The Buddha’s Enlightening Motto
The Buddha says, “Life is like a dream” and “Life is suffering”. In this dream-like life of suffering, if a person encounters Amitabha’s compassionate deliverance, and is embraced by Amitabha , he has received life’s foremost blessing.
Dreaming doesn’t just happen when we are sleeping. We are always dreaming. Our endless reincarnations are also a big dream. So, we shouldn’t be annoyed under unfavorable circumstances, and we shouldn’t be too excited under favourable circumstances, because all of them are dreams in this unreal life.
It is fundamental for all Buddhist learners to understand that all matters are the harmonized results of causal conditions, which are unreal. As they are unreal, they have no substance and can’t last forever.
Success and failure, gain and loss, obstruction and penetration, suffering and blessings in one’s life are the results of causal conditions. They come once, are not eternal, and are always changing. So, we should live in accord with these conditions.
There is no need to pay much attention to them.
All ordinary beings are full of greed, anger, delusion, arrogance, and doubt. These are born of our individual afflictions and attachments. Thus, we cannot completely forgive others, accommodate others, or offer sympathy to others, because we dare not share our various kinds of afflictions with them. We always feel lonely even though we may have a lovely spouse, children with filial love, and close friends.
There is a saying in Taiwan: who knows what my concerns are? Who dares to talk, with no reservation, about our concerns? Can we really understand and accommodate each other? No matter how lovely our spouse is, they cannot share our suffering, afflictions, or the deepest secrets of our hearts. We feel lonely when we are alone, and even when we gather with our friends and relatives. So, it is said, “In the mundane world, people live in the world of desires. They are born alone and die alone, and, they come alone and go alone.”
What is life like? It’s like an ox approaching the slaughter, with each step coming ever closer to death. It is inevitable for all of us, including the powerful and esteemed, to receive judgement from King Yama. The Infinite Life Sutra says, “When we reach life’s near-end, regret and fear inevitably arrive as well.”
Thinking of death, will “we” continue in existence, or vanish in extinction? If there is continuing, will “we” go to the realm of suffering or to the realm of joy? Above all, anxiety will occur due to uncertainty and ignorance. The reason we have karma, suffering, and anxiety is ignorance. Because of ignorance, we have karma resulting in suffering, and we have anxiety because of ignorance too.
In the last century a US traveler visited a philosopher. When he took a look at his home, he was astonished. Apart from a study room full of books, a desk, and a chair, there was no other furniture nor any luxurious decorations.
The traveler asked the philosopher, “Where is your furniture”? The philosopher responded, ”What about yours”?
The traveler answered, “Me? I just passed by, and I am a guest, so I didn’t bring any furniture.” The philosopher replied, “So am I!”
In this world, we are all travelers that reincarnate based on karmic forces.
There are about 6 billion people on Earth. All of them will die within approximately 100 years of their births.
Generally, people see death as taboo. They think it is bad luck when they see someone die, hear about death, or think of death. This shows that they are fearful of death. However, no matter how much they are fearful, they must deal with it.
Even if they escape or avoid this matter, they must eventually confront death. If they can positively deal with it, they may find a solution, or even overcome it. So, we Buddhists should strive to transcend these very human emotions, not to escape them; but, to deal with them with courage.
No matter how knowledgeable, wealthy and powerful he is, it doesn’t help a bit when he is dying. At that time, he is alone, frightened, blind, helpless, and powerless, facing King Yama for his final judgement.
Referring to the Preface of Amitabha-recitation Accounts Volume One, it says, “You walk alone and cry, when the ghost officer escorts you on the road; you kneel down and feel sad when King Yama is yelling at you in court.” The scene is well described.
You walk alone and cry – weeping, sorrow, helpless, just following the ghost officer. Your beloved one cannot accompany you and there is no powerful person that you can rely on at that time. In front of King Yama, you have to kneel down and cannot make excuses for your wrongdoings, no matter how powerful you were in your last life.
The Infinite Life Sutra says, “When life comes to an end, remorse and fear come one after the other” – it is the mentality of a dying person. What is the original fate of a person? It is remorse and fear. Without the teaching of Amitabha’s deliverance, you will be frightened and never be relaxed and at peace.
Actually, human desires are impure, contaminated, and hidden. Though they are inconspicuous, like an undercurrent, their roots are deep and firm. They seem to be stationary; but, desires arise to become obstructions when we wish to practice and cultivate.
So, we find we lack effort in cultivation, and our bodies and hearts are burned by the fires of hell. We are in despair. As the Infinite Life Sutra says, “When death comes, fear and regret come one after the other.”
Buddhism teaches us to accept the inevitability of death and the universality of impermanence, and aims to transcend them. It is said that, If King Yama (King of the Hell realms) determines you die at three in the morning, you cannot survive after five. Death is not negotiable. Once death approaches, it is impossible to beg for a longer life.
Life is comprised of relationships, whether they are rewarding graces or lingering resentments, whether incurring debts or repaying debts. Once we repay all debts, and clear all karma, we can definitely leave this world. However, if we cannot clear all of our debts, it is impossible for us to leave.
All Buddhists should recognize this fact. If we come across adverse circumstances, we should know these are the result of karmic seeds we planted in the past, not due to the judgement of a God or King Yama. It was all created by ourselves. For these reasons, we should have no regrets or resentments. Do not blame any other people or deity, and accept it for what it is. This is the only way we can repay these debts.
However, in the meantime, new karmic debts appear while we have not yet cleared the previous ones. Thus, we see that our karmic debts never end! We owe debts to each other forever.
There is a verse: Everybody believes there is a next year, and all families cultivate crops for next year. Everybody believes there is a next life; so, why don’t they cultivate now for blessings in their next life?
We believe there is tomorrow, next year, and the future; so, today we prepare for tomorrow, next year, and the future. If there is a next life, shouldn’t we prepare for it?
Generally, when a person is close to death, he has three kinds of love/affiliations/attachments:
- Affiliation to circumstances – attachment to our immediate environment (our family, relatives, home, fame, wealth, status, etc.)
- Affiliation to our body – attachment to our body. We don’t understand the body is conditioned, formed by causal conditions and existent only for a period of time, Thus, we must leave it eventually.
- Affiliation to the next life – Near the end-of-life, we know we cannot attach to our body or circumstances. We wonder, is there another world after death? Will it be filled with happiness or suffering?
When we are focused on our family, career, or accumulating possessions, we don’t think of this matter. We never plan or prepare for the great matter of birth-and-death until we are close to death. As it is said in the Sutra, “as we approach the end of life, regret and fear plague our thoughts.”
A person’s mind will be very confused at the time of his last breath. All of his past karma, including the virtuous seeds and the wicked seeds, will emerge.
We can differentiate and determine what to do, what not to do, what to say and what not to say, because we have the Sixth Consciousness. However, when we are close to death, the Sixth Consciousness will lose its functions as the functions of all other organs are lost. At that time, the Alaya Consciousness that controls our destiny in the next life will come into effect.
All of the good and evil karma in this life and past lives will emerge like dreams, when we are close to death. The Sixth Consciousness is very weak, so the images are disordered, illogical, and confused as to time and place. These experiences are very common as we approach death.
The spirit consciousness cannot be defined by space, time, direction, or dimension. When a person is close to death, he is in the state of transcending the eternity of space and time. If the necessary karma and causal conditions combine at that moment, he will be reborn in another body and begin his next life (either in the wicked or virtuous realms).
Birth must come with death. However, many people do not know whether life exists after death. As they approach death, they are fearful and do not know what to do.
If people understand the reality of death, and know there is an eternal and joyful home, will feel peaceful and relaxed when facing death. Those who don’t know better, find the cycle of repeated birth-and-death horrifying.
It is common for all human beings to have a fear of death. However, no matter how fearful we are, sooner or later we have to face it. If we can face it with positivity, it is possible to solve it.
Therefore, as Buddhists, we should not avoid the subject of death; but, deeply consider it. Many monastics, especially the great monks, put a big poster with the word “death” on the head board of their beds.
When we participate in a funeral service or make an incense offering, we should realize that it is not just for the one who has died, but also for ourselves. For we shall one day be like him or her lying there.
Studying and practicing the Buddhist teachings should be done now, and not be put off until the future, or even tomorrow. If we procrastinate until the future, or until tomorrow, our procrastination will go on endlessly. Thus, we should not wait until it is too late and all we can do is look back with remorse.
Inevitably all people must die. However, If we constantly dwell on this truth, our lives will be shrouded in complete darkness. Thus, as a coping mechanism, we avoid thinking about it.
However, even if we can forget death, death will not forget us! It can suddenly attack us at any time. We must positively confront and resolve our fear of death. In so doing, we can naturally acquire a true life, filled with brilliance and happiness.
We are busy doing this today and busy doing that tomorrow. We keep so very busy until, before we realize it, we have become old. Without being noticed, our remaining life becomes shorter and shorter. It is like a candle in the wind, which can burn out at any time.
When the candle light is gone, we continue to endlessly reincarnate within the Six Realms forever. Most of us lack awareness of these truths. Today, we have a human body and have encountered the Buddhist teachings. We should cherish this rare opportunity and encourage ourselves to pursue a teaching that can lead us to the state of no-birth, no-death, and no-reincarnation, only everlasting bliss.
It is said that those who died were dead. Almost all people in the world reincarnate according to their past karma after they die. They are gone forever. If a person were revitalized after death, he can tell us the mental state of near-death and the journey towards death, so that we can get well prepared in selecting options in the present lifetime, so as to attain serenity in body and mind in dealing with the matter of birth-and-death.
Through the accounts regarding the experience of near-death, we clearly know that death is not the permanent extinction of the light of our being. Consciousness continues to receive retribution or reward as “we” continue to reincarnate within the Six Realms. Most importantly, we can be delivered by Amitabha Buddha to be reborn in his Land of Bliss, where we can enjoy all kinds of happiness without any suffering.
There are generally two kinds of donations. One is to donate one’s organs, such as heart, kidney, etc. upon death, which needs to be done by surgery. The other is to donate one’s whole body after a period of time, in order for students to learn through dissection.
Between the two, Amitabha-reciters aspiring for rebirth in the Land of Bliss, should select the second one, which means leaving the body to a school of medicine for dissection. In order for rebirth to proceed smoothly, a period of time must pass after death before the body can be dissected.
If it is required to donate the organs immediately after death, you should consider whether your patience is strong enough, and whether your hatred and pain can be subdued.
Elder Sudatta sponsored and built Jetavana for Shakyamuni Buddha. In measuring the foundation of the building, Sariputra found ants on the ground, and he took the opportunity to talk to Elder Sudatta, “They have been repeatedly born to be ants during the lifetimes of the past seven Buddhas.“
How long does it take for a Buddha to be born in terms of kalpas? The time that must pass for seven Buddhas to be born is very long and the ants have been reincarnating during that length of time. The eighth Buddha to be born will be Maitreya Buddha, in 5.67 billion years in the Longhua Assembly. Despite that long passage of time, it is not sure that these ants can transform to another body? Even if they can transform, they may not have a human body. So, it says, “Once a human body is lost, it cannot be recovered for ten thousand kalpas.“
There is a saying: Once the human physical body is lost, it may take more than ten thousand kalpas to be born into another. Many Buddhists have heard this. However, if they haven’t absorbed this deeply, they might as well have not heard it at all!
One day Shakyamuni Buddha saw a pigeon. He told Sariputra, “Because of its karma this bird will remain a pigeon for 80,000 kalpas.” After 80,000 kalpas, when can the pigeon attain a human body? After he attains the human body, how long will it take to come across the Buddhist teachings?
We have been born as human beings and are hearing the Buddhist teachings, particularly the Pure Land teaching. These are exceedingly rare gifts! We should not squander this opportunity; but, vow to attain rebirth in the Pure Land in this lifetime with no retrogression.
Beginning in the far distant past many Buddhas have been born in the Saha world. Each Buddha had the capacity to teach and deliver immeasurable sentient beings whose roots of virtues have ripened. However, those with heavy and deep karmic offenses like us, miss the chance again and again. If there were no Dharmakara Bodhisattva who made vows for us, we would have no way to escape our endless suffering. We would keep on missing the deliverance of all Buddhas in the future countless eons, because of the inferiority of our roots of virtues.
When examining reincarnation within the Six Realms, we see that sentient beings spend more time in the Three Wretched Realms. Though you may have great courage and enormous power, you cannot avoid having King Yama (in the “yin” realm) check our karma accounts and determine where our next birth will be.
Only those who aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, and exclusively practice Amitabha-recitation, need not meet King Yama. In fact, King Yama may even bow to them reverently. All Amitabha-reciters will never be hurt by ghosts and King Yama dares not invite them to see him in the “yin” realm.
The average human life span is 80 years nowadays. There are Desire Heavens, Form Heavens and Formless Heavens. The shortest lifespan of the Desire Heavens is 500 years. One day in Desire Heaven is equivalent to 50 years in the human world. The longest lifespan in the Non-Perception and No Non-Perception Heavens is 84,000 eons. From the point of view of a human, it seems to be a very long time; however, it is very short from a Buddha’s perspective. How short is it?
Master Shandao says that it is like a flash of lightning, less than the blink of an eye, and then it vanishes. It’s so short! If we are not reborn in the Land of Bliss, we will reincarnate and depart from our beloved ones forever. Sadly, we will not even know each other if we meet again in a future life.
With respect to the situation in suffering, we should not purely take it as sufferings. Suffering is actually karmic condition leading to the entry of Way. If there is no suffering, it is difficult to have incentive to emancipate. Because of suffering, we seek for emancipation, so we should be thankful for coming across the causal condition of suffering.
Under the unfavorable conditions in dealing with matters and in human relationship, we should change our perspective to see it because sufferings give us warnings, provide us a deeper understanding in renouncing the sufferings in the Land of Saha, and admiring the happiness in the Land of Bliss. So, thanks for all sufferings. If we cannot understand this point, and keep complaining sufferings, we will move from one kind of suffering to another.
All worldly matters have a temporary existence, as they are produced in response to causal conditions which will eventually end. In the end they all disappear; so, our world is forever impermanent, full of suffering, and ultimately empty. There is nothing we can master except Amitabha-Recitation, leading to the Land of Bliss (where there is really no suffering and no emptiness). That Land is eternally filled with joy and peace.
The existence of a family, a group, a society, or a country is temporary, conditioned, and not real. Parents, couples, and children must depart on the day of death, no matter how deeply they love each other.
So, when we gather together in this life it is just like birds who build a nest and live together. When disaster comes, birds in the forest will fly away. Afterward, it is very difficult for the birds to gather again. Thus it is said, “All changes in creation and extinction are conditioned, and cannot be mastered.” If something does not permanently exist, its existence is regarded as untrue, virtual, and conditioned.
Faith is to believe a theology that is most important in our lives. Its importance even transcends the value of our lives. We live for this faith. We will sacrifice for our faith, if necessary, because it is worth far more than our daily mundane living. It is like the celestial bodies, such as the sun, moon, and stars shining upon us. We believe in them when we look up. This is known as faith.
Faith is the light of our spirits illuminating the way of our lives. Those who have no faith are like people walking in darkness. They don’t know where to go, have no destination, and no direction. They don’t know where they come from, and where they will go after death.
They don’t know the purpose of life, and don’t know the location of their final settlement – a place of joy and peace for all eternity.
In this respect, though they live for an entire life, they have just wandered aimlessly and wasted their time. In the end, they will reincarnate according to their karma. As we have learned, faith is of the utmost importance in our lives!
Once born in the world, we are sentenced to death. The date of death is not fixed, as we don’t know when it will come. However, it can come at any time; so, we should prepare for our final moment and aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. Then it doesn’t matter when death comes. Even if it comes all of a sudden, we can still be reborn in the Land of Bliss.
We need not wait until the day we die, and then ask people for assisted recitation for transcendental deliverance. We can prepare right now.
It is not easy to be born as a human being, to be able to hear the Buddhist teachings, and practice accordingly. However, if he cannot find a teaching that enables him to reach enlightenment in this lifetime among all of the teachings, won’t it just mean that he only makes a karmic connection with the Buddhist teachings, and has to reincarnate again? Well, this is a very dangerous way of thinking.
Why? Because who can guarantee that a person will become a human being in his next life? Even he does become a human being, who can guarantee he will once again hear the Buddhist teachings? If he is lucky enough to hear the Buddhist teachings, who can guarantee which future life it will be in?
So, Master Yinguang says, “If the matter of birth-and-death is not resolved, it is very dangerous.” If a person cannot leave reincarnation, he will inevitably fall into the wretched realms. Thus, we see how important it is that we work hard to resolve the matter of birth-and-death.
Since we can study Buddhist teachings in this lifetime, we should choose the teaching that can liberate us in this lifetime. Let us first aim to be reborn in the Land of Bliss and leave all matters until later.. Actually, the Land of Bliss is a realm where we will naturally become buddhas and enjoy its rewards. It is not a place for further studies and practices.
So, our teaching is easy in practice, and splendid in rewards. Why is it splendid? It is splendid because rebirth can be achieved in this life, and rebirth enables us to become a Buddha.
Without great wisdom, one will not choose Amitabha-recitation; without great blessings, how could we encounter the teaching of Amitabha-recitation? So, rebirth through Amitabha-recitation is not only born from great blessings, but also great wisdom.
- END -
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