Pure Land Study Group Thread

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Thu Feb 26, 2015 6:11 am

Letter 8

This letter opens up with the original letter from a follower who thinks he's got the Pure Land method figured out after 10 years. He talks of Chan methods like recitation with a dead mind and the koan of "who is it that recites the Buddha's Name?"

The Meditation Sutra teaches: Recite the Mahayana sutras, understand the Supreme Meaning, develop the Bodhi Mind, counsel and exhort others to cultivate. This must certainly be your intention. Nevertheless, the Dharma should be adapted to the level of the listener. If through failure to examine his level, you administer the wrong remedy, you will be no different from an incompetent physician who kills his patients with the wrong medicine. You should know that although the two Dharma methods, Pure Land and Zen, have the same root and the same source, their methods of cultivation are different. The main tenet of Zen is to see one’s Original Nature, while the teachings of Pure Land are Faith, Vows and Reciting the Buddha’s name to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land.


I think the distinction between Zen and Pure Land methods is significant. When the methods get confused, it can cause confusion in practitioner.

those of high capacities are few and far between, while those of moderate and low capacities form the vast majority. This being the case, failing to teach people to develop Faith and Vows seeking rebirth in the Pure Land, while advising them to meditate on the Buddha’s name [as a koan] is utterly detrimental. This is because, while awakening to the Way through meditation on the Buddha’s name would be a fortunate development, an utterly sincere Vow for rebirth in the Pure Land would still be necessary. Meanwhile, if meditation is unsuccessful and the mind constantly grasps at the koan “who is reciting the Buddha’s name,” correspondence between the practitioner and the Buddha will be extremely difficult to realize and the benefit of the “welcoming and escorting” Vow will be lost. Those who really know “who is reciting the Buddha’s name” are precisely those who have already awakened and clearly seen their True Nature. Nowadays, how many practitioners can meditate to the point of awakening to the Way (Great Awakening)?


Faith is fundamental to Pure Land practice. Teachings that bolster faith should be prioritized over teachings that interfere with it or (worse yet) deny its validity & importance. I think this is ultimately the reason why the Pratyutpanna Sutra isn't/wasn't stressed by Pure Land schools - it doesn't stress faith and has some passages that could confuse those who aren't established in their faith. While one who is able to complete the rigorous practices detailed in the Pratyutpanna Sutra might be able to become Awakened to the true nature of mind, those who aren't able to complete the practices will be that much further from establishing the requisite faith.

Since your understanding of the Dharma is not skillfully adapted to people’s capacities, in that you attempt to bring a high-level Dharma to everyone, it is, in the end, a one-sided (biased) attachment – and a great mistake! Not realizing this, you think that you have correctly understood the subtle meaning of the Dharma and therefore seek my certification. This monk, although lowly and not erudite, would not dare to commend, acquiesce in and support such a request, which would cause all of us to fall into the error of vilifying the Three Treasures!


I think this points out another point of Pure Land teachings, as well as their major strength. The strength of these teachings is that they're for simple folk, not only for super meditators or people of super high capacities - everyone can benefit. These teachings are also not about book knowledge. Conceptual knowledge of the sutras & the teachings of the masters does not replace faith, vows, and practice.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Nosta » Thu Feb 26, 2015 11:13 pm

Everytime guys like you post like that, I have nothing to say...I feel little :), you spoke very well. Your comments were straitgh to the point.Just a quick note: altought Pratyutpanna Sutra doesnt stress faith, its a very good Sutra, an inspiring one. Sometimes I feel stronger by thinking in this sentence, from the Sutra: "Never feel tired, even for a single day!". In the whole context, its a powerful tought.

And sorry for my offtopic :)

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Thu Feb 26, 2015 11:41 pm

Nosta wrote:Everytime guys like you post like that, I have nothing to say...I feel little :), you spoke very well. Your comments were straitgh to the point.Just a quick note: altought Pratyutpanna Sutra doesnt stress faith, its a very good Sutra, an inspiring one. Sometimes I feel stronger by thinking in this sentence, from the Sutra: "Never feel tired, even for a single day!". In the whole context, its a powerful tought.

And sorry for my offtopic :)
No need to apologize.
Know exactly how you feel.
Feel very weird even commenting on Ven Yin Kuang's words most times.
Just happen to be picking the quotes that make me think of something.
Really appreciate anybody responding, thank you very much.
I'm posting these things to get other people to post, give their input, and maybe even share passages that I may have overlooked.

I think I may have misspoken on the Pratyutpanna Sutra. The word "faith" appears 5 times in the Pratyutpanna Sutra (according to Rulu's translation), the word "believe" shows up 13 times. Faith is the first thing recommended in both Chapter 2 (The Training) and Chapter 3 (Four Things to Do). Believing in the Buddha Dharma (and/or this specific Dharma) is the first line of the verse portions in both of the above Chapters.

Personally, I love the Pratyutpanna Sutra because it gives you the mechanics of how everything works in language that's fairly straightforward. In fact, I think that's the main point of this sutra - because it opens with not one question, but TONS. At the same time, kind of like driving a car, understanding the intricate mechanics of an engine or a transmission does not necessarily make one a better driver. Furthermore, the vast majority of the passages in this sutra are about very difficult practices. Extending the car analogy, this is possibly akin to attempting a very difficult road course in frozen rain with a 6 speed manual transmission race car when one is first learning how to drive.

What I meant by my earlier comment is that when someone just starting to establish themselves in Pure Land practice, hearing that "my mind is the Buddha; my mind is the Tathagata" may give them the wrong idea or confuse them so much that they are unable to establish faith.

I love the phrase you pointed out "Never feel tired, even for a single day!" - it's one that I glossed over in all the times I've read the sutra.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Mon Apr 06, 2015 8:31 pm

Letter 9
The treatise The Benefits of Reciting the Sutras Depend on One’s Mind was written because people today recite the sutras without the least bit of reverence. The true benefit of the Buddha Dharma is found in a reverent mind. Such a state of mind can even lead to swift Supreme Enlightenment – not to mention the lower levels of sagehood (Arhats and Pratyeka Buddhas)!


Faith and reverence for the Dharma leads to Awakening. I seem to remember a Sutta that describe it beautifully as faith is like a tree that leans towards Awakening.

The Pure Land Patriarch Shan Tao, traditionally considered a Transformation Body of Amitabha Buddha, was endowed with great spiritual powers and wisdom. However, in teaching Pure Land, he did not advocate the mystical and sublime but merely emphasized everyday, ordinary realities. His teachings on Exclusive Practice and Sundry Practices are extremely useful. Exclusive Practice consists of the body bowing exclusively to Amitabha Buddha, the mouth exclusively repeating the Buddha’s name, and the mind focussing exclusively on the Buddha’s name. Out of ten thousand cultivators who practice in such a manner, ten thousand are assured of rebirth in the Pure Land. Sundry Practices entail engaging in various methods of cultivation while dedicating the merits accrued toward rebirth in the Western Land. Since the practitioner’s mind is not focussed or singleminded, it is difficult to accumulate merits. Thus, only three or four out of hundreds of thousands can hope to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. These are true, golden words of advice, immutable throughout the ages. Both of you should follow them for your own benefit and in counselling everyone else. Reciting mantras, too, should be considered an ancillary practice, rather than a principal method along with Buddha Recitation. The merits derived from mantra recitation are indeed inconceivable. However, ordinary people who achieve rebirth in the Pure Land owe it entirely to utterly sincere Faith and Vows, as these correspond to the lofty Vows of Amitabha Buddha. If you are not clear about this truth, thinking that all Dharmas are unfathomable and therefore it does not matter which method you cultivate, you will end up practicing neither Zen nor Pure Land. This will lead to eons of wandering in the wasteland of Birth and Death – whom, then, could you rely on for help? You should realize that as a common being full of karmic obstructions, you will certainly find it difficult to escape Birth and Death in this very life unless you rely on the Vows of Amitabha Buddha. Only then will you discover that the Pure Land method surpasses other Dharma methods in power and utility! Reciting mantras and sutras for the purpose of sowing merits and wisdom and eliminating evil karma and transgressions is all to the good. However, to be deluded and seek spiritual powers is to abandon the roots for the branches – an error in judgement. If, furthermore, your mind is grasping, your understanding of the Dharma nebulous, your precept-keeping lax, your Bodhi Mind undeveloped and your discriminatory, win-lose mind raging unchecked, you will be exposed one day to demons that may drive you insane! If you want to obtain spiritual powers, you should first attain Enlightenment and Buddhahood. Once Buddhahood is attained, you will naturally have full spiritual powers. If you do not strive for the Way but merely seek spiritual powers, let us not even speak about whether anything can be gained. If you should obtain anything, it would become an impediment to the Way. For this reason, the Buddhas and Patriarchs have strictly prohibited this erroneous form of cultivation. Because such ideas are common, I have taken the opportunity to mention them in passing.
Such a standpoint is kind of surprising to see coming from a post-Song dynasty advocate of Pure Land from China, but this line of thought is at the heart of what ShanTao taught. It's not to say other teachings are bad per say. It's saying that for a certain group of people, with certain capacities, and a certain goal then there is a path that is preferable for reaching that goal.

Both of you still have your parents at home. Therefore, you should keep explaining the Pure Land method and the accounts of rebirth to them, so that they may develop the mind of joy, believe in the accounts and follow the examples therein. If you do not repay your filial debts in this way, even if you are filial in the mundane sense, what good will it do your parents at the end of their lives? ... You should wake up and hasten to ensure that, at death, your parents will participate in the Lotus Assembly. They will then be close to Amitabha Buddha and achieve the boundless Self-Nature of light and life.
There's a sutra about gratitude and it says that one could carry one's parents on one shoulders for the rest of one's life and it would still never repay the debt of gratitude to them. It says the only way to repay that debt is to establish them in the Dharma. This is a tough one for me, because I come from a family of devout Catholics. I can't even tell them I practice Buddhadharma, let alone try to establish them on the path. The best I can do is offer advice when they ask (or when they let me) and do my best to influence their conduct in a positive way.

The sufferings of the Saha World are endless. Even in time of peace, sentient beings are jostling one another in an atmosphere of sorrow and affliction. However, because they have endured it for so long, they have grown accustomed to it and are no longer aware of it. In China recently, insurrection and strife have become daily events; the sufferings of the people are beyond description! Abroad, a great war has been raging for three years. With casualties already legion, the world conflict goes on with no end in sight. This tragic situation is caused by the karma of sentient beings and is the precursor of an extended period of disturbances to come. It is truly frightening to think of the sufferings of the future!
This passage seems to echo a similar passage in the Larger Sutra regarding the drawbacks of the Saha World. The burning house of samsara is truly frightening.

I hope that both of you will develop the Bodhi Mind and seek rebirth in the Pure Land, to achieve the fruits of Buddhahood swiftly before returning to the Saha World to rescue sentient beings. The sutras teach: Bodhisattvas fear causes, sentient beings fear effects and results. Bodhisattvas, being wary of evil results, eliminate evil causes. Sentient beings all too often vie to create evil causes and then have to endure evil results. When enduring suffering, they do not know enough to practice repentance, but create more evil karma in the hope of escaping retribution. Thus, injustice and retribution follow upon one another continuously, without end. It is so pitiful and frightening to think about it! Knowing this truth, those who do not seek rebirth in the Pure Land are not yet truly among the wise!
I think this passage exposes the biggest difference between the Pure Land path and monotheistic paths. The Pure Land is not a final resting place, but a bodhisattva staging ground, with the best teachers one could ask for.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Mon Apr 06, 2015 8:44 pm

Letter 10

From your letter, I see that you are diligently fighting bad habits but have not yet obtained results. This is because you are not truly concerned about the issue of Birth and Death, nor have you internalized the method that helps people to “transcend the human realm for that of the saints,” sever delusive karma and achieve pure thoughts. That is why you have failed to achieve true results. You should always ponder this truth: “It is difficult to be reborn as a human being, it is difficult to learn of the Buddha Dharma, it is difficult to encounter the Pure Land method. I am fortunate today to have been reborn as a human being and am in the favorable position of having learned about the Pure Land method. How dare I waste this limited lifespan on evanescent form, fragrance, fame and fortune? How can I resign myself to an empty life and useless death, wallowing along the Six Paths – with no end in sight?” You should paste the word “death” on your forehead, so that when you meet with various circumstances unworthy of attachment, you will immediately recognize them as boiling cauldrons and firepits that can only harm you. In this way, you will not be like a moth, freely choosing to fly into the flame and burning to death.
Some pretty strong words about training like one's hair is on fire.

You should realize that worthwhile activities are a boat of compassion to rescue you from suffering. Thus, you will no longer shy away from opportunities for charity and justice nor be dilatory on the path of cultivation. In this manner, mundane circumstances can also become conditions for entering the Way, as cultivation is not synonymous with abandoning all worldly activities. If the mind is firm and not swayed by circumstances, “mundane concerns are precisely liberation.” Therefore, the Diamond Sutra always teaches “non-attachment to form.” Although true cultivators develop the aspiration to rescue all sentient beings, they do not see themselves as the rescuers or sentient beings as the rescued. Even when Supreme Enlightenment is attained, there is no mark of who has attained the fruits of Ultimate Nirvana. This is true cultivation of the Bodhisattva path.
I love this teaching of turning our daily lives into our practice. Charity and justice are part of living in a functional society and should be thought of as supporting our practice, not to be abandoned.

rescuing sentient beings or cultivating the ten thousand virtues cannot be in accord with the True Mark Supreme Vehicle unless practitioners realize that sentient beings are, in their nature and essence, Buddhas. Amid Equal Nature, sentient beings erroneously develop the mind of discrimination, turning “unconditioned” benefits or merits into “conditioned” merits. How, then, can they escape the binding cycle of form, fame and fortune?
While I've heard this teaching before, it's still somewhat surprising to hear it coming from a Pure Land teacher. I really like the idea (it's in my sig).

Living in this world, people all have obligations. However, you should not take on unnecessary activities beyond your normal duties. Instead, use your free time, according to your capacities and circumstances, to recite sutras and the Buddha’s name, determined to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. You can generate merits and virtues by contributing financially to worthwhile activities or by praising those who engage in them. You can also accrue merits by developing a mind of joy and contentment at their accomplishment by others.
I have a hard time following this advice. Free time is pretty nonexistent for me.

The key to escaping suffering is to develop, in each and every thought, a fear of death and of perdition along the Evil Paths after death. Buddha Recitation then naturally grows more earnest, rebirth in the Pure Land is assured and no worldly dusts can “plunder” correct thought.
This is a nice passage to read when I have problems with motivation.

The Heart Sutra states: The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara clearly perceived that the five skandas (encompassing body and mind) are all empty and thus overcame all suffering. The five skandas encompass body and mind as well as the external environment. If we truly realize that they are empty, we are already free of them – even while remaining part of them. What, then, is not the Great Liberation method, the realm of Great Nirvana?
This quote shows that the master has studied sutras and doctrines that are not commonly associated with Pure Land, and are profound.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Losal Samten » Mon Apr 06, 2015 8:46 pm

PorkChop wrote:There's a sutra about gratitude and it says that one could carry one's parents on one shoulders for the rest of one's life and it would still never repay the debt of gratitude to them. It says the only way to repay that debt is to establish them in the Dharma. This is a tough one for me, because I come from a family of devout Catholics. I can't even tell them I practice Buddhadharma, let alone try to establish them on the path. The best I can do is offer advice when they ask (or when they let me) and do my best to influence their conduct in a positive way.

There are mantras that liberate on sight/hearing/touch etc. that you could use such as the one in my sig and this by Namcho Mingyur Dorje.
http://www.tibetanbuddhistaltar.org/wp- ... seeing.jpg

The benefits of hearing the name of Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabharāja are also well noted alongside its connection to establishing one in Sukhavati.
Pg: 130 - https://www.dropbox.com/s/8sictpcdhteid ... a.pdf?dl=0
Lacking mindfulness, we commit every wrong. - Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche
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ཨོཾ་ཧ་ནུ་པྷ་ཤ་བྷ་ར་ཧེ་ཡེ་སྭཱ་ཧཱ།།
ཨཱོཾ་མ་ཏྲི་མུ་ཡེ་སལེ་འདུ།།

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Mon Apr 06, 2015 9:03 pm

Mother's Lap wrote:There are mantras that liberate on sight/hearing/touch etc. that you could use such as the one in my sig and this by Namcho Mingyur Dorje.
http://www.tibetanbuddhistaltar.org/wp- ... seeing.jpg
Thanks, I'll have to look into that. :)

Mother's Lap wrote:The benefits of hearing the name of Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabharāja are also well noted alongside its connection to establishing one in Sukhavati.
Pg: 130 - https://www.dropbox.com/s/8sictpcdhteid ... a.pdf?dl=0
Oddly enough it was Medicine Buddha practice that brought me to Pure Land. I have a number of copies of the Medicine Buddha sutra and a book on the topic. I hadn't stumbled across this Schopen article before and the version of the sutra in it looks like a translation that I'm not familiar with. I really appreciate you pointing this out for me!
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Fri Apr 24, 2015 5:30 pm

Letter 11
Cultivating other methods requires severance of karmic obstructions and attainment of the Truth before you can escape Birth and Death. With the Pure Land method, you need only recite the Buddha’s name with deep Faith and earnest Vows, while ceasing transgressions and performing good deeds – thus engaging simultaneously in the main and subsidiary practices – in order to be assured of rebirth in the Western Land. In fact, the highest level of rebirth will be achieved.
This is the great hope that Pure Land Buddhism offers. Reliance on other power means that we don't have to do it ourselves. It also means that we don't risk fooling ourselves into thinking that we have attained something or that we have transcended karmic obstructions when we haven't. The seed syllable of Amitabha is said to be "hrih" ("hiri" in Pali), this means humility. By learning humility, relying on the Buddha & bodhisattvas, and taking true refuge, we can receive the best guidance towards Buddhahood.
Not only are those who have perfected Pure Land practice assured of rebirth, even those guilty of the Five Grave Offenses and the Ten Evil Acts can also achieve it (as long as, on the verge of death, they awaken, become utterly ashamed of their transgressions, grow frightened and recite the Buddha’s name in utmost sincerity). This is because Amitabha Buddha has great, all-embracing compassion and considers it His calling to rescue sentient beings. Anyone who sincerely seeks His assistance will be gathered in and rescued. This is called “taking one’s karma along to the Pure Land, through the power of Amitabha Buddha.”
Again, we don't have to be perfect to achieve rebirth in Sukhavati and receive the help of Amitabha Buddha. The only thing that is really required is sincerity. There's an old quote "The greater the devotion and compassion, the greater the merit." This specific version comes from HE Garchen Rinpoche, but I believe it's a popular quote among Vajrayanists that predates him. Sincerity is required. This is the "Genuine Mind" of the 3 minds listed in the Visualization Sutra. It is repeatedly stressed through all of the Pure Land sutras that one must sincerely vow to be reborn in Sukhavati and one must sincerely call upon Amitabha. Those that think of Pure Land practice as merely an "insurance policy" may want to take note.
In this Dharma-Ending Age, if you cultivate other methods, abandoning the Dharma Door of Pure Land, you can only reap merits and blessings in the celestial and human realms or sow the causes and conditions of liberation in future eons. This is because few in this day and age truly have the strength to sever all karmic obstructions. Therefore the roots of Birth and Death continue to exist. Under these circumstances, how can you prevent the dream-like seeds of Birth and Death from sprouting anew?
I'm not sure this quote applies to Vajrayana, as I've heard similar predictions regarding Dzogchen. The take home message of this quote is that we must take proper (genuine) note of our capacities and what we're able to accomplish in this life. If we pride ourselves in our great meditation abilities but are not able to achieve liberation & severance of all karmic obstructions, then we're not guaranteed much - not guaranteed peace of mind at the time of death, not guaranteed a positive rebirth, and not guaranteed freedom from the wheel of suffering. While we have time, we might as well cultivate the guaranteed path.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Nosta » Sat Apr 25, 2015 11:10 am

What can you say more anout the following quote? True Mark concept is not that easy to grasp, so I would like to understand better the passage:

"rescuing sentient beings or cultivating the ten thousand virtues cannot be in accord with the True Mark Supreme Vehicle unless practitioners realize that sentient beings are, in their nature and essence, Buddhas. Amid Equal Nature, sentient beings erroneously develop the mind of discrimination, turning “unconditioned” benefits or merits into “conditioned” merits. How, then, can they escape the binding cycle of form, fame and fortune?"

Thanks!

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Sat Apr 25, 2015 10:30 pm

Ven Hsuan Hua circa 1975 wrote:Simply explained, there are four kinds of Buddha Recitation. The first is “Contemplating by Thought Buddha Recitation”; the second, “Contemplating an Image Buddha Recitation”; the third, “Holding the Name Buddha Recitation”; and the fourth, “Real Mark Buddha Recitation.”

...

The Real Mark is apart from marks; it is not attached to any distinguishing characteristics. It has left all dharmas behind and swept away all marks. This is the Dharma door of investigating dhyana. Those who truly practice dhyana truly chant the Buddha’s name as well. Those who can really recite the Buddha’s name are, in fact, investigating dhyana. Dhyana practice and Buddha Recitation both help you to stop your idle thoughts and sweep away your personal desires and random thoughts, so that your original face appears. This is called Real Mark recitation.


Real Mark = True Mark.
True Mark = No Mark.
True Mark usually refers to emptiness.
The passage is talking about recognizing the Buddha Nature of all sentient beings as equal.
The discrimination in considering some sentient beings good, while others bad, reduces the merits.
This kind of goes hand in hand with the diamond sutra...

Diamond Sutra Ch 3 wrote:The Buddha told Subhuti, “all Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas,
should thus subdue their hearts with the vow, “I must
cause all living beings — those born from eggs, born
from wombs, born from moisture, born by transformation;
those with form, those without form, those with thought,
those without thought, those not totally with thought,
and those not totally without thought — to enter nirvana
without residue and be taken across to extinction. Yet of
the immeasurable, boundless numbers of living beings
thus taken across to extinction, there is actually no living
being taken across to extinction. And why? Subhuti, if
a Bodhisattva has a mark of self, a mark of others, a
mark of living beings, or a mark of a life, he is not a
Bodhisattva.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Nosta » Sun Apr 26, 2015 7:13 pm

Thanks for you clarification on the subject :)

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Thu Apr 30, 2015 8:03 pm

Letter 12

Question One: Are the Mind-Only Pure Land and the Self-Nature Amitabha the
same as or different from the Western Pure Land and Amitabha in the Pure Land?

Answer: It is because the Mind-Only Pure Land exists that we are reborn in the
Pure Land of the West. If the mind is not pure, it is impossible to achieve rebirth
in the Pure Land. Even when those who have committed cardinal transgressions
achieve rebirth through ten recitations, such rebirth is due to their reciting the
Buddha’s name with a pure mind, thus eliciting a response from Amitabha Buddha.
Ordinary people generally think that if the Pure Land is Mind-Only, then it does
not exist. This is the understanding of demons and externalists. Such a deluded
view, which appears correct but is in reality wrong, affects more than half of all
people and causes practitioners to forfeit true benefits.

It is precisely because of the Self-Nature Amitabha that the practitioner must
recite the name of Buddha Amitabha of the West seeking rebirth in the Pure Land
– so as to achieve the Self-Nature Amitabha through gradual cultivation. If he
merely grasps at the Buddha Amitabha of the West, he cannot achieve immediate
escape from Birth and Death – not even if he is truly awakened, much less if (like
most people who ask this question) he is pretentious and just indulges in empty
talk without engaging in practice.

Thus, the answer to your question [are the Mind-Only Pure Land and the
Self-Nature Amitabha the same as or different from the Western Pure Land and
Amitabha in the Pure Land?] is that they are one yet two before Buddhahood is
attained, two yet one after Buddhahood is attained.

Given some of the threads that have been popping up, I thought this letter was fairly timely.
This question comes up a lot and I think this is the best answer I've seen for it.

Question Three: Some people say: “To see the Buddha is to see the Buddha of
the Self-Mind, not the Buddha of the Western Pure Land.” This being the case, at
the time of death, is it the Buddha of the Self-Mind who appears, or is it Buddha
Amitabha who comes to receive and guide us?

Answer: Seeing the Buddha at the time of death is due to our own Self-Mind,
which has elicited a response from Amitabha Buddha. You should not revert
everything to the Self-Mind and think that there is no Buddha Amitabha arriving
to receive and guide you!

Basically this restates the above in fewer words.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Lazy_eye » Mon May 04, 2015 3:02 pm

PorkChop wrote:If the mind is not pure, it is impossible to achieve rebirth
in the Pure Land. Even when those who have committed cardinal transgressions
achieve rebirth through ten recitations, such rebirth is due to their reciting the
Buddha’s name with a pure mind, thus eliciting a response from Amitabha Buddha.


I'm wondering if you could clarify the meaning of this passage -- it kind of throws me for a loop.

When we refer to the mind being pure, does that mean completely free of afflictions? If that were the case, wouldn't one be enlightened and thus not in need of Amitabha or the Pure Land?

Or is the meaning that one should have a pure mind during nianfo/nembutsu? That seems more likely, but I just want to make sure I understand this correctly.

And is it shinjin which creates the conditions for the mind to be pure (during the nembutsu)?

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Mon May 04, 2015 3:36 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
PorkChop wrote:If the mind is not pure, it is impossible to achieve rebirth
in the Pure Land. Even when those who have committed cardinal transgressions
achieve rebirth through ten recitations, such rebirth is due to their reciting the
Buddha’s name with a pure mind, thus eliciting a response from Amitabha Buddha.


I'm wondering if you could clarify the meaning of this passage -- it kind of throws me for a loop.
I'll do my best.

Lazy_eye wrote:When we refer to the mind being pure, does that mean completely free of afflictions? If that were the case, wouldn't one be enlightened and thus not in need of Amitabha or the Pure Land?
Or is the meaning that one should have a pure mind during nianfo/nembutsu? That seems more likely, but I just want to make sure I understand this correctly.
I think he's talking about the specific state of mind at the moment of death. The 10 pure thoughts of recitation at the moment of death are not impure thoughts driven by the 3 poisons (attachment, aversion, ignorance). This does not mean being enlightened, so much as not being overwhelmed with thoughts of attachment to family members (not being able to let go), thoughts of being angry at one's situation, thoughts of being afraid of one's destination (lack of faith), etc... You're right that being completely free of afflictions is not a requirement mentioned by the sutras, nor is it reasonable for someone relying on other power.

Lazy_eye wrote:And is it shinjin which creates the conditions for the mind to be pure (during the nembutsu?)
I would venture to say "yes". Shinjin is the settled mind that is diamond-like, unruffled by circumstances. The analogy that I've seen is that when water has settled, one can easily one's reflection. When one's entrusting is sincere (manifesting the 3 minds), then doubts don't creep in to upset one's mind. As the sutra(s) says, even if one can't concentrate single-pointedly on Amitabha, if one can sincerely call out the name 10 times (or even 1 time), then one can achieve Ojo (Pure Land rebirth). That sincerity (combined with the 18th Vow) is what guarantees one's Ojo and it can be "locked in" before one's deathbed.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Lazy_eye » Mon May 04, 2015 5:10 pm

PorkChop wrote:I think he's talking about the specific state of mind at the moment of death. The 10 pure thoughts of recitation at the moment of death are not impure thoughts driven by the 3 poisons (attachment, aversion, ignorance). This does not mean being enlightened, so much as not being overwhelmed with thoughts of attachment to family members (not being able to let go), thoughts of being angry at one's situation, thoughts of being afraid of one's destination (lack of faith), etc...


Ah, I see. Thanks for clarifying! So would it be correct to say that practice during a lifetime is a kind of training for the 10 pure thoughts of recitation at death?

Although practice is valuable any time, perhaps it would be especially valuable to recite the nembutsu during times of high anxiety and emotion, or when one is facing a loss, setback or major life change -- these are "little deaths," as it were, confronting us with the reality of impermanence and dukkha.

Lazy_eye wrote:And is it shinjin which creates the conditions for the mind to be pure (during the nembutsu?)
I would venture to say "yes". Shinjin is the settled mind that is diamond-like, unruffled by circumstances. The analogy that I've seen is that when water has settled, one can easily one's reflection. When one's entrusting is sincere (manifesting the 3 minds), then doubts don't creep in to upset one's mind. As the sutra(s) says, even if one can't concentrate single-pointedly on Amitabha, if one can sincerely call out the name 10 times (or even 1 time), then one can achieve Ojo (Pure Land rebirth). That sincerity (combined with the 18th Vow) is what guarantees one's Ojo and it can be "locked in" before one's deathbed.[/quote]

That's interesting. Since shinjin is sometimes translated as "faith," I had the wrong impression that it is a fervent or determined kind of feeling. But the way you describe it is more like the tranquility of Zen. And that also seems more aligned with "deep entrusting", which is another way that shinjin is translated.

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Mon May 04, 2015 5:56 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Ah, I see. Thanks for clarifying! So would it be correct to say that practice during a lifetime is a kind of training for the 10 pure thoughts of recitation at death?
Depends who you talk to. Ryukan (Honen's disciple) said (as he was dying) that recitations at death are much more powerful than those of daily life. Honen himself said that we may not know when it's our time to go, so our recitations in daily life become our recitations at death; also we may think an illness or something may kill us when it doesn't, so our recitations at death become our recitations of daily life. ShanTao stressed the 3 minds, saying they are vital for Ojo, Honen said the same and called it "Anjin" - both said it was something established during one's life. Shinran calls it "Shinjin" and says it is the entrance to the stage of the "truly settled" (ShanTao may have also used the term "Shinjin" according to a quote in the KGSS). He goes even further to say that if Shinjin is established (received) that the circumstances of one's death don't matter (because one cannot control the fruition of one's residual karma).

Lazy_Eye wrote:Although practice is valuable any time, perhaps it would be especially valuable to recite the nembutsu during times of high anxiety and emotion, or when one is facing a loss, setback or major life change -- these are "little deaths," as it were, confronting us with the reality of impermanence and dukkha.
This is pretty much the same thing I've been thinking, I try to practice it whenever I can remember.

Lazy_Eye wrote:That's interesting. Since shinjin is sometimes translated as "faith," I had the wrong impression that it is a fervent or determined kind of feeling. But the way you describe it is more like the tranquility of Zen. And that also seems more aligned with "deep entrusting", which is another way that shinjin is translated.
That's the problem with translations. I believe a lot of Shin doctrine was first translated into English by Christian missionaries (possibly former ones). Thus, "bonno", which in Buddhist terms is "kleshas" ("afflictive emotions"), becomes "blind passions" in English Shin texts. The word "Anjin" that Honen uses instead of "Shinjin", consists of 2 characters. The first character 安 means "safe" in modern Japanese and depicts a woman under a roof. The second character 心 means "heart" or "mind" (in the Buddhist sense). The number of descriptions Shinran gives for "Shinjin" in the KGSS are much more in the vein of "settled entrusting" than a form of ecstatic faith - but to be fair, the sutras do mention a joy that arises in the good man or woman who hears of Amida's Vows and aspires for birth in Sukhavati.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Monlam Tharchin » Mon May 04, 2015 8:40 pm

If I may share some responses also to a good discussion

Lazy_eye wrote:When we refer to the mind being pure, does that mean completely free of afflictions? If that were the case, wouldn't one be enlightened and thus not in need of Amitabha or the Pure Land?
Or is the meaning that one should have a pure mind during nianfo/nembutsu? That seems more likely, but I just want to make sure I understand this correctly.

It's very hard or impossible to have a pure mind when failing in the precepts and relying entirely on past good karma for one's current supposed virtue. Being such a being, the conditionality of when I love others or feel "up to" meditating or taking the precepts,and blindly following these inclinations, excludes me from most practices except the nembutsu.

Lazy_eye wrote:Ah, I see. Thanks for clarifying! So would it be correct to say that practice during a lifetime is a kind of training for the 10 pure thoughts of recitation at death?

Maybe for some, who feel by lifting weights, eating right, and going to the gym, they can scale a cliff to the top someday. Others of us need someone to lower a litter and pull us up. And in that case, it's not the laziness or pitiful state of the person being pulled up that causes amazement, but the strength and willingness of the one at the top who is lifting up.

My view is that the moment I said the nembutsu for the first time, it was the culmination of countless causes and conditions that flowered in the fruit of "namu amida butsu". Therefore, the framework, the root system, of being saved by Amida is already in evidence. That to me is the meaning of "a single utterance" so a training approach doesn't fit well for my life.
The many subsequent nembutsu have been, in my opinion, for the sole purpose of relieving suffering until the karma of being born into this world plays out in death. And I'm so damn forgetful, I need constant reminders in constant nembutsu :rolleye:
It's like being abroad, knowing you'll return home to your parents, yet they send you letters periodically anyway, so you don't feel too crappy or squander your resources. If parents do this kind of thing, how much more does Amida?

Lazy_eye wrote:Although practice is valuable any time, perhaps it would be especially valuable to recite the nembutsu during times of high anxiety and emotion, or when one is facing a loss, setback or major life change -- these are "little deaths," as it were, confronting us with the reality of impermanence and dukkha.

Yes, at these times the strongest sense of the nembutsu "occurring" to me have happened, as Other-Power. The last time I had a really deep depressive episode last year, which scared my husband, it was like being at the end of a long tunnel. He said I looked like I was dying. I was only vaguely aware of my surroundings. But the thought "namu amida butsu" occurred to me. It was like finding a lamp ready with oil in a dark room. I was quite surprised, and the lamp let me quickly escape.

Lazy_eye wrote:That's interesting. Since shinjin is sometimes translated as "faith," I had the wrong impression that it is a fervent or determined kind of feeling. But the way you describe it is more like the tranquility of Zen. And that also seems more aligned with "deep entrusting", which is another way that shinjin is translated.

Yeah faith is kind of a crappy word, especially for all its connotations to English speakers... You don't usually associate "faith" with feeling lukewarm, doubtful, worry, wandering, and so forth. I think that's looking for faith in the sense of shinjin in the wrong place. That's the same old samsaric ball of feelings, wanting good experiences and fearing bad states of mind. Shinjin to me is synonymous with the act of receiving nembutsu, whether that looks like "I'm saying nembutsu" or "Amida gives me nembutsu now" in one's current state of mind.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Fri Oct 09, 2015 3:57 pm

Looking through this thread, I see we got as far as Letter 12. I've been continuing this book study on another forum and am nearing the end of the book. I just finished Letter 24 today. I'm planning to finish up with the final letter (Letter 25) next Friday (October 16, 2015). If nobody has any problems, I'll start migrating the other letters I've completed over to this thread. If anyone wants to discuss a topic in an individual letter, please make sure to reference the letter where the statement comes from.

FYI - The following Friday (October 23, 2015) I'll be starting a new book. My preference is probably "A Raft from the Other Shore: Honen and the Way of Pure Land Buddhism" by Sho-on Hattori. Feel free to suggest any other titles you'd rather see.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Fri Oct 09, 2015 4:03 pm

Letter 13

I) The Pure Land method embraces people of all capacities, gathering in those of
high as well as low capacities. It is the great Dharma of the Tathagata, whereby He
provides an expedient enabling both sages and ordinary beings to achieve liberation
from Birth and Death and reach the stage of non-retrogression in this very lifetime.

Not to believe in and practice this sublime, special Dharma is truly regrettable,
a great pity indeed!

Not to sound triumphalist, but I think this accessibility is the great strength of the Pure Land path.

The main tenets of Pure Land are Faith, Vows and Practice.

Faith: You should believe that the Saha World is filled with the Eight Sufferings;
believe that the Western Pure Land is filled with immense joy; believe that as
ordinary beings full of evil karma, you cannot, realistically, rely on your own
strength (self-power) alone to eliminate delusion completely, realize the Truth and
escape Birth and Death in this very lifetime; believe that Amitabha Buddha has
made a profound and lofty Vow – any sentient being who recites His name [with
utmost faith and sincerity] seeking rebirth in His land will, at the time of death, be
received and guided to the Pure Land.

Vows: You should aspire to transcend this world and achieve rebirth in that
blissful Land as soon as possible.

Practice: You should practice Buddha Recitation in all earnestness and sincerity,
without a moment’s lapse, paying respect and reciting morning and evening before
your altar. You can establish an intensive or a leisurely schedule depending on your
own circumstances.

Outside of these sessions, you should constantly recite the Buddha’s name while
walking, standing, sitting, reclining or engaging in other actions that do not require
intense intellectual activity. When resting, you should recite silently, uttering only
the two words “Amitabha Buddha” to facilitate concentration. You should also
recite silently when not properly dressed or when doing household chores, bathing,
urinating or defecating, or when walking to and from unclean places. This silent
recitation brings the same benefits as reciting aloud. In the latter circumstances,
loud recitation is improper and could reflect disrespect. Whether reciting loudly
or softly or engaging in “diamond recitation” or silent recitation, you should be
attentive and keep each utterance clearly and distinctly in mind, the mouth reciting
clearly and distinctly and the ears hearing clearly and distinctly.
When you recite in this way, the mind is no longer chasing after external realms,
deluded thoughts cease and recitation gradually becomes pure and focussed – the
virtues accrued are thus immense.

I think this is a very nice overview of the Pure Land method.

II) Buddha Recitation practitioners should dedicate all virtues toward rebirth
in the Pure Land, whether they are earned through reciting sutras and mantras,
paying respect to the Buddhas, practicing repentance, rescuing victims of accidents
or disasters, or helping the needy. You should not seek the merits and blessings of
the human and celestial realms either in this lifetime or the next. If you have such
thoughts, you will lose the benefit of rebirth in the Pure Land and drown in the sea
of Birth and Death.

This paragraph is the idea behind the Third of the 3 Minds mentioned in the sutras: the mind that transfers one's merits towards rebirth in the Pure Land.


You should know that the more blessings you enjoy, the greater the evil karma
you are likely to create, making it exceedingly difficult to avoid the path of hells,
hungry ghosts and animality in the third lifetime. At that point, it will be more
difficult to recover the human form and hear the Pure Land Dharma of liberation
in one lifetime than to achieve rebirth as a celestial!

The Larger Sutra says that those caught up in the entanglements of this world cannot achieve Bodhi (while here). Therefore, for those entangled in this world of suffering, we must make preparations to progress on the path in whatever capacity we can.

Sakyamuni Buddha taught the method of reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name,
seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land, in order to help sentient beings resolve
the problem of Birth and Death in this very lifetime. If you aspire to gain the
blessings of the celestial and human realms in the next lifetime, you are going
counter to the teachings of the Buddhas. It is like exchanging a priceless pearl for
a piece of candy – how truly regrettable!

We shouldn't ignore long term well being for short term happiness, this applies in day-to-day life as well as beyond.

III) Pure Land cultivators should not follow Zen meditation practices. This
is because most Zen followers fail to stress the issue of rebirth in the Pure Land
through Faith and Vows. Even if they practice Buddha Recitation, they merely
stress the koan “who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” seeking an Awakening. Pure
Land practitioners should recite Amitabha Buddha’s name for the sole purpose
of achieving rebirth in the Pure Land. Once having seen Amitabha Buddha, why
worry about not having experienced an Awakening?

Chinese Pure Land schools are often painted as stressing Zen/Chan meditation as well as recitation. They also have a reputation for teaching that there is a very high bar for entry into the Pure Land. This statement above directly contradicts such notions and displays that Pure Land practitioners need not stress over not being able to have an Awakening in this life.

In this Saha World, it may be possible to escape Birth and Death through
meditation if all delusive karma is eliminated. If, however, all delusive karma is not
eliminated, the Zen follower not only cannot rely on his own strength (self-power)
to achieve liberation, he cannot – lacking Faith and Vows – rely on the Buddha’s
power (other-power) to escape Birth and Death either. Unable to rely either on
self-power or on other-power, how can he escape the sufferings of this world?

This shows the risks of relying on one's own efforts and dismissing Other Power.

You should know that even the Dharma Body Bodhisattvas [i.e., the higher level
Bodhisattvas] must rely on the power of the Buddhas – not to mention ordinary
beings such as ourselves, who are full of karmic obstructions. Who are we to keep
weighing the pros and cons of our own strength, while failing to seek the Buddhas’
help? Our words may be lofty, but upon reflection, the accompanying actions are
low and wanting! The difference between other-power and self-power is as great
as the heavens and the abyss! I hope fellow-cultivators will carefully examine and
forgive my straightforward words.

In the Shurangama Sutra it's said that Mahasthamaprapta practiced Buddha remembrance his entire path to enlightenment.

Within the Dharma, each and every method is perfect and unimpeded. Externalists,
on the other hand, grasp one-sidedly at theory and noumenon. Ordinary
people tend to believe their words, are unclear about the true teachings of Buddhism
and thus cannot saturate themselves with the benefits of the Dharma.

This statement addresses those who accuse the Pure Land of being an inferior path.
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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Postby Admin_PC » Fri Oct 09, 2015 4:07 pm

Letter 14

All Conditioned Dharmas are Like Dreams, Phantoms, Bubbles, Shadows!

In the sutras, the Buddhas always teach that a) the consequences/requital of
our actions encompass three lifetimes, while b) the birth of a child is generally
associated with four causes.

a) The consequences/requital are:
– current requital;
– birth [next lifetime] requital;
– future requital.

“Current requital” refers to the misfortunes and blessings we receive in this very
lifetime from the transgressions we commit and the wholesome deeds we perform.
As an example, we have candidates for the civil service who study hard, pass their
examinations and are appointed to high positions. Such occurrences can be seen by
our ordinary human eyes.

“Birth requital” means committing transgressions and performing wholesome
deeds in this lifetime but only obtaining the results, good or bad, of such actions
in the next lifetime. Take the case of a family patriarch who stresses education and
refinement but who only achieves success through his children and grandchildren.
Such occurrences cannot [always] be seen with our human eyes, but those endowed
with the Celestial Eye can perceive them.

“Future requital” means committing transgressions or performing wholesome
deeds in this lifetime but not obtaining the results until the third, fourth or
thousandth lifetime, or, indeed untold eons in the future. This is the case of some
royal dynasties which only flourish and reach their apogee several generations down
the line ...

The Celestial Eye can see events three or four lifetimes away but is powerless
with respect to events several hundred thousand lifetimes away. The Eye of the
Arhat, however, can see them clearly. As to events occurring untold eons ago or
hence, only the perfectly enlightened Tathagata Eye can see them clearly. Such
realms are not even in the domain of the Arhat’s Eye, much less those of celestial
or human beings.

Knowing that requital spans three generations, you should realize that the words
of the sages concerning Cause and Effect have never been wrong and that wealth
and poverty, honor and disgrace, longevity and early death are all the results of
past actions – where is the discrepancy between cause and effect? A mirror reflects
beauty and ugliness as they are. The wise know that it is the object before the
mirror that should be changed while the dull and ignorant waste time and effort
hating and resenting the image in the mirror! To bear adversity is to know your
limitations. Only by not resenting heaven and earth can you succeed in life.

A nice teaching on cause and effect that goes into more detail on one of the points mentioned in the last letter (13).

b) Children are born from four causes:
– repaying past kindness;
– repaying past wrongs;
– repaying past debts;
– claiming past debts.

“Repaying past kindness” means that the child incurred a debt of gratitude to
the parents in a previous lifetime. To repay it, he or she has come to be born in
the parents’ household and will attend painstakingly to their needs throughout life.
He will ensure that they are well provided for while alive and receive decent burials
and offerings after death. The child may even perform great public service, helping
the country and the people, his name being remembered in history. Thus, when
future generations honor him, they will extend their respect and admiration to his
parents. Devoted children and virtuous grandchildren, nowadays, generally belong
to this category.

“Repaying past wrongs” means that in a past lifetime, the parents committed
some wrong toward their present children. Therefore, the children have come to be
born in their household seeking retribution. Thus, when still young, the children will
be unruly and when grown, they will create misfortune and calamities implicating
their parents. In old age the parents will be left in want, while their treatment
after death will not only dishonor them, the shame will extend to the ancestors
as well. At times, when holding key government positions, the children may
even engage in criminal acts, causing the family’s assets to be seized, the lineage
exterminated and the graves of the ancestors dug up and desecrated. Thus, when future
generations abuse and revile them, they will also hate and despise their parents.

“Repaying past debts” means that the child has come to be reborn in his
parents’ household because, in a previous lifetime, he incurred a debt toward them.
If it is a great debt, repayment can take the parents’ entire lifetime. If the debt is
modest, repayment can cover part of the parents’ lifetime ... Thus, for example,
some children assist their parents in business, only to die suddenly as the enterprise
becomes profitable.

“Claiming past debts” means that, in a past lifetime, the parents incurred some
obligation toward their child, who has now been born in their household in order to
claim payment. If the debt is small, the parents will merely have to spend money
to feed and clothe him, attend to his health and education, find him a spouse and
train him to establish himself in the community. Once the debt is paid, the child
will die suddenly. If the debt is sizeable, the child may sometimes deplete all of the
parents’ assets before dying.

It would seem to me that your son comes under the last category. Fortunately,
because your debt is modest, he has passed away suddenly at an early age. You
should therefore repent your previous bad karma and strive to cultivate earnestly.
Even the great sage Confucius lost his only son when the latter was in mid-life.
The great sage Yen Yuan had but a short life. Another ancient sage was destitute,
always in want, while yet another died a martyr ... Do you perhaps think that sages
and saints are punished by the heavens for cultivating virtues? Or is it because life
and death, wealth and honor are determined by past karma?

Thus, you should only deplore the fact that your virtues are still wanting and
not waste time pondering misfortunes and blessings! If you are repentant and strive
to cultivate earnestly, the god of blessings will come your way while misfortune and
calamity will bypass you – naturally.

Here, Ven Yin Kuang gives this teaching on the types of birth to help console the person he's writing to after the death of their son.

During their lives, people are subject to all the Eight Sufferings. Even if they
are reborn in the heavens, they cannot escape the Five Signs of Decay. Only the
Western Land of Ultimate Bliss is all joy and no suffering. Who knows, perhaps
it is precisely thanks to your work in spreading the Pure Land Dharma that the
deities used the premature passing of your beloved son as an awakening needle to
prick the top of your head. You may thus clearly realize that the Triple Realm
knows no peace; it is like a burning house, filled with frightful suffering. The
lot of humans is subject to the god of impermanence, as we are born and die in
the space of a bolt of lightning. When our time has come, no one can save anyone else.

Here Ven Yin Kuang uses an analogy from the Lotus Sutra to describe Samsara.

All conditioned dharmas are like dreams, phantoms, bubbles, shadows. If, even
now, you have not awakened and do not strive earnestly to practice Pure Land,
you are no more alive than wood and stones! How can anyone with grit and
determination bear to be a mere mass of flesh running hither and yon, a walking
corpse while alive, and once dead, decaying along with the weeds and the trees!
How can you have the heart to consign yourself to the world of the ordinary and the
deluded while always extolling the realm of the saints? If after encountering such
an eye-opening circumstance [as the death of your son], you still do not redouble
your efforts, if after hearing the True Dharma, you still do not follow it, are the
Buddhas turning their backs on sentient beings, or are sentient beings turning their
backs on the Buddhas?

Some tough love and some encouraging words to inspire the desperate urge to practice.
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