Translation of Elder Upasaka Li Bing-Nan’s Article on the Workings of Karma, Leaving the Samsara, and the Benefits of Reciting Amitabha’s Name
Even though all faiths teach the importance of eschewing vice and embracing virtue, the ultimate question of which path to take when our final moment arrives still remains. This is where Buddhism differs from all other faiths. If we look carefully, most faiths cultivate in order to obtain heavenly rebirth. The blessings of the heavenly devas are indeed enormous, and their lives are both long and luxurious. However, once their stock of merit has been exhausted, they fall into the various lower planes of existence, and continue to suffer within the Samsara. Therefore, these faiths are ultimately incomplete in their reward.
Only Buddhism can transcend the Samsara. And by reaching the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss to become Buddhas, we forever transcend the Samsara.
To be a human on this earth is similar to being on a treasure seeking expedition in a mountain full of riches. For example, say two of the treasure seekers encounter piles of silver ingots, and being naturally thrilled, they take all they could carry. After a long trek, they encounter piles of gold ingots. One of the treasure seekers proposes that they abandon the silver and load up on the gold, however, the other treasure seeker refuses and reasons that since he had already expended so much energy carrying the silver, he ought to keep it and forgo the gold.
This example perfectly illustrates the choice between Buddhism and other faiths. The two treasure seekers are like cultivators of another faith, and heavenly rebirth their reward. However, the treasure seeker who wanted to exchange his silver for gold is like a person who, despite being of another faith, wisely decides to practice Pure Land Buddhism after encountering the profound and perfect principles of the Buddha-dharma. Amita Buddha, the Patriarch of The Western Land of Ultimate Bliss, is the Father of Great Compassion, and his 48 Great Vows were made to guide innumerable suffering sentient beings to attain bliss in His land. As long as we faithfully and without doubt recite the name of Amitabha until our hearts are without confusion, Amitabha will appear during our last moment of life and welcome us into the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss, where we may attain Bodhi and freedom from the Samsara.
Some people who have just begun to cultivate in earnest may meet obstacles. For instance, they might face adverse situations or encounter family problems. Oftentimes, such people later blame the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for not compassionately blessing them enough. However, such blameful thoughts are wrong. If we should meet misfortune or adversity, it is because of the multitude of evil karmic seeds we have accrued since time immemorial ripening. While reciting Amitabha’s name can eradicate calamities and dispel disasters, it takes resolute practice to fully eradicate such a large amount of evil karma. It is just like if we owe tens of millions in debt, but we have only ever made a payment of a few thousand, then we cannot hope for our creditors to leave us alone. The Buddha teaches us to be wise and not to waver, to faithfully and diligently recite the name of Amitabha, prostrate and repent before Him. After practicing with unwavering resolve, there will be a day when we profoundly experience the myriad benefits of reciting the Buddha’s name.
Moreover, there are also some people of little wisdom who doubt the workings of karma. They always feel that the wicked and deceitful often dwell in good fortune while the virtuous suffer poverty and unhappiness. The truth is that they’re wrong. Such situations are merely a matter of timing and not that the laws of karma are untrue. It is just like how the law often operates with a lag. The Buddha’s Sutras state: Our current circumstances reflect our past life deeds, and our future will reflect our current deeds. As we are common people and not Sages, we lack the power to see the good and evil of our past lives, and so we must not be like a foolish person who, after noticing that his granaries were empty, rushes to sow seeds hoping for a simultaneous harvest. Our faith in the laws of karma must remain resolute, for all reap what they have sown in the past. Therefore, the wicked who enjoy prosperity are merely burning through their blessings accrued during a previous life. They are like a person who constantly withdraws from their account without making any new deposits. Eventually, their stock of merit will be depleted, and poverty and adversity will then rear its ugly head. To indulge in luxury and prosperity is to fritter away one’s stock of blessings, and is behavior characteristic of those who do not understand the laws of karma. Thus, we must hold fast to the Buddha’s teachings of cause and effect in order to avoid the fruits of evil karma.
Furthermore, nowadays, once a person’s breathing stops, family members weep and mourn, the body is immediately moved, dressed in new clothes, and even sent to the refrigerator. Such actions are actually cruel and very disturbing for the deceased. When a person dies, the soul and consciousness still lingers within the body. If the body is moved before 10–12 hours have passed after breathing stops, the consciousness of the deceased can still feel and be disturbed by such acts, but must suffer while voiceless. If those who are on the verge of death or have just died give rise to evil thoughts, they will fall into the frightful paths of suffering, and be reborn in the hells, ghost and animal realms. Thus, we must wait 10–12 hours before moving the body in order to prevent their consciousness from falling into the evil realms. More importantly, the family and friends of those on the verge of death must sincerely recite the name of Amitabha to elevate the consciousness of the dying. No one may consume meat during this time, and no meat should be present during the memorial service in order to avoid tainting the merits of the deceased.
In general, the 10–12 hours after breathing stops are the most critical. During that time, the body cannot be moved, must not be changed into new clothes, and no one may cry or wail in sorrow. Family and Dharma friends must gather to render supportive chanting, to sincerely recite the name of Amitabha. Or, monks may be invited to hold Dharma repentance ceremonies for the benefit of the deceased, and guide them to seek Amitabha’s invitation into the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss.
The Ten Wondrous Benefits of Reciting the Buddha’s Name:
- The Celestial Generals, along with their retinues, secretly protect you through day and night.
- The Blessings of Avalokitesvara and the multitude of Mahabodhisattvas constantly shadow you.
- You will receive mindful protection from all the Buddhas, and be blessed by Amitabha’s radiant light.
- All evil ghosts, yakshas, rakshasas, venomous snakes and poisons cannot harm you.
- You will not suffer from fires, floods, feuds, wars and prosecutions. Nor will you die of unnatural or unjust causes.
- All past evil karma will dissolve, and all your karmic creditors will obtain release.
- You will have auspicious dreams, and you may see Amitabha’s august and aurulent form.
- Your heart will be joyful, and your appearance will be bright and full of vigor. Moreover, all your endeavors will be successful.
- You will often receive reverence and respect from the masses.
- When your final moment arrives, you will not be ravaged by sickness and your heart will not be afraid. Right mindfulness will arise. Amitabha and a host of Sages will welcome you into the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss to enjoy supremely wondrous bliss.
For more information on supportive chanting and managing the moment of death in Buddhism, please read the following Free and Public Domain Dharma book, The Last Rites of Amitabha:
LAST RITES OF AMITABHA : Brian Chung : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive
This important text addresses the significance of the eve of death and supportive chanting for those seeking Pure Land…
The Amazing Life and Legacy of Ven. Master Hai Xian (1901–2013):
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):
This post is a translation of Elder Upasaka Li Bing-Nan’s article 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.