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 Why Are There So Many Obstacles to the Preaching of Buddha Deliverance in the Dharma-Ending Age?

                                           

     Master Shandao writes:

At the end of expounding the Amitabha Sutra,
The World-Honored One[1] entrusts the Dharma of Nianfo[2]to Sariputra.
In the age of the intensifying five defilements, doubters and slanderers are uncountable,
Renunciants and lay-Buddhists alike despise the Dharma and let no one listen.
They are hateful and angry to Buddha reciters and
Would use every possible means to subvert the practice.
Such icchantikas[3], lacking both good roots and aptitudes,
Trying to destroy the Pure Land Dharma path, shall sink deep in samsara forever.
Even after innumerous kalpas, as innumerous as the specks of dust in the universe,
They will never extricate themselves from the three evil realms.

        Every time I read these verses, I sigh. Pure Land Buddhism is the salvation of all sentient beings, especially during the Dharma-Ending Age. All Buddhas in the lands of all directions bear witness to and expound the Dharma of Nianfo. As Patriarch Yinguang testifies:

All past virtuous sages fervently aspired to rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. All sutras and discourses directly point to the Pure Land Path.

       Arguably, the pathway of Nianfo should be unanimously praised and carried out by the Buddhist community. Yet, it is not so. Historically, there have been similar cases of adversity in preaching Dharma with various Buddhist sects, particularly with those preaching the Pure Land Dharma. When Master Shandao was writing the above verses, I venture, he was expressing frustration in his time and envisioned the future. In his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra, Master Shandao warns:

Misleading oneself as well as others is a karmic transgression that causes great harm to sentient beings.
It is better to be accused of misinterpreting the Buddha’s teaching than to adopt a mistaken understanding of a Bodhisattva’s teaching as a guide.

       There are several analogies and metaphors in the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra. One emphasizes that we should not doubt Nianfo even if Buddhas of all directions, each radiating light and stretching forth his long tongue[4], were to declare that Sakyamuni Buddha’s teaching of Nianfo is false. Another is “A white path between two rivers,” which exposes the feigned sympathizers. They try to obstruct a Buddha reciter, telling him to turn back from the dangerous Nianfo pathway which they claim would lead to death. They assure him that it is for his own good.

       Master Shandao says, as quoted above:

In the age of the intensifying five defilements, doubters and slanderers are numerous, renunciants and lay-Buddhists alike despise the Dharma and let no one listen. They are hateful and angry to Buddha reciters, and would use every possible means to subvert the practice.

       He has also said: “The Dharma of rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss has been hindered and tainted by many, not just these days, but since ancient times.”

       Apparently, the preaching of Pure Land Buddhism was not smooth-going, even in his time.

       The biography of Master Shandao recorded a debate with master Jingang. Unable to persuade the stubborn Chan master, Shandao Bhikkhu made the oath:

If I am right about the Dharma, let every Buddha statue in the temple hall radiate lights.
If I am wrong, I will go to hell immediately, suffer agonies endlessly and will never get out.

       As soon as he had spoken, all the statues in the hall emitted brilliant lights that lit up the whole temple. 

       We all know that Master Shandao was a nirmanakaya of Amitabha Buddha and had attained samadhi of Nianfo and contemplation of the Buddha image. Even he, who had the highest virtue and supreme wisdom, could not persuade a Buddhist doubter in his time. Similar situations happened to Master Daochuo and Master Tanluan, who were reproached by Buddhists and secular intellectuals, questioning them: “Purelands are everywhere in the ten directions, why must you seek only Amitabha Buddha’s land?”

       We do not have detailed information, but by the tone and mood expressed in Master Shandao’s writing, we may infer the circumstances he had to deal with because people would have expressed the same feelings. And Master Shandao let out a long sigh of apprehension:

To hold fast to one’s faith in the Dharma and to teach others to do the same is to go from difficult to the most difficult.
Infusing the Buddha’s compassion into everyone’s faith in the Dharma is the right way to requite the kindness of the Buddha.

       If not for obstacle after obstacle, slander upon slander, how could it be so difficult to have faith in the Dharma, and even more difficult to help others do the same? The three sutras of Pure Land Buddhism also disclose this message.

       The Longer Sutra states:

The arrogant and the sluggish would not believe in the Dharma of Nianfo.Many Bodhisattvas wish to but cannot hear the Dharma.

       Why can the Bodhisattvas not hear the Dharma? It is because of the obstacles caused by people obstructing, reviling and destroying the Dharma.

       The sutra also reads:

The Land of Ultimate Bliss is a realm of nirvana, that is,
No-birth no-death, supreme with no limitations.
It is so easy to be reborn in that realm to become a Buddha.
Yet, so few have faith and aspiration to make the attempt.

       Since it is easy to be reborn into that Buddha-land, everyone ought to be cheerful and willing. Why are there actually so few who have gone there? Again, this is because of the obstacles and slandering of the Dharma that Buddhists are facing. That is why hearing the Dharma is “the most difficult of all difficulties.”

       The Longer Sutra reads:

It is difficult to encounter and difficult to behold a Tathagata when he appears in the world.

Difficult to access and difficult to hear are the Buddha’s teachings and discourses.

It is also difficult to hear the excellent Bodhisattva ways, the paramitas.

Difficult too, is to meet a good teacher and practice according to his instruction.

But the most difficult of all difficulties is to hear this sutra, have faith in it with joy, and hold fast to it. Nothing is more difficult than this.

       How many times does the word “difficult” appear in the above verse? Nine times. Two in the first phrase, two more in the second. The fifth and the sixth occur in the third and fourth phrases. The seventh, the eighth, and the ninth are in the last phrase. Altogether, nine times the word “difficult” appears.

       The slandering of the Pure land Dharma that was attested by all the Buddhas did not begin today. This is due to sentient beings’ minds being full of vexations, suspicious and karmic obstructions.  

        Sakyamuni Buddha says in The Amitabha Sutra:

Sariputra, you should know this: I have accomplished the difficult task during the period of the five defilements. That is, having attained highest, perfect enlightenment, I have for the sake of sentient beings delivered this incredible Dharma, which is so hard for them to accept in faith. This is indeed an extremely difficult task.

       As Sakyamuni Buddha praises the inconceivable virtue of other Buddhas, they also praise the virtue of Sakyamuni Buddha for expounding to all sentient beings the Dharma of Nianfo, which is most difficult to accept in faith.

       In the Contemplation of Infinite Life Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha prudently and skillfully does not explicitly speak of Nianfo until he explains the last three lowest level-births.        While the primal purpose of the Buddha to appear in this world is to teach sentient beings the Dharma of Nianfo[5], he has to make concessions to accommodate their inferior roots and virtues because the Dharma is exceedingly difficult for them to accept and believe. So, early on, the Buddha prepares us by instituting a variety of ways to liberation by the expedient approach of absorbing the ways with the thirteen meditative visualizations, the three pure-conducts, and the nine level-births. Then, he gradually guides us towards Pure Land Buddhism. Still, he waits until the last three lowest levels before he skillfully illustrates Nianfo. Only at the very end of the sutra does the Buddha, speaking to the revered        Ananda, summarily conclude:

You must bear on these words well. To bear on these words is to uphold the name of the Buddha of Infinite Life.

       And he elaborates no further.

       It is not until he expounds the Amitabha Sutra that Sakyamuni Buddha abandons the expedient approach and directly speaks of Nianfo. Even that is not sufficient to convince the deluded beings, so he summons all Buddhas in the lands of all directions to stretch their long and broad tongues covering all Buddha-lands, and they attest to the truth of Nianfo. Through a long process of skillful lead-up of the meditative and non-meditative practices of the visualizations, the transition from the expedient to the real and true is now firmly established, and the Dharma of Nianfo prominently stands out.

       What happened to the Dharma in China happened in Japan the same way. Master Honen of Japan preached and brought forth Nianfo, but that was not tolerable to Buddhists of other schools. They reported false accusations to the emperor, claiming Honen had established an evil cult, and urged the emperor to suppress the Dharma that Honen was preaching.

       The same happens today. Those of us who preach and propagate the Nianfo Dharma are facing the same charges as those of Master Honen. It is not about individual Dharma messengers. In fact, we take the accusation of being “without moral integrity and conduct” as a compliment that we do not deserve—for we are iniquitous mortals. Nor is it personal, as we learned the doctrines according to the teachings of Master Shandao.

       We are the ones who promote the deliverance and the fundamental vows of Amitabha Buddha. Does Amitabha Buddha have enough “moral integrity and conduct”? How about Sakyamuni Buddha, who expounds the three Pure Land sutras? It is a Dharma-warping tragedy, our karmic retributions in the Dharma-Ending Period. All the more, we must work harder. “To hold fast to one’s faith in the Dharma and to teach others to do the same is to go from difficult to the most difficult. By infusing the Buddha’s compassion into everyone’s faith in the Dharma is the right way to requite the kindness of the Buddha.

        Therefore, when facing difficulties and denigration, we should not be downcast in despair. On the contrary, we should feel our conviction is correct. Beside the accusation stands the voice of the Buddhas who attest and protect the Dharma. If there were no such doubts and defamation, there would have been no need for the protection of the Dharma from other Buddhas.

       The person who digs medicinal herbs knows that around miraculous panacea, age-old ganoderma is there to waylay harmful grasses or poisonous snakes. Likewise, such smearing “poisonous snakes and weeds” will lie in wait next to the profound and supreme Dharma of Amitabha Buddha’s deliverance.

      Today, we have the pre-destined opportunity to hear the Dharma and practice Nianfo. It is the grace and kindness, indeed, the honor bestowed to us by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas throughout ages to let us experience what patriarchs Tanluan, Daochuo, Shandao, and Honen have experienced.

       It is not us who deliberately arouse a debate about different opinions or aspersions. But that’s the nature of people who are submerged in incorrect views and incorrect thoughts. And the Dharma that can correct their delusion and lead them to liberation will inevitably hit their confused minds and result in a predictable response. To them, it is all right to talk about laissez-faire and self-indulgent lifestyles; it is no problem to speak about Humanistic Buddhism, the five precepts, and ten good deeds. When discussing the way to be free from samsara, someone might have doubt in you and criticize you, but that won’t be too big a deal. On the other hand, when talking about the Land of Ultimate Bliss, then people would call you a fool and question your sanity.

       It is still tolerable to say, “Rebirth is possible only by diligently cultivating sufficient merits through various Dharma paths.” But, if you tell them, “Nianfo will ensure rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss,” it becomes the worst kind of offense as if you were to dig up their ancestral graves of vexation and nescience. Since time immemorial, the vexation and nescience of sentient beings are like a diabolic habit, which is irreconcilable and antagonistic to true Dharma. And they would do everything possible to destroy it. That’s why Master Shandao says that they “would use every possible means to subvert the practice.” Nevertheless, it will not hinder our preaching, because the purpose of the Dharma to appear in the world is to deal with and be rid of such hatred, defamation, and ignorance with the Buddha’s wisdom light.

 

(Translated and edited by the Pure Land School Translation Team)

 

 

[1] Shakyamuni Buddha
[2] Nianfo in Chinese pinyin: Nian means to recite verbally and/or mentally, and Fo is Buddha; hence, NianFo means Buddha recitation and Buddha remembrance.
[3] Icchantikas are people who neither believe in Buddhism nor aspire to attain Buddhahood.
[4] Stretching the long tongue: In Buddhism, a long and broad tongue is analogous to a truth-teller. A Buddha’s tongue may cover his entire land of a thousand million worlds.
[5] This may be demonstrated with a quote from The Longer Sutra: “The Tathagata commiserates with the deluded beings in the three domains. He thus appears in the world to illuminate the way and to rescue the multitudes by bestowing upon them the true and real benefit (Nianfo).

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Master Huijing

Master Huijing

Master Jingzong

Master Jingzong

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