Of Recitation and Response
QUESTION: A Facebook user asked, "Some fellow practitioners can feel a resonance with, or response from, Amitabha Buddha soon after starting to recite his name, while others can't do so even though they have been reciting a long time. Why is that? We all want to survive, but sometimes the tests put to us through sickness are beyond our understanding."
The practitioner who asked this question is probably suffering from some illnesses, or has a relative or friend who is ill. Someone who has been reciting Amitabha's name for a while expects to feel a resonance with him. When the person fails to get that sort of special experience while seeing others receive it, he or she invariably has doubts and thinks, "Is Amitabha testing me? Oh, I am so weak and sick. I just want to live. Such a test I cannot withstand."
- Buddhas and Bodhisattvas never test anyone.
Facebook is an international medium. The person who asked this question may have been influenced by the Christian faith. In Christianity, there is a concept that "God is going to test you." In Buddhism, however, there is absolutely no such thing as “the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are going to test you." Buddhas and Bodhisattvas deliver all sentient beings unconditionally. All our sufferings are the manifestations of our own karmic activities in the past. It's as though there is a miracle healer, who can cure any disease. The healer will not impose any condition to test the patient. He heals anyone who goes to him because that is what he is there for.
- If we recite, a resonance will arise; the only factor is whether it is obvious or subtle.
Why is it that some reciters can feel some special response while others can't, even after prolonged recitation? In fact, we can all feel a connection. Sometimes it comes to us very clearly, and other times it is more subtle. Most of us only acknowledge the clear signs and ignore the less obvious ones.
- The difference has to do with our roots of virtue from past lifetimes.
There is the story of a man who was so hungry that he stuffed himself with seven buns. After the last one, he felt really full and regretted what he had done. He thought to himself, "I should have just eaten the seventh bun, which filled me up whereas the other six didn't." Little did he realize that he felt full after the last bun only because he had already eaten the first six.
Similarly, those who feel a connection quickly can do so because they had a virtuous association with Amitabha in the past of a profound nature. When that link ripens, it manifests itself in an obvious manner, like someone who had eaten six buns and whose recitation in this life resembles the seventh. For those less close to Amitabha in past lives, naturally the present connection will be faint. Some people may not have cultivated enough virtuous roots in the past, and the present recitations are likely to be their first bun. We mustn't stop eating just because we do not feel anything yet. We won't feel full if we stop. We must carry on eating, and reciting.
- The discrepancy has to do with past karmic obstacles.
Another factor is the extent of karmicobstructions from past lives. If our past karma is very unwholesome, we willnot be able to feel the same connection with Amitabha Buddha even if we reciteas earnestly as others, and vice versa.
This is like planting peas in a field. Under the same sunshine and water conditions, the pea that is planted an inch deep in soil will sprout earlierthan one that is one foot under. The buried pea does not get anysun and therefore takes longer to grow above ground. Similarly, ifour bad karma is heavy enough to prevent the seed of our merits fromgerminating, the resonance will come more slowly.
- The variance is linked with our mindset during recitation.
If we let go of everything and rely exclusively on Amitabha Buddha, aspiring single-mindedly to be reborn in the Pure Land, the connection will come quickly. However, if we just pray for recovery from illness, with an anxious, expectant and restless delusional mind, rather than with complete reliance on Amitabha, the chances are we will be stuck and unable to link up with him. The feeling of bonding will be weak.
Take householder Foyue of Weihai, Shangdong, as an example. She was very anxious to recover from cancer after an operation but did not get better. She called me and I said, "You should not pray for recovery, only for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Keep this in mind." She understood at once. "Yes, that's it!"
Foyue then said to her husband, “Tidy the room up for me, I am going to recite Amitabha’s name and ask to be reborn in the Pure Land.” Taken aback, her husband replied, “Are you sure? We should pray for your recovery.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. Her husband thought that she would surely die. But she got better quickly after letting go of everything and single-mindedly reciting with the aim of rebirth in the Pure Land rather than recovery from her illness. This is a clear-cut case.
On reading your question, I can guess that you are anxious to get better soon. But please try to understand that life is full of suffering and we should just aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. Do not focus on whether you will recover or not. Life is impermanent. We should seek rebirth in the Pure Land as soon as possible, rather than try to drag out our feeble existence, no matter how good this world may seem. If you do not pull through, you will be reborn in the Land of Bliss. And if you are destined to live, you will regain your health soon. Anyway, do not harbor any wishful thinking about getting better. If you do, recitation will not work. Just aspire to rebirth alone, with all your heart.
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