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 The Greenest and Freest Source of Energy

By Householder Jingxing

I was privileged to join the Shandao lineage of Pure Land Buddhism in 2014, and my experience since that time has been one of homecoming. Having studied the Dharma for fifteen years, first as a student of Zen, and later as a practitioner in other branches of the Pure Land tradition, I have at last found the peace and stability of heart that I have sought from the start of my Dharma practice. But more than just serenity and inner strength, I know that I have found the solution to the problem of cyclical birth-and-death.

The Buddha taught that rebirth within the Six Realms is our fundamental problem; all suffering is ultimately rooted in this cycle of endless existence which is deceptive in its joys and fearful in its karmic justice. Entrusting fully to Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow solves this fundamental problem. As Shakyamuni Buddha said in the Infinite Life Sutra: The reason for my appearance in the world is to reveal the teachings of the Way and save multitudes of beings by endowing them with true benefits. According to the teaching of the Buddha-dharma, there is no truer benefit than release from the cycle of rebirth.

What I have discovered in recent months, however, is that upon taking up Pure Land practice in the tradition of Shandao, it was not just myself as a prisoner of samsara that was released; a great deal of personal energy — both psychological and physical — that was previously tied up elsewhere, has also been released. Let me explain.

Perhaps what separates the teaching of the pristine Pure Land school from all other Buddhist teachings is that one can rely so completely upon other-power, without worrying about the purity of one’s faith or the state of one’s mind. Whatever we do, think or believe, we are still ordinary, foolish beings. Thus there is no standard we need to meet; all we need to do is to exclusively recite Amitabha’s name with the simple wish to return home to the Pure Land, our original dwelling place.

The directness and ease of this teaching has gifted me with a surplus of energy that was previously invested in trying to be a good enough Pure Land Buddhist — that is, one who had attained unshakable assurance about his post-mortem destiny, who was full of faith, and free of every trace of doubt. Indeed, according to some interpretations of Pure Land teaching, everything depends on the purity or firmness of one’s faith; release from the cycle of birth-and-death, birth in the Pure Land, and attainment of final Buddhahood all hang in the balance. Not so in the Pure Land teaching of Shandao. Faith cannot be spoken of as somehow separate from practice. If one has faith enough to recite Amitabha’s name exclusively and single-mindedly, that is all the faith one needs; no additional “faith” is necessary. As for me, I can simply be who and what I am, reciting Amitabha’s name with all my karmic limitations and burdens, knowing that I will attain birth in the Pure Land anyway. Giving up trying to be “good enough” has lit up the electrical grid of my mind and spirit!

There is much talk these days of green energy and free energy. When it comes to questions of society and the environment, it remains to be seen just how and when humanity will sever itself from dependence on fossil fuels, or access an energy source so abundant that it could truly be considered free. But as an individual human being, I feel as if I have discovered the greenest, freest source of energy in the universe: the Fundamental Vow of Amitabha Buddha! The Fundamental Vow has solved my fundamental problem, and released me from all anxiety over the state of my mind and my faith.

The resulting surge of energy has also posed me a profound question: What am I going to do with it?

Of course there are basic things that, as Buddhists, we should all strive to do, like treating others with kindness and respect; not lying, not stealing, not taking life; abstaining from anger and other intoxicants, etc. Unlike those who rely on their self-power, we who rely on other-power know that we can never perfect any of these virtues because of our status as ordinary beings. But neither does our spiritual beatitude depend on our ability to do so. In this way, we Pure Land Buddhists are perfectly poised to make substantive and meaningful contributions to our societies and the world at large. These contributions will be imperfect; everything in this world is. But energized and supported by the Fundamental Vow, we can cast off all self-involvement and worry, and act as mirrors which help to reflect Amitabha’s light into a dark and pain-stricken world.

Naturally, what we as individuals are able to do will depend upon our circumstances and abilities. As a writer, I have begun to channel my surplus energy into spreading the Dharma of Amitabha Buddha through the written word. But lately, I have also felt Amitabha urging me in another direction: Just up the road from where I live there is a home for the elderly which cannot be described in terms other than dreary and sad. Making a simple visit could transform the day of a resident whose only social interaction may be the occasional visit by a family member who comes out of a sense of obligation, and paid staff who are ... paid. This is a small thing, but the world is healed through such small acts of kindness. As the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki once said, just shine one corner of the world ...

Some of us may have the means and ability to make much larger contributions, which should be supported and celebrated by the rest of us. But even someone who is bed-ridden can tap into the energy of Amitabha Buddha by reciting his name. Such a person would be engaging in the karma of assurance for birth in the Pure Land, and could transfer the merit of their recitations to those who have died, or to those who are suffering in this world. Fueled by the inexhaustible energy of Amitabha, the potential for doing good is limitless, whatever our karma or circumstances.

None of what I have written here is meant to imply that we as Pure Land Buddhists do not already engage the world with acts of compassion and kindness. Indeed, were this not the case, I doubt very much that I as a convert would have had the slightest attraction to this tradition. I have personally witnessed acts of kindness, large and small, by fellow Buddhists that were deeply moving and exemplary.

What I am suggesting, based on my albeit limited experience, is that we as Pure Land Buddhists become fully conscious of, and take full ownership of, the infinite supply of personal energy available to us through our connection to Amitabha Buddha. It goes without saying that securing our birth in the Pure Land is always and everywhere the first priority; and Amitabha, through his Fundamental Vow, has supplied us with a marvelous and easy means to attain birth. But when one dwells continually in the karma of assurance, and is simultaneously connected to the greenest and freest and most inexhaustible source of energy there is, the question naturally becomes: What are you going to do with it?

Maybe even solve the world’s energy crisis?

Namo Amitabha Buddha!

April 2015

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Characteristics

  • 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

Amitabha Buddhas

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.

Guiding Principles

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