When the Student Is Ready, the Teacher Will Appear
By Householder Jingfa
In February 2015, Paris-born Nicolas Duchemin became the third non-Chinese to take Refuge with the lineage of Master Shandao, founder of Buddhism’s Pure Land school during the Tang Dynasty. Nicolas, a marketing consultant based in Tokyo, received the Dharma name of Jingfa (淨法) from Master Huijing.
Like many others, Jingfa came to pristine Pure Land Buddhism after a long and arduous search for a Dharma practice. Below is story of his personal spiritual journey.
My first encounter with Buddhism occurred when I was two, when I saw a statue of Maitreya belonging to my Dad. At 11 years old, I learned the profound truth of impermanence through Laozi, who was a contemporary of Shakyamuni Buddha. I was so impressed by the Daode Jing that I started reading books by Zhuangzi and Liezi, as well as other books about Daoism. However, Daoism didn’t really answer all the questions I had, and seemed kind of obscure; I couldn’t see any goal besides becoming an immortal.
At that time, I also studied the history of the Shaolin Temple because of my interest in martial arts, so I naturally began to lean towards Buddhism, especially as I felt a connection to Avalokitesvara (Guanyin, Kannon). I then devoured a 600-page book about Buddhism, which introduced the life of Shakyamuni Buddha and all the main Buddhist schools. After reading through the section on the Mahayana, I remember feeling deeply impressed by the Bodhisattvas — those great sages who practice through innumerable kalpas for the sake of sentient beings. I didn’t yet know how to practice, so I just made a quick altar with a white statue of Avalokitesvara and lit incense and candles.
Then something weird started to happen. Since my early childhood, I could feel if a place was haunted by a spirit, or “presence.” I could never see anything, but I could feel it. I also had many dreams about haunted houses or ghosts. After I began to study Buddhism, I would still see ghosts in my dreams — always a fearful experience — but I remember in one dream beginning to recite “Namo Avalokitesvara” without knowing what it meant. Like a miracle, the ghosts in my dream disappeared and I woke up instantly. I learned about the power of the reciting “Namo Avalokitesvara” a few years later when I read “The Universal Door of Avalokitesvara,” a chapter in the Lotus Sutra.
It was only after I went to China to work that I began to practice Buddhism seriously. One of my friend’s mothers was a householder, and she gave me many books and DVDs. I established a morning and evening ritual. In the morning, I would recite the Heart Sutra, “The Universal Door of Avalokitesvara,” The Great Compassion Mantra, Avalokitesvara’s name and/or the Surangama Mantra, and meditate. At night, I would read the Amitabha Sutra and practice recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s name, and read one chapter of the Ksitigarbha Sutra. During my commute to work, I would recite Buddha or Bodhisattva names, mainly those of Amitabha, Avalokitesvara or Ksitigarbha. On weekends, I would devote longer periods to practice — example, reciting the entire Ksitigarbha Sutra, which took almost three hours. Thus, I entered the gate of Buddhist practice through the recitation of sutras, mantras, Buddha and Bodhisattva names, and meditating, while always dedicating the merits of my practice toward rebirth in the Pure Land. In addition, I often went to the temple to attend the morning ceremony or speak with masters and householders.
Once, I accompanied a Dharma master to Mt. Putuo, a pilgrimage site associated with Avalokitesvara. On the way, I asked him, “To end samsara, which is the best method: reciting sutras, the Buddha’s name, or meditating?” He told me that they’re all efficient ways of ending samsara. Even though he was right, this wasn’t the reply I was looking for. I was seeking guidance on how to choose a specific practice; I felt that I was practicing too many different methods. I was also watching some online videos of Masters Chin Kung and Haitao, both famous masters from Taiwan, but they advocated mixed practice, saying that to be able to reborn in the Pure Land you need to do that, do this… I eventually stumbled upon Master Yinguang’s letters, which made more sense to me, but I already felt burnt out.
After three years in China, I had to go back to France for medical reasons; I discovered that I had a malignant tumor on my chest. I had to wait to have surgery, and in the interim, I started to read a lot about Chinese Chan masters, like Master Huineng and Master Huihai, as well as contemporary masters like Master Hsuanhua and Master Thich Nhat Hanh. At the same time, I stopped practicing; Buddhism had become more of a thinking process or mental exercise.
One day, I was surprised to find a book in French about the Pure Land. It was Master Honen’s Senchakushu (“Passages on the Selection of the Nembutsu in the Original Vow”). Actually, I felt disappointed by the book. I was thinking, “He doesn’t teach anything; he just advocates Amitabha-recitation and nothing more. How can we attain rebirth with that alone?” (Keep in mind that I had been heavily influenced by Master Chin Kung’s videos.) I also read about Shinran, but his was almost the same teaching as Honen’s, just more poetic. I suspected that, because the Japanese had simplified the teachings coming from China, the Japanese innovations might not be the true teaching. I still had scary dreams, but one night instead of reciting “Namo Avalokitesvara” in my dream, I started saying “Namo Amitabha.” I still clearly remember this dream: There were many ghosts and I was reciting calmly, and they were disappearing one by one. Suddenly, a huge ghost started to laugh and told me that my recitation was useless against him. I remained calm and continued the recitation of Amitabha’s name. After just three or four recitations, he, too, disappeared.
After the operation to remove the tumor, I experienced two episodes of heavy bleeding and nearly died from blood loss. I had to take an ambulance to a small airport for a 30-minute helicopter flight to the hospital. Both times, I wasn’t afraid; I wasn’t thinking of anything, actually. I was just mentally reciting “Namo Amitabha, Namo Amitabha…” Upon arriving at the hospital, the doctors couldn’t find anything. They never understood the cause of the bleeding.
After having fully recovered, I decided to go to Japan instead of back to China. I still wasn’t practicing, but I was reading books about Buddhism. I decided to give Jodo Shinshu another chance, but I felt quite lost after reading a book by a Japanese householder. His vision was so different from Shinran’s (founder of the Shinshu), and was vastly different from Chinese Pure Land. For the next three years, I did not read anything about Buddhism; I only practiced meditation. But at the end of 2014, I again felt the desire to practice in a disciplined, systematic way, and to commit to a set of teachings.
One day, when visiting Kyoto, I went to a temple famous to make my wish come true. I decided to pray in front of a statue of Ksitigarbha. I told the Bodhisattva that I was ready to start again, and I wanted to find a master or someone who could guide me towards the Pure Land. Two days after I returned home, I decided to dust off and crack open some of my Buddhist books. I found one book about Shinran that I hadn’t finished, and I read a few pages without much enthusiasm, until I saw a passage quoting Master Shandao. I was intrigued by this name. I jumped on my computer and Googled Master Shandao. The first result I found was for a website called Pure Land Buddhism. I started to read the booklet The Pristine Pure Land School, and I could immediately feel the joy. Finally, I found the master who could teach me about the Pure Land — not mixed with Chan or other practices, but pristine Pure Land. What Master Huijing was teaching made so much sense!
After reading all the publications on the website and joining the Facebook group, I was starving for more of Master Shandao’s teachings. I decided to reread the book by Master Honen that I had read five years ago, the same book that had aroused so much doubt in me. After a second reading, I felt that the teachings were identical with the Shandao lineage. Master Shandao, Master Huijing, Master Honen were all exhorting people to practice exclusive Amitabha-recitation to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. At the same time, I felt foolish for having read about Master Shandao’s teachings through Master Honen five years previous and not having faith in it.
Three months after discovering the pristine Pure Land lineage, I decided to take refuge with Master Huijing. Since then, I only practice Amitabha-recitation. I only read resources from the Pure Land Buddhism website and Hongyuan Monastery, as well as watching Master Huijing and Master Jingzong’s videos. Though my Chinese is poor and English isn’t my mother tongue, I’ve decided to assist the translation team to help propagate the pristine Pure Land teachings. I’m currently translating the teachings into French, as well.
I’ve been practicing Pure Land Buddhism in Master Shandao’s lineage for about six months now. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, as I was trying to recite the name of Amitabha as many times as possible. I believed I had to recite x number of times per day or else my practice was poor. However, after reading more from Master Huijing and receiving guidance from other householders in the Facebook group, I decided that such thinking was just a manifestation of self-power. Of course, we should strive to practice Amitabha-recitation constantly, but we should also practice in accordance with our actual conditions. So, rather than trying to find a block of time and reciting, I’m reciting freely whenever I can. I have no schedule. If I have time, I sit and recite; if not, I just recite “while walking, standing or lying down.” I go to work with the recitation of Master Huijing in my ears (I have the mp3 in my phone); likewise when I leave work. When I wash dishes, I recite. When I take a shower, I recite. When I do house chores, I recite.
What a wonderful method! I feel relaxed because I know that I’ve solved the biggest problem in my life. No, it’s not money, fame or health; it’s the transmigration through the Six Realms of samsara after death! Thanks to the power of Amitabha’s Great Vow, I’ll be reborn in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, which is an unconditioned realm of nirvana, populated by great Bodhisattvas like Avalokitesvara, Mahasthamaprapta, Manjusri, and Samantabhadra.
When I was relying on miscellaneous practices, it was different. I used to have a schedule: I need to recite this sutra, recite this mantra, do this, do that… I was putting pressure on myself because, on the Path of Sages, we need to progress constantly. Sometimes, when reciting sutras or sitting in meditation, I was experiencing so many afflictions that I worried my practice wouldn’t even generate merit. I was always thinking that I needed to practice harder, study harder. Of course, I saw some results; when practicing mantras, for example, I would have dreams of Bodhisattvas speaking to me, but Buddhahood was still a far distant dream. And frankly speaking, I never take signs, visions or powers as signs of realization. What is the point of having some special ability if, at the end of our life, you fall into a bad destiny?
On the contrary, the Easy Path is a simple and easy method that all ordinary people can practice. All can obtain rebirth and non-retrogression in this present life.
- Edited by Jingxing
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings