The Zen Pinnacle: in the Name of “Namo Amitabha Buddha”
By Master Jueyue
A Zen master’s time had come, prompting King Yama, the ruler of the Underworld, to send his agents Black and White Impermanence to escort the master’s spirit for judgment. This Zen master, highly adept in the practice of meditation, left no visible trace of his presence while in deep meditation upon the arrival of King Yama’s agents.
Confounded and unsure of how to accomplish their mission, they consulted the local land deity.
“You oversee this region, do you know where the Zen master is hiding?” they inquired.
The deity revealed that the Zen master was beyond their reach while immersed in his deep meditation. However, he had one cherished attachment left - a precious alms bowl gifted by the emperor.
“Strike the bowl,” the deity suggested, “and upon hearing its sound, he will emerge from his meditation, and you shall find him.”
Following the deity’s advice, Black and White Impermanence struck the alms bowl and, sure enough, the Zen master emerged from meditation and was spotted by them. Just as they were about to escort him to King Yama, the Zen master realized that his attachment to the bowl led to his downfall. In a swift act to relinquish his last worldly tie, he smashed the bowl. Free from attachment, he returned to a state of deep meditation, becoming invisible to the agents once again.
The saying 'A divine presence watches from three feet above your head' suggests that our thoughts are always known to higher powers. King Yama records our every thought. Yet, by reciting 'Namo Amitabha Buddha,' we can elude his scrutiny.
While we may not have the depth of meditation that Zen masters possess, we can find refuge in “Namo Amitabha Buddha,” a name that embodies the Buddha’s boundless merit. It signifies Amitabha’s most profound meditative state. In this name we are sheltered by the ultimate peace, stability, and nirvana of Amitabha Buddha.
We can never rely on our own meditative practices because our attachments to self, wealth, and desires are too deep. Master Tanluan warns that every thought can entrap us in the cycle of rebirth. Even when we are lying around doing nothing, we are still accumulating bad karma from our deluded thoughts. However, by taking refuge in the name of Amitabha Buddha, we find the greatest protection and stability. To recite his name is to abide in him. Only Amitabha Buddha, the Dharma King, can ensure our deliverance from samsara, keeping us from the grasp of King Yama.
Master Jingsong once composed a verse of exquisite beauty that resonates with me. It says: “Should you yearn for me, please recite Namo Amituofo; for I, too, reside in this name.” As we practice Amitabha-recitation, we find solace in Amitabha Buddha, who also resides in his name - a haven of peace and safety.
Worldly shelters are temporary, as our bodies will eventually perish and are not truly ours. It is only in the name “Namo Amitabha Buddha” that our consciousness finds lasting sanctuary.
Amitabha Buddha offers his name as a vessel for our spiritual journey. Without it, we are adrift in the Three Domains, endlessly wandering. The scripture reminds us: “[We are ] reborn from the celestial to the hell realms and back.” Only in “Namo Amitabha Buddha” do we find true refuge, guiding us towards enlightenment.
(Translated by the Pure Land School Translation Team;
edited by Householder Fojin)
- 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