Practicing Various Virtues As Advised
Our speech and actions are controlled by our minds. So, our minds are most important. To purify our minds means to free our thoughts of defilement. Every single thought should be pure and wholesome. If it is like this, we are proceeding toward the goal of Buddhahood. So, “cease from evil, do all good things, and purify our minds. This is the teaching of all buddhas.”
The teachings spoken by all buddhas – all buddhas in the ten directions and the three periods of time appear in the secular worlds, and teach sentient beings to refrain from evil, practice virtues, and purify their minds, in order to reach the state of Buddhahood.
The Pure Land teaching is profound, yet easy to practice. However, this doesn’t mean that Amitabha-reciters merely recite Amitabha’s Name, and do not abide by the Precepts, or practice Meditation and Wisdom, if they can.
The correct meaning is: As far as the direct / main cause of rebirth, mere name-recitation is complete and sufficient. However, the fundamental teaching in Buddhism is “refraining from doing evil, and practicing various virtues”. So, as Buddhists, if we can hold the virtuous practices, we should. These include being filial to our parents, respecting our teachers, being kind, and not killing, We do these things because they are our human duties; otherwise, how can we claim to be Buddhists?
There are two kinds of virtues, one is open and the other is hidden. The same holds true for rewards – hidden and open.
When we practice virtues that are known by others, they are called “open virtues”, and their respective rewards are called “open rewards.” If a person practices virtues, but no one knows, they are called “hidden virtues” that can produce “hidden rewards”.
A hidden reward is greater than an open reward. There was a scholar called Fan Zhongyan. He was very kind-hearted and said, “I must benefit the local people wherever I go.” There are many great stories about the highly respected moral deeds of the ancient sages. Through reading these stories we can try to follow their wonderful examples.
The greatest virtue is filial love, which is a yardstick to measure the progress of civilization and the mitigation of disasters in the human world. Filial love is also a fundamental discipline to maintain worldwide peace. If we give up filial love, the world will deteriorate. If we promote filial love, the world will become prosperous.
If everyone fulfills their own duties in filial love, the world will be peaceful in the absence of any political system, and people will be virtuous in the absence of an education system. The highest virtues in the world are based on the filial love we give to our parents.
Why do people worship deities and ghosts? In answer there are two points: one is to awe the deities and ghosts in the world, hoping that they will not hurt them, and the other is to seek for protection from the deities and ghosts, so that they can relieve them of jeopardy, bring them good luck, and fulfill their wishes.
However, the Buddha tells us, “Although people serve deities and ghosts in the world, it would be better if they served their parents. This is because parents are more celestial, auspicious, and responsive than deities and ghosts.”
If we only bow and pay respect to the Buddha; but, not to our parents, we do not really bow and pay respect to the Buddha. Furthermore, if we aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss and recite Amitabha’s Name; but, do not respect our parents with filial piety, obedience, and respect, we oppose the Buddha’s heart. If we can take a step further by guiding our parents to recite Amitabha’s Name and aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, we will have made the most profound offerings possible.
The most practical method to accumulate virtuous merits is to deduct a fixed amount from our account and donate money to a charitable organization. In this way, we won’t miss a chance or forget almsgiving. In the long run, this practice will eradicate our karmic offenses, and bring us good fortune. If we are confronted by disastrous incidents we are protected, in often very subtle ways, by good people, deities, ghosts, and even buddhas and bodhisattvas.
So, to really protect ourselves our focus should not be on accumulating wealth; but, on accumulating merits through virtuous practices. Apart from reciting Amitabha’s Name, we should give away all of our belongings to others. These kinds of virtues can really be passed to our children and grand-children, generation after generation.
Can we realize the depth of Amitabha Buddha’s compassion – his great dedication, great sacrifice, and great generosity – to give us the Land of Bliss? All of these amazing gifts are ours, so that we can attain infinite life, and the reward of becoming buddhas. By that time, because we have great peace, great satisfaction, and great fortune; we will naturally dedicate and sacrifice with joy and formlessness.
If I have two thousand dollars today, I wish to give one thousand to others. If I have two houses, I will let homeless people live in one of my houses, and let those in urgent need live in my other house. I will find another way to live.
We shouldn’t think of dedicating the merits and virtues from giving houses toward rebirth in the Land of Bliss, or accumulating merits and virtues for future reward. This is not the right way. This is because our rebirth is already assured in the present life. It is better for this kind of giving to naturally emerge from our mind of compassion, which is more sublime and transcendental than giving with the mind of attachment.
“Injustice in the three periods of time” means in this lifetime people learn Buddhism and practice generosity, so that they accumulate abundant merits and virtues. In their next life, people enjoy wealth and health; but, commit offenses unconsciously in that joyous environment. In their third lifetime they will decline and fall. So, Shakyamuni Buddha preaches his teaching, with no intention of asking us to accumulate merits through virtuous practices for future enjoyment, in human or celestial realms. No! He asks us to dedicate them for rebirth in the Land of Bliss when we are close to death.
Jeopardy is a common karma; but, a kind man with accumulated virtues, or a devoted Amitabha-reciter will avoid this common karma, and form his own unique uncommon karma.
There are three kinds of fields of blessings – field of respect, field of grace, and field of compassion. Despite having a field, we have no power to cultivate it and, if we have the power to cultivate, we have no field. In either case, we cannot attain any blessings as rewards. However, if we have the three kinds of fields, we should cherish them and treat them with great care.
With respect to virtues of ordinary beings, we say this is virtuous, and that is non-virtuous. However, from the Buddha’s perspective, the virtues in the eighty thousand eons are not considered to be “true virtues” and the non-virtues that lead us to fall into hell are not “true non-virtues”.
However, having said that, we have to try our best to practice virtues and refrain from non-virtues, simply because it is our duty and responsibility. Nowadays, people emphasize Humanistic Pure Land practice. Its objective is to purify the human mind, and in so doing, purify society. This only applies to Worldly Truth. However, as far as the Ultimate Truth is concerned, these are not real true virtues.
What is real virtue in this world? It is aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land and exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s Name. If a great philanthropist does not attain rebirth through Amitabha-recitation, he will have gained less than a wicked man who awakens and recites Amitabha’s Name just prior to death.
Similarly, a monastic who does not study the Pure Land teaching and recite Amitabha’s Name, will achieve less than a householder who simply recites Amitabha’s Name.
Because of his past karma, a person is destined for good fortune and wealth in this life. In order to accumulate blessings and virtues, we should focus our minds on kindness, speak in kind words, and perform kind deeds. If we lose in life, just regard it as paying off a debt. Don’t worry if others take advantage of us. If we have a kind thought, the god of fortune will follow us. If we have a wicked thought, the god of evil will follow us.
If we practice virtues, misfortune is far away, even though fortune has not yet come. If we do evil, fortune is far away, even though misfortune has not yet come. Thus, we should always recite Amitabha’s Name and practice virtues.
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