Greatly Compassionate, Greatly Benevolent, Original Patriarch, Shakyamuni Buddha (Recite once and bow once).
2) Namo Greatly Compassionate, Greatly Benevolent, Amita Buddha (Recite once and bow once).
3) Namo Amitabha (No need to bow and may recite while kneeling, sitting or standing. Recite at least a hundred times, but if one has the time, one may recite a thousand times or tens of thousands. However, one may only increase and not decrease the number of regular recitations).
4) Homage to Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Recite once and bow once).
5) Homage to Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva (Recite once and bow once. Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta are the two Bodhisattvas supporting Amitabha, and together they are known as the Three Sages of the West).
6) Homage to the Multitude of Bodhisattvas as Pure and Vast as the Great Sea (Recite once and bow once. These Bodhisattvas are our peers in Pure Land, hence we must pay them respect here).
7) I vow that the merit accrued adorn the Buddha’s Pure Land, repay the four kinds of benevolence above, and relieve the suffering of the three woeful realms below. May all who hear this give rise to the Bodhi heart, and at the end of this life, be reborn together in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. (This merit dedication represents one’s resolve to attain Pure Land rebirth. Resolute vows are necessary components of practice).
8) Bow and respectfully retire.
Note: If we have an altar with an image of Amitabha, we should recite there. If not, we may practice anywhere, though it is preferable if we face the Western direction when bowing or reciting. We may also recite out loud or silently depending on the situation.
How to Reverse Adverse Situations and Eradicate Calamities :
Pain and pleasure are but the workings of karma, which spans more than just this life and encompasses both past and future. Today, as we meet adverse conditions and or calamities, we must recognize them as karmic manifestations. The fastest way to neutralize adversity or calamity is through recitation of the name of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The Sutras state: “Single-minded recitation of the Buddha’s name can eradicate eight thousand million eons of heavy karmic offenses.” Therefore, if the evil karma has been dissolved, how could we suffer from any adversity or disaster?
The Sutras also affirm that those who recite the name of Amitabha are blessed and protected by the myriad Buddhas of the six directions. Buddhas are spiritually omnipotent and have limitless virtues, thus, with the Buddhas’ blessings, what is there to fear?
The above is a translation of a selection of Elder Upasaka Li Bing-Nan’s essays from his book: The Priceless Treasure that is the Buddha Dharma (printed for free distribution by the Buddha Education Foundation). Elder Upasaka Li Bing-Nan’s contributions to Buddhism are of towering importance, and among his students is the famous Ven. Master Chin Kung.
Recommended Pure Land Buddhist Resources:
The Amazing Life and Legacy of The Venerable Master Hai Xian (1900-2013)
English subtitled biographic documentary of the Ven. Master Hai Xian (1900–2013):
A Personal Experience Which Proves That All Beings Have the Buddha Nature
This is my aunt’s cat Pudding:
Everyday, he rests in this mediative repose whenever my aunt plays a CD of chanting of the name of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva (the Bodhisattva from the Earth Store Sutra). Thus, this is a clear sign that even animals can connect with the Buddha-dharma, and be touched and elevated by it. It is just as the Buddha has said, that all sentient beings are future Buddhas. For those who are interested in the spiritual potential of animals, I strongly recommend my article below, which I wrote to document the miraculous Pure Land rebirth of my aunt’s late pet beagle Micky: